The habit of making the small acts of courage that enable you to live your life with integrity are as important as the large movements of people or the achievements of visible and visionary individuals that shape history. You can be a leader in your family, relationship, friendships, community and at the head of a corporation or workplace but to lead others well one needs to learn self-leadership too. And the challenge can sometimes be to lead with integrity across the personal and professional domains.
I know that as a young teacher with children I was often frustrated by the way in which the patience and calm I was able to practice in the classroom seemed to desert me at home. I would get flustered with my own child or shout at my husband when similar acts at work would never cross my threshold of what would be considered acceptable. I was also an impassioned activist campaign for justice and equality in the social and political arena, and still the separation between how I lived in public and private troubled me.
Of course, there were mitigating circumstances: I worked long hours, teachers have to take work home with them, you can also take many of the issues that trouble your students or team members home with you. One has only so much emotional, mental, and physical energy. I was using all mine up at work leaving very little capacity for my family once I returned home. However, I did find the energy to carry on marking books, planning or doing admin after my children were in bed, or to go canvassing or campaigning at the weekends and attend or organise public meetings.
How was it possible for me to do all that and yet tolerate the discomfort I experienced between the quality of time I gave to home and the quality of time I gave elsewhere.
How do you lead yourself with greater consistency – be a more whole person living the same values seamlessly whether at home, or at work.
My answer to this question has come over time, as I have owned, in later life, the power I have over my own life. For most of my 20s, 30s, and 40s I was driven by a host of musts and shoulds that distorted my judgement. I was not a bad person. But I made some unhelpful choices. The most unhelpful choice I made was to equate my sense of self with what I did for a living, investing almost everything I had in this equation. The distance I have travelled is measured in these words I wrote while on a train last week going to meet a friend.
“When life purpose and work become fused our sense of self is distorted and fragile. When work is called into the service of our life purpose, rather than being synonymous with it, we can live with more balance and less fragility.”
Emulating others, no matter how great they are, is not a substitute for being true to who you are, your best self as your best self grows and emerges out of your learning and mistakes.