As published in Forbes.
Photo credit: Lori Ann Hansen Photography
As a senior leadership coach, I am a human behaviorist, an avid reader and a life-long student. I know that working on myself is a critical requirement for effectively helping others. I would like to tell you that this work has always come naturally and easily to me and that I have been a willing and eager student of myself, but that would be an outright lie.
Only a decade ago, I recall telling my professors, who had strongly encouraged me to visit the on-staff counselor, that although I was certain that kind of professional help was needed by my classmates, I myself did not require it. I am sure they struggled to keep a straight face. The irony now is not lost on me. Here I was completing my master’s degree so I could advance leaders by having them look at themselves and how they interact, react and impact others, while I was unwilling to do the same. Worse, I actually believed I had no personal work to do. Now, that is the definition of arrogance.
Today, I still struggle to master myself in terms of my inner thoughts and focus, my reactions to others (most especially my husband) and in taking exceptional care of my physical body. I am vegan and practice yoga, and yet I can easily consume too much sugar or become lost in the dead-end dance of believing I need to become “someone” and get “somewhere” so that I’m finally okay. “When do I get to arrive?” I have often whispered to myself.
This is a pattern I also witness in clients. It is the “If this occurs, then I will be [successful, fulfilled, at peace]” illusion. At some point, generally only after years of working to get what we thought would finally make us happy and finding no such satisfaction, do we begin to realize that something is up, that the roadmap we’ve been told to follow is flawed, and that there must be another way.
If you have had this realization, please get excited. This is a significant and necessary milestone to true presence, effectiveness and ultimate fulfillment.
After 17 years of listening to the inner thoughts, concerns, frustrations and challenges of thousands of senior-level leaders, the only thing I am certain of is that the answer to our outer problems can only be found by an inner solution. Life is as it is. I could be endlessly frustrated by reality and in trying to get the outside world to match what I feel should occur. Or, I could relish in the opportunity that reality offers for my continued growth, maturity and effectiveness, and throughout it all, foster my ability to experience joy and fulfillment now. I have work to do; I know I have not even scratched the surface of my own development. Oddly enough, I now find that absolutely thrilling.
It is liberating to realize I don’t know what makes me truly happy because now I can let go of trying to control the world to bring me those exact things, as if it ever could or ever has. Instead, I can simply be present to what happens and follow life’s lead. What is needed in this moment, with this person? What would life have me do today? Who would it have me help? If I am paying attention to what is unfolding (versus what I think should be occurring), I always know how to respond. Without worry, struggle or drama, I handle life effortlessly. This is peace and joy. I also get significantly better results, as I am no longer attached to what I “need” to occur. As a result, I am able to deal with what is actually occurring.
Is this freedom? Yes, indeed.
As part of my own ongoing journey of learning over the years, I’ve studied and read many thought-provoking and enlightening works. I want to share two of them with you, for your effectiveness and joy in this new year. These are resources I routinely use to work on myself and that I have shared with some of my most senior-level clients.
1. Michael Singer’s online course Living from a Place of Surrender (registration required for free video series): This will fundamentally change your inner life and, as a consequence, everything outside of yourself. It is not costly nor time-intensive. I am not linked in any way to Michael nor his work. I receive no benefit in promoting it other than to share what I know is some of the most important development you could ever do.
2. The Tao of Seneca: Practical Letters from a Stoic Master by Tim Ferris. This incredible body of work is free via Ferris’ website so that we can all benefit from Seneca’s teachings as greatly as he has. Read a little each day.
Thirty years ago, in their seminal work, The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner stated that all leadership development is self-development. And in his best-known book (more than 25 million copies sold worldwide) The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen R. Covey highlights the importance of enhancing the greatest asset you have: you. Covey says this requires that we each create a discipline for self-renewal in four key areas of life: physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual. He calls this “Sharpening the Saw.” You can sharpen your own saw through the works of Singer, Ferris and others who provide focused and thoughtful teachings on the practice of self-mastery, all informed by some of the greatest leaders who have ever lived.
The only place we ever live is inside of ourselves. If you seek success, fulfillment and joy in 2018, then your work will be an inside job. The two resources above will assist you. And the best part is that nothing outside of you needs to change in order for you to pursue these goals this year: not your job, not your family, not your body. Everything that occurs is the perfect opportunity for you to practice being great right now.