Daddy used to tell me to be mindful of how I treated those who might be perceived to have less status than others in the community. He told me to be respectful to those who cleaned, cooked, and took care of many of the things I didn’t care to manage or didn’t have time to manage. I enjoyed time spent talking to people who worked in the shadows of the office or the community managing the details of things that many of us took for granted until we notice they missed a day or didn’t complete the tasks to our satisfaction. Most of us prefer not to be anywhere near “close to the bottom” or classified in that pool of folks relegated to servitude in the shadows of “greatness.”
Along this same line of thinking was the topic of a discussion with a close friend many years ago about the benefits of “working your way up from the bottom.” At that time, I didn’t understand all of the benefits of life as an apprentice, novice, or intern. However, after I lived and had to “work my way up” or move through what I liked to call “the rites of passage,” I trusted the coaching of my friend and my father. My friend was right that the road from the bottom to the top changes perspectives, builds confidences, and should enlighten the students about the people, the culture, and the industry. It seems Daddy and my friend got it right.
I had the opportunity to share my six month journey with a few audiences this week. One group said my transparency encouraged them. Another group said my testimony empowered them. The final group reminded me that people sat as curious observers formulating perceptions, judgments, and opinions about my mid-level life and the process that became my journey. I explained that the experiences didn’t excite me, but my delayed gratification benefited me personally and professionally. Suddenly, I became aware of the truth that even if I found contentment in the shadows or contentment in my developmental process there would be judgement and scrutiny of my role, my positioning, and my trajectory toward “success.” Daddy didn’t tell me about this part.
I mastered the part about being kind to people who worked in the shadows supporting those in more visible stations in the village. I also believed that people watched other people struggle. The last group taught me that people studied the shadow dwellers not just to see if they could come up from the bottom, but to learn fear and limitation. I told someone several months ago that I was concerned that my challenges might make others be afraid to take risks or to dream outside of their present conditions. The person who listened didn’t tell me I was right. However, when the last group of observers verbalized their thoughts this week, I sort of got sick to my stomach just a bit. Like a butterfly before it emerged from a cocoon, I settled into my not-so-pretty state of isolation and spent time doing the work required to prepare for whatever came next. My six month journey led me to a place of growth and gratitude while many of the folks I hoped to inspire watched and interpreted my challenges as barriers and detours.
I am glad that I took the time to share my story this week. I am proud that I inspired and encouraged some. Moreover, I am thankful that I got a chance to remind folks that we learn in moments of challenge and that life experiences honestly are “the best teachers.” Because I am now mindful that people who I want to motivate to be the versions of themselves are watching me work to become the best version of myself, I need to be intentional about how I navigate the journey. I will remind myself to be mindful of the outward expressions I allow them to hear and see during my journey. It is also important that I take opportunities to explain the truth about their perceptions whenever the opportunity presents itself.
I hope that my audience will look for opportunities for development whenever there is a feeling of being at the bottom or a sentiment of failure or resentment about living in the shadows. I hope that each of us will refuse to let the challenges or life stations of others become your story simply because it’s easier to adopt their limits than it might be to work to overcome our own fear or doubt. I want to encourage folks to take ownership of their circumstances, make sense of the circumstances as best you can, then appreciate the special role they are called to play in the community.