The self assurance that comes with being comfortable in our own skin is a huge gift when we achieve it. For me it took many years. This is a combination of understanding ourselves, knowing our strengths and shadow sides, and the lane we were made to run in. It is living with a divine OK that we are who we are and that we are not what we are not – and never will be and that too is OK. It is the place where we no longer have anything to prove or lose so there is the freedom to just be who God made us to be.
As a child I was painfully shy. Pictures of our family at the beach always had me holding a book. I had a book everywhere I went and while I had a few close friends, my friendships were not wide. When we arrived back from Hong Kong in 1971 I attended a high school where the idea of travelling was going deer hunting in Wisconsin! My world had been huge, and now I was with people whose world was very small. I fit in but I didn’t.
At the same time I was thrust into leadership positions – youth group, Inter-Varsity, Senior Pastor – an interesting juxtaposition for someone as reserved as I was. And, like many young leaders, I had both confidence in my leadership and suffered at times from insecurity – hidden from others of course. The truth was that I was not yet comfortable in my own skin and lived at times with significant anxiety, especially when I was taking shots from others in the pastorate.
Getting to comfort in our own skin is essential to a leader. It takes time and intentionality. For me it took time to learn to enjoy being an introvert in an extrovert job and today it fits me well. It took time to learn that I didn’t have to have the answer to all problems, or live with anxiety when crisis hit. It took time to learn to trust my instincts when I needed to make a call.
Intentionality is part of the equation too. Learning to live with a nothing to prove, nothing to lose attitude lifts all kinds of weight from our shoulders. Choosing to be transparent rather than holding our cards close to our vest allows others to understand us. Learning how to be self defining, honest and upfront while still staying connected to those who might disagree with us keeps us in relationship rather than cutting relationships off.
Being OK with who God made me to be is a component of being comfortable in our own skin. I can become a better me but I will always be me and not someone else, no matter how hard I try. I will always be a slightly reserved, analytical leader with a few deep relationships who loves to lead through team, conquer territory for Jesus, enjoys work more than play (fly fishing and time with close friends excepted), is the product of an international upbringing and needs to explore the world and has an irrational optimism for the church of Christ. That is me and I am comfortable with me because God chose to make me who I am. I figure He knew something I didn’t and He is God and I am not! Fortunately for the world there is only one me.
Now here comes the rub for all of us. There will be those who don’t like the me that God made us to be. They want us to be a different version of me that better fits their concept of a leader. I have had my share of those who were convinced either that God made a mistake in the me He crafted or that I was unqualified to be their leader. If you lead, you know what I am talking about. In my early years as a leader, I was tempted to try to be who they wanted me to be but it never worked. God made me the way He made me and I will never be someone else. Today, I am not threatened by those who think I should be a different version of me. Not only will it not happen but it is not what God intended.
This is where leading through team is so important. I have many deficits but the better the team that I have, the fewer those deficits impact the organization as a whole. If someone in the organization does not like my leadership style there is certainly someone on the team that they resonate with.
Understanding ourselves and how we are wired is crucial to becoming comfortable in our own skin. In addition, growing our EQ health is equally important. Those who are comfortable in their own skin either are so because of deep arrogance (I am right so I don’t have to worry about what others think) or are deeply cognizant of who they are (strengths and weaknesses) and are sensitive to the needs and issues of others. The former “comfortableness” is damaging to those around them. The latter is a comfortableness of understanding, wiring, calling, and deep humility that allows one to lead from who God made them to be and with great sensitivity to those around them.
Humility is central to this equation. Pride is concerned about how others see us, being right, managing our reputation and image. Humility is knowing that we have nothing to prove and nothing to lose, that we don’t need to manage our reputation or image and that we are simply broken vessels (the Apostle Paul’s words) whom God uses for His purposes. In fact, I thank God for every fissure and crack in the pottery that makes me who I am because those divine scars made me comfortable in my own skin.