One of the most powerful pieces of writing that I’ve ever seen is from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love. It was quoted by Nobel Prize–winner Nelson Mandela in his inaugural address, and perhaps you’ve heard it before. I used a sentence from it when talking earlier about risking. I keep the full quote in my desk, and I refer to it often. Listen closely and consider your own life as you listen to Marianne’s words.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within is. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” What powerful words.
The best place to begin living an extraordinary life is to honestly look at where you are now. This is not about judging yourself or making yourself wrong; it’s just a simple truth-telling from you, to you, about your current reality. That honest look at yourself will be part of the foundation for making some quantum leaps in effectiveness and in personal satisfaction.
We’ll begin this message with a series of questions, such as, How are you doing in the major areas of your life? How are you doing with your relationships? How about your career? Your health and fitness? Your connection to spirit? Take an honest, direct, and nonjudgmental look at where you are. Beating yourself up is counterproductive. Glossing over real problems and having your ego speak is also counterproductive. The following questions are for you to answer and only for you. It’s through the resulting awareness that you can create an authentic opening for the rest of your ability to living an extraordinary life. You can just mentally make notes of your answers, or for maximum value, you can write them down.
So how are you doing with your relationships and communications? Your relationships with yourself, with your family, with your colleagues at work, and with your community? Are those key relationships rich and fulfilling? Or are they superficial or distant or in conflict? Over the past five years I’ve asked many audiences how many are estranged from a family member or know of someone in their immediate family who is estranged from another family member? The yes response rate is more than 70 percent. For many of us, key relationships are in turmoil. How about you? How are you doing with your relationships and your communications?
How are you doing with your career? Are you doing work that’s rewarding to you? Are your talents, experiences, and knowledge being used effectively? Are you acknowledged for your contributions? Do you spring out of bed each workday morning, eager to show up at 100 percent?
How are you doing financially? Are you making the progress with your income and savings that you feel are responsible and satisfying? Does money run you? Or is it simply an enabler in your life?
How’s your health and fitness? Are you as capable of your best work or giving your full attention to your children at 5 p.m. as you are at 10 a.m.? Do you like how you look in the mirror? If there was an emergency that required you to be fast and flexible, could you perform physically?
More importantly, what is the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in these key areas? If where you really want to be is represented by a 10, how do you rate yourself? And let’s do this: From 1 to 10, how do you rate yourself on your relationships and communications? With yourself? With your family? At work, and in your community? How do you rate yourself on your career? Again, using that 1-to-10 scale, how do you rate yourself on your health and fitness? Begin to clarify what you want as a result from the money and time that you’ve already invested and will invest as you go through this program. Perhaps more importantly, what’s your level of commitment to beginning the process of closing that gap?
My approach to closing the gap uses the following framework: awareness, responsibility, and communication. Awareness is the necessary beginning of any process of personal or organizational growth and for any positive change. People tend to succeed to the extent that they are aware of their essential purpose for existing and that their choices are aligned with that purpose. If they aren’t able to see things clearly, they will inevitably make mistakes based on false assumptions or get engaged in activities that leave them drained and unfulfilled. It takes a high level of awareness to avoid meaningless activity and focus on the people, projects, and personal growth that nourish and fulfill our lives.
This need for greatly enhanced awareness applies to you, the individual, and to every major corporation, our society, and humanity at large. Gaining deeper awareness is often compared to waking up, because when I’m unaware, I am really asleep to what is going on around and even within me. Unfortunately, the kind of waking up that really opens new life possibilities is often forced upon us by dramatic, even traumatic, moments of crisis. We experience a painful ending to a relationship, a heart attack, business or financial failure, or a death in our family.
I’m a personal example of waking up as a result of a dramatic event, and I have often said that my first real awareness experience was not the seminar I attended in 1969, the one that launched me into this lifetime learning quest; it was divorce. A real wake-up call about how I was actually living my life as opposed to my feel-good story about it.
These kinds of events can precipitate a waking-up process that, when honestly confronted, can be the beginning of fresh insights and valuable life lessons. Those painful events, while a painful way to learn, are often understood as blessings with the passage of some time and after gaining some perspective.
To create an extraordinary life, I need the information that only a deep sense of self-awareness and awareness of others can provide. I need to be willing to honestly face my life and what is occurring within it. With awareness, I get to see my underlying attitudes, habits, and beliefs, and the behaviors that flow out of them. I get to see whether these inner qualities support the achievement of my outer goals, and whether some of them, perhaps even familiar beliefs from childhood, no longer support me in accomplishing my life’s purpose and vision. This clearer picture of who I am, what I believe and care about, how others perceive me, gives me valuable insight into where I really am in life, to where I could be, and to who and where I want to be.
