How to fall apart and still be strong

Last month I sat in circle with women from my neighborhood. It is something we have been doing somewhat monthly since the results of the presidential elections. The circle had been called in order to create a safe space for women to share and process their thoughts – without fear of being judged, without fear of receiving unsolicited advice, without fear of being made wrong. My role that night was to hold and facilitate that space, and as we spoke, and as I felt myself wanting to speak, I found myself completing…and totally…FALLING…APART.

Just a few days before, my husband had been laid off from his job, and to top that off, just days after that he ended up in the hospital for kidney stone surgery. (Hey Universe, we are still wondering why you decided to send him a double whammy, but we trust you…) With the challenges hitting us at both the health and money level, I found the uncertainty, fear, confusion and despair of the week’s happenings starting to build and grow until it burst out of me in a rush of sadness, anger, many words of anger, many I-don’t-knows, tears, and f— f— f— f— f— this!

Truth be told, we had been through similar challenges before, and for days I had been handling the situation with an outwardly steady acceptance. However, the deep deep deep down inside decided that it was way past time to show up. At first it sounded like this: “I don’t think I can do this again.” And then like this: “I don’t want to do this again.” And behind that message, I realize I was also signaling “I don’t think I can be strong for you in this circle tonight.”

Strong. Why strong? Somehow, I had made up in my mind that to hold a circle, to even be in the role of coach, or wise woman, or leader, that I needed to be strong for everyone. That I needed to provide structure, safety, and some kind of assurance that the space was strong enough and safe enough – and me by extension — to hold whatever showed up.

But you know what? A circle doesn’t rely on one point. It is made up of the connectedness between an infinite number of points.

That night, in circle, I felt the power of that connection. In that moment of total weakness and vulnerability, I found myself incredibly heard, supported and loved. I found myself sharing the truth and depth of what I was feeling, and as the words came rushing out and revealing that tender vulnerable place I could no longer cover up, I also found myself being buoyed by the strength and vulnerability of the women in circle with me.

What did I learn? I learned a concept that I have understood at an intellectual level but never truly gotten at an emotional and very personal level. I learned how there is strength in me showing my vulnerability. I learned that I can both fall apart and still be strong at the same time. And I also learned that I don’t need to do this alone.

How are you allowing yourself to fall apart these days? And what is it that helps you still stay strong?

In love, gratitude and persistence,

Carolyn Ou is an Executive/Leadership Coach and founder of Sandbox Consulting, as well as Associate Director of Leadership Development at the Chicago Booth School of Business. She is passionate about coaching emerging and unsung leaders and believes strongly in the power of conversation to pave the way towards greater understanding and connection.