Ever since grade school I have gravitated to leadership. Yep, I was that kid. The one who always got A’s, was quietly liked by most and ran for and got elected to Student Council President and Class President in the same year. I was 12. I still hadn’t menstruated. I wore big, horn-rimmed glasses and my hair was usually frizzy.
Being a leader began for me by watching my parents, especially my mother. During my years in Catholic grade school, Mom served as the head of our Brownie troop, the founder of our community prayer group, Founder and Editor of a newsletter on parenting and Director of the Adolescent Treatment Program at our family’s non-profit substance abuse treatment center in Richardson. It seemed to me that my mom could handle anything. I always saw her as a Superwoman.
When Mom suddenly died of brain cancer two weeks before my twelfth birthday, I lost my footing. We all did. After her death, I took my grief and began leading others. It was what I knew in a world cast into a dark unknown.
Looking back on my response to her death, I have a mixture of feelings. I feel pride in my adolescent resilience and genuine desire to help others. I feel compassion for how overwhelmed I was. And I also realize that this was where it all began: my using my gift of supporting others to cope with my own burdens, the pressure I put on myself to make it look like I had it all together especially when I didn’t, and my deeply held belief that if I was to be a leader, I had to handle it all on my own.
Twenty-eight years later some things haven’t changed. My hair is still frizzy in the Dallas rain. I still need glasses to see clearly. And I still lead as naturally as taking a breath. As an Intimacy Coach in Dallas, I teach weekly classes on authentic communication, contact improvisation and sexual wellness. I also do private coaching especially with couples and revel in sharing my knowledge to bring people closer together.
What has changed is how I lead. Since I started expanding my sexual awareness on my path of intimacy training, I just can’t fake it anymore. My childhood lesson is losing its hold. It is no longer enough for me to lead on the outside but feel isolated on the inside. I need to acknowledge to myself and others that I have needs and require support too. It seems simple. It’s not easy.
As I practice making myself more human to my world, the most exciting part is how my clients and community is responding. As I shift out of “expert”, my clients and friends grow. It’s shocking to the part of me that spent so many years convinced I had to maintain a separate identity from the full person I am in order to help people. But it’s becoming undeniable in my work: humans get healthier faster when they can relate to other humans.
Let me try to explain what I’ve been seeing. Put simply, whoever you are, if you think I have all your answers, you won’t do the work to find them yourself. And if I think you have my answers, I can resent you for being powerful without realizing we both can have power. No one moves in this model. Even worse, the one with the answers risks isolation. If people have you on a pedestal, you miss sharing the ground with them.
Luckily the opposite is also true. If I admit my struggles and let you into my experience, I effectively step down from the pedestal and we get closer to equal footing. Further, if you have seen me lead and you also learn that I have my human limitations, then you just may discover that you also have a leader in you. And look what has happened: we can get more powerful together. We can collaborate. We can support one another from a place of honesty. And we all grow.
Here’s one example of how this is playing out in my world: Every Wednesday for the last six weeks I have lead a private group of 12 intrepid participants who practice vulnerable, authentic relating and finding ways to stay connected even in the difficult moments. Each week at 7:30pm we gather in a circle. I guide the activities and offer the theme. I am still the group leader. But I also participate from inside the circle and from my own living experience. I acknowledge how I genuinely feel and aim to meet people in their humanness from my own.
And this is what is happening: in the space left where I once lead with a heavier hand, leaders are emerging. Left and right. And the group becomes a collaboration. The thing we came to do – to shed the habits that keep us disconnected, hidden and isolated – is rapidly underway.
Every part of me is thrilled by these experiences. And I want more.
For this type of growth to continue and expand, we need new models of leadership in which we no longer expect ourselves or others to have all the answers. Instead, we need examples of trusting our internal authority while opening to others and from there meeting in our shared vulnerable human experiences. The power comes from the giving and receiving in both directions.
I find myself deeply inspired. And important questions are following. What leadership model do we want in our intimate lives? One of illusory superheroes? Or one of people leading people? What does it mean to be a leader? Can we all be leaders? What would that take? And what would that look like?
I don’t have these answers. Well, I have one. I am not Super Woman! And even my model for Super Woman was not Super Woman. Of course, my mother struggled, too. Yes, I am a very driven human being who has a lot to offer. But like my mother – like all people everywhere – I need help. And I know I am not the only one who has experienced this kind of pressure and isolation. Let us keep asking these important questions as we design the relationships that will both level us all as well as lift us all up.