The Pennsylvania mountains stretch before me. I have a car full of kids filled with excitement and wonder. I am next to the guy that decided to join me on this adventure (among many others).
My life looks very different than the last few times I approached these mountains. As the soft curves of green trees fill up my view, memories flood my heart and hot tears stream down my face. The last two times I traveled here were to escape. We were going through some difficult times, and heading out to get away from it all seemed like a good idea.
So for years I avoided this mountainous highway because of these very things. Emotion. Feeling. Fear. It is as if these mountains held secrets captive for me, and I could never face this place again. For a time, it was OK to shut this place down. I had a lot of other life I was living.
But now as I drive this highway, I can’t keep the tears back even if I try. I reach over to my husband, hold his hand, look through the windows, and experience a whole wave of emotions. Gratitude is primary. This trip is healing, and the healing is sweet.
“Home” is the word that crosses my mind. I had never lived here before, but this is where my life essentially began. My grandparents met and married here. My parents traveled these roads on the way to college. I was born while they were in college. I traveled here for Thanksgiving with all my family one year. I came here right after my dad died. The last time I was here, my husband and I escaped for a weekend away after going through a difficult time in our marriage and family.
Gratitude isn’t really the number one emotion I felt would come to me when I approached this place again. But, even as I write this, I smile. This is how I desire to live life. I want to know that the most unexpected beautiful thing can come from a whole lot of unexpected not so beautiful things, and that you can keep choosing life and choosing to face that which may hold you captive. I traveled to these mountains because my heart was ready. I want my children to know history, meet my dad’s family, and now be our own family in a place of solitude, freedom and serenity.
There is nothing else to describe this, except that I had one more chance to face myself. To embrace the fact that all of these things had to take place to bring me right here to this moment—to do the things I have done, to hope for the things I have yet to do, and to be here now enjoying what I have been given.
Yes, I believe in second chances (probably more like third, fourth, and then some).
Why does this matter? It matters because we are human, and we are built on relationships and connection. And we cannot be authentically connected with others unless we are authentically connected with ourselves. Our souls do not leave when we show up at work. They certainly don’t leave if we become parents. Our soul doesn’t cease to exist when we take on our profession or we move to a new place to start over. We all come from somewhere. We are here today because we were born into something. Even if it is not a perfect story, it is our story. And we are becoming someone new every day. Every life event that happens teaches us something, and we can carve out our path in response to it. Along the way, we will still feel pain, sorrow, illness, betrayal, fear. Yes, we will. I certainly cannot understand some of these things and struggle at times to find answers. I just want to shut them down and move on.
Today, though, I let this trip be a new experience.
Sometimes the mountains we climb lead us right back home.
There are also times we do need to start over. Whatever it is, we can experience it fully. Live it and breathe it in. And in the process, while we are working and parenting and leading, I hope we give others the gift of knowing that they have a story, too. And that it does not have to be the ending. Right now, right here, we are part of that for each other. What world will we create? What memories will we make? What legacy will we leave?
Everything led us here. Home tells a story. Face it, feel it, find sweetness in it. Then, when we are willing to hand it over, we can find some new ground, and we choose a glorious path every time we do it. We now start a story that our grandchildren will tell and their grandchildren will tell. Yes, we have to leave our story behind a few times to make way for new things, especially if there are painful things that keep us from being authentic. There are some of us that need to simply let go of it and give ourselves permission to be new.
For me, after all these years, I realize I want my great grandchildren to visit these mountains one day. My hope is that they will see all of it, take the pieces that mean something to them, and carve their own path.
Authentic leadership is about knowing yourself and others well.
Keep the parts of your story that mean something. Let go of the other stuff. Create your own legacy.