This week marked the end of my months-long leadership training with two final days of attendance. Thinking that I was nearly home free, I made the mistake of letting my guard down and the result, let’s just say, involved a great deal less beauty than this:
What caused me to lose my marbles at the very end you ask? What could possibly, after all the bullshit, hypocrisy and verbal abuse I endured, put me so far over the edge that I would pass on graduating after having completed everything demanded? Rage – pure and simple. Now, do not misunderstand the purity and simplicity of the emotion itself to indicate that the situation was anything other than multifaceted and suffused with political implications.
Back when we first started discussing mission statements months ago, I asked if we would have to read these at graduation. On a side note, I personally find all the pomp-and-circumstance around completing such a basic leadership training to be a bit ridiculous; however, my organization does consider it to be a big deal and it is well attended by leadership and many others. The trainer said that we would have to read them in front of our class, but not at graduation. I was willing to accept this (although not thrilled), resulting in my mission’s mask. Fast forward to the day before graduation…as the day came to a close, we were given “Declarations” to complete:
My name is ____________________________________.
My guiding principles are __________________________
My mission is ___________________________________
I will pay my learning forward by _____________________
I am a leader!
I completed this with the five values I identified back on the first day of this training: service, humility, loved, acceptance and growth; I also listed my mission to break the mold, let go, dare to thrive; and finally, that I would pay my learning forward by using team building exercises to strengthen groups. Then we went around the room and all 19 of us stood up and read our declarations. Admittedly, I wasn’t thrilled, but I was willing (even if I did go last). Having completed this task, the trainers collected all of our declarations to copy for our managers. At this point I was still on board, and then the death knoll sounded.
The primary trainer announced that at graduation the next day we would each read our declarations. Shocked at the fact that he outright lied to me when I asked (in front of our entire group by the way) if we would have to do so at graduation, I called him on it. His response? “Yep.” Asshole! He didn’t even deny that he lied or try to use an excuse by saying there was a change in plan. The audacity for a trainer teaching a leadership course, focusing on building trust and following guiding principals, to bold-faced lie directly to me in front of our entire group blew me AWAY. As is its way, the fury built fast and consumed me entirely. The instant we were done for the day I was out of the room and headed for Mr. Casual Friday’s office, practically at a run!
Thankfully the class completed about 4:15 so I knew I had a good shot at catching MCF, and so it was. As I walked up to his door, he greeted me casually saying, “Hi, how are you?” to which I naturally responded (shaking in rage), “Not good. Mind if I close the door?” He indicated for me to proceed and down I sat, uselessly attempting to conceal the violence with which I was now shaking. “I am so angry!” I forced out. We’d had several conversations over the course of this training about the many ways in which I disagreed with the methods used, but with graduation so near we’d both thought the worst was over. I outlined the circumstances in which I found myself and explained, “I can’t stand in front of an auditorium full of people and say one of my five core values is humility! It’s not appropriate; you can’t just do that! There is not one person in my training that shares that core value; they can’t understand. But I will not do that.” MCF suggested I simply replace that value with something else for the purposes of graduation. I went on to explain why I was consumed by rage, “I feel like two of my values are conflicting; or maybe just one value in conflict. I invited people to graduation; I made a commitment to them that I’d be there. I don’t care so much about the commitment I made to attend the training or even my smaller work group, but although I only invited five people, those five people are the ones I care the most about!”
“I’m not a fan of pomp-and-circumstance; I wouldn’t feel as though I was missing out by not collecting the certificate; a piece of paper doesn’t chance the things I’ve learned and the growth I’ve achieved through this process. Symbols are rarely meaningful to me; the truths behind the symbol are what I care about. I’m sure I could explain to the rest of the people I invited what happened and why I decided not to graduate and they’d accept my decision, but I would still feel like I’d let go of some of my own integrity. Honoring my commitments is extremely important to me.” While describing my eschewal of symbols, I suddenly became aware that I was playing with the BDSMblem pendant around my neck – a bit ironic! I immediately dropped it and in reward was swiftly accosted by the knowledge that I’d not been able to meet MCF’s eyes even a handful of times since entering his office.
