A sense of brokenness currently pervades many aspects of our lives. Most countries in the world are at war with one common enemy, a tiny invisible virus. We feel as though we are all under siege. Old systems are dysfunctional. Communities are constantly at high risk and suffering medically, economically, socially and in other ways. Our relationships have to be enacted at a social distance. And although you can hold virtual meetings, they are compartmentalised. Our movement is restricted. Internally we are battling, too, as we are managing our hugely altered present while trying to conceptualise a new reality.
The disruption in our daily lives has broken many habitual attitudes and behaviours. We can no longer be complacent and take for granted that we’ll always have employment, access to our family, friends, restaurant lunches, ease of getting an appointment with our doctors. For many, sadly, status has changed from ‘breadwinner’ to joining the ranks of ‘unemployed’. Some of us used to be entrenched in travelling the same route to work day after day. (That seems like a lifetime ago!) Many of us no longer go to work in the mornings. Our reliance on monthly income is broken and in many cases the sustainability of our businesses is at risk. Those are just a few examples showing that life is far from what we’d consider ‘perfect’ under normal circumstances.
At times like this we need to turn to messages of hope and we can find them in unexpected places. For example, Leonard Cohen, Canadian unorthodox and commanding poet, novelist, songwriter and guitarist who died in 2016 has been referred to as ‘the poet of brokenness’. His work explored, amongst other topics, religion, politics, isolation, depression, loss and romantic relationships. In Anthem, released in 1992, his powerful message is: ‘Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in’.
From a leadership perspective this message is particularly relevant to many of my clients who aim at perfection in all aspects of their lives. The old ways of operating are broken, no longer possible. So we all have to experiment and take risks with new ways of doing things and it is far more difficult to expect or reach perfection. My question might be: ‘what makes perfection so important?’ And clients usually concede that ‘it is okay to be excellent.’
According to Gus Silber, an award-winning South African journalist, author, scriptwriter, speechwriter and media trainer, ‘broken’ and ‘light’ are two words which recur most frequently in Cohen’s lyrics and poems. These two words are important to us right now. We are going through a period where many people are feeling broken and having to focus on immediate concerns. At a time like this, how do we see the light?
Let’s explore further. The Japanese concept of wabi sabi introduces another metaphor which helps us to deal with brokenness. When mending, instead of camouflaging the breaks, the Japanese practice of wabi sabi involves embellishing the joins in pottery with gold dust, incorporating the brokenness into the new creation. There is beauty in emphasising the cracks which add to the wholeness of the restored artifact.
I find that mosaicking murals also helps me to create new patterns and new meaning by combining broken objects. Each piece is pruned to the shape required in order to produce a pleasing cohesive whole. Carefully cut pieces of mirror help reflect light and add life. This reminds me how we need to be managing parts of our broken lives and businesses during the current difficult times while simultaneously creating our new realities. We have to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel and direct our efforts in that direction in all streams of our lives.
In the heart stream people are facing many emotional challenges. We no longer have easy access to family and friends. We can’t spend ‘in person’ time in close physical proximity with staff and many of the people we love. If we are fortunate enough to see them, social distancing prevents us from giving them a hug. We can’t touch the lives of others in ways that we would like to in their time of need. For those of us who were accustomed to travelling great distances to be with our families, at present we cannot visit and see the evolving lives of our grandchildren or provide on-site support. Our emotional tone has changed. Many of us are grieving the loss of lives, freedom, livelihoods and our former ‘way of being’.
From the cognitive perspective, our ‘structure of interpretation’ or the way we see and make sense of the world is constantly changing. It is difficult to have coherent understanding. The world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). Yet, we need to be cognitively aware, try to discover our blind spots. Turning our stumbling blocks into stepping stones usually requires that we build new neural pathways. This may be hard to do alone. Coaching by an academically qualified coach with relevant experience can help.
The ‘head space’ also requires attention in our organisational, professional, business and private lives. Conditions are so uncertain and changing at such a rapid rate that most of us cannot keep up to date with what is happening globally, nationally nor at a local level. Even if we do know the current facts, we often don’t know how they apply to our work lives nor how to acquire relevant available resources. We also may not be competent in the new ways of operating. In our work lives it is helpful to know who to go to for advice and assistance in order to cope with brokenness and picking up the pieces.
Just as it is important to avoid stagnation and ‘take action’ in our business lives, let’s be sure that we are taking the best possible care of our personal physical wellbeing. Again, turning to the experts can motivate us to be more conscious of our nourishment from food, sleep patterns and physical exercise. For example some of us are no longer able to go to the gym. Our normal exercise routines have been broken. Others no longer walk kilometers on the way to work and there is a lessening of cardiovascular activity. We have to be motivated to find new positive routines which we can sustain.
The changes necessitated through the current global disaster can be considered as the ‘cracks’ referred to by Leonard Cohen. We need to remember his message: ‘Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in’. What are you doing to lessen your need for continuously achieving perfection? How are you viewing that light? This is a great time for visionaries and for innovation. What are you doing to enable yourself to recognise and optimise those opportunities?
To share some ideas on ‘picking up the pieces’ of our brokenness, I’m inviting speakers to en-Lighten us on tips for improving our work and personal lives for a better future. If you’d like an invitation to one of these complimentary Zoom sessions, please send me an e-mail: email@example.com
How can you use this disruptive time to turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones for the future? From a coaching perspective, in this article I have touched on only the first three aspects of the 6 Streams coaching model where we consider the cognitive, emotional, somatic, relational, spiritual and integrating streams. I trust that this brief introduction may help you to ‘pick up the pieces’ as you travel from brokenness to a new ‘way of being’ and wholeness. May you manage the present with fortitude while you lead to the future.
For more information on Executive Coaching and leadership development please contact Brenda Eckstein on +27 82 4993311 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is www.strategy-leadership.com