Creating conversations for connection and growth is what I do. In retrospect, it’s what I’ve always done and what I’ve always sought out… It’s what I value. I’ve never been fabulous at small talk; I want to get down to the nitty gritty and the stuff that matters. I want to know how you’re really doing.
It’s a well-known theory that your values come from your voids, from the things you’ve had to work hard for or didn’t have, from the things you’ve wanted more of. When things are easy or common, we tend to value them less. This is why coal costs less than diamonds. It’s why we individually value the things we do – because they’ve not been easy or common for us.
I personally come from a background of fairly stoic people who mostly kept their “messy” tucked in, and who taught that resilience and quiet observation were the positions of strength best leveraged. I come through people who seem to have specifically avoided the easy route, taking great zeal in volunteering for situations that placed them in the path of great change, in positions where they lead through uncharted territory, where they achieved things others hadn’t thought to set their eyes on, and where they weathered human disasters that could only have left deep marks.
My upbringing in aviation further taught me to tuck my shirt in, stand up straight, and present my best self always. When you wear a uniform and do a job that those you carry stake their lives on, calm confidence is where it needs to be at. Not only do they need to have faith in you, but you must have faith in yourself. You must be practised, current, collected and sure in the knowledge you draw from. I know from experience that when there’s a situation to be handled, my training kicks in and my calm becomes the counterbalance for any escalation that may take place. That training comes from both aviation and from life.
My own personal journey over the last few years has been one of cracking open. It has often felt like breaking down, but I’ve come to realise that it’s just that – cracking open. Considering my background, this has been distinctly uncomfortable for me, and has felt very messy at times. It’s been, and continues to be, required for my own sanity, survival and progression. And what I’ve learned is that when the moments of being cracked open and feeling messy are shared with other people, there is not only acceptance, but welcoming. I have spent my life welcoming those moments from other people, and I’m only more recently learning to allow myself that same relief.
This last week, I ran a couple of exercises with a new team that I’ve not worked with previously. The brief was “team building” – to celebrate the team for everything they’ve achieved this year, and to help them build a mindset for the year that lies ahead. We ran a couple of “simple” exercises where the team talked about their backgrounds, their family structures, and the challenges that have shaped them. There were some eye-opening moments where you could see that team members had renewed insight into each other. More than that, there was a group realisation that everyone has their “stuff”, and that perhaps we’re not all as bullet proof as we like to portray when we just put our heads down and work hard. When we share our humanness, we’re more inclined to be kind to each other. More inclined to check on each other and to ask, “How’re you doing?”. More inclined to pull together.
I had a call yesterday with my own team to develop the brand behind a new venture. We talked deeply about why we’re doing what we’re setting out to do. Who we’re aiming it at and how we believe it will help them. It got messy. And it was golden. It underlined our belief in and drive to do what we’re doing, and not only the commonalities in our team, but our passion for the people we’d like to serve. THAT’s where our power comes from.
Furthermore, the articles and posts that I’ve really felt lately are from people who’ve let a little of their humanness hang out, past the more polished exterior they may have previously presented. That humanness has been something that others have embraced. For example, David Rees, a commercial pilot who lost his job due to COVID and whose article highlighting the transferable skills of aircrew I previously linked to, wrote an updated article acknowledging how unprepared we’ve been for the devastation that this chapter has brought to many people’s lives. He entitled it The Metaphorical Engine Failure, and encourages us to use the same skills we would do to prepare for and handle an actual engine failure to navigate these changes.
Lauren Griffiths, HR Consultant for CX at Cisco, changed her corporate-jacketed LinkedIn profile picture to something more indicative of the working-from-home chapter we’ve been through, admitting that it was hard, and that she certainly didn’t look “corporate shiny” every day of the week! Her admission and new profile picture prompted a storm of both judgement and appreciation from the world. Her post has now been viewed more than 40 million times, and you can watch her story here.
Creating conversations for connection and growth isn’t easy. It requires us to let go of our “I’ve got this” exterior and to let our humanness hang out a little. Yes, there are those who are uncomfortable receiving this from us – those who aren’t yet prepared to share their own humanness, or who subscribe to the less-is-more theory. But in this day and age, we’re recognising more and more that our power lies in our ability to share more of ourselves. To connect in more genuine ways, and in ways that leave others feeling that they no longer need to keep up their super-human exterior and instead can relax into “just” being themselves.
It’s taking us a while, but we’re starting to see by our own demonstration that authentic human connection is far stronger and far more capable of weathering today’s world than our previous stoicism. Our world has become more and more disjointed. We, as individuals, have become more and more isolated. Even when we’re surrounded by people.
I lost someone I knew this last week. A bubbly and vivacious social being by all accounts. A light in the room, the power behind the party. He certainly put up a good front much of the time, if you didn’t count the 2am blues. But somewhere inside that bubbly exterior, something cracked, and he couldn’t cope. And he lost. And we lost. And there are more of those people all around us. People who will crack inside, because they believe they can’t crack on the outside.
I’m realising that I prefer to crack on the outside. As messy as it feels in comparison to what I’ve been trained into, I’m realising that the best results I’m witnessing around me are when others are prepared to do the same. To let a little of their humanness show so that those around them can go “oh, thank goodness, you too?”.
I’m remembering that the best memories I have of the quietly strong people I’ve come through are when they laughed. Large, open, “undignified” laughs. My best memories are moments when they cracked open, and when they let their humanness hang out. When they were “real”, and in those moments where we connected.
When you’ve been holding on tight, letting your humanness hang out can feel slightly psychotic. In reality, it only looks like imperfection. Like real “admission” that we feel something about life and the way we’re experiencing it. It allows us all to see each other better. It allows those who are holding on because they think they have to, to let go just a little and find strength in that release. Perhaps your humanness will even allow someone who’s about to crack on the inside to rather crack on the outside and connect.
Our humanness is powerful. Airing it pays dividends in the connections we allow and the conversations and growth that come from that connectedness. Try it out. Share it.
by Christen Killick
October 26th, 2020