What Defines Us?

2010-11-08 13.36.32


I grew up in a family environment where family history verged on ancestry worship.

Connection to the past mattered. I have a folder in my photo file of the grave stones of family members, from both parent's sides of the family.

I regularly recognize in my interactions with people how my family has defined me. My mother's parents (below) had more to do with this than anyone in my family.


What my extended family gave me as a child, and continues to provide me as an adult, is a ground upon which to stand that defines a part of who I am. Increasingly, I am aware that this is a fading reality in our society.

It is not that family doesn't matter. It just matters in a different way. Family has become, like any social relationship, a vehicle for self-expression and social positioning.  This is a result of the fragmentation of social and organizational life.

In the pre-modern past, one's identity was less individual and more social, defined by family affiliation and community proximity. Where you lived and what your family did defined you.

Today, we are all individualists, with a choice as to how we are defined.

Recently, this question came to mind as I talked with a friend about her past, and how it was filled with traumatic experiences from early childhood into middle age. I was amazed by her ability to stand apart from the abuse of her past and see it objectively. While that did not cancel out the deep emotional trauma she felt, her pain did not define her. She was not her pain, nor the abuse she received. She was something else, something more. For her family is central in defining who she is and is largely responsible for the healing she has experienced.


As I thought about her experience and her response to it, and reflected back upon my own family experience, a number of questions began to come to mind. Here are some of them.

To what extent are we defined by ...

        What we do?

        Where we work?

        Where we were born?

        Where we went to school?

To what degree do  ...

        Our choices,

        Our actions,

        Our network of relationships, and,

        Our daily work and recreation schedule

                ... define us?      

Is our personal identity a manufactured public perception like a product brand? Or, are we the person others think us to be?

I don't think there is an easy answer to any of these questions. There are answers, however they are complex, not simple.

The Question of Potential

Each question above I've thought about often, and in various ways, for almost 40 years. I used to think that our identities are unitary, singular, only one thing, that we are born with an identity.

I, now, see us human beings as much more complex. The range and possibilities for our sense of who we are is greater that we can imagine. One way to understand our identity is to understand what our potential means.

Potential is that unexplored, undeveloped part of us, born from the talent, gifts and experience that expands our awareness and reach in life. It is all future and very little past. It is the difference that we make that has yet to be realized. 

Potential is not something fixed and set at birth. It isn't a commodity. It is unbounded openness. It is not only unknown, but undefinable before its realization.

Potential is not additive but exponential. It isn't a container of what we haven't achieved. It is a platform from which our whole life & work is built. The more we build upon, the greater our potential grows. Our potential creates opportunities for new possibilities in our life and work. 

The only limitation on our potential is time. We must apply ourselves to reaching our potential everyday. I'm not advocating for becoming a workoholic. Rather, I am suggesting we develop an opportunistic attitude about each day. We look for opportunities to make a difference, to have an impact, and to affect change within the contexts where we live and work.

If we build toward reaching our potential each day, then over the course of our lifetime we reach far beyond our present abilities. If we did not try to grow or think that potential doesn't mean very much, then a growing sense of lost time and opportunity will grow within us. I do not wish that feeling on anyone. Regret and longing are not comforting thoughts when one is old and past one's prime.

My point is that we need to see potential as an ascending line of development throughout the course of our lives. This is the inner truth of our experiences of transition in life and work. Each transition point is one where we are being pulled to change in order to fulfill our potential. In each life or work transition is opportunity, if we only see it that way. 

In order to continue to reach for our potential, we must stop doing certain things and begin to learn and master new skills, attitudes, behaviors as we move into new social and organizational contexts. This is the secret to mastering our transitions in life and work. It is the secret to being adaptive and reaching our potential each day.

The Question of Impact

To understand and identify our potential is to understand our potential Impact.

Impact is the change that makes a difference that matters.

Embedded in that statement are the values, talents, relationships, strategies, structures and ways of measurement that are required to live a full, healthy, meaningful life. 

Impact isn't just what we accomplish or what we achieve. It is also opens up new potential, fresh opportunities, and environments that may not have existed even yesterday.

