In Your Own Image

Page 1

Ansel Adams 1948

IN YOUR OWN IMAGE Š 1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords

IN YOUR OWN IMAGE Imagine you are a young oak tree in a park. It is one of those first warm days after the long months of winter, and you're enjoying the sun, glad the cold seems to be behind. Being an oak, you still hold most of last year's leaves, waiting, as is your way, for the new buds to push them off. Growing near you are several kinds of trees, among them some tall elms and white birches. You have always gotten on well with the other trees, or so you thought. But today something happens to make you wonder. As you doze lazily you are suddenly startled by a sharp voice. "Oak Tree, I've been meaning to speak to you for quite some time now. You have some serious problems, and you've got to do something about them." The words snap you awake. You look down to see a sour-faced man staring up at you. He's all wrapped up in black overcoat, scarf, gloves and cap as though it's still, or always, the middle of winter. Before you can say anything, he starts in again. "First, your shape is ugly. See that elm tree over there? Notice how tall, stately, and graceful it is? That's how trees should be shaped. Now take a good, long look at yourself. You're gnarly . . . and squatty . . . and twisted. Your branches look like tangled turkey legs. The first thing you've got to do is stand up straighter! "Next, there's your bark. It's dark, thick, and rough to touch. See that white birch over there? Now that's what bark should be like. It's delicate and shimmering. People pay for photos of that bark. They put birch logs in their fireplaces all summer. How many photographs of oak bark have you ever seen? So get to work on that skin of yours. "Finally, and worst, you're still holding on to your ugly, dead leaves. Trees just don't do that. they drop their leaves in the fall - that's why it's called foliage season. So don't you ever hold your leaves past Halloween again, is that clear?" As he stomps off, you feel deeply hurt and confused. You are ashamed of yourself as you look up enviously at the elms and birches, and you wish you could hide. You never realized before that it was wrong to be the way you are . . . Š1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords


TALKING TO OAKS, TALKING TO OURSELVES Of course an oak can't change its shape, smooth its bark, or drop its leaves in the fall. An oak cannot have the shape of an elm, or the bark of a birch; if it could, it would not be an oak. But consider just how much like an oak you are and how ashamed you can feel. When we stop and count, we are amazed at the number of times our own sour voices have made us feel unattractive, stupid, bad, and wrong. Dark voices come to live inside us, insisting. . . insisting. . . insisting. . . "You're too tall." "You're too short." "You talk too much." "You don't talk enough." "You should be tougher." "You should be easier." "You work too hard." "You don't work hard enough." And on and on and on. Most of the time the things they say are crazier than what the old man said to the oak; yet we listen and too often try to obey. Where do we get these voices? The voices come from how we have been conditioned. They have been imprinted (literally engraved) in us by all the things we have experienced, beginning in infancy. Sights, sounds, and smells; people, places, and events; dreams, images, and ideas have stamped themselves on us over and over. These voices speak to us constantly, just like the imaginary voice scolding the oak tree. Some of these "shoulds" are useful: "You should be honest." "You should relax." "You should laugh more." More often, they demand we be something we are not. And trying to be what we are not makes us ineffective both as people and leaders.

MIS-MADE IN ANOTHER’S IMAGE: THE JOHN WAYNE ARCHETYPE Kermit the Frog says, "It's not easy being green." It's not easy being yourself; if it were, we would all be doing it. Our conditioning growing up makes it hard to be ourselves. As I share the process of my own conditioning, think about the people, events, and images that conditioned you during your childhood. I was seven years old when World War II ended. My hero (the oak tree I thought I was supposed to be) was John Wayne. I tried my best to be like him. It never occurred to me that there was any other acceptable way to be. On the silver screen John Wayne had admirable characteristics. Š1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords

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instant we saw him emerge as an American hero in Stagecoach, a saddle slung over his shoulder, wielding a carbine in one hand, he was strong, honest, and did not waste, or mince, words. A man of action, he was decisive, never confused about what to do, no matter what the situation. He knew immediately who the good guys and bad guys were. In the end he always beat the bad guys, usually with his fists and at long odds against him. As I tried to be "The Duke," my life kept getting harder. But I was not able, or ready, to give up my "Wayne Tree" until my thirties. Researchers into adult development explain this reluctance: once we take on a model for how to be (and we all do in one way or another), we do not give it up until we experience some major pain trying to force fit ourselves into it. John Wayne, by the way, was not just my hero and no one else's. He was a presence that became part of American culture. His characteristics summed up those embodied by practically all post-war heroes, fictional and real: Superman and Mickey Mantle, Wonder Woman and Wilma Rudolph, Davy Crockett and Dwight Eisenhower. For a child growing up today, television and videos, as well as movies, make the possibilities for such heroic images much more varied: Rambo, Luke Skywalker, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Madonna, Jesse Jackson, Mother Theresa, Florence Griffith-Joyner, or Mikhail Gorbachev. As do most of us, I used up my twenties trying to be what I thought I was supposed to be. It was hard for me to act like John Wayne. His natural abilities were a mismatch for mine. He was strong and silent; I talk a lot. He always knew who the good and bad guys were; I see many shades of gray in a situation. The Duke settled disagreements with his fists; I went 0 for 4 in fights as a kid. He was self-sufficient, the kind of cowboy hero who rode off into the sunset, alone. I need lots of attention and am sensitive to not being appreciated. John Wayne took rejection in stride. Probably my worst John Wayne mistake, one that shows how crazy you can become when you struggle to be someone else, was trying to be a marine. (John Wayne would have been a great marine, was a great marine in Guadalcanal Diary and The Sands of Iwo Jima.) I was in Naval ROTC. As a junior I had to choose to go into the Navy or the Marines. The Navy would have suited me perfectly: as an ensign or lieutenant JG, I could have cruised the world with a sense of humor about it. What did I do? Jumped at the Marine option. Went to Quantico for six weeks. Had Š1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords


one of the worst times of my life . . . and pretended to love it. I recall being on a field exercise with a couple hundred other cadets, rifles with fixed bayonets, lunging, yelling, and growling, relishing the thought that we might some day be disemboweling godless commies. Ripping an enemy's guts out face-to-face may be a necessity of war, and it is totally not me. But my John Wayne imprinting drove me to be there.

ANOTHER IMAGE: “THE GRADUATE” ARCHETYPE OF SENSITIVITY At 31, at a time of immense confusion in my life, a new image presented itself. This image was from The Graduate. Dustin Hoffman in the role of Ben, the graduate, seemed to be me. Ben was intellectual and had succeeded in school. The world into which he graduated made no sense at all to him. Ben was confused about everything, utterly lost. I especially remember a line from the scene by the pool during Ben's graduation party. A friend of Ben's father takes the graduate outside, wraps an arm around Ben's shoulder, looks him deeply in the eye, and says: "Ben, are you listening?" "Yessir." "One word, Ben." "Yessir." "Ben . . . Plastics!"

Ben looks at the older man as though he were an alien. Ben's image of his father's friend was my image of my father's generation. My father and his friends had made a lot of money, but their lives appeared empty and made no sense to me. Granted, the 50's were a meaningless time, but once John Kennedy was assassinated and civil rights and Vietnam came along, I couldn't continue a panty-raid mentality. The middle class people I'd grown up with seemed like throwbacks to some primitive era. Like Ben, I felt I was dealing with aliens. To give his life meaning, Ben had a sick but liberating affair with Mrs. Robinson. Even Ben's clumsy sexuality was an element of my new identification: John Wayne was never sexual, and I was.

©1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords


Just as Ben uprooted, shook, and tore his life apart to move toward meaning, it was easy for me to join him. John Wayne's search was never for meaning because meaning for him was a given. Ben's search was for meaning, and that has always been my search. At 31, I was finally released from the John Wayne image. By the next year I had blown my life apart, was divorced, wearing bell bottoms, and had hair longer than the Beatles. I moved to California and enjoyed six years of personal growth. It was liberating. Six years later I awoke to recognize that only the superficial about me had changed. What had felt like liberation was only repetition of the same old pattern imitation. I was still looking outside by trying to be Dustin Hoffman, the graduate. I had not changed anything but the model. It felt liberating because the new model was closer to me than the old, giving me more permission to be who I was. But it still was not me. In choosing Ben, I had changed the model, but not changed the game. Finally I glimpsed the real journey and began to look inside, not outside, for my true identity.

GOING INSIDE: THE OLDEST AND TRUEST JOURNEY To change, each of us needs to be himself or herself rather than someone else. For us to do so, it must be okay to be who we find, whether it is an oak, an elm, or a birch, or a green frog. You will not try (for long) to find who you are if you think what you find inside is unacceptable. So, how do you give yourself permission, genuine freedom, to accept whatever you find? A way to start is to understand that every one of your personality traits is both a strength and a weakness. Characteristics you prize have ignoble sides. Features you despise have precious facets. Every personality trait has an upside and a downside. The clarity of meaning that enabled John Wayne's characters to act immediately also oversimplifies the world. Such simple perceptions enable you to act quickly; but often the action is inappropriate. My strength, seeing many sides of a situation, enables me to help people to communicate, empathize, and understand. My

Š1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords


corresponding weakness is that it is hard for me to act decisively. Like every other element in this universe, we are each useful in some ways and not in others. If we are to become effective leaders in our organizations, we must find ways to compensate for our weaknesses by co-operating with others who have complementary strengths and weaknesses. In the Navy, for example, the team of the captain and the executive officer designs itself to achieve this complementary wholeness. If the captain is a tough, demanding rumpkicker, he or she looks for an executive officer who excels at caring for people. If the captain is gentle and parental, he or she needs a hard exec. For me to be successful in business, I need someone like John Wayne as part of my team, someone able to act decisively, to complement me. Some books on leadership promote a common misconception about selecting models for success. These experts on how to thrive in organizations often say that you must have mentors, gurus, champions or other various kinds of role models. Following this advice causes people to look for mentors who have succeeded in the organization. People will emulate their mentors even though they may be no more alike than John Wayne and me. The results are often a disaster because the style that works for one person may be preposterous for the other. On the other hand, seeking out a variety of successful organizational leaders, both those like you and those different from you, can help you learn which of your strengths will most likely bring you success and which of your weaknesses might derail you.

THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF LEADERSHIP: HONOR YOURSELF The first principle of leadership is this: You must learn to know yourself and then have the courage to be yourself. When you can live this principle, you are able to have another kind of conversation with the oak tree and with yourself: "Yes, Oak Tree, you have weaknesses, but you also have great strengths. No, you're not tall like elms, but you don't get Dutch Elm disease either. No, your bark is not as smooth as a birch's, but you are not a soft wood that rots easily. And what does it matter when you drop your leaves? You also drop acorns that feed small animals. And people have long sought your beautiful, strong wood to build great ships and to make fine furniture. Never forget who you are – you have your own majesty and magic." To become a successful leader you must honor yourself. To do so, you must look Š1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords


inward. This is not easy. Remember Kermit, "It's not easy being green." Our culture discourages self-analysis, making us afraid to look inward, afraid that we will find an image that we hate. Our most influential medium for conveying images is television. When was the last time you saw a television advertisement that made you feel good about yourself? The primary purpose of television advertising of any advertising is to tell us that we lack essential things. We lack cars that would make us sexy. We lack makeup that would make us beautiful. We lack insurance that would make us secure. Perhaps, we lack the caring to make telephone calls that show people we love that we love them. We lack things, beauty, attitudes, and on and on and on. A buck here, a buck there, and we will be fixed. Television images of beautiful people and wondrous things and acceptable attitudes are miniature John Waynes. Advertisers bank on our adopting these images long enough to spend money trying to become like them. The more we believe something will make us like a model we have already chosen, the more we will want to have it. We consume a great deal trying to become the images advertising dangles in front of us. Rarely do we look inside to see who we are and what we truly want. Indeed, by television standards we lack so much that inside becomes the last place we would look. We have been conditioned all our lives to believe there is something wrong with us. A parade of images áÐá ideals blessed by our families, churches, schools, and work organizations says, "Be like me." But as long as your identity comes from outside, without reference to natural qualities, abilities, and ingredients, you stand little chance of achieving the fulfillment that most people call happiness. For me, when I looked inside, I found it hard to accept that I like to be the center of attention. People usually see that desire as a trait of spoiled children. Neither John Wayne nor Ben sought attention. When I realized that it's okay to love attention, my life took an important turn for the better. Loving attention makes me want to present myself well in front of people, an important aspect of my professional success. The downside is that I can be too self-centered, leaving little space for others to grow, develop, and have their share of attention. My awareness of this tendency to be selfcentered has led me to set up systems to counterbalance the tendency. Structure can help us keep the downside of our personality traits in check.

©1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords


If you must look inward, if you must know and be yourself, if you must honor yourself and build upon who you are, then you must also anticipate how difficult it is going to be. Our culture makes you feel selfish if you are self-concerned, conceited if you treasure and celebrate your accomplishments, foolish or unworthy if you admit to the shameful facets of your personality. Once you begin to look at yourself, you are likely to find out things about yourself that you have not acknowledged. Some discoveries will be upsetting. But once you identify these things, it becomes easier, not harder, to succeed because you can then know what you truly want. After you begin to accept what you find about yourself, you can develop strategies for how to use what you learn. For example, after I accepted my need for attention and my ability to see different sides of an issue, those traits became elements of my leadership style. I learned to avoid situations where I am the decision-maker, preferring the role of counselor and commentator.