Still, let’s face it; it’s easier to remain in the dark, unclear and uncertain about my direction and goals. Plus, it appears to be safer, or at least more comfortable, to sleepwalk my way through life, which is why many people do it. Remaining unaware is safer, probably more frustrating, and ultimately deeply discouraging. The natural way out of sleepwalking is simply waking up. The natural way out of unawareness is awareness. And with greater awareness, new opportunities for understanding and action emerge. Life becomes filled with possibility. It all begins with simply noticing what is really so in our life.
Once I’ve gained new insights through greater awareness, taking personal responsibility enables me to produce dramatically improved and tangible results in my life. This, in turn, creates a virtuous circle, leading to more self-confidence, which leads to even more extraordinary personal results. The moment that I stop blaming the circumstances of my life, attributing any lack of accomplishment to fate or bad luck or age or education, I begin seeing myself in the driver’s seat of my own life. And as I become aware of my choices and their impact on the world around me, I begin to realize that I am fundamentally responsible for the circumstances of my life. By accepting responsibility for the way things are, I become more able to intentionally respond and create the results I want.
Our character springs from the willingness to accept responsibility for our own life, and it’s the source from which true self-respect is built. In my experience, that’s absolutely true. Responsibility is at once powerful and empowering. It begins the instant I’m willing to give up my victim point of view. Simply put, this requires I stop blaming others—my wife or former wife, my parents, my boss, or even my dog—for the way my life is.
More importantly, and the hardest of all, perhaps, for many of us, responsibility means I stop blaming myself. Though it seems paradoxical at first, there is tremendous freedom in owning all of my results, even the ones I don’t like and especially the ones I resist owning. Real responsibility does not mean I feel guilty or ashamed or obligated or burdened. It means I’m no longer waiting for someone or something outside of me to fix my life. I’m the one who is making it happen.
Even well-educated, successful people subtly or not so subtly avoid responsibility. We pay for doing that, and how to transform our experience of living is by simply taking 100 percent personal responsibility for our lives.
Once I’m operating from personal responsibility, communication becomes the critical consciousness and skill for living an extraordinary life. All of life’s important results are generated in communication. If I communicate authentically, appropriately, and with passion, my communications will be effective in forging powerful relationships with others and in amplifying the effectiveness of my choices in life and in work. Communication is what holds every relationship together, in personal, corporate, and community life, and it keeps things moving; it’s the engine of accomplishment.
There are clear differences between people who accomplish extraordinary results and those who don’t. Each one faces the real circumstances served up by life. Each has dreams. The difference is that those people who accomplish much lift their circumstances up to their dreams through awareness, responsibility, and communications. Others lower their dreams to fit their circumstances. It follows that in everything I do, if I really want to succeed, I must articulate my needs and my vision in order to create the possibility for having my reality match my dreams. This demands that I master the art of communication.
John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of himself; every man is a piece of the continent.” It’s a powerful statement. It’s worthy of some reflection and quite true. You can accomplish very little alone. Almost everything you want to be, do, or have is dependent on your ability to communicate effectively with others. You may need to gain support for your ideas, generate a true partnership and service of a worthy goal, or overcome opposition. That’s assuming you’re living a commitment to an extraordinary life.
If you sincerely want to escape from the ordinary, realize your dreams, and live an extraordinary life, you need to master the personal tools of awareness, responsibility, and communication. That’s not just my opinion; it’s more like gravity— it’s the way things are.
Around the beginning of the 20th century, psychologist William James said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude of mind.” Earl Nightingale quoted James in his Lead the Field program more than 30 years ago, and 100 years later at the dawn of a new millennium, James’ statement is just as true, and, ultimately, attitude is much of what this program is about. It’s a key foundation piece in the adventure of living an extraordinary life.
Creating an attitude that works is much more than just thinking positively. It requires attention to a deeper part of ourselves than can be gained by just listening to a motivational speaker. It requires the sometimes challenging work of gaining a new level of self-discovery, self-understanding, self-acceptance, and audacious self-declaration. It’s our experience that truly extraordinary results are created by people who know their purpose for living, have a compelling vision that draws them to accomplishment, and are clear about their personal values, those bedrock qualities of being and doing that must always be practiced. And, finally, extraordinary results are created by people who take action, action in alignment with their purpose, vision, and values. It’s a powerful mental model that, when followed, produces brilliant results for people and organizations. In today’s uncertain times, it’s a model we all need.