Hanging my head in shame and speaking to the floor, I continued, “On the other hand, I strongly believe that our actions important and by going to graduation I’d be condoning how this training was handled and specifically the trainer’s use of lying to force me to do something that isn’t right for me. It feels like, whichever I choose, I am sacrificing some amount of my personal integrity. That’s why I’m so furious.” MCF agreed that the other four individuals I invited to graduation would likely understand my reasons if I chose not to graduate, but went on to ask, “What does the voice inside of you tell you to do?” My response was, “There’s a voice saying, ‘I don’t want to go to graduation.’ and a louder voice saying, ‘I have to go to graduation.'” “One of those voices is trying to protect you,” he points out, “trying to keep you from becoming cornered again; that’s the voice saying you don’t want to go to graduation…You know I’m not going to tell you what to do.” After expressing how badly I really did want him to do just that, I explored a topic I recently considered bringing up with him.
“I am afraid of making this decision.” I choked out through the tears now freely falling. “I never thought I’d cause this.” he said in response, handing me a box of tissues. “It certainly wasn’t caused by you!” I insisted. After collecting myself as much as I could, I went on, “When you face a specific type of circumstance and a decision is required, it’s always the hardest to make that decision the first time. To understand what decision needs made and then know that you will have to live with the decision once you make one. Even if you eventually end up making the opposite decision in those circumstances, it gets easier to make the decision itself each time.” I concluded. “What have you decided in situations like this in the past?” he asked. “I’ve never felt trapped in this way before; like I’m forced to lose some of my own integrity regardless of which choice I make.” I replied. “Have you ever compromised your integrity before?” he asked. “Yes, of course! That’s why I learned to be so verbally evasive; I eventually determined that outright lying so often in conversation, even if it was mostly white-lies and things considered socially acceptable by our culture, I decided that the act of lying, which is a conscious choice, was degrading my integrity and that I did not wish to continue this practice. While my characteristic obfuscation leads others to draw incorrect conclusions, I am not in control of what assumptions they make in regard to my words. I am in control of what I actually say, so I almost never outright lie anymore. In this case, I’m afraid of what living with my decision might cause. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am in my life; I don’t want to lose that.” I responded.
“When we wrecked the convertible last winter, that could easily have been a deadly crash; it was really bad. I remember the moment that I realized we were definitely going to crash; even though I wasn’t driving I could tell when the back end had swung around so far that there was no chance it might come back. We’ve always had rear-wheel drive cars and I know well how it should feel. When I realized that we were about to crash, I recalled something I heard a long time ago about drunk drivers – that the drunk driver usually survives the crash because they are lose and just bounce around, while the other victims more often die because they tense up in the crash. Although there was only an instant between when I realized we were absolutely going to crash and the first impact, it was just enough time for me to accept that my life was on the line and decide that I wanted to live; just enough time to release the breath I was holding and allow my muscles to relax before the first impact. Before that night, every time that I’d previously realized I was in mortal danger, I’d accepted the fact. I didn’t try to fight, I let go. That very first time, it was almost unimaginably difficult to make a choice, to fight or accept death. But I did make a choice, and every time that followed the choice was easier to make, even the most recent time when I finally decided I wanted to live. The fact that the choice I made changed didn’t diminish the pattern; it was still easier to decide that time than it had been the last.” I explained.
“You know I will support you either way. If you choose to graduate, I will support your decision and if you chose to take a stand and not graduate, I will respect that too.” MCF assured me. Calm while admitting to having been in mortal danger many times already in my life, suddenly I could no longer hold back the tears once again. When I’d initially considered disclosing this insight about decision making, I envisioned asking MCF, “Have you ever had that realization crash over you, that you’re in mortal danger and you must choose whether to fight or accept the situation?” As a former police officer, I wondered if this might be a point of commonality of sorts between us. However, in such desperate need of guidance (reassurance?) as I found myself, there was no space for trying to learn more about him. I can’t help wondering what conclusions he may have drawn from my sudden divulgement; does he now suspect the abuse I once endured?
During one of our conversations over the past few weeks (I don’t recall precisely when), I was heading out of the office for the day, ready to get on my motorcycle, and he said something along the lines of that I should be safe and compliant with the law. The word “compliant” really struck a chord, likely thanks to my submissive nature in general and specifically due to my desires to be owned by him. I challenged him in response (almost desperately wishing he would prove that the term does apply to me), “I don’t think I’ve ever been called compliant before; however, I am compliant enough with the law to be able to pass a background check sufficiently to allow me to volunteer for the police department.” I smugly (brattishly?) supplied. “Yes, in a DV capacity as I recall?” he responded. I confirmed his recollection, secretly pleased that he remembered the conversation in which I disclosed my previous position volunteering as a domestic violence (DV) advocate. Have I finally given my cop turned investigator turned manager mentor enough of the pieces to see all that I have to hide? During one of our conversations last year, I admitted my fear as my career was taking flight. I was so afraid that I couldn’t thrive simply because I’d never before had such an opportunity; I’d only ever survived before. That conversation was a turning point for me. Ensconcing myself with my passion has allowed me to go so far so fast in my career, I am happier than I could ever have previously imagined – in many ways, all thanks to MCF.
