I recently attended a “graduation” ceremony for recovering addicts at the invitation of a friend. These men had been to the pit of despair and are finding their way back out. They are “overcomers!” Their stories challenged my assumptions. The commonalities in their stories were not what you would think. What was consistent in their stories was the string of bad choices leading to more bad choices. There was, however, no common denominator in upbringing, economic status, education, race, parenting, or spiritual influences in the home.
“What was consistent…was the string of bad choices”
In many cases, the choices started early in their lives, preteen or high school, and then escalated into worse choices with much further reaching implications over many years. As each man shared his story, I was struck by how much the people that we allow to surround us influence our lives. Our current lives are the product of our own choices, continuous learning, and factors beyond our control. We have to “own” our current situation. Two things we can control are the people influencing our lives and the choices we make.
“Two things we can control are the people influencing our lives and the choices we make”
From very early we gravitate towards certain kinds of people with either edifying or deleterious affect. These individuals have a profound, if not completely quantifiable, influence on who we become. We can choose to be with or surround ourselves with people that give us energy, encourage us, have a positive outlook, are generous with their resources, and that influence our thinking and choices in a positive way. We can choose to be with people that are the opposite, that drain our energy and resources, discourage us, have a negative outlook, are “takers” rather than givers”, influence our thinking and choices in negative ways, fuel our discouragement and discontent, and that may lead us to self-destructive behaviors. Among our most important choices are who we allow to influence us, who we choose to influence, and the circles of influence in which we choose to participate.
“Among our most important choices are who we allow to influence us”
Our circles of influence include those influencing us and those whom we are influencing. It is not easy for us to change the circles of influence in our lives. Our best chance to move above our current circumstances, outside of a spiritual transformation, is to change the influencers in our lives. The people in your life are the strongest influencers. Lasting change requires, among other things, that you set your life up to encourage and help you along the path you wish to take. Set up your life to fuel your success. This may mean making hard choices about friends and relationships. It may mean completely severing ties with negative influences. It may mean a complete “total life makeover” to position yourself to achieve the positive outcomes you know are possible.
“The people in your life are the strongest influencers”
These are some of the things the overcomers have had to do that shared their stories that night. They lost everything because of their choices. Then, they chose to lose “everything” again so that they might change their lives. They are undergoing a “total life makeover.” The result is they are emerging from a very dark place with new hope and new opportunities. Is it hard? It is very hard! The unwillingness to change is the self-limiting choice. Is it worth it? Absolutely! These men had an excitement about the future that they did not have just six months earlier. They will deal with the consequences of their choices for a lifetime but they now know they can move forward and are finding their way back to a productive and meaningful life. You cannot change the past but you can face the future.
“The unwillingness to change is a self-limiting choice”
One of the phrases I heard repeatedly that night was “do the next right thing.” Most of us have an understanding of what’s a wrong choice versus a right one. If you mapped a decision tree of the choices these men had made you would see very easily how one bad choice led to the next one. But the good news is the reverse is also true. One good choice in the decision tree sets up the next one and the next one. To begin changing your life you just have to do one thing, “the next right thing.” Make the next choice the right one. And then, the next one.
“Do the next right thing”
Many people are “stuck” in their present circumstances, relationships, patterns of failure and falling short of their own and other’s expectations. Certainly, the overcomers found a way, with help, to break this pattern. They did the next right thing, made dramatic changes in their life over time, and began to find a measure of success. They did not find success in the material sense as they are still poor by most standards. They found success in overcoming great obstacles, success in overcoming addiction, success in changing patterns of self-destructive behavior, success in changing relationships, and success in restoring a life that was once without hope.
“Many people are ‘stuck’”
“Success” has many definitions and is measured in many different ways. I would challenge you to think of success not as an outcome but as a lifestyle. There is a reason that those we consider “successful” continue to become more so while others are “stuck” or find their lives spiraling out of control. It is not any one thing but a combination of factors that allow people to have better relationships, find success in their organization, and to generally improve the quality of their life. They have setup a “virtuous cycle” that fuels success and affects their circles of influence. There are many examples of those that figured out how to get off the merry-go-round and set up a new virtuous cycle.
“Think of success…as a lifestyle”
Being “stuck” is a real thing and sometimes you need help. I serve on the board of a non-profit organization and we very recently visited a community that lives along the edges of the city dump in Diriamba, Nicaragua. The dwellings varied from plastic sheeting for walls to tin to cement block. The people of this community make their living by scavenging in the dump and by up-cycling, selling, or using what they can. If any group of people would appear to be “stuck” it would be this group. Someone on the trip pointed out to me that this group is wealthy in three things: faith, family, and friends. Someone else pointed out their faith gives them resilience. They were surprisingly happy.
“Being stuck is a real thing and sometimes you need help.”
The reason I mention this wonderful group of people is they want to grow out of their present circumstance- to become “unstuck.” They want to start a composting business using land and organic material from the dump. We hope to help them do that by working with local team members to secure permission from the city, by helping to provide tools and training, and then by helping with leadership and marketing. They need a helping hand but are willing to do the work and to work together to begin changing their circumstance! You would think they would not have hope but that is far from the truth. I find that awesome. No matter the circumstance I have yet to meet someone that didn’t want to improve their life.
“They are willing to work together to change their circumstances!”
Your life may not have spiraled out of control as the lives of the overcomers did and you may not be stuck in such desperate circumstances as this community in Diriamba. You may feel, however, that there is no hope for change in your current situation, that you are stuck in your career, stuck in your relationships, or stuck in a way of thinking that is unproductive. The first thing to do is to make the next right choice and then the next one.
“You may feel that you are stuck”
If you want to do something different and to become something more you have to change your circles of influence. This includes who is influencing you but also who you are influencing. “Don’t fake it until you make it.” Become what you want to be, make the changes you need to make, structure your life and influences to support it, make the hard and right choices, commit to a path that leads to your goals, and put forth the tremendous effort it may take to get the change you seek. Along the way, use what you have learned to give someone a hand up. Character-driven leaders make a positive impact on their organizations, their communities, and the world by leading from strong core values and by doing things that matter.
“Make the hard and right choices”
Leadership FIRSTs is about character-driven leadership. The FIRSTs are Fearless Integrity, Profound Relationships, Willing Service, and Earned Trust. The stories of these “overcomers” demonstrate why these attributes are necessary for everyone.
• Acting with Integrity can be hard when there is so much temptation to either take shortcuts or there is significant pressure to do favors for others that may compromise good organizational practice or may be questionable morally or ethically.
• Relationships matter at all levels. Both who you influence and who is influencing you have an effect on who and what you are becoming. If you want to do more and to be more you may have to change or expand both.
• Willingly being of Service to others sets the stage for becoming more and doing more at a higher level. You add value to others by meeting their needs and wants. I guarantee that serving others will build you up and lead you into a more productive and meaningful life.
• Trust is developed over the long-term. The overcomers have a long road to rebuilding trust but they have taken steps in the right direction. I have written elsewhere on trust. Without trust, it is very difficult for anything positive to happen.
So, what about you? What’s the next right thing for you to do? What choices do you need to make to start the transformation in your life? What are the relationships bringing you down and keeping you from becoming all you know that you can be? Have you set up a virtuous cycle in your life that fuels success in your relationships, your organization, and improves the quality of your life? Who are you serving and helping change their circumstances? Have you defined the path that leads to your goals? Do you know the next step? Do the next right thing!
Do you agree or disagree? Either way, I would love to hear your comments!
This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information please visit www.leadershipfirsts.com.
By Alan Buttery