The Leader of the Pact

“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘we did it ourselves.’ “

— Lao Tzu

I never thought that embarking on a discussion about what comprises a leader would be such a troublesome and diverse subject. Perhaps for some, its definition is too vague. There are many kinds of leaders as well as countless ways to lead. However, tackling this in the present day is not something which should be reflected upon lightly.

I’ll admit that when approaching this subject, I jump right to the front and discuss those leaders whose responsibilities are greatest. For example, the ones mainly found in political and military arenas – where one decision can affect the lives of thousands of people. This kind of leadership comes with the most solemn and earnest responsibilities.

Even at this level, there are different styles of leadership. Some are quiet and deliberate; speaking only when required. Others may take a more vocal and demonstrative approach. It is a fine balance of understanding yourself and knowing how to inspire others to do more than they ever believed they could.

In the opening quote, Lao Tzu wisely writes when the best leader’s work is done, those being led say they did it themselves. This is precisely the way I’d love to see every description of leadership be depicted. While it may not be possible in every situation, it surely is an outcome all great leaders would be thrilled to have purported about them.

I hadn’t known much about this Ancient Chinese Philosopher but while researching this quote, there were several others which he characterized leaders as being in the background and focusing more on the people being led. Another of his well-known quotes states: “To lead people, walk behind them.”

When the attention is being focused on the flock rather than the leader, it shows those very same supporters they are important. Their efforts are going to the betterment of so much more than only to the one in charge. When leaders walk behind, it allows them to see progress and more importantly, foresee any grave concerns which may lie on the trail ahead. It may not always be possible to lead from behind but when it is, it’s a definite sign you truly are hoping to earn the trust of those in your care.

Is it possible that many of us are assessing leadership from the wrong perspective? Certainly it’s up to each one of us to decide what a leader can do for us, but is this really the best way to determine who the next person in charge ought to be? If this were the case, wouldn’t it place far too many arbitrary demands on the person vying for this position?

A leader is not defined on what that person can do for us, yet so many take the position that leaders are more of a savior or rescuer when that is not their objective. We should not anticipate or expect one person to snap his or her fingers and everything is changed. Life will be better and all the hurdles on our journey will be no more difficult than stepping over a pebble. This is possibly the worst illusion anyone could formulate.

Of all the leaders who have ever snapped their fingers and created such a dynamic change it was probably due to the fact they were monarchs or authoritarians. People only have this power when we give it to them, or it is unduly taken away from us.

Distinct leaders throughout human history are remembered for various reasons but first and foremost, it was for interceding for those who were oppressed. The vulnerable people who were deceived by others claiming to be leaders while taking away those very freedoms they lied to protect. Regrettably, leadership is also a position where with only a small, concerted effort, it can be used as a force for tyranny just as easily as a tool of fairness and justice.

Every person wants those in authority to be fair and impartial to their best abilities; providing equal opportunities as much as possible for the entire group. By choosing someone who is partial to you, how much responsibility and work are you hoping to alleviate for yourself? The purpose of a leader is not to make your life better while at the same time more effortless and advantageous for you. Imagine for a moment if the proverbial shoe were on the other foot, how badly duped you would feel.

Any aspiring leader should not tell you they alone can only do the job. Most who step into a leadership position hesitate and are nervous because they grasp the enormity of the position. One unintended mistake could negatively impact or even cost a life, and no one wants to have this scenario weighing heavily on their minds.

What may be a better way of looking at leadership is to be or live that kind of life you would expect from anyone leading you. Walk in those same steps and command from yourself the same ideals you’d expect from leaders. It’s an effective way to begin to understand the kinds of demands a leader must surmount. If you believe a leader ought to be held accountable for his or her actions, then live to that same standard yourself. If integrity, honesty, and fairness are what you demand from a leader, then command those very same traits from yourself.

Each of us has opportunities during the day to lead by example. From the smallest acts of kindness to large acts of charity, being a living example is the best reminder to yourself of the kind of leader you hope to see.

This week make a pact that you’ll exude and emanate the qualities you want to see in a leader. Search for those experiences when you can lead by walking behind others. It’s possible that others may see you as the potential leader you can become.

My thanks to Dev Asangbam on Unsplash for the wonderful photo and I look forward to your comments.

In the lead

“If you had any knowledge of the noble things of life, you would refrain from coveting others’ possessions” -Leonidas’ response to the Persian King Xerxes.

In 2018, there were over 1200 books published with the word “Leadership” in the title. No one needs convincing of the importance of a good leader and the prodigious results which having one accomplishes.

