I received an email last night from a courageous friend named Paul. He’s one of those tough guys but his toughness isn’t covering anything. He’s tough on the outside and tough on the inside, too. What I mean by tough on the outside is he’s actually training to run one-hundred miles in a single go only two weeks from now. No kidding, he’ll run the Chicago marathon as the last quarter of his personal challenge. He’s insane. He’s doing it to help some children he loves. I’ll give you more information below.
And yet, whenever I exchange stories with my friend he’s got more to talk about on the inside journey than he does about his athletic accomplishments. He talks about very hard emotional stuff as though it’s a challenge equal to the physical. Whether it’s addressing a father wound, or addressing his desire to love people more deeply, they’re all challenges, they’re all mountains to climb and he does it with both fear and enthusiasm.
Still, there’s times when it’s hard to be that kind of guy. I think one of the reasons it’s hard is because facing challenges head on is a lonely business. I truly believe most people in the world avoid conflict. We either numb ourselves by getting validation somewhere or numb ourselves by drinking or eating or so many other coping mechanisms.
I reminded my friend in an e-mail this morning that sometimes leading just means being out front, going to the places very few people are willing to go. But the cool thing about leaders is they show the rest of us that the path is scary but ultimately safe.
As I e-mailed him, I thought about the few times I’ve gone through haunted houses with friends. For whatever reason, I sometimes feel like I need to be the guy out front. You know, the guy turning the corners first, feeling the walls, trying to find my way through the maze in the dark. But I assure you, I’m not feeling all that brave up there. I’m feeling terrified, to tell you the truth.
Leading is like that sometimes. You’ve got a gaggle of screaming, giggling friends behind you, afraid of their demons, afraid of addressing their wounds, afraid of getting real about their coping mechanisms, and they’re looking for a shirt to cling to, somebody to bump into when the line suddenly stops because a guy just jumped out of a closet with a chain saw. They’re looking for somebody to scream with and to grab them and keep them from falling down. They’re looking for somebody to move them quickly through the room they’re in into the next room, the one that holds yet another challenge.
To those of you who lead, I’ll tell you what I’m telling myself these days, and it’s the same thing I told my friend.
The trick to leading a group through a haunted house is knowing the scary stuff can’t actually kill you. The management won’t let them.
It’s the same with all the scary stuff we have to deal with, all the fear of abandonment and loneliness and wounds we have to address. They aren’t allowed to kill us. Sure we might feel some fear, and a lot of it. But in the end (even if it kills our earthly bodies) we don’t die. We just come through the other side with a knowledge we faced our fears, and we got out of that haunted house alive, our screaming and giggling friends in tow.
If you’re a leader, just know you’re supposed to be a little afraid. And you’re supposed to be taking some people with you. And nobody can actually kill you in this thing. All they can do is yell boo. Be brave.
* You can read more about my friend Paul Jansen VanRensburg and what three of his friends are doing, and why they’re doing it here. Go Paul, Michael, Hannah and Rusty!