Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Waiting for Permission

I was honored and privileged to speak at the 2012 Calgary City Teacher’s Convention last week on the subject of leadership and education and as is often the case, a number of post-presentation exchanges between myself and convention attendees took place.

One thing that really strikes me with such spontaneous conversations is the number of fantastic ideas brewing in people’s heads that never reach the light of day.

What is intriguing is that many of these ideas are not “how I can get rich” ideas but instead, are often “here is how I can positively impact the world or give back to the world” ideas, all the more reason why these ideas need to be allowed to develop and flourish.  These ideas are not only worthy of encouragement, they are in fact ideas that I believe the world is hungry for.

Sadly, another theme often stands out when I speak to people about their great ideas.

It is the theme of fear.  They worry that people may think their idea is stupid, that their spouse or partner may not support their idea, that the idea will collapse anyway so why even bother or they have some other self-limiting, unjustifiable belief.

Of course, when you speak to them, they don’t describe their fear in this way.  They will rationalize their failure to execute in any number of ways and when one analyzes and nullifies the rationalizations, then the real origin of their fear manifests.

Can you blame them for being afraid to follow their passion?

Think of the following tactics often used in raising kids.

1. Don’t speak to strangers – they are out to kidnap you and hurt you.

2. Fit in and conform – standing out is not worth the effort and you will probably be punished for it anyway (the “tall grass catches the lawnmower blade” syndrome).

3. Don’t play in the street or close to water – a car may run over you and kill you or you may fall in and drown.

4. Don’t tattle on others – it is not good to be a tattler; one should strive not to do bad things to others or to make waves and the one you are tattling on may beat you up when they find out you tattled on them.

5. Don’t question those in authority – they are always right and have your best intentions at heart.

6. Always put others first (even if it means sacrificing one’s self) because that’s what good, “unselfish” people do.

Think of how this programming impacts us later in Life.

1. All strangers are evil and out to destroy us and for this reason we should be suspicious and distrustful of new connections.  Unfortunately for many people, this also results in them not pursuing the connections that would enable their dreams.

2. Good ideas are something that will only get us in trouble, and we all want to avoid trouble, right?  So the next time a cool idea pops in our head, we should prepare for a lifetime of angst as the need to bring it to fruition competes with our belief it will fail anyway.

3. Don’t try anything fun or new because it is inherently risky and has a significant opportunity to end painfully and potentially catastrophically.  See the previous point.

4. When you see something that is wrong, don’t bother reporting it.  It will probably create more trouble than it’s worth anyway.  Meanwhile, we criticize others (especially public figures) when they don’t do “the right thing” quickly enough for our liking.

5. We don’t question people in authority or with a long list of accreditations because this would be considered disrespectful.  Meanwhile, in many situations, people who should be held accountable for less than desired behavior are allowed to continue their behavior (and sometimes are actually rewarded for it) because we choose not to do something about it.

6. Too many people live with the belief that serving others first is ALWAYS more important than honoring themselves, producing a martyrdom in many people that creates frustration, burnout and a stifling of personal passion and purpose.  After all, many have grown up believing that to think of one’s self first is selfish when in actuality, investing in one’s self actually empowers one to serve others much more effectively.

After years of burdening our youth with the baggage of “this won’t work / it can’t be done this way / it must be done that way”, we expect them to transform themselves overnight and to live a life of passionately following their dreams.  Meanwhile they pass on the same baggage to their kids.  It’s not their fault – it’s the only thing that they know.

Those who weren’t raised with these crippling rules or who find ways to overcome this baggage are the ones who make a big impact on the world.

Good and bad.

They don’t wait for permission, support or an endorsement of any kind.  They embrace their passion and they go for it, taking no prisoners and asking for forgiveness later … if at all.

We need to raise the next generation to think this way, to balance respect and knowledge of risk with the importance of following their passion unabashedly, with the right amount of fear that propels them and keeps them honest while not crippling them.

We need more people to move beyond thinking and talking about things and to actually making them happen.

Yes, we have many people who inspire … but we need many more.

Then and only then will we see the human race reach its true potential.

I believe for every great idea that we see come to fruition and for every person who inspires us, there are 100 (or 10,000) more ideas and people who would inspire us equally.

Maybe one of those people is you.

Howard Thurman, minister, educator and civil rights leader, once said:

Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

People who commit evil in the world don’t wait for permission to do what they do.

People who are able to do good in the world shouldn’t wait either.

People like you.

Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to do some good in the world.

Well … that is if it’s ok with you.

Well … if it’s not, I don’t really care. :-)

Create a great day for yourself and others.

In service and servanthood,


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