Category Archives: Self-Doubt

Thoughts on Dad Guilt

Father and son relationships are sometimes challenging, often complex, and always special. As both a son and a father, I have experienced the range of how good and hard this relationship can be.

It hit me recently that we only have one year left before Matthias heads off to college. I’ve watched him over 17 1/2 years grow into a thoughtful, creative, and integrous man. I find myself reviewing all the things I want to teach him, evaluating the state of our relationship, and looking for ways to build memories together.

We hear so much about mom guilt, but dad guilt is real, if less talked about. We need to try our best to invest in our kids, knowing we can’t live up to even our own expectations. But we have to keep up the effort even when (especially when) it’s tough.

Freedom in Finding my Voice

I’ve loved music all my life. From my sister telling me how to sound like the Carpenters as a kid (I like rainy days, but Mondays still get me down!) to singing in the church choir to discovering the Beatles as a teenager, music has been a big part of my life.

Despite having musical parents and family on both sides, it’s always been an area of my life that’s hard to embrace. As a kid I was told many times, “Don’t quit your day job,” when I sang. People literally told me to shut up. (Who talks like that to children?) I dreamed for a while of being a rock star (seriously, who hasn’t? It really is one of the coolest jobs). I was shot down as too much of a dreamer.

Eventually I gave up on my musical dreams. I went to college and then seminary and became a pastor. Ironically, as a young youth pastor I was often called upon to use my limited guitar skills and voice to lead youth group worship. I would feel the pang of my love for my music calling, but knowing I wasn’t good enough, I put the guitar away again for years.

I’ve been on a long journey to re-discover who I am. As a part of my process a few years back I started taking guitar lessons. I knew it was time to embrace my musical soul. I’ve grown a lot in my skills and have spent hours and hours playing every week.

Last year I got the chance to play some gigs locally with a friend who believes in me and is helping me learn how to play gigs. I love playing for people even more than I thought I would, if that’s even possible.

This year my word, my focus, is ‘freedom.’ I’m trying things I’ve always been afraid to try. I’m stepping into areas where only the real me can show up. For me, I can’t sing without putting myself out there. So, taking one of the scariest steps I’ve ever taken, I started singing lessons in January.

Singing lessons are a way for me to take a risk to do something I’ve always wanted to do. Learning is a tricky thing. You can improve and find and reach your potential. But only if you allow others to tell you what you think you already know. Only if you humble yourself to listen to correction. Only if you work hard to practice and grow.

2021 for me is about finding freedom. Freedom to be who I really am. I am taking off masks. I am learning to step out from behind others. Freedom to find my voice in a very literal sense. Maybe one day I’ll sing a song about it.

Risk

Does the word risk hold a positive or negative meaning for you?

I think there’s a tiny percent of the population who live risky in the negative sense—bungee jumping without the bungee cord, sky diving without a parachute, or heading to work without drinking a cup of coffee. For the rest of us, I think fear—of failure, of looking bad, of being rejected—prevents us from taking smart risks.

In her latest book on leadership, sociologist Brene Brown notes, “Not enough people are taking smart risks or creating and sharing bold ideas to meet the changing demands and the insatiable need for innovation,” is a core issue identified by corporate leaders as what is getting in the way of organizations around the world.

You may or may not be a corporate leader, but the need today for smart risks and bold ideas is massive. In a world of rapid change, polarization, impulsive leaders and threats the world has never known before, the idea that we can ‘play it safe’ is an illusion.

Fear is one of the leading threats of our time and one of the most destructive forces in history. A year ago I launched the Stephen David Leonard brand, representing for me a risk to show up give voice to another approach to life. Whatever success I have experienced in the past, I have succeeded by carefully hiding my true self—I failed to truly show up and be who I am designed to be. I know I’m not alone. Many people, many men, fear to risk showing their true selves.

The Stephen David Leonard product, brand, my family and my life are reflections of a larger hope. Each of us is designed to experience life to its intended fullness in a ruptured world as agents of a better one.

I pray as I take the risk to show up in my life, you may be inspired to take the risk to show up in yours. Lisa and I have created product for a decade that are tangible reminders of hope for women. I have seen the ways women are inspired to take risks. But women aren’t the only ones who need to be inspired.