Impact never reaches a final point of completion, either. It is a stage along a path of development. Our potential is the same, not a fixed quantity, but something that grows and develops with initiative and action, or, diminishes from inaction.

We are not human machines, but living systems that are constantly evolving. We are always either growing or declining physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This growth is not set, fixed or predetermined. It may show itself as a pattern of development, but it is not formulaic. We are open and responsive to the full range of experience that we have. Our potential for impact is far greater than we can imagine.

To envision our impact is to imagine our potential.

To imagine our potential is to understand better who we are as persons within the social and organizational contexts of our life and work.

To define ourselves is to see that we are both the same and always changing. This is human nature at its most basic.

The Shift in Question

It has become clear to me that the way we understand what defines us has to change. Up to now personal identity has been seen as a kind of object, a thing that we possess, and lasts our life time.

I am (fill in the blank).

One of the reasons why we viewed our identities this way is that for most of human history we lived in homogeneous communities formed by generations of families. But over the past couple hundred years, that social context has been eroding as families fragment through relocation to new places for economic, ethnic and political reasons. Identities have become more fluid as social interaction required greater flexibility and adaptation to change in society.

As a result, we must learn to adapt to the relationships as they present themselves. This shows us that our sense of self is far more fluid and maleable than maybe we once thought. In this sense, our core identity ends up having multiple expressions, which may appear to us as different identities.

The question that confronts us most directly, then, is what makes up that core identity that allows us to be the same person in very different social and organizational contexts? Or to state it differently how can I be a person of integrity who knows how to find strength for any situation?

The Question of Identity

This post, like many I've written over the past three years, has taken not minutes to create, but weeks, and in this case months, to write. They have because so much of what I write is done in a quest to discover my own understanding of what I sense or observe in my and other's life and work. This quest to understand defines me as much as anything I know. What I learn feeds the importance that integrity has for me.

What I write therefore is often much more personal than may be evident. But it is also social because I writing in the context of many conversations and experiences that I have with people and organizations.

I find that many people have the same issues or needs as I do.The need is to be clear about who we are, and how that factors into how we live each day.

The Place of Desire

A third thing that I've discovered about personal identity, along with the importance of integrity, and our potential impact, is that we are driven by desires. We often talk about these desires as passions.

I have come to this view through the work of philosopher/ theologian James K.A. Smith. He writes,

"Because I think we are primarily desiring animals rather than merely thinking things, I also think that what constitutes our ultimate identities - what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are - is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate - what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world. What we desire or love ultimately is a (largely implicit) vision of what we hope for, what we think the good life looks like."

I find this to be true, and yet hard to get at it. It is so much easier to create a list of values or strengths or traits, and say, that is me. But down deep inside of us is a presence that is passionate for the things that matter.

As I have written before (The Platform of Desire 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5) on desire, I see that there are three principal desires out of which the whole of our identity finds expression.

Three Goals of Life-Work - Simple

These desires are for Personal Meaning, Happy, Healthy Relationships and To Make a Difference that Matters in our live and work.  These desires form the core of our identity. They do because they are ways that we define what we love.

These desires must form the core of our identity because the platform of our identities in the past is eroding.  No longer will families live in inter-generational community. No longer will we work for the same company all our lives. No longer will we find homogeneous environments where everyone finds support and affiliation with people who are like them.

The future is open, diverse and filled with constant change. For this reason our identity cannot be based on external circumstances, but rather on who I am within. And who I am is what I love and desire to create in my life.

When our desires drive us to clarifying the values that give us identity, then we know where to find meaning in our life.

When our desires point us toward the kind of people with whom we can have happy, healthy relationships, then we will know how to be the kind of person who can create those relationships.

When our desires define the impact we want to have, then we know what our life's purpose ultimately means.

As I have worked through a number of scenarios that could possibly define who we are, increasingly they became more complex. The more complex they became the more I realized that the picture I saw was a picture of all the choices from which to build our lives. As a result I was pushed back to what I had discovered before.

There is more to say, and I will in future posts. But let me leave this long post with this final thought.

To live is to love.

To love is to give.

To give is to live a life where meaning, happiness, health and impact flow from the daily experience of seeking to fulfill the potential that we each have to make a difference that matters. 

