As I often tell teachers–some of our most important leaders–we can’t always ask our students to take off the armor at home, or even on their way to school, because their emotional and physical safety may require self-protection. But what we can do, and what we are ethically called to do, is create a space in our schools and classrooms where all students can walk in and, for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armor, hang it on a rack, and open their heart to truly being seen.
We must be guardians of a space that allows students to breathe and be curious and explore the world and be who they are without suffocation. They deserve one place where they can rumble with vulnerability and their hearts can exhale. And what I know from the research is that we should never underestimate the benefit to a child of having a place to belong–even one–where they can take off their armor. It can and often does change the trajectory of their life.
– Brene Brown, Dare To Lead
I am proof a safe place changed the trajectory of my life.
You know that saying, “being welcomed with open arms,” I don’t remember a feeling a sense of welcomeness or openness when I was younger. “Constantly on edge,” is more accurate.
It didn’t feel like I had space to breathe. There was a suffocating pressure to be the best and it left no room for error.
When I think back to where I felt safest as a young adult my Highschool band room pops to the front of mind. I knew who I was in that room and Mr. Ponder was a calm dude who didn’t lead with guilt or shame. He genuinely cared for his students and never picked me apart, or anyone else for that matter.
Unfortunately, the band room wasn’t a day in and day out constant. It took twenty-seven years for me to find my safe place and another two years to trust it. I fought the ‘safe feeling’ because my mind and body didn’t know how to respond, and the two who were creating it for me weren’t the people who I thought should be the ones doing it.
Can I trust this soft place to land when it’s being given to me by my bosses? They’re not obligated by blood or marriage, is this how it should be, is this allowed? ps: I get hung up on shoulds and rules. #workingonit
If you’re like me, you need an example of this soft place to land because it didn’t compute in my head for a long time, so here we go:
My first “oh-shit-I-fucked-up-big” moment came about six or seven months into the new job. I was designing an e-blast for The Knot and spent a full week designing and editing content to create the best call to action, possible. Somehow I didn’t notice until after the email went out I had embedded the wrong link and was sending thousands of people to an incorrect event page.
I almost barfed. The word mortified doesn’t cut it. I quickly edited the page the users were being sent to, to represent the event we were advertising for but it took an hour to correct. Accountability is huge in my book so I prepared myself for a tongue lashing and the possibility I’d get fired.
Ya know what I got? “These things happen, you’re human.” If your mouth is gaping open and touching the floor, #twins. I didn’t know what to do or say, all I remember was feeling uncomfortable and wishing she had shouted at me instead. Wtf am I supposed to do with…kindness and understanding?
And fuck, just had another aha-moment. I’d rather be shouted at? In what world does that make sense. I’ve been following a pattern unbeknown to me until this very flippin’ second. Ready for this? Big breaths…
I’ve been striving for perfection and ultimately falling short, which would lead me to fess up to the ‘leaders’ in my life (bosses/parents) and their response was a consistent shouting and/or belittlement before being ‘allowed’ to move on until the next time it happened, and then the same pattern would occur.
Eventually, I didn’t feel better until someone had followed through on their part. And because I thought this was healthy behavior I’m guilty of shouting to release frustration. How sick am I for thinking it was therapeutic? #workingonit #therapyisawesome
This kind of openness to welcome me as is set the foundation for a soft place to land. Maybe some of you reading are thinking, “no, this is an example of your bosses being lenient.” Tell me what good comes from making a person feel smaller? Do you work harder for those type of leaders?
It wasn’t one instance, either. It’s been a compilation of little moments where it would’ve been easy to criticize or put me down and they choose not too. Instead, they reminded me I was enough and worth it. Constantly filling me up with feeling enough and worth it.
This new space encouraged me to read self-empowerment books, get into therapy, deal with traumas I’d buried, and shed a layer of crushing armor. It felt hippy-dippy at first and not for people ‘like me.’
But guess what? My spirit feels lighter, my life feels happier, and I appreciate my relationship with my Hubs ten times more than I did before. My head comes up for air more frequently instead of keeping my nose on the grindstone.
It changed the trajectory of my life. I’m proof.