Walking through Michael Sherrill’s Retrospective Exhibit at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, it was almost as if I was seeing several artists at work. The exhibit started with mugs – huge, beautiful mugs that I could only dream of making. Soon it moved to other large forms, with Asian and Native American influences. Just around the corner were some of the most exquisite – and in some cases, biggest – teapots I had ever seen. Then came some abstract and totally unique shapes. We were now far from functional vessels. We were entering the true art zone.
Soon after, some of the natural forms started to emerge. Rhododendron leaves started appearing. You could almost hear each phase calling to him, saying “Come experiment over here. Let go so we can try something new.” And he answered the call, even though it meant leaving something that worked really well.
One of the questions I often hear from clients sounds something like this: Is this my pinnacle? Have things gotten as good as they ever will? What if I can’t make the transition to the next level? Will it be downhill or will I stagnate from here? Does what I’m doing matter?
As is often the case with big questions, it seems that answer is usually: It depends.
In walking through Michael’s Retrospective, every phase looked like a pinnacle to me. In fact, where he started would be cause for huge celebration in my house. (We do a happy dance every time my pottery reaches a new height. Seriously. Actual dancing is involved.)
Lynn’s work on its way to new heights
In the exhibition, you could see how one thing led to another – the seeds of every phase seem to be planted in the one before.
The thing about these stages of growth -and what might feel like stagnation and boredom – is that it can look like death. That’s how nature forms seeds. It’s worth remembering that.
The transition from one phase to another is uncomfortable as hell. We don’t all choose to heed the call. Instead, we hold on. We stay in the job too long. We fail to hire the kind of person we need on the team right now. We keep the project afloat, even though its original purpose is long gone. We keep making what sells.
We would rather have stagnation and boredom than face the death that brings the discomfort of uncertainty, reinvention and not knowing how to do something. So we stay out of the froth that marks the edge of our capability.
Yet the froth is where the growth is. One of my all time favorite quotes is: “You are either green and growing or ripe and rotting.”
This quote really hit home this morning, as a load of mulch was delivered to my garden. Right now the garden is full of rotting weeds from last year’s inattention. With spring arriving, it will become green once again. I can either cultivate the plants I want, or let it just do its thing.
If I want to harvest delicious edibles from this place, I will have to cultivate. I will have to feed the plants I want and starve those that take up space and nutrition without giving anything back. I have the power to set the conditions for the kind of growth I want. Honestly, I would rather just harvest. In order to garden, I have to ask for help.
As leaders, we have the same responsibility with ourselves, our teams and our organizations. We must cultivate. We need to feed our minds with the nutrients that generate the fruit of our spirit. We must foster in our teams what bring out the best in everyone as they achieve their common goals. We must allocate resources in a way that feeds what the organization needs and starves the projects, people and other non-essentials.
Every phase of growth will involve some level of death. A company of 3 is not the same as a company of 10, or 100, or many thousands. In order to truly grow, it requires many deaths leading to the breakthrough moments of new life.
So much of Michael’s work depicted this theme. In his work Remnant, you see it most clearly with the dead oak leaves alongside the new growth.
There is also a secret behind the beautiful work you see from Michael and me and everybody else on the Earth that has done something worth sharing. Behind it are the thousands of experiments gone wrong. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is perfect. You don’t see the days of despair, the questioning, the tearing out the hair wondering why something didn’t work.
Ironically, it seems to me that the more I enter the land of ambiguity, the more I like what comes out the other side. If I can tolerate the discomfort of the froth.
What seeds have you planted that are ready to be cultivated? Where are you ready to step into the froth at the edge of your capability? What do you need to let go of so the green growth can spring forward? What discomfort and ambiguity are keeping you at bay? What will it take to start the experiments to something great?
As always, please share this with anyone you think would find it useful. And let me know how you are using what you learn!
This year’s tax season involved digging waaayyy back for old records. There are so many reasons I don’t want to open old boxes of files. Wasting time is at the top of the list. But then - I don’t help myself, because I start opening other files and then reading old stuff and before you know it, I’m walking down memory lane.
