Many of us sense that our world – our homes, our communities, our work – could be a better place. But who are we waiting for? Rather than vaguely looking around for someone else, perhaps we should be asking ourselves. We might be surprised by the answer.
This sense of dissatisfaction can be healthy. Nothing changes without it. But if we feel powerless or passive, then it can either overwhelm us or make us numb. However, we cannot be the change we want to see without facing this question: just who are we waiting for?
I have been working with this sense of waiting for some time. Learning some painful yet valuable lessons. But also becoming more aware of being here “for such a time as this” (from the book of Esther in the Bible).
A tiny spark of self-belief has met the pressure of ‘we can’t carry on like this’ and something has ignited. It’s not what I expected. But I have a renewed sense of hope and I’m excited by what I’m starting to see.
So how can we shift from passive to active engagement with the things that are important for each of us?
Here are four tangible steps that I hope will give you clarity, release hope and move you forward, as they have for me.
1. Own the question
Who are we waiting for? When we stop to ask, rather than assume, we start to open up possibilities.
Questions are powerful. They get under our skin in a way that answers don’t. We can’t shrug them off because we can’t arrive at a satisfactory conclusion without engaging with them. The mere possibility of ‘not knowing’ that a good question introduces, hooks us emotionally and mentally.
So who are we waiting for?
Might it be us? Could it be us? Should it be us? Why not?
The question isn’t enough on it’s own, but it starts to move us from passive assumptions.
What are the words you would use to express this question for yourself? What assumptions are you making?
2. Take notice
Each of us is different. We don’t all notice the same things. What may catch my eye, or heart, won’t be the same for you.
Noticing what we’re noticing is important. It tells us what is significant for us. And helps frame and name our own world view: what really gets to me?
It also alerts us to where we might add the most value.
Don’t assume that others see the same issues, problems or opportunities in the same bright colours that you do. It’s catching your attention because you have a contribution to make. Whether this is in your personal, work or civic life.
“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am” wrote Parker J Palmer in Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.
One way of taking notice is to write a journal and see what patterns or figures emerge. Another is to track what you are reading, listening to or seeing. What is your attention drawn to? Where is your energy: what lifts or excites you? Ask others what they notice in you.
Whatever you do and however you do it, do pause and take notice.
3. Change your leadership lens
Although I have been engaged in leadership for many years, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the polarity of ‘leaders and followers’. The image of a leader as a super hero, sometimes strident and often singular, doesn’t sit well. Neither does the passivity and the language of hierarchy and control associated with followers.
Recently I’ve talked more about ‘leadership’ than ‘leaders’. Insights about what is needed and courage to do something about it can be expressed in a wide variety of ways and places.
My thinking was enhanced by a recent comment from Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, in a Heleo conversation. She talked about “valuing…the people who don’t necessarily want to lead, they don’t necessarily want to follow, but they want to contribute by doing their own thing.”
This provided a third way.
There are those who want to lead and have a formal position of leadership. They have the right and the responsibility to change their world. But not wanting to be a ‘leader’ in that sense doesn’t disqualify us from making our world a better place. We don’t have to just wait for someone else to lead so that we can follow.
Indeed I work with and know many extraordinary people who simply wouldn’t refer to themselves as leaders. They are uncomfortable with the title, but they do have significant influence and impact. I just need a different way to describe them. ‘Catalyst’ is my current favourite.
In our very individualistic world, it’s also not just about going solo. There are extraordinary stories of small groups of people who are challenging the prevailing culture and changing their world.
So it’s not just about you or me on our own. Where is our tribe? Who are those like minded people who can make a difference together?
Is your current way of thinking about leadership holding you back?
4. Look in the mirror
Are we those we have been waiting for?
It takes courage, a dose of humility and a sprinkling of hope to really look in the mirror.
Is it too late? No. The only time we ever have is now.
Will we succeed? The only failure is in not trying, not stepping up to be the person we were made to be.
So who do you see when you look in the mirror?
Take time to look and don’t just focus on the imperfections. Allow hope to rise.
“We are the ones we have been waiting for” is the last line of a poem by the late June Jordan. Poem for South African Women is a commemoration of the 40,000 women and children who on 9th August 1956, presented themselves in bodily protest against the ‘dompass’ in the capital of apartheid. June presented the poem at The United Nations on August 9th, 1978.
The mantra of the last line has been taken up by many, including Barak Obama and Alice Walker.
Will we also use it as a phrase of affirmation and permission for ourselves?
Call to action
- Give yourself time to consider whether you are the one you are waiting for
- Tell me your tentative answer – I’d love to know – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Share this post with others who you want to join in