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If things stay as they are, you’ll stay as you are. It’s just how life and entropy work.
I’m sitting across from a new client. Ninety-nine percent of the time within 15 minutes I’m hearing a person’s life story. A gift I have, among very, very few. And one I’m thankful for – the ability to connect quickly with “most” people and gain their trust. It’s not magic. It’s because I’m genuinely interested. And I care. The single group of people who are an exception are arrogant, “I’m-the-smartest-person-in-this-room” types. I do not connect with them. And don’t want to. But I’ve never had such a person as a coaching client in the dozen or more years I’ve been doing this work. So there’s that!
This person isn’t arrogant. Just reserved. Better said, guarded. Extremely guarded. I respect it.
Until the 3rd session when I ask about how life is going and I’m told for the third time, “Fine.” That’s it. One word. “Fine.” No details are ever offered. Nothing. Probing has proven unsuccessful. I feel like a CIA interrogator trying to extract information from a professionally trained enemy spy. Okay, I actually feel like a very poor-performing CIA interrogator because I’m getting nothing.
In the middle of the 3rd session, I finally ask, “Okay, how is it REALLY going?”
I never said I had a perfect record. 😉
Self-deception has been a lifelong curiosity for me. I’d love to tell you that I have it all figured out, but I don’t. It’s like one of those magical worms that you cut in half and it grows a new head forming two worms. Sometimes the more we focus on killing self-deception the more self-deception we’re prone to have. Somebody with a bigger brain than mine is going to have help us with this. I’ve read plenty, but so far I’ve concluded that one of the best defenses of self-deception is having trusted advisors willing to challenge us. Easier said than done…finding such people.
Trusted advisors willing and able to help us avoid self-delusion aren’t easily captured. They are out there, but very difficult to spot. It’s much easier to find people who don’t fit the bill because they’re in the majority. That’s not a harsh judgment, it’s just the truth. People are busy. They have their own problems. They also have their own inner circle of people they’re already serving. Most lack the bandwidth to add you to the mix so I don’t blame people for being unavailable.
Others just aren’t fit for the task. For anybody. This is a rather large chunk of the population I suspect. Kind of like the people who live their entire life without telling anybody, “I love you.” We may not understand such people – I struggle to understand how that can be problematic for people, but I know it truly is. Others don’t find any way to ever say, “I’m sorry.” Such folks aren’t likely going to be great trusted advisors unless it pertains to some area in which they’re experts. For example, I people who have terrific financial expertise, but lack empathy or the ability to really connect at a personal level (have you seen the movie, The Accountant? 😉 ). They’d be great at telling you what to do with your money, but they’d likely be awful at sharing why you want to do something with your money.
Maybe it’ll help you if I share my lifelong journey with my own trusted advisors. I understand that my context is uniquely my own. But I hope you’ll be able to apply it to your own situation.
Like most kids, my folks were my very first trusted advisors. And my maternal grandmother. Three people. That was it. A really tight circle. I’m talking as a little kid through elementary school.
I always had friends, but as a little kid – even in elementary school – I didn’t rely on friends as trusted advisors about anything outside of school or playing together. Things like assignments, homework or what we might be planning to do for fun. Hardly the kind of advisors to help me know if I was being honest with myself. After all, being honest with myself meant telling my friends I’d rather play tennis than mini-golf.
Just here let’s make a distinction between trusted advisors and influencers. I had plenty of influencers. They were the adults in my life whom I admired. Many of them were gospel preachers because going to church and being Christians was the priority for my family. And in time, for me, too. When I was about 14 one of these men, in particular, became increasingly interesting to me. I saw him frequently and he had been a friend of my parents since he was about 16. He was younger than both of my parents. They esteemed him highly. I did, too. Mostly, I admired his Bible knowledge. My pursuit to make him a trusted advisor was in that context. He was, quite simply, a subject matter expert for me. The best Bible scholar I knew. But that was just the beginning.
By the time I was married, about 7 years later, he had grown into much, much more for me. Our time together had shown me I could trust him completely. He was, in a word, one of the safest people on the planet for me. That is, he was somebody who wouldn’t refrain from telling me what he felt I most needed to hear. He would listen to me, hear me and accept any confessions I might make with helpful counsel instead of critical judgments. One hundred percent of the time he always helped me, not by agreeing with me, but by pushing me to question things I may have otherwise not questioned. He challenged, pushed, cajoled and nudged – or anything else he felt necessary – to get me to move forward and grow stronger. He pushed me constantly to be better and refuse to accept the status quo. He saw my ambitions early – in my teen years – and he fueled them for good. I wanted to be a good husband. A wise dad. A faithful friend. A person capable of influencing others with the kind of service he had given me.
About 20 years separated us. It was ideal for me. Somebody a couple of decades ahead of me in the journey of life. Somebody who could point out the pitfalls. Somebody who had seen far more than me. Before his death, I recorded an episode about old friends. Ronny Wade died on January 7, 2020. He was 83. I was devastated. He was my last trusted advisor. The last of a handful of old men who had surrounded me since I was a boy. The man with whom I was closest. The man who had been only a phone call away every week for as long as I could remember. Gone. My most trusted, expert, safest advisor.
I circled the wagons as much as I could. I leaned into a few people but realized I was unfairly looking for strengths they simply lacked. I’ve found the ability to be that deeply trusted advisor is rare. I’d hoped somebody could step up and step in. But in time I faced the reality that I was wrong to seek that where I was looking. I was 63 and it was time to circle the wagons more tightly. So I did. Family. Mostly, two people – my wife and my son. By the time January 2021 rolled around – the one-year anniversary of Ronny’s passing – I was deeply committed to these two people as my most trusted advisors.
So began my journey and quest to figure out how we can best avoid self-deception.
Thanks for listening,