Are You Bringing It like a Sixth Grader?
When it comes to leading others, are you bringing it like a sixth grader? Because maybe you should.
I am a supporter of vulnerability. Owning it, being with it, and even leading from it. We all tend to resist it, and yet it’s where the gold is, when mining for trust, mutual respect and good will. When we’re young we have a knack for being real about our vulnerability, and when we get older, we start to pretend it isn’t there.
I recently revisited a story I heard ages ago that captures some of the beauty of creating from vulnerability. The story isn’t mine, yet it’s a beautiful reminder that some risks are worth taking, even when there’s potential for failure.
It’s the story of a brave girl who dared to give from her heart, just as her age group was learning to be cool.
It came from my co-worker; I was working at a museum in Maine at the time. We were catching up on life as we cut mattes for an upcoming show, and he shared a story about his daughter.
She had just entered middle school, and her birthday was coming up. To celebrate, she labored over hand-decorated cupcakes for everyone in her class, something she’d enjoyed doing in years past, with her mom. He explained how she’d been so excited to celebrate, but this year, he said, was a let down. On the day of her birthday, she’d returned from school crying.
She’d offered her cupcakes to her classmates, but instead of the mutual excitement that had transpired in Elementary School, the kids laughed at her.
No one took a cupcake.
They said she wasn’t in Elementary School anymore.
Can you just imagine- that sixth grade girl- standing before her new classmates with a platter of handmade gifts, as they laughed and made fun of her? (It breaks my heart just to imagine it.)
I don’t know about you, but I know that girl with the cupcakes. I have one just like her living in me. Just because we’ve learned to protect ourselves as adults doesn’t mean we aren’t sometimes met with the same heartbreak when revealing what’s inside our hearts.
That sixth grader embodies so many of the qualities of empathic people who long to thrive. The courage she shows is the same courage we have to muster if we want joy in our lives.
And I think her qualities make her a leader, though she may not have seen that herself. Let’s take a look at what she showed in her story, despite the sad ending:
Everybody is worth celebrating, including us. Our sixth grader held that basic assumption. Feeling love for ourselves grounds us in our own worthiness and joy, which in turn makes us more open to others. And sharing love with others proves to us that we have love inside us to give. This wise girl did both. Abundance was her driving perspective when she made those cupcakes to share. She had great instincts.
Our sixth grade leader also thought about the moment she wanted to create ahead of time. She knew it was her birthday the next day, and she anticipated it. She didn’t passively wait for someone else to plan a celebration. She took the lead, and created the one she wanted. She saw the possibilities- the rewards of giving and receiving love- and brought her idea to life, in good faith. The actual outcome has nothing to do with her. On the other hand, her ability to take responsibility for what she wants does. It shows fortitude.
Our wise protagonist didn’t set her sights on something beyond her control- that would have have brought her frustration- like demanding a day off of school, or an extravagant party way beyond her parents’ ability. She focused her efforts on what she could get her hands on- cupcake ingredients, frosting, and mixing bowls, and she got started. And she enjoyed the process by making it into a creative act. How brilliant!
Let’s talk about how our sixth grader met her desire to celebrate with her own willingness to put herself out there. She instinctively knew the magic behind authentic community, where people let their guard down and share a bond that brings them closer. She risked failure and feeling vulnerable in order to create mutual enjoyment for her class, something that could have lifted the whole room up, had it been received. She took one for the team.
When she arrived with those cupcakes trusting that she’d be celebrated- as she’d been the previous year- she made herself vulnerable. So often the lesson we learn from being hurt is to never put ourselves in a position of being hurt again, instead of focusing on our resilience, and nurturing an unyielding belief in ourselves. We have to make ourselves vulnerable, because when we reveal what we truly want for ourselves and others, there is always the good chance that others won’t meet us there… at least not on our first try.
Sense of Self.
It can be easier to take the perspective of “I don’t matter”, when at our core, we know we do matter, and we want to matter. Our young role model didn’t give up mattering just because she reached middle school. Instead, she went for it. It takes special courage to take up space, and ask for love- or help- or a raise- by standing in your worthiness, and then stay present enough to fully receive it. That’s the heroic part of her story. Others chose not to show love the way she wanted. That’s disappointing. But that’s about them, not her.
Our protagonist showed some great examples: love, heart, vision, creativity, vulnerability and sense of self.
When we dare to want more for ourselves and for others (and expose our hearts), it may feel like we’re making a big mistake, but in that moment we’re leading. It just feels messy.
Emotional courage is something that often goes overlooked and undervalued. But it’s essential to relationships and leadership. It’s what enables us to do the right thing, heal wounds, take risks, inspire change, and discover new possibilities.