Series Note: This post is the first in a series that I am calling Reclaiming the Real. You can find a page of links to each post in the series here.

A Fine Line

On top of Max Patch

A fine line marks our lives.

Its a fine line that separates us from who we are today and our better selves, 

     between what we think and what we know,

          between what we desire and what we seek,

               between what we believe and what we do.

A fine line between what we are willing to try and what we will sacrifice.

A fine line between making a difference, and wasting our lives.

A fine line between fear and determination.

A fine line between failure and success.

A fine line between good and evil,

     between altruism and narcissism,

          between nobility and inhumanity.

A fine line between who we are and how people perceive us.

A fine line between who others are and how we perceive them.

A fine line between us and people who are different than us.

A fine line between what is normal and what is abnormal.

A fine line between what is acceptable and and what is not.

A fine line between comedy and tragedy,

     between humor and horror,

          between the fullness of life and the loss of it.

Yet, we live in a world where all these fine lines are portrayed as wide gulfs that we are unable to cross.

These gulfs represent the worst of ourselves. They are what divide us. They treat life as a dichotomy between one thing and another. As a result, they rid us of the beauty of ambiguity.

The fine line is a moving line that forces us to pay attention, to be aware, and to appreciate the subtle nuances that actually exist, so that we live as seekers, explorers and discoverers of what life offers.

To live with the fine line is to live with ambiguity. To do so means we break out of the ever narrowing boxes of perception that close us in, make us defensive, isolated, and out of touch with the world that exists on the other side.

The gulf of dichotomy is a fantasy world. It is not real. It is an illusion. It is a world of hermetically sealed categories that we embrace to avoid engagement what those people and arenas that we do not understand.

There is a fine line that most of us never cross. It is a line that breaks us out of the conformity of dichotomy, of the we-versus-them mindset that is a product of manipulation and control.

Are we afraid?

It is okay to say so.

Do we think for ourselves?

Or do we follow some conventional line of thought to fit in, to belong, to find some connection beyond ourselves. 

Do we lack personal initiative?

Do our actions defines us?

Actions of purpose and impact, not just calendars full of activities.  

Life's goodness and beauty doesn't come in a box from an online retailer. They aren't a commodity to acquire, to trade or to hedge against. It isn't one thing or another, it is embedded in the ambiguity that defines the fine line.

Recently, I wrote ...

Picture with me walking out to the edge of what you know and have experienced, and seeing a line. 

That line is the horizon of your life. It is way out there.

Or, it is right here, in front of you, close at hand, always marking the line that confronts you. Day by day, that line is getting closer and closer. Avoid it and you'll be boxed in, cornered, paralyzed by the ambiguity of the fine line.

The fine line is the horizon of our life. We live up against it everyday. Face up to it and find a life and work filled with goodness and beauty, meaning and fulfillment, and a difference that truly matters.

We have a choice. Accept the fine line, step across it, and embrace a world of ambiguity, goodness and beauty. Or, shrink back from it, embracing the gulf of dichotomy, and imprisoning ourselves in our own world of irreconcilable difference.

It's a fine line. Will you embrace it?

What We Know

Picture yourself walking out to the edge of what you know and have experienced, and seeing a line. 

Over Graveyard Fields - Sepia

That line is the horizon of your life. It is way out there.

How did that horizon line come to be set there?

Who sets the horizon of our life?

Is there also a horizon for our work, our businesses, our families, even the communities where we live?

Picture yourself standing by that line.

On the other side, we see nothing, just a blank scene, like a bank of fog.

Then, we step over the line, and all of a sudden a new horizon appears, far out in the distance, beyond our reach.

What do you do when you realize that the horizon that you set for yourself is too near?

How do we come to understand what the limits of our lives are?

How do we live and work everyday walking out to that line which marks the horizon of everything we do, and stepping across it?

More than any time in human history, this is how we should be spending our days.

We should not think that because there is so much chaos and crisis in the world that we need to retreat into what we know works. The disruptiveness of change is that what once was certain, stable and predictable is no longer. The known world is becoming smaller, and the horizons of our life and work are moving closer to us.

Think of your life as a timeline filled with people and events.

