#131 The Dragon Slayer

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.

#130 Reflections

"Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it."

"Another sort of false prayers are our regrets."

"Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will."

"But I may also neglect this reflex standard, and absolve me to myself."

"I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever only rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men's, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. "

All quotes from R.W. Emerson's "Self Reliance"

This is post #130. It also marks the 2nd anniversary of 'Fen's Thoughts'. On August 2, 2009 I put my first words on these pages and sent them out into the world for consumption and consideration. At the end of my first post, I wrote:

"So, welcome to the discussion. I have no idea where it will lead, but no doubt that it will be a hell of a ride."

And so it has been. Two years,130 posts, a great discussion, a new world opened up to me and great friends made along the way. There are too many people who have read or commented or engaged me about my work here to thank each of them individually, but it is true that this journey has showered great gifts upon me and I have been blessed to have many opportunities present themselves along the way. The greatest of which has been the undying support and friendship of those who read these pages. So, today I just want to take a moment and thank each of you who read this each week. You have blessed my life. Thank you.

But what have I learned along the way? What has these past 2 years shown me? What insight do I have now, or what have I learned, that I did not know when I started? These thoughts have been swimming around this week as I considered today's post. What are the real leadership lessons that I have learned over the course of this journey?

I think everything will eventually boil down to the beginning lines from Emerson above:

"Insist on yourself; never imitate...."

"Discontent is the want of self-reliance."

"But I may also neglect this reflex standard, and absolve me to myself."

"I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you."

Everything I have written can be summed up in those 4 lines. My journey through these pages has been about coming to this particular place. To coming to an understanding of what those 4 lines mean really mean. To seeing how far I had drifted from that elemental place and to fighting my way back. Over the past 2 years, each of those lines has had its' own time to shine and its' own place along the way.

I started the early posts from a place of discontent and a railing against a 'reflex standard'. Between Black Hearts and the posts surrounding leader accountability and responsibility, and my place in that platoon at that time, to my attacks against the Army leader development system in its' present form, all those posts where about 2 different sides of me. The first looking for absolution and the second blaming the system that helped create me for any failings I might have. The truth though, something I would slowly come to over time, is that in Black Hearts I was not being myself, and in my railings about the Army, I was attempting to shift responsibility for any of my shortcomings to anyone or anything but myself. I had then and have now the instinct and ability to lead. I did not accept then the full measure of that responsibility. I did not accept and take responsibility for me. I suspect that many others also do not understand the full impact of what that responsibility is. I was playing a role that I falsely accepted as truth instead of leading. I was doing what I thought you wanted me to do instead of listening and doing what I know I should have done. I should have offered myself, my talents and my singular abilities to that platoon in their fullest measure and I did not. It took over 100 posts to see that.

As my journey continued, I began to look at the system and the future. There are things written over a year ago that are only now beginning to see the light of day throughout the Army. When I gave my mind free reign to think and ponder and talk about leadership of other human beings, in many ways, I have been ahead of the curve for a little while. Army leader development has a bright future after 10 years at war. I am filled with hope now that institutionally, there will be a move towards the personal introspection and learning that the blog has provided for me.
It is the critical endeavor.

Finally, the last 17 posts. From #113 until today. My journey into myself. Learning how to "Insist on myself; never imitate." Learning to "Absolve myself to myself." Learning that "I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you." There is no greater requirement for a leader of any industry or pursuit than to understand, ingest, and follow those words. They are in fact, the bedrock of all leadership. The marrow of a leader's bones. The absolute conviction of the self-possession of your soul and the absolute recognition of who and what you are. This is the truest measure of leadership. When you can lead yourself honestly. When you can speak your truth quietly and clearly. When you have excavated enough of the trappings of your life that you can see yourself precisely for who you are today, completely irrespective of what anyone else might think. If there is a journey worth taking, this is the one to take. Only after learning to lead yourself can you authentically lead others.

My journey over the last 2 years has been one of growth. Sometimes slower than others, but nevertheless, a constant movement towards today. It is not complete and never will be. Awhile back one of my readers sent me a note that described some of my work as adolescent in its' understandings. Although well written and thoughtful and at times provocative, it still didn't resonate with the truth of a 43 year old man. As I look back over the past 130 posts, it occurs to me that the 4 sentences from Emerson are the sum total of what I have learned so far. It has taken 2 years for me to get to this doorway. And now I can step through it. As I look forward to the years ahead, I am optimistic that learning and truly understanding the depths of them - only for me and not anyone else - is the next part of the journey. I hope you will continue to walk with me. It has been an amazing ride so far and I have thoroughly enjoyed every step of our time together.

A final thought from Emerson:

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.