Secretly, my hope is that there’s a pearl in the oyster – that I will run across something that makes the yuckiness worth the effort.
It rarely pays off. In most cases, hours go by and before I know it, I have forgotten to find the form I’m seeking.
This year, I found a little pearl. The kind of pearl that might have saved my life. You might ask, how could I find a lifesaver in a buried file box? Well, here’s what happened. I found a long-forgotten piece of writing that never really saw the light of day. I did it for a workshop, and when the program ended, my files went into the archives. So I decided to share it today.
Read on and at the end, I will tell you how it saved my life. Here's the piece:
I was listening to David McCullough, Pulitzer winning author of the book 1776, interviewed on NPR a few weeks ago. He was speaking about the historical context of his latest book and he remarked that most of us don’t know the many ways we enjoy the benefits of decisions and acts of courage taken by those who came before us. That simple remark caused me to pause with gratitude. As I drove down the road in a fully operational vehicle, heading towards the haven I call my home, with the option to listen to the music I want, my thoughts to turned to what could be, what could have been, but for countless decisions and acts of courage by people I don’t even know. Because of others that I can never thank, I earn money without having to pay homage to a king. I am free to dress as nicely-or shabbily- as I want. So many choices are now mine to make-because of people I will never know. And because so many are unknown to me, it’s virtually impossible to get my hands around what could have been. So I decided to bring it closer to home.
In my reflections since listening to that interview, I have started to pay attention to the ways I get help. This has not been the easiest meditation, as I easily fall under the delusion that I am an independent person capable of taking care of myself. And the “help” that I get doesn’t always show up-at least initially-as something I welcome. For instance, just recently I was driving over a winding mountain road when I came around the bend to see another car in my lane. I quickly jerked the car right as my nemesis returned to his lane. About the time the adrenaline wore off, a small pickup turned onto the road in front of me and proceeded to amble down the road at about 20 miles per hour. Within seconds, I felt like honking and going around him. Suddenly I thought back to my encounter a few miles before. Without that, I would have been tempted to do something stupid, like go around this slow poke. I settled back in my seat-still gritting my teeth but firmly in my lane-and aware of the help from unseen forces.
It was another reminder that I am not alone. I get help from many corners. And occasionally, someone needs my help. In my best moments, I’m less likely to need the credit. In my worst, I’m waiting for some acknowledgement. If I take the time to look, perhaps I can remember that David McCullough pointed my attention to this simple reality: we can only ever thank a few of our helpers.
Since I wrote this piece, at least 15 years have passed. I’ve been on that same winding road hundreds, if not thousands of times. At least half the time, someone drives way too slow for my taste. That’s a lot of opportunities for road rage to cause dangerous behavior. Yet, thanks to this series of incidents (with one exception on a trip to the hospital), I’ve never seriously considered passing on these winding roads. You might say this incident “scared me straight.” And I’m pretty sure THAT has saved my life – countless times.
So this year, instead of agonizing over my plight with old boxes, I paused with gratitude that I had lived the years to fill them.
How often do you pause in gratitude for the unseen help you have received or are receiving? In what ways might life be different if you hadn’t gotten that assistance that you have long forgotten? What can you be grateful for today?
It was almost 20 years ago when I went to a leadership program that focused on self-awareness. For the prior 4 years, I had been involved in other self-awareness programs. Once I was introduced to the idea of working on myself, interrupting old patterns, and so forth, my quick learner self got it really fast – or so I thought.
When the facilitator of the program started sharing the self-awareness stuff, I sat in the program thinking “I know all of this.” I kind of felt superior to the other people who seemed to be hearing some of this for the first time. After the first self-awareness segment, I stayed behind and more or less told the facilitator that I had done all of this before – so since I knew it all, what should I do? She gave me a funny look and said, “Well, just try to experience it anyway.”
With my Gold Star Mentality hard at work, I came back in the next day determined to prove and show that I already knew all of this.
