I don’t do groups. In fact, as a child my mother decided one day that I should go to group counseling because my father was an alcoholic. Before anyone gets any ideas about this presumed tragedy, my parents divorced when I was three-years-old, I lived with my mother who had sole custody and was a working trust fund baby, plus I had an older brother who lived with us and lots of family friends creating a rich support system. It wasn’t a difficult life. As for my dad, he was very much around, involved in my life, and my parents remained good friends. Sure, he was absolutely an alcoholic, but the effect that had on my life was practically nonexistent. He was a jovial drunk and no one had any illusion that he was a responsible adult, including me, whether he was sober or not. So, expectations were always quite low as far as “parenting,” but he was a fun playmate! He worked, too. He was a prolific professional artist, a muralist mostly, and revered well enough in all the right circles for most of my life. There really wasn’t much to complain about, honestly. So, picture me in group with a bunch of kids who were literally going through hell with their alcoholic parent(s)–many suffering abuse, financial hardships, neglect, embarrassment and shame… whereas my dad would drink way too much scotch and get up and sing with the band at the Yacht Club, and everyone thought he was the life of the party. He never tried to drive drunk with me, so safety wasn’t an issue. He might have a slight hangover in the morning that would delay our planned trip to the beach that day, but that was really the extent of my suffering.
Needless to say, I didn’t really participate in group. I just sat there quietly. It was all rather uncomfortable hearing the other kids’ stories–I felt like a fraud. I hated “group.”
That was my first experience with groups: negative, misfit, outsider, and self-conscious are words that come to mind. “Groups” meant other things to me later in life: group projects in school, where I tended to do most of the work; group assignments at work, which tended to follow the same patterns as school; team-building group exercises, team breakout sessions, and shared accountability management systems–please shoot me, it’s so awful!! My friends, colleagues and employers all would joke that “Daphne doesn’t play well with others.” Instead, they’d just give me impossible problems to solve and incredibly challenging tasks to figure out, and I’d hide away in a closed room eventually emerging with the impossible solved. Then, we’d all gather teams together to execute the strategies.
Then, one day I’d met my match. A woman far smarter than me! She was an absolute lunatic–impossible for most people to work with, mean, temperamental, petty and hands down BRILLIANT! She became my best friend and mentor for about 11 years. While everything I said about her is absolutely true, it’s also true that she was the most encouraging, generous and supportive mentor and teammate imaginable who gave me every opportunity to grow and learn and implement anything I wanted to do. Most importantly, she believed in me more than even I did, and I’m pretty cocky! She pushed me in every area of my professional life until I exceeded a standard I didn’t even realize I was capable of achieving. I can’t say that she taught me everything I know–instead she kept challenging me and held tireless faith in me until I learned and applied every professional skill I currently hold. Many of these skills she doesn’t have herself. For her, it wasn’t about her trying to turn me into a clone; it was about pushing me to become my best me. After more than a decade, I began achieving consistently at very high levels, and we both knew that I was now soaring on my own. What started as a brutal form of mentoring and coaching eventually shifted to just brutality, however. The pain crescendoed, and there came a time when there was nothing left to learn in that space, and the abuse was no longer followed by a reward. It was just painful and empty. It was time for me to move on–we agreed. And so it ended. And every day I’m grateful for the full experience. Was there an easier path to take to get me where I am today? Nope. I’d have been too hard-headed to come this far without all of that.
Yet, I still never learned to work well in groups, exactly, but I learned how to lead many groups of people and project manage like a champ! Mostly, I learned how to work exceptionally well with an equal or better-skilled partner. This was a huge breakthrough for this loner!
