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Sparks of Joy in Leadership

By Allison Alexander, Cohort 13

I believe that leaders in early childhood have a responsibility to allow joy into their lives. A step further, I believe all leaders have a responsibility to allow joy into their awareness and lives. 

That might seem radical to say. And perhaps it is. My belief stands. 

Perhaps joy feels like that furthest thing you have access to at this moment. Maybe joy seems like a “nice to have” in leadership. I invite you to stick with me to explore a new possibility. 

We are living in a moment that offers us no shortage of opportunities to feel discouraged, frustrated and at times even hopeless. Countless hours can be spent “doom scrolling” without passing duplicative content. 

In recent conversations, friends and colleagues have shared that they are struggling to see the good and even go so far as to say they feel guilty for living their lives or partaking in celebrations knowing that many in the world do not have the same opportunities. 

To these dear friends and to anyone else struggling and feeling guilt, I would like to offer you a potentially controversial counterpoint. Joy is now perhaps more important than it has ever been in our lifetime. 

Joy is the way forward. The pathway to more peace and love is paved in joy. 

As the poet Toi Dericotte wrote, “Joy is an act of resistance.” 

To be clear, joy is not to be confused with happiness. Happiness is a far different concept, one that is complicated by various factors at any given moment. Joy on the other hand is feeling. It can happen in a flash and spark a grin or smile in an instant without a thought. Joy exists as a universal language latent in all of us, while happiness is generally a pursuit. 

Joyful moments can offer us reminders that we are alive and inspire us to keep going even in moments of despair. 

Recently, I was walking in an unfamiliar city processing some difficult news. My eyes had been sporadically filling with tears as I followed the sidewalk wondering what this meant for my life and future. Unexpectedly, I noticed floral street art painted on the side of a building as I walked by. Without a thought, I smiled. One perfectly timed glance up shifted something. My situation didn’t change, but my momentary reality did. An unexpected encounter with beauty delighted me and I felt gratitude. 

Moving forward in times of struggle or adversity can quickly feel impossible without glimpses of light or hope. 

Joy not only bolsters the human spirit, but it also serves to counteract the efforts of oppression, inequity and division. 

Often when oppressive groups seek to gain or maintain domination, communal joys are  outlawed, destroyed or decimated  as a way to remove humanity and diminish the vitality of another group. As joy is an essential component to vitality, reclaiming it even at the individual level is an act of defiance and rebellion against oppressive systems. 

Joy multiplies

Our brains are wired for confirmation bias. The more we notice and allow joy into our lives, the more joy we will notice.  That joy will help ensure the sustainability of our efforts along paths which might at times be difficult, painful or challenging. 

When we bring our joy into our work we honor our humanity and that of those we work alongside. We create space for connection and bright spots to moments of adversity. Allowing joy into our lives invites others to do the same, joy is contagious.

For leaders who wish to support the ushering in of a more equitable future with improved outcomes for all, joy is critical to sustaining your efforts. Many leaders never see the full impact of their work in their lifetimes, the same could be true for any of us. Allowing joy to infuse our work will support the sustainability of our efforts by infusing light along the way. 

There are a myriad of valid reasons that joy might feel hard for some to allow into their lives. 

We will be exploring some of these reasons along with why joy matters, at the upcoming BECLN retreat in June. As a network of leaders, we have realized that without joy, we burn out, we perpetuate systems we hope to dismantle, and we struggle in relationships. In June, we are prioritizing joy for the betterment of all. 

Moments of joy help to spark the fires of change. Fires ignited by joy burn at a pace that tends and cares for humanity. When joy is seen as an essential part of leadership, it is my belief we move closer to the future we hope to see for ourselves, the children whose future we are hoping to improve and our broader communities. 

I hope you join me and the rest of the BECLN in June to find more joy together. Until then, I invite you to join me in opening my eyes and heart to moments of joy knowing it might be found in unexpected places.