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That time I embraced my inner child

We all feel fulfilment from having a sense of purpose in life, a sense of feeling useful, and like what we do in the world has value. As employers, it’s important for us to tell our story of what our purpose is, who we are and what we stand for, but to allow the openness for that story to evolve with the people that work within our businesses.

This was very much the theme of the Changeboard Future Talent conference at the end of March. Honestly, its one of the best conferences I attend each year.

Alain de Botton is an exceptional philosopher and I am lucky enough to have heard him speak twice now. He’s also hilariously funny. The humour will be lost in translation here I’m sure, but I felt like I should share some his brilliant musings with you good people.

Building on the theme of openness, how do we then create that in our own lives and that of our businesses?

The workplace is a place where a lot of our immaturities show up the most in terms of the way we react and interact with others. Ask someone to speak about what annoys them about their work, and you will almost invariably see them light up and launch into a tirade of some sort, perhaps along the lines of; this person said this, they did that on purpose and so on. Sound familiar?

The truth is; emotional intelligence is just as important as all the other knowledge systems, if not even more so, but we often aren’t taught about it as children. We progress through our school systems focused on learning other skills, and only generally learn this stuff by innate ability, by chance, or by having some kind of life altering epiphany and making a choice to put in the ‘work’ to learn it.

When we learn to see our fellow humans as their inner children expressing from a place of vulnerability, it becomes much easier to view interactions lovingly and prevent their escalation from your own childish reactions (essentially the reaction of your own inner child to theirs, then press repeat, and so it goes on).

An act of love therefore, is the willingness to look beneath the tricky exterior and love and forgive anyway, whatever the interaction. To look at the person through a forgiving lens as if they were your beloved three year old, who didn’t mean to cause the harm they had with whatever they had done.

What we need as leaders and organisations therefore is a blanket admission of our collective deficiencies more along the lines of:

  • We are all a little crazy.
  • We are all hurt.
  • We are all anxious.
  • We are all vulnerable.

From that platform of openness, we can learn to take pride in our emotional milestones, share more, forgive more and generally create better working environments and more space for growth. For all of us.

The trouble is, in our modern world, we have created the perfect platform for a ton of distraction. We spend so much time not in tune with ourselves, it becomes near impossible to create that honesty with others.

So what we need first is to create better relationships with ourselves. I have found a number of ways of creating that environment for growth for myself, the most significant have been:

  • Daily meditation and space for connection to myself, space for thought, space for reflection.
  • Turning off distractions when travelling around the world, just be you with your breath and the humans you live amongst. Take a break from your screen, your music, your newspaper.
  • Stopping anaesthetising against feeling ‘stuff’ with food and other mind altering substances.
  • Sharing my challenges with others, and creating the space for people to do that with me in return.
  • More recently, taking the time to read and be inspired by others.

Once we create the foundation of knowledge of self to build upon, we are better equipped to teach, learn and grow. Alain speaks of the importance of teaching, from all of us, to the world around us, and that essence of love is to teach someone something – and learning is just as beautiful.

If as leaders, rather than our people seeing us as strict or severe and feeling wary of us, we were able to say; ‘I’m not evil, I’m just worried’, we would create a much stronger bond with our people, and a platform for mutual support and forgiveness. We would also have far greater opportunity to learn from one another.

We are all emotional creatures and we must not try deny our fragility. Especially as leaders. We just need to work on our self knowledge first to be able to share ourselves with our organisations.

As for me; I continue work on my knowledge of self and my own child-like reactions every day (and I will always remain a work in progress). I take pride in bringing my real self to my team at work. That person is honest, vulnerable, silly and a little eclectic but also strong, passionate, brave and supportive. They get the lot, and that’s a whole lot of Penfold haha.

If you are reading this and considering where you might be able to bring a little more realness, a little more ‘you’ to your day to day interactions, then why not take the opportunity to try doing so. For you and for the people around you.

And if you ever get the chance to see/hear Alain speak in real life, I highly recommend you do that too.