A good look in the mirror

“Knowing others is intelligence;
Knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
Mastering yourself is true power.”
– Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher

For many years I struggled with social anxiety, speech impediment, and depression because I held too many distractions. It’s a classic self-shame story: I used to suck and now I suck less. Eventually, I realized that we live in a noisy world and many people talk, yet few communicate. What I grew to accept and love was the gift of conversation. It became clear that deep connections are not based on take or blame, they are full of joy and empathy.

A friend once told me, “Time flies when the senses are full.” Leading an inspired path means doing what makes you come alive. And it is the way we live in the present moment that shapes character, relationships, and the quality of our work.
Knowing our purpose is an affair with self-awareness. It’s what makes you light up amid uncertainty. It’s that thing you live for that overshadows everything else, even the fluctuations of money. Know it from within, set boundaries, set goals, and watch the groove unfold. A state of flow arises when we uproot the splinter of self-delusion.

For a short while I drove part-time for Uber. Once I picked up a passenger and I had ambient music playing in the car. He sat in and asked how I was doing. I replied, “Just cruising with the music.” He paused for a moment and said,

“There is something to be said about living like the music never gets interrupted.”

Once we quiet the distractions the gift of conversation reveals itself. We come face-to-face with what is simple and true. Rather than insist on what should be, one surrenders to a living relationship with what is. And feedback is fluid whether soft or brutal. There is no glorified “me” to enforce so emotions move freely, and we bear witness to something unforgettable: a real conversation.

Emotional intelligence is a function of how we pay attention. When we’re grateful we’re not overloaded with expectations. We rejoice in what is. When intimately connected with our source of vitality, we don’t worry about not having enough. In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Vitality never takes.” Upon taking a close look in the mirror with vitality first, there is no need to harbor self-delusions. We shed old identities and inhabit a larger part of who we are.

ownership leadership self-awareness purpose

Moving with a purpose

Here’s a review I wrote for Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.

Extreme Ownership is a good look in the mirror to live and lead at the highest level. It contains war stories with leadership lessons and I have newfound respect for U.S. Navy SEALs. It checks off on what I count as a good book: vivid imagery, some humor, raises goosebumps, brings tears, and practical for livelihood. On the final analysis, it’s not written by a Hemingway but it does come from the heat of experience. It works because it’s real.

The book harps the tune “it’s all about the mission”. You got to know why you’re in it to begin with, believe in it fully, and continually execute on it. That’s what a leader does. There are many books that stress this point of “moving with a purpose” and Extreme Ownership just does it in a raw fashion within the context of war. On the battle field, making the right decision moment by moment is highly crucial. One is constantly flirting with defeat and running the risk of losing life or limb. Time is of the essence. Navy SEALs blend a deep brotherhood with creative and methodical action which enabled them to accomplish their intense missions in Iraq.

“Effective leaders lead successful teams that accomplish their mission and win. Ineffective leaders do not.” A leader is the true believer of the team’s mission while trusting the troops to deliver on their parts. Micromanaging takes focus way from the bigger picture, which the leader is trusted to keep and communicate. The book presses the leader to simply maintain the strategic vision which enables others to take ownership of their parts and swiftly act on what is immediate. In short, ownership is the absence of blame. When everyone in a team practices it, trust forms and speed quickens. With markets in flux, jobs at risk, and competitions near, trust is paramount to stay nimble and efficient.

This book is written with a sense of urgency, applying the principles of combat to organizational issues. The process invites us to lay it all on the table and examine what is mission critical and what is not. The ensuing plan may change but the purpose remains constant.

A meditation on mission and memory

The highest form of reason is love without reason. My deepest insecurity is flawed memory. So, memory for what?

There is a voice that doesn’t use words. There is a place of no ambition, just a sure mission to submission without ego. To throw your imagination forward and let it speak its own language, like living in a lighthouse to summon the ships. Who knows who steers them and what stories they hold. Just keep the light on for whoever can see. Only the bold can arrive and there is no thirst for understanding. It’s not in your interest nor theirs. We’re not in the business of fixing the world, our place is beneath the surface of things where passion dwells without bounds. There’s a voice that doesn’t use words, it overflows and floods the world inside and out.

The city is noisy with honks and engines roaring. The sun is a red blur over a dense layer of smog. The three of us walk and wander in humor with the goal of finding the canal district Ben had heard of and seen online. I drift in and out of conversation as my attention cones toward the trees. They are full with the green of spring, lined up along the madness of the roads. The wind gushes through the leaves for a symphony of sounds and fluid motions waving about. And birds sing and fly swiftly, too quick for the eye to see. These affairs that predate the city trump the smog and noisy streets as we search for the canal district, said to be like the Venice of Shanghai.

We pass through mass surveillanced roads and trampolines and the periodic airplane descending overhead; and every time one does, Ben drops everything, races for his camera and points it at the sky.

After some mapping and walking, we finally arrive at a murky runway of water near the freeway. Andrei begins to roll a girthy rock toward the ledge and then stands, saying, “It’s too heavy.” Ben tells him, “Nothing is impossible!” So Andrei picks up the rock and swings it into the water for a big splash and black tar rises from beneath. I ask them what if this water was totally clean, what kind of society would be around it?”

A bit disappointed at sundown not having seen the reflective canal district from the picture. We walked back through the woods and toward the subway station with a 1 liter beer can in one hand and some mysterious street meat on-a-stick in the other, laughing the journey home.