We live with an illusion of control. Even though we know deep down that everything could change in a moment, will we be prepared when that moment comes?
In a single breath the whole world can shift, and that’s what happened to me 10 years ago, when a host of devastating personal and professional events struck all at once, generating a cascading sense of loss and upheaval. I had no idea that a series of events could alter everything I had ever known, and would have such an impact on the course of my life. Isn’t this the way it always happens?
So there I am, sitting at the cornerstone of a series of lakes in the Eastern Sierra, surrounded by majestic alpine scenery, looking at 11,000-foot snow-capped peaks reaching high into the sky. I was wondering/pondering if I would ever be able to ride my bike again more than a couple of miles on the flat terrain around the camping area — let alone in the surrounding hills that amounted to nearly 900 feet of climbing. Yet I felt suddenly drawn to do just that as I watched my friend paddle into the clear water on his paddleboard.
I had recently returned, after a long absence, to my second home in the mountains, a rugged environment where a certain amount of resilience, tenacity, strength, and perseverance are required for high altitude living. After a major illness and other intense struggles, here I was reemerging into a new life. I never thought I’d be able to ride my bike again, at least not like I used to. I had even contemplated buying an electric bike so I could still have access to some of the places where I liked to ride.
As I straddled my bike and stared at the road ahead, I recalled how I used to ride. Even when I was in the best of shape, I had to conquer many rides that I never thought I would make it through, certainly not with ease. What was different then from now, I wondered? Before, I always seemed to hop back on my bike and go for it anyway. I knew I could always walk it. What was different this time? Well, I wasn’t in that kind of shape anymore. I’d been broken down by loss of so many kinds, including the loss of physical strength and trust in myself. In that moment, the ride had become more than a mere physical challenge. If I didn’t do it now, I felt as if I’d be accepting some kind of alternate future.
So, I wondered, what would happen to me if I couldn’t make the loop? Should I attempt to do it alone? I was fearful. Fearful of what? Fearful of failure, of seeing my limitations? I had never ridden this loop by myself before. Would I be able to adapt to whatever happened on the road once the commitment was made? I could have 15 miles of walking the bike ahead of me. Would I make it? Could I accept living a diminished life? Suddenly I experienced a crisis of feeling alone and isolated in a life without purpose. Yet I wasn’t willing to go into that doom and gloom — that isn’t me.
As I watched my friend paddle on the lake, I heard my Grandfather whisper to me from the past: Just get on that bike. If you want it, just do it. You have it all; you have all that it takes to make it happen. The choice is yours.” I remembered the importance of accepting change, breathing deep, not worrying, and just being in the present. I made the choice. I hopped on my bike and I began to ride. I was tackling more in that ride than what I had tackled on all of my previous rides, but still I charged forward. Pushing through those boundaries, I thought after I rode up the first daunting hill, “I have started another chapter, and I didn’t need an electric bike. I had what I needed all along — that core strength, the drive, it carried over into everything. At the bottom of the ride, my friend looked up from the lake, and wasn’t even surprised to see me coming down that mountain.
In the end, I didn’t let the situation define me. Instead, I defined it, using what I already knew. These are the moments when we find out what it really means to be aware and responsive and truly in control of our destiny. Defining the future is all about the choices we make, and knowing how to make good choices in service of the future we want is the essence of good leadership.
This quote from Herminia Ibarra in her Harvard Business Review article on authenticity, sums up my practice:
“Work on getting better: When working together, setting goals for learning (not just for performance) helps us experiment with our identities without feeling like impostors, because we don’t expect to get everything right from the start. We stop trying to protect our comfortable old selves from the threats that change can bring, and start exploring what kinds of leaders we might become.”
I look forward to helping you. If I can make that journey just a little bit easier for you, if I can be your advocate, if I can help you remove the cobwebs, get you unstuck, and help you craft your legacy, then it would by my privilege to work with you.