Master Yourself First

Master yourself first

Our society today has almost an angry aversion to mastering oneself. We are who were are, right? We were born this way as Lady Gaga says and the world should accept us as we are. If the world doesn’t accept us that’s their problem. Or is it?

The truth is we were all born extremely flawed. There isn’t a generous and selfless baby that has ever crawled the earth. Anyone who is a parent can attest to this. It’s all about them. Mine, mine, mine.

Some of us had good parents who helped us see that we were not the center of the universe. Some of us had parents who allowed us to “blossom” into whatever form we chose to take. While freedom to choose your own path in life is a good thing, too much of anything is not good.

Just like a tree or shrub should be pruned to remove unproductive or unhealthy growth so that new, more productive, growth can occur we also need a pruning and training in order to succeed in this world and be healthy.

The good news is that even if you weren’t “pruned” as a child and given much guidance you can still grow into a healthy adult and leader by pruning yourself. There are books and friends, spouses and mentors who can all help you master yourself, and master yourself you must. “As iron sharpens iron so one man another” says Proverbs 27:17.

Jefferson vs Adams

Lately I’ve been reading an excellent biography on Thomas Jefferson who is possibly my favorite founding father. He was humble, an avid reader with a interest in a simple life of farming and studying almost anything he could get his hands with an insatiable curiosity.

He played a pivotal role in the shaping of America and much of our free society today is based on his ideas as he conceived what a nation of self-government could look like. It may sound like a simple thought today since democracies have sprung up everywhere since that time, but in the late 18th century the idea of self-government was a radical idea.

One of Jefferson’s closest friends and at other times biggest rivals was John Adams. The two were inseparable during the revolution and then politics drove them apart during the their presidencies only to have them rekindle their friendship afterward until they both passed away quietly on the same day July 4, 1826.

The two men couldn’t have been more different. Adams was a brilliant thinker, but a cantankerous SOB at times. Many historians believe that without his contributions America would never have come into being. But Adams popularity and effectiveness was limited because of his sharp tongue and his temper which he could never master.

Jefferson, however, was a master of his emotions. Just as deep a thinker as Adams, Jefferson rarely let his emotions get the better of him and he was able to keep them in check in a tumultuous time. Jefferson had opinions that ran just as deep as Adams, but he was able to accomplish far more because he could set those emotions aside and think practically.

People repulsed from Adams were drawn to Jefferson for little more than personality differences. The two men shared similar aspirations from the fledgling new nation with some stark differences on policy, but Jefferson was able to move the needle far more due to his pragmatic control of his tongue, a skill that Adams never even attempted to master.

In the end Adams’ legacy was curtailed by his temper and biting demeanor when it could have been just as great if not greater than Jefferson’s, who worked tirelessly to master himself in this arena.

Why Do We Need to Master Ourselves?

We are all different people. Some of as opposite as Adams and Jefferson. Some of us more. We have things that get in our way and trip us up. Personality flaws, unhealthy desires, laziness, procrastination, cheating, tempers, ADHD, Dyslexia, eating disorders, emotional disorders, too short, too tall, too fat, too skinny, bad at math, fear of confrontations. The point is we all have something, and most of us have several things!

If you want to lead others and “make a dent in the universe” as Steve Jobs used to say, you have to try to master these things. In the New Testament Paul used to talk about the “thorn in his flesh” that God had given him. We don’t know what it was exactly, but most theologians believe it was some kind of struggle that Paul had that he couldn’t shake. He was constantly aware of it and struggled to master it daily.

Like Paul and Jefferson we likely will never completely master our issues, but to accept them and embrace them is not the answer. To proclaim loudly to the world that you are a kleptomaniac and they should accept you as you are is ridiculous, yet we do this almost daily with our flaws in our society today because our culture has become so permissive that to criticize these flaws is seen as a personal attack on the person who is struggling.

Let us not be snowflakes. We are flawed. We are imperfect. We can be better. We should be better. To accept mediocre when you could be great is a huge waste of an opportunity to make your dent in the universe.

What Do You Need to Master?

What is the thorn in your side? Stop with the “I’m practically perfect in every way” and get real. What should you be better at? What do you need to fix about yourself? Our culture today will not help you find the answer. There are so few things today that are seen as genuine problems to overcome in such a permissible society.

The only things we seem to condemn anymore are serious crimes like abuse and murder, most other issues are just “quirks”. 100 years ago if you believed you were a monkey we would get you serious psychiatric help, today we’ll encourage you to life your best monkey life.

For me personally I have two things I struggle with on a daily basis that have caused big issues in my personal and business life. First, I’m a major procrastinator. If I don’t set deadlines, nothing gets done. That was an easy one to fix. Put some processes in place to make sure I have a deadline, and now I can’t procrastinate past that moment.

Second, I have a major fear of confrontation. It’s a powerful issue I struggle with as a CEO of a 30 person operation. It’s easy for me to tell my managers they need to deal with an employee or client who is out of line very firmly, but if I’m the one who has to confront them I’ll give away the farm.

It infuriates me that when I need to be tough I often choose to delegate it our back down. When I’m pushed I will push back, but I’m a people pleaser at heart and confronting someone about something uncomfortable is usually not a way to win friends. So I work every day to be better at confrontation.

I do it as often as the opportunity arises even though I hate it. I get coaching from my COO who is not afraid of confrontation. I practice and read books since confrontation is not something that comes easily to me and slowly I am getting better. I haven’t mastered it yet, but the discipline to work at mastery is really the key.

Working to make yourself better, to master yourself, to be in control of yourself and not let genetics or family or society get in the way of what you could accomplish is the key. That is why mastery matters. If you have the discipline to work toward mastering yourself then you can get out of the way of your own success.

So think about it. What do you need to be better at? Don’t settle for the hand that you were dealt. You can do better. We need you to do better. The world needs you to be the best person you can be. We’re counting on you.

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