Who Do You Want to Be?

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This is the time of year many of us spend energy thinking about goals and resolutions. These things are important – if you don’t have a destination in mind you’ll end up nowhere (or somewhere you’d rather not be). It takes discipline and energy, but it’s worth it to sketch out your goals, make resolutions, etc.

I make goals and resolutions, but for me the most important thing is knowing who I want to be. Defining – or redefining as the case may be – is even more vital than making goals and resolutions. If we do not know ourselves, and have in mind who we want to be, all the goals in the world don’t matter.

Authentic, Realistic

When I start thinking about myself and who I want to be, two words come to mind immediately: authentic and realistic. I want to be the same person on Monday morning that I was on Sunday morning – authentic. Too often we compare ourselves to our friends and to celebrities, and then we translate that comparison into a facade we show the world. That may work in the short term, but it can’t last. Sooner or later an inauthentic person will forget which face they’ve shown to whom. It’s much simpler, and far less stressful, to be the same person all the time.

I also want to be realistic about where I am today and how fast I can get to where I want to be. It does no good for me to dream about conquering Everest if I’ve never even climbed a Fourteener. Addictions and bad habits aren’t conquered overnight, they’re usually acquired over long periods of time, and we can’t expect to turn ourselves around quickly. It’s like football: you don’t need to score a touchdown on every play; just get a first down.

Values are Timeless

There’s a reason why things like Cardinal Virtues, Theological Virtues, Beatitudes, and Universal Human Goods are still relevant: because they’re true. People who try to live their lives in accordance with codes of honor, professional ethics, the Virtues & Beatitudes, and value authentic human goods like Truth, Courage, and Beauty are usually the most healthy among us. These values are timeless because they point to things that are Real, and common to our human experience.

No matter how many times people try to deny “what’s good,” choosing to act on that denial eventually catches up with us. Bad habits become addictions. Poor diet begets poor health. Vice begets broken-ness. Dismissing timeless virtues and goods may feel good at first, but at some point the fun gets old and we can’t hide the bruises and dents to our soul from ourselves.

Just Be the Best Possible Version of Yourself

There isn’t one single solution to being a better you, but the one thing that must be on “Square One” is making an effort to be the best possible version of ourselves. That means being authentic, and embracing the time-honored principles that have worked across cultures and time. No one need compare themselves to some celeb or royal or friend-on-the-“BookFace”-who-appears-perfect. Life is not a competition. Love your family, feed your spirit with good things, and try to be kind. Remember, you don’t have to make a 99 yard TD on every play – just move the chains.

Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

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The Beginning of the Be’s

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I get asked occasionally where I got the idea for my most popular talk and book, The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life, and so I thought I’d make room here to talk about it.

It All Started with a Talk

The genesis of the book is a speech I wrote for young Airmen, fresh from Basic Military Training and arriving at their first base. I wanted to inspire them to live healthy and even virtuous lives. It’s not the vision they get from modern culture. Also, because I’d be speaking to people from varied backgrounds and beliefs, I needed to find non-sectarian ways to talk about virtue and healthy living without preaching.

What’s been interesting is the talk, and now the book, that I originally wrote for 19-year-olds resonates with people of all ages. I wanted to give them more than boundaries, I wanted them to have a vision of what a healthy person looks like; a clear idea of the kind of person I expected them to BE. The first time I was asked to give the Five Be’s talk to a conference of mostly older professionals, I reminded them that talk was really written for younger people. They responded, “we want the Five Be’s.” It was well received, and ever since then, it’s become my most requested talk.

Boundaries Are Not Enough

What I discovered a few years ago was that we spend a lot of time telling people what not to do, giving them boundaries. People need more than that.

We say “don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t act this way, don’t say those or eat that, or shop at the shop.” Boundaries are fine, we all need boundaries, but we can’t live with boundaries alone. For example, there are rules for driving and like stop lights and speed limits, etc., and all those things are fine. But if you don’t give a humans a vision of who we want them to be, a positive vision well then they are likely just to bounce back and forth, you know in the lane from boundary to boundary.

It’s not just important for young people, but for everybody starting out in life or a new chapter in their life. Think to yourself: what kind of person do I want to be ? When I tried to answer that question for myself, that’s when I came up with these Five Be’s. It’s sort of a macro formula for how to live a healthy and successful life.

You Are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

The first “BE” is “Be Proud of Who You Are.” You know everybody has something to be proud of no matter how humble you are and everybody has the same dignity and value no matter who you are. Your human dignity doesn’t depend on your age, the color of your skin, your gender, or your religion. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, doesn’t matter what rank you have on your on your sleeve, it doesn’t matter how good-looking you are – none of that matters to how you should be treated.

I think we have to remind ourselves sometimes because especially you know we can be our own worst enemy. Authentic pride isn’t cheerleading. It’s not being “Stuart Smalley” from Saturday Night Live: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me.” It’s enough that we understand that each of us is a unique creation with inherent dignity.

Authentic Pride: The First BE

There are two kinds of pride; “authentic pride” and “counterfeit pride.” Authentic pride means thinking of your own self-worth and value, like pride in your family or accomplishments. It’s perfectly OK to be proud of working hard and achieving something, or of the contributions of your team, family, ethnic group, country, etc. You get the idea. Authentic pride is about tangible contributions, accomplishments, or victories. It builds people up.

Counterfeit pride is something much different. Counterfeit pride tears others down. It’s judgmental, exclusive, snobby, angry, and nasty. Counterfeit pride isn’t real because it’s not about victories, it’s about power.

