It's easy to fall in the hole on the path to greatness. Challenges appear the moment you decide to change something or improve your situation. Stressful challenges are a natural and necessary part of growing and learning as an evolving adult. What change do you want to make? How are you struggling or stuck?
This week my seventh book in the blindspotting series went to press on the topic of compassion and empathy. The first few books were easier than my last few. They benefited from several years of pent-up, underutilized artistic self-expression. These latest ones I've had to really dig for. Or rather, suffer for. I've had to make myself a better person in order to write them.
We all struggle with something or many things
This week I played my last round of golf for the season as winter storms are about to blanket the local courses. To say golf is a challenge is almost a daft understatement. It's the most complex and therefore beautiful recreational activity ever conceived. (Invented of course by the Scots who take suffering to its logical aesthetic and religious conclusion.)
Most of us are familiar with the perverse feeling of comfort, pleasure and relief we feel in the misfortunes of others. It's a way to feel better about our own dark places when we see our fellow human beings getting a shit kicking. When I'm down on my own golf game, frustrated out of my mind, watching a pro golfer pooch a key putt is a reminder that we are all human and all have to deal with set backs and stuck places. I have no sympathy for their struggle.
Sympathy and empathy are not the same.
Empathy is a highly misunderstood but incredibly valuable resource to anyone attempting to bring about meaningful change. We all encounter people stuck in some dark hole and empathy is about coming back with a ladder instead of jumping, falling or tripping into the hole with them.
Schadenfreude is one of the cheaper and less kind ways into compassion. It lacks soul and heart and destroys rather than creates real empathy. There is another way that is counter-intuitive, which might even seem offensive.
Ruthless leaders and supporters create real empathy.
I am not arguing for being unkind, but kindness leads often to sympathy rather than real empathy. Ruthless implies operating without "ruth". The word ruth means basically to feel sorry for someone. This leads almost always to the desire on the part of supporters to rescue someone from their feelings, their struggles and their suffering. And in the process, the supporter unwittingly steals something very important: the opportunity that person has to grow through the challenge and develop the strength and character to persevere.
Struggles are opportunities for meaningful support.
Strong leaders are willing to suffer in the short-term in order to create something amazing in the long-term. People on the verge of this greatness get stuck often on the path. We don't need people to feel sorry for us. We don't need them to do it for us. And we don't need a rescue. We just sometimes need someone to throw us a rope or drop a ladder into the hole. Be kind, but we'll do the climb ourselves.
It's the climb up that builds strength.
I'm please to announce that I've started working on the next book in the series: accountability and agility. I have three great entrepreneurs lending their perspective and voices to this important topic. We'll be sharing some new ideas on these old topics starting next week.