Can You Forget Yourself?

Can you forget yourself, even for a moment? As a leader, someone responsible for accomplishing some larger purpose, do you know how?

So many aspects of leadership seem to depend on it — true listening, for example, so that you can genuinely empathize, hearing with openness rather than closed expectations of what another will say. Or contributing instead of controlling or competing. Can you give up your need for recognition and “winning”? And what of those times when a change of some kind represents microscopic jeopardy to your position, or stature, or influence? Can you stop that process of defense and worry? How about empowering others and supporting their growth, even when some risk to your own reputation might be involved?

Can you let go enough? The way these things happen is through a process of self-forgetting.


Self-forgetting creates an opening for a larger energy to come through. If you can step aside just enough you may be able to see things from a very different vantage point. You may come to understand how little a situation has to do with your own needs and interests, your desire to defend what you’ve got or your ambitions to acquire something you believe you must have. If you feel unsafe, undefended, this is the time when you clench up. Can you “unclench” for a moment to realize all the concerns are likely to be only your illusions telling you they must act out their dramas or you will be lost? So be “lost” for a moment. See what happens.

We do not like to think we have illusions. What we like to think we have is the truth. The “truth,” however, often comes through an internal radio with a voice that sounds remarkably familiar.

Forgetting ourselves can bring forward something remarkably beautiful and moving instead. When we listen and see, the nuances of the situation have a chance to show up, not our presuppositions. Larger answers can occur when we stop “taking things personally” (often while we pretend we are not doing so).

The world is there for us to grasp its foundations. When we see our illusions for the mischief they are, we can stop trying to prove their value to the people beside us.

The outcome of forgetting ourselves is a new kind of generosity, of being truly generative as leaders. And yet the only thing that is sacrificed are the chimera of who we thought we had to be and what we once thought we needed to be safe.

Can you forget yourself in this way?


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  • Another wonderfully insightful and reflective post Dan. Illusions are big challenge to not just leadership but all of us. It is no small task learning to challenge our own assumptions and projections, let alone being at a place in our lives where we are willing to acknowledge that we have any!

    It’s an equal challenge when encountering presumptions and projections of others and learning not to take it personally when it happens.

    I know all too well that initial moment of ‘clenching’. It really does take conscious intention to become fully present and aware to THIS MOMENT just so we can ‘let go’. I still feel like a novice in this regard with some things. Still have my training wheels on! : )

    Thanks again for sharing your wisdom with such fresh perspective.

  • Well, I have those training wheels on, too, Samantha. And I agree, it is often quite difficult to unclench, sometimes even around relatively silly things that have gotten under the skin.

    At least we have plenty of opportunities to practice! Thank you so much for taking a moment to comment. All the best!

  • I have this funny premonition and sense that as long as we are here, we will never be short of opportunities to practice! haha

  • Hoda Maalouf (@MaaHoda) wrote:

    I forget myself at work & in my personal life all the time Dan. I must admit that when doing this, there a feeling of joy & satisfaction I can’t find elsewhere.
    But,can I keep doing it for long time?
    There was a time when I felt that I had so much to give but no one there to take. Now things have changed but for how long?
    Questions that I need to find answer for…


  • You know what it means to be in the flow, Hoda. You know the feeling. I believe sometimes a person has to offer and keep offering. It can be like waiting for the rain. When the time is right, the “receivers” appear, and we can never know how long that — or any boon — might last. Thank you so much for what you are bringing here into this very conversation!

  • Another home run!

    I forget myself when I am doing the things i love to do – I then experience the magic of flow and synergy.

    I really like the concept of forgetting of oneself.

    Another thought provoking post.

    Thanks Dan!

  • “…the magic of flow and synergy…” In those moments the love compounds itself and overflows, doesn’t it? Thank you, my friend, for stopping by to share it! All the best, Lolly!

