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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things


Tom Elenbaas


Shadows. We all find ourselves at times shadow boxing. There are sides to us – our personalities, our drives, our gifts – which are mere shadows of who we really are, and they are often, and unfortunately, unbecoming.

In his book Integrity, Henry Cloud encourages people – leaders especially – to ask the question, “What is it like to be on the other side of me?” What is it about me that I’m not seeing? What is it like to experience me from the other side of me? In other words, where am I casting a shadow. For many of us, that's a hard question to ask, and yet, we all have blind spots and shadows - and those blind spots and shadows hurt people, make us less who we really are, and can even destroy us if we're not careful.

We have too much experience with the shadow sides. Recent stories like the revelations about Bill Cosby’s cast a secret shadow life. Many of us new Cosby as the hilarious, clean comic or the gentle but firm and loving father from the Cosby show. Little did we know about his shadow side, and how devastated learning about it has been.

Even Miley Cyrus gets this. Here’s a song of hers from as “Hannah Montana” back in 2006:

The other side, the other side of me
By day, I play the part in every way
Of simple sweet, calm and collected
Pretend, to my friends, I’m a chameleon
— "The Other Side of Me," Hannah Montana

And we’ve seen that chameleon side of Miley, haven’t we? What’s so interesting about cases like Cosby’s and so many others is that more often than not, people try to deny, hide, and cover up the shadow side. Certainly there is shame in our “dark side” and fear that the shadow may truly be us. So in classic Genesis fashion, we hide and we cover. Listen to how Richard Rohr speaks about it:

Your shadow is what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see.

The general pattern in story and novel is that heroes learn and grow from encountering their shadow, whereas villains never do.

Usually, everybody else can see your shadow, so it is crucial that you learn what everybody else knows about you – except you!
— “Falling Upward,” by Richard Rohr

In his book Creativity, Inc., Pixar's Ed Catmull tells the story of a time when Bill Joy (founder of Sun Microsystems) and Steve Jobs (Apple) were face to face in a conversation at the 1985 SIGGRAPH conference, and afterwards both remarked to Ed how arrogant the other was. Ed follows up with this:

"I remember being struck by this clash-of-the-titans moment. I was amused by the fact that each man could see ego in the other but not in himself."

This is our perennial blindness, what Jesus refers to when he speaks about removing the plank out of our own eye before helping our brother with the speck in his. Our shadows are often so evident to others, and yet our own self-awareness can be so low. In fact, self-awareness is now one of the most important things Many of us look for when looking for leaders - an honestly, humility, and engagement with one's own failures, shadows, and missteps.

This is the powerful human struggle – that we are often not who we wish we are, who we think we are, who we hope we are.  Deep down, we have a longing to be who we are, and we are disappointed with our shadows. We find ourselves torn between two sides of ourselves. This is part of the power and allure of the Star Wars movies. George Lucas was a master of raising questions that are more deeply existential than we realize. There is a dark side to every good man or woman because light casts a shadow. The question is, “Who are we?”

Paul, in a letter to his friends at the church Corinth speaks about this:

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
— 2 Corinthians 3:18 by Paul

Paul seems to be saying that we are glorious beings and that we are being transformed, but that transformation comes as we “unveil our faces,” that we “image” our good God in every increasing light. We can lean into the darkness, the shadow, and the shadow mission. We can hide, cover, and deny. Or by a positive shadowboxing, we can face our shadows, cast light upon then, unveil our faces, and become who we are. But that requires courage, vulnerability, and humility. Only those with true humility can face the powerful shadow side and submit to a power greater than ourselves to over come it. The light has come into the world; and the light has overcome the darkness.

I love how Brene Brown says this in her new book Rising Strong:

So much of what we hear today about courage is inflated and empty rhetoric that camouflages personal fears about one’s likability, ratings, and ability to maintain a level of comfort and status. We need more people who are willing to demonstrate what it looks like to risk and endure failure, disappointment, and regret – people willing to feel their own hurt instead of working it out on other people, people willing to own their stories, live their values, and keep showing up.
— “Rising Strong,” by Brene Brown

So, we need to keep showing up. We need to ask the tough questions, like “What is it like to be on the other side of me.” We need to defeat our shadows and rise to our true selves. Only then will we discover the ever increasing glory for which we were designed.

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