A wise teacher said to me recently, “You are your business”; and seldom has a truer thing been said. We live in a world where we celebrate building things outside ourselves – companies, campaigns, architecture, change. Yet on some level these things are not outside of us, they are outward expressions of our inner lives. They represent our dreams, hopes, strengths, weaknesses and more. Our creations are also our teachers. They have the unique power to teach us that which we most need to see in ourselves.
When going Outward Bound, we used to use the phrase: “let the mountains speak for themselves”. This pedagogic dream was only as effective as the student’s ability to listen to and understand what the mountains had to say. What are your mountains saying to you? What is your business, life and work teaching you?
It was no surprise that I ended up in social entrepreneurship, and it wasn’t because I was a brilliant entrepreneur. On the contrary, this choice of life path emerged more because of what I needed to learn than what I had to offer. Social entrepreneurship was an ideal vehicle to learn more about discipline, focus and channeling my creative energy. Quite simply, we do what we do because of what we don’t know more than what we do.
Why is it that some people choose the go into partnership while others choose to go solo. Is it because one method works better than another? No. When we choose our strategies we are subconsciously choosing our teachers. Every little part of your business, job or work is trying to teach you something about yourself; it is trying to perfect you in some way.
I became a CEO not because I was an expert leader. I became a CEO because I needed to learn more about the ethical use of power. I needed to learn how to discern between what was my stuff and what belonged to others. For anyone who has served in this role, they will know that it forces you to face yourself.
And I will continue to face myself until I learn the lessons I need to learn.
When I was twenty-two years old and first went to Outward Bound, it was no wonder that I chose an organisation that helped people discover more about themselves and build their confidence. This is exactly what I needed myself. Sure, I brought a bunch of things and contributed along the way, but it was the personal learning that was most significant.
The social work field is often talked about as being made up of ‘wounded healers’. This term has been rejected in more recent years because of the degrading way it refers to people who are in essence doing good. But the reality is that there is truth to this term. We are drawn to what we do because of our deep driving need to improve ourselves. We may not always (indeed most often) be conscious of these deep driving needs for personal growth, but indeed they are there. And the ‘wounded-healer’ phenomenon is not peculiar to social work, but exists within every field in which life exists.
I wanted to write about this because I feel that organisations and the world more broadly would be better off it we placed more attention on personal growth in what we do. We often see learning and development in companies as needing to provide employees with the skills to do their job. While this is important, my sense is it needs to go deeper than this.
When we see misuses of power in companies or any unethical practice, it is too easy to think that the work to change this needs to be through better watchdogs, regulation or other external means. Part of these ‘problems’ also exist in the inner realms of the individual. In moving to higher expressions of the self, we need to have the courage to look at ourselves. While certainly there are systemic and structural aspects that encourage and support ethical practice, the real work is inner work.
This idea that you are your business is perhaps one of the most important to grasp as a changemaker. The changemaking world is often so caught up in ‘externalising’, ‘othering’ and a host of other processes that keep us from really looking at what it is that we are most needing to focus on.
Some may falsely perceive this as self-obsession gone mad. On the contrary, it is anything but focusing on the little self. By becoming more aware of how we are externalising the little self onto the world, we can start to dissolve the little self. We can become more aware of where and how we are needing to grow in our work and life. This only helps our true selves to survive and thrive, and in turn this will flow through to the worlds around us.