Restorative Leadership: Rediscovering Your Identity

As goes the narrative of my life this year, a painful state of vulnerability in which I am being continually refined and humbled…like a lobster without its protective shell…I am right now, in this moment, both writing about leading from a place of wholeness and connection AND more challenged than I’ve been in a long time to walk it out.

Many of you likely feel the same. Here’s a peek into my list of challenges so you know out of the gate I am a fellow traveler on this journey: my parents have suffered challenging medical issues, my husband’s parents are navigating a new season of life and facing realities we have shied away from talking about for a long time, close friends have been diagnosed with complicated conditions, some of which include the “t” word.

Then at work – the needs of clients are so deep and so full that it threatens to pull me back into unhealthy work patterns. We face a major overhaul of our financial and management structure. There are shifts in roles and responsibilities. We are all being challenged to elevate and evolve, which has not been for everyone. Changes…lots and lots of changes. And along with changes come transitions…the inward part of change that might very well be the hardest. Letting go of expectations of what might have been in order to face the reality of what is. 

Being an entrepreneur is TOUGH! What you thought it might be is never what it is, and even when it’s better than you imagined there is a grieving and letting go that it feels like you have to constantly remain in to shed what was to make room for what will be. We have to leave behind the desire for comfort and stability and accept that will never be a reality for us…otherwise we continuously suffer. This year has been one of the hardest AND most joyful, exciting and fulfilling of my life. Blessings abound and there has been no shortage of opportunities for learning and growing!  

On a daily basis I find myself needing to come back to a few pivotal questions: 

  1. Am I acting out of fear or love? 
  2. Is this a short or long term win? 
  3. Is this for my gain or for the greater good?

Wholeness

  • the state of forming a complete and harmonious whole; unity. 
  • the state of being unbroken or undamaged.  

Connection

  • associated or in relationship with 
  • brought together or into contact so that a real link is established

These definitions remind me of concepts like perfection or balance…always striving for them but they are just out of reach. Something we must remain in pursuit of and continue to regroup and reshuffle our priorities and how we spend our time, energy and money to get closer to it. 

Wholeness and connection were not something that mattered to me or that I was in pursuit of until more recently. For me it was achievement, money, status and proving to others that I was good enough. I thought if I could just…then I will be happy. When I accomplish…I can feel more at peace.

I accumulated all the things: friends, accolades, stuff, recognition, status, money and more. I was still empty and I was tired. I woke up one day in New York City, people buzzing all about and I was so lonely. I looked out the window of my hotel room reflecting on life. I was grateful for everything I had, more than I had ever imagined I would, and I was frustrated that I was still so restless. I thought, “Is this all there is? Is this as good as it gets?” 

This is the day my journey toward wholeness and connection began, although at the time I didn’t realize it. Over the next few years, situations and conversations continued to turn my gaze from outward to inward. Who am I? What do I want? What’s it all for? I realized that I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions.

I had lived my whole life according to someone else’s playbook. Culture, my parents, friends, family and anyone else who had an opinion about who I was and what I should do. I watched, listened and obediently fell in line. I didn’t know any better and I was too busy doing and achieving to impress and please others to stop and think about what was happening. I was filled with fear, trying to control #allthethings, and had no idea how to step off the hamster wheel. 

So, as life does, it knocked me off. Now I had been knocked off many times previously and got right back on. Picked myself up, brushed myself off, called it a fluke and settled right back into my patterns of running, hiding and controlling. This was different because that restless feeling kept growing and the questions kept coming back to me. I knew it was time to do something different. 

What knocked me off this time was my husband. At the time we were just dating. After several abusive romantic relationships, I knew this was the man I wanted to marry. He was good. I mean really good. Generous, confident, kind, strong, Godly, humble, patient…and more. Now, of course he isn’t perfect ladies, but he’s pretty darn close! 

We were on a trip to Colorado. There had been some bumps and some arguments, and on the night before we were to leave things came to a head and he told me that he was breaking up with me, because it was clear that I would never trust him so this couldn’t go any further. I went through all the stages of grief in about 15 minutes…well at least the first few before acceptance: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and round and round. It was ugly. 

I stayed in them for several weeks. I played the victim, blaming him for our issues, but deep down his words stayed burned on my heart. “You will never trust me.” He knew me. He saw me. That was the truth. I didn’t trust anyone. That’s where I had to start if I was going to break this pattern. I had to face this painful reality, accept responsibility, and figure out what it meant and how to heal. 

