Wild Stories in a Sensible World
When it comes to our willingness to tell the stories of our lives, there are at least three kinds of people. Those too eager to share, those who don’t know there’s anything to share, and those who hesitate to share the real story. The first group defines themselves by their edginess and outside-the-box thinking (which is inside-the-box thinking, by the way). The second group lacks the awareness that they are just as weird as the rest of us, and the third group has a different kind of challenge. It’s the challenge of navigating the world of what is “sensible” and what is “wild”. I’m most interested in this third group.
When you look up the definition of the word wild, here’s what you find.
- It is not based on sound reasoning or probability. “a wild guess”
- It involves a storm that is somehow beyond our control. “the wild sea”
- It involves times of over-enthusiasm or excitement, usually used in the negative sense. “I’m not wild about that music”
- It is uncontrolled or unrestrained, especially in pursuit of pleasure. “He went through a wild phase of drunken parties and desperate affairs” (this one makes me laugh out loud a little)
- It brings a degree of unexpected surprise with unpredictable outcomes. “She’s a real wild card”
The common theme when we label something as wild is that it’s oftentimes beyond surprising, defying reason, it’s unexpected, obviously important, possibly undeserved, and even somewhat scandalous. Something that is the opposite of wild is something that is tame and cultivated, civilized, cultured, relevant, disciplined, calm, indifferent and sensible. The third group doesn’t live in this world. Our unspoken world is wild, and we oftentimes feel like misfits in the sensible world. The world says that what is relevant makes sense, and we know that the real story of our lives (jobs, finances, marriages, personality, successes, failures, losses, suffering, happiness, and redemption) is anything but sensible. We are wild things in a world that will always be too sensible to handle us.
Here’s the turn. Few of us would deny that it’s the wild stories others have shared with us that have opened a door to hope and possibility. Not a hope that says it all happened for good, but a hope that says you are not alone, and there is the possibility of light right in the midst of the darkness. It’s our wild, surprising, shocking, uncivilized, unordered, undisciplined, and sometimes scandalous stories that open a door to insight. If we are honest, those stories have shaped us, and they continue to shape the wild ride ahead. While it would be irresponsible to go “all in” and share everything all at once (that would be weird by the way – so don’t be that weird guy), beginning to tell even part of the story is where it starts.
The problem is that we navigate some of the most important decisions of our lives without connecting the wild story – the whole story of our past and present – to the choices we are making today. Here’s part of mine. I am the least likely Ph.D. you know because I was a mediocre student up through college. I doubt myself most days. I was raised by a band of he and she-wolves – by strong and benevolent women and a strong and benevolent father and older brother. I feel socially awkward in most situations, but I believe that most other people feel that way too (at least that’s what I tell myself). I feel completely underqualified to do most of the work I do, but I sometimes get blinded by my convictions, so you might not know it. I am fully aware that I come from what others might perceive as privilege and plenty, but I also know that I don’t have the privilege of being without shame, doubt, fear or a feeling of not fitting in. I got a late start at being comfortable in my own skin, and I’m still not there. I’m a mediocre listener at best, but I am full of empathy – but mostly with those who will share a bit of their pain with me. I really struggled in school all throughout my life, so my secret admission is that I think I became a professor so I could control the classroom experience of others. I care a little too much about what you think of me. I believe that there is a God who has plans for my life, but I struggle to know whether I’m executing on that plan or some other plan I just made up because it was in front of me, or because I made sense out of my decisions in the rearview mirror. In spite of all that, I have found myself in the position of leader and I am responsible for the experience, work, and development of a lot of people. For those of you who are fixers out there and want fix me – Stop it! It’s my wild list, and you don’t get to fix me and that’s not the point. There is more to my story. Parts of me that you couldn’t handle (or that I couldn’t handle you knowing) without more preparation and some deeper scaffolding for the conversation, and parts of me that are really great things. My point is this. My wild story isn’t sensible to me, and I am driven by a fundamental belief that I’m not alone. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. If I’m right, then we need to get intentional about understanding the sometimes wonderful, and sometimes painful, whole and wild story of our lives.
WiLD Leaders was created to build scaffolding for those of us with wild stories – stories that defy convention, but define reality and our next steps. WiLD stands for Whole and Intentional Leader Development, but it also represents something unexpected and absolutely necessary. Whether you are a parent or a president, a student or an executive, in transition or needing an intentional break from change, we are here to intentionally loop your whole story and your next step forward.
Dr. Rob McKenna, Author of Composed: The Heart and Science of Leading Under Pressure and Creator of the WiLD Toolkit