Friday, July 9, 2010

Responsibilty, Leadership, and their Narratives

Feeling a bit in a funk the past few days. At work, we now have a new director. I met him this morning. He probably will be successful, and elevate the organization. He seems to be a person who knows what is necessary to get things done. And at the same time ... I think it's still time for me to go. But to what and how?

Barry over at Ox Herding recently had some posts about making a one percent shift in your life, our communities, even in our nations' current trajectories. He points out that such a shift will lead to others, and that it's often the first action step that is the hardest (in our minds.)

This is me, stuck on that first shift, not only in my job, but really in much of my life. I have plenty of ideas. Yoga teacher training. Studying herbal medicine. Going back for a PhD in Education. Getting a driver's license for the first time in my life. Starting another non-profit. Lots of ideas, but that's where it all is at right now.

I have a great fear to be honest that I will end up being over-committed and responsible for even more than I already am. This has been my life's storyline. Being the "responsible one," the one that is fairly self-sufficient, doesn't need a lot of help, volunteers in multiple capacities, and generally lands in positions of responsibility. It's a story, certainly. But also one with enough truth to it that it's hard to simply let go.

Before I was 10 years old, I had already become part parent to my sister, was responsible for a lot of the house cleaning, and had collected an internal narrative that I also was "responsible for maintaining the peace" between my then often fighting parents. Into my early teens, I began volunteering at my local rec center, and also "acquired" my mother's overbearing boyfriend's list of non-negotiable helping demands. I've rarely felt deep hatred towards another - I very much hated this man even long after he had exited my life.

Moving on, into college, I began acquiring extracurricular positions, eventually landing on the University's Student Senate, where I chaired multiple committees in addition to averaging 16 credits a semester. The end of college was, for this reason, both a time of loss and a relief. However, it wasn't six month and I found a new way to get involved, this time as a volunteer ESL teacher. That was 12 years ago. In the meantime, I have finished grad school, helped start a non-profit adult education organization and a literary journal, been an ESL teacher in three different organizations, and have risen to board chair of my Zen center.

And I have made so little money over the years that it's taken every last bit of frugalness, and probably a pound of stinginess to boot, in order to make it this far. No car. No health insurance. Living at home until three years ago. Lots in unusual decisions in the eyes of the average American. Honestly, I think I've done alright though, and there is little or nothing I'd change in my past even if I could.

Maybe this gives you all an idea about why taking the next step, making that one percent change, isn't so easy. Because I can feel the trajectory of my life being ready to reflected differently in some way, and yet can also feel all the fears and doubts attached to what might come.

Really, I'm afraid to fail - kind of silly when I view it from a teachings perspective - but there it is.

I've been told before by people who don't know me well, and could care less, to shut the hell up, suck it up, and move on.

Uh huh. That's a nice blunt offering. Sometimes very true too. Then again, the same person could just give me the bird and call it a day.

From a practice perspective, I think I've always had a major rub between the silent, contemplative, meditative aspects and action in the world. Anyone reading this blog for more than a few weeks would know that one though, so it's barely news. I find myself sitting in zazen, or walking around my neighborhood, listening. Maybe expecting answers to come and/or a direction to take as well, which I can see is probably a hindrance. Thing is, in the past, that direction, and the actions required have come to me - as you can see by how much I've done in my life.

So, I'm feeling impatient. Thinking maybe I just have to leap in some direction, and letting what comes come. Wondering if the whole leaping off the hundred foot pole teaching is foolish if done in haste. And what is "in haste" anyway?

I like to be a confident person. I like to have some sense of what I'm doing, and to be able to support others in finding that sense for themselves. It's part of the reason why I love teaching. But being in a lead role too often makes it that much harder to feel confusion, directionlessness, and incompetence because not only do you expect the opposite of yourself, but others come to expect you'll have your shit together as well.

Over the past week, I have felt less resistance to these decidedly "non-leaderly" qualities I am experiencing. In fact, I can even say I am curiously attending to them a little more. But it's still a challenge, one I can handle, but which seems to leading me slowly away from familiar territory.


hadv said...

That's an exciting phase, transitions.

Tom said...

Please forgive me for being blunt but I think you need a long holiday. New places, new faces and a break from routine can be very refreshing. You'll still come back to the same questions when you return home but hopefully you'll have a new perspective with more energy and positivity to do what needs to be done.

Sometimes, you just need to empty the cup ...

Nathan said...


I think I'll be getting that vacation time next month, and I agree that I need a holiday from it all.


Jomon said...

Oh, Nathan! I resemble this post! Exploring the options other than all this leaping and stepping is of course non-doing. Also known as "stewing in discomfort" until the next step, and the motivations behind that next step are completely clarified. Easier said than done, and exactly what you already practice. And with that non-doing we are confronting what I experience as a deep fear of being worthless. Thank YOU, Protestant work ethic! I am glad you are going on a holiday. Deep bows for your honesty and vulnerability.

Nathan said...

"Easier said than done, and exactly what you already practice. And with that non-doing we are confronting what I experience as a deep fear of being worthless. Thank YOU, Protestant work ethic!"

So true. There is a piece of me that thinks I have to keep going, keep producing, keeping "helping out" in order to be of value in the world.

What's curious is that I have the ability to just be, but even after almost a decade of practice, it's still often that outside demands and internal judgments take over.

Thanks for your comments. May we stew in discomfort well, and be able to act when it's time.

Bows, Nathan

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a freshening view from here of current reality.

Might be time to dream new dreams and start where you are.

"The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience." — Flannery O'Connor.

Action removes the doubt that theory cannot solve.