"To be nobody but yourself in a world that is doing it's best night and day to make you somebody else means to fight the hardest battle that any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."
Five years ago, my life began a slow unraveling. Subtle at first, and not very noticeable, things began to slowly slip away from me. The clarity of my life, the self-assuredness that I had possessed earlier began to erode. I withdrew slowly. I worried more. I felt less in control of myself and my surroundings. I no longer impacted events, events started impacting me. I was letting other people to define me instead of defining myself. Instead of trusting my instincts. The events in Iraq had just happened, but I also had a 1 year old at home. Great pain and great joy ran into each other daily and I couldn't balance the two. Couldn't get things to match up cleanly. Having a baby at home is a challenge all by itself. Children always make the world a new and sometimes scary place - especially for new parents. For the first time though, my professional life was also uncertain. And that was new for me. Up to then it had always been a bedrock thing. No matter how crazy my life at home might be, I could always go to work and make it all come together. Personal or family setbacks were often offset by professional gains and successes. I hid myself in my work. And began slowly pulling away......Slowly began believing the labels that people have attached to me over the years. Slowly moving away from my authentic self.
That drift continued for a long time. The current of it was so slow at times as to become unnoticeable. But it was there and I was moving. I was functioning but not living. Slowly but surely losing my definition of who I was. Without any labels or titles or history. Losing sight of those things those things that make me, me. Questioning and searching and looking and hoping for a day when it would all come back again. That I would wake up and somehow I would still be who I was from '95 - '05. Of course, you can never go back to that well more than once. Life is lived forward and the days drifted by since I stopped living it.
All of that is over now. Gone. Done. It left in a rush this week. As slowly as it all crept into my life, the leaving was incredibly quick and powerful. No doubt a lot of introspection and thought and work and loving support and care and an amazing friend helped get me there, but on a rifle range last Friday, about 2:30 in the afternoon, in an absolute rush of intensity, I came full circle. I stepped back into the light of my life. Doubt and worry and questioning departed so quickly as to almost leave an empty space behind for a moment. The truth of me filled that space quickly and I was literally shaking with the energy.
I have written a million times about the importance of leaders knowing themselves. You must know who you are at your core. Your bedrock truths. Those things that are always present and real and speak to you. Those things that make you completely and totally you. A you no one else on the planet can be. And that is still true. All of those things are requirements if you are to be an authentic leader. If you truly want to lead anything, you first have to learn about and lead yourself. Accepting yourself completely - without guilt or embarrassment or false modesty or worry about what others might think. You have to do the hard work of discovering yourself honestly - the good and the bad. In equal measure. Without self-judgement. Continually stripping away at all the layers of self deceit until you reach an absolute truth that can no longer be denied. No excuses for who you are. Not accepting labels put on you by others and not denying your own true self. For many people, this might come easily, for others it will not be as simple. Some people as as self-aware as they can possibly be, they accept themselves with a clear understanding of their strengths, their limitations, the places they excel and the places they fall short. Most of us do not have that internal mechanism built in. For most of us, a journey like mine is incredibly instructive. I will be forever grateful for this period in my life. The chance to live completely and fully and with intention has been offered to me. My job is to take it.
There comes a time though when you have to act. When you have settled everything that you can for that moment and have to move. For the last 4 months, I have been steadily stripping away at myself. Pulling layer after layer of my life off and looking at it and examining it and finding out its' truth. Seeing it without self-protection. Raw and pure and uncovered. The amount of time involved in this has been staggering. But that is also part of me. A dogged determination to understand and reconcile and learn. I will not quit until I get what I want. I am a very driven and very bright man. And I will continue to push until the goal is achieved or the mission accomplished. That is just part of me. I am not laid back. I am not superficial. I do not believe that it will all simply be here tomorrow. Things must be done now. They must be done completely. They must be done with purpose. And Friday afternoon, the floodgates opened and Fenlason showed up again. Burst into the world with a clarity and sense of purpose that I had not known in a long time. It felt good to see me again. Very good. Very real and very true and very powerful. A moment had come, and in a rush of clarity and with all of my being present, I came back to the world again. I could not stand by and watch anymore. To be a passive participant in my life. My life requires me to be present. To be me. To be exactly who and what I am. To seize the moment.
A few weeks back, somebody asked me what all of these recent posts concerning my life and my journey had to do with leadership. Specifically, military leadership. What does all this introspection and searching and questioning have to do with leading Soldiers? And many of you may be asking the same thing. What the hell happened here? This guy used to write about everything he thought was wrong with the Army or some article he read or some idea he was kicking around. Now, all he does is talk about some journey towards the truth, towards authenticity. What the hell is all this about? Why do I care about his issues? I've got enough of my own. And to be honest, I haven't even confronted mine, so why get wrapped up in his?
Fair questions all. Why should you give a damn about me? Why should you care about my journey? Why should you read about my thoughts and concerns and worries and fears and failures and successes? This isn't a diary, it's a leadership blog. Why is there all this stuff about finding the truth about yourself?
Here's why. Leadership requires authenticity. It requires the real and true you to be present every day. It requires that you know exactly who the hell you are. That is the only way you can completely lead Soldiers or anyone else. They must have no doubt about who and what you are, who and what you stand for, and who and what they are placing their faith and confidence and maybe even their lives in. That is why it matters. When you are authentic and true to yourself, no one else can move you off of that place. You are so sure of your own self that you no longer spend any time wasting energy worrying about anyone else's opinion of you. It simply doesn't matter. And when that happens, when you live your life with that kind of purpose and focus and direction then you can truly lead and care for others. Care and lead and love them in a way absolutely particular to you. All fear and doubt and worry is removed. You can focus all your energy on the issue and the people around you. You do not have to spend time wondering about you.
The Army is spending considerable time this year looking at leader development. There is a recognition that somehow we have gotten a little off track. A recent poll said that over 80% of the respondents had worked for or knew someone they considered a toxic leader. That is very alarming news. 80%! And the funny part of that is that if you asked each of them if they thought they were toxic, they'd probably all answer no. So the number is 80, but it's everyone but me. That just doesn't add up. Somewhere in there are a bunch of folks who aren't seeing themselves too clearly. Could you be one of them? Could I? If you wonder why my journey matters and why I share it on these pages, just think about that. The premier leadership organization in the world is seeing an issue with authentic self-awareness. Suddenly, I don't seem all that far off track.
As I re-enter my life with energy and clarity and focus and determination and a much stronger realization of all those things that are me, opportunities are presenting themselves every day to further succeed and capitalize on the things I have learned so far. My journey will never be complete. There is no end-point to something like this. Living your life completely requires you to look at it daily, to remain engaged and present at all times. To not complacently accept anything that doesn't ring true for you. A thousand moments a day will offer themselves to you, the thing you must do is seize them when they do.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. The blog went over 7,000 page views this week and I am grateful beyond measure for your support. If you find the work worth reading each week, please feel free to pass it along to others. Thanks.