It was one almost gone afternoon this time last year that I stepped out my routine and into what sun was left of the day, fully considering going nowhere for the first time in my life.
As I got into my car, headed for home, I kept telling myself I had it all. From the outside it was a rewarding life. I worked for a niche company that gave me a sense of purpose I worry I won’t find again in my career. But I was living so close to my life that I couldn’t really make sense of it.
My obsession with work; a need to be needed; my relentless quest to exceed impossible expectations; and a failure to say no—were just a few truths that, when coupled with an inability to ask for help, resulted in a broken heartedness that was physically apparent and mentally inescapable.
I was racing around so much that I could never really catch up with my life. I worked myself into a cycle that I didn’t know how to stop.
I was converted by the understanding that I could never really separate myself from the constant demands of existing in my own life. At least not enough to know if I was truly happy.
I don’t mean happy in the naive sense that every day should be fun and easy and effortless. I mean happy as a descriptor for a meaningful life, having unadulterated purpose, and following a guiding light within—reminding us that our outer lives are determined by our inner lives.
In the process of giving, I gave myself away and everyone suffered because of it. My family. My friends. My health. And even the people I was giving everything to. I was existing urgently but not productively nor fully.
My life had become so routine that I hadn’t had a true moment to myself. How should I help sell a product? A story? How should I get noticed? How could I advance my career?
The truth is that I was seeking success and fortune in life for no greater reason than to secure the respect and attention of those who would otherwise look through me.
That truth is still a hard one to swallow. And one that I see in others, on every level, every day - to this day.
I can say with certainty, though, that the very moment you stop the worried rushing and honestly look beyond yourself, is the moment you learn to give more than you take. And that my friends, on any scale, is a monumental act of courage.
This sort of self-reflection necessarily requires you to be the leader of your own life and to lead with the understanding that success is measured in the development of character, not the perfect pursuit of power
I’m still amazed at societies quest for perfection. How many type A, OCD, micromanagers do you know who can’t slow down because of their worries, routines, obsessions, and particularities? The truth is that their quest for perfectionis really a way to distract them from facing a life they’ve reduced to nothing more than its practical implications.
People always forget that the greatest threats we face in work and life still and always come from within. When confronted with the immediate need to decide, some people fear nothing more than the unknown consequence(s) of having to choose.
The basic stuff of our very existence is – at its very core — this kind of purity of intent that is malleable to human intention and expectation such that it defies the very mold of how we see ourselves, our work, each other, and the world. It is as though our expectations alone causes our intentions to flow out affect all we encounter.
We, humans, continuously seek to increase our self-worth, social standing, and quest for perfection the only way we know how—by consequently stealing it from others. When we dislike someone; envy another’s social standing; speak ill of an employee; feel threatened or insecure as a leader—we ignore our morals and values and obligations for no other reason than to feel important, better, and powerful for a momentary lapse in time.
At the end of the day, though, all anyone knows is they feel—
The consequence of living selfishly is that we take away pieces of others through our words, actions, and inactions. Great effort, I notice, is given to keeping others down so that we may rise as we continue the lonely path of “Me First.”
Looking back, it really is like a dream. The mystery of how I landed where I am today never really leaves me. For many years I made a career out of an innate need to be everything to everyone. There really was no room for me in my own life. Beyond personal lessons I would learn to overcome, the lesson I had to learn the hard way was that your greatest mentors may not be the greatest people. For me, it was only natural to make generous assumptions about leadership. And I was loyal to a fault because of them. I learned, though, that true leadership really is so rare. It doesn’t come with a title. You aren’t a leader because you say so. And you can’t demand that people follow you. What I’ve noticed about real leadership—about those people that really want to make a difference in the world is this:
They hold the unshakable conviction that everyindividual is extremely important.
True leadership requires choosing courage over comfort; what’s right over what’s fun, fast, and easy; the other over the self. True leadership is built in the small moments. It is not about being popular, but it is about being responsible. There is always an opportunity to trust and an opportunity to betray. Choosing to make something important to you, vulnerable to the actions of others is an infinitely kind gamble—taken by one, not knowing yet who the other might be.
Our obligation to empower others to lead and live with integrity is not discharged by any common right given because of power or title. Leadership is earned again and again, over and over, and seen – not in one life – but the many lives one touches. This is why I think It is a gift we can give to others to let it be clear that our ability to love life and each other, unconditionally, is a hard one.
In a society focused on achievement, popularity, and a somehow better future, where are we finding hope? For me, hope never meant that everything would be fine in the future, but that we don’t know what will happen. Hope is grounded in the memory of unlikely journeys coming to fruition. Memory lets us know that hope is possible. It reveals that through imperfection, failing and falling again and again, each of us were born to be an accomplished – even if unconscious – projector of possibility in a seemingly impossible world.
Just the act of living, of moving forward, of growing in time is a creative act. It is an art to give nobbling words to something we are doing. We have no idea what will land on the shoreline of tomorrowbecause possibility and hope, entwined, are the secret heart of time.
It’s fair to say my story isn’t calm. Mistakes have been made. I’ve managed to set fire to many things in my life. There were moments of great darkness. I guess I’ve learned to appreciate the light by embracing the shadows it so imperfectly casts. Darkness taught me that there are moments of extreme stress in life that are so great that they seem to strip away our surfaces and we get to the core of character. It’s here – rock bottom – when you suddenly realize it’s not about you, your career, and your dreams—it’s about others and how we can better learn to love. To forgive. To hope. To pray. To give.
My jagged path revealed to me that the virtuous paths in life are not paved with the lessons of saints and heroes, but the lessons left behind by humble doubters, misfits, and the people who teach us – through the wordless chorus of compassion – that radiance falls upon us all when recognize we are nothing without each other.
The need to find a path in life that leads directly to an end in sight where we won’t get our heart broken is ideal. The feelings of disillusionment, desolation, and brokenness that arise when we wrestle with life’s contradictions and difficulties are the price of admission to life. We tend to strive for self-preservation to the point of unintentional isolation without realizing that anything or anyone you care about has the potential to break your heart.
If you are truly sincere about what you do every day, your work— you should not know how to proceed at times. That’s when you know someone is sincere. You should not always know how to get from A to B. Not knowing, not having all the answers puts you in a proper relationship with the world such that you have to ask for help from another. Asking for help means not having to walk the path alone. Without vulnerability there’s no conversation. Without conversation, your people won’t sustain your society, organization, or relationship.
There’s a life-giving aspect to this restlessness which allows us to accept and respect the mystery of the unknown. We draw alongside that mystery as it is emerging and somehow bring it into presence, constructively. Everyone is involved in the construction of their company, life, and our world. Nothing is ever as given as it looks. You’re always shaping and reshaping things.
Knowing everything I’ve gone through in life, the overwhelming feeling I have is one of gratitude.
My advice is that when you’re in the thick of it, amidst life’s greatest chaos—remember no one has to walk through dark times alone. For we are living, breathing reminders that it is only through darkness that we can stand in the warmth of light and truly appreciate life.
I learned to truly be an agent of this world. We, humans are beautiful and tragic and alive. Everything that is done in support of your life and what you do for others has healing consequences for the whole of humanity. Paying attention to the little moments that we so easily take for granted every day allows us to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
We must learn to trust the kindest souls we’ve ever misjudged with the knowledge that sometimes we are noble in thought, but weak in action.
Stand up. Stand strong. And be the leader you need in your life.
The final lesson I want to leave you with is this:
People will see where you are poorly put together.