The Courage to Dance
“I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.”
I am in New York at the same hotel I stayed in 3.5 years ago. I have been to New York many times since then but this is the first time I’ve been back here. It is not an accident. That week changed my life and I knew it was time to revisit.
It was October 2011. I was out in New York teaching on a leadership programme for London Business School and I had just been told that a major client of the School’s had unexpectedly and for financial reasons, pulled the following 12 months’ training programmes, ones that I had been exclusively booked for. I had turned down all other work and, as an Associate, there would be no recompense for this loss of earnings. The news hit me hard. My company, Cascãd, was launched in September 2008, four days before Lehmann Brothers went down, and I had had to make some difficult decisions on both business and personal fronts to save it, including letting go of my home. After a tough 3 years navigating through the recession, Cascãd was beginning to look healthy and just the week before I had ironically begun to feel safer and out of the woods.
And then the curve ball hit again and there I was, out in New York with those years of hard work and bold choices seemingly wasted. I was on my own: my colleagues had gone back to London but I had booked and prepaid for a few days at this hotel, and so I came here feeling helpless, anxious and very stuck in another dark wood.
There was one tiny glimmer of hope that in my fear I clung to. I had been urged many times since I had launched Cascãd to start writing blogs as part of its social media presence. I had resisted, partly because of time but mainly because of shyness. I was not afraid of writing. What I felt deeply shy about was that the blogs would go out to an international database. I would be exposed with nowhere to hide.
But now I was at that pivotal point of little resistance and huge instinctive urgency and shyness was a self-conscious indulgence I couldn’t afford. The time for dependence on another company was over and it was time to fly the nest. Cascãd… and I… had to grow up and evolve to the next level.
Synchronistically the passing of Steve Jobs brought those same people I felt so shy about into my orbit. Jobs’ Stanford University Commencement Address has been the foundation of my teaching since 2005 and I was flooded by emails as people reached out wanting to talk and share their sense of loss. It was connecting to these dear friends that prompted me to get over myself, swallow my shyness and write. The Courage to Fall and Fly: a call to lead an extraordinary life’ is a tribute to Jobs but also to all of us who find the courage to take a different path:
‘So who are these people prompted to write such moving emails and what is it about that speech that speaks so deeply to them? The thread that unites them all is that they are creative visionaries, though many of them have yet to realise this; they are extremely bright, gifted with what Walter Isaacson calls ‘intuitive intelligence’. They have deep passion and empathy and a great sense of responsibility for their people; they have a lovely and gentle humility. And finally they know they want to live an extraordinary life: a life full of meaning and purpose.
These are the future movers and shakers and Steve Jobs spoke to them. He was a visionary leader and this was their call to arms: “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma -- which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. You somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
This is the essence of leadership. It is the invitation to stop being the ‘good, or conversely, bad boy/girl’, to stop being a victim, to stop taking the easy, quick -fix route and to begin taking responsibility for our own life, our own truth. This is how leadership vision is created.’
And now 3.5 years later I reflect on how much has changed. How what I was once terrified of now brings me not only deep joy and fulfilment but also great business. That one step propelled me onto an abundant trajectory that has transformed my life in unexpected and extraordinary ways.
In a subsequent blog I describe this as the ‘red pill’ choice:
‘The best way I can describe this ‘choice’ is through another of my top 10 films, ‘The Matrix’. It is a seminal film depicting a world in which a simulated reality is actually a virtual one created by machines. In a pivotal scene, the protagonist, Neo, is offered the choice of two pills by the leader of the resistance, Morpheus. Morpheus tells Neo: “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
The blue pill choice comes from our ‘Adapted Self’, our locus of fear, and is the choice of least resistance, the easy, quick win, quick fix path. It is the one many take, persuading themselves that this is the sensible, ‘realistic’ option. But in coming from this ‘Adapted Self’ they are distancing themselves from their core truth and in doing so they find themselves increasingly bitter, empty and confused and, as a result, can cause great harm to others.
The red pill choice is the one of integrity. It comes from our ‘Authentic Self’, our inner truth, and it is the path that demands great courage. It is the choice we are most afraid of, the one we do everything to avoid. It can be a far-reaching external choice or it can be an immediate internal one: do I respond with fear and greed or do I respond with an open mind and heart? Either way we recognise it by our visceral instinctive response. Pure terror is a great indication that this is a red pill moment!’
One of my students recently said to me as I was describing this red pill/blue pill choice: ‘Hannah, what would have been a red pill choice for you 6 months ago, would now be a blue pill choice.’ What a brilliant insight and this is the point. The more we find the courage to take that deep breath and take the red pill, the more we dance and embrace our life. It really does get easier and definitely more joyous. The blue pill becomes increasingly toxic and a waste of time and so we stop hesitating about the blue/red pill choice. We learn to recognise it and in that moment of recognition we know what we have to do.
And of course we don’t get protected from the curve balls. That’s life. But our faith in our inner confidence and courage grows and grows and we know we will deal with whatever, whenever. In the meanwhile we keep dancing. Life is far too precious to do otherwise.