Should I tell them—or not?

This question had been hovering around me for a while now.

Over the past 18 months, I have been to more funerals than in my previous 56 years. Those lost include both of my parents, my favorite cousin (she was only 54), and my cherished writing teacher.

At the same time, I facilitated a year-long women’s leadership seminar—in which I strive to make the participants feel safe, and encourage vulnerability. I had to ask myself, “Is it appropriate for me to be vulnerable? How much do I want to share? Will it help them, or me, or be a distraction?”

I decided not to tell them during the year that I worked with them; there are many reasons why. The most compelling being that I may “lose it,” then how effective will I be as a coach?

Or, if I share—and everyone focuses on me—how useful is that for the group and their development, which is the goal of the program?

Lastly, I was able to escape from my grief by being with a group of women who didn’t know what was happening. I could just play and have fun with them.

But, the night before graduation, I wondered: is it time to share my story?

I had just read Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. After her husband’s untimely death, Sheryl’s approach was to tell the world that she is grieving. And, I mean the whole world!

Also, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the power of sharing—how it is a kind of “soft power.” It builds a stronger trust with your employees and community. It can increase support and love from others.

The challenge for me is that I had shut down since my parents’ deaths. For me, surviving the grief meant establishing firm boundaries, which brought me peace. Now, this book and article are encouraging me to share. Sheryl and Adam present evidence that opening up and expressing feelings improves both physical and mental health. I have shared openly and freely with my husband, close friends, and key work colleagues. But I began to realize that others could benefit from my experiences.

As I prepared for graduation day, I decided to share my story—if it felt right. No pressure: just see what happens.

I began graduation day with an overview of the transformations I witnessed in the participants since the beginning of the program. The women gave brief (5-7 minute), small group presentations about how they have changed over the past year. Much to my pleasant surprise, many of the women shared how grateful they were for my support, feedback, care, and excellent facilitation. One group gave me lovely Kate Spade gifts!

I was taken aback by emotion. I didn’t think I was giving my 100% most of the time and often felt sad or distracted. But these women thought I did an amazing job. Wow!

So, in that moment—appreciating their words and gifts—I decided that the time was right to share my story. After their presentations, I walked to the front of the room and took a long, slow, deep breath. I looked at their faces and thanked them for their presentations and generosity. I was so grateful for their positive words and praise, which was a surprise to me.

My tears started to flow as I told them, “I lost both my parents and my cousin in rather sudden deaths. I am sharing this now as I think there is an important lesson here. You are celebrating my work as a facilitator, and in creating a safe and transformational environment. I did this while going through the grieving process. I told myself that it is okay to get by with ‘B work’ instead of striving for ‘A+’. The surprise to me was that ‘B work’ can be effective. All of you will go through some trauma in your life. No one is immune. Please remember that you don’t have to be perfect. ‘B work’ is good enough. Thank you for teaching me this. I hope you remember this as you go forward in life.”

As I was speaking, tears started forming in their eyes too. Many of the women thanked me for my candid words.

This experience made me realize that it was time to move on. I no longer needed to estrange myself. I can be open to others, now that I know how to set healthy boundaries. I can take myself to a higher level. I am no longer hiding. I am open to the world and ready to face my fears and begin living again!

Thank you.


2 Responses to My own “Option B”

  1. Margaret Sherlock says:

    I lost my dear brother who took his own life as a result of suffering from CTE (the effect of multiple concussions due to his extreme athletics). The grief was actually physical, among other things. My reflection on myself during my year end performance review was EXACTLY THE SAME as Kathryn’s, i.e., I felt like I was not and could not give my 110%, my A game. Nevertheless, my results were on par with priors years and my work relationships strengthened!

    Perhaps this recovering perfectionist has learned one more time that knowing how much is enough remains the secret. Knowing the amount of effort necessary is just s important as knowing what to do because after awhile, the law of diminishing returns kicks in!

    Turning grief into something positive takes time…..because you have to feel the grief first….and that takes time. Be generous with yourself in taking the time…..

  2. Lee innocenti says:

    I find you always inspirational regardless of how you are feeling. You are an amazing woman in love and friendship. Your courage inspires.

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