The horse, Goldi, was eating her feed. I, a confirmed city-dweller, was in Goldi’s pen surrounded by lovely countryside, absent-mindedly petting her. But her attention was held by her bucket of oats and vitamins--not me. Occasionally, she looked up at the horizon, distracted by a bird call or the movement of trees.
Goldi’s owner, my friend Kerul, had invited me to visit. Since we’d met 18 months earlier, she and I had spent just about every month on a one-hour video call sharing what we were each working on. I was excited to meet her horses and learn more about her leadership development business.
I had just left my organization development job in a midsize company, and was months away from launching a business. I had just published an article describing the necessity for my professional peers to see their own blind spots about their attitudes and behavior--blind spots that hindered their effectiveness in leading organizational transformation.
“The article is about transforming yourself in order to transform your organization,” I explained to Kerul matter-of-factly as I petted her horse.
“You know,” said Kerul. “I know very little about you. I know something about you professionally, but I don’t really know you.”
Suddenly my world caved in. What?! I thought. How could Kerul not know me? Has she talked with me for nearly two years, only to be mystified by who I was? What kind of person have I been all this time? Has she invited not a friend, but a stranger to her home? What am I doing here?
I was shocked and in grief. I felt lost. I began to weep.
Then Goldi lifted her head from her breakfast and looked straight at me for the first time. “Oh, there you are,” she seemed to say.
As I stood there, tears streaming down my face, I became hot under Goldi’s gaze. Somehow I had become visible, and Goldi saw me and acknowledged my authentic presence. My article didn’t matter. My questions about Kerul’s business didn’t matter. Here I was, showing how uncollected I really felt in the face of a new professional life without any certainty of success and, now I was also doubting the strength of a nearly two-year long friendship. I felt the weight of my blind spot: that my choice to be a cool, collected professional who advocates for personal connection, nevertheless presents as someone who is hard to get to know.
Goldi hadn’t been interested in my put-together act, but now she was drawn to the unfolding complicated drama of real life going on beside her. For me, the instant switch from keeping controlled but invisible to being an unmasked hot mess was terrifying.
Goldi was completely there for me in a way she hadn’t been before. But I also was experiencing her in a way I hadn’t before. Before, she was Kerul’s large, handsome pet -- the distinctive centerpiece of her leadership development work. Now she was Goldi, a sentient, feeling, conscious being, like me. She was an alive and vibrating presence. And she felt me as the same. We were kindred. We had each tranformed from being objects in each other’s space to being related.
Is this how it had been with Kerul and me for all these months? Had my tenacious self-control limited the kindredness between us? With Goldi, I didn’t know what to do with that sudden intimacy. I was not practiced in seeing and being seen so thoroughly by anyone other than my beloveds.
In our calls, Kerul would ask me questions as piercing as Goldi’s gaze -- questions that invited me to reveal my desires, challenges, disappointments and hopes -- questions that would unclothe me. I was afraid of the mess that her questions invited. I was afraid Kerul would see me as not clever or deep or charismatic, and that she would run for the hills. Now, with her saying, “I don’t know you,” I saw that I had forestalled intimacy before she could cut it off. Neat trick.
Is this how it would be in my new business? A series of dance steps with potential clients that don’t quite connect? A result that is somehow not fulfilling to anyone? Relationships bereft of love?
Goldi and Kerul taught me that being vulnerable means making a connection, being seen and seeing, whereas being cool and collected means staying in my bubble and being a stranger. Goldi reminded me that the key to the connections I long for -- whether with horses or clients or the countryside or friends on monthly video calls -- the key is in my attitude with myself.
I have shared more about myself with colleagues, clients and my professional social media followers. It feels risky, but I am constantly surprised how expressing my uncertainty or nervousness, instead of hiding, can open hearts. Then conversations shift and possibilities expand for more meaningful connections and new solutions. Now that I am partner in a business, not showing my authentic self means I risk losing customers. But even more than that, it means getting in my own way of transforming myself -- the first step to transforming communities and organizations.
When Kerul and I talked recently, I asked her what she remembered about our early phone conversations. She said that she had focused on the results and content of our calls. “But,” she added, “we were learning together to become more revealing, loving and vulnerable with each other.”
My heart melted. I flashed back on all those calls and saw my friend anew -- not just a colleague on a periodic phone call -- but a seeker of deep and broad connectedness. We were vibrating on the same plane, and we sensed each other as kindred spirits, like Goldi and I had in that momentary gaze.
Argerie is co-founder of TimeZero Enterprises, which collaborates with organizations seeking to strengthen their conditions for resilience, innovation and aliveness by applying wisdom from flourishing living ecosystems. See more at www.TimeZeroEnterprises.com.