“The self-explorer, whether he wants to or not, becomes the explorer of everything else. He learns to see himself, but suddenly, provided he was honest, all the rest appears, and it is as rich as he was, and, as a final crowning, richer.” — Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock. Austrian novelist and philosopher
An ass found a lion’s skin, and dressed himself up in it. Then he went about frightening everyone he met, for they all took him to be a lion, men and beasts alike, and took to their heels when they saw him coming. Elated by the success of his trick, he loudly brayed in triumph. The fox heard him, and recognized him at once for the ass he was, and said to him, “Oho, my friend, it’s you, is it? I, too, should have been afraid if I hadn’t heard your voice.”
This classic Aesop fable shows how easy it is to play a part — to be someone else. But those closest to us will eventually see through us. The key question is — Can I see myself? Can I recognize my own inner voice? Do I listen to what it is telling me? Am I drawn into roles, jobs, or relationships that I am not cut out for? Am I following the path that society or someone thinks I should be on or am I blazing my own path? Am I following my heart?
Reputation is what people think I am. Personality is what I seem to be. Character is what I really am. Our goal should be to blur the lines between the three until they are one and the same. That means living my life from the inside out. When I live my life from the outside in, appearances are everything. What other people think of me and want from me becomes my guiding principle. That means my confidence and self-image is out of my control. I set myself up to be a victim of the fickle opinion of others. The harder I try to make an impression, then that is exactly the impression I make.
As a leader, I do want to serve others and need to know how others see me. However, I can’t serve, support, or guide others if I am not coming from a strong inner core. Only if I believe in myself can I generate believers. In Hamlet, William Shakespeare writes, “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” A modern storyteller, television producer Norman Lear, puts similar advice into modern terms, “First and foremost, find out what it is you’re about, and be that. Be what you are, and don’t lose it. It’s very hard to be who we are, because it doesn’t seem to be what anyone wants.”
Continually peeling back the layers of who we are is a life long effort. It’s the leadership process of becoming. Our own inner space is as vast as outer space. Like the many generations of Star Trekkers, we can “boldly go where no one has gone before” as we continue to push back the frontiers of self-knowledge. If we’re going to continue to deepen and grow, it’s our own never ending discovery trek.