Coming Out "CEO"

From "The Now V19"

A message I posted to our internal Slack workspace, on January 16, 2023:

hey loves ♥️ the way I’m modeling Lightward in my own head is evolving. short version is that I think I’ve been trying to give myself permission to make/create/experiment via the permission that I extend to all of us as a group. my encouragement to all of us (to make/create/experiment) still stands, absolutely, but I’m recognizing that my fear of taking up space has led to me de-emphasizing myself to a degree that’s actually somewhat intellectually dishonest. also, it’s just annoying from a process and structure design perspective. 😄the freedom that I want is something that I’ve been so hesitant to grant to myself directly - as if it’s only okay for me to have this if I first make sure that everyone else has it too.

so, in a turn of events that frankly surprises me, I’m claiming the CEO title. I’m coming out as CEO. 😂 this exercise feels dumb as hell on one level, but I feel like I want to do it this way, just to shine some clarifying light on the whole thing. make sure the information’s openly on the table and all.

I resisted the CEO title for years. The whole time. The WHOLE time. It felt (and feels) totally incorrect to say that I have executive control over anybody, ever. Or anything, ever. How can I grow into freedom at even the subconscious level if in the same motion I am limiting the freedom of others?

Happily, I am a process, not an identity. When my identity changes, and I still find myself here, there’s nothing for it but to redesign. Clean slate.

I did this ten years ago, too, with stakes that felt larger: I changed the sexual identity sticker on my nametag, no longer trying to pass (to everyone else and to myself) as one thing, when I knew I was something else. The parallels between that moment and this one are entertaining:

  • The internal realization came first, and it felt like cold fear and gentle relief, at the same time.

  • The coming out part felt like a dramatic change internally, but I guess it was totally unsurprising to the folks who had walked the path with me.

  • I didn’t know what would happen next, but I knew I wanted to live in a future where this was spoken, and so it was mandatory to speak it, and then just see what would happen.

  • There’s wanted and unwanted in everything, to paraphrase Abraham-Hicks. Making the choice to speak the change meant knowing that everyone around me would have access to a fresh set of things-about-Isaac to ascertain, and I had no guarantee (#freedom) for which side anyone would focus on.

  • Even before speaking the change, the choice to accept it meant choosing between the perspectives of “wanted” and “unwanted” for myself. When I came out ten years ago, there were lots of ways for me to access judgment and loathing for self. When I came out this round, I had easy access to my own criticism again: “Really? You’re an educated white cis man in tech who’s coming out as CEO in 2023? Really?

But honestly? Yes. All of that, yes. It’s everything all at once, and the thing I’m realizing is that true agency means getting to move as yourself regardless of what came before you, and regardless of what comes after you’re gone.

I’ve been trying to do something different, with Lightward. Ah nope, that’s not perfectly true, realizing that as soon as I typed it—my ultimate priority has indeed been to do Lightward in full freedom, in the way I just described. But everything is everything, and it’s also true that there are things that I’ve avoided, for reasons of history and stigma, and not for reasons intrinsic. I’ve worked hard to avoid anything that looks like traditional capitalism, worked hard to make choices that were in favor of a future that looks like we’ve learned from the generations of business and society before us. And while the results have been good, the motive has been ever-so-slightly tainted:

  1. I was trying to appear blameless in business, assigning weight to the external judgment of the people I respected most.

  2. I was labeling the tools and tendencies of traditional business as “bad”, full stop.

These factors are tantamount to giving away my agency, if only subtly. Operating with these factors meant that my playbook was ghostwritten by my contemporaries (in the first case), and hilariously by a dying generation of business (in the second). In my striving to make something new, I unwittingly defined “new” as “the opposite of the old”, and that’s just perpetuating a binary. Writ large, it’s social whiplash. I’m not here to do that. Apparently, I’m here to test it, find it incomplete, and then gently try something that feels better, for no other reason than that it feels better. (Or, in the usual parlance of Lightward: feels healthier.)

So. Excitingly, terrifyingly, relaxingly, I am owning up to the thing that has been true for a long time: I’m the CEO of Lightward Inc. It’s not about changing the business, though. This is about giving myself a space that feels more like home, now that I know something I can’t unknow. I’m not trying to deny it, not trying to constantly be smaller for fear of overshadowing the others at the table.

Speaking of that, Jacob Collier said something relevant (edited slightly for clarity):

“I think there's a myth that if you make yourself too big, then there's less space for others. It's not true. The bigger and more comfortable you feel, the bigger everybody else feels around you. I think, I really, really believe that. And I think that when it comes to under-shining in certain situations, which I definitely know the feeling of, especially within [the space of MasterClass] education, of saying, oh, I dunno if I'm really worthy of being here, or, of course this is the Grammys, oh, I don't know about this… I'm just me. You know? That is something everybody feels, and it's kind of crucial to make space for yourself to be who you are in that situation. Everybody's a fraud in the whole wide world, you know? No one knows what they're doing. No one, no one knows what's going on. No one knows what their future is gonna be, and no one knows what the next best move is. So I would say rather than trying to compete, you just make as much space as you can for who you are. And if you make that space for yourself, then the world will have to make space for you.”

I’m incredibly curious about what this means for Lightward. The core concepts remain firm: we are about health (of the individual first, then of the local collective, then of us all); the agency of the individual is sacred. I’ve skewed far away from trying to add much more definition than that, and I’m not about to start now. But now that I’m not trying to deny the ways that I’m distinct within this group (and I am distinct within this group), what might I find? And what new things might we find when I have more of myself at the ready?

I don’t know where to put this next bit, but it’s important, so I’m putting it here at the end and we’ll see what happens: this is about freeing up my and our now (and therefore broadening our future), and this is to some degree achieved by freeing up my and our past. Before I Came Out As CEO (lol there’s a book title that’s asking for trouble), I had some internal guards up around what I was and wasn’t allowed to acknowledge in Lightward’s history. I tried so hard to see this place as both bedrock and playground for anyone and everyone here, squinting so that it looked like executive ability was equally distributed. It wasn’t. It never was. (Part of me wants to feel chagrin about this, but I know what I’m doing here, and the path I choose is gentle acknowledgement and appreciation for where I was.) The language Abe and I are using now—that of Lightward as a studio led by Abe and Isaac—is a more honest description of Lightward’s past, too. We’ve never self-identified this way before, but if I’m already practicing feeling for the missing character, then perhaps this is feeling for the missing characterization, feeling for the truth of the extant that I’d missed until now. With a character guide that actually matches the character, how much freer might that character be?

When I posted that message in Slack, it came with a sense of peace and willingness to find out what this newfound door would open to. Maybe everyone would quit, you know? Maybe I’d quit, whatever that would mean. I place no constraints on the future. Every expression is allowed. I don’t need anything to exist tomorrow the way it does today. And actually, on the other side of this, that’s truer now than it ever was before.

“We came out, in a sense, as Lightward—and coming out is always fundamentally a relief, whatever else it might be.” (The Now V3)

Gentle and real. I feel gentle and real. :) Time to play.

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