After leading a transformational change process at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, Minnesota that opened my eyes to the vast untapped human potential in our organizations, I felt called to a new life.
Such calls are scary propositions, so I worked for two years with consultants Diane Olson and John Johnson to develop a new vision for the years ahead. Our vision for our lives is our picture of the life we want to create for ourselves.
The tremendous losses I anticipated — of my work (my art), of old dreams, of my income, of my relationships — sent me deep within myself. For a long time before I left, I explored my spiritual life as I grieved the losses before me: I read, I studied, I thought, I dreamed, I imagined, I reflected. My photography and photo trips provided solitude and a connection with nature. My conversations with Diane and John made my studies real.
The stories my parents told of my childhood were of my adventures. I wanted to reclaim the aliveness of my youth. Many fires burned inside of me. I would turn the flames of those fires into passion for my vision.
The vision I created for the next few years moved from thoughts of a value-driven, spiritual, and more authentic life with greater freedom for self-expression than the organizational world allows to four specific goals:
• To complete a Ph.D. in Leadership with a focus on transformational leadership,
• To begin to write about life and leadership,
• To try out consulting for transformation, and
• To go on a photo safari to Kenya and Tanzania with my brother.
Two years earlier those goals would have seemed like pipe dreams to me.
The thought of leaving the Star Tribune scared me. But more frightening than leaving was the thought of staying at the newspaper. I had learned and become aware of much in organizational life that I did not want to be a part of. I wanted to create and perform at a level not understood and, therefore, not tolerated by the organization. I saw many hollow men in their 40s around me, and I didn’t want to be like them. To feel alive, I would have to leave.
“How do I deal with the fear I feel?” I asked Diane Olson.
“You go through it,” she replied.
My vision was my source of courage and inspiration.
I went to Africa and took 4,000 nature and wildlife photos. I completed my Ph.D. 3 ½ years later at age 52. I’ve been a prolific writer about life and leadership since 1996. I consulted for 13 years. As I moved along in my life, I set new goals and created new visions for my life. I’ve learned how to renew my life intentionally.
A courageous journey of evolving our humanity is no quick-fix and, therefore, not a popular course of change.
We may have to walk away from empty marriages to find intimacy, and leave destructive relationships. We may need to abandon the insanity and mediocrity of our organizations to find our right livelihood. We may be marginalized by those who benefit from the craziness of the times and have to stand alone courageously.
In The Death of Ivan IIllych a man on his deathbed reflects on his life, how he had done everything right, obeyed the rules, became a judge, married, had children, and was looked on as a success. Yet, in his last hours, he wondered why he felt a failure.
Philosopher and author Peter Koestenbaum said courage begins with the decision to face the ultimate truth about existence: we live free to define ourselves at every moment. We become what we choose to be from the depth of our souls. I am mature when I am the author of my own life. It is not enough to simply obey all the rules of other people.
Our lives are our greatest creations. What do you want?