Former Coach of the Green Bay Packers Vince Lombardi once said: “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle—victorious.” While not an avid sports fan, I can now relate to this famous quote having experienced this personally over the past three weeks at work. And as I scrape myself off the field of battle, I’ll share my self-reflections about the glorious and shadow sides of such victory.
As a leadership instructor, I help to teach and prepare emerging leaders what to expect from future supervision positions (should they choose to step into that role. In another class, I teach current managers how to lead through the perspective and lens of emotional intelligence. Both classes are five days each and this time ran back to back. In these classes, I harness my keen observation skills and utilize my coaching training to challenge adult learners to step into what is uncomfortable and less natural. I do this to help others see what can be gained from those experiences where they can expand choices and improve their leadership skills and create alternative approaches to managing people.
From an emotional intelligence perspective, self-awareness told me I would experience a complicated swirl of expectations and emotions going into those three weeks. I was excited about the challenge of working with nonmanagers and managers consecutively. I was thrilled to lean into my coaching skills and provide one-on-one feedback to give different perspectives to learners’ decisions. I was stimulated to work alongside leadership professionals who always challenge me to think in new ways. I knew that I would have little time and energy after long days to take care of myself and my faithful dog. I recognized that I would not have the time to show love for my immediate circle. I was going to have to ask for help and rely on others to balance home and work. I understood that I would be tired.
I was thriving each day in the classroom but only surviving at night. Fooling myself, I was hopeful that the restless and mind-racing sleep would give me enough boost for the next day. But mindfulness and resiliency teach us that such a pace doesn’t work. Yet, I pushed … and if I’m honest, I was just surviving the last day in front of the students…almost dead on my feet.
The major self-evaluation (a.k.a. the AHA moment) came when my mom texted me during the last week and asked, “So, how goes it?” I simply and honestly said, “Well, Mom, if I cared less, I wouldn’t be so exhausted. The problem is that I do!” As a retired French and Latin teacher whose students stayed after school for her influence and guidance, she understood on a deep level what I meant. I’m exhausted because I care too much. It’s an interesting problem to have.
I’ve written before in this blog about being someone who is “recovering from perfection.” After these three weeks, I am proud to report that it wasn’t perfection that was driving me to exhaustion. It was excellence. It was quality. It was the goal to create a space where people could experiment and learn and potentially thrive. It was caring about others and their growth. And it wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t perfect. I was prepared. I also asked for help when I needed it. And while this is difficult for me, I let go when I was not in control. And I wonder if any of that self-management would have happened if I wasn’t so tired. Maybe I was too tired to wrestle for control. And that is one of my most interesting takeaways from the three weeks.
Continuous self-reflection is essential to my growth, not only as a person but as a professional coach. As a person who is very self-critical, I must know when to ease up and extend myself some grace. Today, I’ve taken the day off to do just that: assess through self-reflection. I’m not talking about assessing the class and how I taught and how the adults learned. I’m talking about truly and honestly looking at how I took care of myself while trying to take care of and educate others. To look at what went well (the glory), you must be willing to examine the shadow sides of yourself. What did you have to give up in order to achieve that glory?
We hear Olympians and super athletes confess the shadow sides to glory in documentaries, such as “The Weight of Gold.” But we don’t need to be superhuman to relate to their messaging. Striving toward excellence in what matters most takes a toll. We push ourselves because of our goals. Our most important values (whether they are family, integrity, faith, success, balance, etc.) provide us with that continuing energy to drive on, even when we’re tired. And when we do push past our standard (leaving it all on the field), how do we assess and recover? For how can we improve if we never review the tape of life and see what helps us and what hurts us?
I encourage you to step away and take the time you need to self-examine. Please do this so that you can make healthier choices for yourself the next time you’re asked to leave it all on the field. Sometimes the smallest tweaks make all the difference.