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Jan 10

Everything is…

new tube mapEverything is relevant. And everything can be challenged.

That is my premise for how I approach my paid work, my voluntary work, my socialising… in fact my whole life.

A few months ago I found myself sitting in a room in a refugee camp in the Middle East. There was a circle of us (I had insisted they lose the classroom layout) and 25 Syrian teenagers were looking at me. Some curious. Some bored. Some puzzled. This had not turned out at all as I had expected and I felt very exposed. The original plan wasn’t gong to work at all in this context. I had a bag of coloured pens and an unsure interpreter.

My first reaction (concealed of course) was screaming panic. What happens here? How does this work? Nobody was coming to save me. This was on me. I went back to my core. For all the years of running focus groups and giving presentations, for all the technical expertise and professional experience, the thing I most needed, in that moment, in that room, was authenticity. To step back into my own self and be that in front of these young people. They had been to hell and back. They were displaced and disoriented. The least I could do was be present for them.

I felt the energy in the room change. I breathed and looked at them. One by one. Honouring them. It was the least and the most that I could do.

It was a crazy couple of hours but we got somewhere. Despite the language barrier and some of the behaviours borne of stress and distress, we had explored the concept of joy together. We had some ideas. We had moved forward. And it meant we started the next day in a better place.

 

In this case, what could be challenged was myself. My professional tricks and strategies (tear those up). Their expectations. The interpreter’s insistence that if there wasn’t a strongly directed process it wouldn’t work. What I had been told that boys and girls wouldn’t be able to work together. My old belief that I had to be in control and know best.

And as for relevance. I feel this is relevant to many aspects of my life. Relevant to my development of my own leadership. When you’re up against the wall, you only have yourself. Relevant to the times when I stand in front of the leadership of a multinational with difficult messages to deliver based on the work I have been doing for them. Relevant to the many moments as a parent when you think – I really have no idea what I am supposed to do next. And I still have to decide and then do it.

 

In the last 12 months, among other things, I have climbed a small mountain, been chased by a shark and been arrested. I have worked with these young people, slept in a Bedouin camp, published my first book. I have analysed sexism in large companies, strategy in charities and become a runner. I have rediscovered my love of creativity, fallen in love and driven a large van. I have been shocked and heartened and challenged and inspired.

I believe that all of these things are relevant to each other. That each time we challenge ourselves, step out – or are kicked out – of our comfort zone and remember to breathe, remember to stay present, draw on all we know, without any sense of compartmentalisation… each time we do these things we become better prepared for all the other things.

The world needs specialists. Of course. People who are prepared to spend hours and hours on detailed programming or staring at cells under a microscope. Astronauts and neuroscientists and orchid farmers. I am not any of those things and I greatly appreciate that other people are. And our world also needs connectors, people who sometimes join up the dots in new ways, change the logic, transport ideas from one tribe to another. I value that I have been able to create a life where I get to do that. Where my experiences are so diverse and my opportunities so stimulating that I can constantly encounter new combinations of thoughts and ideas.

Everything is relevant. Everything can be challenged.

 

The combination is important. Because with a sense of connection comes compassion. I cannot criticise you in the same way if I feel we are part of a connected system. That gives space for challenge with good intent. With the purpose of improving.

 

 

 

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