Now consider the people and events that you knew and experienced in high school. Would you now, at the age of 30, 42, or 55 prefer the relationships you had in high school, and the experiences that you had then. Would you prefer to have never advanced in your life beyond the age of 16?

I've know people who were proud to tell me that they had never read a book after graduating from college. All they know is what they see and hear on television and from the newspaper. Their life has no horizon. No place to go to, just a place to stay.

What We Don't Know

What we know is right here where we stand.

What we don't know is where the horizon of our life and work is.

What we don't know is what our potential is.

What we don't know is what is going to work in the future.

What we don't know is why what worked in the past did work.

What we know is that there is more life to live.

How do you find the horizon?

You walk toward the unknown.

It is a walk, a journey. It isn't a project.  It is an approach to living.

Think of it as if you are living inside of a large balloon that needs air. You push on the wall of the balloon to fill it with air. As you push, the balloon expands, fills with air, and the space inside of the balloon grows.

This is what walking out to your horizon is like.

It is living to expand your perception of who you are and more importantly what you can do. It expands when we learn what is possible that can be transformed into what is probable.

What does it take personally to walk out to your horizon and step over it?

The obvious things are courage, commitment, and resilience. But those really follow after something else.

It is belief.

Not belief in yourself that you can do it. Because you don't know if you can. That is the point. You don't know what your horizon is, or whether you can go out to the farthest reach of your abilities, your emotions or your physical endurance. You just don't know. And not knowing either fills you with fear and dread, or desire and ambition.  If desire and amibition, then you believe that you MUST go out there and find your horizon.

I remember watching the world greatest long distance swimmer Diana Nyad talk with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show about her experience of failing to swim from Cuba to Florida. (A couple years later she would succeed in swimming the longest distance that any man or woman has ever done. In 1979, she swam 102.5 miles from the island of Bimini to Florida.)  She told him that she learned who she was and what she could do by pushing herself to find her limits, and that as a result, she had the self-understanding of a 50 year old.

Later, she said, “I am willing to put myself through anything; temporary pain or discomfort means nothing to me as long as I can see that the experience will take me to a new level. I am interested in the unknown, and the only path to the unknown is through breaking barriers, an often-painful process.”

Walking out to the horizon of your life is a journey of self discovery and self-mastery.  Every time we find our horizon and step over, the line moves further out.

A last thought ...

Most of us never find our horizons because we think we must go alone. What I've found is that others desire to know where their horizon line is drawn as well. Find those people and take the journey together. Help each other. Encourage each other. Challenge each other.

The journey out to our horizon is possible because there is usually someone believes that we can. This has been my experience. I venture forth because I know there are people who believe I can. And in return, I do the same. I spend more of my days believing in people's capacity to change, to discover their horizons, and find the path to fulfilled potential. I do because that belief has been given to me.

Share the journey, live a life of discovery, move toward the horizon, and create a life that truly matters as a result.

Just Knowing You Are In Transition Doesn't Mean Much, with a Personal Update

Transition Points-Space2

For many of us the past 12-18 months has been a time of transition.

We recognize that the context of our businesses has changed. As a result, we have been making changes.

I visualize this change as a transition from what I was before to what I will be in the future.

When we enter a Transition Point, we recognize that something is awry. Our performance is down.

Our markets are drying up. Our work is much harder, more stressful.

It isn't enough just to know you are in transition.

It isn't enough to say "Well, we are in a recession."

It isn't enough to hope that things will get better.

It isn't enough just to realize that things are changing.

When we enter a Transition Point, just waiting for things to get better doesn't work. There are reasons why we are here. Some of the reasons are the result of our decisions and actions. Others are the changes that are happening in the external circumstances of our life and work, like an economic recession or epic technological transformation.

It doesn't matter WHY we are in a Transition Point.

It really doesn't matter that you understand it.

What does matter is WHAT you are going to DO about it.

Change does not happen in isolation. Change is not some abstract idea that others talk about. Change happens and we must respond.

Once we decide to respond to the change that is happening, we enter a Space between Transition Points. This Transition Space is a place of decision and action.

