Today’s guest post was written by Pema Teeter, one of my all-time favorite clients. Pema is one of those writers who is also bit of a magician, a bit of a healer, and a lot of a hero. Thanks for sharing your gifts, Pema. You rule.
I have an inner demon that makes it a challenge for me to lead sometimes. The only girl in a paternalistic family of eight, I learned that fighting for top dog position is less than savory. Somebody always wants to take you down. And somebody always wants you to know that your swagger to maintain position is unladylike. It is much safer to fly under the radar.
But while it was safer to stay hidden, I remember fantasies I’d have of bursting out of my quiet ways and leading a crowd to laughter, solving a group argument with the sole stroke of my authority, and as a young adult, carousing morning bus riders into a lively, collective, socio-political discussion in the twenty minutes it took us to get to work on the express bus.
These all remained fantasies. If I compare myself to dogs playing on the grass, I’m the one that rolls over and lets the other dog bite me on the neck. I still have a lot of fun. I just want to get the status out of the way so we can get to the business–or play–at hand.
Existing vs. resisting
At some point, I realized that if I wanted to serve my purpose in the world and use my talents for good–or at all–I was going to have to lead…myself. I was going to have to inch out into the public and not only let people know I exist, but let them see that I can do something they’ll appreciate.
The problem was I was so shy from all that hiding, I couldn’t even speak to the cashier at the grocery store. I couldn’t talk to fellow students in my college classes. And, oh, I was mean. I berated myself for not being able to open my mouth. What would start off as a shy morning would devolve quickly into fierce judgement and full-on self loathing by afternoon.
Scramble or die
One day, fed up with hating myself, I got out the scales and began to weigh inside versus outside. For each instance I wanted to speak up but was too afraid, I would ask myself, “Which hurts worse? To keep this sentiment inside? Or to try saying it, fail and look stupid, but at least have it out?” I began speaking out loud and sounding like a fool. And it was like a pressure valve was releasing. I was happy to sound like a fool, make people’s eyebrows raise with my awkwardness, as long as I didn’t have to hate myself for saying nothing at all.
In this same fumbling way, I employed a new habit that I called “throwing myself in front of a moving truck.” I wanted to have the adventures I fantasized about so much, that without thinking, I would jump into a situation I would have to scramble to get out of. “Walk into that crowd of people. Say something. Scramble or die.” “Sign up for that job interview. Walk into that office. Scramble or die.”
I was not leading. Leaders are suave and eloquent and controlled. People listen to leaders and do what they ask because they are swayed by charisma. I had no charisma. But I did have “Scramble or die.” And as long as I was making incremental progress, in meeting people, opening up my life to more adventures and opportunities, and learning to talk without being so shy, I was doing okay.
Leading is following
I was surviving. I didn’t realize that I was practicing self leadership. I did realize I was tricking myself to get going.
It may be in preparing this blog post that I have come to understand the greatest trick of all for those who resist leadership: Leading is following. Every leader answers a call to service. Every leader follows the call within that moves her along her course.
For me, someone who leads quietly and subtly, hoping to be recognized as an influence rather than a force, this is a blessing to discover. My job is to follow my calling. In doing so, I am both serving a higher source, and leading that higher calling out of myself into the world at large.
Pema Teeter is a writer, editor and story coach for creatives and executives. She works from the premise that story writing is story living. Recent adventures include touring with Sarah McLachlan and Lilith 2010 as a behind-the-scenes blogger and social media maven, co-writing the popular one-man show, SexyNurd, launching her new blog, StoryCharmer.com, and writing and producing her plays in Portland, Oregon.