For the last year or so, I have written almost exclusively about working to discover who you are. Who you really are. About doing the personal excavation necessary to discover the true and elemental parts of yourself. In my understanding of this, the excavation would reveal strong and positive new parts of you, "I am a happy person.", "I am a strong person." etc All positive statements. All about goodness...or at least what we commonly understand to be positive attributes in people.
An equal truth would be a recognition of who and what you are not. Those parts deserve equal consideration too. If you are taking the journey of self-understanding and self awareness, it may be just as critical to come to an understanding and acceptance of those things that you are not as it is to become aware of those things that you truly are. They are flip sides of the same coin. Both an important part of your authentic self. If authenticity is the key for successful leadership, then to deny those things you are not is just as foolish as denying those elemental things that you are.
This train of thought all came about because after 3 years of work, and countless hours and meetings and packaging of information, and briefings, and begging people for a chance, the marksmanship program that I created and was later supported and expanded by others just completed it's most successful week ever. Every Soldier who went through it qualified on their first attempt. 38% of them shot Expert. And the average score was a 33.5. Those are outstanding numbers. Almost unheard of in most units throughout the Army. A true accomplishment for my team and me. And yet, at the end of the day, I felt almost empty about the whole thing. It didn't seem to matter too much to me. I had done what I set out to do. What's next? I needed another dragon to slay.
When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, she told me that it was my inability to enjoy happiness and success that made me feel this way. And that got me thinking...Am I truly unable to enjoy those things? Must there always be some challenge or problem in front of me? Is is all about finding a new dragon? The true answer is yes. I am most happy, most content, and truly me when I have a challenge in front of me. Once it has been conquered, I find myself at a loss.
At another point, we had an exchange about the restlessness I feel when I have accomplished something. The, "OK, I did it. Now what?" feeling I get. The diminution of the importance of whatever it was that just got accomplished. And somewhere in that exchange, I came to this realization: It is just as false to try to deny parts of you that might be considered negative, as it is to fight the acceptance of parts of yourself that are positive. It's not that I cannot be happy or accept success, it's that it is a fundamental piece of me that some of my happiness is derived from the challenges and obstacles that I face.
I am an intense person. I like to think, argue, debate, plan, work, and consider. I thrive on challenges and problems to solve. And truthfully, if I don't have one in front of me, you'd best look out. I just might create one or two to have something to bitch about! (Any of you who read this and who know me are probably laughing right now!) I do not do laid-back very well. No one would ever mistake me for easy going. It's just not who I am. When I am truly happiest and most me, I am fully engaged in solving a problem, or thinking about something intensely, or facing a challenge. Like she said, "You can drink a beer and listen to Buffett, but you are most you when you can bring all of your energy to bear against something. You are very powerful in those moments." And that felt very very true to me.
The problem with her statement isn't actually the statement itself. The problem is how that energy and power manifests itself in how I behave. It generally comes out in bursts of pent-up anger. The boiling over of little tiny things that are of no real consequence that, taken together, reach a tipping point and then I must rant. I must rant and yell and express my frustration. And it is generally done in an extremely sarcastic and belittling fashion to anyone within earshot. Doesn't mean I'm wrong, just means I'm being mean in order to vent and bleed off some of the intensity.
And then she challenged me with this: Why couldn't that intensity, that drive, that focus and that energy be used to look for and cultivate positive things in my life? That stopped me cold. I literally had no answer. In fact, I couldn't even imagine what that looked like or how to do it. I just kind of stared at it dumbfounded. The only way that I know how to focus my energy and power right now is in the negative emotion of anger.
All of which leads me to this point about self-awareness. It isn't the truth of you that is good or bad, it's the behavior you use to manifest those truths. For me to try to become someone who can take the world day by day and meet all the unexpected twists and turns with e relaxed acceptance, and live in the moment and only for that moment, is just as much play acting and false as trying to deny that at heart I am a happy man. That I like to laugh and have fun. That I am an optimist most of the time. That I am hopeful. For me to be truly me, powerfully authentic and real, I have to accept that the intensity will always be there. That it is as much a part of me as the laughter and hope. The trick is to learn to let it manifest itself honestly in ways that have a positive impact on my life and the lives of those around me. To take all of that power and all of that energy and use it in an enhancing way instead of in a detracting one. It doesn't deny an elemental part of me, I just need to learn to use it in a positive way.
I am a dragon slayer. And while that may sound funny to you, it is a fundamental part of who I am. When I am completely engaged and completely focused and completely absorbed by the problem or challenge I face, I am - in that moment - most purely me. To pretend otherwise would be to deny me to myself. I cannot do that anymore readily than I can pretend that I am not a strong, powerful, active and engaged man, father, husband and leader.
So, are those parts of you that you most consider negatives actually so? Are they really 'good' or 'bad'? Or are they truly neutral? In and of themselves neither 'good' not 'bad', just parts of who you truly and authentically are. It may not be that your true self is either one or the other. It may only be that the way you manifest that truth has a positive or negative effect on those you lead. Something to think about.....
In the meantime, I've got a few more dragons to slay.....
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.