“Fully alive people accept and love themselves as they are.”
– John Powell, S.J.
This week I am going to explore each of the five elements of John Powell’s “essential steps into the fullness of life.” These steps, as described in his book, Fully Human Fully Alive are:
1. to accept oneself
2. to be oneself
3. to forget oneself in loving
4. to believe
5. to belong.
It is not my intention to restate Powell’s teaching on these elements but to share a personal reflection on how I have experienced each of them, especially in the context of my experiences in organizational life. The lenses I bring to this expression are that of employee, teammate, leader, consultant and coach. It is through these lenses that I intend to articulate how aliveness, a term I first heard in an organizational context, is central to vibrant and productive organizational life.
Fully alive leaders are, in not only my opinion but in my experience, those who have the most chance of leading real and lasting change, the leadership of change being the fundamental task of leadership especially in the context of our current national and global realities.
Leadership is, of course, most directly experienced at the local level. As a faithful subscriber to this localized perspective, that “the universal is in the particular,” it is more relevant – and interesting – to me to share my personal experiences than to conduct some cold case-study analysis of a leader in the abstract.
“To accept oneself” is both the root and the anchor of the entire construct. Aliveness is not possible without it. We can never comfortably be ourselves, give ourselves to another, commit to belief or truly belong until we are at home in ourselves. It is why, in my particular case, once I began to crack the code of self-acceptance it wasn’t long for the other elements to click into place. I am not suggesting that I have achieved aliveness in this sense, but that I spend much more time there now than I ever used to due to the fact that I learned, finally, how to accept myself.
The biggest hurdle to that acceptance was – and sometimes still is – the toxicity of perfectionism. As for so many others, I allowed unmet childhood needs to become the unhealthy adaptations of my adult life. By holding unrealistic standards for my work, for example, I was simply protecting against the fear of loss. Before you could tell me my work was lousy, and probably never want to have anything to do with me again as a result, my inner critic would prevent any external representation of my internal world.
The very reason I began writing this blog, back in 2007, was to prove to myself that I wouldn’t melt like the Wicked Witch at the first criticism I received about my perspectives on leadership and culture. The fantasy I was living had me convinced that there was a stadium of people just waiting to pounce on my ideas when, of course, the stadium was just row after row of empty seats. My job as a writer was to fill those seats, not by perfecting my work but by finding my voice. This had never occurred to me before.
Twelve years later, I haven’t filled that stadium but I have learned, over the course of one book and 832 posts, that the stadium never existed. It was merely a clever construct of my unaccepted self. Today, I write daily to discover what I’m thinking, to maintain a discipline, to share and continue to find my voice.
My commitment to written expression is one of the few essential pathways I have walked directly into a new and trustworthy pattern of self-acceptance.
To be fully alive means to accept and love yourself, just as you are.