You know that saying: that courage isn't an absence of fear, it's feeling fear and doing it anyway? I had a dose of that this week. I had a couple of articles go live as part of the publicity for my new book, which exposed a bit more of my personal life and background than I'm used to (which, I am aware, is saying something).
Both articles were about flexible leadership, and one in particular - on Womens Agenda (link below) jumped into a time machine and took us back to 2010, when I was a broke student and single mum, and life was a bit bloody tough.
It's a weird feeling, putting those things out there into the world. I've been left feeling a little exposed, though not necessarily in a bad way. One thing I was aiming for, in sharing some new parts of my story, was to break down the "hero" narrative that frustrates me. You know: "Rags to riches! Homeless man becomes CEO! Find out how you can overcome all your bullsh*t and be amazing forevermore!"
I don't reckon it's helpful. When we only share the lightness, we do everyone a disservice. People's lives are rarely simple, and the same stuff that's a blessing is generally also a curse. Having a job is great for money and meaning, but annoying for freedom. Having kids is lovely for family and joy, but a right pain in the ass most days. And so it goes.
What both of these articles talk about is what I consider to be at the core of strategic leadership - the ability to accept all of this reality for what it is, and make choices from there, rather than waiting for things to reach an unattainable ideal. Flexibility is at the core of our ability to respond to change, and it asks three things of us:
Awareness - What's going on around and inside me?
Agency - What can, and should, I take responsibility for?
Resilience - Can this make me better?
When we're not flexible, we're inevitably frustrated. We're thinking that one day we're finally going to "get there" and all of our trauma, neurosis, and bad habits will be cured. Thinking like that sets us up for disappointment.
Nobody else has got there. The most successful people you know, on whatever metric you're choosing to use, are all battling their own stuff.
They work too much, or their relationships are hard, or their job is on the line, or their health is dicey, or their boss is mean, or their kid is an asshole, or they don't have many friends, or they had a terrible childhood, or they're sad about themselves, or they're uncomfortable in their own skin... the list goes on.
The ticket to success isn't getting rid of all the stuff. It will only be replaced by new stuff - which might be better, or might be worse, but will be there. The ticket is being aware of the stuff, doing your best to learn and grow, and rocking on.
You're never stuck. You've always got the opportunity to transform and grow. But you'll also always probably be battling with something, and while that might be cold comfort, at least you can be safe in the knowledge that you're not alone.
We're all messed up, man. Let's just be the best version that we know how to be, which will change as we do, and keep cracking on.
PS - check out these articles for more on flexible leadership