The other day I had the pleasure of listening to an amazing lecture on leadership. I marveled how this speaker was truly himself–allowing all his humour, foibles, stories, failures, dreams to be utterly exposed and how he lived his life and chose his career based on whether he was having fun or not. At first, I thought, isn’t that kind of a frivolous measurement? But then as he told his story, I realized what courage that actually took. To stare down complacency. To stand up to the lure of security. To defy reason. To seek, instead, to have fun in his life and in his work and if he wasn’t, then to assert change so that he was experiencing joy. At one point, he quit a job where he was about as high up as you could go, because he wasn’t having fun. How many of us can say the same?
Frivolous? I think not.
Another lesson I took away from this lecture was that most powerful lessons are, in fact, kind of obvious. Over the past few weeks, I’ve really been seeing some staring-in-my-face life lessons that were there all along but I am just starting to truly ‘see’ them now. I was kind of beating myself up about it the other day about getting these lessons so late in life when I realized that was just undermining the learning. Waste of time. Get the lesson. Apply it. No matter that it seems simplistic–apparently, the really big lessons all are. Okay, good to know!
There’s a famous poem I’ve loved my whole life called Invictus, and at various points I’ve thought I ‘got it’ but this poem is truly lifelong learning–you always can apply it in a different way according to where you are, what you are struggling with, or overcoming. It never stops teaching. Where the poet William Henley writes, ‘I thank God for my unconquerable soul‘, I just smile, because if I lost everything, I know I would still have this gift–an unconquerable soul. All too often, however, people just give up, and surrender to hopelessness. I was talking to a friend the other night who had done just that. Given up on life, on relationships, on hope and I had a bleak 20 minutes or so after talking to him where I was kind of empathizing and thinking, is that vision true of the world? No. I won’t allow it to be for me. If there is anything I have passed on to my son, it is this undying belief in one’s self and I am thankful for his endless resilience in the face of terrible odds.
No matter what people may say about you, no matter what they think, no matter your circumstance, you alone say yes or no, you alone choose misery or fun, love or hate, despair or joy. If you resolve you have no choice then indeed you have none. ‘I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’
Seek fun over ‘work’.
My favourite line however, is when Henley writes, ‘Under the bludgeonings of chance/My head is bloody, but unbowed.’ Ah yes, chance, that hapless destroyer! Of this I can speak with experience: I have had two brothers killed in freak accidents, by minute moments of weird and uncontrolled chance, where had they been one second closer or farther, sooner, or later, they may have lived. And yet, we have to continue, to not let this ‘bludgeoning’ break us. The simple lesson, ‘life is for the living’, comes to mind, that we must deny despair and choose joy and yes, I can tell you it requires tremendous courage and leadership despite the ‘fell clutch of circumstance’.
Here is the poem in its entirety, I hope it brings you as much inspiration as it has to me over the years.It is simply written but I think you’ll find lots of lessons here to apply.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
-By William Ernest Henley