flame heart symbol for personal fire in the belly

Here’s what I believe:

Leadership is a choice we make.

Some of us make it easily and early – as if we’ve always known it’s what we’d do and be. Maybe it’s upbringing, temperament – who knows.

But then there’s the rest of us. Those of us who never saw ourselves as “leaders” (whether we were acting as such or not). Those of us who were steeped in self-doubt or fear or uncertainty – by circumstances, upbringing or any combination of factors unclear.

We may have appeared as confident people – or not. We may have excelled in school or work or other endeavors – or not.

One thread connects us: we struggled to rise to the levels we knew deep inside we were capable of.

We feel the visceral pull, yet momentum evades us. We don’t seem to have that easy confidence that the “real” leaders around us exude so easily.

Every once in a while, we rise up to our own visions for ourselves.

We write the book, take on the big project, start that non-profit or socially responsible company. But staying there and performing at that level, acting with confidence and certainty day in and day out is so hard, so unnatural.

Living outside of our familiar homeostasis is so unfamiliar that, the minute we take our attention off of that focused action – one tiny moment of uncertainty or doubt, we fall right back down to the “safety” of what we know …  the dreaded but oh so familiar mediocre.

The thing is, no one cares.

This is actually what everyone around us expects – and frankly, what we all expect of each other. Mediocrity, playing it safe, not pushing the boundaries or riding our own edges is what the vast majority of people do.

But here’s another place where a thread connects us: we can’t stay there either.

That fire in our belly is too hot, too big. Those visits with the edges change us. You can’t go back. There isn’t “safety” anymore in staying small, in mediocrity.

And so we are at the proverbial crossroads.

Do we live with this painful fire in our belly every day – waiting until it slowly, slowly weakens until it is merely embers glowing in the early morning hours, reminding us that we will never really be at peace no matter what we do?

Or do we open our hearts, limbs and mouths to releasing this fire – to harnessing the strength and power of this conviction to do good work in the world.

Do we surrender to this deep passion we were given and figure out how to use it, how to make living from this fire our new normal – knowing it will probably take a long time, be scary and uncertain indefinitely and be the hardest work we do?

This is how it was for me. This is how it still is for me on some days.

The only difference is, I know what decision I made.

I tried to make the other one a few times but it didn’t work. Those early morning hours were too much for me. So, I surrendered to the long, uncertain and often scary (but getting less so) path of committed leadership.

I’m curious about you? What have you decided about leadership – in your own life, in your work, in the world?

And if you haven’t decided, would it help if you did?