As spring sprints by and summer eagerly awaits us, race season is here. Indianapolis is a buzz of activity full of race flags and graduations. This time of year is full of light.

In whatever way the renewal and energy of this season might fuel you, I hope it helps us all hold the dark – along with all the light – with a little more grace for ourselves and each other.

In my work in leadership development and executive coaching, I find the leaders we work with wrestling with contradictions in front of them. Holding the simple and hard truth that life shows us every day – that while things can be light, fun and soul-fulfilling, they can also be dark, challenging and painful. 

In addition to race month, May is Mental Health Awareness month. It seems everywhere we look, everyone is holding something hard, something unexpected. Asking for help with those hard things can feel like a hurdle – especially when our “should” muscle is fully flexed… I “should” be able to hold this, I “should” be able to figure this out, this “shouldn’t” be so challenging for me, etc. Accepting help can feel like admitting defeat. The journey to understanding one’s limits and recognizing that help is needed can be a long, winding path. My latest example of this kind of path is the Swearingen family.

Now, nine years into a journey of trauma, the Swearingen family shares their story of light and dark in our new podcast series “Threads Unseen.” Brad Swearingen, father and executive leader, shares, “Opening myself up was the last thing I wanted to do. Part of what caused the delay in getting help was I didn’t want to open up to vulnerability.”

In my experience, too often, most of us do not ask for help or know how to accept it when it arrives. This is especially true for high performers. Early in their careers the “asking part” is the hardest part. And as they progress, their roles get bigger, their span of control gets wider, the expectations of them get higher – they build mastery in asking for help. Until they don’t. Until their “should” muscle takes over, and their wellness takes a back seat.  When those things happen, it makes asking for and getting help even harder.

High performers are everywhere – in our schools, at the grocery store, at the top of the organizational chart and throughout it. Most of us humans are high performers at something, and all of us at some time or another, need help.

No matter the hard space that you are in – a loss, a trauma, a relentless project, caring for a sick kid, financial stresses, etc. – hard space is everywhere. The work of leadership is first modeling the ability to hold the hard and the light, and second, in creating a culture in which others can do the same, including asking for and receiving help.

For Brad Swearingen, this meant opening himself up to vulnerability despite the weight of responsibility he was trying to shoulder in all areas of his life. For another, it might be releasing the sense of control and the comfort it creates. What is it for you?

We have known for decades that emotionally intelligent leaders are smart business. Paying attention to how you feel and to what others might be feeling, creates connection. That connection creates safety, which makes asking for help just a little bit easier, and makes getting help feel a little less daunting. Your friends stay in your life because they feel a connection to you. The same is true for employees and their leaders. Connection to anyone is hard if we aren’t connecting to self, so let’s start there. Giving ourselves permission to ask for help, receive it, and give it – when we can, is the kind of fuel we all need right now.

Learn more from Brad Swearingen and his family’s journey by clicking here.

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