However, in today’s headlines, it appears its concept is being conflated with a host of attributes which refute the true meaning and purpose of this word.

In all fairness, I hesitate to comment on such a powerfully significant topic when the extent of my leadership experience has so far peaked at leading a high school band. But this subject is an issue which touches each one of us. Whether it is at home, work, or in the world at large, leadership influences many outcomes every day of our lives.

In order to define the values of leadership, one ought to first examine the various levels of significance its role plays compared to each circumstance. Some leaders who stand in esteemed regard are nothing more than high forms of entertainment; while others, with one decision, can decide the fate of millions of souls. This leaves little debate that the latter holds a greater need to faithfully execute and exude the qualities of true leadership.

What is the ultimate goal of a leader? This is not a one-word answer and demands a clear understanding by the one looking to fill those shoes. I do not believe that winning alone should always be the final objective for any leadership role. As important and substantiating as it may be for some, it can be a major distraction for others.

There have been many whose ability to lead has been prodigiously displayed in different arenas. Some of those battlefields have been in athletics while others on the battlegrounds of war. Each producing and setting precedent for defining future attributes of leadership.

Undeniably, there have been world-class athletes who’ve demonstrated leadership skills which surmounted unbelievable odds and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Those moments have and continue to inspire potential leaders. Success is most often identified with winning in this realm but what really does victory mean and to what end does it matter?

I do not wish to downplay the efforts, talent, or countless hours of hard work which athletes must produce to reach this level of leadership. Ultimately, however, what does it produce? Someone who can throw, kick, shoot, or bounce a ball with utter precision and stifling the opponent?

What defines leadership at this level is doing something beyond their athletic prowess. It is taking those same talents which inspired teammates to perform at their highest levels, and putting them to use in their own communities; motivating those who once cheered for them, to reach their full potential in the game we call life.

Winning, at the level of sport, is the ultimate goal. But outside the gridiron, ballfield or stadium, winning can distract leaders from their purpose. Competition, by its own nature, requires knowing your opponent, maneuvering strategically and attacking those weaknesses while stretching the boundaries set by the rules of the game.

If this strategy is deployed by a community leader, competition amongst the constituents, perpetuates favoritism, promotes discrimination, and frequently turns its back on integrity. If the one in charge only helps those who are likeminded, it limits equal opportunity for the entire community. It also establishes what I frequently describe as “Benevolent Ignorance” which is the idea that your way of thinking is the rule of law and any thought or consideration of an opposing view is worthless and a waste of time.

Even on the battlefields of war, some of the most heroic efforts upheld honor more than the objective to win. The opening quote was attributed to Leonidas, the leader of the legendary 300 Spartans who fought bravely against the Xerxes and his 70,000 soldiers. According to the Greek philosopher Plutarch, Xerxes offered Leonidas to be the “sole ruler of Greece” in return for his surrender at Thermopylae.

Being a Leader meant more to this fierce warrior than simply winning. It was about honor and the individual decency of every Greek citizen. Not only did Leonidas stand up for the dignity of the people of Greece, he also told Xerxes, “but for me to die for Greece is better than to be the sole ruler over the people of my race.”

He knew full well the likelihood of victory was slim. With all odds against him, he inspired and led his army to repel the onslaught for days. It was only by the deception of a fellow Greek – whose honor Leonidas also pledged to protect – which turned the tide and ultimately terminated one of the most lopsided standoffs in the history of wars.

The pendulum of Leadership in today’s world appears to be leaning toward winning, especially in the political arenas of the world. No doubt candidates must win the election before having an opportunity to promote their agenda, but the emphasis on winning fuels all kinds of dubious actions which abandon important qualities such as integrity, honor, and fairness and after all, aren’t these the authentic values we seek in a leader?

Besides the afore mentioned traits, we may have our own thoughts on what makes a great leader. But are these tainted by our own voracious need to win? This is the question I constantly ask myself. Are any of the characteristics I promote giving me an unfair advantage? Am I a victim of my own blind ambitions?

True leaders display humility and don’t describe themselves as “flawless” nor their actions as “perfect.” There is always room for improvement and at times, may feel disappointment if they were not able to do more. Winning is only part of the strategy if it first benefits those who are being led.

An author and friend, Kees Van Der Ent, frequently ruminates on the subject of leadership, and once wrote, “Real Leaders make common people feel special.” What I love about this quote is that it’s not immensely poetic, but it strikes at the core of what we aspire from any person in authority. Leadership is making the ones being led to feel better about themselves.