My therapy sessions and alternative healing methods took me all the way back to childhood. This is something I hope each of you have the chance to explore. Leading from a place of wholeness and connection requires knowing who you are and why you are the way you are…because we lead who we are, and most of us don’t really know who (this person) is because we’re so focused on everyone else. This is one of the reasons I founded The Restoration Project.

 A first step in leading from a place of wholeness and connection is rebuilding your connection with yourself. Going back to the beginning. Remembering who you are. Remember what you enjoy. Before the world happened to you. 

So we’re going to do that a little bit right now. Think back to that little girl. What image comes to mind? 

  • How would you describe her? 
  • What did she enjoy? 
  • What were the significant moments in her life? 
  • How did those significant moments change her? 
  • What parts of her got left behind? 

As I did my own exploring, I learned so much that both lit me up and brought me to my knees. I would describe Little Lindsay as wild and free, playful, an explorer and adventurer, fearless, and someone who loved fully. She enjoyed climbing trees, spending time with her grandma in the garden, playing baseball with her friends and neighbors, reading books and helping anyone who needed it. 

Her significant moments were those of love and joy like eating chocolate chip ice cream and telling stories with her cousins at grandma’s house, but many overshadowed by yelling, violence, and internal and external wounds developed through her experience as a child with an abusive father. 

Little Lindsay became hyper vigilant. Aware of her surroundings and always evaluating the level of safety in all situations. She never felt safe anywhere. She lost trust in everyone because those who she thought she could trust, hurt her. She left behind her playfulness and wild spirit to maintain her safety. She stayed quiet and conformed. She did what she was told. She closed her heart. She got stuck in her suffering. She carried around the weight of her hurts and fears because she didn’t want anyone to see her as weak. She ran from these memories thinking that if she faced them, she would be consumed by hurt and sadness. But reality was quite the opposite.

Going back to myself and facing what happened was hard and it changed me for good. I realized why in my 30s I couldn’t trust a man I knew could be trusted. There were no external things that had to change. It was me who needed to be transformed. It has been a long healing and learning journey that will continue until the day I die. It started with me rebuilding connection with myself. There was reflection, exploration, discovery, remembering, mourning, understanding, releasing and a lot of forgiveness. I am restoring my identity so that I can live and lead with wholeness and connection. 

I want to note, without pushing what I believe on anyone else, that there was a point in my restoration journey where I got stuck. I wasn’t able to look myself in the mirror and say “you deserve to be loved unconditionally” without crying. I couldn’t even get the words out. As I peeled back the layers of what was in the way, I realized that I believed I was unworthy of love. I was broken and dirty. I had so much shame and guilt for things that had been done to me and things I had done. 

This is when I invited God into my life in a way that I hadn’t before. I had done my work, but I had yet to be healed. I couldn’t get there on my own. I dove into scripture to understand what God said about me and what he says about each of us: I am and you are…chosen, redeemed, a new creation, loved, forgiven, accepted, precious, strong, unique, created for a purpose, treasured, special, important, empowered, not alone, protected. It was only through this process that I was able to forgive myself and that He could heal me so I could start to move forward in my journey toward wholeness. 

You can certainly see how this has been helpful in my life, but how about in my leadership? The lack of trust I had in myself and others showed up in me trying to control everything. I wouldn’t ask for help. I wouldn’t let other people in. I couldn’t delegate. Because I didn’t feel safe or secure, I made decisions out of fear and scarcity. When I felt threatened, I overreacted and lost my temper. I didn’t have patience with others. In fact, I got called an aggressive B anonymously on my first 360 review. Because I was hurt, I was hurting others around me, and I didn’t even realize it. 

As you sit here, I’m sure you can start to imagine how your own life journey has impacted your ability to lead from a place of wholeness and connection. There are common themes when we do identity work with other leaders and executives. Many struggle with confidence issues and imposter syndrome. They are paralyzed by what other people think of them. They are afraid to ask for what they need. They avoid having difficult conversations. They have trouble holding people accountable. They are resentful because they work so hard to be perfect and take care of everyone around them. 

Friends, these are all behaviors rooted in your identity that you can work to be free from. Diving into your own story and examining your beliefs, perceptions, patterns and behaviors based on your own experiences is powerful in leading from a place of wholeness and connection. It’s a big step. It’s a hard step. It’s a scary step. It’s worth it. Interested in exploring further? Reach out to me at dreambuilder@the-restorationproject.com

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