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Leadership Thought #464 – Embrace What Makes You Special

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to be what you are not.  There are a lot of books out there that tell you that you can be anything you want to be, but this simply is not true.  No matter how hard I try, there are certain things I just can’t do or won’t be able to do well.  It has saddened me to watch so many people regularly set themselves up for failure with unrealistic expectations about what is possible for them and others.  Instead of trying to force yourself into a role/career/opportunity that isn’t right for you, why not embrace who you are and what makes you special and tap into that?

I firmly believe that each one of us is born with gifts and unique talents we can share with others and excel at. Unfortunately, at an early age we are thrust into an educational/social system that pushes us to conform and defines what success within this system should look like.  And like most ingrained systems, the model is outdated and serving the purpose of prior generations. Very early on life we are taught that there are winners and losers and that winning requires certain characteristics and attributes that only a select few possess.  Moreover, the path towards achievement is narrowly defined and more often than not materialistic in nature.  I believe this partially explains our dysfunctional societal obsession with celebrity and wealth.  Don’t buy into it!

One of things I marvel at in life is how different we all are from one another.  Sure, there are obvious physical similarities, but in the course of any given day I meet people who blow me away with their individuality.  Some people can fix anything with little guidance; others can solve complex mathematical problems in their head, while others are quick on their feet and handle any social situation.  I’ve witnessed creative minds that operate on a level I can’t even fathom.  Some people thrive under stress while others fall apart.  Science is fun for some people and a bore for others.  There are people who are so physically gifted they make any athletic activity look smooth and easy while others stumble attempting the most basic physical task.  There are people who look for the spotlight and others who run from it.  Some people like to lead while many more want nothing to do with it.  Our differences are vast and wonderful. None of the above is good or bad; it just makes you who you are.  And, the more we try and put ourselves in situations where we are pre-programmed to thrive, the happier we will be.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written extensively about a state of being called “flow” where you feel perfectly aligned with what you are doing.  Time seems to stand still, you feel an innate sense of joy and your efforts feel almost effortless.  At this moment you are one with nature and your own being.  We’ve all experienced these moments, but sadly they are usually few and far between.  Reality quickly returns and we are back on the treadmill of life, trying to survive our own existence by doing what we feel we should be doing.  I’ve never like the word “should.”  Of course there are family and civic responsibilities we must attend to, however, this is only part of who we are, not all of it.  I’ve been privileged to experience a number of people who have followed what Joseph Campbell termed their “bliss” and lived wonderful lives doing unique things that an objective outside person couldn’t imagine would lead to any level of success, but it did. Never forget that true success is an individual definition.   Happy people make better spouses, parents, siblings, friends and bosses.

Shakespeare stated it perfectly centuries ago, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”  To be of maximum service and value to others we must first be true to ourselves.  Please don’t spend a lifetime trying to be someone you are not.  Instead, celebrate and tap into what is great about you already.  Pay attention to the positive signals the world is giving you.  Look for and be open to the “flow” of life and it will find you…

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Leadership Thought #348 – What Truly Makes You Happy?

There are quite a few people out there who claim to know what will make us happy.  I am always a bit suspect of accepting general answers to mostly subjective questions.  One person’s happiness can be another person’s burden, obligation or chore.  My contention is that most people don’t spend enough time truly trying to get in touch with themselves as individuals and what honestly makes them happy.  In fact, we often feel a bit sheepish or odd when we don’t follow a conventional formula for happiness.   There is this overriding sense that it is better to fit in than be different – which is nonsense and direct pathway to personal malaise and/or unhappiness.

The media tries to sell us a package of success and happiness that typically involves good looks, money, sex, fame, power, prestige and acquiring things.  You can’t blame them.  Media executives are mostly in the business of selling us things we don’t need so if they work hard to create perceived deficits in our lives so we will try and fill the gaps.  If only you were thinner, had whiter teeth, better hair, a more expensive car, bigger house, nicer things, cool gadgets, perfect kids, a more understanding spouse and took more luxurious vacations you would be happier.  We all know this isn’t true.  There are no shortcuts.  Look at Hollywood– there is never a shortage of unhappiness fodder for the tabloids (and network media which is unfortunately becoming the same thing).

I don’t claim to have any answers except that you need to keep asking the right questions, having new experiences, stepping outside your comfort zone, and embracing your own individuality.  You need to fully explore being you. Each one of us is a miracle of nature full of many gifts and talents.  Pay attention to what makes you feel good about yourself, is a good fit with your natural abilities, prompts you to be more charitable towards others, and leads you towards healthier lifestyle behaviors.  By the way, it’s always preferable to spend time with people who help bring these things out of you.  I’ve read about and also experienced myself that when you are truly in a space of pure joy and contentment time seems to stand still and life feels almost effortless.   I’m fairly certain we would all like to experience more moments like this.  As Shakespeare so aptly put it, “To thine own self be true…”

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