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letting go

Not long after moving to Australia, I found myself with my pants down. Literally.

Let’s back up and review the context of this embarrassing moment.

I’ve talked previously about my difficulties settling in as an immigrant to Australia from Liverpool, UK… It mostly took place in the classroom. After a school project that disappointed my teacher and embarrassed me in front of my class, I resolved to excel in school. This led to better career prospects… but a lack of introspection and deep immaturity caught up to me.

Besides school, I also attempted to fit in by playing sports, one of the most popular methods for young boys to “make friends and influence people.”

Australia loves sports. They especially enjoy cricket, rugby, and football/soccer. Just for consistency, I’ll refer to it as “soccer” for the rest of this post. As an adolescent, I decided to venture onto the pitch and give it a go, hoping that it would lead me to feeling a sense of belonging and identity in new territory.

The effort was slow-going at first. The first couple of teams didn’t take to me, or me to them. But on the third or fourth team, I remember getting on nicely with everyone. I started to have a good time, until I got dacked.

Yes, dacked. That’s what we call it down under.

 

What happened?

Early in the season, during a training match, one of my teammates decided he wanted to impress the others at the expense of someone else. That “someone else” happened to be the new kid from mother England, yours truly. So, while I wasn’t paying attention to the goings-on behind me, he came up in the middle of the pitch and pantsed me in front of everyone. Underwear and all.

Of course, I reached down and grabbed my shorts and pulled them back up as fast as I could. But it was an incredibly embarrassing moment. It stuck with me for years, even to this day. 

It’s always a temptation in moments like this to make light of the event, to take the sting off a little. But we all have moments like this that we can recall, even if we don’t particularly want to. These range from relatively light and embarrassing, like my story, to much more severe. How we process them defines the hold they have on us even decades later.

I learned that sharing about our embarrassing moments, and even our failures, is far more empowering than keeping them a secret. At the moment, it may feel scary or shameful to bring them up, but afterward you’ll discover a deep relief. Plus, it encourages others to share their own experiences.

Leading Through Change, Embarrassment, and Failure

How does this relate to change and organizational leadership? Greatly.

If you find yourself in a position of leadership, trying to steer the ship through ever-changing waters… don’t hide your fears and failures. Be vulnerable, especially with the younger people on your team, and during seasons of change. 

It’s frightening, difficult, and exposing, change. Sometimes you’ll feel like an immigrant kid caught with their pants down in the middle of a soccer field. However, if you let people into your true thoughts and feelings (with regard for truly sensitive information) they’ll trust you. Plus, you’ll find them more willing to adopt whichever practical changes come.

If you’re younger and desiring to lead through change at a high level, don’t hide your failures, either. Fail fast, and learn from everything. And you will fail. Don’t think of yourself as the mystical exception, and don’t overcompensate in an attempt to avoid your first big “L”. It’s not the end of the world, but sometimes only getting through it and waking up the next day will convince you of that fact.

Let me leave you with the R.A.I.N. Method to tie things together. Embarrassments, failures, and disappointments leave us with strong emotions. Without care on our part, they either create or reinforce automatic tracks of behavior that can stay with us forever. For example, whenever I found myself on a soccer pitch from that day on, I always had one eye looking over my shoulder. Or on a deeper level, I remained on guard around people throughout my young adulthood so they couldn’t take advantage of me like that again.

So, how do we get past automatic reactions that don’t serve us? We all have them. It could look like:

  • Constantly examining your budget even though you’ve already done all the accounting.
  • Perfecting all the little details in a pitch deck… and then going through it again and again.
  • Feeling distressed and automatically thinking about the nearest drive-thru or the beers sitting in the fridge.
  • Driving over the speed limit and growing irritated with other drivers, even though your arrival time won’t really matter.
  • Treating the people in front of us as automatons, or worse, obstacles.

That’s where R.A.I.N. comes in. First, Recognize you’re in a trance of some kind. Not necessarily a hypnotic one. But an automatic reaction has kicked in, and it doesn’t serve you. Lower your tolerance to the red flags I mentioned just above. Train your brain to recognize and respond. Then, Allow yourself to experience the emotion lying beneath while reserving judgement. Don’t try to change anything. Sit and breathe.

This gives you the composure to Investigate the “why” beneath your feelings. Sometimes, it will even remind you of your own “soccer pitch” moment from years ago. Thankfully, this investigation often reveals what we truly need at the moment. Finally, Nurture yourself. What does that mean? Take another breath and send yourself a message of support.

“I’ve done what I can do, and things will work out financially.”

“I’m a good presenter, and I’ve taken great care with this deck. It will go well.”

“A tall glass of water and some brain food will do me better than a burger.”

“I can drive unhurried because my safety and calm matter. I’m worth it.”

“The person in front of me is a real human, with fears, insecurities, and challenges like me. I should honor them.”

Do this in a nonjudgmental and cheerful manner, and you’ll be well on your way to recovery.

Dacking happens to everyone, whether literal or figurative. Thankfully, it can lead to increased vulnerability and trust later on. Plus, every “trance” presents an opportunity to rewire our minds to be more peaceful and holistic.