“There are years that ask questions, and there are years that answer.”
My favorite line from an incredible book. I read it in 2014, the year my life turned into a rollercoaster for a while. Leave job brokenhearted, lose self, move to New York, start to find self, move back, turn into a farm girl, fall in love, drive away to spend months in the wild west with a car and a tent, meet better than ever self in the Montana mountains, come home to that love just to watch it combust, take the worst job I’d ever had, wonder if it was all for nothing.
That, and the next, were years that I asked A LOT of questions. I read that line and knew in my bones what Zora Neale Hurston meant. Sometimes you just get bashed by wave after wave, trying to make it out to sea and sail, but never seem to GET anywhere. Asking, searching, pushing, and despite all the activity, seemingly nothing to show for it.
But then I learned what it was like to have a year that answered.
2016, by all accounts, has been the most exponential year of my life. Having left that last dismal job behind and come into an unexpectedly wild new role, I’ve grown more and conquered more and matured more in the last year than I would have ever predicted myself capable of, and it’s still picking up speed every day. I feel like I stepped on to a moving sidewalk and life is passing in huge, blurry mobs – the challenges that teach me and the need to apply those lessons are the same moments. No time for reflection and planning. It’s do or die, and turns out I can handle the doing pretty well.
I’ve never been one to rest on my laurels much, but I do like the easy confidence that comes from familiarity. I worked hard for my reputation, and when I took inventory of what I’ve done, how I’m received, and the successes I know how to replicate, it looked pretty feasible to just go on doing more of what I’ve always done well.
But that wasn’t the question I’d asked those years before, and it wasn’t the answer I was getting now. I didn’t ask what I was good at, or what did I want to do, or even where should I live and work. I asked “What is my PURPOSE?” And the answer, years later, was LEAD. Lead, teach, develop, nurture, grow, love. My God, how those years taught me how to do that, without a clue it was happening.
Losing what you thought defined you, be it a job or a relationship or money, demands humility and self-inventory. Leaders need that in boatloads.
Chasing a dream, like a big move or pursuing your dream company, requires breaking up with fear once and for all and choosing to be brave and believing that you have something to offer. Leaders need that, piles of it.
Falling in love doesn’t happen without trust and faith, and deciding that possible heartbreak is worth it and that even if it happens, you’ll be better for it. Leaders are nothing without the ability to trust.
Packing up the bare essentials while unemployed and choosing to go engage with the world and experience nature fosters wonder and joy and adventure, being present enough in your life to meet and learn from all kinds of people. Leaders are best when they’re full of joy and openness.
Holding tight to what you’ve learned despite situations that feel like wrong turns and dead ends creates perseverance and loyalty to who you know you’ve earned becoming. Leaders MUST persevere.
And so here I am, never having imagined or asked to become a leader, but trained up (and occasionally dragged kicking and screaming and crying) through the things I needed to endure to deliver me ten steps down the path to today, given influence and authority and a lot of responsibility because I dared to ask, “What is my PURPOSE?” There comes a moment when you have to give up what you are great at, what you’ve been before, to step into what you’ll be great at next. It’s scary and a bit saddening, closing one familiar door to burst through the new one, but it is thrilling.