That’s why it’s so important to slay your giants while you’re young.
Her words hit me like a ton of bricks.
Not only is she incredibly beautiful and funny, she’s also really, really smart.
I’m lucky she’s my wife.
We were talking about the importance of marked leadership growth and reflecting on the life of King David in the Bible.
Setting the Stage
I was walking her through a talk I was getting ready to give, and we were reflecting on what David’s life might have been like as he neared the end of his life.
A Forgotten boy to a ruler.
From shepherd to king.
Giant-slayer to sage.
Desert dweller to palace ruler.
As he neared the end of his life, he had to spend time reflecting on all that had transpired. A surprising amount is written about David in the Bible. We see his faith and folly as he is featured across the pages of Scripture.
Someone described as “a man after God’s own heart” has killed giants, led a country, been to war, stolen another man’s wife, committed murder, written songs, and experienced rebellion and treason from his own family.
Throughout it all, he remained committed to God and in trying to understand how to lead well.
And as my wife and I were discussing this, we were talking about the many ways in which his experiences of God may have changed, but the need behind them hadn’t.
In a world that has trained you to be afraid, to doubt, and to limit yourself my advice is simple: don’t be a circus elephant.
The Elephant and the Rope
There’s a rather famous story floating around about how baby elephants were trained for the circus.
In short: baby elephants learn their boundaries by being chained to a stake in the ground. As little elephants, they can’t break free and learn they can only go so far.
By the time they are adults, the chain has been exchanged for a tiny rope, but the same (now self-imposed) limit still applies. The young elephant learned, “I can only go so far” and it never ventures to try anything new.
The adult elephant is capable of breaking free from the tiny rope, yet it never does.
Because that’s the power of false beliefs.
The False Narrative
When our kids were younger, we told them Bongo stories. In the stories, Bongo was their dog that was big enough to ride on. They would zoom around their Kingdom rescuing animals in need.
In every story, I would describe the adjectives the kids would need to complete their mission.
The list complied was designed to teach them the values, attitudes, and habits we wanted to instill in them.
This was done because of the powerful shaping effect of story.
Plus, it counters the false narratives that we as adults know all too well.
“I’m too dumb.”
Clumsy old me.”
Every day, we bombard ourselves with narratives and adjectives about how limited we are. And, just like the elephant, we never break free of those limitations believing we can only go so far.
Only have a certain amount of success.
We falsely believe the little rope of lies telling us we can’t be more, do more, have more, or love more.
The first is to be surrounded by community. Hear the voice and perspective of people who can see your true nature, gifts, abilities, and potential. Surround yourself with the positive people who want and see great things for you.
Discovering your true gifts and calling is another way to break free. Do you do what you love becuase you’re really good at it and enjoy it … or because you’re trying to earn someone’s affection? Knowing your true skills creates a passionate pursuit of of growth and limitless influence.
Look. We’re all going to screw up. In those moments of failure, having compassion on yourself is vital. Know your standard, live up to your standard, but have grace on yourself when you mess up. Learn where you went wrong, and correct the problem.
In your quest for personal growth, never believe you have to settle. Don’t be a circus elephant.
In coaching, I’m willing to do anything I can to help you reach your goals. The one thing I can’t do, however, is make you want to change. That’s why I ask all potential clients, Do you want to change?
The Origin of the Question
While walking the earth, Jesus performed lots of miracles, engaged in teaching the masses, and healed people. In one such instance, he asked the man, Do you want to get well?
It seems rather odd, that question.
Who wouldn’t want to get well?
Well, it turns out, quite a few of.
In fact, quite a few of us like being sick in one way or another.
We feel comfortable where we are stuck. In the small beliefs we hold. We see it in the minor discomforts of life, that one way or another, we are all stuck and most of us like being there.
It’s also killing us slowly.
Jesus asking, do you want to get better expresses the true desires of our hearts.
Do you want to let that burden go?
Are you willing release your doubt and fear?
Do you want to experience something different?
Because if you do, he offers to help. But if you like where you’re at, he’s also willing to leave you there.
In coaching, I’ve seen the same thing happen.
Do You Want To Change?
Whenever I meet with a potential client, we spend a little bit of time getting to know each other. I need them to trust me and give them space in our first session to ask anything they want about me. I’ll disclose (within reason) whatever the need to feel comfortable.
It’s also a time for me to see where they are at. It’s a chance to make sure they are willing to engage in the process with both their head and their heart.
And one question I ask everyone is, “Do you Want To Change?”
I can do a lot for you: provide excellent coaching, recommend books and other resources, give you extra time, and other tools at my disposal.
The one thing I can’t do for you is make you want to change.
That’s the one thing you have to bring to the relationships: you have to want to change. To get better. To experience life anew.
If you’re unwilling to do that, there’s really not a lot I can do.
A lack of motivation could mean that our goals aren’t clear enough. A bigger problem is that we don’t reward ourselves for a job well done. As Shawn Achor highlights in his TEDTalk (and amazing book), by failing to reward ourselves for achieving our goals, we subtly teach our brains that our work doesn’t matter. In other words, by failing to reward our progress we learn that progress doesn’t matter.
Our brain says, “What’s the point?” and gives up.
If you’re struggling with the question “What do I do when I’m feeling stuck?” create clear, simple, and compelling goals.
2.) Be a Part of a Community
It’s hard to go it alone. Whether you’re an entrepreneur growing a business, a spouse improving a marriage, or a coach in athletics, you can’t do the journey of life alone.
A community provides support, encouragement, perspective, and wisdom. It gives us strength when we are weak and positivity in a world filled with the negative.
