Why Are We Surprised When Leaders Fall?

I read an article this week about another leader who was found to be having an affair. This time a university president.

Apparently the man’s son caught footage of his father on his cell phone camera, and well, I think you can imagine how things went from there. I would tell you more about the unique circumstances—who wrote the article, what exactly happened, what university it was—but it wouldn’t really matter.

At the end of the day, they all come back sounding the same, don’t you think?

leaders

And this really isn’t intended to be an article about scandal, or sex, or men having affairs. Because the offense could have been anything really. And the leader could have been anyone. That’s the thing that struck me about the whole thing: how perfectly unoriginal it was. And yet, still, everyone seemed to be truly shocked it had happened.

Is it wrong that it didn’t shock me at all?

I don’t mean to sound jaded. I hope this doesn’t come across like, “they’re all corrupt, you can’t trust a single one of them!” because that certainly isn’t how I mean it. But it does sort of baffle me that we’re still so shocked when a leader falls off his pedestal, even though we were the ones who put him there.

People were never meant to be on pedestals. We were never meant to position ourselves above and below.

We’re meant to walk beside each other.

So, in the face of yet another prominent leader who, come to find out, is saying one thing and doing another; in the face of the names of 32 million Ashley Madison users being released to the world (400 of whom are pastors); and in a world where it seems like you can’t trust anyone—especially “leaders”—it’s important for us to remember a few things.

Here is what I know to be true.

Everybody’s s**t stinks.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that people are people are people are people. Without exception. No matter what you do for a living, no matter how “noble” you seem, no matter how much good you do for the world, it doesn’t change the fact that you eat and sleep, get tired, and…yes, poop.

Sorry if this shocks you, but it’s true. You poop. I poop. We all poop. And all of our poop smells like… poop.

It’s a law of life.

So, all that to say, if someone’s life looks perfect from the outside—if it appears as if they don’t poop, for example—remind yourself of this: that simply means there are things you don’t know about them. It simply means there are dirty parts of their life they don’t show you.

You are a leader.

We get so focused on other people who are leaders who have totally screwed up that we forget we are leaders. Each of us, in our own way. And we forget how many ways, every single day, our actions don’t live up to our words.

We live duplicitous lives. Our actions do not live up to our ideals. We mean well, but we fall short.

We are incongruent and dishonest and hiding.

This is not to say that all inconsistencies are equal, or that lying about eating Twinkies is the same as lying about having an affair, but it is to say that we are all only a few steps away from a long, hard fall. And the only person we can control is ourselves, so we might as well focus on that.

We weren’t built for fame.

We weren’t built for fame. None of us. We were built for connection. So what happens when we put people on pedestals, or put ourselves on them, is we set everybody up for failure. We set the leader up to fall and we set the followers up to be disappointed.

That said, there is a reason we love the idea of pedestals and leaders who stand on them. It’s because it takes the responsibility off of us.

As long as we can point to the guy (or girl) standing on the pedestal and say, “he told me to do it!” we don’t have to take responsibility for our own actions or accept our own consequences. It’s one thing to admire people for character traits they have, or for accomplishments, or for the ways they inspire us.

It’s another to put them so high above you that you forget who you both are: human.

Environments that expect perfection breed deception.

Nobody is perfect. Not one person. So when perfection is what is expected of us and we are punished for anything less, no freaking wonder we go to great lengths to hide the truth. No wonder politicians, religious leaders and prominent families are the first ones to seemingly “fall”.

You’ve heard it said, “you’re only as sick as your secrets” right?

May we all learn to create environments where people feel free to come as they are, imperfections and all.

Rock bottom isn’t as bad as it sounds.

I’ve had a few “rock bottom” moments of my own in my life—where the disconnect between my words and actions comes to light and it feels like all is lost. I’ve been found out. And although these moments can be devastating to a leader’s “public” life, they are actually quite healing in their private life.

They set things right again.

They’re painful and miserable but full of grace.

