Leading + Following alike

A leader or a follower? I ponder the two opposing roles as I watch Elora play at our neighborhood playground. If I’m honest, her propensity to observe, bide her time and stand apart from the crowd can make me uncomfortable. She’s so unlike Aria and Liam, who would initiate play with confidence, even among strangers.

I know Aria worries too. She and I stood in the shade of the play-structure, trying not to get sand in our shoes. We watched Elora, as Elora watched the others, and I told Aria this truth - Elora is so like myself at her age. I was shy, unsure of how to join in, self-doubting. And not just as a toddler.

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I have a vivid memory of my leader/follower paradigm shift. I was about 10 years old. A group of girls, myself included, were being called out for gossiping. Sensing I was held most responsible for the infraction, I asked a much-loved teacher why this was so.

He said, “Because you’re a leader, Rachel.”

It stopped me in my tracks. I was so shocked at this claim that I denied it aloud. The teacher insisted, “Rachel, if you told all these kids to follow you across the street, they would do it.”

“I would,” piped an eaves-dropping, Clancy Bird. I remember that because I had a crush on the fellow, haha!

Though nothing developed between myself and Mr. Bird, the brief conversation radically changed my sense of self.

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Americans worship leading. We make heroes of team captains and CEO’s, seek out original concepts and count our followers. There is reason for this, of course. Leadership is valuable and honorable. But following is too.

Following makes room for compromise, solidarity and generosity. It has the humility to put others first, to care. Being a good follower doesn’t mean contributing nothing. Far from it. Following well is joining the team, which might mean calling for course-corrections, just as well as sharing encouragement.

Most of all, followers are peace-loving creatures. It seems to me that we need more followers in this world.

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I’ve been thinking about following lately as I’m piecing this Mother’s Pride Quilt Kit, designed for the Trixie Collection by Heather Ross. This spring I adopted a host of projects that hinge on following. I’m hosting a quilt-along based on someone else’s quilt (with permission!). I’m sewing ice cream soda blocks, a design created by my friend Jodi Godfrey. And then this quilt kit - an entire project planned to the letter by another creative soul.

Sometimes I’ve felt like a cop out doing so much following. Am I letting you down or letting myself down, in order to give myself a break? Does following mean I’ve veered off my true path as a creative?

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Part of growing up is realizing that nothing is so black and white. It turns out that people aren’t leaders OR followers. The healthiest people are both. There are times to lead and times to follow, even in our areas of expertise.

So, yes, I’ve been following, but I’ve been learning and growing still. These fallow-seeming times create space for new things to be born. Along the way, I’ve picked up little nuggets of new ideas. With Mother’s Pride quilt I’ve reflected on how working in rows, instead of blocks, opens up patchwork possibilities and on how Windham Fabric’s palette solids add a subtle, vintage-esque depth to quilts.

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Last evening at the playground, I assured Aria that Elora is thinking as she is watching. She is thinking and learning and becoming her own dear self. But also, I reminded Elora, “You can bounce too!” “You can climb the rope ladder.” “Would you also like to slide?” With encouragement and time, I trust that Elora will find her own balance between leading and following. If she is lucky she will learn to treasure that part of her that naturally creates room for others.

And maybe I will follow her lead - ha! And Aria too. Leading and following alike.