Last year, I was awarded a grant through Leadership Education at Duke Divinity to support an innovative approach to leadership within my institution, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. Lake Institute offers a variety of educational and public programs on a regular basis; however, we’ve never offered a renewal day or retreat for our constituents.
Throughout my many years as a youth minister, I came to really appreciate the value of retreats—an opportunity to step away from the daily routine, dive deep into a particular topic, and come away renewed and refreshed to try something new. There’s my innovative approach!
In addition to retreats, I’m equally fond of the work of Brené Brown. Her work on vulnerability, shame, and empathy has changed the way I understand myself and everyone I interact with. I can’t emphasize enough how important her work is to our world. I’ve incorporated her ideas into retreats and workshops in the past, but I’d never tried connecting it with our work at Lake Institute. There’s my innovative content!
In November, over 20 congregational leaders gathered together in Indianapolis for a day of renewal focusing on the topic of shame and money. If you just raised your eyebrow at me, I get it. Shame and renewal don’t seem to go together! However, when journal prompts, individual time for reflection, one-on-one discussions, and tables full of craft items are paired with the topic, it became an opportunity for religious leaders to consider a new way of understanding money both for themselves and their organizations.
We thought about how shame shows up in our relationship to money. Shame is “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.” According to Dr. Brown, shame needs three things to survive: secrecy, silence, and judgment. Shame can’t survive when we speak about it. During our time together, we slowly started chipping away at our shame because of our willingness to name it in a safe space.
We all use various masks or armor to protect ourselves from feeling shame and from talking about it. I think these masks can apply to our organizations as well. We opt for comfort (and possibly dysfunction) in order to avoid the discomfort of vulnerability. Here are the three masks we discussed:
Rather than acknowledging the success or celebrations, we wait for the shoe to drop, clamping down on our current joy. This might look like rehearsing tragedy, dismissing joy, or living with a scarcity mindset. How can we push back against foreboding joy? Focus on gratitude. How can your organization practice gratitude?
Perfectionism is hustling to be perfect in order to avoid feeling judgment or blame. This might look like unattainable goals, self-blame or trying to earn approval. So, how can we take steps to focus less on perfectionism and more on mindfulness and our common humanity? Dr. Brown suggests more self-compassion, grace, and kindness. How can your organization practice self-compassion?
We numb when we embrace the hustle culture or any other distraction that will lessen the feelings of pain and discomfort. This might look like overworking, poor boundaries or checking out. How do we lessen feelings of disconnection and shame? Connect worthiness with boundaries, not hustle. How can your organization set healthy boundaries?
Do any of these masks sound familiar? Are they present in your organization?
Maybe your organization just received a very large donation. Instead of finding gratitude for the gift, there are members on your team who say, “This will only last so long, we need to get more and soon!” Yes, it’s important to keep engaging with new donors, but it’s just as important to celebrate the successes, even momentarily so as to build morale and engagement.
Or perhaps you’re really struggling to raise money for the budget this year. The focus is on numbers and unrealistic goals instead of building relationships with donors over time.
Maybe attendance has dropped, which means giving has dropped too. So, you work late into the night responding to emails and then wake early in the morning for meetings trying to prove your worth to the board.
Foreboding joy, perfectionism, and numbing can show up in a variety of ways. Being aware of how they appear is step one. Learning how to remove the masks and show up authentically in our organizations is step two—a step that is unending but well worth the effort.
To learn more about this work, I highly suggest reading Dare to Lead by Brené Brown.