Light from dark nights of introspection

by  Jane Perdue  |  Self Leadership

Imagine being charged of committing acts so dreadful you can’t comprehend being capable of performing them. Acts that are selfish and mean-spirited.  I took copious notes throughout the conversation that occurred during a raging thunder and lightning storm. Turmoil inside, turmoil outside.

I coach others feedback is a gift. Accept it gracefully even if it hurts. Analyze it from multiple perspectives. Seek to understand. Work through the emotions. Look for what resonates. Explore what doesn’t. Grow, be better. Keep moving forward.

Hence began the long dark night. I returned to the list of offenses (which had grown in a subsequent email), seeking to understand. Nothing in the list rang true for who and what I perceived myself to be. Was I refusing to look candidly in my own mirror?

I poked and prodded the allegations, coming up empty-handed. When the solitary journey isn’t going anywhere, I coach vulnerability: confide in a trusted advisor, someone who lovingly tells you the good, the bad and the ugly about yourself. They are your mirror.

While my sounding board had never seen the behaviors ascribed to me, she accurately pointed out that I obviously had done something to prompt the other’s beliefs. Together we reviewed the context of each incident, looking for clues. Sure enough, buried in an early conversation was an ill-phrased suggestion. To me, the comment was simply a blue-sky idea, a way to divvy up a project between two busy people. There was no hidden agenda.

Yet the other party heard something very different – that I was seeking to marginalize her role and maximize mine. Rather than asking a clarifying question or two at the time the suggestion was made, she concluded I was self-serving. And that became the lens through which she viewed our subsequent encounters.

Once my advisor pointed this out, it was easy to see how my comments were taken out of context and filtered by her point of view. And, if you’re not paying close attention (especially when all interaction happens via technology), you miss clues coming your way – and I missed a ton of them before the thunderstorm conversation.

Now that everything is out in the open between us, we both can see where each of us went wrong. Will the partnership survive? It’s too early to say but we’ve both committed to rebuilding the trust that was seriously eroded.

Two insights stand out for me from my dark night:

  • If you’re harboring ill feelings toward a friend, colleague, loved one, business associate, etc. and haven’t openly addressed it with them, make it so – the sooner the better. Stop the rot. End the awkwardness. Get things back on track or close the track.
  • If you’re wondering why someone is acting strangely, make the time to ask why. Ask both from your head and heart. Listen deeply to what’s said. Be open to introspection. Without knowledge of the wound you’ve caused, you may inadvertently be making it worse.

Make that call right now and get things back on track, OK?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By jane-perdue
Jane is a leadership futurist and well-mannered maverick who challenges stereotypes, sacred cows, gender bias & how we think about power. She loves chocolate, TED, writing, kindness, paradox and shoes.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Becky  |  10 Oct 2011  |  Reply


Thank you for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I appreciate your vulnerability and openness here. All of the recommendations you make (and the steps that you took) require great courage. I would love to read a follow-up on this related to what happens next.

What happens when we take steps to repair a relationship? What do we need to take care about to avoid future misunderstandings?


Jane Perdue  |  10 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Becky —

I’m touched by your comments and observations…and intrigued with your suggestion of a follow-up post(s).- something to consider, for sure! Those long nights of introspection do bring growth and do require courage. We’re a disposable society and sometimes it’s altogether too easy to dismiss what people have to say and remove them from our lives. Character-based leaders, however, don’t do that…and I’m trying hard to walk the walk in my second act!

With a smile,


Mike Henry  |  10 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Jane, I’m grateful for your post. This is a great reminder that there is always another point of view or perspective in any conflict or disconnect. Thanks also for the courage to share about how often it takes another person that we trust to help us see the first person’s perspective. Sometimes I think it takes problems to remind us we’re not all-powerful.


Jane Perdue  |  10 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Mike – thanks much for your kind words. With today’s technology, “connecting” with someone is quite easy and can set us up for some false expectations. As you so rightfully point out, we sometimes need what I call the “cosmic two-by-four” to deliver the whack across the head and get us thinking straight again. Sending smiles and thanks your way.

Shawn  |  10 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Thank you for sharing such a personal story. Indeed those situations are rough. What I admire in your retelling the story is how you owned your part in the breakdown. Somebody must be the first person to do so. What it tells me is that you care deeply enough about the partnership that you are willing to openly admit to your contribution. Heck, you even wrote a blog post about it, offering it up as a lesson for us all. That’s noble.


Jane Perdue  |  11 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Shawn – so appreciate your thoughtful words! Hey, what kind of coach would I be if I didn’t follow my own advice?! With a smile — Jane

Susan Mazza  |  11 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jane. A great demonstration of character based leadership in practice. Sometimes we have to keep listening until we can hear. Only then can we truly take responsibility for the relationship. Great advice as always.

On the flip side, just because someone interpreted you as being self serving, doesn’t mean you have to take it on as the truth about you. You demonstrate how to walk that delicate line here. When faced with an assessment that doesnt fit our self perception it is important to both be open to the possibility that we could be deflecting what we dont want to face about ourselves, and make sure we are not owning an assessment that may not be a truth about who we are.

Jane Perdue  |  11 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Susan – just love your pragmatism! Just because someone say it’s so doesn’t necessarily make it so. Yet, it’s obvious we both agree that character-based leaders must willingly take on the long dark nights and explore the validity of the issue from all angles. Thanks for adding to the richness of the discussion.

Gwyn Teatro  |  11 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Jane, what I take away from your story is the knowledge that regardless of the cause of the distress you are in, you have courage and integrity enough to look in the mirror first, really listen to what is being said to you and search for meaning even when it is painful for you. That makes you a leader to be admired no matter what your transgressions.
And, no matter your findings and what you choose to do about them, while you no doubt have a share in the responsibility for how you got there, you didn’t take that journey all by yourself. So remember to be kind to yourself.

Jane Perdue  |  12 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Gwyn – Being kind to yourself is a great add to the action list, and thank you for your kind words. The busy pace of life sometimes leaves little time for introspection, yet one’s emotional intelligence can’t grow without it. I shared the story hoping leaders would be inspired to look within, find the answers, learn and grow – as I have!

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