I recently had a delightful lunch with a colleague from my past. My colleague
and I worked closely together nearly 20 years ago when we shared the passionate
idealism of youth for innovation within our chosen calling of education. As
it happened, during the time we worked together my friend witnessed my
transition from idealism to a disillusionment which led me to leave education
to pursue a career in private business.
In the meantime, my colleague has risen to a senior management position.
During the course of our lunch she surprised me with the question "Do
you like yourself as much as you used to?" When I look back on my decision
to leave education, I am left wondering if it was the right decision or was
it just based on chasing personal financial gain. I miss teaching. But as soon
as I think about it long enough, I know I don’t miss schools and neither do
I miss the bureaucracy that surrounds them. Regardless of how my decision
will weigh in the balance of my future, it has given me the opportunity to
do things I never would have if I had stayed in teaching.
Surprising as it may seem, running my own business has given me the opportunity
to know myself more fully. To be truthful, given my personality, I think I
would have learnt more about myself whatever I did. Indeed, as I will come
to shortly, I think my colleague’s question was prompted by her reflection
on her own actions in the positions she has held and the personal dilemmas
that go hand in hand with increased responsibility.
Staying in the moment however, my immediate response was I thought I
liked myself even more than I used to. As I have pursued my business interests
I have had to reflect on the decisions I’ve made. On occasion I have trusted
people I ought not to have trusted. There are times when I have invested time
and money in ventures that were unlikely to, and in fact did not, succeed.
As I reflect on those actions I have looked deep into myself to understand
what attracts me to trust untrustworthy people and what attracts me to invest
in unsound investments. In this deep reflection I have discovered a lot about
myself. I have a tendency to avoid the difficult decisions – so it is easier
to trust someone than probe their integrity. I believe in myself but I am afraid
to really present myself because you may not share that belief – so it is easier
to hope that the unsound investment might come off rather than confront what
I am not putting into it.
Regardless of all this and more, I have had the opportunity to look into
and have a glimpse of my deepest self. When I speak of this to some people
their reaction is to regard me as self obsessed, that I think I’m better than
other people. One associate in a potential business venture, with undisguised
disdain once said to me "You
think you’re so special." That hit me hard and forced me to think. After
a moment or two’s thought I told him I did think I was special, but equally
I thought he was special and indeed every single one of us is special. No one
of us is more special than an other but we, each of us, are very special.
This all led to me to reflect on my colleague’s question and pose it back
to her. "You wouldn’t like some of the things I do." She replied,
emphasising the "you" meaning, I thought, me in particular. I took
this to mean that after the idealism we had previously shared, I would think
she had sold out on some of the principles we once shared.
It made me think of two young revolutionaries who met many years later. If
I enter this analogy, my colleague’s original question seems on the surface
to be the wrong way around. In this scenario, I am the one who sold out. I
left the revolutionary army to join the bourgeoisie, while she remained true
to the revolution and, in this play, is indeed now a senior member of the new
However she went on to speak of the decisions she now makes. I thought she
was going to fall into the jargon of saying "decisions she has to make"
but either she corrected herself before the words came out and said instead,
or always intended to say, "the decisions I choose to make."
Oh, the dilemmas of leadership. As young revolutionaries
we could criticise our incumbent self serving and incompetent masters. When
we find ourselves in their position however, things become so much more complicated.
There is never, as it once seemed, one single obvious solution to a problem.
No matter what we do, someone will be hurt, we will under-resource,
or cut a program that should not be cut, we will never have a complete command
of the whole picture and, being human, from time to time we will simply make
So do I like myself as much as I used to. Once I find it within me to
forgive myself for my mistakes I truly can say I like myself more than I used
to. A teacher in one of my postgraduate programs once made the comment "We
miss out on so much in our organisations because we can’t bring ourselves to
my personal journey, I have found it necessary to learn, and to continue to
learn, to forgive myself as well as to forgive others. Indeed to forgive myself
before I can forgive others. I am human. I make mistakes. I often don’t care
as much for those close to me as I want to. I get bound up in my own selfishness
when others around me offer me so much. Yes, all of that is true. If, however,
I can accept that as my human frailty find forgiveness I can move on to generosity.