As a father, husband and man living today, I see how we live in a world characterized by ruptured relationship. Most responses today are born out of fear. Instead, I call us men to risk being the people we are designed to be. Rather than agents of fear, retaliation, power, and selfishness, risk being ambassadors of love, justice, mercy and faithfulness out of a hope this is not the way it’s meant to be.

The SDL products are tangible reminders of that hope and the strength of character it takes to risk showing up. I designed the product to reflect you—the people you love, the character to which you aspire, the authentic life for which you were designed. This coming year, I am committed to risk showing up more. I invite you to join me.

Thank you to all of you who have support the Stephen David Leonard brand this year. The brand exists for you. You are the ones bringing a scary dream into reality.

The Bravest Person You Can Be is You

Looking over my life, I see how often, my biggest obstacle is me. I grew up as the child of an alcoholic with the family dysfunction and codependency that accompanies alcoholism. I was an unpopular kid at school—teased daily and a social outsider. All through school I never felt I belonged. By the beginning of high school I became a master at fitting in. Sociological researcher Brene Brown calls ‘belonging’ being accepted for who you are. ‘Fitting in’ is being accepted for who others want you to be. In my journey I mastered fitting in rather than belonging. My wife Lisa and I have faced the challenges of having two sons—our oldest has a severe genetic disorder (Cornelia de Lange Syndrome) and our younger son is a creative with a world-building imagination like J.R.R. Tolkien. I have been fired from jobs, robbed by people I trusted, and experienced the stresses of business success and failure over the past decade. But for all those obstacles, the one that holds me back the most is me.

For a long time now, I have believed I was made share a message with the world. This sense led me into the pastorate for ten years. The internal yearning led me to step into the role of leading our fledgling business almost a decade ago. I’ve had a few fits and starts, but eventually I find my self fighting against an internal struggle more powerful than any external obstacle I have faced. Fear. Insecurity. Self-doubt. Self-criticism. The result? More often than not, I stop. I keep my real self safe and hidden away. While I held a semi-public job as a pastor and have been the business face of our company for a long time, I can see looking back how I have always carefully avoided stepping out in my own name. I fear criticism. I fear rejection. I’m scared I might fail. But inside I long for more. In my heart I have a story to share.

As I share my story with other men I hear the same tension. I think of the teacher who loves his students and family. He earns a living to provide for his family and is present for his wife and kids. He spends himself earnestly for his high school students to help them see a vision for their future and to strive for it. But he also longs to step out and start a brewery and restaurant to create a great product and community building space so friends and family can gather and share life.

I think of the executive who has reached professional heights most of us only dream of reaching. He is responsible for hundreds of employees, large budgets, and a division of his company. He works hard, mentors his team in work and life, and exhibits a life of values-based professionalism. While living up to the high demands and travel schedule of his job, he does all he can to be present for his wife, his kids and takes his wife out date nights and little getaways. Still, he feels pulled between his career that provides for his family and his longing to be more present with his family and to give himself to his dream of launching his own ministry to reach people with his faith.

And there are many more stories of life in tension I could share. I am sure you have your own. You may want to launch a business, write a book, change careers, ask for a raise, find your purpose or simply spend more time with your family. The list is not complete. Many feel the tension of living our lives, dutifully showing up, but longing for more.

This tension has lead me to launch Stephen David Leonard. I believe the bravest person you can be is you. Not the version of you others want you to be, but the version of you God created you to be. My biggest obstacle is me. I get in my way when I give in to fear. Launching the Stephen David Leonard site is an experiment in facing the things that scare me most and taking the risk. The product on the site are reminders of living the life we are intended to live. They are meant to encourage and spur us on in our journey.  I invite you to join me. Join me as I share my story. Join me in taking your own brave step—large or small—to be who you are created to be.

I love the Theodore Roosevelt quote about the man in the arena. It reminds me when I shrink back I run the risk of become one of those “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Instead, I choose to step into the arena and top spend my life in the worthy cause of spurring one another on in the full life each of us is meant to live.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”  Theodore Roosevelt