The next time you think about the kinds of behaviors you want to see in those whose care you will be found, remember to ask yourself if you strive to reach those same qualities. Endeavoring to reach those same goals may give you a glimpse of what it’s like to be a true leader.

My thanks to Larry Clarkin on Unsplash for the fitting picture and I look forward to your comments.

Baggage Claim

No one is going to applaud you for carrying your own baggage.

After searching for a fitting quotation to open this article, most only referenced that carrying baggage was not a good idea. None I found offered any genuinely practical or applicable steps toward achieving this goal. The passage I ended up selecting was borrowed from last week’s article which focused on the idea that letting go of our baggage isn’t as simple as dropping it on the floor.

No one needs convincing that emotional baggage is an awful predicament. The challenge ahead is how does one let go of the proverbial baggage which prevents anyone from living a fuller and happier life.

Figurative baggage is a metaphor for everything holding us back, weighing us down, or even halting any progress. Its literal meaning is profoundly contrary to its counterpart. Baggage for travel is basic essentials, things which we need or even require. If extra room is available, we put more stuff in it.

For our everyday lives, baggage is the complete opposite. It’s filled with hurtful and painful memories. No one wants to hold onto what it signifies and certainly isn’t hoping to add anything extra.

Unloading our emotional baggage is quite different from handing a suitcase to an attendant or skycap. This is why telling someone to “just let it go” is never a practical solution. Anyone knowingly carrying psychological baggage is not thrilled about the idea of constantly lugging around this unneeded and undesirable burden.

Another dilemma is understanding how or why we ended up with all this baggage in the first place. This is perhaps the most difficult step and why so many are not able to unload it very easily. The reasons can be as vast as the individuals bearing it; however, many of them center around the false perceptions we have of ourselves.

These perceptions begin at an early age while our minds are quite impressionable. When those whom we trust say hurtful or damaging things to us, unwittingly or not, we tend to believe them. As we grow older and encounter this more frequently, we feel obligated to carry these bags as if somehow, something we did deserved punishment and now we’ve given ourselves permission not to “let it go.”

In many cases, psychological baggage is associated with difficult, abusive, or tragic events. Often, these situations leave victims with overwhelming anxiety; spawning a need to ask countless questions such as “why me” or other demands in which solutions are impossible to find. Sometimes this need is so great it causes us to conjure up reasons not even close to the truth and highly damaging to our own self-esteem.

The antidote for unloading emotional baggage is as varied as the individuals who seek it. Thankfully, most of it can be centered around one action – that is self-forgiveness.

Self-forgiveness is a frequent remedy for emotional healing but also requires some deeper understanding. The most common response I receive from my clients after hearing this remedy, is along the lines of, “Self-Forgiveness? I didn’t cause this pain on myself so why should I have to forgive me”?

Truthfully, this is exactly how I hope they respond because it means they’re listening and searching for a solution.

“You are absolutely correct,” is my reply. “You didn’t do this to yourself.”

“But,” I continue, “did you ever one time believe that in any way you deserved or earned it”?

Frankly, I don’t ever recall hearing any other answer than yes. This admission is a huge step. Next, I ask them to imagine they were talking with someone else in this exact situation. After hearing their story would they really tell that person they deserved it? Seeing themselves from another’s perspective allows them to finally recognize the error in their thinking, and forgiving themselves for actually believing that lie becomes attainable.

Self-forgiveness is not forgiving the act nor the abuser; it’s about acknowledging you did nothing to deserve the original pain nor its aftermath. After all those years of believing you did, now you can absolve yourself of that burden. Pardoning yourself is a good way of figuratively letting go of the handle on your baggage. It creates a sense of emotional relief, and some have even experienced a physical respite along with it.

There is an important caveat to keep in mind during this process. When we undergo these breakthrough moments, they’ll create a huge sense of accomplishment. However, sometimes we can fall back into a dark place which causes us to question whether or not the baggage was really ever let go. This is a common occurrence during the “letting it go” process for many – present company included. The remedy for this is akin to the original one. Simply realize you fell into that trap and once again forgive yourself for believing nothing ever happened.

When first embarking on the task of letting go of your baggage, the key is not to blame yourself for circumstances you didn’t create. Don’t demand unwarranted or unjust punishment on yourself by believing all that baggage you claimed was merited.

My thanks to Franz Spitaler on Unsplash for the wonderful picture. If you are having difficulties letting your baggage go, please feel free to contact me. I’m now available to help. Thank you and I look forward to your comments.

I heard that before

“Advice worth hearing one time is always worth repeating.”

