Monday, February 28, 2011

Independence: Threading the Needle

My father has Type II diabetes.  We were catching up on life in general this past weekend and he mentioned his diabetes and that it seems harder and harder to control.  Each day he now has to inject 50% more insulin than he did just 6 months ago.  When I asked him what he thought caused this spike he replied that he wasn't eating well or working out often enough.  Not a shocker.  Of course that is what caused this medical condition in the first place and not dramatically reversing course is the reason the condition is worsening.

I love my dad, of course, and am writing this with his permission, though this definitely wasn't his idea.  Ever since losing his father to cancer at the vulnerable age of 12 years old my dad had to be independent.  Life dealt him a merciless, harsh blow and I think he figured that the only person he could ever really rely on was himself.  That realization has shaped most of the decisions in his 68 years on the earth.

At times his independence has served him well.  As a soldier serving in Vietnam, as a sales executive, as an athlete.  But independence is a two-edged sword.  Too much of it means that you can unintentionally treat people like they don't matter, like you don't need them because you are independent and can handle things on your own. This is not the most attractive personality trait one can have.  In fact, if not checked, you run the risk of becoming a jerk in that everything can seem to be about you when you are hyper-focused on your own independence.

In the context of Bridges To Your Best, I define independence as follows:

If you don't control your destiny, someone or something else will.  Modern life can move at breakneck speed and you can't afford to put your dreams in the hands of someone else.  Make decisions quickly before complacency and mediocrity talk you out of it.  Decide the life you want and then go get it on your terms and timing.  No one owes you anything.

Independence doesn't mean that we shouldn't ever depend on others.  We should.  It is trusted friends, colleagues, family members, and mentors that can help us become our best by showing us where we may be wrong, getting off the path or just plain crazy. That doesn't mean they will always be right but an outside perspective is always enlightening as it works regardless of what they tell you.  The feedback is spot on and you realize it and change course or it's dead wrong and, recognizing that, you increase your confidence that you are on the right path.

The key here is that the independent person is able to accept the help and feedback without feeling weak and without stopping the journey toward realizing their bold vision for themselves.  Rather, the independent person synthesizes the feedback from those on whom they actually can depend--someone who will tell them like it is with love and goodwill--and adds it to their own thinking and adjusts their effort accordingly.

Back to the conversation with my dad, he knows what he has to do but eating healthy by avoiding really tasty food and overcoming the urge to snack mindlessly is really hard.  And working out is by definition hard work.  Look at the obesity rates in the US.  They tell us just how hard this is.  My dad did tell me that he was able to do much better when he was living with us last summer and I stayed on top of his eating and workout schedule.  To be clear, I am no Superman and I too was more consistent in eating healthy and exercising because I wanted to be a good example and hate the thought of being a hypocrite.  (It's harder to sneak-eat ice cream when you are around someone who ice cream could literally eventually kill.)  I wanted to help my dad by showing him that I could control my life in the hopes that it would help him control his.

Now that he has been on his own for six months he has realized this important lesson of independence:  We should be independent enough to chart a course that best matches our innate desire to be our best and fulfill our potential but be dependent enough to be able to rely on others in our life (family, friends, colleagues, coaches, etc.) to give us honest, regular feedback and encouragement necessary to realize that dream.

In other words: Independently chart the course to your best while depending on trusted others along the way to help you stay on it.  Thread the needle of independence and dependence.

If you don't have someone you trust that will tell you the truth about who they think you are how can you assess where you are on the path to excellence?!

Go depend on someone today.  And because I depend on people like you please give me some feedback on this idea.