Help! I need somebody

I need help.

Those words were not always easy for me to say.  They still aren’t a cake walk.  Admitting I needed help typically made me feel weak, incapable, and incompetent.  Concerns of putting others at discomfort for my benefit distracted me from even asking.  However, recent experiences have redefined my perspective on the value of conscious vulnerability, professionally and personally.

Over this past summer, I worked at a leadership camp for teens on a working farm.  Our days were filled with morning work sessions, afternoon recreation, several overnight trips and day excursions, and many opportunities to relax and socialize.  All of these activities were great, but my favorite aspect of the experience was a component called Group.

Group provided the platform for all 70-some of us, staff and teens (aka farmers), to sit in a circle and practice direct communication.  Group was a place for comfortable and uncomfortable feedback, personal reflection, learning and growth.  When living and relying so intimately on others in a community, tensions are bound to surface and Group was a safe place to sort them out.

While the exact exercise has left me, the lesson never will.  During an early staff Group, one of our Directors, Matt, began talking about the then previous day’s events.  Matt has a very serious and direct way of communicating that comes with an implied undertone of empathy and kindness.  As he was tending to the chickens, Matt realized that one of the chickens was sick and on her way out.  In an act of compassion for the chicken, Matt decided to put her out of her misery before her pain became too much to bear.  Matt placed the limp body in the back of his truck and drove home right up the road, planning to tend to her body the next day.

When he walked to his truck the following morning, Matt heard a shuffle in the bed.  To his dismay, there was the chicken, barely alive, occasionally twitching.  At this point in his recounting, Matt’s eyes began to fill with tears.  I could feel everyone in the room hold their breath.

I did not realize how much that moment impacted me until our last Group, when one of the exercises was a sentence stem, “I will remember you by.” Each of us shared an anecdote about another member of staff.  When it was my turn, I turned to Matt to tell him I would remember him by the story about the chicken.  This time it was my turn for the tears.  They came unexpectedly.  I simply could not control the overwhelming feeling of gratitude I experienced in that moment.

I was grateful because Matt helped me reconceptualize my definition of leadership through his actions.  Growing up, I believed that leaders had to be infallible.  My teachers, coaches, mentors, and parents couldn’t mess up because…

if

failure = bad

and

leader fails

then

leader = bad.

Duh.

I projected that unproductive view onto myself and the various leadership positions I held.  If I was leading, it meant I should not ask for help or show any sign of weakness or uncertainty.  I needed to know what to do at all times.  So basically, I thought leaders were supposed to be robots.

Matt did not have to share the story about the chicken with us.  He could have suppressed those emotions and let them smolder inside of him.  Instead, he chose to be vulnerable and authentic, to share a piece of himself and his human experience.  By doing so, he freed me and my conditioned, traditional view of what a leader, a boss, a director should be.

It was as if a large weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  That moment helped me realize the importance of vulnerability.  By avoiding honesty and openness with all of my cohorts, I was hurting myself and others who found themselves in my presence.

You may have heard Brene Brown’s viral TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability.  Through her research, Brown “dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and reveals that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.”

In her book, Brown explains, “We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Before I knew it, I had been hijacked by my research participants who, when asked to talk about their most important relationships and experiences of connection, kept telling me about heartbreak, betrayal and shame – the fear of not being worthy of real connection.”

Brown goes on to explain how we numb vulnerability by refusing to let it surface in our lives.  Yet in reality, one cannot selectively numb emotion.  When we numb our fear, sorrow, and grief, we are also numbing our joy, love, and happiness.  Numbing any emotion creates an endless cycle in which we end up feeling nothing at all.

Leading up to the launch of our new office, I felt excited and prepared for what was to come.  I anticipated everything falling into place quickly, as if the launch signified the finish line.  I couldn’t be more wrong.  The launch was just the beginning.  The amount of work and required patience quickly grew as each day went by.

Fast forward to today and where do I find myself?  A bit lost, slightly confused, and very uncertain.  A close friend refers to the experience of launching a new venture as the pregnancy phenomenon. That oh shit moment when the baby comes and you realize you really have your work cut out for you for the next 20 years.

After some reflection, I began to formulate some of the questions that had been buzzing in my head.  I had been too afraid to acknowledge them.  They made me feel weak and incompetent.  I wanted to numb them.  Yet as the words flowed from my mind to my paper, I started to feel lighter.

How do I know I am working hard enough when…

…I don’t have a boss telling me what to do?

…I’m not seeing results?

…external factors don’t motivate me?

How do I rediscover my vision? How do I figure out how to get there once I do?

How do I know whether I am strong enough to do this?

How do I ask for help when I never learned how to effectively?

I was and often still am paralyzed by that last question.  My challenge first was that I didn’t know what questions to ask.  Now that I have a better hold on them, how do I actually ask them?

That is where confidence comes into play.  The power does not just lie in vulnerability.  At the beginning of this post, I stated “I need help.”  That is the 100% vulnerable side.  However, I do not believe every situation calls for complete vulnerability.  I think there is a beautiful balance that can be reached between confidence and vulnerability.

So, I am asking for your help.

I acknowledge that I need help and I am asking you for support.  Let’s call it confident vulnerability.  

I’ve wrestled with the notion that the following statement is an excuse, a cop out of sorts.  But here it goes –

New Leaf will flourish and succeed only if fully embraced and supported by the community.  

I know this in my heart to be true.  This organization will not reach its potential with a top-down approach controlled by Eric and me.  Strength will come from the foundation of hundreds of supporters, identifying the core values as their own and recognizing they each are an integral piece to the whole.  We need to grow the roots before we grow the branches.

Almost three months in, our reality is that we are not yet at a sustainable point and won’t be for a long time.  However, the horizon looks promising and I am confident that we will get there.  But I know we won’t be able to do it on our own.  

So, really, I am asking for your help.

On May 22nd at 5:30pm, I will be hosting a New Leaf Info Session.  Eric and I were off the map for months before the launch, designing, planning, and visioning the office.  I had unconsciously assumed that everyone would immediately understand the mission, vision, and how to utilize the space.  Since then, I have recognized the need for clear communication regarding the culture of New Leaf and tangible pathways for how to help and/or get involved.  The Info Session will provide the platform to do so.

You don’t need any prior experience, knowledge, or background to attend.  You all have something to offer us.  Come as you are and give what you can.  It may be an idea, a contact, a resource, a donation, or a joke (a pun would be the most valuable offer, in my opinion).  It may be nothing other than your understanding of what coworking and a community hub means.  All of these things are wonderful.

If all of this vulnerability talk sounds self-helpy and fluffy, consider the following comment of Brown’s that has really resonated with me.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity and innovation.”

Brown explains when we try something new, when we innovate, failure is an option.  That uncertainty is scary.  Yet if we want to be courageous and experiment, we have to let go of comfort.  To foster innovation, we must create a culture where discomfort is normal.

Join us in embracing uncertainty.  Meet us at the intersection of chaos and order, where collective learning and real time innovation flourish.  Experiment, take risks, and fail with us.  I know New Leaf can become a place where the community comes alive.  

Help us work better, together.

Image: http://www.chhny.org/wp-content/uploads/helping-hands.jpg

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