Your Lack of
is Selfish and It's
Stop it. Now.
For the last three years I've been working with clients to get their personal narrative straight, to identify their intrinsic motivators, to really understand and own their purpose – to decidedly step into their "why." In this time, I've realized more and more that the people who are more willing to do the deep self-reflection and serious personal development work are the ones who have a greater chance of leading others to greatness.
Actually, let me say it a different way – and more bluntly. The people who won't go there for themselves, will never be able to go there for others. Period.
This isn't just me saying this. All kinds of other influential thinkers and leaders have been saying the same thing for years, decades, centuries. . . millennia! Like Lao Tzu, for example:
“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”
Lao Tzu died in 533 BCE. Which was more than just a couple years before most of us were born. Some ideas just last. The dude was prophetic. That last line – about the greatest gift being your own self-transformation? That's real talk, as Davey D would say.
And it's even realer talk when we apply the concept to the topic of creating cultures of belonging, which is what we should all be doing all the time, no? You see, there's this mistaken yet commonly held belief that creating belonging is something we do for others, that if we work hard to create belonging for them then we will be seen as selfless and altruistic. But how can we transform others if we haven't transformed ourselves?
The short answer: You can't.
So, you mean if I want to help other people I have to help myself first? Yes, that's what Lao Tzu means. And that's what I mean, too. This is essential for everyone, and it's especially essential if you are to have any chance of creating an inclusive culture of belonging for every last person with whom you work.
You have to educate yourself on the issues that affect the people who don't share your same worldview or perspective; people who have very different lived experiences than you; people whose experiences are just as valid as your experiences, even though you may not understand or appreciate those experiences.
Here's the deal. The vast majority of leadership positions in companies big and small are held by white men. Yes, that's a problem. But what's more of a problem than just the numbers is the alarming lack of interest, and therefore fluency, in discussing issues that affect people who are not white men.
Let me put it this way. If your toilet breaks and you're not the handy type, you call a plumber. This is fine. You can pay a plumber to solve your crisis because presumably the plumber knows how to fix a toilet much better than you do.
But if people on your team come to work distraught and unable to focus, for example, because the night before a black teenage girl (Nia Wilson) was stabbed to death by a white man (John Lee Cowell) at the MacArther BART station in Oakland, a platform they've perhaps stood on themselves hundreds or thousands of times (like I have), it's not okay to ignore or dismiss the trauma and fear and sadness and anger that they are feeling.
There's no plumber to call in this situation. You are the plumber. You don't have to be an expert on race relations, but you do have to show that you care and that you get it. You dohave to listen. You do have to show empathy and compassion. You do have to create a psychologically safe space for people to process and talk about things. You do have to shift your focus away from business and project goals. You do have to be present and engage in real dialogue.You do have to STFU (seek to fully understand) the emotions of those who are dealing with the current state of affairs. You do have to be a leader.
What you don't do is do nothing and move on as if it never happened.
It is not okay for people in positions of power and influence to not be able to have tough conversations about race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other topics that directly affect people who are not like you. The PLU (People Like Us) Syndrome has got to end. Your white fragility (and your straight, cis-gender, male, and any other dominant group fragility) is truly, truly damaging.
Your disinterest in learning more about topics with which you are unfamiliar, followed by your inability to listen and validate the experiences of others who express how those very same topics have negatively influenced their lives, creates a chasm that will never be crossed until you evolve your perspective to where you are able to engage in meaningful dialogue on these topics.
And the only way that happens is if you are willing to do the personal development work to get there – to get coaching and guidance from people who can help you, to read books and articles, to show curiosity, to listen without judgment or reaction, to engage in diverse communities, to not immediately close yourself off to possibilities – in sum, to self-actualize.
In his book, The Five Levels of Attachment, Don Miguel Ruiz Jr. says that when we are born we are the perfect authentic version of ourselves. We have no baggage, no preconceived beliefs, no negative patterns or routines. As we age, however, we adopt all kinds of narratives and perspectives and bad habits that take us further and further away from our authentic selves. We become attached to these versions of ourselves and we think that that's who we are, when really we're just living a big lie (or, more precisely, millions of little lies).
It would be tempting to say that when we show up in the world as this inauthentic version of ourselves that the only person affected is us. But, unfortunately, that's just not true. We are social people; we have relationships – friends, family, colleagues, direct reports, acquaintances, the barista at Peet's – all of whom are directly and negatively affected by our inauthenticity.
To be inauthentic, then, is to act selfishly. To not be working toward our full self-actualization is hurting others. And it has to end. Now.
So when and how are you going to begin the journey of your own personal development? And how can I help?
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