“When We Say We Are Weary, What Do You Hear?”
An interesting thing happened today...I was sharing with a friend about how extremely difficult the last quarter of 2019 had been for me in every aspect of life. I spoke about the absolute perfect storm it all had been: how the cafe had had the most challenging quarter it had seen since its inception, how life was forcing my creation of boundaries in ways that I hated (and desperately needed), as I am generally overly concerned that boundary building will disappoint the people around me. All of this had forced me to take stock of who I really was, and what I really wanted to comprise my life. I knew I needed to relinquish some ways of being in order to live more deeply into who I was becoming.
It seemed that so much of what I thought I knew, so much of what had seemed reliable was all of a sudden up for question. Would I continue to cultivate L!VE or was it ending? Would I set healthy boundaries or perish from the weight of my own practices of codependency? Would I courageously begin to care a little less about others’ perceptions in order to live more fully into my newest truest identity, or would I continue to shoulder the heaviness of what so many others needed to believe about me in order for them to be alright?
As I reflected on this past quarter of 2019, I remember one thing being true: I was telling many people around me, people who are close to me, who know me, that I was not okay. I was naming my fatigue, my anemia, my brain fog, the urgencies associated with the cafe, but it didn’t seem that most heard me with the level of gravitas with which I was intending to deliver the message. I am a firm believer in leading from a space of vulnerability and fallibility, not hiding my personal or professional challenges because I am a leader. I believe that we make leadership all the more enticing to future leaders when we lead from authentic, vulnerable, and genuine spaces. But what was intriguing about the last quarter of last year is that while I was saying all the things to all the people, they could not fully grasp the weight of what I was conveying because, according to them, I looked and seemed alright. So many of them shared that I wore my heaviness well, so they had a skewed gauge of where I was and what I needed. This was a profound concept to me.
Historically, communities have expressed that they could not support their leaders because their leaders were not being transparent about their needs and desire to feel supported. However, in this case, I was actually articulating those needs: “I am exhausted. I am worried about the future of the organization. My relationships are suffering. I need rest.” But because I did not show up to the work looking disheveled, crying everyday, dropping the ball, because I was keeping my commitments while also naming my conditions, my community assumed I was really just okay. I have spoken with a few members of my community since then in order to get a better understanding of this phenomenon, and I am thankful for what they shared because it helps us to have insight into how not to perpetuate these dynamics in the future.
One member of my community said, “No, Reesheda, you definitely did tell me these things, but I guess I needed you to be okay, and I needed your story to be less complicated because it is what I have to hope and believe in.” I appreciate the candor of this statement because my friend is not the only person in the world who has ever felt this way. We sometimes create a coat of metaphorical teflon onto the backs and bodies of our leaders, even when they have made clear that that is not the kind of leader they are aspiring to be. We sometimes superimpose the superhero motif onto our leaders, not because they require it in any way, but because we feel safe, protected, we feel a sense of normalcy when we fabricate leaders donned in teflon, if only in our mental personas of them. It is important to allow leaders to exist within the realm of fallibility, fatigue, and failure, even within our minds, as that is ultimately where ALL leaders reside. Allowing us to live within this more authentic realm maximizes that possibility that when we call out, you will hear us, even if we do not appear to be falling apart.
The truth of the matter is that I am probably never going to be the type of person who shows up looking like I am falling apart. Fashion is one of many mediums of art and expression for me, so in many instances, me practicing the art of adornment could easily have been one of several modes of therapy for me that was giving the energy I need to get through the next round of meetings and budgets! There’s the irony. Additionally, because my nature is to be overly concerned about disappointment within community, the odds of me not doing what I have committed myself to are also slim to none, and not the best gauge for my joy or livelihood factor. Many leaders, such as myself, have been acculturated to such a high value on doing, efficiency, and completion, that we are quite capable of still “meeting the mark,” even when we are saying, “I am weary.” So as we think about how to best support our leaders, perhaps listening more intently to what they say, especially if we know them to be authentic and genuine in their communications, might be more effective than simply taking stock of what they look like or how well they are continuing to show up.
As I fast forward to the first quarter of 2020, things are certainly looking up, primarily because of the tough questions that I was forced to grapple with last quarter, and because inevitably the amazing community of which I am a part, did hear me, and mobilized in an incredible way, on my behalf! I have set healthfull boundaries for myself that have allowed me to take 14 consecutive Fridays off to take care of and be with myself. I have galvanized a team of supporters around iterating the next phase of L!VE Cafe (she is very much AL!VE)! And I have reset some relationships in my life in ways that continue to bring me great joy and fulfillment. So, all is well. But what I have to share with all of you as a result of that journey is the invitation to relinquish your perceptions of your leaders in exchange for something much more beautiful: eyes to truly see them and ears to truly hear them when they are being vulnerable in their reaching out for refresh, renew, and relationship. Selah.