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Stay above the fray

I debated about what to title this blog post because I know a provocative title attracts the readers. In recent months, I’ve been working on my goal of being more consistent with blogging. I’ve also been experimenting with my content, thereby showing my readers the other sides of me that contribute to who I am such as my love of cooking. In the process, I’ve noticed more traction to my site, of which I’m grateful.

There are many layers that contribute to me being …ME. At the end of the day, this site is an extension of me being a social worker, in an administrative leadership role, who wants to share wisdom with you. Social workers are change agents, help fight social injustices, and are advocates. I’m my biggest advocate. So as is true in life, it’s not all fun and games. This post isn’t about food or a recent adventure. I want to share some points that came up for me this week regarding leadership. I hope you pick up some light lessons as you go along this blog post journey with me.

I’ve been told (and have heard) that I’m viewed as calm, sharp, a person that can have hard conversations, I have good ideas, I’m a person of few words, I’m the voice of reason, etc. This week in particular, the “calm” characteristic came up because I’ve had to have pretty poignant discussions with some of my team members. So my mentee asked, “how can you be so calm?”

I’ve learned to harness my anxiety over the years. When I tell people, I struggle with anxiety, they don’t believe me. The first thing they point to is my calm demeanor. Yes, I’m an anxious person, and as I get older and learn more, through working in public health, about trauma and its impacts on people, I can appreciate my early life circumstances contributed to my anxiety. I have self-compassion. I’ve been working through my issues, but it’s a lifelong process. You can’t necessarily foresee triggers, or may not even be aware of specific triggers, as is the case with me. Yet, these triggers can set the stage for some much needed work to get through issues that seemingly pop up randomly.

One major way I harness anxiety is exercising 6-7 days a week. I exercise mostly for the brain boost of endorphins and not be slim. I’m a healthy, albeit fit, size. (I almost typed my size, but didn’t to keep you in suspense). I’ve been an avid exerciser for over 20 years. I absolutely love my cardio, dancing. and free weights. And core exercises…not so much. My blood pressure is a “dream” for many as I’ve been told by my doctors for years. In addition to calmness, the other fruits of my exercise are peace, contentment, confidence, happiness, and ARM MUSCLES.

In terms of calmness as it relates to my leadership, one particular class in graduate school made a significant impression on me. In this class, our instructor invited a different leader to speak on a regular schedule. One particular leader was the head of a major federal department, and during his leadership, a major catastrophe occurred that resulted in the loss of life….many lives. It was mind blowing. It was an unrelenting mess for years. What he said got him through was an expression I had never used before. He said his biggest lesson in that circumstance was to “stay above the fray”. It was a phrase he’d learned as a result of being a pilot in the military.

“Staying above the fray” means to stay above the chaos. Don’t let the chaos seep inside of you. Don’t contribute to the chaos. Otherwise, you may lose your objectivity and problem solving sensibilities. The leader should have the level head. The leader should have the calm demeanor. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel emotion or empathy, but you’re not taking it in. There is strength in being calm, especially for people you are leading. Calmness means not overeacting, which may contribute to someone else’s anxiety. Calmness allows for quick and nimble thinking.

My calmness doesn’t mean I’m going to blow up once I get through whatever it is either. You may have heard the expression “calm before the storm”…? That’s not me. My calmness doesn’t mean I’m not anxious on the inside. Again, I intentionally harness my anxiety, so I can operate in calmness.

The light lesson here is to protect yourself from taking on other people’s anxieties, problems, etc. You have your own stuff. For whatever situation is going on…”stay above the fray”. Invest in doing the mental, spiritual, emotional, and/or physical work needed that will allow you to function at optimal levels.

Be your biggest advocate and do the work.

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