For example, it is a beautiful sunny summer day. Yet the weather report is saying that a really bad storm is coming. We don't wait to put our children's toys in the garage, close the windows of the house, and check to see if our flashlights have batteries, and our phones and computers are charged. We take action, because change is coming.

This is the Transition Space where we plan, prepare, and act in anticipation for the next Transition Point.

For many of us, the recession's severity caught us off guard. We had not anticipated the storm that was coming. We were ill-prepared because don't think of Change as normal, but rather abnormal.

This is our first mistake.

To live in the Transition Space between Transition Points is to assume that all things are on-the-table subject to change or even go away.

It happened to me last spring. I was disappointed, but not surprised, because I had been through this twice before.

We not only need to anticipate potential Transition Points, but also, more importantly, learn to adapt to those changes. If we take this attitude, then, we will see that the perspective of constant and continuous adaptation to change is now the most stabland secure position to be in.

External circumstances can change. Our internal confidence and values should not. We should see that each day is a time of change, and is the Transition Space between yesterdays Transition Point and tomorrow's.

Here, then, are some principles to can help learn to understand how to respond to change.

1. It is a time of stopping and beginning.

We stop doing some of the things that we been doing, even ones that we are good at and in which we find great comfort and affirmation.

We stop because they root us in a past performance that is no longer the best response to the change we are experiencing.

If a hurricane is coming, we don't stand under an umbrella waiting for it to pass. We take action to protect ourselves and our families from the storm.

We must develop new approaches, new skills, acquire a new attitude about who we are and what we have to offer people.

2. It is not a time of waiting, but of patience and persistence.

To wait for times to get better is to lose ground every day. But being faster doesn't necessarily translate into faster arrival at a higher performance level.

When we begin new initiatives, it takes time for them to reach maturity. It takes time for your market to recognize that you are different, and for them to change their perception of what you have to offer.

Instead of waiting for things to get better, we work with great patience and persistence to make each day a step forward. We are totally committed, and we look for ways to improve and change every day.

When we are patient and persistent, our resilience to the hardships that comes with change also grows. If we can remain realistically optimistic, not blindly hopeful, then we gain the resilience we need in a time of great transitions. In time, we'll find the success we seek.

3. It is a time of change which changes us as people.

The test of transition is whether the potential exists within us to be different, even better, and possibly, even, more successful.

To get through this time of transition, we need to tap into aspects of our potential that are dormant.

To realize our potential means we have to become the persons who have the capacity for impact that our latent potential represents.

If this means we move to a different community, change the way we dress or leave behind some business relationships, then we must do it.

Times of change are times of opportunity. These times of transition are the space where we can lay aside the encumbrances and constraints of our past and grow into our next one.

Very few people are willing to do this. The comforts of their present situation, even as things get harder, less successful, are difficult to give up, in order to seek for unknown and uncertain opportunities.

These are lessons that I've learned over the past few months.

Update: Four and A Half Years Later

The above post, apart from some editing for clarity, an added example, and corrected syntax, was four and a half years ago during the height of the "Great Recession".  Regardless of the causes of that recession, the impact remains with us. People and businesses that changed, learned how to be better during hard times. There is always opportunity.

My own experience may be somewhat instructive.

A year after I wrote the above post, I took a position as an executive and fund raiser for non-profit serving ministries across the state of North Carolina. I was let go after the 20 months, and eventually the non-profit closed because of lack of funds. I quickly moved into another position as an interim pastor of a church. Two years later that work is done, and I'm preparing to move into the next Transition Space of my career.

This Transition Point for me incorporates the three principles above.

I've changed as a person.

The work that I have done for nearly twenty years is changing into a very different form.

My future work is development and re-purposing of materials that I've developed over the past 15 years for a new audience, in new forms, with a new focus of engagement with people.

Change happens every day. However, the changes that we need to make some times need time to grow within us before they can emerge as their own Transition Point in time.

My advice to each of you is be patient, persistent and resilient as you intentionally adapt to the changes that are taking place in your life and work.

We are all living in the Transition Space between the Transition Points in our lives. Practice these three principles doesn't mean you can fall back into believing that change no longer affects you. Instead, it means that they opportunities and potential that come with change will be more evident.

The Values Proposition

In my Weekly Leaders Leadership Q&A column today - Collaboration is not a networking strategy -  I write about collaboration as "how WE create impact."

