Define “a natural”

Over the last decade I’ve had people tell me pretty routinely that I’m good at being the figurehead. I gladly accept the compliment; appreciation feels awesome. And I have absolutely become good at standing up in front of a crowd, advocating for what I do, shaking hands and smiling and winning people over. I wasn’t always good at it, and compliments on those learned skills are always welcome. They feel good.

But there’s a second kind of appreciation, the kind that’s framed as an assertion that I’m a natural leader, or that it’s easy for me to be the frontman in a way it’s not easy for others. To the people who say I’ve made it look so easy to be a leader and a Public Face for what I do: please consider this.

  • On Tuesday I worked a 12 hour day preparing for a 4 hour event on Thursday.
  • I spent 4 hours at work on Wednesday prepping and packing, then spent 4 hours in a car getting to Albany, where I skipped dinner in lieu of working on my laptop and stretching my unhappy body.
  • I spent my early morning talking through my scripts for both routine and challenging booth guests, taking painkillers and OTC muscle relaxers to fight the muscle spasms I knew were coming, thinking of solutions to any problems we might encounter, taking my routine anxiety meds, and accessorizing with jewelry that double-duty as personal talismans to boost confidence.
  • We were on-site at 8 am to do setup, and after setup I changed into high heels and refreshed my lipstick and switched to tea instead of coffee.
  • I Did The Thing from 9 to 11, listened to the Chancellor’s speech, switched back to boots, and broke down our exhibit by 12:30.
  • I rode in a car for four hours home.
  • and then I promptly, after kissing my kid and my husband, fell asleep at 5 pm.

I woke up at 8 pm. I snuggled my girl for half an hour then helped tuck her into bed and was back asleep myself by 10. And now, this morning, I’m sorry to report that I’m in significant body pain. The kind I want to offer a handful of muscle relaxers and narcotics and a heating pad and just stay horizontal. I have zero desire to talk to another human being, and would be thrilled if my only companionship today were my cat. Instead, I’m going to go to work.

So. I make it look easy. I’m a natural. A born leader.

I mean, maybe. Or maybe I’m someone who has learned how to dig deep and bring the necessary resources to the surface to Do The Thing. Am I good at people work? Yes. Am I good at being The Face of our work? Yes. Am I a good strategic thinker, and have I built that skill set? Yes. Do I work hard at leading my team with agility and humility, and have I spent significant time learning about how to do that better? Yes. Does all of this cost me, personally? Yes.

So, no. I’m not a Natural. That’s not a thing, no matter how it looks to you. I’m just a woman who has worked hard to learn how to leverage a few key personal skills in really useful ways – and who pays a price for “making it look easy”. I think that if we pulled back the curtain on our “natural leaders” we’d see much of the same – deep learning dives, significant coping tactics, and routine non-negotiable personal costs for the efforts.

And maybe we need to pull that curtain more often, eh? Because if you-me-we can’t see ourselves in our natural leaders – if we can’t see paths from our own world to that role – then we’re cutting off the potential of so many people who could also Do The Thing. I don’t tell you about my long days, medications, coping tactics, rehearsing, and consequences to make you feel bad for me. (Don’t. I’m good.) I share it to be sure that you understand that this is never easy work, not for any of us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all decide to try to build a part of it into our lives. I’m not a natural, and neither are you. We’re just people who can choose to try to put ourselves forward to rep the work we do, love, and value. Consequences be damned – and to be coped with.

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