Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life. ~Parker J. Palmer
The question posed in the heading, “How can you receive instead of manage life?” was taken from my Advent reading this week from Richard Rohr’s book, Preparing for Christmas. This time of year we tend to think a lot about what we will be giving but it may be a time to more appropriately think about receiving.
Because ego wants to manage anxiety by achieving more, it is especially concerned with the results of all this striving. By focusing on the outcome, your ego gets validation that all this work is worth it. Without a satisfactory result, all the striving is pointless.
A calling reveals itself through self-discovery. Your calling comes from within and can only be revealed by paying attention to how your life is unfolding. Instead of managing the outcome, your calling can handle the stress of ambiguity. It knows that the tension is revealing something that you couldn’t otherwise learn.
While your ego does a necessary job of helping you function in the world, it is your calling that creates a more authentic, soulful way to be in the world.
Thinking about receiving life, two people come to mind who continue to dominate the national news—Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis. Both of these individuals, in my opinion, are examples of leaders who received life far more than they managed life. If Nelson Mandela was managing life would he have spent 27 years in prison, forgive those who imprisoned him, and then proudly bear the rugby shirt that caused 65,000 white rugby supporters to shout his name? As Parker Palmer stated, “I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity.” I believe that’s exactly what Nelson Mandela did.
“Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pontiff who won hearts and headlines with his humility and common touch was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013.” Time managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, said, “Pope Francis stood out ‘as someone who has changed the tone and perception and focus of one of the world’s largest institutions in an extraordinary way.'” If the Pope truly “won the hearts and headlines with his humility and common touch” how could he be managing life? He exemplifies Parker Palmer’s statement, “not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life,” a life that he has received.
As we approach the season of giving and receiving, how would our lives as leaders look differently if we shifted from managing life to receiving life?
Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.