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The Rocking Chair: A Leadership Reboot

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In August of 2015, I summited the 13,770 foot Grand Teton. I had attempted the climb over 12 years before, but was turned back because of weather and it remained an unmet personal goal over the years. Thanks to a push from my cousin last winter, we decided we were going to attempt the “Grand” together at the end of the 2015 summer. I once again set my focus on the goal of reaching the top of the “Grand” and this time I successfully met the physical and mental challenges it took to complete the climb.

chairThe morning following my 14-hour climb, descent and celebration dinner, I pulled myself out of bed because my friend Luis Hernandez, an early childhood specialist from the Western Kentucky University, was facilitating at the Children’s Learning Center staff retreat and I did not want to miss him. I was delighted I did because we had a fantastic morning focused on early childhood leadership... my favorite topic.

When I returned home that afternoon, I began to feel the “blues” caused by the emotional letdown from my huge accomplishment the day before. I had spent so much time preparing for my climb. I had set my vision more then 12 years prior, taken steps to reach the summit, both literally and figuratively, and now the accomplishment was behind me. I had been leaning into the process for a long time and now there was nothing to push against.

A couple of days later, when my body felt good enough to take a walk again, I began to reflect on my feelings of letdown and my thoughts brought me back to Luis, leadership, and a book he co-authored with Holly Elissa Bruno, Janet Gonzalez-Mena, and Debra Ren-Etta Sullivan called Learning from the Bumps in the Road: Insights from Early Childhood Leaders, specifically the chapter titled The Great Imposter: Unmasking the burden of Self-doubt in Our Professional Lives. It occurred to me during my emotional letdown I had begun to question my accomplishment... had I really been good enough or was it a fluke? Did I have it in me to gear up to take such a risk and meet similar challenges again? And more importantly, do I need to set a new vision and start working on it immediately?

Last winter I attended a dinner where we had an intentional conversation about the idea of leaning in, a concept made popular by Sheryl Sandberg in her book of the same name. As part of our discussion some of us decided it is physically and mentally impossible to lean in all the time. Life is more like a rocking chair, you lean in rocking forward with persistence and determination for periods of time and at others you rock back and reboot.

I believe great leaders must have the ability to set and lean into a vision. Based on my successful Grand Teton climb and later reflection, I also know that if you are lucky enough to reach your vision, or even a significant milestone along the way, it is time to rock back, reflect, and breath. Give yourself a chance to celebrate who you are, why you made it, and remind yourself what is important to you. It can be a time to live and work focused on daily goals and challenges rather then long term visions. By taking time to rock back you give yourself the ability to reflect on your past accomplishments while creating fresh dreams and ideas, before you know it a new vision will spring forth to inspire you to lean in again.

Bruno, H. E., Gonzalez-Mena, J. Hernandez, L. A., & Sullivan, D. R. (2013). Learning from the Bumps in the Road: Insights from Early Childhood Leaders. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead (First edition.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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Betsy Carlin, MS-ECS spent the first 25 years of her career as a public school teacher and an early childhood program administrator. Currently she splits her time as an on the floor teacher/facilitator in a toddler classroom and as an Early Childhood Consultant specializing in leadership development. This combination allows her to have fresh stories from her classroom to share as she works to promote and raise the status of the early childhood field.

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Guest Monday, 17 June 2019