The group huddles in the living room of the retreat center on day one. We are uncomfortably cozy and just getting to know each other. A video camera is set up to capture whatever we are about to do. The cool, foggy northern California air outside the windows of the house seeps into the room. I pull my shawl around me more tightly. I brought the garment back from India where I wore it each morning and evening to keep me warm during the coolest hours of the day. In this unfamiliar space the shawl serves as a security blanket, a comforting shell for my timid approach.
I scan the circle of fellow leadership participants.
Who are all of you? Guess I’ll find out over this next year.
I wonder what kind of first impression I’m making.
Is this room getting colder?
I pull my shawl even tighter as my gaze lands on the facilitator, Karen. She is explaining the exercise on which we are about to embark. It is our first exercise together in this year-long leadership program. I boldly signed up for this intensive experience upon the completion of obtaining a Co-Active Coaching certification. A momentum of change is stirring like sand beneath a gathering wave and I am not turning away. I am hopping on and going for the ride.
It is an exercise of quiet consideration where choices must be made, tough choices. It is a scenario of life and death, where we must each plead our case to live and be one of the chosen to be placed on the lifeboat.
I sit listening to the others as I scan my brain to find the criteria by which I will choose my selectees to save.
Men? Women? Younger people? Mothers? Yes, mothers are important. I will vote for all the mothers. Someone depends on them to live, so their lives play very vital roles . . . Oh, it’s my turn already!
I stand for a moment in front of everyone else, realizing maybe I should have been planning my plea. I am as surprised as anyone by what rolls off my tongue.
Everyone looks up at me, perplexed. “I’m not afraid to die. I’ve already come so close to it before.” My face is serious. I keep myself wrapped in the cocoon of my shawl and head to sit back down. Karen reminds me I am supposed to convince the others why I should be saved. I pause to consider her words.
I already told them I don’t need to live.
So, as I rise once again and stand in front of the camera. I make up a spiel of my goals and ambitions in life. I take a breath and add another statement, almost as an aside.
“I also believe it important that you know I had cancer at a young age. It created a dedication in me to use my life to make the world a better place for those who come after me. I will continue to carry on this mission.”
I sit down.
When everyone has spoken, Karen’s assistant passes a hat around and we each place our votes into it one-by-one. I am certain I will not be chosen. The ballots are counted.
“The person receiving the most votes is . . .” Karen pauses, building the suspense. “LauraLynn.”
I look up without moving from my seat.
Did she just say my name?
“LauraLynn, you’re in,” Karen directs me, pointing me to move toward one of three seats reserved for the chosen ones.
I stand up and move toward the chairs. I sit stunned as the other chosen ones join me.
“Anyone care to share why you made the choices you did?” Karen questions us.
(-excerpted from Inspired to Live: The Story of an Unlikely Rebel, second edition to be released late 2020.)
My fear to be seen began in high school. I was rejected again and again, after my family moved to a new town, Wausau, WI. From third grade on the mean girls let me know I didn’t fit in and never would. I really clued in on their scorning mentality when I auditioned for a middle school talent show, a perfectly choregraphed and executed disco dance to Le Freak by Chic… in retrospect maybe the choice of song fed my outcast status. The shutting out continued into high school where I was chased, ridiculed and sneered at often by other classmates.
Finally, in my senior year I began to block them out, though it still hurt. I refused the pressures of fitting into their preppy mold. Instead I wore textured black and red checked cigarette pants with a vibrant purple sweater. I already stood out so…
Screw it. I’ll give something to really talk about.
It was the beginning of the rebel. By the time I left the Midwest at the age of 19 and headed to California my hair was bleached sticking out in every direction and my clothing left no question regarding my new wave rocker status.
Over a decade later I found myself in that room having to plead my case for “fake survival.” Though by then I had survived a pretty bleak cancer diagnosis, a burst appendix, rape and a slew of other tough life situations.
My enrollment into the intensive leadership program was not chosen because I had ever held any visible label of leadership. I actually never categorized myself as a leader, ever. It was within the Dragonflies, the name given to our newly forming community, and the amazing facilitation of Karen Kimsey-House I came to discover my differences were part of what made me compelling as a leader.
Several days into the first retreat I climbed a 30-foot pole placing one foot after another onto very small rebar foot holds. Once to the top my quivering legs tried to stand on the pole’s end. A small plank extended outward into the treetops. I am to walk to the end of the two-by-four plank and jump, reaching for a trapeze bar dangling from another tree. Once I enable my body to take a step away from the tree I feel everything shaking below me. I am certain the whole tree is swaying. I immediately reach for something to steady myself, the belay rope attached to a harness wrapped snuggly on my body. A voice on the ground below shouts up to the treetop perch reminding me to release the rope (for my own safety). It takes every ounce of ambition within me to move my feet, covering the full width of the plank, out onto the five-foot long plank.
As I stand on the edge of the tiny board thirty feet in the air, I hear a voice below ask, “What are you jumping for?” I then remember I am to set my mind and heart toward something, a goal of sorts. Possibly, something associated with how I wish to lead my life from this moment forward. My mind goes blank as my heart is pounding out a deep drone of anticipation. From somewhere inside the pounding in my chest the words emerge as my body flies through the air, “to be a proponent of peace, support hope and share the light (of life).”
I feel an altering imprint forming from this will-filled somatic experience, as I am lowered all the way down. My only awareness, as the harness and helmet are removed, is of self-perceptions being rearranged. I plop myself into a chair as I am emotionally trying to register the shift I am feeling. Karen comes behind me and gives me an all-embracing hug. She softly speaks into my ear while holding me tight from behind,
“I’ve seen you leading since the very beginning.”
I sit stunned, what me a leader?
“I even feel you have my back,” she adds giving me another squeeze before gently releasing her arms. The ego side of me recognizes how this is the kind of acknowledgement I crave when feeling fearful. It is this fear that has paralyzed me many times to step forth in true faith of myself. “For years, I buried who I truly am inside, in fear of not being accepted.” Her recognition drops into what feels like the home of my soul. It is a profound encounter of being seen… for just being myself. A large wave of gratitude rises through me. It lifts my body up out of the chair while I simultaneously turn to face her. A stunned, appreciative smile covers my face as I lean in and hug her unabashedly.
Being a “leader” may not be the definition you have been fed or hold in your head. This type of recognition of showing up as one’s self is truly unique to each person. It does not have to fit any certain mold. I see it as more of a wave of transformation building inside the women and girls I am a witness to, as they journey toward Self-understanding, Self-expression and Self-acceptance. These are full circle moments in my life, reminding me of how powerful the capacity to be seen as one’s true Self really can be.