Be Like the A’Ama Crab

The illustration for pride I always use, even for Mainland audiences, is a saying about Hawaiian crabs in a bucket. I read it in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser some several ago and I went thought to myself, “that’s perfect.” The saying goes something like this, “Be like the a’ama crab, not the alamihi crab.” If you put a load of alamihi crabs in a bucket, and one of them tries to crawl out, the other crabs will pull it back in. If you put a’ama crabs into the bucket, they will make a ladder and pull each other out. And so you know that’s the difference of counterfeit pride and authentic pride. Authentic pride is always trying to rip somebody down, counterfeit pride is always trying to rip somebody down, authentic pride is always trying to trip somebody up.

Be the good kind of crab. 

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Be Free – Part I

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9215883633_0b13a03051_o“Freedom” is a word often misused in our current vocabulary. We view our “freedoms” in such a broad manner that the word sometimes loses its meaning. Particularly in the case of young people, “freedom” is synonymous with “doing whatever I like”, but that’s not authentic freedom. Authentic freedom is being able to choose what’s good for you, and yet remaining unencumbered by things that prevent you from being healthy. In fact, unbounded freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want is not freedom; it is license.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

– Nelson Mandela

It’s really not a radical concept, the idea that freedom is bound by responsibilities and limits; in fact it’s preserved in our system of laws and our notion of justice. We regulate speech and assembly both for the common good and for the individual’s good. People are not permitted to gather for the purpose of fomenting violence, and we don’t allow a person to run into a theater and shout “fire” without just cause. Ideally, our laws are constructed to both protect the common good, and safeguard individual liberty. However, the freedom we enjoy as Americans is not unfettered liberty. We are free but we do not have license to do whatever we want.

Authentic freedom is an individual’s ability to choose what is good without being impeded or bound, be it an internal or external restriction. If an individual’s appetites or another person’s demands prevent the individual from making good choices, then we can objectively say that the individual is not free.

Living and Leading with Authenticity

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In the marketplace, more and more people are now seeking authenticity, and whole industries have grown up in the last ten years to meet that need. The demand for artisan products ranging from spirits to furniture to health care products has grown significantly. “Authentic” connotes something that’s real, something that’s connected to the world around it, and something that’s honest. When we seek out “authentic” restaurants, we are looking for something made by humans rather than stamped out in a factory and re-heated. When we purchase “authentic” antiques, we want a piece that is actually from that other time and place, not a replica. In other words, when we seek “authenticity” we’re seeking something real, tangible, and connected to the world around us. In an age when privacy is difficult to come by and it’s hard to predict what can go viral in an instant, people are also seeking authenticity in their work and their leaders. They’re seeking that authenticity, I think, because despite the electrons whizzing about in the air, people still have a fundamental need to connect to each other and the world in tangible ways.

Authentic in the context of “living and leading” is just like that handmade loaf of bread from Mom’s kitchen or the reclaimed shiplap on the wall of the newly renovated home: it means being a leader who is real, connected, and honest. An authentic leader is mindful of both the common good and individual good. An authentic leader both requires respect and gives it. An authentic leader is the same person on Monday morning as they were on Sunday morning or Friday night, and they intend to do good rather than just avoiding doing wrong. They are the same person from day to day–they assure people around them their “face” is in fact their “person” and mean it. An authentic leader will put others before themselves, and they will always seek to leave their teams and their organizations better than they found them.

Leaders also have a responsibility to husband their own personal resources and set a good example of character to lead their teams to high performance. In the military, we call that “walking the talk,” but that same principle is played out in all occupations and every endeavor daily. As leaders, we must never ask someone to do something we are unwilling to do ourselves. We follow the rules we set for others, and we are willing to roll up our sleeves and help our teammates out when it’s necessary. Truly, who wants work for someone who is not who they pretend to be? Who wants to follow someone who can’t relate to their teammates as human beings, or is unwilling to follow their own rules? The answer: no one wants to follow a leader like that–at least not for very long–no matter how many digits in the paycheck.

In my upcoming book, The Five Be’s, I discuss my philosophy for living an authentic life. The Five Be’s are Be Proud, Be Free, Be Virtuous, Be Balanced, and Be Courageous, and the underlying principle is living and leading authentically. It’s a talk I used to give to the new Airmen when they were freshly arrived at my unit, where I offered them a positive vision after months or years of hearing little else but “don’t” and “no.” I think it’s applicable to all age groups, not just the young ones, because each of us must wake and make decisions daily about what gets our energy that day. Living authentically and The Five Be’s is certainly a philosophy applicable for leaders who want to be their best and get the best from their teams. Good character and authenticity are perquisites for good leadership.

It’s central to good leadership to set the example by being authentic, and encouraging our teams to do the same. While sometimes, the job we’re doing requires personal sacrifice and the proverbial “blood, sweat, and tears,” leaders cannot be blind to the human factor in every equation. Leadership, after all, is primarily a human endeavor. We must remember our people can’t give 110% all the time; no one can give more than they have. So while that “110%” cliché is a helpful metaphor for “maximum effort” it can’t be a reasonable way to live or work. If we sprint all the time, we won’t have any energy for the sprint when it’s really necessary. An authentic leader–or any person striving to live an authentic life–understands that truism. Work hard and work smart, but remember to sprint only when you have to do so.  If we’re real and not two-faced, if we connect to the people and world around us, if we’re honest with others and ourselves then we’re living and leading authentically. Doing that will lead enable us to lead our teams to high performance, and will make sure we get everyone to the finish line together–including ourselves. Authentic leaders are honest to themselves and their teammates, and they remember they are part of a team, a family, and a community that also deserve some of their energy. The authentic leader is able to stay connected, even in the hardest times.

Living authentically—real, connected, honest– is a formula for success in business and in life.

Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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