Remember how I said, going into the holiday, that I wanted to “get present” with my family? I’ve come to realize that there is such a thing as “too much present”. Between all the school “conferences”, the never-ending-string-of-holidays, and the weekly snow days, my family has had way too much together-time. Today, it is with great relief that I send my son off to school, my husband heads to his office, and I’ve finally some quiet to reflect. This introvert’s bucket was tapped dry.
It may surprise you, that I’m an introvert. Many of you have met me in the classroom and might perceive me as outgoing and gregarious, which I guess I can be, but drawing on that side of myself wipes me out. I love every minute of it, I’m happy-joyful-grateful, and then I crash. Hard. It usually takes me a couple of days to recover from from such intense interaction, and only through solitude can I fully replenish.
If I don’t get the quiet-alone-time I need, it’s not pretty.
I get tense.
I get snarky.
I am not my best self.
I married the opposite. My husband, ever the extrovert, loves being with people as much as possible. They energize him. When I get wild and crazy and want to invite a couple over for dinner, he wants to make it a party. He’s a more-the-merrier kind of guy. Give him hustle, bustle and fray, and he’s at his best. He comes alive. He likes open-concept offices and thrives on collaboration. Going into the city for him is like fuel. He hungers for the day he can go into Times Square for New Year’s Eve. That is my personal definition of hell.
We’re different that way.
Most of the time our differences compliment each other. I help center him and he gets me out into the world. But sometimes we forget that we have different needs. In the auto-pilot of life, that’s where things go awry.
I think it was Fran Tarkenton who once said, “Ignoring facts won’t make them go away.” And so it is with needs. We can pretend we don’t need something. We can forget what we need. But if it is truly a need, it won’t go away. In some way it will rear its ugly head, and like a toddler at church, seek attention any way it can. “Pay attention to me!” your needs are telling you. Ignoring them only makes things worse.
And so it was for me last Friday, when the blizzard cancelled school and my nine year old was stuck at home. And my husband was home. And I hadn’t had time to myself in more than three weeks.
“Pay attention to me!”
I could feel the tension building, but I couldn’t name it. Everything my boys said or did was triggering an avalanche of frustration and annoyance that was not rational. I blamed them for my feelings. I told myself, they are driving me crazy! I told them, “You are driving me crazy!” I was like a feral cat running away from neighborhood kids, trying to find a space to hide in the ever-constricting-walls of my house.
I don’t remember what clued me in – whatever it was hit me upside the head like a brick. “Pay attention to me!”
“I think I need some space,” I said. “No. I know I need some space.”
“I’ll take Jeremy skating,” my husband replied. After 15 years together, he’s learned…
I’m not sure when, why, or how it became noble to ignore your own needs in our culture. Many of us wear it like a badge of honor. But they’re there. “Pay attention to me!” And if we’re not addressing them, they will make themselves known.
In the quality of our relationships.
In our health.
In our ability to bring our best to our lives and our work.
One of the buggers about getting real is that you have to own the good, the bad, and the ugly, and take responsibility. Once we’re a grown-up, no one else on the planet is responsible for meeting our needs. We can’t outsource it.
It’s okay to have needs. We all do.
But if you want to bring your best self to your work and to your life, it’s not okay to ignore them. Because you cannot bring your best – your most powerful and constructive self – if you’re tethered by unmet needs.
When the boys came home from skating, a transformation had taken place. “Mommy” was back. It was good to feel like myself again. I just needed some time alone.
If there’s one rule in the world of authentic leadership – one rule that supersedes all other rules – it is know thyself.
What do you need? For real? Name it. Take responsibility for it.
Your best requires that you do.