Ordinary Courage

we can do hard thingsAsk any Boston Children’s Museum BNY Mellon CityACCESS Teen Ambassador (TA) about what it means to be a TA and they will respond, “We are a family.”  It’s quite fitting that at an institution that serves families, the Teen Ambassador group sometimes functions as a family.  You might be wondering what that looks like.  Well, we see each other almost every day, much like a family we have our “family dinner” each Friday night,  and we do daily check-ins ranging from sharing something “new and good”, to giving a description of our day as if it was a weather report.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW in her latest book Daring Greatly; How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead defines culture as “The way we do things around here.”  She says cultures range from organizations to individual families.  Each culture has its own set of values that defines who they are and ultimately, what they do and how they treat themselves and each other.

I remember a distinct conversation with one of my colleagues.  Her three year old son had picked up a habit that she’d rather he hadn’t from a classmate at preschool.  When he began acting out that habit in their home her response was, “I know that you saw someone in school do that, but we don’t do that in our family.  We don’t do that here.” End of story.

Recently I had my own “In our family…” conversation with the Teen Ambassadors.  After having this conversation, I shared with them how vulnerable I feel when I have to discipline them.  Sharing our vulnerabilities takes courage, or what Brown refers to as daring greatly.  She also writes that, “Vulnerability lies at the center of the family story.  It defines our moments of greatest joy, fear, sorrow, shame, disappointment, love, belonging, gratitude, creativity, and everyday wonder.” 

I’ve found that what helps us as a group to dare greatly together is having a shared language.  My coworker Megan Dickerson shared with me a format for giving feedback that she learned from her high school teacher, Pat Hodges. As an example, here is a recent feedback form from a TA:

“Leora, when you don’t tell me something I did wrong right away, but tell me after, I feel confused because I have no idea how you feel if I think things are going well. I do things wrong too, but I request you tell me right away so I could apologize and make the best out of our job as a team.”

We recently instilled the form as one of our “best practices”.  We recognize that in order to “show up” and be our best selves, we have to create a culture where we acknowledge that we each are people first.  We have to create a safe space where TAs can express how they feel, particularly when it’s hard.  They need to know that, even if it’s hard for us to receive a message, we will listen and are ready to hear them.  It also means that I, as the leader, have to model “daring greatly”and “dig deep” to speak from an authentic place, even when I fear that it might make me seem “mean” and when I fear feeling rejected. I want our Teen Ambassadors to know that in our family, living out and practicing our values and “acknowledging our vulnerability is a true act of ordinary courage”.  While this is at times difficult, it is also truly the most rewarding work of all.

Brene Brown’s popular TEDxHouston Talk “The Power of Vulnerability” can be found here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

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