Strong Woman Resigns…
You are the most difficult person you will ever lead. Bill Hybels
Years ago I read that quote and, though I found it to be thought-provoking it was certainly “not relevant to my life.” I’d worked in various aspects of Addiction Services for years and came up against some pretty tough customers. That was just among staff. If nothing else, I was certain I had this one figured out.
Sixteen years have passed since injury forced me to stop working. During this time, I finally came to understand why every once in a while, without provocation, those words would suddenly reappear in my thoughts.
I have met the enemy and it is me.
Who is the most difficult person you have ever had to lead and how did you do it?
If you are ever asked this question as part of a job interview or promotion screening, heed my warning: the most difficult person you will ever have to lead is yourself.
A child of the 60’s and woman of the 90’s I was raised in two very different worlds. On the one hand, being told I could do anything I wanted in life — “even work outside the home.” On the other, I was raised in a traditional two-parent Suburban New Jersey family.
Dad left for work by 6:30 am and got home at 6 pm. Mom, like many mothers at the time, was charged with keeping the house going; and lassoing the children before Dad came home to avoid chaos at the dinner table.
By the time I was in college in the late 70’s I was actively questioning how I could ever do both. Yet, not a day went by that I wasn’t told by a person, or an article, a book, or a movie, that I would be part of the “first generation of women able to ‘have it all’.” On the rare occasion I questioned how this would work I always seemed to get the same answer, “You’ll figure it out.” Okay I thought.
Back in the “old days” there was a marvelous Broadway Musical about the Women’s Movement called “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road.” I loved the music. I loved the message.
A song from that play became my “theme song” of sorts. It’s called Strong Woman Number. For those of you not old enough to be familiar with the play (or old enough to enjoy hearing it again) here are the lyrics to the first stanza, which pretty much summed up my attitude about life:
“I’m doing my strong woman number
Walking with my head held high.
Doing my strong woman number
Determination in my eye.
I’ve got the look of assurance,
My observations have pith.
And the one that I love
Thinks I’m wonderful.
But I’m not the one that he’s with.”
To give it a bit more perspective here’s a link to the song, sung by the original cast. Strong Woman Number. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DA1XDfi-4n4\
The “experts” now admit it takes the right person, in the right circumstances, to successfully “have it all.” When I was growing up, it was expected. So, over the years I perfected my Strong Woman Number.
I was raised to believe, if only by the media and the “experts,” that I had to be all and do all, or at best I’d be a traitor to the women who had fought so hard for women’s rights or at worst I would be nothing.
Need something done? Feel free to pile it on my plate.
Sleep? Ha! It’s overrated anyway.
Then Life stepped in to deliver one of those Life Lessons that only life can.
If you know me or follow my pages, you know that close to six-years-ago I had a bit of a Rude Awakening. A sudden onset health issue (a virus decimated the electrical system in my heart) left me chronically in “Critical Condition.”
Suddenly everything changed. I was led to the powerful realization that in My Strong Woman Number I’d spent most of my life running from myself — from what I had become. Somewhere deep in my soul, I knew this person — my alter ego, so to speak, wasn’t who I really was.
People talk about Leadership and leading other people all the time. We often forget or don’t even realize, that the person who is the most difficult yet the most important to lead is ourselves. When we properly lead ourselves, everything else falls into place. We’re not bent on convincing, compelling or controlling others. We aren’t beaten down by circumstances or worries. We don’t spend time or energy on things that ultimately don’t matter.
When you practice self-leadership, you operate according to an integrated perspective of your life which works through the power of choices and decisions you make. You move with purpose and intention, take responsibility for your personal journey. Focus and commitment are present in every step you take. I knew all this well. I taught Leadership classes at a Community College for over twenty years. My work had been nationally recognized. I’d been to DC to accept kudos and dine with HW Bush and numerous members of Congress. My work in the Community had been recognized by President Obama. Despite being an accomplished Leader, I knew those words did not describe me.
I had a serious inner leadership problem.
If I was to have any quality of life, or for that matter stay alive very long, I had to make drastic changes in my life quickly. Having counseled people on transforming their lives I knew what had to be done. The hard part was convincing myself it was my turn. That this time I was the one who had to do it.
At first, my inner Strong Woman piped up and said, “No problem! I’ll just add this bit of info and the required changes it onto what I’m already doing.” I knew that wasn’t the answer.
What do you do when you’ve been rocked to the core of your being? When you realize you’ve been sold a bill of goods. How do you deal with the knowledge that, though you may have many accomplishments, you’re not living up to your Soul’s Potential?
The first thing I had to do if I was to have any chance at success, was say goodbye to my inner Strong Woman. How on earth do you do that? I was married. I had a true partner. But this was scary as hell to me.
I had to let go of the notion that I can do it all. Recognize that the fact that I can’t accomplish everything on my list doesn’t mean I’m inadequate. Learn to make changes, to be flexible when my body isn’t up to it or when plans don’t work out. As someone born saying “I can do it myself,” the most frightening of all the changes I needed to make was to become willing to ask for help when I needed it: sometimes sooner.
I thought I had to be all and do all, or I would be nothing.
The inner Strong Woman in me protested loudly. In my dreams, she carried actual protest signs and walked back and forth in front of the house. Chanting.
Of course you can still do it all.
It’s weak to ask for help.
Why would you change when I’m in here busting my butt to keep your head above water?
Then one day my husband pleaded with me to make changes in the way I lived my life. He tried to explain that keeping your head above water is not the point of life. That you can’t live life to your fullest potential if you are always struggling to avoid drowning.
Finally, I became ready to let go of my inner Strong Woman and begin to start living the life I was meant to lead. I made a major admission and major progress that day. Despite having counseled people for many years, I had no idea where to start.
He begged me, “Please don’t obsess about this now.” Then suggested I start by trying to not sweat the small stuff. Knowing what a big deal that would be for me he added, “Keep it simple. Try beginning each day chilling out.” So I started to begin and end my day with 20 minutes of prayer and meditation. I started to feel a bit refreshed when I got out of bed instead of my regular wired or groggy. It’s actually a beautiful way to start and end the day.
Once I was healthy enough I began to try and get outside, even if only for a few minutes, every day and connect with the world Sometimes I even got down and dirty.
Another tough one for me was l agreed to break-up with the “coulda,” “shoulda,” and “woulda” sisters. To stop second-guessing and give myself a break “already!”
In what became a personal favorite, for the first time in my life, I began to set my own priorities — ones that are right for me, not my inner Strong Woman. Checking in with myself on a daily, if not hourly, basis and (based on my health at the time) seeing what is most important for me — not my boss, my spouse, my dogs, my neighbor, my mail carrier, my Facebook Friends — right here and right now.
Most importantly I pledged to enjoy what is left of my life.
I learned the hard way that life is a journey, not a destination. That’s right — there’s nowhere to go, nowhere you have to be, nothing to do that’s more important than what is happening right here right now.
From my experience with these changes, I think that if we would each spend time remembering that, focusing on the moment, and less time worrying about our inner Strong Woman Number, we’d all be a lot happier and the world we live in would be a much nicer place.
My message, as usual, is simple, yet complicated. As you go about your journey in life, living your own Strong Woman Number: Don’t Just Save the World. Save Yourself!
Here’s a link to my new theme song also from I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road…It’s called Happy Birthday. Here’s the link. Enjoy!