The Journey is the Answer
Leaders always land in the wilderness, eventually.
It feels like failure – but it’s transformation – for all who emerge on the other side.
His summary of the wilderness was, “The wheels came off.”
Last week a leader explained their journey to me. It didn’t take long for him to get to the wilderness years.
Toward the end of our conversation, he asked if I had any advice. I said three things.
I asked, “How are you different because of your wilderness years?”
I asked, “If I shared a cup of coffee with you, what life-advice would you share? Tell me what you learned in the wilderness.”
I said, “Lessons learned in the wilderness are preparation for what’s next.”
The journey is the answer.
It was the first time I’d ever said, “The journey is the answer.”
- Personal identity depends less on others. Approval is wonderful. But, after the wilderness, you see and know yourself more clearly.
- Focus shifts from you to others. When you begin, it’s all about you. After the wilderness, it’s about others.
- Hearing expands. Before the wilderness, you know. After the wilderness, you listen, even though you know more.
- Passion emerges. Leadership Freak was born after the wilderness, for example. It didn’t come immediately. But, I connect my attempts to write with a dark period in my life.
The wilderness is about strength of character, emerging passion, and clarity of purpose, not technical skill.
Many aspects of leadership are learned skills that depend on character for success. But, you won’t magically become a better leader because you spend time in the wilderness. That takes work.
You haven’t lived until you thought you might die in the wilderness.
What have you learned in the wilderness?
Live for today and hope for tomorrow!
Thanks Tim. Wisdom is simple. 🙂 Best for the journey.
The world is the wilderness and our lives are the challenge!
Wow, Dan. With this post you have sharpened the focus on my past two years. And yes, I did note the shift from self to others. It hasn’t all landed yet, but it is heartening to see some affirmation that my journey is directionally correct. Thanks, as always.
Thanks Steven. Your comment, “It hasn’t all sharpened yet,” is so powerful to me. Best for the journey.
I appreciate this very much.. test flights are to prove aircraft not to crash them! ..so it is with our lives. If we could learn these times of “proofing us” yield new understandings of ourselves in where/how we can be pushed, how strong our strengths really are and what it takes to make us fold to our weaknesses, we would value them higher.–I still don’t think we would ENJOY the (wilderness) test –nor do I think we should– but we would stay on course for the constructive results..
Thanks Ken. Love the idea that tests are to prove not crash. That feels optimistic.
I’m with you, I don’t enjoy the wilderness and don’t think we have to.
Your comment seems to come from one who has spent some time in the wilderness.
Best for the journey.
@Ken – I agree and like your made point “… yield new understandings of ourselves in where/how we can be pushed, how strong our strengths really are and what it takes to make us fold to our weaknesses …”.
But I am not fully agreeing that wilderness can’t be enjoyed. If you are long enough out there, then comes a moment where wilderness is your home – home is where you feel easily and fast comfortable – and you take it from there.
Will follow @nanolithoman
Thanks 50min. – In my mind the wilderness is the unrewarding place. It’s the “airline terminals” of life that I have to pass through but I’m not likely to find a place of permanence…
Thanks Ken for adding those thoughts. What a metaphor – wilderness = airline terminal. I have to reflect on that.
I’d be interested to hear of your wilderness.
In some ways it’s in most of what I write. 🙂 Best for the journey.
When I studied the martial arts ( about 15 years ) the lesson was always that progress is never steady, it has peaks, and valleys and plateaus, and we almost always abandon things when a little more push takes us through to the next level. Maybe we don’t learn without the bumps in the road.
I’m getting this strong vibe and reminder from multiple people and angles recently that life is very much about rhythm: day/night, sleep/active, work/break, breathe in/out, yin/yang, etc. … . I’m trying to observe the world more consciously from such perspective – helps me understand what’s happening around me and where I am.
Wilderness/stability will be iterative and will happen again – it’s a journey as Dan wrote. Rhythm is what allows the journey, right? Otherwise we’d be only spinning wheels and not moving forward at all.
I dread the wilderness, but it is where I learn the most. I just need to remember that to keep my days brighter :).
Thanks for making me consider this more Dan. Good start of the week!
@Daniel, truly nice thoughts. And Dan’ post triggers amazing answers and insight of his readership.
Hi Dan, Happy New Year to you.
My life was the wilderness. And when you think you are back into civilization, then someone cross my path and feels like aroused to drive me back to the wilderness. That is how a long time back I created my quote for this; “Life is an Expedition-Adventure of Contrast” (by Eddie Castelli).
Dan I read something about you in your post. I am sure we have some common stories to tell. Thanks for sharing
Thanks 50. Your observation that you see me in the post is accurate. I’m glad to be on the journey with you.
Excellent, Dan. Skills can be taught; character must be experienced! We may gain skills per force, but the wisdom for life, living, being, and doing only by the journey of understanding. The wonderful thing is the road before us is shorter than the road behind.