Kathleen Norris says, “grace is not gentle or made-to-order. It often comes disguised as loss, or failure, or unwelcome change.” This has certainly been true in my life. Falling off a pedestal, as painful and awful as it looks from the outside, is usually the best thing that can happen to us.

Because again, we weren’t meant to stand on that pedestal in the first place.

Leaders need support.

One of the greatest detriments of putting leaders on pedestals is we forget, just like anyone, they get tired, they lose sight of what they’re doing, they feel lost, they wonder if they have what it takes, they worry they don’t know what they’re doing, they question if they’re making a difference… and we don’t support them.

We praise them, we applaud them, we silently envy them.

But we rarely support them. There’s a difference.

When was the last time you reached out to someone who leads you and told them what a difference they made in your life? When was the last time you asked them, totally without pretense, what you could do for them?

Maybe if we could begin supporting leaders instead of worshipping them, we wouldn’t be so surprised when they fall.

Because we all fall. Maybe then, we could help them get back up.

What No One Tells You About Trying to Have A Baby

My husband and I have been trying to have a baby.

You’re not supposed to tell people you’re trying to have a baby while you’re trying to have a baby. In part, I’m sure, because of the awkwardness that sinks in when then they realize they are picturing you trying to make a baby, and in part because, as it turns out, baby-making is not nearly as easy as they make it seem in high school health class.

But whatever. There it is for a bunch of people I’ve never met. We’re trying to have a baby.

And of all the things in life that make you realize you don’t have total control over your life—making a baby is up there with the best of them.

I’ve run a business, been to graduate school, taught middle school kids, traveled to foreign countries where I didn’t speak the language, and none of those things have made me feel as out-of-control as this does. Trying to conceive. Or “TTC” as they say in the forums, which I compulsively read, to my great detriment.

trying-to-have-a-baby

But the whole thing has me thinking about what happens when we really want something in life and can’t get it, or can’t get it right away, or when it seems like we may never get it. Whether it’s a different job or a way out of a toxic relationship, or to get married or have a baby.

How much control do we actually have in life?

This is the question that keeps running through my mind. Because there is certainly a part of me that wants to believe we have much more control than we think we have—that we can make positive decisions and have a positive attitude and that, eventually, we’ll see positive results.

But then there is another part of me who lays awake at night googling, “does a sore left pinky toe mean I’m pregnant?” and reading the dozens of articles that confirm, yes, a sore left pinky toe does in fact possibly mean you could definitely be pregnant, and that part of me is the same part of me who feels so sad and hopeless each time my cycle ends and the inevitable strip comes back blank.

And let me just stop and say for a minute that I wish I was one of those people who just naturally felt really optimistic about life.

I have a friend like this. She’s so great to be around. I think I’ve only seen her cry once, and even then it was for like five minutes after someone close to her had died. And every time I cry like someone died because of some imaginary worst case scenario I have totally imagined in my head, I think of her and only wish I could be so collected and composed.

I’d probably have more friends.

But instead I’m the girl who bypasses all logical sources that say it can take a year for even totally healthy couples to conceive, and instead I stay up late at night searching Pinterest for articles titled “why can’t I get pregnant?” ordering supplements on Amazon and pondering how one might go about eating a pineapple core.

Still, I try to remind myself of a couple of things while I’m waiting.

I think of what I would tell myself if I were not myself, because that always makes it easier to give myself advice, and to actually take it. And surprisingly quite a bit of clarity actually comes to me in those moments.

I can’t say it always keeps me from my late night google searches, but in a season of wanting something I don’t have, here’s what I try to remind myself.

There is still time. It’s not too late.

One of the most stressful parts about trying to get something you want but don’t have is suddenly, out of nowhere, it makes you begin to question absolutely everything about your life. Like what have I been doing all this time and where did I get all this grey hair and wasn’t I just 21 yesterday?

And why did I waste all my peak years watching reality TV?

And when we’re in this place, it seems like if I don’t get the thing we are trying to get by, like, TOMORROW, we’re going to miss our window.

