What Leadership Is Really About
About two months ago, I was asked to bring myself and The Love Mindset to a television set. I should have been thrilled.
I remember, when I was a little girl, I would imagine being a teacher, a singer, a speaker, a politician, an actress, and (after I’d watched A Beautiful Mind) a mathematician. I wanted to be a leader. I wanted to do something amazing in the world.
Thing is, I don’t think I realized how much self-exposure leadership would require.
To say that I used to be awkward would be an understatement. In one picture I found recently of myself from grade school, I have this look of pain on my face. Looking into those eyes, I know what she’s thinking: “Please get this camera away from me.”
I think the scariest thing about the camera was this idea of seeing myself as I “really was.” What terrified me was this idea that I could possibly be a hideous monster, more hideous than I ever dared imagine. If I could only stride through life, blinders on, I could avoid ever having to realize how hideous of a monster I really was.
This fear of exposure wasn’t the only reason my leadership plans laid on the shelf for most of my life.
In that grade 7 picture, I’m wearing hand-me-downs, pimples, and an extra 30 pounds. If the picture had sounds, they would be harsh Eastern European consonants. If the picture had feelings, they would be self-pity and anxiety. I wasn’t exactly a charismatic child.
So my daydreams changed. I had written two books by the age of 22 and spent most of my free time singing and playing the guitar. Of course, I didn’t put myself out there. I had two daydreams as to how I would change the world:
- I am singing in my house. Someone is walking by outside. This person happens to own a record studio. Hearing my voice, he halts. “What, what a beautiful voice!!” At this point, he starts crying, and comes to bang down my door to find out the name of the talented maiden with the voice of fire. I go with him (bags already packed, awaiting this moment) to write amazing ballads that would make John Lennon weep. The ballads, when played to world leaders, dissolve them into a waterfall of tears. “This song! It’s so beautiful,” they’d say through sobs. “Stop the war!”
- My computer gets hacked. The hacker, while destroying my files, comes across the manuscript of my first book. He stays up all night reading it, front to back. He breaks into tears, gives up hacking forever (because the book is so inspiring), and reaches out to the brilliant author of this book that will save the world. This daydream eventually extended into a longer version where he was also a book publisher (coincidentally enough).
Needless to say, neither of those ever happened.
This is one of the reasons I’m grateful for having had a mental breakdown. It not only tore down the walls I had built around my heart but also blasted through the layers of silly, self-limiting beliefs I had in my head. Having healed myself of something that was silently hurting hundreds of people all around me, I knew what I had to do.
For a while, I struggled with coming out, authentically, and talking about overcoming addiction. What if people wouldn’t ever respect me because I’d been an addict? What if my past would follow me around forever? It twisted my guts to just think about it.
The eating disorder part came with its own anxiety. What about girls who turned into skeletons from Anorexia? I never had it that bad. I never ended up in the hospital. Did that mean I didn’t have a right to speak about this pain?
And what about the way I thought of myself? Am I really going to go on stage and talk about how I thought I was fat? What if they think I’m still fat? What then?
I would think myself into holes. Then, I’d realize I was falling in a hole. I’d laugh. I’d cry. I’d pick myself out.
I think the greatest healing happened when I came out and just spoke about these things.
So back to the television. There I am, three days before I’m supposed to go on TV, and I’m terrified. I’m even more terrified because I thought that I was over with all the hole-falling and self-rescue. If not completely, then at least out of the danger zone. And, now, it was back with a vengeance.
What if the camera picks up an angle on me that just makes me look like a fraud? A childish fraud? A fat, childish fraud?!
I laughed. I cried. I knew these thoughts were ridiculous. I tried to be mindful and let them pass, but the anxiety remained.
I waited. Nothing changed.
The day before the interview, I started reaching out. I reached out to fellow author and speaker friends, people who I knew had been through it and faced the fire.
The greatest advice I got was from my friend Howard Falco. With elegant simplicity, he said, “It’s not about you. It’s about them. Realize that, and you’ll be okay.”
Something opened up within me when he said it. It just felt true. It’s not about me. It’s about them. Not about me. About them.
But then, I was confused again. How could it be about them and not about me? I’m supposed to be authentic! I’m supposed to “be myself”! How can I just think about what others want and ignore what I want?
Back to the hole.
In this moment, like many other dire moments in my life, I picked up The Love Mindset. It might sound tacky to use your own book as a reference (or self-promoting to mention it), but I’m serious. This is what I do. It saves me. These are my words, at my most powerful and vulnerable, reminding me of what is true when I begin to close down.
I flip to a bookmarked page and read: “There is no need to choose between self and other, because self is other.”
That’s it! It’s about us, not about me. It’s about them, as in humanity. It’s not about me as in—it’s not about my constructed ego, my body, my mask, my pride. It’s about my authentic self, which is just like everyone’s authentic self.
When I serve me, I serve them.
A few lines above it on the page, I see: “By serving humanity, I automatically serve myself.”
I’m not kidding when I say it was a piece of cake. It was the most fun I’d had in a while. There were so many amazing people in that back room with their own, unique messages to share. So many wonderful others working behind the scenes, willing to chat and explore and laugh. And then, there was me—the me that’s just like you and them and us. The real me. And I loved every moment.
I was inspired to write this post now (as opposed to two months ago when this all happened) by a conversation I was having with a client a few days ago. She had just taken a step into the fire, risking her comfort zone to explore leading a group of people into something absolutely amazing.
I asked her what she’d learned from this experience about being a leader.
Her words set me on fire. She said, “I learned that I can only take them where I can go.”
Maybe the truth is that there’s no such thing as leadership. There’s only authenticity, and this thing we call being a leader is just being authentic really, really loudly.
Maybe leadership is one of those things, like loving, that you can’t learn in a book.
Maybe, just maybe, we’re all just one self-loving thought from getting out there, breaking down the sky-high walls of fears that limit us, and changing the world.
(Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões)