How do you know you’re leading by example if you can’t first see yourself accurately?
After realizing that to be an excellent father I needed to lead by example, I then realized I needed to critically look at the example I was actually setting and be honest about what I saw. In order to make progress, we have to accept where we are now. Or as Ryan Holiday writes in The Ego Is The Enemy, “We must begin by seeing ourselves and the world in a new way for the first time.”
I’d like to think that I’ve been doing this all along in my life, but in all fairness, I haven’t. I asked questions that I wanted the answers to, while avoiding the questions I didn’t want to answer.
Judging ourselves is hard. We’re tainted with emotional scars and cognitive biases. As Daniel Kahneman writes in Thinking, Fast and Slow, “it is much easier, as well as far more enjoyable, to identify and label the mistakes of others than to recognize our own.”
One thing I know is that I’m not perfect, and that’s OK. I know that when I honestly evaluate myself I’m going to see all kinds of things that I don’t want to. This is often the hardest part of doing a self-evaluation, but it’s critical. I’m overweight. I procrastinate. I over analyze options before I act. I could go on and on.
But knowing our imperfections has value. Not trying to hide in fear of sharing our imperfections with others takes courage. That’s manly.
Sharing and discussing our imperfections with others allows us to identify opportunities for growth and improvement. We all have a deep desire to grow.
A self-evaluation starts by asking the right questions. Some of these questions are new to me and some I’ve just never been willing to answer honestly.
Here are some questions I’m currently working through:
- What achievements do I aspire towards?
- What truly fulfills me?
- Am I spending the little free time that I do have in the ways that truly make me happy in the long run?
- Am I doing things in the short term to make me feel temporarily happy that undermine my long term happiness?
- Am I effective with my decision making and how I spend my time?
- How powerful is this short little word, no?
Many of these questions I could not stomach answering honestly the first time I asked them. I knew that avoiding them indefinitely was not an option, I just had to make sure I was prepared with enough time, energy, and emotional capacity to dig in.
And listen. Listening is a lost art in the modern distracted age that we live in. But you have to be willing to listen to yourself. Learn to listen to your heart and your gut. This requires taking time to reflect on these questions but also patiently and honestly listening to the answers.
Am I fulfilled? Am I on track to achieve what I want? Do I feel loved and am I loving? The answers to these questions may be painful. They can open deep wounds that have been festering for an entire life. Shame, guilt, abuse can rise to the surface.
This exercise is not for the faint of heart. But, it is a critical one in order to have heart. If you don’t have the ability to be honest with yourself, you’ll never have the ability to have depth with others.
Fatherhood requires you to deeply get to know your children, but it starts with deeply getting to know yourself.