Many years ago when I was the editor and publisher of Kindred magazine (yes, this Kindred!), I became the butt of a certain joke with my children. Kindred explored human development through the lens of culture, education and science and within that genre, the bulk of the articles were about parenting. Not just parenting, mind you, but about how to do it consciously and mindfully.
A single mother trying to make my entrepreneurial ends meet so I could work from home to be with the kids, and get dinner on our table, I immersed myself day and night in my work, often at the expense of my kids. ‘Mum!’ one of them would invariably call out over their homework, ‘…can you help me with….’
‘Not now!’ I’d call back without even looking up from my keyboard, feverishly trying to make deadline on an article about how to be a better parent.
My children learned about irony at a young age.
And they also learned to meet it with good humor and compassion. But those moments dogged me for years. How in the hell could I possibly not only be involved with Kindred, but at its helm? I felt like a hypocrite.
Friends would console me limply saying rote things like, you teach what you most need to learn. Which only made me feel worse, like I was somehow victimizing the entire readership of Kindred by learning at their (and my children’s) expense, all the while parading around in a relatively high profile position of leadership.
While wrestling with my sense of hypocrisy internally, I projected it externally too, pointing accusingly at organizations and leaders who couldn’t walk their talk. After all, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a non-profit espousing non-violence that self-destructs with in-fighting, a school whose mission is holistic education yet abuses children, or a spiritual teacher who preaches peace yet has a problem with domestic violence.
Eventually I made a certain peace with my own humanness and understood that waiting until I was ‘perfect’ so that I could (fill in the blank) was no way to live professionally. So with my imperfections tucked under one arm, my calling to be of service to the world tucked under the other, and a stiff upper lip, I kept aspiring to walk my talk as well as possible, while learning from my mistakes. I discovered my flaws brought an essential element of precious humility to my work as a coach and mentor. But I still judged my learning curves with severity.
Then the other night I had a realization, thanks to my dear friend Toby Herzlich. Toby is a wise-woman. The founder of Biomimicry for Social Innovation, a senior trainer with the Rockwood Leadership Institute and co-founder of Cultivating Women’s Leadership, she has a lot of experience working with people and organizations striving to do good things in the world.
I was joking about a recent situation I had had where I was facilitating a workshop on connection and communication, all the while feeling freaked out, scared and disconnected because of a fight I was having with someone close to me.
She looked at me with a smile.
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘I call that “mission-shadow”. I used to think that it was hypocrisy. But I’ve begun to see it differently.’
She went on to say that whenever we are called to do a certain work in the world, or when an organization declares its dedication toward a particular virtuous mission, then we are presented every opportunity to learn about that subject. And we would, just like inside any robust education, grow through failing, falling down and getting back up again with new insights.
If we had chosen for example to be electricians, she said, then our work would offer every lesson there was to know about electrical wiring. And while learning those things over years and years of experience, no one is pointing a finger at the electrician and calling him a hypocrite.
‘But we didn’t choose that,’ she continued. ‘Instead we chose to be in service to facilitate social change, conscious relationship and innovative leadership. So we get to fail, fall down, and get back up with new insights around all those things, thereby growing to master them over time.’
I lit up. Yes! What she said really resonated with me. And so I had to share it with you.
If you find yourself called in any way to be of service in anything of substance — be it relationships, money, sustainability, leadership, balance, wellbeing or justice, then expect the lessons to be brutally revealing. If you are a parent and are committed to your path to being a good mother or father, it will be the same. If you are called to apply your values in any way that you work or live, individually or in leading an organization, expect to be taught over and over through the humbling art of failure and integration.
This does not make you a hypocrite. It makes you human. And humble. It makes you a disciple of those things you value, honor and cherish. And that makes you a valuable and trustworthy companion to those on a similar journey because you’ve been there.
I disagree with the pop-psychology motto you teach what you most need to learn. It implies that we are all walking around with our pants down and that we are the last to know. I believe instead that we learn what we most need to teach. We learn what we are most called to serve.
In the Buddhist tradition, the future Buddha (replacing the current ‘Gautama’ Buddha) is called Maitreya. The prophecy of the arrival of Maitreya refers to a time in the future when ‘the dharma will have been forgotten by most.’
Like now, for instance.
Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. He is recognized as an enlightened or divine teacher who attained full ‘Buddhahood’ and shared his insights to help humanity. However Maitreya indicates another way in. The name Maitreya is derived from the Sanskrit word maitrī “loving-kindness”, which is derived from the noun mitra, “friend”.
So, what if, the future Buddha is not a person, but a consciousness? What if the era of the enlightened expert is over? And with it, the end of hierarchical thinking and structure? We’ve evolved and changed over the eons and now we need another way to learn and grow — a more horizontally collaborative way. What if we are dawning into a new era of ‘the friend’ – a consciousness of guidance and companionship that is more accessible, more in the trenches, so to speak?
Perhaps you are one of those ‘friends’. Perhaps there are many of us. Perhaps we are being called, and being trained perfectly for that calling in the boot camp of those brutal ‘hypocritical’ moments. And life is just waiting for us to quit judging each other and ourselves as ‘not perfect enough yet’, so that we can get out there and do our real job in this lifetime.
If you knew that this were true, and hence you had not only permission to be of service, but were compelled to, then what is your real job? What is your calling? What are you being trained to do, not through your expertise, but your lessons? To whom are you a trusted guide and companion?
And who are, not your perfect teachers or your idols, but your friends? How do they have your back? And what does their humanness teach you?