My Answer to Sadness: Part 1

The death of Robin Williams is upsetting.

Feel it. It needs some air. Photo credit: Andriana Mereuta
Let yourself feel it.
Photo credit: Andriana Mereuta

He had a comedic genius that was unmatched because he was willing to go all the way there for the joke.

He needed your laugh.

What happens when the laughter outside can’t overwhelm the horror inside?

Depression is a real demon for those of us out in front. The closer you get to the light, the longer and the darker the shadow.

What’s the answer?

Here’s the trite answer:

“Assess yourself, recognize the signs and get professional help.”

Well, sure. The thing is: the mind of a creative visionary isn’t linear.

It’s a complex web of interconnectedness, sizzling with emotional energy. You’ve seen it before. Look at a 4-year-old. She’ll run around in the park, joyfully throwing her skirt hem in the air, counting clouds until she trips on a stone. Then she’ll bawl uncontrollably until-

“Butterfly!”

Your thoughts are on a mission, passionate and determined, side-swiped by a shock and then down. Then back up again in another direction.

Go ahead and assess that, especially when people think you’re brilliant. It’s not that simple.

When you’re out in front, you see things. You see how the world could be in all its glory and in all its horror- at the same time. You can recognize patterns quicker– and see human agendas deeper. But you also see the hand of the divine in the midst of it all. Filled with emotion, you may turn to someone right next to you– and they see nothing.

The intense light from being out front means you see your own flaws more intensely, and you feel their effects on others more deeply. When you fall, you can take a lot of people with you. As a leader, watching for signs of depression does nothing.

They’re there.

Here’s the four-part answer, then, to depression.

Authenticity. Compassion. Vision. Overflow.

1. Authenticity.

Stop lying. To yourself, to your peers, and to the world. Quit it. When you’re in pain, be in pain. Be loud about it. When you experience joy, be loud about that too. Being out in front shouldn’t mean that you deny who you are. The most vulnerable parts of us need honesty and truth.

There is a school of thought that says keep an inner circle. Here’s what that’s for. Your visionary projects. Your ground-breaking work. Not your worst pain.

Being authentic is impossible without vulnerability.

Your pain needs air. There is no shame in what ever has you feeling broken. When you share it, you realize you aren’t a broken thing, and you begin healing.

2. Compassion.

Compassion goes deeper than kindness. It’s togetherness or oneness with someone’s heart (com-passion). Deepen your connections with others who share your same values and your vision. This will create a bonded community that will sense when something is wrong.

3. Vision.

There is always something bigger and better than you, and that should make you feel alive. You have something to strive for, and you have something to contribute to. The best of humanity hasn’t happened yet, and it’s reachable through you. That isn’t a burden but a great calling. You’ve been created for something wonderful, and you don’t have to do it all. A great vision will keep you going when your pain says otherwise– and it will remind you that you are needed.

4. Overflow.

Overflow: (v) to be filled or supplied with in great measure.

Robin Williams brought all that laughter and joy to others, and it seems had none for himself. When you’re out in front of others, don’t give it if you don’t have it for yourself. Being a leader is spiritually and emotionally draining. If you give inspiration, it should be from a place of personal revelation. If you are passing along joy, your impact is weakened if you have none of your own.

This is what is hard for those of us in the light. You see something and want to share it. Share it when you have it.

Depression can be healed. In another post, I’ll discuss an innovative way to structure your leadership so that it won’t be affected by your need to be healed.

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