“In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life.”
Mumford & Sons, Awake My Soul
One of the great gifts of our first CEO Bootcamp came for me. It was a reinforcement of something I never tire of hearing: Trust your instincts.
Just hours before our first night’s gathering, when my partners Ali, Sam and Michael and I would greet the participants, the campers, I was still working out what I was going to say to start things off. I sat in our lodge, by the cold fireplace, thinking by typing.
For days Mumford & Sons’ Awake My Soul had been playing in my head. “It’s a virus, “ I told Ali as we drove to Devil’s Thumb Ranch from Boulder, “it’s taken over my CPU.”
I knew we had to make room for the soul.
I also knew that, in setting the stage for what was to come, I had to lean into the reality of the participants as co-creators. We had to create the space for what was true for them in their lives to emerge while simultaneously holding a structure, a container. I realized that implicit in their questions were the answers.
Then, as I was typing and thinking, an idea popped: have the campers read the questions they’d written on the applications.
After a few minutes of greetings, we settled into our chairs in a circle. I joked about feeling guilty about being in such a beautiful place (and, more seriously, feeling guilty about taking time away). Then we passed around a random and anonymous set of questions and asked each person to read their questions aloud to the whole group, placing the questions—if you will—into the center of our circle.
Magic happened when we’d finished reading aloud; one camper raised his hand to add another question: “Is anyone else having an anxiety attack listening to those questions? I could have written every one of them.” He paused and started to cry: “I didn’t even know I was holding those.”
Magic happens when you listen to the song that’s embedded itself into your head, into your heart.
The feelings in the room shifted, settled, eased into the Earth and we knew we were onto something.
Earlier I had described our bet:
This was the bet of the weekend and I was watching it unfold.
I believe fervently believe in that bet, that calculation. Time and again I’ve watched as hearts break open and true, authentic leaders emerge. But that process depends on a brave first step: facing the reality of what is and not being deluded by the powerful, seductive dreams of what can be.
Of course this doesn’t mean there’s no role for dreams. We need dreams.
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning.
But the willful ignoring of what is true is not the same as dreaming. It’s delusion and delusion leads to terrible decisions and, even worse, the destruction of trust. Hence my bastardization of a Zen aphorism: This being so, so what?
And what was so for those campers, what is so for many entrepreneurs, is fear; fearful questions keeping them up at night and fearful imaginings keeping them from their kids’ school play, their spouse’s side, causing them to lose their way as humans.
The first thing to do when we’re lost is to look to the ground and the sky: What is true? What is false? What do I know? What am I imagining to be so? What are my demons and how are they standing in the way?
The first act of becoming a leader is to recognize this being so. From that place, we get to recognize what skills we need to develop, who we really are (and are not) as leaders, and to share in a way that creates authentic powerful relationships–with peers, colleagues and even our families. Grant us leaders who can do this and we just may create institutions that are less violent to the self, our communities, and our planet.
The Camp unfolded and I watched my allies, Ali, Michael and Sam, with wonder and awe. It felt like we were playing jazz, never quite sure whose riff would end when but comfortable relaxing into the not-knowing of the music.
As the Camp unfolded, I realized again just how fortunate I am. I get to bear witness to extraordinary people finding themselves. I get to live out the life I was meant to live all while watching people discover the lives they were meant to live.
When we started planning this Camp we had vague notions of doing this several times with different cohorts (the coherence around a particular cohort is incredibly powerful). Those notions are less vague. Tired and exhausted at the end of the week, we could barely contain ourselves from launching in and planning more. We’ve already got a “keep me up to date” list for future Camps as well as nascent discussions about doing one in Europe and doing something specifically for a profession.
Regardless of how future Camps unfold, though, nothing will take away from the magic of this first experience. As I said that last day, you never forget your first love. My fellow Campers, you stole my heart.
(Special thanks to Sooinn Lee for her incredible illustrations of the experience. You made the Camp that much more magical. Thanks, too, to our dear friend and inspiration, Parker Palmer. His work inspires, challenges, and deepens the heart and soul of who and what we are everyday.)