The Bravery of Burden
What I saw gave me chills and even some envy.
A photo of one of the greatest athletes of this generation on the floor shaking and sobbing. Was it elation? Exhaustion? Relief?
Only LeBron James knows exactly where that outpouring of emotion came from. It seemed deeper than the emotion of having won a championship; he’s done that before and he should be accustomed to winning by now. What I saw was a man being unburdened of the pressure and expectation of his life. A weight that, whether by circumstance, fate or luck, LeBron James willingly took on and accepted. You might say: “Burdened? C’mon, he makes millions to play a sport for a living, tough luck.” I agree, seems pretty fortunate, but that lifestyle is not all roses.
The idea of choosing and accepting burden is one that I have only recently started to consider. When we take on goals, initiatives or missions whose pursuit and outcomes affect others, we set expectations for ourselves. LeBron made the choice to pursue this career, and maybe most courageously, he made the choice to come back to Cleveland to take onto his shoulders the hopes and fears of a city that has been through the ringer.
I don’t want to debate the nuance of the word courage. The basic definition of courage is “the ability to do something that frightens one.” There is a long scale of the danger to which people put themselves in and can demonstrate courage. For most of us though, fear is more nuanced. Our fears are more abstract… loneliness, failure, trust, time. These kinds of fears are easy to pray on and can be amplified easily when all eyes are on you, as is the case with some of our public figures.
We’re often quick to tear down the people that have chosen and accepted the challenge of carrying a cause, a company, a city and even a nation. Undoubtedly there are individuals whose personal gain or narcissism drives them to the place they are. However, I believe that a majority of the leaders we encounter are mostly altruistic and committed to their work.
Lebron is an extreme and very public example at a level that few us will personally encounter. But even that level started with the everyday choice of courage and burden, from stepping up to lead the school PTA, organizing a meet up, taking on a team lead role, or running for City Council. Along with the rewards — admiration of those you serve, gratitude of your peers and the simple pleasure of a personal challenge tackled — one guarantee is that when you make the choice to step up and out, to put yourself on the line for a greater cause, you will inevitably be criticized, disliked, and whispered about behind your back.
We have a choice to make when we consider the people who are leading. Do we strategize how to tear them down or how to support them? Do we acknowledge their courage or enhance their fears? We won’t agree with everyone, and certainly as we witness in today’s political environment, not all leaders are in it for the greater good, but most are here to serve and make progress.
There were lots of haters, but Cleveland pulled together behind Lebron to bring about a victory that everyone needed. It’s easier to be critical and removed, because then you’re untouchable. There is no vulnerability in cynicism. But there is something noble about joining behind a brave person. It makes you braver too.
special thanks to auntie mame for the edit and guidance