An excerpt from The Way of the Harvest: 15 Lessons on Reaping a Life of Abundance
Paul Martinelli, president of the John Maxwell Team, has said, “You have to be willing to suspend the requirement of knowing how.”[i] Most people want to conduct a certain amount of preliminary work before actually engaging in an undertaking. For example, before writing a book, you might want to research the process, topic and opportunity. Now, those are all sensible purposes. But, the problem with this strategy is that each preliminary step takes time; days stretch into weeks, months and years. Before you know it, no material action has really been taken. We’ve successfully researched our way into accomplishing nothing. This is resistance.
Every worthwhile endeavor has its ups and downs. But there’s a more sinister force at play. Whenever you decide that you’d like to work towards an ambitious goal, there is a force that wants to stop you. Steven Pressfield called it “Resistance.”[ii] Resistance comes in the form of procrastination, excuses, fatigue and any number of other obstacles that prevent you from moving forward. Resistance opposes action. Taking action, by its very nature, is pushing through and conquering resistance.
Taking prompt action also does something to us mentally. It gives us a glimpse of what we’re capable of and shows us that we can do it. I had a science teacher in high school who used to say that “they’re just as biodegradable as me” when referring to someone’s ability to succeed or fail. The lesson was, if person A is capable of great things, then so are you! You have to know that you can do anything and then move forward with aggressiveness and confidence in pursuing your goals.
No great man or woman ever achieved anything without taking that first step. I promise you, they had self-doubt and fear of failure as well. Every U. S. president has felt like he was in over his head at some point. I would be willing to bet that most questioned running for the office on at least one occasion in their campaigning. Every famous actor, musician, politician, or public figure, no matter how infallible they seem, has felt inadequate and afraid. But taking that first bold step forward, and then the second and third, set them on the course for greatness. Remember, they’re just as biodegradable as you and me.
Having an action orientation has had perhaps a bigger impact in my life than any other idea or philosophy. It’s allowed me to experience failure and success in ways that have cultivated growth and prepared me to take on even more. When I left my job to start one of my companies I was scared silly. I felt like Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There was a moment in the film where he took a daring step from solid ground onto an invisible bridge over a seemingly bottomless chasm. Much like the character, I was terrified.
What happened to that business? It failed in a most epic way. But I did it; I know if I hadn’t taken that bold step that I would’ve regretted passing on the opportunity. More importantly than that, however, I gained massive amounts of experience and knowledge that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to gain. Those experiences led in large part to the concept and development of this book.
Yes, I’ve taken other bold steps that have resulted in success, and I’ve also said no to some opportunities. Indeed, intentionally choosing not to take a step is an action in and of itself. Action orientation does not mean jumping at every opportunity presented; some things just aren’t for you. But when there is an idea, opportunity or goal that is on your mind more often than it isn’t, that’s something that you must move toward. Take that step and do it now.
Incidentally, this way of thinking doesn’t just apply to working towards long term goals. Taking time to refresh and relax is critically important to high performers. For example, if you’re the type of person that loves to have something enjoyable to look forward to, a great deal of personal satisfaction can come simply from laying out a plan. If you like to travel, take some time thinking about places you want to go to and things you want to experience.
Taking action in this way might mean putting forth the effort to plan the trip and setting aside a few dollars per week to pay for it. This type of action solidifies the desire as a reality, not simply some distant event that feels out of reach. The point is that you need to create momentum toward the trip so that the gap between never doing it and actually getting off of the plane at your destination is bridged. Take a step right now.
[i] Martinelli, Paul. Spoken at the August 2016 John Maxwell Team International Certification seminar.
[ii] Pressfield. Do the Work.
Recently, I re-read Viktor Frankl’s famous book Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, Frankl details his time in concentration camps during the Second World War. Over a period of three years, he was subjected to extreme physical and emotional torment in four different camps. Torment that could have destroyed him. Yet, he came out with a world view that was different, and a perspective on life that was profoundly moving to me as I read. He thought deeply about the horrifying struggle that he and so many others went through and applied it to his own life and, through his writing imparted what he could to the lives of others. His time in the concentration camps was not an end. It was a means; a process that helped mold him into the man he was meant to be. For Frankl, the process was an important part of his growth.
