"Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
He pushed them
And they flew..." -- Guillaume Apollinaire
In the same way that I write to better explain life's mysteries to myself, to find the word for the impulse or feeling and to bring order, if only for a moment, to the natural chaos of life, this month I didn't want to slip into happy talk about resolutions or plans, most of which we will defer, deny or forget. It's tempting to get stuck looking back, and 2011 was the year of the chattering media assaulting us with stories of our meltdown, from power plants to Charlie Sheen to the once-powerful middle class.
But let's not look back. Let's have the courage to really look into ourselves and the invitation of a new year. Let's look at January as the inflection point that invites us to be tough about what we really want to become in 2012. The new year is a new chance to face our life, as Shakespeare admonishes, and "see [it] feelingly" with both love and humility.
Let's not make more lists on New Year's Day. Instead, let's hit the pause button and think about what we know and trust about change and transitions that have meaning. I invite you to surrender up your "belief maps," the thoughts you have about yourself, your relationships with others, your beliefs about managing and leading, and your ideas for the future.
You can begin by asking yourself some simple questions:
• How does life work?
• What is my life really about?
• Who really knows me?
• Who is glad I am their friend?
• What motivates people?
• What is my personal vision, what am I trying to build, to create?
• How do I get people to follow me? Who really listens to me?
Each question doesn't invite a simple answer, and in our individual coaching with senior executives we "sit" with the question long enough to discover what beliefs inform our decisions, our assumptions, our actions. Surprisingly, we often discover that we live and lead out of outdated beliefs, often encoded at age eight or nine. Imagine: We are acting out of beliefs that we don't believe anymore.
This is adult work. It takes courage to even contemplate the questions, for we "know" that our answers may be unsettling to our well-established sense of ourselves. Playwright Arthur Miller noted that "an era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." Perhaps it is time to see if our illusions have changed and it's time to turn up the lights.
The wise poet David Whyte makes the point that work is always about doing, but the soul is about being. He explores the bold possibility that "being at home in the world, melding soul life with work life" soon confronts the split between the tough workplace, where we celebrate the linear, the concrete, the defined and the softer soul journey where we discover who we are and appreciate the events, in the words of James Hillman, that we turn into experience. To my mind, the prose of work is what we do to make a living, and the soul's journey, of discovery, offers up the poetry to help us make a life with meaning.
Sadly, by seeing both sides of leading and living as opposing hillsides separated by a thin, vulnerable rope bridge, it can make us more afraid to cross over to discover our other side.
In Western traditions, we have built a literature of interior struggle. We must find our way, what Joseph Campbell calls a "hero's journey" to move us through our fears into the world of challenge, conflict and sometimes death. Seven centuries ago, Dante Alighieri began the Commedia with these words:
"In the middle of the road of my life
I awoke in a dark wood
where the true way was wholly lost."
Dante reminds us that the journey begins right now. This is the place where we must step into the dark wood, on a path not illuminated by our success, to begin on the road we have set for ourselves. This is the path of change, of transition, of recovery, of understanding. We don't feel comfortable with the idea that success is "here," but rather it is always ahead on the next horizon.
But Dante warns us that to see and experience what may be ahead for us will demand that
we "sit" in the dark, interior energy of ourselves to experience our strengths, and the lessons of both the prose and poetry of our life to that moment. We feel vulnerable, off-balance and anxious without a light into the dark wood, but growth happens when we surrender control and move along the road of our life.
For more by Roger Fransecky, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.