I recently attended a women's retreat that involved hiking in the mountains for meditation, every day. During our preparatory "meetings", one of the women disclosed that she had health issues. I remember thinking, "Why is she coming if she knows that there is this much hiking involved?" Little did I know, that that young woman would be a catalyst for growth for me and others.
At the beginning of the week, this young woman walked alone, insisting that she did not need help and everyone could proceed without her. I chose to walk with her. I had, at one point in my life, been seriously injured and had had difficulty walking. So, I stayed with her to help her. After a couple of days, most of the women were taking turns walking with her, helping her through the difficult parts and just generally supporting her. It was beautiful. It was also educational.
I took a hard look at myself and my initial criticism, challenging myself to be honest with my feelings. I realized that I was projecting a belief that someone who is weak is somehow incapable of undertaking a challenge. This projection came from my own experiences and self judgement from when I had been injured. Those beliefs had stayed with me and because I had not dealt with them, they were still a part of my life. They popped up in a different way than they had in the past by creating judgement against someone I had never met.
In realizing this, I chose to walk with her, to face my own internal demons and not allow criticism to get in the way of my humanity. I extended a hand to help her and in so doing, led others to do the same.
Stepping beyond the criticism into humanity can be difficult. Challenging ourselves to look at our criticism of other and see our projections come from within can be painful. However, in so doing, we have an opportunity to learn, to teach and to love.
Leadership is like this. It requires work to face our internal criticism. It takes courage to see that our external criticism is often a projection of our internal talk. It takes strength to then move through and beyond both to extend a hand of humanity. But by so doing, you become a beacon, an example, a tower for other women and men.