The Greater Journey

If lead­er­ship is about any­thing, it’s about over­com­ing obsta­cles, both exter­nal and inter­nal. Of the two, the inter­nal ones are often tougher because they require self-knowl­edge and ini­tia­tive: a stren­u­ous demand for per­son­al growth and change. The irony is that we can know a great deal about these inter­nal chal­lenges, such as lack of con­fi­dence, per­sis­tence or insight, a habit of pes­simism or an unclear vision, but we can­not seem to do much about them with­out get­ting down to deep­er, more per­son­al core issues.

A man­ag­er I know exem­pli­fies this dilem­ma. She has two inte­ri­or views of her­self and her world. I asked her to draw images of these worlds, “maps” of them, so to speak. One draw­ing, in black and white, shows the road to her work­place sym­bol­i­cal­ly blocked with con­stant “road­work” and end­ing in a toll booth that rep­re­sents her dai­ly sac­ri­fice, the price she has to pay. Near­by is the image of her­self at work haul­ing big buck­ets of water to put out ever present and grow­ing fires. 

The oth­er draw­ing of her world, in col­or, shows her wan­der­ing freely among moun­tain peaks and raft­ing down rivers while some­where near­by peo­ple dance on a beach and there are air­planes, like birds, that fly upwards toward the sun. One draw­ing rep­re­sents a world she seem­ing­ly can­not escape; one a place she yearns for but which seems very far away.


She is not trapped by lack of options. She could make changes in her life and work that would quick­ly take her toward achiev­ing the sec­ond world of her aspi­ra­tions. Her act of inner lead­er­ship is to escape the forces that hold her back — in this case, old con­di­tion­ing based on what she describes as mid­west­ern val­ues, includ­ing an over­ly sharp sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty and ser­vice. She must serve oth­ers. The sec­ond image, as desir­able as it is, seems too plain­ly to be about only serv­ing herself. 

(When I was a grad­u­ate stu­dent study­ing coun­sel­ing, one of my best pro­fes­sors asked us stu­dents to con­sid­er how when some­one says they must do some­thing, that’s prob­a­bly get­ting pret­ty close to the heart of the problem.)

Do you see how the chal­lenge is most­ly an inte­ri­or one? Would a change in her life and work involve some risk and poten­tials for loss­es, includ­ing maybe even some finan­cial loss­es? Cer­tain­ly. Should­n’t she just wait, then, until her ben­e­fits ful­ly vest? Should­n’t she thor­ough­ly resolve the dif­fi­cult employ­ee rela­tions issues that drove out her pre­de­ces­sors? Should­n’t she just hang in there? The voic­es are all around her: be smart, be capa­ble, be respon­si­ble. Do your job. Sac­ri­fice who you are for what you should be, what oth­er peo­ple would like you to be, rather than giv­ing your­self per­mis­sion to have the life you want. As a come­di­an once said, the prob­lem with crazi­ness isn’t that the screws are too loose — in real­i­ty, they are far too tight.

This is her jour­ney, not yours or mine. And she is quite aware that she is up against her own embed­ded val­ues, which like a rub­ber fence keep draw­ing her back into a job that is more or less com­plete­ly deplet­ing and demor­al­iz­ing. Mean­while she is called to a bet­ter life, one with­out the ubiq­ui­tous toll­booths of dai­ly sac­ri­fice. One could say she has a hard time know­ing her birthright, a hard time expe­ri­enc­ing how the jour­ney is about the soul learn­ing to remem­ber itself.

As I said, I believe lead­er­ship is about meet­ing and over­com­ing obsta­cles, par­tic­u­lar­ly the inner ones. The obsta­cles described for this client might not be yours. There are, after all, many forms of excess, many kinds of com­pul­sion, attach­ment and stagnation. 

Per­haps there is some­thing in you, too — where with a lit­tle help from your friends you might also cross a bor­der and find your­self on anoth­er truer, more beau­ti­ful side of your own life. I think of this as the greater jour­ney we are all tasked to take. With­out it, we might try to lead oth­ers but inside our­selves we will still be fol­low­ers, more enslaved to our own con­di­tion­ing than we are will­ing to admit, delayed in our lives by the inevitable road­work that blocks us, pay­ing the heavy tolls and for­ev­er putting out those dai­ly fires.


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  • Dan — nice piece of writ­ing and a clear out­line of the heart of the mat­ter. I hope all is well with you and your family.

  • Dean~

    Thanks for your kind words and well wish­es. Yes, all is well on this end. It’s a plea­sure to know you would take a moment to read my stuff, Dean. As always, I wish you the very best.


  • Teresa Carvalho wrote:



    In the course of your text, I pic­tured the ocean wave, form­ing, huge, high, ready to break on the beach. I do not know if I could swim or what I would do. The waves that defy us for life. Or I climb, or dive or flee. All choic­es will have a result how­ev­er, only one will be the most mean­ing­ful for us.


  • Dear Tere­sa~

    What a ter­ri­fy­ing metaphor — that wave — but the choic­es you high­light to climb, dive or flee do feel right to me. In the fleet­ing moment of deci­sion we are alone with our des­tinies. Beau­ti­ful­ly stat­ed, Tere­sa — and I’d prob­a­bly dive.

    All the best to you!

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