The Challenge of Choice

During coaching, certain preconceived notions emerge around the issues that keep people from becoming all they can be. An idea that usually comes up early in the coaching process is the long-held belief that work is something you do to earn money while doing what you are good at and what you enjoy is reserved for leisure time. Living life through the paradigm of improperly defined work is one of the main things keeping people from great success and even greater happiness.

Looking at the history of the western world, when people left the farm for the factory, their day-to-day efforts moved from sustaining self and family by cultivating the earth to a fee-for-service model where millions of people spent their lives functioning as cogs on the factory floor. This work rarely involved anything other than simple manual labor devoid of connection or opportunity to innovate beyond the task at-hand—especially given the top-down management approach used by most employers at that time.

On the other hand, indigenous cultures have long help traditions where an individual’s talents are considered when determining one’s life work. While people pursued a talent, i.e., hunting and protection, healing and medicine or artistry of pottery, cloth, or other ornamentations, most people actively participated in community life and the production of food, shelter and other basic needs. This approach holds two important lessons. 1) The expression of our talents is integral to our happiness. 2) The demands of daily life are made lighter when working within a community.

What does all this have to do with leadership? Leadership is about creating a life where each person is able to fully express his or her talents and meaningfully contribute to the greater good of the community. Happiness, satisfaction and balance are all natural bi-products of this approach.

It is amazingly difficult for many of my clients to imagine they can actually do what they love to do, create change they want and be happy doing it. Their questions immediately begin coming:

  • How will I earn any money?
  • What will people think if I don’t have “X” title anymore?
  • How will I spend my time if I am not working 80 hours a week?

These are good questions that reveal deeper and more serious fears . . . which brings us to the challenge of recognizing the choices we are making about our lives.

These questions reveal how attached we are to the picture of happiness we have been taught to want, and this attachment keeps us from recognizing what truly matters. To keep people toiling away at mindless factory jobs that created wealth for the few and simple subsistence for the masses, factory bosses made them the promise that one day, if they worked hard enough and played the game, they too might be able to acquire “wealth” and be able to buy more “things” that will make their life “better.” The promise the industrialists made to keep labor quiet sounds strangely familiar to what the majority of Americans buy into today.

They common belief is that people should work hard and aspire to live lives of abundance. Like many common notions, this axiom is incomplete. Rather than simply aspiring to abundance, people should work in such a way that is likely to produce the sort of abundance they envision. Let go of your belief that if you deny your need for expressing your talents and passion to earn a living, you will, at some point in the future, be able to be who you are and live the life you want. The way toward creating a life of fulfillment isn’t to put off being who you are; it’s to begin living that way today—right now, in this moment. When you make the decision to be who you are, your life can begin producing the abundance you seek for yourself and those around you. It is the decision to live this way that creates the abundance, not a particular time. Many people achieve success late in life simply because they get tired of waiting. Looking back, most tell the story of how they wish they could reclaim of the lost year of a youth spent creating someone else’s dreams. Now is your chance to unburden yourself of the notion you cannot do what you love and be successful. No one can tell you what your life will look like if you start living it a different way, but I can guarantee you your life will change—and for the clients I have worked with, it is always for the better.

So now the choice becomes yours. Are you ready to shed the model of success that has been fed to you throughout your life and to open yourself up to being yourself? If you are, hold on, as the adventure is about to begin!

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