It would be years before I was even aware than my proving mindset (which I call my Gold Star Mentality) was keeping me in a comfort box and seriously impeding my ability to learn and grow.
The program was part of a series and I kept coming back for more. My real intention was to prove myself self-aware in order to get the Gold Star, be done with it and move on. It wasn’t until the fourth program that I dropped the pretense and was vulnerable enough to start learning.
That’s where the chronic discomfort comes in. Slowly, I began putting improving in front of proving.
Not everywhere and not all the time, but more often than not, my choice is to drop the pretense and work from a beginner’s mind.
It’s true whether I’m learning to throw pottery, get back on the horse, water ski, work with my clients, or anything else where I want to get better.
It’s uncomfortable as hell – because that’s the way it is in the learning zone.
We are so conditioned to pass the test and get the reward. We are taught to prove our learning to the teachers and the system so they can keep their jobs. We are supposed to show our knowledge so we can keep our job.
There’s a huge problem with proving that we are good enough. The rewards are short lived AND we stay the same, playing to the crowd hoping to get the next reward. We never become who we were born to be.
Where do you seek the Gold Star? What reward does proving yourself get you? In what domains do you need to go into learning mode? What kind of problems are you trying to solve that require skills you don’t yet have? Where do you wish you could tell people what you really think? Where are you willing to move into discomfort for the sake of your growth and learning?
I’ve been playing with some of these distinctions recently. It’s the:
-Inside out vs Outside in.
-Invisible vs Visible.
-Internal locus vs External locus.
-Respond vs React.
These are top of mind concepts for me because I’m always looking for ways to put the power of change in the hands of my clients. It’s so common to give your power away.
The first time I heard the “give away power” concept, someone said in a program I was attending “I’m giving away my power” – I thought “what the hell is she talking about?” It sounded new agey and like woo woo bullshit. So, I wrote off the concept – and gave my power away. It would be years before I got it.
It’s actually quite a practical idea: Nothing is personal. I don’t have to let others get under my skin. Ancient wisdom that is so applicable in these modern times. If we can just get out of our own way.
During a recent meeting with a client to review progress on his coaching, he wrote this: “I have spent so much of my business career wasting time worrying about what was driving other members of my team. Which led to jealousy or resentment and kept me from moving forward. I am coming around to the idea that if you work on your own happiness, everything else falls in place.”
When I read this, it immediately called to mind one of my experiences with skiing. (Of course, it did!) This was over 10 years ago at the first Women’s Week at Coble Ski School. The first evening, everyone was sizing each other up. Who’s the best skier? Who looks best in a bikini? Will I fit in? What if I make an ass out of myself? You know, all those inner questions that we never dare say out loud. Would we end up competing with each other or supporting each other? Would this week be truly fun or not? Were we going to be competitive or comparative? That first night, it could have gone either way.
The first morning of skiing washed away any fears I had. When someone needed a couple of tries to get up, we all stood on the shoreline cheering her on. When one of the women achieved a personal best, we high fived and whistled so they could hear us in the county. At the end of the week, one of the skiers said, “Never in my life have I seen such a supportive group of women.”
We chose to see the best in each other – and as a result we lifted each other up.
In my TEDx talk on the Power of Positive Intent, I talked about how you get more of what you touch. In my client’s case, when he focused on jealousy and resentment, he got more of that. When he started working on his own internal happiness, he got more of that.
We have tremendous power when we choose where to focus. Everything starts from within us.
Where are you focusing on what is NOT working? How could you shift your focus to what you want? Where can you find the gold in difficult situations? How can you see past the ugly behavior to the hurts that caused it? What can you do today to focus on your own happiness?
Sometimes, it feels like I have an inner voice that calms and stills me. But more often, there’s another, louder voice that is more like an annoying sports parent in the stands, screaming something like “Choke up on the bat!” “What’s wrong with you?” “That’s not the way you do it!”