One of the most cathartic moments I’ve ever experienced was the day I fondly refer to as my Independence Day. It was February 22, 2013. Dr. Smith and I had been discussing the idea of shame and its damaging effects. It wasn’t the first time he had mentioned it. In fact, we had discussed it on several prior occasions; and 2 weeks earlier, I had even written a poem which touched on that subject.

But for some reason on this particular day, it just clicked! The clarity finally came through as though someone pulled blinders from my eyes and plugs out of my ears.

As a parent, I often hoped for moments like these when I could convey wise counsel to my boys. As a son, however, there were times when I came home to tell my mom about some lesson I learned only to see her bewildered, and reminding me she had said something similar on many occasions.

As a coach, these kinds of moments are ones for which I yearn; when my client’s eyes light up after hearing prudent or astute advice. It’s an experience which not many others can surpass.

But events like these rarely happen according to plan. Why they do unfold in unpredictable ways involve a variety of reasons. One could argue that people don’t truly hear things until they are ready to receive them. It’s also probable that a familiar voice, such as a parent, friend, or coworker, borders on the verge of monotony rendering it less effective than a stranger’s voice.

There are as many reasons why our words don’t always have the impact we wish they’d have, but no matter who, how, or when words of wisdom are spoken, the most important outcome is that someone is motivated in a positive and productive way.

It’s difficult to imagine any great orator not wanting to dazzle the audience with a speech that flows like a calm river yet strikes the hearts of listeners as the crash of a tympani during a Beethoven Scherzo.

Nonetheless, the one thing we can never force is an aha moment for someone else. In fact, we cannot always control our own moments of illumination. I had one of those just the other day.

A good friend of mine has told me this story a couple of times but the other day I finally realized its impact. Several years ago, she flew to visit her family. Arriving late to depart from the airport, she was advised to carry her bag directly to the gate and check it there to avoid missing the flight. Unfortunately, she was also led to believe the gate was just up the escalator but ended up carrying her wheel-less bag across the entire terminal.

This would have been a grueling task for anyone but her luggage weighed several times more than what doctors had warned her to carry due to some previous injuries. Needless to say, the pain was excruciating and the flight was no relief from the agony.

After landing at her destination, her brother met her at the airport and asked her why she looked so miserable.

“Because I had to carry this bag across through the whole airport,” she quickly exclaimed.

“Why didn’t you check it or have a Skycap do it for you”? he replied. “You know, no one is standing there applauding you for carrying your own baggage.”

This was the fourth or fifth time I had been told this story to me, but it was the first time its meaning was revealed.

“No one is standing there applauding you for carrying your baggage.” Those words struck me not just like a mallet on a tympani but like the crash of the orchestra during Haydn’s Surprise Symphony.

Each one of us has loads of baggage and some have sadly carried it far too long. There are times when we might think it’s too much for one person or wonder why someone isn’t helping.

“Isn’t it obvious that I’m struggling,” yet there is no ovation when we finally let it go. There is no award. No memento or medal of distinction for what we thought was a selfless act. On the other hand, there are lots of people staring at us who are perplexed by our actions.

“Baggage” can be a number of things but it basically represents our past struggles; many of which are caused by the damaging thoughts we’ve come to accept about who we are. Sometimes it’s carried so long that it appears to actually be a part of who we are.

The problem with figurative baggage is that getting rid of it is not as effortless as removing your grip from the handle. It’s not as simple as setting it down or handing it to someone else. Telling people to “let it go” has to be some of the worst advice you could offer. Of course that is the appropriate action but I believe if most people really knew how to let it go, they would.

Next week, we’ll cover a few ways of letting that baggage go. However, if you’re ready to let yours go now and would rather not wait, feel free to message me.

I’d like to thank Kayvan Mazhar for the beautiful picture and if you haven’t heard Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, listen to the second movement and you’ll get a glimpse of how powerful this story was to me.

A bunch of baloney

Photo by Cassie Boca on Unsplash

“When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen.” – Steven Covey

Perception is often the greatest influence which creates dramatic differences in opinions, understandings, and beliefs. Was there a time when you witnessed a particular event and the person standing next to you drew an opposite conclusion?

Even the methods we use to form our ideals vary according to our life’s experiences.

Each time I publish an article, my objective is to present a topic in a manner which evokes and impels readers to examine the subject in ways they’ve previously never pondered. The biggest challenge I face is not being able to determine the different perspectives each reader has – which is one element I’ll never be able to control.

However, any time I personally reflect on the subject of perception, there is a personal story which always comes to mind.

