A Few Words from Paul: #StayInTheMess

For the past couple of years, I have been using the hashtag “#stayinthemess” as my way of encouraging us to have the hard conversations that really matter and make a difference. I need to be more precise.

In a world of hashtags and text messages, nuance is sorely missing. I realize that every time someone in the office or in my personal life asks me questions about what I mean or what I am thinking. What the hell am I thinking? What is it that I really mean? What is “stay in the mess,” really? It is ambiguous and that is not helpful in a world of generalities, hyperbole, and profiles.

I am finding that out…the hard way.

For so many years, I have patted myself on the back because I have been able to live in so many worlds. Able to interact with my friends on both sides of the political spectrum, able to see both sides of an issue, able to talk smack on the basketball court and then give a keynote address. I actually thought it was a skill to be able to be flexible, have options, and never get pinned down.

I may have been wrong.

Staying in the mess is about engaging in the hard conversations that are typically, and sadly, not happening. How can I be a part of that if I don’t stand up in those conversations? How can I role model that engagement if I don’t actually participate?

The answer is that I have been scared. Scared of not being liked. Scared that I will disappoint someone. Scared that I will be judged for stating my belief or opinion. Even more scared that LeaderShape would be judged for something I say or write because I know that happens. Believe me, it does.

Ambiguity has been my safety net so that I can be all things to all people. What I am finding out lately is that I can’t do that with the people that I am close to. My family. My friends. My colleagues in the office. It shows up as only half of Paul. Shows up as bullshit. Shows up as confused. All of which I don’t want to be and have worked hard in my life to teach others not to be. Nice, huh?

So, yes, I can still see both sides of an issue and understand how someone can be pro-choice and pro-life. Truly understand. I can see how someone can be happy that a new Supreme Court justice will be nominated while also showing compassion for the deceased Justice’s family. I can try to help others and work to make them happy. As long as I start to make myself happy first.

That is what has been missing. Sacrificing my voice in order for others to be heard. “I’ve got broad shoulders, I can handle it,” is what I used to always tell myself. I don’t think that cuts it any more. It is affecting the people closest to me in not such a good way.

I do plan to stay in the mess and encourage others to do the same. I just want to enter those messes with less fear and more Paul. Less worry and more trust. Less management of personalities and more leadership by example.

Maybe you can learn from my example or know where I am coming from. The change I am adopting is that I don’t care. Not in a harsh way, but in a way to regain my voice regardless of how it shows up to others. Or to you.

We are not breaking up (smile). I still care for you though and want to be friends. That part of me will never fade away. I need to work to make sure you know the real Paul. The authentic Paul. The Paul that is hurt, tired, trying to figure it all out…and trying to lead this amazing organization called LeaderShape.

Keep looking for the mess and when you find it, stay in it, with all that you are. I’ll do my best to be right there with you.


Paul is the President of LeaderShape and pinches himself everyday for that opportunity. He is a father, son, soon-to-be-husband, athlete, avid reader, eternal optimist, and sucker for the underdog. 

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