Go Your Own Way

Growing up in a fairly small town in Wisconsin, I went to a tiny private school where most classmates played sports, dated, and shopped together, while I did my own thing. I made my own clothes, worked my horses after school, took walks during study hall, made soups from the stuff in my garden, and read contemplative books about mystics or anything in the self-help section of our local bookstore.

I often felt like a fish swimming in the opposite direction. While I revelled in that freedom to go my own way, blazing my own trail and following my own curiosities was at times a lonely venture. I was therefore grateful to have the horses to hang out with. Later, friends and fellow students told me I was the most authentic person they knew. “Don’t change,” they said. “You’re a breath of fresh air. I admire you so much for who you are.” Those words surprised and relieved me. Some deep part of me felt seen by that feedback; I’m sure that very part of me carried a bit of anxiety about being accepted by the larger tribe for being so fiercely who I was. I’ve carried this same ethos into my professional life 17 years later.

It was another perfect draw for the Camper; it rippled through the rest of the cohort as well. Can we live beyond compare between ourselves to our competitors, to our parents, to our lovers, to our partners? Can we stop comparing our organizations to a projected image of how the successful companies are doing? Between myself and the leadership idols I feel pressured to become? Between myself and simply the person next to me?

The conversation that surfaced in the group reminded me of this very podcast conversation between Brad and Jerry. I’d listened to it on a walk just a week before. At the camp, I recalled the part when Jerry spoke about his struggles as a young VC feeling like he wasn’t like the other venture capitalists–a fish swimming upstream. He didn’t have the Ivy League degree, they all seemed to have. He was living in compare and filled with self-doubt. Who was he to play in this field with these experienced people who were succeeding? The advice Brad gave Jerry was priceless: “Stop trying to be a VC like everybody else. Just be a VC like you.”

“Be yourself,” said Oscar Wilde, “Everyone else is already taken.” Being you is the most natural thing for you to do. No one else can do it quite your way. Why place limits on yourself by living according to someone else’s version of success?

All too often we can find ourselves not measuring up to some external standard, or wanting to be like the latest someone in the headlines trailing with unicorn dust. Sometimes we use these metrics to flagellate ourselves for being wrong, less than, not good enough. Sometimes the person we most want to be like has qualities that we haven’t yet owned within ourselves. In a sense they are mirroring those very unexpressed qualities of ours back to us by the way in which we see them and hold them in high esteem. What qualities do you admire in others? How can you find and bring forth those qualities in yourself?

Outside of pseudo-philosophical debates on the most iconic leaders, or what the hottest companies are doing, and aside from the billion-dollar valuations, who are you and what are the values you’re living by? What kind of company are you building? What do you long for? What brings you joy? What is a great day according to you and your best self? What are your metrics of valuation on the life you’re creating?

Warren Buffett says it like this: “The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard. I always pose it this way, I say: ‘Lookit. Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover? Now that is an interesting question.’” I’d much rather be with someone who’s an amazing lover in the flesh over someone touted to be one in some overspun headline. What about you?

Warren Bennis, in his seminal book,’ On Becoming a Leader, describes the qualities of a leader versus a manager: “…the leader does his or her own thing,” “…the leader is an original,” “…the leader innovates,” and “…the leader challenges the status quo.” He doesn’t say that the leader emulates or measures himself against “those successful folks who have it all figured out.” For Bennis, the leader goes his own way and holds firm to their unique path. A leader, if you will, makes her own clothes, tends her horses, and makes her own soup.

What is the life that you truly wish to lead? What are you doing to prevent that from happening? What does success feel like to you–in your day, in your relationships, in your work? How will you know when you have it? What’s your scorecard?