So when this feeling creeps up on me, I try to remind myself there is no such thing as a “window,” that I probably haven’t wasted as much time as I think I have, and that it really is never too late to start moving toward what you want.

Wanting is a good thing.

Wanting things we don’t have—or can’t get right away—is uncomfortable. So our tendency is to move through the wanting as fast as possible, or to numb our way through, or to just go ahead and pretend like we don’t want anything anyway (“Baby? What baby? I’m too busy to think about that…”)

But wanting something is actually a sign of a healthy person.

We would never look at someone who never ate food and call them healthy, so why are so many of us walking through life, trying to pretend we aren’t hungry? Wanting is a good thing. And admitting what we want is often the first step to getting it.

There’s nothing wrong with you.

It’s easy to look at the people around you, and think about how they’ve achieved the things you want in life. They have the marriage, or the family, or the career, or the attention, or the wardrobe, or whatever. But there’s a reason they say comparison is the thief of joy.

Because the minute I start to let myself go here, I get this sinking feeling there must be something wrong with me—with the direction I’ve chosen for my life, or the decisions I’ve made, or the fact that a 16-year-old girl can accidentally get pregnant but I can’t even do it on purpose.

I lose sight of the beautiful things I’ve made in my life, just because none of them look like babies.

Here’s what I want to tell myself, and you, if you happen to need it: There is nothing wrong with you. Getting what you want just takes time.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

I had a friend say this to me a few weeks ago and it stuck with me. What she meant was, while there are a lot of things you can’t control in your life, there are some things you can control. So why not focus on those things?

We can’t change where we start from, but we can decide to get started. We can’t invent resources out of thin air, but we can use what we have toward what we want. We can’t do everything there is to do but we can do something. And something is better than nothing.

In fact, something might just be enough.

Don’t want alone.

Honestly, I had planned to keep this whole thing to myself until I had good news to share. That just seemed like the logical, mature, “I’ve got this covered” thing to do. And besides, that what everyone else was doing…

But then a few weeks ago I started thinking how much it would help to have just a few people I loved know what I was going through. So I went totally outside my comfort zone and sent a message. It was a small group of women, most of who are moms, and all of whom I knew would get it.

It was hard to send that message. I’ll be honest. It takes guts to talk about what we really want.

But you know what? Their response was overwhelming. I never knew how much I needed people to know what I was going through until they knew. And I never realized what a difference it would make to stop wanting things alone and let other people want them with me.

I Know What It Feels Like to be Anna Duggar

There are a lot of things I can’t understand about what Anna Duggar is going through right now. I’ve never lived in the public spotlight, for starters, or at least not to the extent she has, and is, as we speak. I’ve never had national media outlets be the one to break the news to me about my husband’s past indiscretions, or current infidelity or sexual addiction.

These things are enough to deal with in the privacy of your own marriage, let alone with paparazzi, publications like The New Yorker and the rest of the world glaring in.

I can’t understand that.

But there are a few things about her life I do understand.

To start, I understand what it’s like to grow up in an environment where women were taught to put themselves beneath men, keep themselves behind them and always support them, no matter what. Thankfully, my parents empowered me to make choices for myself and also encouraged me to focus on my education. Also thankfully, I was immature enough for long enough that I didn’t get married until my late twenties.

So I had to learn to take care of myself.

anna-duggar

But still, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I found myself constantly deferring to the men around me, assuming I had to wait for them to dictate my decisions, rather than making choices for myself. Rather than deciding if I wanted to go on a date, I had to wait for him to ask. Rather than deciding if I wanted to have sex, I had to wait to see what he wanted to do.

Rather than choosing for myself what career I wanted to pursue, I had to think about what schedule I would need to be a good mom.

Like Anna, I grew up in an culture which taught women to submit to men, to wait for them, to look to them as the leaders and the holders of the wisdom, and when in trouble, to expect a man to come and rescue her. My worldview was shaped by Cinderella and romantic comedies and religious communities, and let’s be honest, a group of men who recognize that women holding power means they might lose some.

