It takes real courage to first imagine and then attempt something that a) hasn’t yet been done; b) may not seem remotely doable; and c) is likely to be somewhat uncomfortable, at least at the outset.
Courage is a requirement for any kind of leadership, because leadership implies going first. It implies finding and forging a proper path without benefit of someone else up ahead breaking trail or even pointing the way. But one thing many of us forget is that we are all born to be leaders in at least one sense: We are meant to lead ourselves.
In fact, until we are capable of leading ourselves, we are unfit to lead others.
Ironically, as long as we are unclear about our own purpose, our values and our ability to adhere to them, we are also largely unfit to be led by anyone else.
One of the contexts where our need for self-leadership becomes most evident is in the area of health and fitness. While eating well and exercising may not seem like a colossal act of courage or leadership, achieving and sustaining optimal health really does require a self-championing mentality.
For one thing, getting fit may require us to attempt something (or many things) that we’ve never done and that quite possibly no one has ever shown us how to do. It may require overcoming what seem like insurmountable obstacles – from ill health and flagging willpower, to misinformation and poor role models, to a low self-image and an insufferable schedule. And finally, it is likely to create all kinds of discomfort, both as we test our physical boundaries and as we come up against our own self-limiting beliefs about what we can and cannot do.
By definition, improving our fitness sometimes requires going beyond what is currently comfortable and easy for us. That said, it most definitely doesn’t have to mean torturing ourselves or enduring heroic ordeals.
In truth, it is mostly a matter of repeatedly coaxing ourselves up and over the medians of our own cultural conditioning (for example, the idea that a burger and fries is a normal lunch). It’s a matter of loosening the seams of our straitjacketing habits (our tendency to plunk down in front of the TV instead of choosing active entertainments). It’s a matter of pushing our bodies just a little beyond those illusive barriers where the meekest part of us says “we can’t,” in order to achieve what the very best in us hopes (and in fact knows) that we can.
For those of you who have tried and failed, I would say this: Try again. Only this time, endeavor it as a champion. By that I mean try it not as a victim of circumstance, not as a prisoner of limitation, not as a follower of convention, or a sufferer of former defeats, but as a person willing to sit with difficulty, doubt and discomfort in order to guide yourself toward your own best and fullest possibilities. By doing so, in time, you will not only surpass your own expectations, but you may very well become a person who inspires others.
It’s important to note that this self-championing mindset is very different from the guilt-, fear- and shame-based mentality that gets many of us to the gym at first, or that convinces us to begin watching what we eat. Even if we start working out because we don’t much like ourselves the way we are, even if we start eating healthier to avoid having a second heart attack, I believe that calling on our courage, and consistently drawing on our courage, is the best way to ensure that our efforts bear fruit over the long term.
So this season I invite you to push a little beyond what you have always done, lead yourself a little beyond where you’ve always been. With each workout, each encounter, each passing day, open up a little new territory. Try a little harder. Endure a little longer. After all, if you don’t explore the limits of your own potential, who will?