Dan, you ask: What’s learned in the wilderness? 1) Never does nature say one thing…and wisdom another. 2) The laws of nature are strictly enforced! 3) The survival of the fittest is the ageless law of nature, but the fittest are rarely the strong per se. The fittest are those endowed with the qualifications for adaptation, the ability to accept the inevitable, conform to the unavoidable, and to harmonize with existing and changing conditions and people.
And I was reading an article by a newly appointed Principal of an elementary school in the Midwest. With respect to his journey in education, teaching and learning, he said the three character traits that have brought him personal and professional fulfillment thus far are the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and the responsive heart.
Thanks Books. The word adapt came to mind as I read your comment. It seems that if we don’t adapt we break. There is, of course, tension between pressing though and adapting. That’s another post.
I appreciate your insights. Best for the journey.
I wonder if “wilderness” is that period of confusion, even of feeling you are going backwards, when you are making a step change in your growth. I have had a few. I wonder what a caterpillar feels like while (he/she/it?) pupates. I have learned to welcome confusion in myself and my clients. It means something interesting is happening!
Thanks Nick. Yes. Confusion is part of the processes for me too. For a person who loves clarity, it’s hard to take.
By the way, “pupates” gets the prize for best word of the day! Love it.
Best for the journey.
Good article! Thank you for sharing. Have you ever heard/read of Dan Webster?http://www.authenticleadershipinc.com/ Dan has a chapter in one of his books called “The Real Deal” that focuses on what he calls “valley moments.” Check it out if you are able. Take care!
Trust yourself, ask questions, listen and observe.
Dan, a different question comes to mind. I like the images you put with your blog posts. Where do you source them?
What have I learned in the wilderness? Buying lottery tickets does not buy me a pass on the journey through the wilderness!
On a more serious note, the wilderness is the fire of refining. It hurts to learn some of the lessons, it is work to complete the journey and not just take an easy out. Having been through several rounds of wilderness, I find it far less scary, knowing what the journey is like. It is not a complete crushing. There is an end, with great things unimagined before the wilderness. It is a transition for everyone and can be transformative if you have the courage.
Yes, after several rounds, the fear is gone but the work and pain still remain to gain the great. Perhaps that is why 50min thinks it can be comfortable. He enjoys the work as a challenge, and the pain as a motivator or boulder to be maneuvered around with his “expedition” 🙂
I think we can all relate to this idea Mr Rockwell! Winston Churchill is but one. HDT on Walden Pond is but another.
The journey is the answer – I love that, so simple and so true. Thanks Dan!
That what my heart has to say is usually worth listening to.
Absolutely correct!! Wilderness: It hurts, it’s lonely, it’s completely worth it!!
I can so relate. After my controversial exit from the corporate world, I am slowly rediscovering myself. my years in the wilderness are not over, but I shall emerge stronger, and with a healthier appreciation of my strengths and who I am. Sadly, this is not always considered well on your resume. People normally assume success after success after success leads to great and strong leadership. I disagree with that philosophy
Excellent thinking Dan. I sent it to my son who is in the wilderness right now, but can see there is a way through. I am impressed with your thinking. Thanks for sharing.
And I am also interested as is Bruce Harpham in where you source your photos. There are good.
So many of these definitions of “wilderness” seem less of a real challenge, more something to just find ways to endure. Having had a serious cancer in ‘77 during my internship I was reading through the book of life and came to a blank page. Beyond the gut wrenching emotional shock arose a question: what do you really want to do with whatever time you have left? Point being, a wilderness is a situation you’re plopped into with or without a compass. It may have no ending that you can discern. That drives the fear and anguish that may have no easy ending point.
Fifteen years ago a long time client was offered a position in Europe with an organization that just purchased his company. He was a Canadian working in the US. It was a significant promotion and he fairly jumped at it. He sold his house, bought one there and moved his family. This took some time. When he arrived at the organization the person who hired him had been let go. He essentially had no job. As a Canadian citizen he couldn’t go back to the States as his previous position was filled. Dealing with the powerful emotional turmoil, he used the phrase, “this is awful” a lot. Over a period of months he regrouped, managed to get a meeting with the organization’s head and was able to craft a position that over time ended up being significantly higher than the one he was initially offered. Though all’s well that ends well, he had absolutely no assurance of anything or any role. The emotional impact of this particular wildness taught him a great deal, but at a very tough price.
Great and timely post! Any tips on what to do in the wilderness? Just entered it having just finished an enjoyable period of acting up in am interim director role and want to make the most of the opportunity!
Stick to my inner voice , listen to my inner voice. Go for it and adjust where necessary.
“The strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire.”
Sharpness of thought … I can easily identify people hiding in a crowd … I have better senses in sniffing out the BS
And it begins with first step 🙂