I’ve just completed writing the following blog, and I am a complete and utter wreck. I’m listening to Carrie Underwood “Jesus take the wheel” while I wipe tears and snot off my face. lol… I don’t usually bare my soul, mostly because I never want to be associated with weakness, but as you will hopefully see by the end of my blog, there is deep sense of strength in the ability to be vulnerable.
I wanted to share some recent revelations in the hope it may help or challenge someone else… 🙂
So, it’s been a few days since the conclusion of the National Student Leadership Forum on Faith and Values, in Canberra, and I am well and truly suffering from NSLF 15’ withdrawals. This forum was extremely confronting, it challenged all my preconceived ideas of leadership and how I identified with it, all while being unbelievably and surprisingly uplifting.
It’s funny how, a group of complete strangers (I literally knew NO ONE!) can make such an unlikely impact on your life, on your heart, on how you see the world, and what was most unexpected, on how I saw myself. While the conference was themed around leadership, faith, and values, I didn’t quite anticipate that my personal conference experience would be centered on my self-worth and my irrational need to present myself as a “Woman of strength” and a strong Pacific woman at that. Somewhere, between the ages of 12 – 24, this irrational need became an obsession.
Growing up, I learnt to be determined, to work hard, to put my head down, and soldier on. As a result, I have been fiercely independent since I was about 12. Every day, I would purposefully strive to present myself as confident, to be strong, to be assertive, to talk with assertion, and to walk with purpose, all in an attempt to be seen as fiercely independent. “YASS Girl” you may cheer, and “What’s wrong with that?” You may ask… Well the clue lies in the word “fiercely”, coupled with the fact that I am also a self-confessed and recovering ‘control freak’.
The problem with being “fiercely” anything, is when you become so comfortable with your position that you refuse to move, you refuse to accept criticism, you refuse to self-reflect, and perhaps the worst of all, is the refusal to be vulnerable, even if it is for your own good. There is then an inevitable degree of inflexibility, stubbornness, and dare I say it, arrogance, associated with my obsession to remain “fiercely independent”.
Prior to NSLF 15′, I often wore the label ‘control freak’ as a badge of honour, as if to say to the world that I have it all together so beware of challenging me. Sadly, and quite embarrassingly ‘control-freak’ to me actually translated to “I am so free from mistake, you must be wrong”. You see, my reluctance to do something as simple as blog, and essentially share what I believed in and what I am passionate about, was incapacitated by an unnecessary fear of judgement, criticism and the inability to control what others may think – yes, I even wanted to control what others thought of me! This trait is born out of an almost debilitating need to grasp control. In effect, I stifled my own voice.
I have gone back and forth about whether I should blog for years actually, and for a few years now many people close to me have pushed me to share my thoughts and pursue a blog, but here’s the thing, I don’t like to be wrong. As much as I liked to think I was an open person, it turns out… not so much! So with that in mind, here is my first genuine attempt at blogging free of the fear of being judged – because whether I am or not, that’s completely okay. I am merely sharing what I feel to be true to myself, on this day, and at this moment.
There have been so many breakthroughs from NSLF 2015, I will be blogging a series of pieces to try and encompass the awesomeness that was NSLF 2015.
NSLF Lesson #1 – Let your guard down!
This is arguably one of my greatest learnings from the NSLF. Vulnerability, one of life’s many paradoxes, while most of us work overtime our entire lives trying to keep it together and remain strong (well at least we try to “appear” to), others happily bare their souls and share their deepest darkest weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and learnings with the world. Oh how I admire this type of person. To be so free of insecurity and self-doubt!
While at the conference, I sat amongst a group of incredible young leaders, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of security, love, and acceptance in a space where I could come as I am, flaws and all. So, I opened up and confessed to this group of peers (now friends) that I am a hopeless control freak and that my mind is incredibly chaotic and that it’s actually somewhat tiring to keep up the façade of having it all together. Let’s face it, aside from Beyonce, who does have it all together!? I mean, this morning, my breakfast was a stale packet of dorito’s and I can’t actually remember if I brushed my teeth (TMI, I know). Anyways, I’m pretty sure the angels in heaven must have been high-fiving at my new revelation. I guess, at the core of my issue, was that while I have always maintained that I have had a deep connection with my faith (which I do) the problem is that I relied predominantly on my own strength and not Gods. You have to keep in mind that this is coming from someone who often prayed just to let God know how angry and frustrated with Him I was for not following my meticulously planned checklist for my life.
I’ve come to realise, that the best leaders recognize the importance of allowing oneself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability lays the foundation for us to be open and non-judgemental; something our world greatly lacks. Arguably, one of the most courageous acts of a leader is allowing themselves to be openly and publicly vulnerable. During NSLF 15’, three leaders really stood out as being courageously open and vulnerable, yet incredibly strong; Cecilia Flores-Oebandra, Mike Baird, and Chris Hayes. All three have incredible portfolios and diverse stories of ‘overcoming’; some have fought through unbelievable hardships, others have had to step out of their comfort zones and pursue the uncertain, while another battled with constantly having the legitimacy of their faith and convictions challenged. However, the most profound trait across all three leaders was their readiness to share their vulnerabilities, to admit their flaws, to share their learnings, and to recognise when they needed to change. You see, I will gladly tell you what I have overcome, but not what I am battling and the problem with this is, if you don’t share your challenges, no one can help you!
An incredible thing happens when you actively and purposely walk down the road to ‘Control Freak’ recovery. I found a deep sense of contentment, fully aware that I have many struggles and possibly my most difficult battles ahead, despite this, I walk with an absolute certainty that my God is faithful, my family is loving, my friends are loyal, and that I am enough. Vulnerability allows you to love yourself freely and wholeheartedly. In the same way, swallowing your pride, knowing when to ask for help, and sharing our vulnerabilities, is likely to bring about more meaningful conversations and genuine relationships.
I am learning to allow God and other people to change me, and even wander away from my life checklist (again, cue the angels singing). It’s funny how when you shut up and listen, God speaks to you. I will no longer be putting “fiercely independent” on my CV, but rather “work in progress”.
Sometimes, strength is not about fighting, it’s often about having the courage to relinquish control and let go.
Vulnerability humanizes leaders.