After a couple more years, I stumbled into the life and work of yet another extraordinary person–just as dynamic and brilliant as the one before, but minus the mean streak and abusiveness and who was also far more successful. Up until now, I’ve always had a mentor in my life, and this other extraordinary person normally would have become my next–wickedly smart, extremely successful businesswoman and entrepreneur… She’s everything I’d want to learn from next! But, we never allowed a mentoring relationship to form. Instead, we entered into our relationship as a partnership of equals, each bringing different skills and expertise to the game, and every challenge, frustration or dispute we’d have within our working process was always approached with this incredible level of mutual respect and love. Occasionally, we’d even openly discuss this wonderful phenomenon. Four years we worked together, almost inseparable though she travels often, without one real argument. There was one enormous problem, however. After four years of creating exceptional work, only two out of 10 large projects were fully completed and launched (though many smaller ones were wildly successful). Everything else was abandoned for one reason or another after getting 60% or even 75% complete. I always blamed her for either stalling projects (sometimes due to legitimate conflicts of interest that would arise) or just never scheduling ample dedicated time to sit down and finalize them with me. I could only get so far on my own–using her ideas and vision–because this is her brand and life. I actually need her to help me polish and complete. I’d voice concerns from time to time, even get a little annoyed and frustrated. She always avoided discussing it… So, I of course assumed she understood and agreed with my point of view, hence the avoidance. Right? Wrong! It appears she’d been blaming me for these unfinished projects this whole time, and two huge arguments erupted as a result. We’re working through this, I’m very relieved to report, but not without some difficulty and a few hard blows along the way.
Believe me, I no longer blame my partner solely for these unfinished projects. What I am doing is gathering up all I know about her and infusing it in the works on my own to reach a finalized stage. That’s not to say that she won’t join with me to polish it pre-release, but I’m going rogue to get to the finish line, because I’ve learned that this is what these projects actually needed all along. I needed to be bold enough, and have enough faith in all I know about this person, to dive in and create the final works. That takes a big set of brass ones to do–to make grand assumptions about someone’s life and opinions, but the bolder I am about doing this, and the more committed I become to this vanguard process, the more confident I become in knowing that this was the missing link all along. This was absolutely the role I was meant to take, but was too timid to shoulder up the responsibility previously. And, yes, I have her blessing. We never had an issue with trust–she knows I know her stories, her heart and intentions–we just struggled furiously with each other until I chose to take a wildly ambitious path. As unusual as this is, it’s gorgeous how it’s all working out!
Still, without launching any of these large projects I’d created, my cash flow is not what I had originally anticipated, to say the least. So, I picked up other freelance clients and maintained others I had planned to phase out, helping me get by as I still work towards finalizing then launching all of this work I’d started. I’ve been frustrated, lost, overwhelmed, feeling isolated and abandoned, and even a little despondent at times, but I never gave up–I knew not to do that. And, here enters the theme of the “group” once more…
Stephanie Frank, an esteemed business coach whom I became acquainted when I first decided to work on my freelance career full time about 5 years ago, started a Facebook group called “Lifestyle Business Insider.” Look, I’m a big fan of Facebook–I socialize on it, debate on it, spread ideas there, tell stories there… instead of being a substitution for real-life, it’s been a brilliant extension of real life for me, and has had a wonderful positive impact on my business. I am also a member of several “professional groups.” Most are fine, but the one Stephanie developed is extraordinary! While I continue to grit my teeth and plow through the completion of these projects, most importantly a specific book project with two additional co-authors, I have been able to share some of my professional struggles, successes, stories and goals with other pros. There’s an eclectic mix of people from varied backgrounds, expertise and levels of achievement on their journey, and though this group is rather new, the feedback, support, sharing and resources presented have been incredibly beneficial! I think I’ve fund a “group” where I actually fit in–I’m not the smartest person in the room here (and I never want to be), instead there’s a beautiful, equitable level of give and take that I believe is creating a synergy far greater than the sum of its parts.
I’m still holding my beloved beast (this big book project) dear to my heart and nearing the end, finalizing the first complete draft of the manuscript next month. Though it’s been an incredibly difficult time, there’s never been a doubt that it’s an absolutely worthwhile journey with an astoundingly worthwhile colleague, partner and dear friend. And this group, just being able to share with the group, ask questions and give feedback and process in this space has helped me to plow through some really tough barriers. I’m so grateful for each member, and of course Stephanie.
I’ve gone from being a complete misfit in awkward Ala-teen groups and bulldozing my fellow students throughout high school and college group projects, to finally being able to lead teams and work with a partner… and now I’m fully embracing a group of dedicated peers and professionals who join together in a virtual space to support one another, share resources and experience growth. I’m blessed, and I think I’m starting to like this whole “group” concept!