Just like Anna’s.

I understand what it’s like to find out, after being romantically involved with someone for a long period of time (nearly 4 years with a boyfriend, in my case) that there are things you don’t know about them. And, while I can’t say this is true for Anna, for me at least, a large part of this was that I didn’t want to know, or didn’t let myself know.

But still. This doesn’t take away from the shock and the searing pain of the whole thing.

It doesn’t take away from that awful feeling of being so small and worthless—because for some reason, what I am worth is directly correlated to what a man thinks about me.

I know what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship (not my husband, thankfully). And because of that, I know that abuse can be subtle, so subtle that you don’t even realize it’s happening. I know abuse is often a two-way street—one person playing the role of the villain, and the other as the victim—and I know how torturous it feels to know, everyday, that you’re submitting yourself to his subtle insults and under-the-radar put-downs, and his blatant neglect and unfaithfulness, again and again.

It’s awful to be manipulated and humiliated. It’s even more awful to know you’re choosing to be put down and manipulated.

And this whole thing is sad for many reasons.

But one of of the greatest reasons it’s sad is because it makes a girl feel like she just doesn’t have many choices.

I know what it feels like to think you don’t have choices, to feel trapped, to be depressed because for all intents and purpose, it doesn’t seem like there is anything you can do. Every option you play over in your head has unspeakable consequences. You can’t leave… where would you go? Who would take care of you? What about your children? Besides, “divorce” is a bad word.

But if you stay, and if things stay like this, you know you’ll have to continue to divorce yourself from yourself.

And there are few things in the world more painful than that.

A lot has changed for me since I was in a relationship like Anna’s.

But when I read the articles which describe the Duggar scandal (even though few of them focus on Anna at all) it all comes flooding back to me—what she must be feeling, what I was feeling back then, what hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women all over the world feel when they find themselves in a one-down position to the men around them.

And for that reason, in a way, I wish I could talk to Anna Duggar. Not because I have all the answers. I don’t. But because I’d like to tell her a few of the things I wish someone would have told me when I was in a position similar to her.

Here’s what I would love to say to Anna Duggar.

You don’t have to stay. There will be a lot of people who will tell you you do. They’ll say staying is the sign of a strong woman and that faithfulness will honor your husband. But here’s what will really honor your husband: you honoring yourself the way he should have honored you; by becoming a living, breathing, walking picture of what it looks like for a woman to walk in her indispensable value. I’m not saying you should leave. I’m not saying you should stay. I’m just saying you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. The power of choice is your greatest asset. Don’t lose it.

You have so much to offer to this world. I know it might not seem like this is true in light of all that’s happened. I bet you’re in survival mode. I know that mode all too well. But there will be a light on the other side of this dark tunnel, and when that light comes, I believe we will be able to see all the dreams and passions and beauty you have to bring to this world. I can’t wait for that moment. The world needs what is inside you.

You have choices. I bet it feels like your hands are tired. And the truth is your choices are probably pretty limited right now. The options you have aren’t great. I get it. I’ve been there. But don’t ever forget that, whatever you choose, there will be people on the other side who will rise up to support you in your choices. It won’t be easy. And they won’t likely be the people who you expect. But don’t neglect taking a leap because you don’t see a bridge. The world is full of loving, compassionate, kick-ass bridge builders.

Don’t be afraid to confront him (or anyone) who disrespects you. Too many women are too timid, too apologetic, too afraid to exert their voice into the world. But you are your most valuable untapped resource. If you can discover the power you already have living inside of you, and live from that place, your life will begin to shift and change. You’ll feel more yourself. You’ll create a better future for your children. And together we can work to establish a better world for our daughters.

When you teach a woman to wait for a man to come rescue her, she does. She waits and she waits and more often than not, her rescue never comes.

Let’s teach women to stop waiting and instead to learn how to rescue themselves.