Since I left the convent and returned to working in libraries, I’ve been reading a lot of fascinatingly trashy books.
I am almost finished with my current read. The book is so pink, I couldn’t resist. The book? Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison. Yes, Holly Madison is a former Hugh Hefner girlfriend, a star of The Girls Next Door tv show, a four-time Playboy cover girl, and a former contestant on Dancing With the Stars. While the book is interesting, it is this quote that has stayed with me:
I always thought it would be classy to not kiss and tell . . . but after a while you just get sick of having other people trying to tell your story for you.
Being a library leader, or any kind of leader, means taking control of your story and owning it. It’s about having the self-reflection of knowing (a) who you are; (b) you’re not perfect; and (c) it doesn’t matter. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about shame.
What is it with contemporary society and shame? Why is it that we are often either the shamer or the shamed?
This blog post isn’t about the “shamer”. Listen to Monica Lewinsky’s talk to hear more about that. (Start at 13:50 in you’re in a time crunch.)
You see, I casually neglected to mention in my post about leaving libraries for the convent that I had previously been in a convent. I spent 2-3 months with a different order of Sisters right after I received my Masters in Information Science. It didn’t work out, and I was devastated. My whole life plan had fallen apart. I had given up everything that I owned. It was 2008, the economy was tanked, and I had no job and no car. But the worst, the very worst part, were these comments.
- “They didn’t seem very nice, anyways.”
- “They were totally wrong for you.”
- “Thank goodness you left, you had made such a mistake.”
Really? Your need to be smug trumps my emotional loss of all of my hopes and dreams? Do you think that I really needed you to point out how wrong I was?
Fast forward to 2016. This time leaving the convent was much less dramatic. I had the experience and maturity of seven years in the jungle of life. This decision was very mutual; I loved the individual Sisters, but I didn’t fit in. And I couldn’t figure out who I was when I was with them. I had gotten rid of my stuff (clothing, mementoes, etc.) and my career knowing that leaving the convent was a possibility, but when I got home, I had no shame or guilt; I felt relieved to be able to move forward.
But I still feared the sting of what people would say. How would I respond to the comments of surprise when I walked in the room? How would I explain my homecoming or my absence?
But, at some point, you have to tell your own story. My story isn’t that I tried something and failed. That’s not how I feel about it, at least. My story is that I was willing to give up everything for a chance at happiness, and I only found more happiness . . . and a new job.
I know that I haven’t had any comparison of the shaming received by Holly Madison, Monica Lewinsky, or the people profiled in Jon Ronson’s book. In fact, in the last two months I’ve received amazing support from my family, friends, and colleagues.
But that doesn’t stop me, some days, from waking up and forgetting (a) who I am; (b) I’m not perfect; and (c) it doesn’t matter. Those mornings, I have to remind myself that I write my own story. I choose to remember my life choices, good and bad, as stepping stones to who I am today. And that person’s pretty awesome.
Leadership does not mean being perfect in everyone’s eyes, it means taking ownership of your choices, learning from them, and using them to make better choices. You use them to stand up and approach new tasks with knowledge and enthusiasm. Imperfections are not failures when you’re writing your own story.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the Monica Lewinsky TED Talk that you’ve been avoiding watching though I’ve linked to it twice and embedded it once:
In the past nine months, the question I’ve been asked the most is why. Why now? Why was I sticking my head above the parapet? You can read between the lines in those questions, and the answer has nothing to do with politics. The top note answer was and is because it’s time: time to stop tip-toeing around my past; time to stop living a life of opprobrium; and time to take back my narrative.