“We cannot build our own future without helping others to build theirs.”
I’ll admit I fell asleep in history class a few times. I remember one particular college professor lecturing at length about the British Corn Act of 1855 (or maybe it was some other vegetable he was talking about). Sure enough, minutes into his rambling I felt the fuzzy feeling that afflicts so many students of history begin to wash over me. My eyelids grew heavy, and before long, I was unconscious—an unwitting victim of BHA, Boring History Affliction.
But history need not always be so paralyzing. Enter counterfactual theory.
Counterfactual theory asks “what if” questions so we can speculate on how things would be different in the world if a particular event or action would not have occurred. For example, what if our founding fathers had not been so persistent in fighting for our freedom and independence? What if the Civil War was a draw? Or how would American society be different today if the Confederate army had prevailed or the United States had not gotten involved in World War I or II?
…the person who has the greatest influence on what you do and become is you.
Here’s my point. In every instance mentioned above, and countless others, the reason things turned out as they did is because someone was willing to acknowledge their fears but not be paralyzed by them. Instead of settling for the safety of the status quo, those who repeatedly have the most profound positive impact in their sphere of influence recognize the greatest opportunities for growth often occur when we are deeply uncomfortable. As a wise friend of mine once reminded me, “people will not change their situations until the pain of the present outweighs the fear of the future.” His words affirming former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s observation that “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”
So let me ask you a couple of “What If” questions for you to ponder.
- What if you routinely resisted the urge or pressure to settle for leading a life that is “good enough” and chose instead to risk pursuing excellence as your preferred way of being in the world?
- What if you decided to take a more expansive view of your potential and started writing a new, more empowering personal leadership story of your own? One that would allow you to discover for yourself that the only way you can expect to spur transformation in your surroundings is to first do the work of beginning a transformation in yourself.
Of course, there is no way to know for certain how things might be different in your home, workplace, worship space, or community if you refuse to allow average, acceptable, or “good enough” to be an appropriate way to lead your life. But I can tell you this much. Anything you do today (or this week or this month or this year) to consistently push the bounds of your abilities, will bring you one step closer to living a life of true purpose, meaning, and significance.
Keep in mind, the person who has the greatest influence on what you do and become is you. How you perceive your ability to promote positive change determines if you act the part of the victim or the victor. Your impact, your legacy, will ultimately be measured choices you did or did not make in life – beginning today.
So ask yourself, “Am I routinely adding value to my surroundings? Or am I regularly choosing to join the throng of people on the sidelines lamenting all the reasons things are not as they could or should be?”
My hope is, the next time you face doing something daunting or different, you opt to look fear in the face and lean into your discomfort. Keeping in mind by doing so, you just might inspire others around you to risk doing the same.