YOU CAN SUCCEED: THE MAJESTY AND MAGIC ARE WITHIN YOU The main block to self-acceptance is that we are convinced that if we actually went ahead and tried our best to be who we find, disaster would result. But consider this image. Imagine John Wayne: strong, silent, a man of impeccable integrity, the Duke towering before you at six feet four inches. He was an undisputed success as a male movie actor. Put right beside him another first-rate success in the same field. Woody Allen. You must see them in your mind standing side by side. Ask yourself, What would have happened to Woody Allen if he had tried to imitate John Wayne? In practically every film he has made, Woody Allen comes to terms with being a neurotic wimp who fails miserably with women. He studies himself over and over again, understanding (often making fun of) the notion that, driven by internal "shoulds," success lies in being cool. In Play it Again Sam, in which he attempts to be Humphrey Bogart, he continually, and deliberately, shows us what a fool this "should" makes him. By going to extremes in playing the role, he liberates himself from the culturally imposed idea that "real men" are supposed to be like Bogie: suave, witty under fire, resourceful, selfless, and cool. You might try such an extreme experiment yourself. If you are a man, adopt your best "John Wayne" or "Tom Cruise" or other personality of your choice for a day.

Š1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords


Take it as far as you can. Try to be cool, but do it so hard that you are ridiculous and can laugh at yourself. If you are a woman, adopt your best Doris Day, Madonna or other female personality. If you hold that image of yourself trying to be cool and remember talking to the oak tree, you will grasp in your heart the message of this chapter: the majesty and the magic are within you.

HOW DO I START? At this point, you might be asking yourself, “But how do I start looking inward?” Selfanalysis for all of us is hard, even painful. Not looking is a whole lot easier, and safer. Because we naturally resist looking inward, using a structured approach can be of great value. The field of psychological testing is brimming over with "instruments": tests, surveys, profiles, and inventories designed to give you insight into your personality. If you have taken such instruments in school or in your organization's training programs, it makes sense to review your results as a starting point. The problem with using most of these tests and surveys is that "interpreting" the results so that you can make sense of it usually requires a psychiatrist, or a licensed psychologist, or a certified testing consultant. These are not people you are likely to have hanging around your workplace or home as you tackle the challenge of looking inward. And there is another, more profound problem: many tests and/or their interpreters have their own built-in value systems that substitute themselves, sometimes overwhelmingly, for the information you seek. Later in this book, we will show you another approach we feel is much cleaner and less intimidating than most standard psychological instruments, and therefore much more practical. As part of my journey inside, I developed The Natural Depths Profile as a tool for helping us see ourselves as we are – a tool to help us each paint our own self-portrait. Once you have completed the foundation portion of this book, you'll see that one of the Adventure chapters describes The Natural Depths Profile and how you can use it as a way of beginning to paint your own self-portrait. One of the ways that I learn best is through music. Songs add an emotional dimension of experiencing and understanding that cannot be accomplished with words alone. On the cassette furnished with this book is a song by Linda Ronstadt: You Tell Me That I’m Falling Down. Ronstadt is an example of someone who has cut her own path. Her music has included folk, rock, country, torch songs, opera,

©1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords


Spanish songs, and New Orleans jazz-rock-rhythm-and-blues. She has refused to be packaged under a marketing formula, preferring instead to experiment where her interests led. This song captures for me and, I hope, for you the spirit and feeling of "In Your Own Image." Listen to it when you feel you need to remember that honoring yourself is basic to leading. You Tell Me That I’m Falling Down

You tell me that I'm falling down A drifter with no role You tell me that I need a friend To help me take control Well let it be I'm not alone I'm only lonely see And you can't tell me where to go Or what or who to be I am exactly what I am And not the way you'd like to see me be I look outside long as I can Then I close my eyes and watch my world unfold before me I may not lead the simple life I've no love of my own If no one gives me all his heart I'll manage with a loan I'm very used to feeling sad It doesn't make me cry And yes I do know how to love And what you say's a lie I am exactly what I am And not the way you'd like to see me be I look outside long as I can Then I close my eyes and watch my world unfold before me

Š1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords


You tell me that I'm falling down A drifter with no role You tell me that I need a friend To help me take control Well let it be I'm not alone I'm only lonely see And you can't tell me where to go Or what or who to be I am exactly what I am And not the way you'd like to see me be I look outside long as I can Then I close my eyes and watch my world unfold before me...

REPEATING PATTERNS: CATCHING MYSELF CONDITIONING OTHERS In the 60's I taught high school. Somehow through my ego I was able to see clearly that I was doing to my kids what had been done to me: if I approved of them, they succeeded. If they were like me, if they remade themselves in the image I insisted on, they did well. That requirement, though unconscious, was extremely powerful. The insight led me to write a poem I'd like to share with you…

Slow Learner Mom – I flunked God's exam again this year. I don't know why, it all seemed so very clear when we went over it last night. And I knew the stuff, I really did! I got all the questions right but one – the one about whose image ©1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords


I'm to be created in? I forgot and wrote My Own again.

Š1991 William R. Idol, James Krefft & David Swords