When I reflect on how I have changed over the years, the first thing that comes to mind is that when I was younger, I needed a title to make me feel that it was o.k. to be a leader. As I have gotten older, it’s just who I am. Take it or leave it. It’s probably not waiting to be empowered, it’s just being who I am – saying I can do that. People will either accept the help or they won’t. If they don’t, if the door doesn’t open, then that’s not the right place for me. It’s just knowing that.
We must move beyond “being good IN the world” to a place of seeking to be “good FOR the world.” The key is to somehow combine the spirit-ful caring that comes with engaging the world with agency, energy and vision, with the soul-ful caring that comes with persistent and often less-visible acts of communion and what we identified in an earlier essay as “quiet generativity”. One of our Sage leaders describes her own transition away from personal ambition and power. She stated it this way:
In thinking back over my work life, I have found I became less able to put a good face on things when I didn’t really want to. Earlier in my work I could do this because it helped me to nurture my career and advancement. If I had a bad boss, I could suck it up and live with it. And when I had a good boss, I’d enjoy being able to grow. So, I went through that phase of my career where I was able to be whatever I had to be, not just to get ahead but to get the job done. After I got into my 50s, however, I became less and less patient with bad leadership. It was a good thing I retired when I did at 55 because I don’t think I could have continued to put on a good face when it wasn’t warranted.
Another of our Sage leaders came to a similar conclusion regarding the work he had been doing and what he now does:
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The same thing holds with my experiences in the nonprofit world. I often get to a point of frustration where I just say, “Screw it. The governance is so broken that I’m not going to bat my head against the wall anymore.” What this means is that I can be extremely effective in the right environment but no longer have any interest in putting on a good face in a lousy environment. I’d rather walk away from it and plant myself somewhere else.