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I was sitting this Saturday, as I always do on the 4th Saturday of the month, in a room with women and men I only see on fourth Saturdays. There was a book on my lap, a book at my side, and a book in my bag, patiently awaiting the return of its brethren so that we could finish up this obligation and go home. One of the women was talking about the contents of the book on my lap since we'd already discussed the book on my side. All I could think about is how terrible I've become at minding the book in my bag.

When I was teenager someone somewhere looked at something I'd done and decided that I was a natural leader. That this decision had been made would have been fine, I suppose, if they'd just not said a word to me and left me to discover whether this proclamation were true or not for myself. As it happens, I was not only told, but rewarded with a plaque or paper or somesuch which conferred that moniker. As the years have passed and I have passed through one leadership role or another, I've come to see this as a default mode of existence. I'm always in charge of something.

It sucks at times. Actually, truth be told, it sucks most of the time. I'm always thinking about what I need to do for the various groups in my charge, and I find my brain increasingly overloaded to the point that I can't actually choose to do anything because I always must be doing something. The guilt I feel often pushes me to frustration--with myself, with my loved ones, with my co-workers, with my charges--and at times I actually walk around my home or work expelling curses under my breath as a way to relieve the pressure.

When you're walking through a gorgeous winter garden pushing "fuck"s from your lips to pollinate the flowers, you have to start thinking you're doing something wrong.

At my meeting today we were discussing Jean Vanier's Community and Growth, a book I've had the pleasure to dip into periodically as part of my discernment and study. I am in formation as a secular religious; I study the contemplative traditions of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross as required by the Order of Discalced Carmelites. Vanier's book is meant to guide our religious community life, but every time I read it I find guidance for my secular life as well. This month we read the chapter on Authority and its role in community life, and as I turned each page I found myself both affirmed and humbled. During today's discussion, as I shared the varied and sundry thoughts I'd had while reading, I blurted out that I was glad that I wasn't in a position to lead this particular community, that I needed some time to recollect and refresh myself from the pressures of the leadership roles I already hold. The room was quiet for a moment, and I felt the burning shame of having rejected this group of almost-strangers before they'd even thought to ask me to do something for them.

How arrogant of me to assume they'd ask me to lead when I'd repeatedly shown them I could not follow.

On the drive home, I considered the ways in which I'd failed this community as a member. I am consistently late in completing requested tasks. I apply my gifts for their benefit when it suits me, not when they need them applied. I talk but do not do. I promise but don't always deliver, not in any way that would allow them to rely on me.

The book in my bag is heavy. It's a breviary, a book of prayer that's meant to order the day. My grandmother gave it to me after my grandfather, who was also part of this religious community, died. The pages were already worn for me, a path for me to follow so that I could, perhaps, become a leader in my community as he was one in his. My grandfather was one of those people who lead by the example of his life, and one day I'll have to write his story--and my grandmother's--to give them what honor I can.

Today, though, I think about his relationship with that book, about how he must have picked it up throughout the day in a show of obedience, a show of leading his family by following and submitting to the Rule. I realize that I curse at the flowers when I don't turn the pages of that book often enough, when in my haste to be a good leader, I forget the importance of following.

The book is now out of my bag, its ribbons showing me the way to the next stop on the journey. I step on the path again, keeping the curses in check for a few moments, at least.

This post was written in response to the Week 11 prompt at [ profile] therealljidol.

on 2010-01-24 05:36 am (UTC)
ext_3965: (10 M Clinging)
Posted by [identity profile]
I daresay the flowers will be glad to remain uncursed for now...

on 2010-01-24 09:56 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I hope you're right. I'm so much happier when I don't feel stressed and overwhelmed.

on 2010-01-25 05:42 am (UTC)
ext_3965: (10 M Hands Hug)
Posted by [identity profile]
That's probably true for everyone... *hugs*

on 2010-01-25 07:28 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I had a similar experience of being told repeatedly I should be a leader, which as a kid generally means you're the only one brave (or clueless) enough to tell the grown-ups when there's a problem, or speak up for your peers because they're not brave enough or they realize that they're not on the same level as the adults, which I never did.

But then I got older and realized I hate leading. I do much better when I am the ideas person, and pass the ideas off to someone else who takes the role of Being In Charge, and manages me while I work to make them real. I'm always forging ahead, but forging ahead isn't the same as leading.

I liked your comment about not being suited to lead because you could not follow. It's a really good observation to have.

on 2010-01-25 05:41 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Thanks for sharing your experience; I think your observation about how quickly we can get pegged is spot on. I must admit that I sometimes think of myself as more of an idea person as well, but my current role is one that requires coming up with the idea, implementing the necessary changes, and getting everyone behind the new mission. Oh, yeah, and making sure that it's actually working.

And they say you can't do anything with an English major! ;-)

Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments.

on 2010-01-25 04:19 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
We all need a break once in a while. The problem with being one who leads is the expectations on you of those you encounter, who don't have your whole life in front of them to put into context everything else that's on your plate. I don't think it makes you a bad person to occasionally know when you need to say, "I've had enough for now, thanks, I'm full."

on 2010-01-25 05:46 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Thanks; I needed to hear that. I have a hard time giving myself a break when I need one, and an even harder time RECOGNIZING when those breaks are necessary. And then, of course, there's that feeling that I'm just not measuring up, a feeling that comes from a lot of internalized--and external--pressures that I'm always working to understand and negotiate. I think in writing this I was coming to terms with my need to reconnect to the place from which I've always--and most fruitfully--drawn the nourishment I need to continue on the path.

Thanks again; you always have great insights!

on 2010-01-25 07:18 pm (UTC)
ext_24573: (Elling Shades)
Posted by [identity profile]
We are all human, and the cycles of achievement, failure, and guilt are a natural part of our imperfect nature. But you've got a wonderful guide there with you. *hug*

on 2010-02-01 09:28 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Thanks for the comment and the hug! I find that sometimes I forget how good the guides are, and I'm glad I've had a moment to remember.

on 2010-01-26 01:06 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
As much as I really would like to coast along for a bit I'm usually recruited to be a leader of one committee or board or another. Sigh. I've learned to say no some of the time but... haha

on 2010-02-01 09:28 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I really understand about being recruited; it's tough to say no, especially when you care about the community that's asking!


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