My last post (Part 1) was about the journey with my ego. I used this as part of a working definition for ego – “The ego is the mind’s identity of our own construction, an identity which is false. We are more than just the mind. If we take all the beliefs of what we are – beliefs about our personality, talents, and abilities – we have the structure of our ego.” To add a little more, “Our ego is the part of our personality that loves manufacturing ‘less than’ experiences. Our ego feeds on fear, doubt and pain. The more we attach ourselves to our ego thoughts, the further we move away from our soul truth. Be very clear – your ego is not the real you! It is the polar opposite of who you really are, but it is not your True Self.” (Melanie Tonia Evans)
Life teaches us many things that are applicable in leadership. I would say that becoming a parent was one of my greatest and most rewarding challenges. Parenting/children has a way of challenging your ego because it challenges your self-centeredness. Even those that are not self-centered report that children, particularly young children, will place demands when you are least prepared, or tired. I had one child for 10 years, and then added two stepchildren when I remarried at 42. The hardest work I have ever done involved those children; in many ways that work was also the most gratifying. There were many times that I felt inadequate, disappointed in myself, and needing to alter some behavior to meet more of the needs of the child, not myself. That is why I said that there were many times my ego was challenged. Learning how to deal with the environment of children taught me so much about flexibility, listening, encouraging, accountability, and love.
Paralleling my journey with my ego was surrender. For our purposes, “surrender, at its core, is the willingness to meet life as it is, to stop fighting with or trying to change what is so, right now” (Psychology Today). It is an interesting intersection where the ego, wanting control, meets a situation where control may not be possible, or advisable.
How we deal with ‘reality’ from the time we are very young, can set the tone for how we will deal with reality going forward. We all encounter events/situations that we wanted to go a different way. This might have led to ‘skirmishes’ internally with our ego as to how we ‘frame’ the situation. What are the stories we have told ourselves to paint a different, more positive, picture of the situation than what was true?
As I was evolving into my ‘who’ I remember there were a litany of times (schoolwork, tests, grades, sports, job feedback, interactions with others etc.) when the stories I told myself, or others, ‘resembled’ the truth. Over time, I found the ‘fantasy’ in those stories and that I was once again portraying myself in a more positive light. It took me into my late 30’s to begin modify my ‘stories’ to resemble the truth more closely. This was quite a struggle, as I thought I would be seen in a less favorable light; that people would walk away. The positive by-product was I was learning to trust the ‘who’ I was becoming and was willing to deal with the consequences of acceptance for my negative behavior.
My most vivid early memory of ‘surrender’ was when my mother died when I was 29. It was one of those life situations that was too big to ‘control’ or to dictate how things should go. Most of the situations up to then were ‘manageable’ in some way. Dealing with death wasn’t anything I would be able to ‘manage.’ During the process of mom dying, I negotiated with God more than once for a different outcome. Eventually, I had, or chose, to face the reality. In that moment of surrender there was a certain peace, the peace of letting go. This allowed me to focus on the loss, the separation, the pain.
Learning to surrender was a critical part of my growth. It forced me to accept more things for what they were. It also began to permeate how I led, inviting more people to participate in leading and executing on additional responsibilities. I expressed this in detail in Part 1.
As I reflect back on moments of surrender, there were several times in my life after my mother’s death where surrender became necessary – a child with special needs, divorce, poor choices by my children, my relationship with my brother, losing two jobs, prostate cancer, aging. And remarkably, no matter what the catalyst, or whether it is a moment’s surrender or a lifetime’s, the result or gift that accompanies it remains the same: relief, gratitude, grace, and sometimes even joy. I think one of the gifts of age is the ability to surrender control to many more things and experience more peace.
I have been coaching almost 15 years. In that time almost half of my clients had some issues with ‘control.’ Some of these people had unrealistic perfectionistic tendencies; others had issues with wanting to dominate; others, trust issues. Regardless, many understood intellectually that giving up some control (i.e., delegation) was a good thing. Their struggle was the emotions (i.e., fear) they experienced when they thought about giving up control. Those that were able to challenge their fear and take the risk often found the strength in relinquishing control.
If we think about the growth and development of humans, control is a big part of what we learn/want to do. Life seems ‘safer’ if I can control what is going on around me, including who is going on around me. We also want to control the ‘narrative’ about our life. Sometimes it resembles the truth and sometimes it does not. These are big elements in the journey to find our True Self. It can also have a big influence on our mental health and on our relationships.
I don’t know if everyone has a similar reaction, but for a long while I found it was more palatable to use the term ‘control’ then it was for me to use ‘surrender.’ Surrender seemed like I was giving up so much more. Giving up control doesn’t seem as ‘invasive,’ particularly when used in the context of delegation. In my own life there was an evolution from use of the word ‘control’ to using ‘surrender.’ My experience is that there are smaller things in our life where giving up control is not that as threatening. It is the bigger things, the things I recognized that were bigger than me (i.e., disease, death, loss of job, addiction(s)) that allowed me the opportunity to ‘let go’ and to surrender to some reality that I needed to look at and experience differently in order to change my behavior. I repeat – remarkably, no matter what the catalyst, or whether it is a moment’s surrender or a lifetime’s, the result or gift that accompanies it remains the same: relief, gratitude, grace, and sometimes even joy.
Surrender has been an important part of my journey in life and leadership. I found it to go hand in hand with humility, a key component to being a more effective leader. Are there areas of your life where giving up control, or even surrender would improve the situation?
Toward a better you…