Even leaders fall apart — and that’s ok

A woman covering her face with her hands
Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

I was talking to a friend today, someone who is a leader in her local business community. As she began talking about how hard she was working to hold the people in that community together, she began to cry, tears streaming down her face despite her best efforts to stop them.

I was reminded of water pushing through cracks in concrete. And then I thought of one of my favorite Leonard Cohen lyrics:

“Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

If you’re putting pressure on yourself right now to hold it together, to get it right, because other people are counting on you, I invite you to give yourself some grace.

The mere fact that you are committed to coming through for other people shows me that you’re a leader. You don’t need to prove it. You just need to be you.

You are the perfect offering.

Yesterday a high-level manager at a tech company began our Zoom meeting by sharing how she and her husband were struggling: the non-profit he runs is on the brink of closure, he’s scrambling overtime to save it, she’s worried about her own job security, and meanwhile, they are taking care of their toddler and kindergartener.

After twenty minutes or so, we eventually got to the topic of the article she wanted me to help her write. She didn’t apologize for talking about how she was struggling, nor should she have. Getting personal and vulnerable didn’t take away from her ability to then passionately articulate the strategy she was forming, on the fly, to keep her department relevant in this new reality.

This woman is coming through for the people on her team, and all the people she serves, not because she’s acting like nothing’s bothering her, but because she cares about them and is committed to giving the best of herself to helping them.

It’s okay to be messy.

It’s okay to be human.

It’s okay to want to hide and numb and to feel like you have no clue what the hell to do.

You can do all of those things and still be a leader because you show up for the people you lead. And when I use the term “leader,” I include every single person on earth raising a child. Your kids don’t need to see you being perfect — they need to see you, period. And then they need to see you showing up for them whether you’re sad, scared, can’t motivate yourself to do anything more enriching with them than put on another cartoon, or what have you.

What we need is each other. What we need is for people to hold space for us to be ourselves and to process this all in our own way, and then we need to give that same space back to ourselves.

For all the physical space between us right now, so many of us are feeling crowded. Crowded by worries, crowded literally as we spend yet another day cooped up in our homes. Crowded by the stories we tell ourselves and by the burden of our own self-judgment.

Creating space, literally and figuratively, is no small task, but it just might be the ultimate act of leadership. And if you can’t create space: It’s okay to simply crack. Every time you do, you give other people permission to do the same.

“There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, ‘I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,’ or ‘I cried last night.’ When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you.”

- David Kessler, grief expert, as quoted in the Harvard Business Review

There is a crack, a crack in everything. And everyone.

That’s how the light gets in.

And, friends, we need all the light we can get.

Writer and mother. On a mission to fill the world with stories that tell the truth about women—and with women who tell their stories.

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