Many years ago, I was preparing to facilitate a leadership program with a new client. During our walk through of the first program, the client briefed me on the culture and made a strong point that most of the leaders in the room would be introverts. She warned me to be very specific in my questions and to not expect an easy, open dialogue. At this point in my facilitation journey, I was sure she was being overly careful, and I was also quite confident that my big ole extraverted self could draw them out.
So, on the opening session of the program, I started with the opening we had planned, and then I winged it with a broad question. My intention was to send the message that it’s ok to talk, and that we would have a lot of back and forth dialogue. Also, some part of me did not believe Judy’s assessment.
I asked my question and then waited for someone to answer. And waited. And waited. The faces staring back at me were flat.
It was almost as if 30 people were colluding to make Lynn squirm.
My calm inner voice was nowhere to be heard. Instead, Ms. Sports Mom showed up and started screaming: “Didn’t Judy warn you? You totally blew it. Not only are these people not going to talk to you, Judy is going to fire you. And you deserve it.” I was so busy trying to tune out Ms. Sports Mom, I could barely pay attention to what was happening in the room.
Ever heard the phrase “Looks like a deer in the headlights.”? Yeah, that was me. I had entered “Splitsville”, that place where my body was in the room but the rest of me was running for cover.
To make matters worse, I was aware that I was blowing it and I was frozen and that the inner dialogue was not helping. Ms. Sports Mom got even louder, screaming “helpful” words at me.
Then I remembered a performance practice taught by one of my first facilitation coaches. Just feel your feet. Get grounded. Breathe.
Ms Sports Mom faded into the background and I was able to ask a follow up question. The part of me that was running came back to presence. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I acknowledged the silence. I asked a different question and someone answered. Then I picked up the easel chart marker and started writing as more and more people started talking. The ice was broken and the real Lynn showed up for most of the rest of the 3 day program.
I went on to teach that program for several years, with hundreds of people going through it. During our debrief at the end of that first day, Judy acknowledged my mis-step and shared her worry. She also recognized my recovery. Learning to perform under pressure, especially to recover under pressure, was one of the core teachings we eventually brought to the leaders of her company.
Just today, I was on the phone with a client who was sharing her business case for a huge decision that her company is making. As I listened, the words sounded ok, but her tone sounded shrill and even desperate. When I mentioned that, she said she wasn’t comfortable with the words. And as she was speaking, she knew she didn’t like the words coming out of her mouth. So, her tone became ineffective. Her own inner “Sports Mom” had started pulling her into “Splitsville”. The rest of our session focused on how to bring her best thinking to the table under pressure – even if Ms. Sports Mom decided to show up.
For pretty much all of us, the way we talk to ourselves is much crueler than we would ever speak to someone else.
Here’s the thing: We all have a point where the pressure is greater than our ability to handle it. It’s up to us to keep practicing in order to build our capacity to keep showing up, even as the pressure increases.
What are the ways you speak to yourself? What does your inner “Sports Mom” say to try to help you? What do you say to bring yourself back from “Splitsville?” What types of pressure keep you from performing at your best? How are you developing your practices to perform under pressure?
If you are anything like me, the New Year rolls around and you are excited for new beginnings, and maybe a little depressed about what you didn’t get done in the last year. Whatever great intention you set for yourself last January is waaaaaay back there in the rear view mirror. All year long, things kept coming at you at a breakneck pace and you dropped a few balls along the way. For so many of us, it’s the dropped balls that we remember. Isn’t it lovely how those dropped balls shine so much brighter than all the good things you did?
We can accomplish a thousand great things, and it’s that one mistake that will eat us alive.
Failure is a funny thing. It can grip us in its claws, and make us feel horrible. We would do anything NOT to feel like a failure. So, what do we do? We beat ourselves up. We avoid taking risks. We play small. Our answer to failure is punishment. As if somehow, once we pay our penance, all is well.
