Warning: Don’t Insert Face into Hole

26 Jul
RYLA 2014-full_group

Our whole camp

Some background promotion: I recently returned from helping to run the Rotary District 5580 RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award) camp. One-hundred-and-fifty incoming high school seniors and juniors were set up into 18 “families” of eight or nine youth each, along with two volunteer facilitators in each family, who all went through nearly seven days of presentations, discussion and activities geared toward helping the campers learn and live what good leadership is all about. By the time they left, these kids understood themselves and key leadership principles much better and will be able to more effectively lead, influence and serve in all aspects of their lives. Our campers leave RYLA benefitting from a process that has been refined over 24 years by some dedicated and visionary people. It’s awesome.

RYLA staff 2015 - cropped narrow

Our spectacular team!

We literally take over the University of Minnesota Crookston campus for the week, filling the dining hall, ballroom, auditorium and gymnasium. A total of 44 volunteer staff gave more than 8,000 hours across the week-plus to make the camp happen, never mind the planning and set up work during the months leading up to the camp. The quality of the young staff is amazing; they are all highly capable servant leaders in their own right. Kudos to our spectacular team!

I was having a debrief with one of the facilitators following camp and he happened to share a comment from one of his family’s youth. The comment floored me; it perfectly summarized what our camp works to achieve. His camper said (paraphrased): “I came to camp expecting you to show me the cardboard cutout of what a leader looks like; instead, you showed me ME and how to apply myself to be a more powerful leader.”

That’s IT!

We only have so much attention and energy to use in any given situation. Energy used to maintain a front, an image, to meet perceived expectations or imitate someone else, is energy and attention no longer available to actually be fully present, notice what is around us, recognize what has heart and meaning, and apply our full self to the interaction. We get told from so many avenues, across all of our years, what a leader, a boss, a teacher, a professional, a Taekwondo master, is supposed to be like; we are presented with examples of others and are lead to believe that if we just imitate them we will be powerful or influential.

Think Star Trek: if power is diverted to the shields (image, front, role) then there is not enough power to propel the ship or to use the weapons (personality, strengths, gifts, tools). If we are using energy to stretch and contort ourselves to fit into the frame of the cardboard cutout, then we have less (or little, or no) energy left to effectively apply ourselves as leaders in our position.

We experience innumerable bosses, managers, teachers, CEO’s and others who expend a lot of energy to act in ways that keep to some role or image, but who actually have much reduced positive influence as leaders because what they are attempting to do is simply not them; they are just trying to insert their face in the hole in the cardboard cutout. At best, it’s misunderstanding and misdirection. At worst, it’s ego and fear driving behavior, often to the point of neglecting or damaging others to protect one’s ego and preserve a particular image.

Bruce Lee cutout crop reduced

There was only one Bruce Lee. Life-size cutout available on Amazon.

I’ve seen martial arts instructors and masters who act the way they imagine the ideal instructor or master to be, or as they have been modeled or told to be. In those instances, if a student is lucky, they are simply subjected to a cardboard caricature; if they are not lucky, they end up influenced by, or suffering under, an egoistic ass, or a bully. I’ve struggled to find my right place as an instructor and master and, to the degree I’ve done poorly, the results are less than satisfactory, to say the least.

I recall my son’s comment to me as I approached my first master’s test, he being in his later teens at the time, with a dozen years of martial arts exposure under his belt: “Maybe you can be the nice master.”  It’s not about nice or not nice, per se, but I knew what he meant and he, the perceptive and impressionable youth, definitely knew what he meant. My son knew me to be a certain kind of man and personality, with particular gifts, and he didn’t want me to play any other kind of role or to attempt to morph into another type of personality. He desired me to be an excellent leader, authentically applying who I was and what I brought to the opportunity. He knew that’s where my real presence and power would come from. It’s what he and others knew, loved and respected in me.

Wonder Woman reduced

Ladies are susceptible, too.

Whether we are uniquely created and gifted by God, or are the one random, particular variation of the infinite possibilities of the cosmos and our environment, I believe the best of who we are and what we have to offer comes as us, from us, not from external slogans, predefined roles, popular or hackneyed images, or the latest bestseller by a multimillionaire CEO. We must recognize, claim and live our preferences and values. Realizing and living this is not easy; it requires deep honesty, vulnerability, trust, courage. At the end of the day – or the end of a life – what lies there within is, after all, still the truth, whether shared, used, hidden, wasted or otherwise. It’s all we really have and, I believe, is the best we have to give.

I’ll simply close with the opening lines of  Now I Become Myself by May Sarton:

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces. . .

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