To me, that book is a tremendous lesson on perspective. We all go through challenges but seldom do people go through a challenge of the same magnitude as Viktor Frankl. I know mine simply cannot be compared to the torment of a concentration camp. Yet, I sometimes complain and wish the weight of my trials could be lifted off of my shoulders. In doing so, I realize that having that weight lifted would not be for my benefit. The process of challenge is slowly molding me into an improved version of Sean. The same is true for you.
What is the Process?
It was trendy for some time in career and professional circles to describe oneself as “goal oriented.” I suspect that most people who used the term were attempting to find a sexier way of saying they were ambitious. It seemed for a while as if the word “ambition” somehow had a negative meaning attached to it. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with ambition; the very definition suggests not only a desire for achievement, but a willingness to do the work to attain it. In the whole scheme of things, goals provide the target. Ambition provides the drive to hit that target. The journey between our present state and our goal is called the process.
I’ve found that people who expect that the act of reaching a goal will be a life altering, overnight metamorphosis are usually very disappointed. Life the day before a goal is achieved is much the same as life the day after. However, when changes are looked at in terms of the process we go through, often the transition is profound. It’s not going from zero to one million dollars overnight. Rather, it’s like building that fortune over a long period of time. The last dollar earned to reach one million doesn’t change our life; but the mundane, daily collection of one dollar after another adds up to magnificent change. True value is in the process.
It’s easy to see, that the process is where we spend most of our time. Reaching a goal is a singular point in time; it’s static. The day to day struggles and triumphs of life are lived out in the process. If we convince ourselves that we can only be happy upon the attainment of some distant goal, we’re in for a disappointing life indeed. If the majority of life is lived in the process, it stands to reason that finding joy in the process translates into a joyful life.
Where we grow
The process is where we learn and where we grow. It’s where relationships are made and talents are discovered, formed, and refined. The key is to allow yourself to become excited for those opportunities! Have you ever desperately wanted to learn everything you could about a topic? Have you been excited to read about it, study it, and develop skill in it? If not, now’s the time to find your passion! Passion is the great lubricant of the process; it eases the wear and tear that the daily grind of life can inflict on our spirits. What are you passionate about?
Take that passion and press through the challenges of life. It’s there that you’re molded into an improved version of yourself. It’s a process that we’re all meant to go through with challenges that are profoundly different from one individual’s life to another’s. The uniqueness of our challenges serves as a course perfectly tailored to address our weak spots and help us grow. The process is the purpose.
Every life is peppered with trials of one sort or another; challenge is simply a part of the process. Put in their proper context, those challenging experiences can be used for personal growth and development for ourselves and others. And, since every individual experiences different challenges, we’re all blessed with unique perspectives that can be a source of strength to many. I believe depression is one of many challenges that some people face. It may or may not be more difficult than other challenges. But, it does offer those who struggle with it a different perspective; one that can be used as a source of growth and development for us and those we influence. As Nassir Ghaemi puts it in his book A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness, “Their weakness is the secret of their strength.”
Depression comes in different forms, but there are a few universal benefits for the leader struggling with it.
Empathize with People
Depression can give us the ability to better empathize with people. Having been through the mental anguish that depression can bring, depressed leaders often have a better sense of the morale of the people they lead. They bring a more human touch to leading. Rather than focusing entirely on quantifiable measurements of success, these leaders tend to measure success based on the satisfaction and morale of their people rather than on overall organizational achievement. They often see long-term success in empowering and motivating people to build the organization rather than making top-down decisions that impact everyone. That is, they find it easier to seek and utilize input from the team in making a decision than other leaders often do.
Connect with People
Depression can give leaders the ability to connect with people through a very humanizing struggle. Of course, the leader must be at least somewhat open about her challenges in order to use them to connect with others. Candid conversations about personal struggle essentially put the leader at the same level as their followers; it humanizes them. Seeing their leader press through challenge can be inspiring and motivating to people, particularly when they can see that she is no different than they are. Leading by example after a real connection is made is by far the most effective means of having a long-term, positive impact on others.
