The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
I had had a rough morning. I had sat for four hours with the heads of three nonprofit organizations who gave me what I would refer to later as The Six-Month Review from Hell. It was a review I had requested, looking for feedback on how I may improve my leadership work for the community service center.
What I received instead was an unending diatribe of personal vendettas, criticism, and endless whining. I was shocked, hurt, and confused. There was absolutely nothing that was said that was constructive or, frankly, even relevant to my performance.
It was a circle of some of the harshest judgment I had ever experienced.
I thanked them, returned to my office, and stared blankly at my computer screen while my brain melted into my desktop.
One of the three women present during my review walked into my office and asked if I was ok. I fought back tears and told her that I was rather surprised, to put it mildly.
“What was all that?” I asked.
She bowed her head and apologized. She didn’t know why it went so far off the rails and how it came to be so mean spirited. She acknowledged the Herculean tasks I had accomplished… everything from raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to mobilizing scores of volunteers to raising awareness in the community to keeping an old, 18K square foot building in top shape.
I accepted her apology and decided to take my lunch break out of the office. I drove to my dad’s shop and in one, long sentence, conveyed to my dad the details of my morning. I let out all my frustration, sadness, and anger with my hands and arms waving, face flushed.
He sat, calm, focused on me, listening with full attention. His face and eyes, soft. Compassionate. Supremely kind and accepting.
In the middle of my emotional, run-on sentence, I snapped back to myself and took in the unconditional love emanating from him. I finally took a breath.
“So,” he said in his trademark quiet and gentle voice, “who ultimately gets to define you and your work?”
“Me,” I said, blowing my nose into a paper towel.
“You know the needs of the community. What would you like to see improved in terms of the services being provided?”
I began rattling off my fantasies for education, health, and youth empowerment. Ideas came like water out of a fire hose. Big, juicy ideas that felt ground breaking and fresh. Ideas that could positively shape youngsters and their families for generations.
Ideas that were 100% out of the box.
“I don’t know anyone better suited than you to do all of that,” he said. “You get to choose what limits, if any, you will accept.”
I straightened myself, thanked him with a hug, and marched back to my car. Muttering to myself as I turned the ignition, “Y’all ain’t seen nothing yet!”
As I deconstruct what happened during that conversation with my dad 25 years ago, I realize that the power of it was the enormity of the pendulum swing from one extreme comprised of judgment to one of complete acceptance and love. And in that swing, I transitioned from experiencing complete brain shut down and questioning of my abilities to feeling confident, clear, and as if I were a fount of ideas.
Think back for a moment when you had the experience of being 100% comfortable and accepted in your own skin without one inkling or trace of self-judgment or perceived judgment from others. What was your behavior as a result? What did you think and do?
When you compare that to how you think and act when under the spell of judgment (whether it is emanating from yourself or others), what do you see?
I have come to believe that freeing ourselves from letting judgment land is some of our most important work. It is foundational to our ability to completely free ourselves.
And in so doing, we find ourselves in the Land of No Limits. No borders or edges. No boxes.
Who ultimately gets to define you and your work?
Believe my sweet dad. It is you and only you.
Embrace that knowing and experience a quantum leap of becoming an entirely free person and watch your creativity (and joyful living) rise to an exponential level as a result.