Walk your talk. Lead by example. Be a role model. Lead the way. Demonstrate integrity. Do what you say. Align your words and actions. Do unto others. Live a principled life. Follow the Golden Rule. These are all different ways to express living our values. It doesn’t seem that hard. After all, most of us lead law-abiding lives and like to think we’re principled. And, for the most part, we are. But how often do we consider what we really value and if our choices are aligned with them?
When our kids were younger, I made a conscious effort to not say anything to my children that I wasn’t prepared to do. That led to some interesting times, like hauling my 3 year old son’s mattress out of his room at 9:00 at night because I told him if he didn’t stop jumping on the bed, he wouldn’t have one because jumping damaged the springs (only to haul it back in 10 minutes later when he said he’d quit jumping because he wanted his bed). Or, the time I had to find a screw driver to pry the hinges off his door because he wouldn’t stop slamming it (if you can’t close your door nicely, you won’t have one otherwise you’ll damage the house). Those were times where I wished I had come up with something less physical or just put him in time out! However, we felt teaching natural consequences of behaviour would teach them about cause and effect as they grew up. We also had the idealistic notion that by walking our talk, doing what we said, and aligning our words and actions we’d be modelling the way for our children as they navigated through their teen years. Knock on wood, for the most part, we’ve come through those years relatively unscathed.
As the years went on, I became less conscious of leading by example. Of course, we tried to ensure we followed rules and led a good life, but I didn’t pay as much attention to doing what I said I’d do. After all, work was really busy and the kids had so many activities that who had time to really reflect on whether they were living purposely, no harm, right? Then, one day I was searching through a stack of papers at work looking for an article and I came across the personal vision statement I had written as part of my Masters program 5 years previously. The vision statement was crafted to reflect the life I wanted 5 years in the future, which would make it the life I wanted to be living now. As I read through it, I was right on track with the relationships I wanted to have with my children and my husband for the most part. Although I wasn’t in the best shape of my life, I was working out with a personal trainer and was making improvements. I indicated in my vision statement that I’d wanted to be living somewhere else – something I hadn’t anticipated would happen as my husband was very attached to our old home. But, we had moved 2 years previously to a wonderful townhouse and we both loved the change! Then, I read the last few lines that spoke of what I wanted for my career. In 5 years I had wanted to be teaching and talking to people about leadership and helping them grow into their best selves. That made me pause. I had been doing that kind of work, but had transitioned in my role to focus more on developing strategy and wasn’t as hands on with facilitation.
Over the next few days, I kept coming back to that vision statement and wondered if I was living my vision. Thoughts kept wandering through my mind with ideas of how I could once again help people develop. More and more ideas came and I thought I might be able to make something out of it. As the ideas were filling my head, I decided to write them out to see if I could put some order to them and if there was something I could build upon. My son walked into the room and asked what I was doing. I replied, “I think I’m working on planning my own business”.
I said it. Out loud. In my head, I was wondering what the heck I was thinking. The old thought about doing what you say came to mind. I thought, I can’t do this, that’s ridiculous. This is a bad idea.
All the reasons this was a bad idea:
- I had a great job. Was able to do a lot of interesting work and had a great team.
- I made a six figure income and although we purposely tried to live within our means, we couldn’t survive indefinitely on one income.
- I had no clue how to build a website, blog, etc. etc.
- I didn’t have any business lined up. I had nightmares of being broke for the rest of my life!
That was settled – it was a crazy idea. I pushed back the thoughts and carried on. Then, one day my kids asked me how my business was coming. I gulped, and said it was okay. I felt the pangs of not leading by example for my kids. I began to think of the reasons this was a good idea (shifted my mindset).
All the reasons this was a good idea:
- The idea of connecting with people on a personal level as opposed to looking through an organizational lens excited me.
- Although I loved my organization, I really wasn’t a corporate person and was really tired of coming to an office everyday.
- Without having to worry about organizational needs and only focus on what I wanted to do, my creativity came fully alive and I was excited to explore where it would go.
- It felt right. As I’ve done work on values alignment, I feel it when I’m not aligned and this made my spirit lift.
The rational side of me was very aware that the good ideas had no monetary incentive involved. My naive 18 year old self came to mind and I remembered that I had long ago promised myself I would never stay in a job because of money. I’d seen people stay in jobs they hated and be miserable. That wasn’t going to be me. I began to dismiss my younger self, thinking she didn’t know how complex life would be as people grew up. And, it’s easy to say you follow your ideals, but when there’s a lot on the line, it’s difficult. It’s sometimes not the obvious things that determines if we’re living our values, but sometimes it’s the more subtle choices we make. And sometimes, it’s about taking a leap of faith and following your passion so you can set an example for your kids. Have I made the right decision – I’ll keep you posted!