After enormous success in my industry I had an awakening. Not the spiritual kind. Like a knock your teeth out kind of awakening. Although this fall from the top felt sudden, it wasn’t. It had slowly been happening and I was too busy to slow down and notice…I forgot to breathe and never truly opened my eyes. There were certainly messengers along the way trying to warn me of what was about to unfold and I ignored them. All of them. Repeatedly. Exhaustion, frustration, people telling me to slow down. I ignored them out of scarcity and fear. I was the “it girl” winning all of the awards and traveling across North America showing people what to do and how to do it. In fact my most popular training was called “From Stagnant to Stellar” in which I shared what I learned two years prior after being “stuck”…how I shifted my mindset and went from raising an orphanage to creating a strong team. It was all true, yet I had no idea that the old me…my former way of being, had come back and was lurking behind the accolades and bonus checks. I truly didn’t see how I was showing up.

I was literally-my own blind spot.

I didn’t see what I was creating and certainly didn’t see it from the eyes of my beautiful children. As I stressed over goals missed, goals achieved, new goals, as I responded to calls, texts and emails like Pavlov’s dogs to a bell, my children simply stopped asking questions, stopped waiting for me to tuck them in, and stopped asking me to take a break. When I look back on this scene that played on a continuous loop, it’s painful- and I’m not even them. They saw a strong work ethic, which is invaluable, but at what cost? What they didn’t know is that I was fighting for their future…I was the sole breadwinner and I was consumed with fear as we were drowning in debt. But that doesn’t matter to a child who simply wants her parent to unplug long enough to connect, to listen, to love on them and simply SEE them. My team saw the same non-stop “all in” behavior and they saw me putting work before everything including, my own health. They experienced me throwing fish at them rather than teaching them how to fish (notice I didn’t say handing them fish…I was throwing fish at them at such a rapid rate I’m pretty sure they still have bruises). I was the star of their teams and without knowing it, stifling their growth and independence. My guilt over knowing I was doing it better drove me to help them too much…to do it for those struggling, to say yes when I wanted to rest. The combination of my unwavering drive, my fear of “it” not happening fast enough, my need to grow my paycheck to support my family, my ego and need for significance and affirmation, and my nurse-who-married-an-alcoholic enabling tendencies all led to the partial destruction of what I was working so hard to build.

So when life threw me the final curve ball and I had to step back from “leadership” just to catch my breath and not self implode, much of what I had so feverishly built-crumbled. Like a house on quick sand. When I was no longer there to motivate, help and micro-manage, it got really, really quiet. The inactivity and lack of independence was speaking so loudly I could no longer hear what my team members were saying. For the first time I could hear them simply by listening to the silence. And it was deafening. They didn’t want to duplicate what they saw. They didn’t want the stress and pressure they saw that came with the awards and promotions. They didn’t think they could do it without me and I had unknowingly set it up that way.

I had caused my team to fear success and doubt their own ability.

During that time I reflected upon my former approach to leadership…I realized that I was working hard and but not smart…I had zero balance in my life, and I was doing the work for many, rather than attracting people who were self-starters and intrinsically motivated to succeed. I also was not allowing those who didn’t want to “move quickly” to just BE. So that created a great divide between the fast trackers and those who wanted to take the scenic route. Dead bodies were everywhere and I had no idea until I slowed down enough to smell the stench. The icing was that because I had not identified my blind spots, I was attracting people who were just like me, minus the drive and work ethic. So as I judged them, I was unknowingly judging myself. I had attracted hundreds of me……..it’s just that I, the leader, was simply out working them. I had the same insecurities, the same brokenness, the same fear of what others thought, yet I got results merely because I never took a break and at a certain point, I had reached some success.

It wasn’t until I formed my cocoon and got to work on the only person who could change the ending of the story, that things changed. I looked inward, agreed to turning myself inside out, welcomed my blind spots being exposed with a spotlight and a magnifying glass and worked as hard as ever, yet this time the goal was self-discovery. After two years of this focused endeavor that only I could complete, struggling as a caterpillar does when it’s working on metamorphosis, I began to see the signs, and the reason for it all. It was an epiphany that I will never forget and an experience for which will never cease to be grateful. This clarity was as if someone had given me a decoding marker to reveal a message written in invisible ink.

“You found a team of mirrors and judged them as harshly as you judge yourself, yet you were unable to see it until you removed the costume, the suit of armor and the skewed lenses. And now that you have walked through the muck and remained focused on finding your true self, you will discover the gifts that you had in your possession the entire time.”

At that point I felt nothing but compassion for those from whom I had expected so much…and when I finally found compassion for myself, that is when I unlocked the secret to my future success. A level of success that I would never part from. A success defined by loving what I do, and liking myself doing it. Minus perfectionism. Sans guilt. No room for expectations. Success built on creating an outcome through intention, built upon an unapologetic welcoming of abundance and believing that I deserved it, complete with patience, rest, reflection, loads of personal growth and of course, hard work-but a different kind. A kind of work ethic comprised of periods of strategic imbalance (you’ll never completely take the work horse out of me) sprinkled onto a sundae of self-care, fun, relationship, creativity and inspiration. This new way of reaching goals became a way of life for me and I truly don’t recognize the woman who lived in such a way that she only knew the opposite. She was a child. Finding her way. She served a purpose, and so many lessons were born because of her existence, yet it was time for her to either die or discover her wings…and both happened. Her old ways of being are dead. Never to be resurrected. And because of her wings, she carries on in a new form carrying patience for those with her old form, and the new found ability to attract others who already have their wings.

Jill Herman