What Lies Behind Points to What Lies Ahead
The road ahead looked narrow, but when I looked back I saw the future.
Kierkegaard wrote in his journal, “Philosophy is perfectly right in saying that life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other clause—that it must be lived forwards.”
“We’re not prisoners of the past.” Martin Seligman
What I see while looking back: Disadvantage is advantage.
Pushing away a painful past limits joy and hamstrings potential. Accepting and integrating what lies behind informs and enriches leadership.
“Approving” of disadvantage and “accepting” disadvantage are different things. Life brings experiences that shouldn’t be approved – back-stabbing co-workers, self-centered bosses, even abusive parents.
Accept disadvantage, even if you don’t approve.
*John Irving, author of, The World According to Garp, and many other novels, was labeled “stupid” and “lazy” by his teachers. He was below average in English. Turns out his disadvantage was dyslexia.
Irving says, “I wasn’t diagnosed as dyslexic at Exeter; I was seen as just plain stupid. I failed a spelling test and was put in a remedial spelling class…. I simply accepted the conventional wisdom of the day—I was a struggling student; therefore, I was stupid.”
“I needed five years to pass the three-year foreign language requirement…” John Irving
Ted Seabrooke, Irving’s wrestling coach kept him in school.
“He gave me enough confidence in myself—through wrestling—that I was able to take a daily beating in my classes and keep coming back for more…”
“… I have confidence in my stamina to go over something again and again no matter how difficult it is—whether it is for the fourth or fifth or eighth time. It’s an ability to push myself and not be lazy. This is something that I would ascribe to the difficulties I had to overcome at an early age.” John Irving
How is your leadership informed or expanded by disadvantage in your past?
10 Ways to Maximize Bad Experiences (Leadership Freak)
5 Ways Your Worst Experiences Can Bring Out the Best in You (Psychology Today)
*John Irving, Award-Winning Author & Screenwriter (Yale)
Add to Kierkegaard:
“The past is not dead, it’s not even past.” Faulkner
And Thomas Kuhn’s historical thesis on scientific paradigm shifts: Master the existing (things are the way they are for good reasons as well as wrong assumptions) to transcend it.
“Thus, the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive
Where we began
And know the place
For the first time.”
The only way to solve a paradox
(two contradictory statements can’t both be true
but apparently are)
is to determine which (hidden) assumption
(about the past, going forward)
I may be stupid, but I’m not lazy.
Hey, I’m not even stupid …
I just have to work harder than most.
It was pure delight to read your contribution today.
It’s the working harder that John Irving says is the reason for his success. 🙂
Personally my decisions made early in life shaped the opportunities that were practically available to me. I came from meager means, but that was no excuse. I had my first two children at young age, but that was no excuse. I could not pursue careers in my field of study at the time because entry level jobs’ pay-rates were too low to support a family. I chose another path, less prestige but more lucrative. Unfortunately this put me in a bubble, where the prospects of reaching higher goals were limited. I assigned myself to a label that society told me was true, and sometimes even today I find myself accepting that label. I’ve made many mistakes in the past by embracing that label of inescapable pauperism, even when my income showed differently. These mistakes, these ideas of choosing sides, this perpetual fear of one day losing my job and returning to that very state I fought so hard to escape has limited me in my career progression. Although, my education speaks of progress, and my experiences show aptitude, the impressions I leave upon top managers are less than conducive to their leadership goals. I would not dare to correlate my situation with John Irving, as he is a great writer of which some novels I’ve had the privilege to read. The leadership I give now rests in being a senior front-line worker where new employees look to me for guidance, to show them “how it really works”. Disadvantages in my past have molded me to really look out for the little guy, and I’d like to hope if I was ever blessed with and accepted a supervisory role that I’d never forget them.
Wow Gary. Your words speak to me. It takes a long time to define yourself by who you are, not by what others say or expect.
Our past serves us well when we learn compassion for others.
Powerful Gary. Thank you for sharing your personal insights.
I find that the most effective leaders are those who learn from past failures and mistakes. There is a saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” We live in a culture that worships winners and frowns upon losers. But winners and losers are labels. A human being is much more than a label. Each and every person should be seen as human. Their life matters. I would love to see a culture and society that embraces human beings. Everyone’s voice matters and everyone’s life shows/tells a story. People know much more than they give themselves credit for.
Leadership should uplift people’s spirits and not always focus on the almighty dollar. Life is precious and we as humans waste it on trivial pursuits. Everyday when we wake up that is one less day we have to live on this planet. There isn’t anything wrong with working for a company and running a business. But the bottom line should be adding value to human life. Not seeing people as dollar signs.
What I thought was a disadvantage early in life was being an only child. Having to go it alone in everything I did was overwhelming. Knowing I had no one to rely on but myself taught me to keep progressing until I had completed my task or objectives. This translated well into my career where I relied on my skills and ability to get me in to a leadership position. One might not think that being an only child was a disadvantage, but it was defiantly tough not having a sibling to rely on to assist or compete against.
But where one might think that I would be selfish and not utilize a team to complete my objectives, I have been the opposite. What I wanted early in life, a team (siblings), I have found in my coworkers and colleagues. I look back on that early struggle and used that to assist me in asking for help when I know I can’t go it alone. It has shaped me into a team player, one who will do his share, but also ask and assist. Being a team player has helped me become a better leader by being a servant to the team. Sacrificing that selfishness for the whole team’s success.