Leading Your Own Life

How I Plan to be an Original

This summer I have learned a lot about being a leader, differentiating among the common perceptions and definitions and what it really means to lead. I have found that while words like, strong, powerful, and confident still fit the appearance of what a leader should be, there is so much more too it. There are also numerous misunderstandings surrounding leadership, misguided advice and power hungry goal seekers that skew the understanding of this heavy term.

The book Originals: How Non-conformists Move The World, by Adam Grant, touches on some great points on how to be an Original; a leader, innovator, and questioner of the status quo. Some key takeaways from this text and the experiences I have gained this summer, have lead me to some new goals for myself and my plan to live like an Original.

When asked who I thought was a leader, two names came to mind: Nelson Mandela and Albert White Hat. Both these leaders dealt with oppression in different ways, racism and social strife. The first is well known, a powerful man that battled apartheid as President in South Africa. His words are still echoing around the world and appear, suitably, in Adam Grant’s book. At the beginning of Chapter eight, titled: Managing Anxiety, Apathy, Ambivalence, and Anger, Nelsons words are quoted, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it…The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” I find these word very suitable for some of the realizations I have gleaned from Grant and my work this summer. Leaders are not fearless or perfectly confident or well timed. They too procrastinate, bite their fingernails, and worry…a lot.

Image from: https://www.bostonglobe.com/specials/insiders/2013/12/11/documenting-south-africa/NuC6nMum8KuFVa1OLjJowJ/story.html?pic=10

What makes Originals or leaders different than any other person who also feels these emotions, is the strong push to still try, even in the face of steep odds. The risk is outweighed by the urge to bring about change and set into motion an idea or improvement to an existing idea. The idea does not have to be new or first as I talked about in my previous blog, it just has to be better. Improving on previous ideas is even easier as Grant says, fine tuning the existing into something superior. This idea plays into a leader’s role as well. Leadership isn’t ownership of a “new” idea, because no idea is really original and because leadership should not be selfish, but rather selfless. Ideas are derived from our experiences and the influencers in our atmosphere, therefore less time should be spent on branding and claiming “our ideas” and more on coming up with better solutions to the world’s problems. Concerns about reputation and overconfidence are damaging attributes and are the opposite of being an Original.

Albert White Hat’s Book

Albert White Hat, a Lakota man from South Dakota and an activist for Sičháŋǧu Lakȟóta culture, is also somebody I would consider a leader. He wrote Life’s Journey — Zuya and several other texts on Lakota language and traditions. He has helped keep this culture alive and spoken out as a leader of his community on Rosebud Reservation and in surrounding areas. He was inspirational to younger generations and worked to build a better vision of Native People, the way he saw his own culture. White Hat was willing to teach outsiders his language, even though the outsiders to his culture were once the people who kept him in boarding schools and suppressed his identity. His strength and fearless acceptance of all people is influential. I think this man lived one of Grant’s “managing emotions” points: “focus on the victim, not the perpetrator”. Grant advises the reader to follow this rule, noting that empathy fuels constructive action, where anger causes a blame game, only leading to punishing and stagnation. White Hat did not use his anger, which he may have rightfully had, to lash out at those who mistreated him, but rather worked with those willing to listen to bring his ideas to life.

In the face of adversity these two leaders were able to find unity and balance. They did not do it alone, but they stood out as Originals, striving against the status quo. They were shapers of society, encompassing Grant’s words, “the greatest shapers don’t stop at introducing originality into the world. They create cultures that unleash originality in others.” A real leader builds an environment and a community with their actions and words, living as a servant leader and empathetic yet powerful figure for change.

With this idea in mind, the small steps must first be taken before assuming a leadership role. Looking within at your own way of life first, allows you to build your influence outward. Living in the moment and understanding your own beliefs is key. This allows one to stand strong when their beliefs are questioned and allows them to act in accordance to each present moment with true care. However being present may be the most complicated task yet, due to the many thoughts and distraction we face in everyday life.

Image from: https://storify.com/ozunamartin/dual-identity-3

In my neuroscience classes we debate the idea of dual consciousness, a theory that our minds are made up of two consciousnesses. One mind that is theorized to focus on whereabouts and the experience you are in, who you are talking to, as well as the actions you are taking. And the other which is actually experiencing the moment. In order to reach absolute mindfulness, a state of true presence, one must use only the second consciousness. “Experiencing the experience” is a phenomenon to describe the common focus on the first consciousness, the mind that pays attention to the sense of experiencing the moment, rather than the moment itself. In this state, life happens to an individual instead of the individual controlling their own life. I want to avoid letting life happen to me. With that being said, below are some aspects I wish to use in order to be an Original and leader of my own life, today.

What I really plan to follow:

  1. Avoid self doubt, because as Grant says, ideas doubt is constructive and causes the thinker to further explore, whereas self doubt is immobilizing and not helpful.
  2. Embrace fear, I will need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a good one. The first draft is bound to be crap so give it time.
  3. Take chances because the biggest regrets in life are chances untaken.
  4. If I don’t make a move or a change the status quo will continue. And this requires me to question everything.
  5. Listen, but don’t groupthink, be powerful and confident enough to think on my own.
  6. Don’t be cocky or ambivalent to feedback, it’s a balance of sifting my ideas and experiences with the input or critique of others.
  7. Take action, make my thoughts and beliefs real, don’t let experiencing the experience get in the way.

Grant, Adam. Originals: how non-conformists change the world. New York: Penguin Random House, 2017. Print.