On Self-Trust, Part II — the Temple

My last post was about how we can foster self-trust as the central means to overcoming “stuckness” and conflict that holds us back from fulfilling our leadership potentials. If leading is responding to the call to stand in an exposed place in order to change the order of things, then by definition leading relies on self-trust, breaking the chains of the inner hesitations we might feel to speak, act, and take initiative. I ended the post with the metaphorical, and perhaps enigmatic phrase, “Just know that you now sit on the steps of a temple.” This post is about that temple. And just so you know, “temple” to me does not connote any particular religion at all. In my own mind’s eye, metaphorically, the temple is simply ancient and definitely not of the ego’s making.

To the contrary, the temple represents a critical shift in perspective — from trying to overcome the personal fears that we see as holding us back to engaging the personal mystery that ultimately makes us whole. The very obstacle we are trying to get past needs to speak to us, speak through us, and if we can listen to it, then deeper personal learning and transformation can come forward. In turn, this helps dissolve the obstacle and transcend the fear. It is this transcendence that we come to call self-trust.

Suppose for example that you want to stop everything else that’s going on in your life and take your sailboat solo around the world. Or you want to start a small business, but you have no experience doing so. Suppose you want to write a book, coach a basketball team, open a school, get out of a bad relationship, do more for social justice or sustainability. Suppose when you go to work, you’d like — just once — to speak your truth about the staff meeting that everyone feels is a waste of time but no one has the guts to bring up with the boss who owns the meeting. These are your dreams, and they risk remaining fantasies unless you act. They are the places you are not leading your own life and as a result have no influence on others.

Another way to put this is:

solo trip = temple
small business = temple
write book = temple
coach team = temple
start school = temple
end bad relationship = temple
lead social justice effort = temple
promote sustainability = temple
speak up at staff meeting = temple

Within each of these temples — and whatever yours are in real life — is exactly the energy needed to engage, begin, embark and persist. And here’s the kicker, that energy doesn’t belong entirely to you. It’s given to you, so long as you respect and honor that this is, in fact, sacred stuff. Some use words such as destiny to cover this ground, meaning the unique combination of personal choice and fate operating in a person’s life. If it helps to think of this sacred stuff as your destiny, great. I think the simpler word, calling, will do just fine.

Life — especially organizational life — is usually a maelstrom of events, conversations, projects, daily routines, changes, crises, challenges and accomplishments. What happens I think is this: in the midst of the whirlpool, the person who leads comes up exactly to his or her points of hesitation and then consciously or unconsciously chooses to see this as a profound moment, chooses to let whatever is in that temple speak. The beauty, of course, is that the “god” or “goddess” within, the genius of the person, meaning the true spirit of that individual, shows up in that moment. From the outside, when we see that true spirit show up, we call it leading. In that moment of truth, the beautiful, real, vulnerable, strong person appears before us. We memorize such moments, take them right into ourselves at a cellular level because they remind us how incredibly meaningful life is and how it can be even more meaningful — anytime, at any moment — with our help.

The image of what the leader did becomes indelible and we wonder, how could she or he have done that? Told the truth about the crummy staff meeting, sailed solo to Indonesia, started the school in a back-room of the house, organized the “take back the night” march, wrote the book that led to the book that won the Pulitzer Prize. What we are actually watching is the movement of something that is literally awe-some in people’s lives. Unfortunately, all too often, having experienced that wonder we quickly retreat, avoiding the the awe because it reminds us of our own personal fears and unrealized potentials.

What we can always do is face that temple and let ourselves be drawn forward toward it. Are you trembling? Then the force within that temple — within you — is especially great. And you can rely on the god or goddess who resides there to give you what you need. The sacred welcomes those willing to enter in.

Perhaps many of us will always want to go some other way. We don’t want metaphors; we want formulas. We want “established business models” and concrete techniques. Useful but incomplete, I would say. We want proof rather than what, with a little self-reflection, we already know. But if this is so, then, ultimately, we will also be faced with the inconvenient truth of our stuckness, our subtle wars with ourselves, and our inability to transcend the private fears that govern our lives and our relationships with others and that keep us in chains. We have enabled ourselves to become smaller.

There is no greater betrayal than self-betrayal, and that is exactly the thing that keeps us from self-trust.

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