Red Pens - Leadership SHIFT Tip

During my senior year of high school, I took advanced placement chemistry. I loved the teacher, but I quickly felt that I was in over my head and my purpose was to anchor the bell curve for my classmates with Stanford, Princeton, and Cornell aspirations.

During my first semester, I developed a dysfunctional relationship with my teacher’s red pen. It was highly effective in helping me see what I lacked, smarts and belonging.

Scarcity is a powerful vortex that can make us believe that we are not smart, perfect, funny, attractive, safe, wealthy, trusted, or good enough — and that’s the short list.

For many, as shared by Lynne Twist in The Soul of Money, the first thought of the day is usually, “I didn’t get enough sleep.” As we rub the sand from our eyes and grab our phones to check email, we start to believe that we don’t have enough time.

As we rush into our day, it’s easy to slip into the “don’t have” and “can’t do” rabbit hole. We worry and kvetch about not having enough, but it doesn’t change the situation. And as we drift off to sleep, we think about what we didn’t get done because we weren’t productive enough.

It’s a loop that can lead to depression, violence, addiction, disengagement, stress, and drama — and at the extreme, devastating terror.

All things that our society faces today.

Yet, many believe that their red pens promote accountability and meritocracy. How will people get better if they don’t know what they are doing wrong? After all, part of society’s problem is that everyone feels entitled to a blue ribbon or trophy, they believe.

But it’s clear that the strict red pen & a trophy for sympathy strategy is confusing and not working. So perhaps it’s time to use a different pen and draft an approach that favors agility and leads with strengths, vulnerability, and compassion.

Maybe we could use a green one.

Have fun storming the castle!

p.s., My teacher was Mr. Smout. He was my favorite high school teacher because he was compassionate. He never lowered his standards, but when I was feeling less confident, he helped me see the reasons why I was enough and that I belonged despite my non-Ivy League status. I ended up getting a B in his class.

He was an expert in green pen moments.

“The opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It’s enough.” 
- Brene Brown