I remember clearly my mother's words as she would run along the beach with me and my brothers and sister during a wild storm. I remember the wild sea, the waves crashing, our dog barking and chasing the squawking seagulls, the smell of the salty air and the sting of sand in our eyes. What I remember most was Mum as she shouted, "Be free, free as the birds," as we all ran along the beach. She would often say this to us, along with other encouraging things like, “you can do it” and “you can be anything you want to be.”
I later understood that being the eldest in a family of 10, Mum had many responsibilities growing up and vowed that she would raise us without the constraints she had. I am grateful to both my mother and father for the positive words to us as children that affirmed our sense of identity and our confidence to be able to be or do anything we want to be or do.
Then one day Mum rang me on the phone and said, "Brigid is dying, you and Christine better come quickly." Brigid is my sister, the youngest in our family. She had been suffering from a terminal disease that had no diagnosis but caused kidney failure and internal bleeding.
Just days before I had been with Brigid, planning her funeral and eulogy with her. The time with her was precious as we talked and laughed and cried together, remembering the good old days. I asked her what life meant to her. She said, "Just be happy, Grant, life is short and you never know what will happen." She also said that time with family now meant the most to her. Of course, she didn't want to die and she refused to accept it even up to her last breath. I determined then that no matter what, I would be happy and spend the rest of my life doing what I was passionate about: being creative and helping others.
In reflecting on my own life, I have had a basic search for meaning fueled by two primary and dichotomous needs. One is the desire to be autonomous, to be an individual, to be the best that I can be. To me, this means being free.
The other is to belong, to love and to love others. This means being connected.
I have found that if I am free and autonomous in my relationships then it’s easy to truly love openly and be connected to others. As the old saying goes, "If you love something set it free," and that’s why I believe so many people are unhappy in their jobs and lives. They feel trapped, like a bird in a cage. They have to work to live and survive and begrudgingly keep on doing so.
However, when you are free and you are passionate about something, it is no longer a chore. You love to do your job and it is no longer work. You are free, and then you want to give, to belong and to connect with others. Sure, there are also times when you need more autonomy (like when you are a teenager) and times when you need to be more connected as you transition through life.
Both these needs exist within us all. The trick is in getting the right balance.
Recently I have leaned in to start a new business with the bold mission of impacting the leadership capability and prosperity of over five million women leaders by 2020, connecting with my primary purpose in life - to make a difference. I have also leaned back (I reckon men need to lean back to allow women to lean in) by supporting my partner who is the president of our new organization.
By working together, we can both achieve so much more.