At the end of one of my programs last year, a participant pulled me aside and “confessed” that his biggest fear was of failure. He spoke in a hushed tone, making sure none of his colleagues were in earshot. He said his normal pattern is to cover up his mistakes and once they are discovered, he goes on the attack to deflect criticism. When we dug a little deeper, it was clear that he is a competent person who is making his normal share of mistakes. The mistakes are not the problem. How he sees them is causing him all kinds of grief.
I sooooo wanted to have a quick answer for him to turn all this around. But I’ve been there. It’s not that straightforward. In my article The Secret to Better, I share some of the inner thoughts I have carried that block my ability to perform or to learn.
Mistakes are not the end of the world. They are a sign that you are learning.
It’s a daily practice to monitor my thoughts and keep my thoughts on the “improving” track instead of the “proving” track.
We all have an inner world that informs our outer world. It’s the inner game that separates those that perform well under pressure from those that get in their own way. (Some call this the mental game, but I argue it’s mind, body and emotion.) Nobody has this mastered – just look at some of the top executives and athletes that have reached the top only to fall. It is a lifelong journey to develop the inner tools to overcome the thoughts created by those burning dropped balls, even under great pressure.
So, this year, instead of making a New Year’s resolution or just planning the year ahead, I did a Prior Year Review. (Got the idea from Tim Ferriss, who does a great job of breaking down what creates world class performance.) The core outcome for me was that could see the patterns of activities, people and commitments that helped me be at my best. When I am clear on keeping these as priorities in my life, everything I do is more infused with genuine caring and love.
Here’s my list:
Looking at all the good things of the year certainly dimmed the glow of those dropped balls. One of the exercises I often give clients is to write down all the positive things they have done for a period of time. The kind of answers that come up usually shock them – they discover they are doing a LOT more than they remembered.
What activities give you the leverage to do more with less time? What are all the good things you accomplished in 2018? What are you most proud of? Where are you doing things that totally drain you, just because you should? For obligations that you must do, in what ways can you be grateful? What practices and habits keep you at your best?
My dining room looks like a bomb went off in it. The chaos matches that provided by the recent snowstorm that dropped thousands of trees, rendering all infrastructure in our area useless. No power. No internet. No roads. What else is someone to do but tackle those “someday” projects in the house?
The upheaval has reminded me why change is so damn hard. The end result will be great. The getting there is hell on earth.
During the snowstorm, my husband took advantage of me being out of town (yes, I escaped snowmageddon) to finally update and rearrange the server closet in our house. After living here for almost 20 years, it needed to happen. Technology has advanced considerably over that time, and the number of obsolete wires in that closet are only outnumbered by the trees the snow storm took down.
His first step was to take everything OUT of the closet. Do you know how much stuff you can stuff into a closet? Every surface in a 20 foot radius was covered with the things he has been stuffing in that closet for years and years and years. It’s not a pretty sight. It’s so bad that, for the first time in history, he suggested I extend my trip. Not for my safety or comfort (stay off the icy roads, we don’t have power). No, it was so I didn’t have to see the mess.
It’s easier to stuff things into a closet than it is to see the mess or make decisions about what to let go of.
The change (ie clean closet) is going to be great. Facing the process of getting there is taking a lot from both of us. He has to decipher all the wires and get rid of the deadweight without taking down the systems in the house. (So far, satellite TV in one room is the only casualty.)
I have to keep my mouth shut about the mess. I’m not sure who has the tougher job. I’ve had to change how I think about the mess – and it helps. A little bit. So does have a deadline for the finish date, enforced by inviting friends for dinner at the table that is currently buried under a pile of stuff.
That’s the thing about making any kind of change. It requires us to go through something uncomfortable. The bigger the change, the more discomfort we have to face.
We have to look at our stuff – which is sometimes emotional garbage, grudges, or comfort eating, just to name a few. We have tease out what matters to us and keep what is valuable while letting go of what is not. We have to risk making a mistake – and that can be enough to keep the closet full of stuff.
It helps to remember why it matters. When you have a handle on that, you can live with the discomfort, the mistakes and facing the stuff.
What change are you avoiding because you don’t want to go through the discomfort? What tiny thing can you let go of? What really matters now?
