December 12, 2021 Carole Levy

Thinking like a tree

Authentic connection and community are the reasons why I moved to the US and joined a team of like-minded people in the field of leadership development twenty years ago. These values are the reason why I appreciate conscious relationships with my clients, and why I care about repairing team relationships when they break or bruise. Authentic connection and community are part of my core values.

I think of core values as aspects of our identity that represent both who we are and who we aspire to be. They are pillars, inner strengths, longings, and often our achilleas heels – the weakest spot amongst our body of strengths that we need to work on to feel whole. For example, I cherish partnership, yet my knee jerk response in the face of challenges is to isolate and solve issues on my own. 

Core values guide us to make life-changing decisions as well as to overcome and mend our mundane emotional ego’s dysfunctional reactions. 

As a parent, a friend, a daughter, or a co-worker there are many instances where I’ve experienced being offended, betrayed, disappointed, mistreated or let down, and all I wanted to do was to yell, attack, break, run or shut down, but I didn’t, or if I did, I was able to proactively reengage – thanks to my need for authentic connection. 

So, last year, at a peak moment in the Covid crisis, when I was overwhelmed with work and a series of stressful events, I made the decision not to participate in a workshop I had reliably and passionately attended for the last 30 years. I considered this workshop to be THE best place for authentic connections. It was a very significant decision.

At that moment, I was too busy with my work as an independent coach/consultant to measure the impact of my decision until the workshop arrived, and a tsunami of distress re-overwhelmed me: “Why am I taking a break when I fundamentally believe in interdependency and community – especially in our current uncertain and chaotic world? Why am I feeling alone when I could be part of a growing team that is becoming more diverse and inclusive?” 

I blamed myself for making the wrong choice and sabotaging my life; I also blamed other people for making me make the wrong choice and sabotaging my life. I blamed Jean-Pierre, my husband, because that’s what I do when I’m feeling weak and scared.

Gratefully, my upset didn’t last long. At my most vulnerable point, I called a friend who I knew would keep me true to myself. She reminded me that participating in one more workshop was no longer what I wanted for my professional life, and that I was creating space for my next important contribution which was still unknown and therefore scary. She also enlightened me with the fact that I didn’t need to fill up the newly-created space with anxiety! 

The storm passed, leaving me with a sense of renewed clarity. I had needed this crisis to complete and fully own my decision. It was the right move. I had stayed too long in a dissatisfying situation, torn by conflicting needs and values. To soften the dissonance between a need to grow and take risks against a need to belong and stay safe, I had chosen, for far too long, the status quo with its close companion, victimization, carrying a false sense that I had been forced into a situation rather than chosen it.

Now, I was invigorated by a sense of ownership and integrity, two emerging top core values.

I still need to rethink what it means to be in community as an independent consultant in a time of life transition. 

A quote by Richard Power popped up in my inbox:

“To find the stories that we need, we would do well to look to the kinship of trees. Trees signal one another through the air, sharing an immune system that can stretch across miles. They trade sugars and secondary metabolites underground, through fungal intermediaries, sustaining one another even across the species barrier. But maybe such communal existence shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, everything in an ecosystem is in mutual give-and-take with everything else around it. For every act of competition out there, there are several acts of cooperation.” From the essay: A little more than kin, in Emergence Magazine, October 2021.

I can envision being part of a worldwide give-and-take community of helpers, facilitators, space holders, and inspired leaders, who converge with the same goal in mind: fostering sustainable workplaces where people can flourish.  

What I need for the moment is to be rooted even deeper in my core values, branch out, and think like a tree.


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