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Every Leader's Quest and the Difference It Makes

You remember the classic movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles? Steve Martin, a busy all-important marketing man gets rerouted to Wichita and gets stuck with the lovable John Candy. The two embark on an iconic journey of getting “home.” But the destination is very different for each man, searching for their own destination, looking for their own purpose, seeking clarity on this journey. Steve’s real lesson is about how he has been neglecting his family; he’s been too involved with his look, his clothes, his lifestyle and his client. He comes to realize he’s been missing the best part of life. John, the most unlikely candidate, is the one to teach him this lesson. John, who keeps a picture of his wife by his bed every night, is the one who sheds light, or clarity, on Steve’s circumstances in an ever so subtle way. In fact, Steve’s moment of clarity arrives while he’s on the train riding home after dropping John off. He’s recalling this epic journey and it hits him. John, the adorable, lovable teddy bear, has no wife. He did, but, Steve realizes, John’s wife is dead. What happens next is remarkable. Steve, even though he’s on his way to his destination, turns around to go rescue John. Steve goes back for John to bring him to Steve’s house for the holidays.

Great movie. Great story. Great moment of clarity. Journeys have a way of bringing out the clarity we need to derive from everyday life. Notice, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that brings us the clarity. We may start on a journey with clarity of where we want to go, how we want things to end up, or what the outcomes should be, but journeys have a way of reframing what the point is really all about. Hint: It’s usually not about the destination … at least not the one you set out on.

I talk with people all the time who are searching; we all are. We’re on a quest for something that gives our lives real meaning and purpose. For some, it’s spiritual, for many though, it’s just the simple notion of wanting their life to count, to have purpose. It’s a journey of clarity. Wanting to see, feel and experience with utmost resonance the deposit they will make.

For Steve Martin’s character, his journey brought him a gift. Yes, he cultivated a deeper appreciation for his new friend, John. Yes, he was reminded of what truly mattered. The real gift, though, was clarity, self-clarity. Self-clarity is all about self-awareness. It’s what allows us to mine the depths of who we are, I mean who we truly are. Not the person we’re trying to portray to others.

I have friend who is very well-known. He has parties thrown in his honor amongst some very well-known people. I asked him, “How do you do it? I mean, how do you not let it go to your head?” He said, “It’s simple. I’ve come to realize there’s the real me and the idea of me. They only know the idea of me. Once I start believing that idea, I’ve stepped across the line.” Wow. What clarity and self-awareness. Self-awareness is about differentiating between the real you and the idea of you. It’s about forging the connections with people who can help you understand the difference and never let you fall into the trap of pursuing the idea of you over the real authentic self.

What’s it like on the other side of you? Don’t answer what you desire the answer to be. I mean, what is it truly like. What is it like for other people to experience you, not the idea of you, but the real you? You see, it’s your “job” to get so good at being you that wherever you go and whatever you find yourself doing, you bring the best of who you are. What’s the best of who you are? That’s where clarity enters. Most people don’t know the best they give because they haven’t spent any time mining what that might entail. For us to know what we bring to others, we have to cultivate self-awareness. You cannot lead others if you don’t first lead yourself on a journey of discovery into the “real” you.

Start today. Discipline yourself to mine you for your true self: your difference, or your 5 percent, that piece of you that only you can bring to this world. Here are some practical ways to cultivate self-clarity:

  • Solitude—Find sacred space to be alone, left to your own thoughts, surrounded by no other distractions but your own thoughts.
  • Reflection—Look in the mirror, have someone mirror back what you can’t see about yourself. Think and reflect on shaping moments that have brought you to this point in your journey.
  • Inspection—Conduct a careful examination of who you are, what triggers you have that send you into a tailspin, what fuels you, etc.
  • Reframing—Look at yourself through a different lens. Try a new approach, go at your day from a different angle. Change up your rhythm or routine.
  • Experimentation—Try something new, dare to dream something new, and do what you think you can’t but really know you can. Try it out. It’s OK to fail!
  • Living—Find connections and outlets that give you life. Draw, color, paint, talk, dream, doodle, run, exercise … whatever is life-giving, go after it!

You were made different to make a difference. In order to know your difference, you have to know yourself. Clarity provides the sharp focus on the person you need to become!