What do you need to blow up to make it better?
In the last 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of sitting in deep conversation with hundreds of people working in Corporate America. When the shields are down and the corporate façade comes off, almost everyone shares one secret in common: they fear failure, especially when operating in the pressure gap.
The pressure gap is the difference between your mental tools to handle a situation and the consequences of handling that situation poorly. When I gave a TED talk, the pressure gap was huge when I signed on. I had the skills to give a regular speech – but not the mental tools to give a TED talk. The pressure of a TED talk is MUCH more than a speech – and that pressure definitely triggered my fear of failure. It will been filmed and seen by thousands. Lots of other people have given them, so the expectations that the speech will be a really good one are much higher. If I had delivered the speech without developing my mental tools of staying grounded and present, I might have bombed. Thanks to several months of working on the speech itself and my mental tools, we closed the gap to a manageable level – I gave the speech I intended to give and didn’t faint on stage!
In my conversations with leaders, they talk about facing external pressures. But often it’s the inner dialogue that provides a window into the gap they are operating in:
When I was a kid, we used to watch the Ed Sullivan show (I’m dating myself!) These guys would come on and start spinning plates, one after the other. When the plate stopped spinning, it would fall – so they had to move quickly from plate to plate to keep it spinning.
One day many years later, I was walking in to work at the bank where I had a big and ever-growing job. I said yes to everything. One of the best “compliments” given to me was “Lynn, you’ve done everything we’ve ever asked of you.” My version of success was to prove I could handle more and more and more. So on this day, in my mind I was running through everything I had to do that day and I almost stopped in the hallway to laugh at myself. I was a plate spinner!
My entire day would consist of running from one “plate” to the other to keep it spinning. And I deeply feared the crash of one or more plates on the floor. It never dawned on me to question my approach or whether it made sense to keep this many plates spinning, or whether I should ask for help. I would like to say that I completely shifted my mindset that day, never to be a plate spinner again. But let’s be real. Not adding the additional plates would mean that I was not up to the job. And we couldn’t have that! My proving mindset would keep me playing above my head and eat me up from the inside out for a few more years.
It comes down to a fear of failure, fueled by the thought of being the only one who feels this way. It never dawned on me to question my approach or have a conversation about priorities or even grow my skills. Instead, being super busy made me feel good about myself, in a warped way. When asked how I was doing, saying “I’m so busy” really meant – “They need me! They trust me! They can’t live without me! Look at what a good person I am to be needed this much!” “I’m not failing!”
So instead of growing in my abilities, I spent all my energy on performing, proving and doing, making the pressure gap even wider. I took no time to recover, to reflect, or to improve myself. I’m lucky it didn’t kill me.
The pressures in Corporate America have gotten so much greater and more complex. (The same is true for the entrepreneurs I work with.) In my conversations, I’ve come to learn that almost everyone has some form of inner dialogue that fears failure. No one sees it in each other because we are really good at covering it up. We don’t dare let on that we are slipping. We trade time with our loved ones, sleep, recreation and personal development rather than face the reality that we need to change our approach by improving our mental tools.
Here’s one thing I’ve learned: “they” won’t fix it for you. It’s hard work to change your inner dialogue. You can’t pretend your way to closing the pressure gap without paying an enormous personal cost.
You CAN build the inner strength and skills to handle more – IF you are willing to stop spinning plates, shift to an improving mindset and start working on yourself.
What’s the inner dialogue keeping you in the plate spinning game? How big is your pressure gap? Where are you looking for resources to help you close the gap?
As always, please share this with anyone you think would find it useful. And let me know how you are using what you learn!
About 20 years ago, I had three experiences that literally changed – and maybe saved -- my life.
If you have seen my TEDx talk “From Raging Bitch to Engaging Coach”, you hear the story of how I learned to assume positive intent, and the ways that practice shifted my perspective. What I didn’t share in that talk were the three experiences that opened my mind up enough to let the light in – or how much the feeling of powerlessness fueled the way I approached my relationships in life and work.