  • Thanks for another thought-provoking post.
    Self-consciousness is a persistent part of my experience, but when I watch children and animals I am inspired by how they allow and welcome the involuntary, and how much power there is in it.
    Pleasure has become my muse in the act of self-forgetting. When I move towards and embody it in life and work, the clenching softens and melts away.

  • Hi Dan,
    As I pondered this post, I wondered how many hard driving leaders would struggle with the concept of forgetting themselves. They so often think of their energy being the power source for the teams. Those I have coached see this ‘step aside’ message as not doing their job.

    Then I got to the this gem in your post:

    “The outcome of forgetting ourselves is a new kind of generosity, of being truly generative as leaders.”

    Being truly “generative” … as in “generator”. This I believe they will understand.

    You have brought a new image of leadership to the fore and it will help many!


  • Blair-

    Self-consciousness is part of my experience, too. For me, animals and children share in being closer to “the source.” They haven’t drunk as much of the Kool-aid of individualism and the human illusion of a totally separate self — sometimes with positive and sometimes with less positive effects. What I mean by “forgetting the self,” might be said also as “remembering the Self,” also a conscious state, although both of these phrases turn out to be metaphors. I appreciate so much, Blair, your beautiful phrase about having pleasure as a “muse,” another metaphor, and the movement toward and embodying self-forgetting, as if it is a dance and approaching a partner that literally takes us out of ourselves. Thank you for dropping by to add your wonderful standpoint.


  • Kate —

    It is certainly understandable, what you say about “hard driving” leaders and how difficult forgetting themselves might be. There may be both personal and collective reasons for this. My aim is not to make them understand, but to invite something within them to question what they think is true about themselves, just as I invite parts of all of us to do the same. There is a part of me that wants to believe that without me others cannot succeed, and a part of me that fears they don’t need me. Both are illusions. There is no firm ground for the ego to stand on at all. No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we want to be master of it, the “it” behind self-forgetfulness will master us in the end. You can’t stop a stream from flowing downhill. You can’t stop the tides from rising and falling, or the clouds from rolling in. And you can never be the only tiger in the jungle — unless your race is dying. Being necessary, being unnecessary in the end are just illusory states.

    If you can accept that, then something wonderful can become available. Call it generosity or generative leadership or just a better way. It’s heart-based and discerning. It is devoted, disciplined and fair, giving but never martyred, willing to take right action even when that requires real courage. It knows how to genuinely honor what others bring — imperfect as we all are, “imperfect” as nature itself.

    Thank you, Kate, for sharing and questioning here. It’s always an honor!


  • I am so happy to have stopped by your post Dan. Your writing is a true blessing, sincerely.

    Generative leadership is such a nice concept. Never heard of it before but how powerful it is.

    Being an executive feels so much as you describe it when we are not generating our own greatness Inside. It can be a race, we can make it so when we resist.

    I find your approach very enlighting and one that in North America leaders typically choose another path: growth and success at whatever price.

    The opportunity to literally listen to my source when reading you and then reflecting is a blessing that collectively, in teams and organizations, we tend not to practice but we should.

    However there are great leaders out there doing exactly what you refer to. I feel blessed to be around such a great group.

    #Peopleskills will never be the same for me.

    Thanks for being there.


  • Johann–

    Thank you so much! Your comments are very kind.

    I made up the concept of “generative leaders.” The term, “generative” has been around in the literature, typically applied to people interested in their own deeper development, but not necessarily to leaders.

    And, yes, I agree, there are such leaders around. They are wonderful people, very empowering without seemingly trying to be so. For them it is not a technique, not a put-on habit that must be remembered. For them it appears as a much more natural thing. Often they are seen as quite humble, but humble isn’t quite it, to me. It’s more closely related to being able to notice their masks, notice their inner games in the moment and casting them aside welcome whatever is around them — making of themselves “a vacuum into which others might freely enter,” as Kakuzo Okakura said. Just so, he suggests such a person “would become master of all situations.”

    Again, thank you so much Johann. Your lovely comment has made my day!


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