A year ago, I was feeling the need to let go of some of the fear in my life. I claimed "fearless" as my word for 2009, and to kick it off, I made a little video about it...
It's been an interesting year. I took yoga for the first time, despite the fear of letting my clumsiness show. Yes, there was the odd time when I went left when the rest of the class went right and the teacher had to gently correct me, but I loved it none-the-less.
I took a watercolour class and fell in love with painting. In September, I went to Cleveland for a little more creative digging. I practiced calling myself an artist. Next week, I'm starting a drawing class, and I CAN'T WAIT.
I entered an international photo contest and was named one of the runners-up, I won a Communicator of the Year award for taking some chances and launching some big ideas, and - when a film project started hitting the rails - I stepped in and took over much of the leadership.
I launched a new website, held a big launch party, and then got a bunch of interesting people to write guest posts for me. But then I realized that I'd bitten off more than I could chew and this really wasn't the direction I needed to take right now, so I swallowed my pride and shut it down. That probably took more courage than starting it in the first place.
It turned out, though, that the biggest lessons I had to learn about fearlessness were in the area of leadership. I wish I could tell you that I've conquered that mountain, but I've still got lots of climbing to do. And some of the climbing seemed to take me in the wrong direction.
There were a lot more leadership challenges this year than I'd anticipated. Almost a year ago, with great intrepidation, I bared my soul to my team and challenged them to be more honest with me and with each other. It was scary, but there were positive results that made it worthwhile. (I have the same retreat coming up in a couple of weeks again, and I'm approaching it with a healthy mix of hope that we've moved forward and fear that I'll fall flat on my face.) A little later in the year, I put forward a huge proposal to the board for more funds and more staff, and though there was resistance, it was approved and I could move forward. I've hit lots of roadblocks since then, though, and some days I wish I'd kept those big ideas to myself. Some of the resistance came from within my team, and oh... I just get so weary of having to drag people forward when they don't want to carry the vision. Plus, on top of all of that, there's a never-ending court case that I can't say much about, but that has caused a lot of stress (and way too many conversations with people who've heard lies about me) in the last 4 years.
I got a little more hopeful in the fall, when I started hiring new staff, but I've hit some major roadbumps since then, so the hope seems a little questionable right now.
What can I say about trying to live more fearlessly? Well... it has definitely opened me up to new experiences and new delights. I don't regret the new things I've tried, especially in the area of exploring more art.
But with each step we take toward courage, there's bound to be some force trying to push us back to where we were before. There's no doubt that I am a stronger, more bold leader than I was a year ago, but the journey to get here has been fraught with rough patches, challenging relationships, road blocks, and snarls. I'm feeling pretty beaten up by it all right now. There have been many moments this past year when I've wanted to throw in the towel and just find a job where I didn't have to carry the weight of responsibility.
But I will carry on, because, despite the challenges, I feel called to this role and I believe that I am making a difference. Last week, in the middle of one of my hardest days, a co-worker stopped me in the hall to say "I believe you're doing the right thing." She has no idea how much those simple words have carried me since. I believe I'm doing the right thing too, but it was so good, at that low point, to hear some affirmation.
For 2010, I'm chosing a word that results in less bruises. More on that tomorrow.
p.s. If you have a leader who's working hard to do the right thing, PLEASE stop them in the hall to tell them you're noticing. Leaders (especially middle managers) are usually the most under-appreciated, over-stressed in an organization. I speak from personal experience.