Part 1: Growing Up
Most of the time I love still being a kid.
That means I’m playful, flexible, creative, and filled with wonder. As a kid, I create the world I want to see rather than exist in a world created for me.
But being a kid at heart has another side to the coin.
We all carry trauma with us from past experiences and our families of origin. I’m no exception.
Last week I was lucky enough to sign up for a coaching session with two professionals: Max and Michael.
They really let me have it during our session.
Recently, I have been facing this problem: I was focused on the numbers instead of the big picture concerning a live event I’m hosting this summer.
Numbers and data help us determine the health of projects, but obsessing on numbers is no way to fill the seats of a live event.
So what happened in my past that was impacting me now some 35 years later?
It’s the 1980s in the suburbs of Chicago. Our family has everything we could ever want and more. From the stairs, I watch my father as he puts on his overcoat and hat, picks up his briefcase, and heads out the door for work.
School, a snack, and I’m back sitting on the stairs.
Now my father is returning from work and the ritual happens in reverse.
His briefcase is put down by the door, overcoat and hat placed in the front hall closet. Dad washes his face and comes down in a white tee shirt and jeans. Both of us are off to the backyard to play catch until dinner.
This is my life. Day after day.
One day my parents start arguing. Slowly this happens more and more in front of me and my sister.
I notice that my dad now sleeps on the floor of the home office. 20-some years later I know why.
The neighbors asked my mom, “Do you know that Frank is at the library reading newspapers all day?”
Looking back I know my father was holding onto something he couldn’t navigate by himself and he wasn’t willing to ask for help.
Men didn’t ask for help in those days.
Day after day after day he would pretend to go to work, just to sit at the library and read newspapers all day. He then would come home as if nothing happened.
You can imagine how this damaged my parents’ relationship.
Trust had been eroded. Communication broke down. We had to move out of the only house I had ever known.
Back then, my parents attempted to teach me financial responsibility by opening a savings account for me. I had a paper register and I would record deposits, withdrawals, and update the balance of the account diligently.
Over the years I had amassed thousands of dollars.
Since my dad stopped going to work, my savings account paid the mortgage, until it didn’t, and we had to move.
I wish I could say I was proud that I “supported” the family during this time of need.
I wasn’t proud. I was hurt.
I watched thousands of dollars slowly drain to $0.68.
And it’s that moment that influenced my focus 30-some years later planning a live event.
The devastation of feeling like I lost it all – not just my savings account, but moving in with my aunt for a time, and the eventual divorce of my parents.
This is why I was stuck for a few weeks focusing on numbers. Focusing on filling the live event. Focusing on what I didn’t have rather than what I did have. Focusing on not losing it all.
Part 2: The Question That Changed It for Me (and Maybe You?)
So Max and Michael asked this one question that changed it all for me: What does success look like for you and this event?
The knee-jerk response (rooted in my 8-year old body): Success is a full event. 50 leaders because that means I didn’t lose money.
Max and Michael continue to push my view of success …
Success is overwhelming gratitude that 23 leaders have raised their hands and registered for the event. 21 of the attendees I know, love, and call friends. 2 leaders, I don’t even know, but they know me from my podcast and I’m sure to call them friends soon!
This indeed is a success. As of today, 23 leaders resonate with the message and vision that I am putting into the world regarding this event and they are on the journey with me.
Let’s just say nobody else registers …
If I plan and deliver the event that I dream of, transforming 23 lives in the process, would it be worth it? Would that be a success?
Of course! It would be a success to transform one leader’s life.
Max and Michael: So what changes?
Instead of focusing on “filling the event” and obsessing over tactics I can deploy to invite others to join me this summer, I will shift my focus to actually doing the work necessary to plan an amazing event.
I will document the process.
I will share generously.
When I’m afraid I’ll admit it.
When I’m confident I’ll share that too.
And maybe just maybe by communicating how I’m preparing for the event and sharing it with my tribe, a few more leaders will decide to join us at Bollingen Tower.
Part 3: Leadership Lessons to Ponder
There a lot of leadership lessons to unpack here (even if you have no desire to eventually host a live event).
- Where is your origin story potentially holding you back today, right now?
- Where are you focused on the numbers and not the big picture?
- How can you shift your thinking to a mindset of gratitude for what you have versus frustration for what you don’t have?
- If you adverse to risk (like me) – How does this impact your ability to leap or navigate the ambiguity and risk inherent in leadership?
- What are your core values? What is your vision? How can you lean into these compelling reasons in order to stretch and move past your comfort zone?
- Upper limit challenges and aspirational dreams are incongruent. Who can help you dance with the tension here?
- Where can you be vulnerable and share your story with your organization and/or tribe? Might this help build relationships and enroll others on the journey?