Every once in a while you notice a major theme emerging from conversations you’re having with others, and this week I experienced that phenomenon several times over. I tend to pay special attention on the rare occasions this occurs. All of the themes I heard fit under one umbrella which I refer to in my journals as having agency in your own life. It is not enough to let your life happen to you. That’s not actually living. You must be the protagonist. I’ll share a quote from one of my favorite works of literature, Silk by Alessandro Baricco, which illustrates my point:
”He was one of those men who like to be observers at their own lives, any ambition to actually participate in them being considered inappropriate.
It will have been noted that such people tend to observe their destiny much as most people tend to observe a rainy day.”
I’ve never believed in living life this way. Interestingly, I appear to have reached a critical mass of people around me who are also strongly on the side of having agency in their lives and are committed to sharing their learning on the subject with others. Through a leadership development series session, a professional workshop for entrepreneurs, a spontaneous conversation with a coworker and even in a discussion with my cousin on Facebook, I heard and resonated with the following four points.
You must assume total responsibility for your path in life. As Brian Cashman says in the book we are reading for our leadership development series, Leadership from the Inside Out, “Only you can commit to it, and only you can walk your own path to it. No one else can motivate you. No one else can do it for you.”
Entrepreneurs do not accept “no” for an answer. They press on past the “no” towards what they view as an eventual “yes.” How many people let others define their destiny for them because they don’t trust their own vision? And what are the characteristics of leaders (entrepreneurs in this case) who refuse to acknowledge the “no”? They are being self-led.
Who you surround yourself with is important. Having a network of mentors and peers is critical to your growth and success. As I learned over the summer and heard confirmed in a conversation with a panel speaker this week, we often create a false dichotomy between mentor and mentee when approaching mentorships. Some of the greatest learning happens in both directions at once and you are doing yourself a disservice not to acknowledge the value you bring to the table in your mutual mentorships with others.
You must be open and receptive to feedback from others. There’s some tension between being self-led and still keeping the door open to learning from others around you. At some point you still need to chart your own course regardless of what others will say. But as I said in my leadership development series intake form, none of us can improve in a vaccuum and none of us would be where we are today without feedback from mentors and colleagues, friends and family along the way.
At the end of the day, only you can—and must—decide your future direction in life. It is very easy and seductively simple to fall into the trap of delaying action for another day. But who wants to wake up years from now wondering what could have been?
What is your choice? To observe or decide? And how do you practice self-leadership to remain on the path you have chosen for yourself?