One of my favorite songs is Judas Priest’s Heading out to the Highway. I also love the video. Yes, I’m a bit of a tomboy. Anyway, the entire song is really inspirational. Early in the song, the lyrics state, “you get nothing for nothing, expect it when you’re backseat driving and your hands ain’t on the wheel,” and later, “I’m gonna do it my way, take a chance before I fall.” You really should just listen to the whole song. The gist of it is that we should fully engage in life without being afraid of failure; if we fall, we can bring ourselves back up again. We should take risks, perhaps safer ones than those portrayed in the video, so that we can realize our full human potential.
We get stuck in many ruts throughout our lives. One of them is sticking to people and places with which we are most familiar. This is often a result of logistics, convenience, and habit; however, it may also indicate underlying biases or fears.
Labels are superfluously used to describe things that are both familiar and strange. For example, we distinguish between good and bad neighborhoods, poor and rich people, and brilliant and ignorant ideas. Each of these descriptors carries with it the weight of preconceived ideas which may or not be accurate. Either way, labels often serve as a hidden social code that limit what you can and can’t do or with whom you will or will not associate.
Because we are often bound to particular social circles or geographic areas, we have to be intentional about breaking down those boundaries. Travel to a neighborhood that you have considered off limits. Visit a library or public park to get a feel for the culture. How do you feel? What is the root of those feelings? Would you want others to feel that way on your turf? Do you feel that you are somehow superior or inferior to the people who live, work, and play there? And, most importantly, how can you use your influence as a leader to build relationships and change prejudicial attitudes and behaviors?
There are many other ways to exercise social flexibility. Here are a few ideas:
- Go to a religious service of a faith that is unfamiliar to you
- Visit a new restaurant and order a food you have never tried before
- Cultivate diverse friendships and bring people together
- Travel to a faraway destination that opens your eyes to the multiplicity of human folkways
- Take a friend with you so that you can learn together
Be intentional in creating new parameters to frame your understanding of the world. Take calculated risks to expand your social repertoire. Before you jump into a pool, you can anticipate the results by looking through the clear water to the bottom and testing the temperature with your toe. Yet, the exhilaration of the water engulfing your body is always somewhat of a pleasant surprise. You can expect similar results when you expand your social and environmental horizon.
What frightens you? Bungee jumping? Holding a snake? Calling that man/woman of your dreams? Go for it! What have you got to lose but your fear and inhibitions?
Building a portfolio of diverse life experiences will make you a more flexible and adventurous leader. You’ll also be much more amusing at cocktail parties.
We live in a very superficial world. To cope, we design, construct, and reinforce artificial barriers to protect us from the dis-ease of making mistakes. By choosing not to fully experience and learn from our mistakes, we fail to build an immunity that is an integral part of our humanity. This immunity strengthens our resolve and enhances our understanding of self and others. We cannot be immune to failure; rather, our immunity allows us the space we need to be authentic and vulnerable with each other. Such immunity builds up by consistently challenging ourselves to take risks (intellectual, aesthetic, etc.) and by letting others know it is safe for them to do the same.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin
That day came and went for me, over and over again for several years. The bud began to rot inside, starved from light and unable to grow.
This is one of the reasons why I recently left a relatively secure and stable job as an executive director so that I could launch an online school for my progressive friends around the world. That particular job was occupying too much of my intellectual and emotional space, distorting the boundaries and destroying the terrain.
At the same time, I felt like the queen of a complacent little island while the whole rest of the world raged on fire. I realized within my soul a burning desire to more meaningfully serve humanity. And so I lovingly descended from my precious throne, only to swim through uncertain waters and encounter red eyed rabid crocodiles whose greatest pleasure would be to eat me alive. With the island further and further from view, I risk being burned and consumed; drowned and eaten alive.
Goodbye, Family Connection. Hello world.