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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