To define impact requires us to define what our values are. Values are the glue that makes good collaboration possible.  No values. Very little prospect for a successful collaboration.

Collaboration is about how values unite a group of people together to achieve a goal rather than individuals simply working together.

It is the values proposition that makes collaboration work. Without it, all we have is a random set of tactics that may or may not work.

Everyone of us is acting on values that matter to us. The question we should be asking is "What is the impact of my values?"

Most people that I know are barely in touch with this aspect of their lives.

Ask people what their values are and they will say something like, trust, respect, or honesty.  Good values to believe in. The question though is how are these values lived out in the relationships that we have.

The problem that the values proposition brings is that we are not used to thinking about values as ways we live. We see them rather as descriptions of the quality of our life and work.

When it becomes important for me to be respectful, to have integrity, to value serving and the championing of other people, then I'm going to look for ways to do them. I can do this on my own and find strength for hard times through the character that comes from living out my values.

However, in business, the values proposition goes a step further, and it is the foundation of genuine collaboration. I call this "operationalizing values."

This means that we are looking for ways to apply the values as processes and procedures.

For example, let's say that a value that we have is the importance of believing in the potential of people. It is easy to see that both anticipation and disappointment would come with this value. We see people fulfill their potential and we feel elated. We see people fail to reach their potential and we are disappointed in their failure.

If we just believe in people as a feeling that we have toward people, then we may never take the steps to contribute to the fulfillment of their potential. Let's look at a specific example.

You have a colleague. You see hidden talent that is unrecognized, unrealized and just waiting to be released. Let's say this talent is for speaking. What do you do about this?  Do you say something? Or, do you create a structure within your organization where this person has the opportunity to make a presentation to a group.  Either way, your belief in this person is expressed in action.

The value proposition is not a feeling that we have about people and organizations. Instead, it is how we relate to and work with people and their organizations. It is the fundamental basis of genuine collaboration.

It is the future of business because it is the thing that differentiates a relationship from a commodity.

Discover your values and operationalize them throughout your organization. You'll find that people will be knocking on your door to collaborate with you. With that comes the difference that matters in creating impact that lasts.

Measuring Up

How do you measure success? I'm not hearing much talk about success right now, but we should.

The way we measure success is being radically altered.

If money was your measure, then your perception of your success is being altered.

If title was your measure, then your perception is being adjusted.

If security was your measure, then your perception is being challenged.

We are, right now, at a transition point in history where virtually every measure of success is up for grabs. If you listen and observe what people are saying and doing, you'll hear them talk about success as being about "MY" success. It is about what I get from success. It is about how I look compared to the next fella. Measures of success have been about personal accumulation. This is now changing.

There are at least two measures of success that are now emerging into prominence.

1. What is my impact? What difference have I made? What is change have I created? 
This measure has always been there. It was just viewed as a secondary measure. Change was a means to the end of personal accumulation. Now, impact is a preeminent measure, and what I get out of it is a secondary one.

Now, what I'm giving to make a difference is becoming a measure of impact. Are you giving back? Are you giving away for free part of yourself or your business that strengthens the business and community environment you are in?  Are you a giver or a taker? Are you acting out of thanks or entitlement? People are watching and their choices in the future are being impacted by this change in measurement.

This is one of the new measures of success. It is one that I see at the heart of leadership.  A second one is ...

2. How does your performance measure up to your potential?
I encounter people every week who want to impress me with either their ability or their success. They are all ego. Their high pressure tactics are old school.

Let me tell you something. I don't really care what you've accomplished in life. The past is just that past. I'm interested in your perception of your potential, and what you are doing to do to develop to meet that potential. I'm interested in what you have learned from your past that is helping you make a difference right now.

Don't compare your self to other people. You are not other people. I'm not you, you are not me, neither of us is the next guy or gal. We are who we are, and ultimately the only valid comparison is between where we am right now and where our potential leads us.

