It’s 3 AM. I am sitting up in bed, wakened by a bit of unfinished business from the previous day that wants to roll up into a possible encounter in the coming morning. Thoughts and their associated impact are more direct at this hour so it’s loud in this moment of solitude.
I breathe, lie back down, and start to slip under when a memory from two years ago pops in for a visit. I am watching a wiry kindergarten boy, Carlos, who is at the bottom of the slide struggling to push a second grade girl, Isabel, back up the school slide. I also remember that she, among second grade classmates, is the heaviest. Her round, motionless body, angled head down in the trough of the slide will not budge. Carlos, with his strong little hands and new white sneakers, has met his match.
I can see the moment his body goes slack. He gives up, lets go, and pops off the slide. Isabel’s eyes open wide. She lets out a high-pitched eek and plummets to the rubber mat below. Then, four first graders fly down after her, screeching as they flash by. The gaggle of children on the upper platform thins, and the play structure comes alive with motion.
What a curious episode to recall these many months later: Carlos surrendering, stopping, and getting out of the way. And here I am, reckoning with this particular memory and what this little messenger may want to show me. A question comes to the surface: What happens when I, as a leader, come to that place that Carlos has come to? I have launched plans, sustained an effort, intervened, pushed, and asked for help. Then a set of events and forces enters that tips the balance. What do I do when I slip past this tipping point?
To drop to one’s knee and face doubts, witness reversals of fortune, and to surrender offer a chance to grow wiser and more open-hearted. After that shell has cracked, intuition, compassion, and vulnerability come forward. I call this shift acquiring the second sight.
When second sight comes, I have seen leaders develop the capacity to relax and become effective in different ways. As one principal told me years ago, after worrying to the point of harming his health, he had to let go and let events sometimes take their course. What he said is that he now has the freedom to sing whenever and wherever he wants to.
If I could pick and choose on a path toward perfection, where would the discovery come from? It was never a choice to cherry pick the traits and events I’d prefer. Celebrate all of it! That must be the message.
4 AM now. I will be up for work in an hour. But this unrequested reverie wants to let me go. Counting backward from one hundred, I pull the covers up under my chin, look at the streetlight outside, and hope to catch one more hour of communion with my friends on the other side.