Depression actually strengthens those struggling with it, if they allow it. I know it may sound absurd, particularly to somebody in the grips of major depression but it’s true. The key is to change your perspective on the topic. The oft-used weight lifting metaphor holds true here. The more stress we put on our muscles over time, the more growth we’ll experience. The more stress we put on our lives, the more mental growth we’ll experience. Mental growth is called “wisdom.”
Yes, depression can be a blessing for leaders and aspiring leaders. Though not something that anyone will seek out, like any challenge in life it can be used for our benefit. If it’s something that you presently struggle with, I encourage you to seek professional help to help you understand what’s happening and appreciate the value that you have. Your experiences are unique and can make you a better leader, but you’re not alone. I’d love to hear your thoughts. How has depression helped you grow?
au · dac · i · ty – The willingness to take bold risks.
I’ve often heard people say that in order to reach great achievements we must avoid a state of satisfaction with our circumstances regardless of where we’re at. “Never be satisfied!” they say. The idea is that never being satisfied can be a motivational tool to help propel us forward. Though I accept the truth that forward progression is essential to individual contentment, there is one key point that the “never be satisfied” preachers miss: The process is the purpose. The very process of working toward great things is where satisfaction is found. It’s in the process that our very purposes materializes and we find ourselves. To this end, audacity can be a means of finding contentment in life. It can be a path to personal growth and personal fulfillment. In a word: satisfaction.
It’s true that people are pretty much the same the day before a goal is achieved as they are the day after. And since any audaciously big goal takes time and many steps to reach, it can be easy to forget about what matters and, well….remain unsatisfied. An audacious goal requires thought, planning and action. It might also require additional education or training. You might have to study and practice through trial and error to learn how best to apply what you’ve learned toward the achievement of your goal. What the goal is or where we’re starting from are two things that really don’t matter because it’s the very process of working towards that goal that’s meaningful. That, is where growth takes place and that’s exactly why it is where satisfaction should be found. The entire thing is a process. It can be broken down into components and intentionally applied and repeated. So, I broke the process down in to three easy steps.
Here’s an example of how this process worked for me. I had a goal to write a book. I had no idea how to proceed so, I educated myself: I googled “how to write a book.” For real. That’s how I started my education. I then took an online course on the topic. I learned that to reach my goal of being a published author that I’d have to break the process of writing and editing down into small, manageable steps. Each sentence required careful thought. I learned a ton; not just about the topic I wrote about or about the writing process. I learned that the creative process takes patience. I gained persistence. I gained confidence. I absolutely found the process satisfying. So satisfying in fact, that I want to repeat it as often as possible. And I want the same for you.
When taken as a whole, these steps can help you to achieve great things while also obtaining contentment and being “satisfied.” There’s no reason to have to choose between satisfaction and achievement. They can and do go together; working at one can help grow the other.
Are there any strategies you've found useful in being content as you work towards your goals? Tell us in the comments below!
We’ve all had them. Bosses that not only fail to empower or inspire us, but actually make us dread going to work each day. Their positional authority has inspired volumes of writing on what it means to be a leader. After all, a person doesn’t need to be a great leader to receive a promotion; usually they performed very well in their subordinate positions and were rewarded with a higher position. However, just being great in one position doesn’t mean they’ll be great leaders.
I’ve had mostly good experiences with my superiors throughout my career and those people taught me a great deal about leadership. But, the few bad experiences helped reinforce those ideas. They taught me that there are bad ways of leading; that despite that fact that I’ve always had an interest in my positions, I could still feel completely passionless about them. I’m certain that this discouraging mindset resulted in not just decreased productivity for the companies, but higher stress levels and less happiness for my colleagues and me. With that in mind, here’s a few things that I’ve learned; things that I will avoid as I lead others.
For leaders and aspiring leaders, it’s important to take note of what works as well as what doesn’t. If you want to motivate, inspire and encourage people to do more you must defiantly avoid the types of actions that bring the opposite result. Give appreciation to people. Give them a purpose, lead them by example, give them credit and empower them to do more.