The reality is that most of us have no idea of what our potential is. The horizon of our potential is so near that we live in fear of reaching it too soon. For thirty years, I've operated on the principle that my horizon is beyond my reach, and I'm going after it. My inspiration was an interview that Johnny Carson did with Diana Nyad after her unsuccessful attempt to swim from Cuba to the US. She talked about what she learned about herself. I want that same knowledge of my horizon potential. It is my supreme measure of success.

Right now, each one of us is being given the opportunity to change everything about our lives that constrains us from meeting our potential. If you live in fear and desperation, you'll end up losing. If you live with an eye to opportunities, then you will learn to see the potential in every situation. And that potential is the opportunity for making a difference, for creating change, for having an impact.

How are you measuring up? What difference are you making? How are you giving back?  What are your plans for reaching your potential? Can you see the horizon of your potential?  Are you ready to go after it? Then, don't wait, get after it today. Set the pace and we'll be along side as discover new measures of success.

Wheels Up Potential - Aaron Fotheringham's story

I get the impression that most people don't come close to reaching their potential because they have already decided that it is a futile task. This defeatist mindset is at the heart of most organizational failures. Instead of taking what they have and making something of it, they look back remembering fonder days. It is more than a lack of confidence. It is disbelief that they even have something to offer.

If you still hold that view after watching this ESPN video, then watch it again. This is the story of Aaron Fotheringham. A kid who has taken less physical ability and done something absolutely remarkable with it. Watch the video.

My favorite part of the video is when he is asked how he would define Spina Bifida. His response: "A great opportunity." Wow, I just love that willingness to take on the most extreme challenge. What a great kid.

The reality for everyone of us is that we each have potential and are limited in much the same way Aaron is. The specifics may be different, but the attitude required to achieve your potential is the same. It takes passion, hard work and a willingness to endure the pain and often the loneliness required to reach your goals.

This is what I see required for most organizations. My guess is that few operate beyond a 30% level. Why? Simply because the people around them say it is okay.  Do you think if Aaron Fotheringham worked in your office that he'd allow that low level of performance? No, I don't either.

It's time to adjust our attitudes and work to come closer to reaching our potential. If you are on that journey, send me your story, and I'll post it here.

UPDATE: An interview with Aaron. Thanks Gene.

Never underestimate what a person can do. Never.

Never underestimate what a person can do. Never.

When you look at a person across a room or on the other side of a service desk, or listening to them on the other end of a phone, do you ever think that just possibly my interaction with this person has life changing possibilities?  Probably not. Probably not because no one has ever treated you in this way. No one sees you as a person with endless potential that only needs the right suggestion or right approach to create a transformational difference.

Over the past ten days, I've had this experience with an eight year old kid from the vast, beautiful plains of the American Mid-west. I met Little Wolf - that's his blogging name - and discovered a kid who has more love and imagination than I could ever hope to see in another individual in my life time. Check out his blog - Musings of An Eight Year Old. The goodness of this young kid jumps off the screen. And I am pleased to say that he is my friend.

It is my gift and curse to see potential in each person I meet.  I see that what stands in the way of that person fulfilling their potential are just a few things. It is their own self-confidence connected to whatever their passion may be. It is finding an appropriate context or approach for their talent to be expressed in a tangible way. It is having someone believe that they can be better than anyone else believes. It is the experience of creating an impact through their own actions.

For me, I see this both on the individual and the institutional level.  When you help individuals learn to lead through their own initiative for impact, then it leads to the same happening for the whole of their organization. What stops it is disbelief.

Back to my little eight year old friend. 

Little Wolf is this caring, imaginative kid who has ASD. It is at a level that limits what he can physically do. However, after hearing him tell me about his invisible gargoyle friend Demona, and to do so over the course of two full days, I knew that he had a gift for telling stories.  I knew that if he began to tell his stories on a blog that others would be able to share in the richness of this kid's imagination. I knew it would be an outlet for his passion and creativity that could make a difference.

I mentioned this to his mother in passing that he should tell his stories on a blog.  Later that week, his blog was born.  In a short few days, and with just a baker's dozen of postings, Little Wolf has become the greatest eight year old blogger on this planet or any other.

I hope you'll visit his blog. Leave an encouraging comment. Subscribe to his feed. Let him join in this great wide community that exist in virtual space.  Never underestimate the impact you can have by simply doing this. You just never know what will happen.