Birth is the first process we experience in life. It’s the first door we open to the rest of our days on this Earth, and as it turns out, it’s a pattern of growth we will find ourselves repeating till the very end. Whether you know it or not, your leadership depends entirely on whether your dare to give birth to yourself. As many times as it takes.
Whether you know it or not, your leadership depends entirely on whether your dare to give birth to yourself.
It’s one of the pieces of advice I find myself offering most often to clients and students from all walks of life. Especially those who are in the midst of perfect storms. I explain how all the problems and difficulties and sleepless nights are no more than birth contractions, and I recommend they breathe through them the best they can. Soon they will be born to a new way of thinking, feeling and reacting to events around them. Soon they will have leapt forward into a new level of leadership performance. But yes. Until then, the pain will most probably be unbearable.
Soon they will be born to a new way of thinking, feeling and reacting to events around them.
I don’t know why the process of personal growth follows this critical pattern of life and death. The timeless beauty of it simply grabs me every time I witness it. As you may already know, a pregnancy often starts with a period of happy and content enjoyment. As the months roll forward, the mother feels growing discomfort with the growth of a new baby inside the same space previously occupied by her own organs.
Moving around and even finding resting positions becomes increasingly uncomfortable as the evolving size and shape of her body imposes new challenges on everyday tasks she used to complete without blinking. Then one day her water breaks and a truly painful ordeal begins. Once the pain ceases, several long hours later, however, the best possible prize is handed to her: a new baby full of life, hope and new beginnings.
The human body follows this very same cycle relentlessly throughout its whole life in order to heal old wounds and correct unwanted behavior patterns
The human body follows this very same cycle relentlessly throughout its whole life in order to heal old wounds and correct unwanted behavior patterns: happy new phase begins, pressure gradually builds, until contractions break out, and then finish just as suddenly, giving way to another new phase of relaxed performance and contentment. New jobs or promotions are perfect examples. At the beginning you love the job, your boss is smart and inspiring, your colleagues seem to appreciate what you bring to the table, and your main daily challenges are about adapting your work space to reflect your personality and values.
A few weeks or months down the road you begin to realize that your boss isn’t as smart as you thought, and that your projects are encountering unforeseen barriers in the form of budgets, territories or invisible office politics. As you push on, things tend to get more and more complicated. You run into unexpected conflicts with colleagues, promises are broken, and plans are mercilessly thrown in the bin. You feel your motivation waver, you go through all kinds of negative emotions, and the number of hours you spend convincing yourself that you’re doing your best, and that things just have to get better, gradually increases. Sound familiar?
Then one day you get up and your water breaks: Something truly terrible happens. A huge fight with your boss, or even worse, your boss’s boss! An incredible financial setback, or an untimely marriage crisis, or an urgency with the children or – could you believe it! – the dog gets lost. Maybe even a health scare. Or you just get fired out of nowhere. Whatever you imagine it to be, there is no arguing: Contractions have been served. And you are in hell.
You find yourself getting through the days the best you can, though you feel pushed to your very limit every minute of every hour.
You find yourself getting through the days the best you can, though you feel pushed to your very limit every minute of every hour. Sometimes you think you’re really not going to make it. You scream for help, hopefully finding an innocent hand to squash with your desperate iron grip of pain. But even if you are blessed with a generous soul whose inner strength can see you through your own excruciating delivery, the truth is you are still the one experiencing each blood curling contraction.
All anybody else can do is hold your hand. Until the pain stops. It just suddenly stops exactly the same way it began. You no longer feel terribly wronged, and you kind of forget why you were so angry at this guy or felt so guilty about this other person. You look at yourself with wonder because now it all seems a long distant memory or a nightmare you might have only imagined. You recognize how wrong you were in your interpretations about every single person involved in the situation, and you feel a little embarrassed.
Life seems exciting and full of opportunity once again. You might even find yourself shelling out lessons of gratitude and positive thinking to others. And guess what, you look younger. Your eyes are clearer, your skin is softer, your laughter is more open and engaging. You are reborn. You are a much better leader than before.
You are reborn. You are a much better leader than before.
If you don’t understand a word I’m saying, you are probably in for big surprises in the future. Maybe you’re still too young to have gotten into any real trouble yet. Or maybe you’re just stuck in one of the earlier phases, trying to avoid the awful delivery room so many people seem to be trapped in. You’re dancing around the cafeterias and bars of this imaginary hospital, trying to ignore the screams of horror coming out of the maternity corridors, telling yourself you’ll be smarter than them. You’ll find a way to skip the bad parts. Why not hope?
The beauty of the birth pattern in leadership growth is that the hardest one is always the first.
The beauty of the birth pattern in leadership growth is that the hardest one is always the first. You are completely lost about what is happening to you, and you tend to distrust anybody else’s experience or advice, because only you can go through it. Nobody can do it for you. And you feel an overwhelming, irrational fear of getting stuck in one of those emotional contractions, or simply dying of exhaustion in the middle of the delivery. It’s an instinctive fear of the unknown.
But once you do go through it for the first time, you realize that there really is an end to the tunnel of despair.
It might take you months or even years of running around the issue before you finally get up the courage to stop losing yourself in excuses and get right to it. But once you do go through it for the first time, you realize that there really is an end to the tunnel of despair. You and your irrational body confirm that it is doable. So doable, in fact, that the next challenging birth you’ll get into will be much bigger, harder and scarier than this one.
You will have forgotten the pain, just as women used to forget how much it hurt to have their first child when they became pregnant of the second. I will tell you this: the day you are born again you feel honored. Honored to have been chosen for such a difficult task. Proud of your own resilience, your effort, the inner strength you didn’t know you had in you. And humbled by the amazing opportunity of life handed to you at a whole other level of understanding, a whole new meaning to the word human.
So if you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry. You soon will. If you can feel the pressure kicking against your insides, or if the contractions of incomprehensible horror have already begun, trust the process. Breathe through it. Just breathe. Soon you will be born again. The planet awaits this new you with joy and lots of hope – and awaits more brave leaders like you.