"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, join the dance"
I'm standing in a doorway now. In fact, I've been here for a little while. Behind me is the past. Yesterday. The first 43 years. Ahead of me is a partial unknown. My instincts are a little rusty, but generally solid. I need to move. Need to push my way through the door. A friend of mine is standing right behind me. She will not force me forward, but she will not let me step backwards either. She stands there quiet and calm and unwavering. A voice inside me keeps asking me the same damn question over and over and over...."Hey man, when you gonna step through? When you gonna move? I'm getting tired of standing here spinning my wheels. C'mon, brother, it's time to leap. Lets go." For a long time, I have been trying to silence that voice. Not sure how much longer I can.
I got a note last week from an Army friend asking me facetiously whether or not I'd retired. Part of the note said, "Your blogs are more about life nowadays, than Army leadership. Well, actually, it all turns out to be applicable to both." Thank you my friend, you managed to say in 2 sentences what I have been trying to say for the last year and especially the last 6 months. This is a blog about leadership. It is also a blog about life - my life - and my leadership journey. It is a blog about me learning how to lead myself.
Anyone remember middle school dances? If you are my age, they might have gone a little like this: All the boys would stand on one side of the gym, all the girls on the other and everyone would stare at each other all night until there was 20 minutes left and the DJ would play either "Free Bird" or "Stairway to Heaven". And then suddenly you would screw up enough courage to walk across the dance floor and ask some girl to dance. Praying to God she said yes, so your buddies wouldn't laugh at you. And then you would get to put your hands on her waist and she might put her hands on your shoulders and the two of you would slowly spin in circles even though the songs picked up their tempo. Sound familiar? Remember that second when you knew that it was now or never? That if you didn't walk up and ask her right now, then it would be too late? Well, minus the too late part, that's a lot how I feel tonight about my own leadership journey. It's that last second before I break away and screw up the courage to ask her to dance. In this case, before I let go of the my past and embrace my future. Embrace my authentic self. Embrace the truth. Trust my instincts to guide me. My hands are shoved down deep in my pockets now, my feet shuffling around and kicking at some imaginary piece of invisible something on the gym floor, starting to rock back and forth a little....What have you got to lose? Go ask her! It's time to move. It's time to dance.
I have spent the better part of the last 6 months pulling and tugging and stretching and tearing and trying to look at my life and see how I got to this place. To see how I could end up feeling so paralyzed sometimes that it's almost impossible to even breath and then feeling such an amazing burst of energy and confidence that it feels like you can't be stopped. To peel back layer after layer after layer and start to take full responsibility for my own life. My own happiness. My own success. See, that's the part that confuses people about me the most. I am very successful. I have enjoyed a ton of good fortune throughout my Army career and most of it through my own efforts and determination and passion and drive. I have ambition and a talent for this particular profession. I have every reason to know - truly know - that I possess every single attribute and skill necessary to truly enjoy the challenges that lie ahead. I know it like I know my name. I know that I am a leader. I know that I have vision. I know that I can read the tea leaves and see around the corners better than most. I have faith in my ability to deliver what I say I will every time. And generally better than anyone expected. All if that is simple truth. But what drives all that success? Is it pure self-confidence, pure self possession? Pure belief in my innate abilities? The knowledge that I have an entire careers worth of success that informs me?
Don't I wish! If only it were so. Why, given all that I know to be true about myself, can't I seem to break free from this final chain? Why will I walk all the way to the edge and stick my toe over it and then pull back? Why is this final doorway kicking my ass so hard? Simple. I'm afraid to fail. I'm afraid to strike out. I failed once in a really big way and it made a lasting impression. A lasting impression because it had never happened to me on that scale before. An impression that has been hard to break free of. A self-trust that has been hard to regain. I walked across the gym floor and asked the pretty girl to dance, and she said no and then turned back to her girlfriends and they all started giggling.
It's coming back though. I can feel it. All the hard work, all the excavating, all the stripping away of the layers. Every second of the journey completely worth it. Each day, I get a little bit closer to me again. My legs are getting stronger, my eyes clearer and my purpose more narrowed and pure. I have failed and I have survived that failure. It's time to cut all of the things that have been chaining me to the doorway loose and start to trust my instincts and my abilities again. It is time to take full possession of my life. To not be a victim of my own creation. Not personally, and not professionally. It is time to walk through the door.
As a leader, there will always be times when you come up short. Those times deserve to be looked at, studied and learned from. They deserve an honest appraisal and a search for the cause. But once you have done that - and God knows it might take some time - you will come to a doorway. On one side you remain chained to the failure and let it redefine you. On the other side is the humble acceptance that you won't always get it right. The other side holds one other important piece too. There's a pretty girl over there who just might say yes....I guess it's time to learn how to dance....
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.