At this point, it was after 5:00 p.m. and I’d pretty much talked myself out. I was still angry, but it was now muted by a feeling of exhaustion. I was no longer shaking, and the tears were even mostly under control. I never want to leave MCF’s presence; unfortunately, this is the price I pay for the relief of laying eyes on him. Feeling I’d imposed more than enough on his hospitality, I wished him a good night and departed. Turning over our conversation in my head, I soon found myself calling my Mom for advice. She strongly urged me to graduate, for political purposes and appearances if nothing else. She pointed out how much more visible I am in my current position and that the last thing I’d want to do is burn any bridges or bring embarrassment to my bosses. Having already considered all of the points she made, I finally decided to do what I knew I needed to do rather than what I wanted to do. I thanked her for her advice, and accepted that I now had a very short period of time to figure out what the heck I was going to say the next day at graduation.
Although spending my evening reevaluating my values and attempting to construct yet another mission statement was unwelcome, my decision was already made. I thus accepted my fate with some measure of grace and, after much thought, the (comparatively) easy part was done, leaving me with the following values to share at graduation:
Integrity, Service, Curiosity, Risk & Inner Peace
Next I tackled creating a new mission statement – again! I listened to many of my favorite songs for inspiration and, after much deliberation, decided on:
Trust, serve and grow fearlessly.
These steps accomplished, I turned my attention to how I would pay my learning forward. This was by far the simplest step, as I just needed to tune it to make it sound like paying my salary to spend 9 full days and many hours in between working on this training to be worthwhile; this resulted in, “I will pay my learning forward by…
Mentoring a coworker; practicing what I’ve learned; and sharing these tools with others.”
My smaller team of four met at 8am on graduation day to practice our final presentation before revealing it to our class later that morning. Just prior to our meeting, I stopped by MCF’s office saying only, “Good morning; I’ll see you at 1:30.” which was the time graduation was set to begin. He immediately smiled and responded, “Yes, you will.” I spent the rest of the day in anticipating of getting to see him, speak to him, even anticipating the joy of merely being in the same room as him. As I mentioned in The Thrill of Authenticity, I prepared individual thank you notes for those in my training, my trainers and the five people I’d personally invited to graduation. It was surprisingly difficult to hand MCF’s thank you over; particularly after the conversation the previous evening highlighting how careful I am to be truthful in my word choices. His thank you read:
Your unshakable support and thoughtful insights supported my development, both personally and professionally, long before I entered this leadership training. I honestly don’t know how I could have completed this undertaking without being able to lean on you. I simply cannot adequately express how grateful I am for the array of depth you’ve helped me to realize in my life; thank you for always being there for me.
Having written this weeks in advance, I found myself reviewing it on graduation day with the expectation that I would need to add to it in some way considering recent developments. However, after reading it, I felt it captured that which I could say rather well. As much as I wanted to talk more with MCF, he had to leave immediately after graduation concluded to attend to other matters. Resigned to his absence, I left for the day shortly thereafter. Naturally, I hoped to catch him yesterday as I knew I’d need to be in the office at least all morning. Unfortunately I had used my good timing for the week already it appeared; I went by his office more than once but was not able to catch him. While I freely admit to experiencing a constant pull towards him, I actually wanted to share something specific. The night prior to graduation a thought struck me; although I chose to accept having been in mortal danger a number of times, I made the right choice. Had I chosen to fight back, perhaps I would have been correct in my estimation that I was never going to leave that apartment alive. Each time I chose to accept and let go I survived; and, when I finally decided that I wanted to live, I lived. More even, I walked away from that dire crash uninjured! I suddenly realized that, to be where I am now, I have made so many RIGHT decisions, without ever giving myself credit for having done so. I want to share this new insight with MCF. I admit it was difficult to leave the office for the weekend without catching him; however, I spent quite a bit of time with him this week and honestly it is likely an imposition to continue to monopolize his time. Thus resolved, I did indeed leave, vainly trying to content myself with the idea of seeing him next week.
So – what is to come? Will he respond in some way to my thank you as he did to my personalized graduation invitation? Will I be able to see and speak with him Monday? What will he make of my acknowledging how many right decisions I’ve made to get to this point in my life? Will he ask me questions about things I’ve newly revealed? Will we just chat casually, joke and laugh and bask in one another’s presence (me, at least, even if not him)? If only I could have this…