People who know me today, who didn’t know me then, can’t picture the intense, bitchy woman who stomped through the halls of Corporate America and secretly worried about what a horrible mother she (I) was. They see the Lynn of today, who carries a very full load of coaching clients, while at the same time making the time to water ski, do art projects and walk the land at Mystic Waters. They see me as the grateful mother of my daughter AND co-worker Jen, who has become a magnificent coach in her own right. (it’s time for more people to experience her ability to bring out your best – more on that later.)
The three experiences that “let the light in” all shared one common theme: Three different coaches in three different ways helped me see that I had WAY more power to shape my life than I was owning at the time. There was a common thread in those three experiences that can be summarized like this: “I have the power to change my thinking – and when I change my thinking, I create new decisions, actions and results.”
In a way, my three experiences were serendipitous – and somewhat haphazard. It was YEARS before I put the insights together in a way that made real change happen for me. When I did, it set me on the path to leave the corporate world and become a coach.
As an executive coach, I’ve helped hundreds of clients uncover insights that create breakthrough results in their lives and careers. Many of my clients have gone on to be CEO or run their divisions. Just as many have left Corporate America to joyfully start their own businesses. ALL of my clients learn the keys to changing their thinking – which leads to them running their brain instead of their brain running them.
Are you running your brain?
Photo Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15582363
One of my favorite reads of the year was the book Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue by Ryan Holiday. What made this story so gripping to me was Holiday’s weaving of three storylines together to create a narrative about the use of power, secrecy and yes, conspiracy.In the very second paragraph, Holiday says:
"There is an unpleasantness in talking about conspiracies, I’ll grant that. Yet conspiracy is a neutral word. It depends on what one does with it. Our tendency to shy away from this truth creates a profound ignorance of how things really work, and what it means to be strategic, to be powerful, and to try to shape events rather than simply be shaped by them."
If you have been reading this blog for long, you know one of my themes is power, without almost ever using that word. (Why? Because it’s a highly charged word.) Yet I am always examining who is really running my life, where is my choice, and how do I unleash who I really am in the world. So it’s no wonder I loved this book.
Last night, when I saw that Ryan Holiday had posted his interview with Peter Thiel from the day before, I did something I never do. I sat down and watched the whole hour. Thiel’s fame arises from his co-founding of PayPal and deep involvement in other Silicon Valley interests. He’s mostly famous in those circles as the guy who thinks for himself. He’s especially famous for asking people his bullshit detecting question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”
Quick hint: Don’t try to answer that question by seeing what your co-workers think or going to Facebook to see what your friends are posting. Definitely don’t turn on the news and see what your favorite flavor of media is sharing today. I’m not being flippant here. Understanding your own mind – really knowing what YOU think – is incredibly difficult. We have SOOOO many inputs and we are hardwired to fit in with our social groups.
Truly thinking for yourself will likely put in you in disagreement about something with almost everyone you care about.
In the interview, they talk about thinking for yourself about 40 minutes into the interview. Holiday asks the same question of Thiel that so many of my clients ask me: How do you really cultivate the ability to think for yourself?
I’m not going to even try to paraphrase their conversation through my filters or ways of thinking. Even if you watch it for yourself (and I recommend that you do), you won’t see or hear the same things I did. We all think differently and that’s the gift we bring to the world.
This is not a question for just today’s world. Socrates who lived 470 BC said “To find yourself, think for yourself.”
Learning to think for ourselves really does require reflection and ironically, feedback. Our brains are complex, powerful and fundamentally lazy. Whether YOU like shortcuts or not, your brain is taking them all the time. Without awareness, your brain will run you instead of the other way around.
So how do we really think for ourselves? Where do we trust things at face value and when is it worth digging into? In what ways do we jump to conclusions without really considering all the evidence? How do we learn to understand our brains so that we can bring our best thinking into the world?
Inspiring new ways to look at learning, growth, and reinvention, whether in leadership, athletics, art or life.
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