China On My Mind (Part III)
This week, I am a little pensive, so in this blog, I spend more time in open reflection, and share one opportunity that has opened up for me since I made my interest and connection to China public. As I have said before, my connection to China runs deep, and has come to be an anchor for my core values and purpose. It is also an integration point for various areas of my life that need to congeal. If you have read blogposts I & II, you will notice that I am intentionally using this Mandarin journey as framework for a broader transformation. In so doing, I have been able to embrace more of my whole self, including the quirky, the insightful, the unapologetically powerful and the obsessive. It is all related and wrapped up together. I had been convinced that those qualities of my personality and leadership didn’t fit in to the workplace, or my relationships. I’ve received some uncomfortable feedback on these parts of me over the years, and have sometimes experienced unpleasant reciprocal force in return for the force felt from me. But rather than use this feedback to figure out how to bring a more compelling self to the workplace and the world, I’ve used this feedback to rationalize filing those qualities away from sight, or to attempt to cut them out altogether. Not surprisingly, those efforts didn’t work. I have learned the hard way that no matter how much I try to hide parts of myself, all of me shows up anyway, not powerfully, but accidentally, awkwardly, and in ways that are altogether un-compelling. What I didn’t realize was that a fuller expression of myself could free up more energy to experiment with my wisdom and strength, generating more discretionary effort, building stronger relationships, and yielding more output.
What Does Eric Garner Have To Do With It?
For several years, I have been taking and delivering transformational leadership and coaching courses. One organization in particular that I have stayed connected with is the Coaches Training Institute [CTI]. When I finished my coursework and coaching certification, I began assisting courses to stay familiar with course content.
Before one of the courses, the instructors, myself and the other assistant met to kick off the day, and to plan what we wanted the class to experience. At this first pre-course meeting, one of the instructors spoke about the Eric Garner incident. A video had just become public, and protests were taking place in major cities around the country. Eric Garner was the African- American man who, for illegally selling cigarettes on the corner and questioning officers about their treatment of him afterwards, was eventually strangled to death by one of the policeman. Garner stood with his hands up saying, “I can’t breathe” while policemen stood around and watched indifferently. The CTI instructor briefly, but emotionally, shared her frustrations. She also did this tearfully later during the course instruction. In response to the instructor’s reaction, I just nodded knowingly. I wondered why I hadn’t said more. Maybe I didn’t go ‘there’ because I wanted the safety of not having to express my anger and frustration. Then I realized that this is a familiar place for me, feeling the weight of a subject, holding back for the ‘right time,’ and waiting to address the heavy topics perfectly, or not at all.
Ironically, the coaching class directly addressed ‘things you can’t be with’ as a module. The module was about issues that are difficult to talk about, and therefore creates areas in life where your range of motion and expression is limited. It was in that day, that I realized that I have spent quite a bit of energy holding back to keep others comfortable. That is not to say a little restraint doesn’t have its place. However, I noticed that my ‘simple’ act of holding back often doesn’t serve any practical purpose, but does diminish my ability to bring my real self and all that I can offer in the moment.
An Unexpected Question
I had shared a bit of my Mandarin story with one of the instructors, including some of the resources I was using to create my own language study program. I shared one resource in detail – an online language partner matching site, Conversation Exchange. Through the site, I had picked up seven language partners which allowed me to speak Mandarin with a few different people everyday. Of course, the instructor called me out on that fact at the end of class. She asked me in the context of transcending personal barriers, “How have your relationships with your language partners changed you?” Unexpectedly, I got choked up. Of my seven language partners, I have a few that I have developed some very close relationships with. How can you speak to someone everyday about your life, have the courage to fall on your face together repeatedly, and not develop some deep connections? I don’t speak to my closest American friends everyday. Even if I Skype a Mandarin language partner a few times a week, I am still in their home a few times every week. Besides my husband and children, there is no one else in my life that I meet with that often. Not that I expected not to develop close relationships, I just never considered the possibility. It is obvious and a wonder – even as our cultures are different, and our frames of reference in many cases are diametrically opposed, humanity still gets through. That authentic connection is not a big deal, and at the same time, feels significant.
An Opportunity Presents Itself
During another one of these courses, I happened to mention to one of the other assistants that I would like to become a teacher of CTI programs in China, perhaps in Mandarin. What I didn’t know was that she had created a leadership stake around helping connect people with their dreams by connecting people to each other.
Without my knowledge, she launched into a fury of telephone calls. She contacted someone from the CTI core leadership, and began working behind the scenes to weave her web. Within the week, she texted me that she had recently spoken to one of the leaders, Sam. Apparently, he was very interested and wanted to speak to me. Of course, she told me I couldn’t delay one moment (as I wanted to). He was leaving the country that weekend, but was at home now, waiting for my call. [Insert my panic here.] When I called, he told me that as a pre-requisite to be a CTI leader, I needed to take the ten-month CTI Leadership Program. He and his brother Pat were leading the course in one month. And, as part of the course requirements, each student would be required to identify and follow through with a ‘leadership quest.’ Perhaps teaching coaching and leadership courses in Mandarin could be my quest? He then sent an email to the head of the Chinese program and cc’d me. Jeff, head of CTI programs in China, was a lovely man who encouraged me to come to Shanghai. I told him of my story (he also had an emotional connection with the book, ‘Spring Moon’ many years before.) I told him about my regimen of Skype conversations with my various Mandarin language partners, vocab memorization, Mandarin language programs, texting on ‘We Chat,’ and listening to Chinese television. He was interested, and thought I represented the kind of out-of-the-box transformation the company wanted in its leadership community. The next thing I knew, I was signed up for ‘CTI Leadership,’ receiving coaching clients from China, and considering leader auditions in Shanghai.
This experience has led me to think, what else in my life is this language journey forcing me to face? Am I really willing to consider a personal transformation at this time in my life?
When I am hired, for group or individual work, I am not hired for my credentials. I am hired for what others see and hear and sense from who I am. The work I am doing is important for my own well-being and development, but also central to sustaining my business. Again, it is all wrapped up together. Do others feel they can learn from me? Are they inspired? Are they interested? In a way that I didn’t experience working within a corporation, I must continue to develop fundamentally at my ‘growing edge,’ that particular area of development beyond which there is a well of growth and learning. It is now a necessity that I continue to learn and stay inspired. My life needs to stay interesting for my own sake as well as for the sake of my business. What a lovely personal and professional charge, and I choose to welcome it all.