Working in psychology can be incredibly joy-filled and, at times, utterly gut-wrenching. It’s a challenging line of work, the business of “changing people”. Actually, I often say to my clients “I’m in the business of changing people, and the fact is: you can’t change people”. So how do I effect positive change in my clients, given this paradox? My belief is that it’s all to do with the context that I hold as a person; that is, what I do myself, personally, permissions those around me to do the same. As such, one of my beliefs is that unless I am working on my own personal development, how dare I ask others to do the same. Consequently, I spend a fair amount of time in seminars learning and growing, and to be honest with you… I love it!
That said, it’s not always easy to work on myself. Sometimes I’ve had to confront things about myself that I don’t like, or to take ownership of things that are actually great about me that I’ve been shy of. I’ve learned to communicate with others (and myself) more effectively; and to make choices that are more in line with who I am, my values and what I see to be my purpose in life. My mentor, Patrick Dean, recently said to me that when you want to work on other’s personal development, you have to bleed for the work yourself.
In a recent leadership training, we were asked to think about someone, living or dead, that we considered to be a leader. We were asked to deconstruct this concept a little, and to look not at what they had achieved, but what it was in their character that drove them, or that inspired us. Names like Mother Teresa, Steve Jobs and Margaret Thatcher were bandied about; but the person that came to my mind was my dad.
Now, I don’t know that my dad would consider himself a leader, if you asked him. But as I grow older (and, I hope, a little wiser), I’ve come to appreciate more and more how much he has sacrificed for my family. To give you some context – I am the eldest of 8 kids – and we’re a ragamuffin bunch, to be sure. We’re all a bit “different”, with all kinds of talents and quirks, issues and eccentricities. I remember as a teenager, sometimes being a little embarrassed about our weirdness (Anyone else get driven to school in a vintage Leopard school bus? Or live in a 57-room, falling-down-around-us, eventually condemned ex-hospital?), but it struck me recently that one of the greatest things my dad did for us, and continues to do, is to let us all be exactly who we are. And while we had a few teenager-versus-parent tiffs in our day, I don’t think he has ever asked me to be anything different than who I am. That’s a pretty amazing quality of leadership, in my humble opinion.
My dad also taught me a lot about work ethic. With so many mouths to feed, and all kinds of difficulties (the bigger the family, the wider the catchment for problems, I suspect!), he never gave up. He’s doing amazing work in health and safety these days, and I’m so proud of his success… but to get there, he’s built and lost a business or two, delivered pizzas, managed community housing, put himself through university in his 40s, done all kinds of odd jobs… You know, he literally shovelled shit for a job once! (Fertiliser, for those of you who like specifics!) He did all of this to put food on the table, to clothe us, to keep us in school and to provide a future for us. He has taught me that to achieve what you want in life, whatever that is, you can’t be afraid of a little elbow grease.
My dad also taught me about fun. I remember as a little girl, that dad would often take us on treks to the snow; I even remember that once, it snowed in our town (we live in Australia, so this is unusual!) and he had us out in a wheelbarrow, careening around our culdesac. In later years, he would take us camping and let us bring friends along; he took us to the drive-in (along with the half the neighbourhood, once we had our ridiculous bus!), and we’d stack mattresses on the roof (there was a rack), giving us the best view in the place. He built us cubby houses, sandpits and swings, and taught us to climb trees. When I was 16, he took me on holidays with ten friends, and we had a whale of a time. Where my mum’s the cuddle-and-chat kind of woman (which I love), dad taught me two things: that the happiness of his family was more important to him than anything, and that having adventures is the only way to live big.
In learning about leadership, I was told that to be successful, it’s important to surround ourselves with people who are succeeding in the way we want to in life. My dad is complex, sometimes difficult, definitely a bit “different”, incredibly accepting of others, intelligent, a dreadful heckler at parties, loud, musically gifted, driven and unique.
Someone once said to me, “we are all leaders … we just have to ask ourselves where we’re leading people”.
My dad is a great leader, and I know that the path I am heading down is an amazing one, because of him.