During a 5th grade basketball game, I made a routine pass to a teammate. The ball went through his hands, bounced once, and landed in the lap of a few parents sitting on metal benches.
I fucking lost it.
In my head, in an instant, it went like this: “How can this kid be on the team if he can’t even catch the ball!”
Out of my mouth: “Catch the fucking ball!”
The air went out of the gymnasium. In my memory, I can’t see my teammate’s face anymore, but I’ll never forget the shape of his body. His head and shoulders fell, his chest caved forward. He was crushed.
Not my finest moment.
After the game, my Dad handled it like a pro. “You can’t hold everyone to the same bar you hold yourself to. People can’t take that intensity. If you do that, you’ll never be a leader.”
There is Dave before that talk with Dad and there is Dave after that talk with Dad.
What surprised me was that Dad had called me a leader. It was a subtle call-up to be better – “Act like that and you’ll never be a leader” – and a fair warning.
The message was perfectly tuned to who I was and what I wanted to be. The lesson became a foundation piece of my character and leadership style.
Over the years, I’ve had friends and colleagues ask me, in one way or another, how I’m able to remain calm in the heat of the moment, or how I’m able to see both sides of every story, or how I’m able to repeatedly find win-win solutions.
I always answer, “I’ve been working on this since 5th grade.”
What I’m learning now is that there was a dark side to that lesson.
I can’t show up as me and be liked.
Not Dad’s message, but a message I drew on my own.
My whole life, I’ve lived on this edge: use my intensity in private to ensure success, tone it down in public to keep friends, teammates, and harmony.
The upside is I’m well liked and successful. The downside is I bury anger and don’t stick up for myself. I traded authenticity and aliveness for being liked.
And everytime I didn’t fully show up, I got a little bit smaller.
When you’re small, you’re not powerful.
When you’re small, you’re not creative.
When you’re small, you’re not alive.
And the path back to power, creativity, and aliveness is through the resistance.
Resistance is the feeling you get when you don’t express your feelings. We confuse the resistance with our real emotions.
We incorrectly believe:
- I can’t get angry because I’ll hurt people, things, and myself.
- I can’t be scared because I’ll freeze and never take action.
- I can’t be sad because it will last forever.
Ironically, the resistance rewards us with exactly what we’re afraid of. The resistance perpetuates the negative feelings we can’t escape.
The answer is to feel the feelings.
If I could sum up my last year, I’d call it the Year of Learning to Feel Feelings.
Every time I catch the resistance creeping in but manage to dive into the feelings, I get more powerful and creative. I feel more on fire. I feel alive.
Feeling my feelings has doubled my happiness.
If you’re interested, here is how you can play along too.
- Identify the emotion and name it. Anger, fear, sadness, joy, or sexual/creative. Beware of shame, guilt, and judgment. This is the resistance. These are real feelings, but their job is to keep you from feeling the five core emotions.
- Describe how it feels in your body. I remember the first time someone said this to me and I almost laughed out loud. Emotions are nothing more than energy moving through our bodies. If you’re reading this and you’re like, “What the fuck is Dave talking about? This sounds weird,” just know I thought the same thing a few months ago.
- Fully express it. Pretend you’re an actor and play it out. Then 10x it. This may require some space and being alone so you don’t get eaten up by the shame gremlins.
- Love your emotions. Be grateful for them and learn from them. Anger means a boundary has been crossed. What needs to be stopped, changed, or ended? Sadness means that something needs to be let go of or mourned. Fear means that you feel unprepared and that something needs to become known. Welcoming the emotions can help you find the best path forward.