It seems to me that the world is stuck. We have political parties with seemingly irreconcilable differences, polarizing opinions on guns, abortion, the environment, with no signs of compromise and no apparent hope of resolution. The rancor from all sides has devolved to a single position: “Just say no.” No matter what price there is to pay. I’ve spent my life thinking about leadership and courage and over the next several posts to these pages I will offer my thoughts on the Courage it takes to Lead. (3 of 8)
It takes great courage to see the current reality – and to see it clearly – without using the great defenses of the ego, such as pretense, excuse, denial, blame, or rationalization. Your current reality includes not only the things you are proud of, and all of your accomplishments, it also includes the things of which you are ashamed, or that you would rather forget, or that you just won’t see. It includes your defeats and losses. For most of us, it is easy to justify or deny our culpability in problematic relationships, troubled work environments, or disappointments in life. It is hard to see and own the places where our living experience is painful, constrained, or diminished. It is difficult to accept the criticisms of others. These painful experiences are the sum of our losses, disappointments, and self-doubts. They indicate where we have abandoned our power by giving in to fear or self-limiting beliefs.
Courage is required to look at current reality, especially the parts we don’t wish to see and that we have skillfully avoided. When we do not take stock of the present reality, we dupe ourselves and make it difficult, if not impossible, to correct behaviors that undermine our intentions.
It is essential to see and understand where you stand in the world, to observe what is working and not working in your life. If you do not know where you stand and how things really are in your life, you have no accurate reckoning, no basis for moving forward. You have no place from which to push, no ground to provide traction as you go about making your dream a reality. Yet, without the courage to dream and put forth that dream, you have nothing to move toward. Looking only at the current reality leads to one of two dangerous reactions: If you current reality is comfortable, it leads to complacency; if it is painful or difficult it leads to cynicism or despair.
Why do so many intelligent people miss the obvious, focusing on what they wish to be true versus what is currently true and staring them in the face? The answer lies in how our minds distort reality to protect us from doubts or to protect our cherished assumptions and beliefs. For many of us, we simply do not wish to see something that indicates we might have to change our lives and our ways of doing things. Current reality can be inconvenient and downright unpleasant. It often challenges conventional wisdom. Courageously facing current reality means we may upset people who are unwilling to see it, and they will, in turn, pressure us to back down or to subscribe to their point of view.
In the short term, not looking at current reality – whether in a relationship, your career, your business, or your own life – may protect you from pain. But, in the long term, if you do not cultivate the courage to see current reality, you set yourself up for much greater pain and failure.