“You can’t really know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.”-Hitch
These past two weeks we have been focusing on the five practices of exemplary leadership and how applying these invaluable practices is as insightful as it is practical. After our first posts within this series that covered the practice of modeling the way, we are obviously now fully secure in where our values lie and are beaming confidence in how these values play part into our everyday actions and, thus, our actions as leaders. (or, at the very least, we are confident we have read about such concepts through some blonde’s self-blogging site). Either way, we have officially concluded the modeling the way practice and it is now time to cover the practice of inspiring a shared vision.
If you’re a child of the 90s, the days of worthy Disney channel programming, when you hear that someone “has a vision,” you may be thinking…
(take my advice, don’t stare at that too long or you’ll start trippin’).
For those of you who have yet to experience this quality entertainment, That’s so Raven (the show of the referenced graphic) was an American supernatural sitcom featuring, Raven Baxter, the not-so-ordinary teenager who possesses the ability to glimpse flashes of the future. When she “has a vision,” she receives psychic play-by-plays of future situations in which she then attempts to alter the presumed outcomes. These attempts often result in troubled, yet, comical situations that make for a family-friendly show loved by all generations alike.
As intriguing as Raven’s visions may be, that’s not quite the kind of vision we will be discussing; however, I highly suggest you indulge in some That’s so Raven binge watching. Though these visions aren’t that of leadership visions per se, they do share similar characteristics to those and reflect how leaders act in response to such visions. Let’s begin to explore those similarities as we focus on how aspects of our past play part in how we are able to inspire a shared vision for our future.
If not literal psychic visions of the future, how do we define visions in leadership situations? Kouzes and Posner describe visions as, “projections of one’s fundamental beliefs and assumptions…[they’re] the paramount, persistent and pervasive messages that you want to convey.” These messages depict what leaders aspire to accomplish. They are the objectives that compel them to strive for a larger purpose and motivate their actions to benefit the future while also acting upon the present. Exemplary leaders are to be forward-looking individuals and possibility thinkers in order to attain this aspiring style of mindset. All ventures, whether big or small, are pursued with the belief that what may be simply a yearning today will one day become reality.
What are you aspiring to accomplish? Can you envision such as reality? Better yet, would you believe me if I told you why you envision this reality has as much to do with the beauty of your past as it does the beauty of your future?
Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University and known for his research on affective forecasting, details that, “the human being is the only animal that thinks about the future. The greatest achievement of the human brain is its ability to imagine objects and episodes that do not exist in the realm of the real, and it is this ability that allows us to think about the future.” Okay, that’s pretty neat. We have a unique skill to foresee possible outcomes in our lives and act in accordance to achieve those outcomes. This shouldn’t be something we take for granted. Allowing ourselves to exist beyond our realm of the real empowers us to take the necessary steps to strive for what we desire and inspire others to rally around the same vision.
So, if we each supposedly obtain this powerful skillset, why do leaders receive greater recognition for their abilities to create visions? What sets apart their goals and aspirations from the remaining common folk, as the case so seems here?
The difference all lies in existing beyond your realm of the real, putting the past behind you but remembering it still exists.
Leaders do not confine themselves to simply attending to the present. They not only prospect the future, but also, they reflect on the past rather than neglect the past. We have been instilled to believe the past is the past and we shouldn’t be focusing on our previous mistakes or it will deter us from our futures, even more right? Our parents, friends and TED talkers alike, tell us-
“The past doesn’t define you.”
As a young kid, this is a beautifully reassuring proverb. It provides us comfort to know the mistakes we’ve made are not foretelling of the successes we will achieve. However, by the time you’re a 20-something seasoned adult, you have a very special finger you would like to show that proverb and that person in your life who’s preaching it at you. By the time you’re this seasoned adult, your mind cannot be tricked by such a Band-Aid statement. Because the truth is, your past is not always something you can simply brush off your shoulders and move on from. Whether you like it or not, it actually does play part in defining you and your future. The difference in leaders comes in the ability in holding the power to how it defines you, whether you decide to learn from your past or lean on your past.
And utilizing this power is existing beyond your realm of the real.
So often we want to forget the negative moments of our past and blame our poor decisions on the belief that we were a different person then than we are now. Yes, there are some situations or lifestyle choices and qualities of yourself that are left behind; however, their impacts carry on. The truth is, you are the same person as you had been, just at a different part of your journey. To guide the decisions that propel you forward, you have to accept that the beauty in journeys is their quality of being imperfect. Though your past is part of what defines you, so is your present and how you act in your present in accordance to your past speaks a greater truth to how you are letting your past identify you.
Come this May, it will have been 10 years since I was admitted to inpatient for my anorexia. And although I am not someone who is unnaturally shocked about time passing (because that’s kind of what it’s supposed to do,) realizing it has been 10 years really surprised me. Like, I am shook. When I stop and think about each year since that summer, I consider the growth I have experienced but also the struggles I faced along the way and still face to this day. I no longer judge my worth on how far my hip bones are protruding from my body nor by the number of vertebras I can count as I run my finger up the center of my back. My every thought does not revolve around the calories I have eaten and the calories I am still able to have for the remainder of the day. These were parts of my past that were left behind.
But even with these improvements, I have yet to forego the impacts of that stage, whether those be looming effects or constructive effects. These are the parts of my past that have carried on, that play part in defining me. Yes, how I judge my worth has changed; however, I am still overly critical of myself and the value of my accomplishments, or lack thereof. And yes, my thoughts are not a continuous cycle about my caloric intake, but, if I allow myself to enjoy a previously considered “fear” food, I often question my self-control and am ashamed I ignored the strength I once had in denying such foods. This journey through recovery has been far from perfect.
You may be wondering how this example is advocating against the belief that I am not leaning on my past to define me when, clearly, my anorexic stage seems to be characterizing my present. So, here’s how it is proving my point: the fact that I still struggle with an anorexic mindset is not the characteristic of the past that is defining me. The fact that I have grown from that experience and found strengths within myself because of the impacts I underwent is the characteristic of the past that is defining me. The fact that I am envisioning my future because I know how I still need to grow is defining me. What I have learned from that stage is why I am who I have become.
This is me existing beyond the realm of my real. I’m not allowing myself to be caught up in the negative moments of my past or simply forget they happened. Trust me, they happened (just ask my parents and their medical bills). I’m still the same person that I was then; however, I have chosen not to be ashamed of the “me” I was at that stage in my journey because it was, in fact, still me.
So, no, I am not just brushing off my past and moving on because it was an ugly stage in my life. I am recognizing where I need to grow and acting in accordance with those aspirations to get to where I need to be. And this journey is going to continue to be imperfect but that’s why I like it.
This is about the point in the blog that you start questioning how I could possibly relate this back to That’s so Raven. Shockingly, it does relate. Raven was always so caught up in her “visions” and what was supposed to happen in her future that she neglected to reflect on the lessons from her past that would have benefited her response to such visions. Her ability to see the future lacked its worth of power when she forewent the impacts that have defined her from her past.
When we flip the switch on what past mistakes or struggles say about us and we define ourselves, not by such situations, but rather, by the power in ourselves to have come away from these situations with a better understanding of our strengths, we are better able to inspire a vision that will get us to where we need to be because we know who we are.
Now that we delve into our past, next post we will continue the practice of inspiring a shared vision and focus on how we can now empower our future. And don’t worry, we will continue to reference That’s so Raven.
So, this is the blonde existing beyond the realms of the real. And guiding my future with the decisions of my past in-between.