A community of like-minded voices gives us the endurance and accountability to press on when we feel like giving up.
If you’re struggling with the question “What do I do when I’m feeling stuck?” find others to walk the journey with you.
3.) Hire a Coach
A lot of coaching is accountability. More than the community, a good coach asks reflective questions, highlights understanding, deepens insight, and inspires action.
Great coaches help you see through your own bias, false beliefs, internal narratives, and weak spots. They equip you with the tools to overcome those rough edges. They leave you accountable to your action plan.
Just last week I was working with a client who didn’t complete all of his growth homework for the week. After talking about it, we discovered that it was an important goal, but not the most important.
Instead, before hiring another employee (his task he gave himself for the week) he needed to free up time in his calendar (his new task). With more free time, he would be able to get new business, get caught up on billing, and have space to mentor and onboard effectively. Completing these tasks would ultimately do much more than “hire an employee” and instead give him the capacity to build his business.
That’s a much more effective use of time!
Coaches can shorten the time it takes to learn tasks, complete projects, and accelerate to succes.
To truly transform your life, you must be willing to turn up the temperature on your relationships.
My wife teaches third grade and recently finished up a unit on cold-blooded animals. Throughout the unit, she reinforced the idea to the children that cold-blooded animals regulate their body temperature through external circumstances.
If the outside is cold, they are cold, and they have to find a way to warm up.
If the outside is warm, these animals are warm, and they need to go somewhere to cool off.
Humans, scientifically, are warm-blooded animals. We have an internal regulator device that helps keep us warm.
Unfortunately, when it comes to other areas of life, like relationships, humans tend to act cold-blooded.
Understanding External Circumstances
We, humans, are a funny bunch. We have this incredible ability to make up conflict and fear in our heads from perceived threats.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever lost sleep at night wondering what your coworker, friend, child, or significant thought of you.
*I’ll raise mine first.*
It’s a natural tendency. Our brains, uncontrolled, make up things for us to be afraid of. I’ve lost track of how many times I, or one of my clients, have feared a conversation they were going to have with another individual.
Inside of our own head, it usually goes something like this:
Oh now. I need to tell Samantha what happened last Friday at the meeting. I’ll be she’ll be upset. When she’s upset I’ll have to reassure her. I’ll start by letting her know I’ve already resubmitted the proposal. When she gets angry that I did that, I’ll tell her I was forced to. If she becomes irate, I’ll calm her down by …
The power of our brain can easily transform any situation into a quickly escalating argument of emotion.
We think fearfully. Because of this, we enter the situation fearfully. Finally, we unknowingly project that fearfulness on the other person. They sense that and respond out of fear. The cycle escalates. We think we proved our own instincts right.
The problem is that this really isn’t the case. This, from the example above, is a cold-blooded response. We feel as though we are victims of the circumstances around us. Unable to control the outcome, we give up the power to someone or something else to avoid personal responsibility.
The Warm-Blooded Response
There is another choice. It’s what I call the warm-blooded response. It is the internal regulation of circumstances and control.
Think of the thermostat in your living room. If a window is open to blow in a breeze and it gets too cool, the thermostat, ever in control, turns on the heater to warm the room up.
If warm air accumulates inside the room, the thermostat is still in control and turns on the air conditioning.
Either way, the thermostat controls the outside environment instead of letting the environment control it.
We have the same power in our relationships.
Recently, I was working with a client who offers a public service. He has both his own service route and a warranty side to his company where he operates as an independent contractor for a large manufacturer.
It was time for his yearly review with the customer service director for the large manufacturer, a meeting that my client always hates. In the past, the meeting has not gone well, and the relationship with the manufacturing company is fractured.
Before his meeting, he called me to review some of the information he was going to present. Most of our time, however, was spent on his mindset. If he went into the phone call expecting negativity, he was sure to find it.
If however, he went in under the assumption that they wanted him to win, grow his business, and bless him, he’d find that as well. He committed himself to look positively at the situation and providing honesty and insight into the manufacturer’s warranty replacement policy that he worked under.
Right after the meeting, he called and said that it went extremely well. The representative heard him throughout the conversation, and he got amazing reviews from the company. They made some suggestions for improvements, and he now has a better relationship with this manufacturing company than he has had in years.
All because of his outlook.
Relational Health For Leadership Health
As we continue our look at seven areas of health that are vital to avoiding burnout, we must look at relationships. Our closest relationships can be both the source of burnout if done poorly and the greatest contributing factor to health if done properly.
So how do we set a healthy relational course? In two key ways.
1.) Commit to being a thermostat.
The first step is to be the thermostat in your relationships. Realize that you are in complete and total control of how strong your relationships are. You control how often you take your spouse on a date, call up an old friend, hit the golf course with a coworker, and how large your network is.
If you want something, be in control of your own actions enough to get it. Regulate the temperature. If you want a better marriage, raise your own temperature of commitment, and build one.
2.) Be in a room set warmer than your own.
The second step is to realize that you don’t have to do it alone and get help. If your marriage is struggling and you want a better one, don’t go get advice from your uncle that has been divorced three times.
Build a friendship with someone who has been married for 50 years!
If you want your business to grow, create friendships with successful business owners.
To get out of debt listen to someone without any, instead of your friend sleeping on your couch.
Each of these is an intentional act to “raise the temperature” of the room you find yourself in. You’ll slowly start to acclimate to your new environment and rise to the occasion.
Relational health is vital to leadership health Examining your key relationships and keeping them strong, vibrant, and life-giving is the only way to remain healthy and avoid burnout.