I have spent a lifetime trying to prove something to the world. It’s showed itself in so many ways, from seeking attention to doing the things I believed would get me credit, to carefully tracking the hit metrics on my website. These past couple months have shifted that. I can’t even tell you how I know, as I cannot point to some visible difference. It’s just what I feel in my heart, and now I’m going to declare it to the world through this post.
Why prove anything?
Over the years, there are so many reasons I have wanted to prove something. Although there may be some valid reasons, many of them can be traced back to one thing; my ego. By definition, an ego is a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance. While I think there can be elements of good in the ego at times when my ego runs my life it doesn’t give me what I’m looking for.
Take, for example, many years ago when I was working as a software developer. One of my colleagues had left a comment in the notes of a piece of code with something about my programming skills. I don’t remember what was said, but what I do remember is getting very upset with him. In hindsight, I know his comments were poking fun, and there was no serious intent behind them. However, at that time in my life, I know I was placing a lot on being self-important and trying to prove my value as a developer. I also know his comment attacked my self-esteem, rather than my funny bone. So I responded from my ego … not good.
Around six years ago I had taken my first contract as an independent consultant. I took this contract, not because it was wildly exciting or truly wanted this type of work, rather because it would provide an income stream for the next year. This contracted allowed me to build up a financial reserve for my company (a wise thing to have when working independently). The work was program management, which I was highly experienced and good at, and yet didn’t really want to be doing anymore. When someone would ask me what I was doing, I would pump it up, and make it sound bigger than it really was. In other words, I was answering from a place I believed would protect my self-esteem as I believed I had something to prove. So I let my ego protect me, rather than just being real.
I could go on and on with lots of examples of times in which I acted as if I had something to prove. The common thread through all of them is how I let my ego lead me. Having my ego lead me like this doesn’t make me a bad person, only someone who is experiencing this human journey for what it is.
I don’t beat myself up for being in the mindset of needing to prove something for so long. However, by operating from this place it took so much effort to move and rarely resulted in the outcomes I wanted. My ego is the thing which will often have me laying awake at night worrying, or living in my head and not being present with Rosie. My ego is the thing which has me wasting precious time being upset at someone or some situation when truthfully the only person creating the situation is me.
Over the past ten months, I have been in the CTI Leadership program. It’s a deeply immersive program, which has allowed me to claim my life. At the moment, one of the biggest gifts I think I am taking from this program is something one of our leaders, the late Art Shirk gave me, which I remind myself about with the number 86,400. The number will at some point be a part of my tattoo, and will always serve as a reminder that of the 86,400 seconds in a day I don’t want to waste any.
It is because of this experience these past months I’ve stopped caring about trying to prove anything to the world. I truly believe now there is nothing to prove to anyone including; myself, Rosie, friends, customers, or anyone else for that matter.
When I dissect this a little further, I find I am defaulting to my ego less every day. When things are happening around me, even if it’s a failure on my part, I don’t often answer from a place of protecting my self-esteem or self-importance.
Instead, when these things are happening, it’s more often my curiosity which approaches the situation. When I screw something up, I can almost hear that little voice in my head going “well that was interesting.” I only want to learn from the experience and to know what is happening in my life.
Leaving my ego in check gives me freedom to move beyond my wildest dreams
To have nothing to prove means letting go of the need to protect my ego. It means surrendering to whatever shows up, and accepting that despite all the storms raging around me, I am still complete and having an impact in this world. It means no matter how much someone thinks I should own their crap, I have nothing to prove so why would I take ownership.
I am now free to follow what is important to me without a need to fight with the conflict brought up by trying to own things which are not mine to own. Don’t get me wrong, there are times I slip (I did a couple weeks ago), but when this happens it’s so much easier to see it happening and to let it go again.
Thanks to this freedom, I now have such abundance in my life. It’s as if when I put down some boxes full of ego and other people’s crap, I have made room for other things I want in my life. I have made room for the things which really matter, and for the things I know I can have a significant impact upon.
Leading for Change
The basis of leadership is you. It’s not the processes, tools, metrics, spreadsheets or whatever else you hang on to. If you find yourself in a position of feeling you have something to prove, it’s time to pause and notice why this is. Based on my personal experience, when I have something to prove it’s because there’s a story I’m telling myself. The story isn’t true, it’s just what I’ve convinced myself is true.
What’s your story? Is it that you are expected to be perfect, and you’re not allowed to fail? Is it your belief that you’re expected to deliver near-perfect results, and no matter what happens, to demonstrate that you always have it under control? Whatever the story you’re spinning for yourself let me tell you a little secret I’ve learned this past year … no-one, not even the CEO of your company, has a life that’s picture perfect.
Leadership is not about your ability to create a perfect environment or to be perfect yourself. Leadership is about your ability to respond effectively to whatever shows up, no matter how ugly, no matter how embarrassing, no matter what story you want to spin. Great leaders don’t worry about proving anything to anyone, and in fact, put themselves out there in bold ways because that is what’s needed.
Repeat after me: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Seriously … have you said it? Say it again out loud. The truth is most times, they aren’t thinking of you. It’s only a story you’re making up for yourself.
It’s time to let go of whatever story you’ve been telling yourself, that has you in this mindset of believing you have something to prove. You don’t. You are a leader for a reason, and now more than ever the world needs you to lead. So stop trying to prove it, and just get out there and lead. The world needs you now more than ever!