In his foreword for Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude, best-selling author and business advisor Jim Collins writes, “If leadership begins not with what you do but who you are, then when and how do you escape the noise [of our times] to find your purpose and summon the strength to pursue it?”
In today’s tech-fueled culture, this question is perhaps more poignant than ever. Each day digital distractions, 60-plus-hour work weeks (many of those in front of screens), and a barrage of daily news subtly warp our own point of view. It can be profoundly challenging to hear ourselves think, let alone carve out our own distinct identity. Self-knowledge can give you the courage to forge ahead with your most impactful work, the confidence to persist, the discipline to master your self and the skills to shape your days with intention.
The hardest part of this work seems to be finding the time to get to know your self. Yet to excel at our work and to foster an excellent life, we must develop and learn to listen to – to trust – our own voice of authority.
Authenticity and Authority
The word “authenticity” is thought to be derived from the Greek “authentes,” which loosely translates to “one acting on one’s own authority.” In other words, authenticity is when one’s thoughts, beliefs, and actions are in accordance. But authenticity is not the same as raw or unapologetic self-expression, and the search for an elusive core identity can stunt our personal and professional growth.
Do you assume you were born with one “true self” that you are supposed to “find”? Do you assume you were born with one “passion” in life you are supposed to discover and pursue? If so, these are beliefs that your identity and abilities are pre-determined.
Recent research shows that when people believe that their identity and abilities are predetermined, they are more likely to experience anxiety, disappointment, and inevitable burnout. The pursuit of an authentic self can imply a singular path toward a singular self, which only discourages and frustrates the seeker the longer they seek without finding it.
Maybe your “self” isn’t assigned. It’s possible that you in part construct your identity over time based on your actions, decisions, personal experiences, beliefs, and the values you act on. You act on your own authority to determine the kind of person you want to be and respond to the world in ways that align with that ever-evolving self. To be authentic is to be honest with yourself and others, acknowledge the dimensions of your self (past, present, and future) that constitute your identity, and act with integrity to reflect your core values. The inner authority you strive to define through your deep work isn’t a static persona, but rather a dynamic state of being.
So, what are the major factors holding us back? And how do you shape your own brave container to build an excellent life?
Step Into Your Flow. Own Your Authority
Learning to tune out all the white noise and really listen to your inner voice is no easy task, especially in our Age of Distraction. It requires deep questioning of our own assumptions about ourselves, the world, and what others say is true. Often it demands that we step out of our comfort zones and find purposeful solitude in a space distinct from our everyday habitat so we can hear ourselves think for longer than 48 second sound bites or in 140 characters.
With season 3 of the Tracking Wonder Podcast in full swing, and the beauty of an excellent life in mind, here are 10 tips to help you tune in to your internal authority and advance your deep work.
- Unplug. Disconnect from your digital distractions and carve out time to do your deep work. Better yet, remove temptation entirely and resort to more “primitive” technology (I recommend pen and paper). As founder of Productive Flourishing Charlie Gilkey says, “If you don’t have a door for distraction, you don’t have distraction.” Even if you start with just 40 minutes of tech-free work at a time, you’ll soon notice that you can sharpen your focus, and start finishing the projects you slogged through between Facebook surfing before.
- Find your flow. Flow is when we sustain focus on creative challenges of our choosing to advance a purposeful project. Flow is foundational to the work that matters most. Like any muscle, the more you exercise “flow,” the stronger it becomes. It goes from being work to being challenging play. Find those activities that call upon your highest creative and cognitive faculties, and make time to do the work you love.
- Work with your fear. We think of fear as something that needs to be overcome, conquered. But too often, we wait until the day we aren’t afraid anymore to push forward with our most impactful work and unfortunately, that day never comes. Rather than try to defeat fear (or wait for some unseen force to do so for you), work with your fear. Harness that energy and direct it toward productive ends.
