Over the last 10 years, I've interviewed hundreds of leaders. I kept hearing similar themes among interviewees. They had a mission to drive positive change. They experienced many unexpected challenges. And they felt very alone in their struggles, which made it all the more difficult to persevere.
I've felt that way myself. Four years ago, when I was in a dark place, I had this ongoing narrative that I was the only one suffering and struggling with my business. Part of what fed the narrative was all the ways people boasted about their accomplishments and successes on social media. I kept comparing myself to them and assumed their lives were perfect while mine was far from it.
It's easy to look back from my current vantage point and see how silly my thinking was. But in the moment, I felt so devastated and I didn't see other people who appeared to be like me. This sense of struggling compounded with feeling so alone not only made it hard for me to see a way forward. it also severely drained my energy levels.
How does one persevere during such moments of profound struggle? By finding others like me. By asking for help. And by refueling my sense of wellbeing.
Connecting with other's who struggled too helped me shift my thought process from, "What's wrong with me?" To acknowledge "struggling is part of being human."
I stopped seeing myself as broken. Glennon Doyle said it best in her book, "If you are uncomfortable - in deep pain, angry, yearning, confused - you don't have a problem, you have a life. Being human is not hard because you're doing it wrong, it's hard because you're doing it right. You will never change the fact that being human is hard, so you must change your idea it was ever supposed to be easy."
The struggle is real and it's ok. In fact, it’s normal.
That’s not to say you you’ll never experience ease. Something’s will come more naturally than others. This is especially true when we find and share our unique gifts with the world. Or when we experience flow. Or when we practice so much we reach a level of fluent competency. Ease happens too.
Those moments possess a lightness to them. They’re energizing.
And some struggles won’t bruise so deeply. They are met with grace because we are resourced to give what’s needed. Not all challenges are difficult slogs to get through. Some even fuel our efforts.
But when we are depleted. When too many things have piled on without adequate time to replenish our reserves. Or when we become triggered so deeply a primordial reaction comes over us with such ferocity and verve we become unfamiliar to ourselves.
That's when the struggle becomes a great wall of discontent. Those are the times we start to lose faith and question, “am I crazy?” When we feel so utterly alone we might as well be stranded on an island. Oddly, it’s also when we need companionship more than ever.
We need places we can turn to where we agree to be real. Spaces where we can talk openly about the challenges we face. Opportunities to learn from each other and find solace in knowing - you are not alone.
My own experience, along with the stories I heard from leaders, inspired me to launch the Co-Creators in Conversation interview series this past fall. It's a place to celebrate human-centered leaders who are challenging the status quo by amplifying their stories. To give voice to our oft unspoken shared human experiences of navigating struggle and hardship, especially when driving innovation to serve the greater good.
Each conversation has been rich, real, and relatable. From the tech founder, Josh LaMar, who was determined to imbue authenticity as an ethical imperative after experiencing persistent hypocrisy in corporate jobs. To the nonprofit executive, Kristin Riott, who carried the torch after a charismatic leader, ushering an innovative environmental organization into the 21st century.
We heard from leaders enthusiastically championing new initiatives while struggling with imposter syndrome, Siya Vansia. And entrepreneurs prioritizing work-life balance while dealing with the harsh reality of cash flow problems, Erica Feucht.
We uncovered the despair experienced when a venture fails to meet expectations, and the doors that opened for Charisse Bowen as a result. We discovered the boldness required for Anna Santiago to follow her heart, especially when her choices went against industry standards, and witnessed her business thriving because of it.
We were moved by Cynthia Eichler's courage to stand in the gap created by COVID and fulfill the needs of the community despite skepticism. We were inspired by Jason Ethridge's deftness at navigating change people agreed to in theory but resisted in practice.
We were emboldened by Jen Henderson's harrowing tale of seeking justice through an innovative business venture after experiencing blatant sexism. And we gained valuable insight hearing Allison Seabeck’s lessons learned from leadership missteps she made shortly after being promoted to President of a rapidly growing company.
These are the stories of real leaders. Of people like you. They genuinely care for others. They're driven by a desire to make a positive difference. They continually aim high, knowing that mistakes will happen, and learn from those experiences.
They are making amazing things happen because they keep showing up to do the work. And they celebrate the challenges they've endured because they had the wherewithal to ask for help along the way - gaining camaraderie and support rather than struggling alone.
If you're needing to feel buoyed by the stories of others like you, check out an episode of Co-Creators in Conversation. They’re real conversations with real people.
And if you know a leader who has a story worth sharing, send me an introduction with a short explanation of why you think they would be a valuable guest on the show.