About a year ago I got to have a revealing conversation with my dad. We were on a family vacation in Mexico, and I had recently brought up my desire to transition out of the company and into a new career. During that time, I got to process through the why with my mom and dad to help give them some clarity on why I was determined on going down this new course.
In the midst of the conversations my mom or I or both of us brought up how my dad did not really take the time to process through his emotions, talking more about sadness, grief, and hurt. I could instantly tell we had hit on a nerve because he immediately went on the defensive.
He was the owner of a company, and he had to keep things going. He did not have the luxury of letting something sweep him off his feet or land him in a funk for any sort of time. There was plenty of stress and hurt, but it had to stay bottled inside and forced away from coming to surface. It had to stay where it could not harm his ability to lead and run the company, which was also how he was providing for us, his family.
It was a touching moment of vulnerability for me. My dad had never really shared at all about the affect some of the hard points of his life had on him. There had been fairly surface level conversations, notes about different events or times in work and life that were hard or difficult, but nothing that had any emotion behind it. For once he let the curtain be pulled back to reveal the isolation he had subjected himself to in order to keep the company running.
As a child, I remember my dad having trouble sleeping some of the time. I also remember the stress blisters he would get on his hands, which indicated particularly trying times at work. Both were probably symptoms of having the weight of running the company and keeping it afloat weighing on his shoulders.
He wasn’t completely alone. My mom was very supportive and was there for him all those years. He had some friends along with him too, but not many were able to relate to the weight of responsibility he faced.
It is a fairly old guard belief, but it is still held strongly by most today: Leaders are the ones who have it all together, or we believe they need to because we rely on them to keep us secure and safe. We forget leaders are the same as us. They feel, they bleed, and they need a sense of security and belonging just as much as we do.
However, it is hard to be vulnerable with the people following you when you sense that expectation that you are to be the stopgap for everything they are not. What will happen when you show them that you are just as human as they are? Will they follow someone who isn’t a step below deity?
Honestly, it can be a coin flip.
If you have held to the illusion of being Superman (or Superwoman), you have been wearing a false mask, and if it has not crept into your personal life, then you just have not taken the time to look in the mirror. I know from experience. You are sacrificing the integrity of who you are by covering up your wounds, your imperfections, and your weaknesses. All of those things are the flip side of your strengths and what people enjoy about you. To hide them means to cover up and dim down the very things that people started following you for.
On the flip side, if you expect the person you are following to be perfect, to fill in all the holes that you are not, to be your unwavering source of security and significance, then you are killing them. You are asking them to be someone they are not. You want them to shine brighter and brighter in their skills and talents but are unwilling to acknowledge the fuel for that light comes in their failures: missteps, overcompensations, and generally letting people down.
I have always found that life gains so much more joy when I get to show people who I am really. I often think that life will feel and be better if I can project a better more curated and sculpted image of myself. However, that has always yielded more anxiety and loneliness as I long to be fully known.
I have come a long way from my people pleasing days of believing it is better to be accepted than to be true, and I still have significant work to do. I do know that I want to keep stepping deeper into this pool of true authenticity, sharing both glorious triumphs and confusing failures. It is one of the deepest places of joy and pleasure I have found.
To a life worth living.