The most wonderful thing – about being human is you get to choose what you want. Yet, it’s hard. It’s so much easier to be told what to want, or to have habits take over, or to jump to doing whatever seems like it should be done next. In the hyper-busyness that is characteristic of our time, this is especially true. It’s hard then to step back and ask: Why? To what end? What do I really want? So, for example, under stress, true planners work harder on their to-do lists. Pleasers work harder to please, without necessarily considering whether the others should be pleased. Perfectionists perfect, whether the things should even be done in the first place.
What’s a busy lad or lass to do? How do you get to real freedom, real choice? How do you get to authentically living your deep choices?
One way to get to CHOOSING what you really want is to get knocked off your horse. This thud happened to me. I spent my life from 10 years old to 35 striving to become a viable political leader. But when I fell on my face as a campaign manager (fortunately I didn’t cost Congressman Levin his seat!), and when I finally admitted that I really didn’t enjoy that work, I had to go back to the drawing board and ask, “Just what do I want?” I was born into a new adolescence – a new identity crisis. It lasted years, but it’s great to now pursue what I know matters to me.
Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner write what I have seen over and over in people’s lives. It’s my favorite lines from their book, The Leadership Challenge:
“Name any great leader, performer, scientist, athlete, activist, citizen. Chances are that the crucible of that person’s crowning achievement was some distressing crisis, wrenching change, tragic misfortune, or risky venture. Only challenge produces the opportunity for greatness.”
The purple words above denote situations that happen to people while the red one denotes a willing choice. Two of my kids chose gap years. My oldest child just came back from his choice to spend 10 days in total silence; now that’s a risky venture. We can choose to get to free(r) choice by separating from routine, from context, from the systems that both surround and dictate our thoughts. After hitting 60 I have returned to therapy, where I am gaining awareness of how the “unlived life of the father,”* my Catholic upbringing, and the role “assigned” to me in my family, shaped my ways of thinking and being. All these are part of me, yet also not essential.
It’s important to “retreat,” to find our Source or Core, to as Shaw wrote be yourself, cuz everyone else is taken. And important to simply ask as we begin the week: What really matters to me? What will I choose with the gift of my life in the week ahead, as I strive to
Lead with my best self.
*An abbreviation of Carl Jung’s famous line, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”