"Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."
Taken from the Desiderata...
This has been an very exciting couple of weeks for me. The Marksmanship program I run had it's most successful week finish up last Friday and we set a new mark on the wall for future programs. An article JD and I wrote together has been selected for publication in a military journal sometime down the road and for presentation at the annual Army Ethics conference in the Fall at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. I have been asked to review and offer comment on a fiction book being written set in Afghanistan. And last Sunday, a reader called me and told me he had forwarded some of my work to the Human Resources director of his company to possibly see if there was any interest in having me come in and do some guest speaking. Everywhere I turn, good, and positive things have been happening in my life both personally and professionally. I have every reason to be incredibly proud, happy and thankful for my good fortune. It has come honestly and through a lot of hard work and perseverance.
And yet, this week I learned a powerful lesson from a friend of mine. Throughout the week, little things would pop up here and there, and all I would do is complain about them. Someone would pay me a compliment and I would qualify it to reduce it's significance. I would not accept that I had worked hard to get my work to this level and that something was good enough. In fact, throughout the week, as good fortunes kept piling up, I got more and more critical of my world. Finding fault everywhere. Belittling people and I had a feeling of mean-spiritedness. Highly critical. Questioning and finding ways to not believe that good fortune could, and should, come my way. The attitude I was taking was so negative that at one point my friend asked me who I was. She asked me why I couldn't just be grateful, and thankful, and happy for all the positive things going on in my world? Why did everything get mitigated down to a negative and distrustful place? Why did it get belittled? The changes in me were profound. My voice took on an edge, the sarcasm that is part of me anyway took on a sharpness that wasn't funny, but mean. I wasn't enjoying anything, but only looking for things that weren't going exactly perfectly. I had a very negatively focused intensity. And that is not in keeping with my true nature. It was as if I was afraid of something being good and right and positive. I was on unfamiliar ground for me without even really recognizing it.
My friend's questions stuck with me.....Why can't I be happy with the good fortune in my life? Had I really come to expect that only bad things could happen in my life? Why can't I be grateful and thankful for what I do have instead of focusing on what I don't? Why can't I accept that there is a balance in the world and that nothing will ever go exactly as planned? Why can't I relax into the moment and then open myself up to the possibility of other successful outcomes? What is it about good fortune and compliments and events unfolding as they should that drives me to another place? An unhealthy place. A place where I am not truly being myself. I have ranted on these pages in the past about toxic leadership and it is a hot topic in the Army today. What I found out this week though, is my own ability to become exactly what I have been railing against all these months. I found my own toxicity. It was not a pretty picture.
The point I want to explore here, is that in order to see the our whole world clearly, we have to actually see all of our world. And, we have to see it clearly. By choosing to only view mine negatively throughout the week, I missed out on the possibility of really enjoying the positive things that were happening. They had to be pointed out to me. I was limiting my own experience of the world, shutting myself off from seeing the whole picture. When I do that, I am really only putting blinders on and not stopping to look around and really see what is happening. As a leader of an organization, I was painting a picture for my subordinates and that picture wasn't one of success - even though that is exactly what was really happening. In reality, I wasn't giving them their proper credit and due for the hard work and effort they were putting into each day. The effect of which was to disrespect and disregard their efforts. And no one wants to serve or work in an organization like that for very long. I saw a headline this morning about the CEO of Zappos shoes who's title is CEO and Chief Happiness Officer. I thought to myself, no one would ever make that claim about me, and I couldn't even see me claiming that title for myself. That web seminar that he will be part of is about organizational culture, and it struck me how large a role a title or responsibility like that can be.
In a larger sense though, this is a question of attitude and balance. Something that every leader no matter how large or how small the organization they lead is, has to be aware of. If you choose - and it is most certainly a choice - to be negatively focused all the time, then you can never see success and goodness and hard work and the positive contributions you and those around you are making in that moment. You cannot make the most of unforseen opportunities that are presented. In effect, you cannot OODA because you cannot correctly Orient yourself. You don't have a complete picture. Think about that for a moment. It's important. The attitude you choose in the moment severely affects your Orientation and will very strongly influence your Decide which will directly effect the Act. You will set the loop spinning in a whole new direction. Once you start the cycle, it is very hard to break since each new Observe is predicated on the Act of the previous cycle. By choosing a negative Orientation, I was almost guaranteeing the negative Act which will inform the next Observe in a negative manner. Not good. Attitude is everything. The cycle will work in any manner you want it to. The choice to set it in motion positively or negatively is yours. For leaders, recognizing that can be key to achieving the outcome.
On a more personal level though, the baseline questions still remain. Why isn't anything short of perfection (the outcome I have predetermined in my mind) good enough? Why do I always hold out a percentage of myself to guard and be watchful for failure? Why not invest totally in my own positivity? Why not create the world I want to live in instead of allowing my world to influence me so strongly? Why do I still let other people's opinions have such a strong influence on me? I have learned throughout my journey over these last months a lot of those answers, and while they are important, they are not important here. What is important however, is that I can now see how limiting and confining all of those things are. How small they are making my world. If I want to truly lead myself, my family and my organization, it will take confronting all of those things head on and making substantive changes in my personal Orientation to get there. I offer to you to do the same thing. Look hard at yourself and figure out how you are oriented. How and why you filter things the way you do. Understanding that will have a marked effect on how you lead. The work of behavior change will not be easy for me. I have already found out painfully how quickly old habits and patterns can be to slip right into. How something seemingly innocuous and small can rush and totally upset the balance I have been working to achieve. Ultimately though, the hard work is worth doing. Mostly for me and my family, but also for the organization I lead now, and those I will lead in the future. Every step on the journey to self awareness and self acceptance is important. And that importance has a lot of second and third order effects. Someday, actually everyday, a Soldier is affected by my actions, my thoughts and my behaviors. Whether I am aware of it consciously or not, I role model the world I want to live in. Because of my position, Soldiers look to me for guidance and answers and judgment. They will absorb a lot of the world I present to them. That role modeling could arguably be my most important contribution to the unit and to Soldiers. It's influence goes well beyond numbers and percentage points on a rifle range.
So today, I am grateful. I am grateful for the good fortune that has come my way recently. It is nice to have people recognize my work and find value in it. More importantly though, I am grateful for having had my world expanded a little bit more. For being shown how much I was limiting myself by living in fear and worry and doubt and lack of acceptance. Ultimately, that will be the much more profound goodness of this time. I am becoming a more full person each day. More able to live in my world comfortably. Seeing myself, my abilities and my limitations more clearly. Laughing more and worrying less. Recognizing how my choices have a direct effect on those around me, family or friends or co-workers. I am most grateful for having my self-awareness expanded. That is the key to both my personal and leader development. I am learning to live my life in balance, recognizing how the good things help protect against, and provide strength for, the moments of adversity. How being able to balance the two ultimately provides a solid, centered person able to lead, love, learn, and live a hell of a lot more comfortably. Slowly, I am coming to an acceptance of who I truly am. That knowledge, my growing awareness, and that balance all work together to allow my authentic self to show up. If the Army is serious about leader development, driving each of us to discover our authentic selves may well be the most important first step.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.