Life always finds a way to nudge you into dealing with a crucible. Some crucibles we have no control, while other are self-inflicted. Those are the WORST! Then there are those who have seemingly navigated life with no crucibles..please get out and take some risks.
What is most interesting are individuals who have a crucible and thrive out of the abyss. Over the last two years I have interviewed over 90 leaders, and without a doubt, some of the most success leaders went through a crucible that by all accounts would break most of us. This is why I believe; it is necessary to love your crucible as they love you.
Let me tell you the story of Bridgette Mayer. Bridgette is the Owner of Bridgette Mayer Galleries (she ranks as one of the best eyes for art in the world), and below is a portion of our interview (you can listen to the full interview on Executives After Hours Podcast, Episode #91).
“I went through an intense amount of physical abuse as a child. I’m talking beatings where I was hospitalized, and I was left abandoned for a week for two in an apartment with no food. Drinking water from the toilet bowl because there were no cups and I couldn’t reach the sink. Infancy until when I left the environment at nine. When I got out of there and went into a normal home, I remember feeling an enormous sense of relief and safety. I think my situation initially probably was different than maybe the average young person who is being adopted because there was a lot of violence and abuse and neglect. For me it was okay, I knew I was in a safe place. I took a shower for the first time, had normal clothes. Had a bed to sleep in, prior I was sleeping on the floor on a mattress with six kids-
My birth mother was a drug addict, hardcore alcoholic. She would disappear, she was into prostitution. It was like … She just kept popping out babies. We had two fathers; there were six kids originally.”
Even after Bridgette got adopted at nine, she realized she was behind the eight ball. She goes onto to say, “When I got older, it hit me that I was really at a significant disadvantage from the start, and I always felt like I was coming from behind.”
Though Bridgette’s story is unimaginable by all accounts, what fascinates me is that she got adopted with her two other sisters and instead of all of them thriving in the adopted family, her sisters continue to struggle with personal issues. However, Bridgette went on to university, open an art gallery, wrote a book and is crushing it in the art scene. Bridgette attributes this to her crucible. It transformed her and broke the cycle that plagued her biological mother and sisters. Bridgette also acknowledged that her growth was in part due to the support she received. Bridgette evolved and became what I deem an Authentic Leader.
In researching my forthcoming book, 90 Executives On Authentic Leadership, I was blown away by the sheer volume of leaders who faced a crucible of a significant magnitude. But what exactly is a crucible?
To explain this, I turn to the late Dr.Warren Bennis, distinguished Professor and the University of Southern California. Bennis describes a crucible as any discernable experience where individual moves through a single or multiple events to develop and or evolve their sense of identity. Or, you got your world rocked, and you took a moment to take stock of your life and made some fundamental changes.
Crucibles come in various shapes and sizes, and each can be deeply personal. Also, they are the accumulation of a single event or multiple events. Overall, whether the crucible is big or small, they appear to be a critical piece for developing one’s self-awareness. A crucible comes in three generic buckets;
1. The Bizarro World Crucible- This is when you are either forced or decide to put yourself in a new and unique environment where you are the square peg, and the environment is the round hole. These environments can initially feel like you are alone, and misunderstood. Think, living abroad.
2. The Forced Pause Crucible — This is when life bypasses a gentle nudge and straight punches you in the face. Knocking you on your ass and creating a break between what is known and unknown. For example, getting fired from a job, graduating from college or going on a spiritual journey.
3. The Avalanche Crucible- This crucible is the hardest, deepest and arguably the most difficult to go through. These crucibles are the mother of all crucibles. They usually involve death, divorce, bankruptcy or any major disruptions in life that create deep emotional pain. Essentially, you feel like your life is coming down around you.
These various buckets provide an individual the opportunity to take stock of their life, make some value judgments and create/find a purpose that drives them. In other words, it creates the opportunity to recalibrate. Also, it is my belief that the bigger the crucible, the Avalanche, the greater the self-reflection. For example, you move to a new country, you may reflect on your prejudices. Whereas, if your partner dies, you may consider your mortality, and make drastic life decisions that alter what direction you are heading.
Regardless of the bucket that your crucible falls in, what is most important is that you as an individual have a choice about how you respond. A crucible, when all the dust settles, can be a blessing in disguise. Personally, I have had many crucibles, from a rough childhood, the death of my father when I was 20, and failure. Lot’s and lots of failures. In all cases, I try to remind myself that there is always someone who has it worse than me, and that your perspective will have a significant impact on how you react to a crucible. Embrace your crucible, because lord knows they will give you bare hug whether you want it or not.