The Power of Looking In
I don’t know about you, but I want to be a CHAMPION – in life and in my leadership! My guess is that many of you do too, but leaders have a tough gig. You’re under the spotlight 24/7 trying to move your team in the right direction only to find others around you seem to be dancing to a different beat. That used to be me, the consummate go-getter, can-doer, workhorse type of leader I thought my employer wanted, until one day I realized that all of the hustle in the world wasn’t getting me where I wanted to go.
Unfortunately, many people, especially busy leaders feel the same way. Yet they fail to spend the time needed to truly reflect on their past to figure out how to change. It’s all too easy for driven, passionate people to get lost in the day-to-day grind.
Don’t get me wrong, I prefer being on the front end of the hustle and grind every day, but I also want to feel a bond or connection with who I am and the people I include in my life. To do this, I had to make time for the process of focused self-reflection on my goals, behavior and overall state-of-mind.
So why is the process of self-reflection essential? Because it helps to build emotional self-awareness. By taking the time to ask yourself the critical questions, you gain a better understanding of your emotions, strengths, weaknesses and driving factors which all lead to increased emotional intelligence – which for leaders is one of the most critical skills to have.
In simple terms, self-reflection is the process of taking the time to reflect on the past to help you to learn and grow into the future and avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. Sounds easy, right? Well, the process is, but the things you’ll discover in honest self-reflection can be painful as you face some of the hard truths of the past. But trust me, to improve the future, it’s well worth the journey.
Which brings me to December of 2017. My personal life was epic! I’d met the love of my life, I had great friends, a beautiful family, and I was healthy and happy – all was good on that front.
On the professional side, I had a kick ass corporate job doing what I love to do and making good money doing it. But something was missing – I was immensely thankful for my life and fully understood how blessed I was – but I wasn’t happy.
Of course, some of you might be thinking, “wow, this chick is ungrateful or even greedy” – but I assure you that wasn’t it. I felt like there was a higher purpose for my life. I didn’t feel like I was contributing all I could, and my work wasn’t fulfilling. I should’ve been happy – but I wasn’t.
Then, one night over a glass of wine – when all great conversations take place – I told a good friend of mine that I felt stuck and wasn’t sure how or what to change. Was it me or some outside force keeping me from my real purpose in life?
She suggested some self-reflection to figure out what was going on and gave me some guidelines on how to begin. Now, for the record, this is not something I was all that comfortable doing, most likely because it was foreign to me, but I trusted her, so I tried it. What I discovered changed the course of my life and it just took four questions to get me there.
Am I on the path to my dream future?
You have to prepare for that decisive moment that ultimately comes in everyone’s life when opportunity knocks. You’re either ready, or you’re not. But wait, if that’s true, why am I here? Stuck! I had prepared and prepared… for years! Still no opportunity. Or so I thought.
What I discovered through my own self-reflection was that opportunity had knocked, more than once, but I chose not to open the door. I was prepared yes, but I was letting those opportunities go by. I made up excuses as to why “now” wasn’t the right time. I wasn’t sure that I would be successful and told myself I needed more time. The reality was that I was just scared of failing. I’d taken risks my whole life without an ounce of fear. I’d failed as well as succeeded, so what was different about now? … I was older.
I told myself I needed to be sensible, the risk was too high. But I knew that nothing great comes without some risk. The choice we all face is; are we willing to accept the risk. In my case, was I ready to walk away from a corporate job that paid six figures, benefits, and insurance to take the leap and build my own business in speaking? If I wanted to get on the path to my dream future, the choice was mine – lady luck had nothing to do with it.
Am I performing at peak performance?
If you were able to look into the brain of Nick Foles, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, during their stunning win over the Patriots in the 2018 Super Bowl, you’d find many predictable mental strengths present. Peak performers know their purpose. They set and prioritize goals to fulfill that purpose. They have high self-esteem, they’re process, not outcome-driven, they don’t worry about making mistakes and can easily take risks, and they’re cool under pressure.
For me, I felt like I possessed all or at least most of these mental strengths so I should be able to say yes, I’m performing at my peak. I’m an intentional learner, always looking for new and innovative ways to challenge myself, so why did I feel stuck?
As I began to reflect and take a hard look the past couple of years, one thing stood out. I was always learning, but not always growing. I was stuck in my leadership role at work and began to narrow my focus. I stopped seeing new possibilities for myself and acted accordingly. I was mainly playing the “role” of peak performance. I was on stage every day, grinding it out 10-12 hours a day, but never looking outside of my own script. That had to change. I needed to find my tribe of people who know how to build the business I wanted. I had to be ok with the unknown and just improvise. It was time to get out of the sea of sameness and take my professional life from boring to badass.
Am I living up to my own core values?
My values and beliefs weren’t formed merely by a mission or vision. They’ve emerged naturally and over time. Through hours teaching and coaching, more years leading teams, and hundreds of hours of debates and discussions with coaches, mentors and other leaders from around the world. My core values aren’t merely elements of a deliberate business strategy. They’re the result of a tireless ongoing pursuit of excellence. And, they’re simple – they define the RHYTHM of my life and leadership:
- Respect: There is zero tolerance for disrespect. All ideas, opinions & conversations are welcome.
- Humor: Humor has a significant effect on leadership. It connects with people on an emotional level. If they’re laughing, they’re learning.
- Yes – Find a Way: You get one at-bat in this thing called life, so don’t waste time thinking “I can’t,” find ways to say “YES, I can!”
- Trust: You can’t build relationships with people who don’t trust you so creating positive relationships built on trust is the key to success.
- Humility: True humility is staying teachable, regardless of how much you already know. Growth requires learning, and learning requires humility.
- Mastery: Focus 100% of your time and energy into mastering the art of influential leadership.
As I began to look at my core values, it was apparent that I had fallen short on a couple of them. The first was in finding the YES. I preached a good sermon on this one regularly but had failed to follow through on it myself which resulted in me not walking the path that I’d dreamed of. The second was HUMILITY. I was becoming unteachable because I was so focused on my role and what it provided me that I wasn’t growing outside of it. I had to learn to let go because true growth always leaves something or someone behind.
Am I using my talents to the fullest extent?
In the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jimmy Stewart plays a small-town man who dreams of making his fortune in the big city. When he learns that’s not going to be possible, he begins to feel hopeless and depressed. A guardian angel named Clarence was sent to show him what life in his small town would be if he’d never been born. By being deprived of his talents, the small town was completely different and much darker.
Now, this story is fiction, but it’s relevant to everyday life. When we share our talents, the world literally becomes a different place. There’s no point in having a talent if you don’t share it. I am blessed with the gift of gab as my Dad would say so teaching and speaking just comes naturally for me.
As I reflected on my career, I realized that I’d moved slowly, over the years into a leadership position that was more of an administrative, decision-making type of role and less and less of one that utilizes my real talent. I was leading projects, teams, deadlines, and meetings and doing less of what I loved. Our gifts and talents are considered our strengths, and I wasn’t using mine.
I believe that every person has an innate ability that is uniquely theirs, and if it’s not used to better the world, it’s wasted.
The beginning of a new year
Now here it is, 2019 and last year was remarkable. I left the corporate world, moved to a new city, I’m creating a beautiful life with the love of my life, and yes, I’m finally building my own speaking business. I’m not gonna lie, this past year has been a wild, scary ride, but nothing great is ever easy.
And I can’t wait to reflect on this year, look at my successes and failures, and make the needed course corrections so I can build an even bigger legacy in 2020!
Photo Credit: Nathan Anderson @ Unsplash