Author and teacher, Parker Palmer reflects,
“As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots.”
Most of us know the angst of trying to live up to someone else’s expectations. It can take a number of different forms.
Regrets are turned into hopes for you.
This is typically a parent or a grandparent - someone in the family. Mom always wanted to be a nurse, so she persuades her son to go to the best nursing school in the area. Dad missed the opportunity to go to law school, so he’s talked about his daughter being an attorney since she was four. Your wife wants you to be the “Jack of all trades” like her father never was - ever.
Desires or passions are projected onto you.
Your spouse insists you find work that will put you in a bigger house in a better neighborhood with a better car in a cleaner garage. Your pastor sees you as "preacher junior" and talks to you often about bible college. Your roommate desperately wants to hike around Europe for a month; you’ve never walked more than two city blocks.
Organizational needs are placed on you.
The owner insists he can’t promote you to regional director; the work in this local branch is too critical. Your pastor expects you’ll stay in your role for… well, forever; the church needs you to be faithful. You’ve talked about your desire to develop your leadership opportunities, but there’s not a seat at the leadership table.
Everyone thinks they know you better than you do.
You’re told what your gifts are. Someone else insists you don’t have the ability to lead strategically. Your supervisor doesn’t see what you believe is true about you: that you can build a team; you can create and produce beauty; you can develop other leaders.
Parker Palmer wrote:
“One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess - the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.”
This sense of nothingness in your experience may come from a lack of rest - a failure to replenish your soul. However, as Parker notes, you can also serve from nothingness because you’re trying too hard to live into someone else’s expectations, someone else’s values, someone else’s vision for your life.
Perhaps it's time to question, explore and discover your innate talents, your defining values and your unique makeup.
You know the values of the organization where you work, but if asked, you couldn’t really state yours.
Except maybe you’d say you value belonging to something bigger than yourself. Your supervisor talks with you often about the tasks and responsibilities on your job description, but rarely, if ever, talks with you about your talents and skills. You stopped dreaming a long time ago, because someone else has the responsibility of carrying the vision.
Perhaps you do have the self-awareness to know your personal values.
You're in touch with yourself enough to know your core strengths. You fall asleep at night dreaming, “What if…” kinds of dreams. Not whimsical pie-in-the-sky dreams, but vision - real vision of what could be and should be.
The reason teams work, the power of community, the strength of any organization flows from a deep commitment to shared values, shared mission and shared vision.
Visions are fulfilled because everyone understands their unique contribution and they “bring it.” It IS powerful to know that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. It IS an amazing experience to be captured by the compelling vision cast by someone else. You find “home” when leaders of this vision recognize your uniqueness and call the best out of you, asking you to be true to who you are.
It is quite a contrast, however, when you realize that what is “bigger than you are” somehow shadows or even buries your truest self.
With this realization a deep, irreconcilable angst settles deeply in your soul, within your truest self. You know your values, abilities, dreams and visions are misaligned with those of the organization in which you serve or work. You know that your values just don’t quite align with the values of your leaders or team. You realize that your essential skills are underutilized. You feel tired trying to hang on to the vision you see, because it’s just different enough to risk being disruptive.
What do you do when this is the case? There ARE options.
Open dialog about who you are at your core.
Speak about your selfhood, about who you’re wired to be. Maybe the conversation hasn’t happened because you’ve not started it. It may be time to be courageous, to step up to the challenge and ask for space to be heard.
Look closely at your talents, your values and your vision. And then look closer still.
It could be that there’s such a relational strain between you and others around you, that your perception of what is true about them or the organization is just skewed…enough. Enough to cause you to find differences that aren’t actually as polarizing as they seem. Enough to cause you to see personal preferences as issues of right or wrong. There could be a personal relationship to be healed.
Maybe it's time to align "you" elsewhere.
Upon looking closely at your talents, your values and your vision, it’s crystal clear: there simply is not alignment between you and the organization; between you and your leader. The courageous conversation may be about exploring other work in a different place.
Parker Palmer notes that,
“The people who help us grow toward true self offer unconditional love, neither judging us to be deficient nor trying to force us to change but accepting us exactly as we are. And yet this unconditional love does not lead us to rest on our laurels. Instead, it surrounds us with a charged force field that makes us want to grow from the inside out — a force field that is safe enough to take the risks and endure the failures that growth requires.”
You are a beautiful and capable human being. You have much to offer the immediate world around you. You have unique purpose to discover, embrace, live out and celebrate.
I’ll wrap this with one more quote. This one from Anne Lamott:
"We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be."
- Are you aware of your deepest values, your innate talents, your personal passions?
- Are you aligned with the people around you in a way that frees you to live out your truest self?
- Will you be brave?
- Answer honestly: is your truest self aligned or have you settled?
- Will you take the next step to gift us with YOU?
If you'd like to explore a pathway to these steps, contact me.