- Override anxiety with curiosity. When we allow fear or anxiety to control our thoughts, we poke holes in our dreams, plan for worst-case scenarios, and assume failure rather than imagine success. It’s important to remember that we can’t control outcomes, only our actions. You have to be prepared to show up every day with an open mind and a critical eye, continually asking yourself what is working and what isn’t. Wonder is the wire-tripper that directs anxiety toward creative ends.
- Seek mastery. Fear of failure can often hold us back so rather than think of your work in terms of success or defeat, make mastery of your field the priority. Be an audacious experimenter, continue to learn from mistakes or setbacks, fine-tune your methods, and creep ever closer to whatever you define to be ‘success.’
- Shift focus from productivity to personal growth. We’re so busy trying to change the world, to make our mark, that we overlook the important, introspective work to be done. Our achievement culture’s obsession with progress and productivity means that we come to focus on economic work, rather than personal development and value external success over internal growth. Make the “me time” to work on yourself, your personal relationships and recognize that this time is just as valuable (if not more so) than screen time logged.
- Get over yourself. We are ego-centric creatures. We can’t help it. Our reptile brain is wired for survival which means that we are prone to categorizing people and things, then assessing how those people or things compare to or affect us. Practice dissolving these biases by taking note of them when they arise. As John Jantsch writes in his latest book, The Self Reliant Entrepreneur, “When we begin to see everything as an extension of ourselves, we can let go of comparisons and accomplishments and fix our eyes on the perfection currently dammed up by our ego’s need to compete rather than to allow.”
- Give yourself some credit. Very few of us give ourselves enough credit for all that we’ve accomplished. Once a goal is met, it’s taken as a given and we raise the bar higher. Pause to celebrate your small victories, taking into account all the effort you put into your relationships and personal growth (because this is work too). Reflect on how far you’ve come even if you still have a long way to go.
- Find your young genius. “Genius” is the best word I can find to describe your unique creative DNA, your signature business artist identity. Your best self. But so many of us lose touch with our genius as we get older and often, it is replaced with insecurities or self-doubt. To tap into your young genius and infuse your work with wonder, recall times in your youth when you felt most free. See your young self making, exploring, creating worlds. Write down three adjectives that describe what you like best about this younger self, and strive to bring those attributes to your work every day.
- Form a creative pack of peers. So much of our cognitive work is done solo but without others to bounce ideas off of, self-doubt creeps in. Our inner critic gets harsher and obstacles seem too great to overcome. While only you can set your own goals and embark on the path toward them, you likely have your own creative pack of confidants, colleagues, and even loved ones who are eager to help you. If you have a vision that you truly believe in, stay true to yourself and persist, but accept the insights of others to enrich this vision and your journey toward fulfilling it.
Howard Gardner, Co-Director of Project Zero, explained that the role of the leader is “to create and refine a story so that it engages the attention and commitment of followers, thereby changing their views of who they are, what they are committed to, and what they want to achieve and why.” By stepping into your flow, owning your authority, you can begin to draft your story and shape a life that ripples with impact.
So this week, try to slow down long enough to hear again the tempo of your own voice of authority so it can guide you to make the best decisions as you pursue your ideas and dreams. Whether you’re a CEO or business leader whose days are packed with meetings or a knowledge worker whose hours often are counted by screen time, maybe you can ask yourself questions like, “What do I consider to be true? What do I believe in? Why do I believe that? Is that angle truly mine? What does it mean to me to live a life of excellence and what’s one thing I’m doing today to live it that way and to shape the day accordingly and then find the medium to capture, track, and shape your view of such a life?”
In this age of distraction, it can be difficult to find the time to do the deep work of self-reflection required to find your purpose and pursue your ideas. But imagine having guided time, distraction-free zones, and trusted support to do just that.
In the company of other creatives, entrepreneurs, parents, professionals, and leaders at the state of the art center, you’ll shine a light on what’s blocking your potential and integrate wonder interventions. Steal away for a few days among California’s Redwood sanctuary to learn evidence-based practices that bring more openness and purpose to your work and your relationships every single day.