In the seventh grade, I had a friend named Joe. One school night he invited me to stay at his home. The next morning, his mother made me a sack lunch to take to school. The featured item was a baloney sandwich. I was no stranger to this fare; my mother frequently included it as the main staple in my brown bag.

When I got home that afternoon, I told my mother, “Wow, Joe’s mom makes the best baloney sandwiches”!

“She does”? My mother inquired. “What does she put in them”?

“Baloney and mustard” I responded.

Needless to say my mother was perplexed. Not only were those ingredients included in her version, she used Oscar Mayer brand “bologna” on mine. She even went above and beyond the “best baloney sandwich,” by dressing it up with American cheese and lettuce.

I don’t recall the rest of our conversation from that day, but my mother and I constantly reminisce and laugh at that moment. How could something with less substance outdo what my mom had been making for years?

Once again, perception takes center stage. What influenced my preteen palette was my mom had been making these sandwiches virtually the same way for years. Devouring one with a different kind of bread, a Dejon-style mustard, and not the “same ol’ ” baloney was more of a welcome variation rather than an award-winning creation. The flavors blended in a way which my taste buds were not expecting and that little surprise gave Joe’s mom the advantage. Undoubtedly, had I continued with her version, my mother’s would have regained the crown.

The way we perceive things is vital to shaping every element of our life.

While the above statement may seem exceedingly obvious, I believe many really don’t give it the consideration it deserves. Seeing things from our own perspective has become second nature. We’ve always looked at things from our own viewpoint and, unlike baloney, other’s rarely taste better.

We’ve grown accustomed to our particular brand of baloney-sandwich-style perception and typically take a pass when anyone else’s “brand” tries to make its way onto ours. The methods we’ve used to establish and deduce discernment have served us well and it would take a lot of convincing to incorporate something new.

I don’t dismiss the idea that seeing another person’s perspective is easy. In some ways, it’s impossible to fully perceive other’s points of view. It would be insensitive and arrogant if I were to claim I completely understand what anyone has gone through, much less someone with a different gender, race, or even generation.

However, I can do my best to become aware of their viewpoints. Although I may never fully realize the depth of their challenges, I can certainly do my best to understand their efforts and better empathize with their struggles.

Thankfully, it’s not necessary to walk in someone else’s footsteps in order to be empathetic to their challenges. Neither is it a requirement to suffer what they’ve endured to offer help and hope. But how we begin to better understand those difficulties is first to carefully listen.

As the opening quote stated, reflecting back to others that we are listening is like emotional oxygen. When someone believes you care about their situation, it invigorates and encourages them to be earnest and truthful. Paying attention not only helps you with your understanding of their issues, it also inspires better communication and outcome for both of you.

The catalyst for strife and division lies in our own ego. The moment someone assumes their baloney is the best or maybe the only kind which ought to be served, immediately perpetrates division and sets the stage for an unsuccessful outcome.

Perhaps defending our brand of baloney is something in our DNA; or at least deep in our psyche. When I read a disagreeing comment on my articles, I do become defensive. However, I’ve also taught myself to stop and not completely dismiss that idea until I’ve had time to digest it. As much as I’d always like to be edifying and correct, if I do not allow myself to experience another point of view, the only thing I may end up writing would be a bunch of baloney.

This week, you’re bound to come across different perspectives; some which may directly impact you. Do your best to really listen and show them you are concerned. Put aside ego and see how well you can oxygenate the conversation and inspire a common good for all.

My thanks to Photo by Cassie Boca on Unsplash for the beautiful picture and I look forward to your comments.

Oh what a feeling

It’s little things which often unwittingly confound or stifle us.

Any time I’m working with my clients, there is one phrase which quickly draws my attention. Although its first impression saddens me, it immediately turns into a great segue and opportunity for a client breakthrough.

It is possible this phrase, or ones with similar meanings, is uttered with such regularity that it goes unnoticed by many, escaping the recognition of its potential to create damage. Expressing this common sentiment potentially can disable us, makes us feel “stuck,” or leave us in an ominous downward spiral.

The statement is: “I feel bad and I know I shouldn’t feel this way.”

There are several variations to this expression and some of those include: “I really feel dumb for feeling this way,” or “My friend (or someone else whom I trust) said I shouldn’t feel that way.” Any and every rendition, however, points to the conclusion that even though I feel poorly in some way, I am in the wrong for experiencing them.

While there may be some occasions where this is emotionally acceptable, generally this sentence leaves you with a more confused mindset and further from personal growth.

It’s helpful first not to look at the action but rather the intention behind the act. Frequently, our motives and thoughts were done in hopes of a constructive outcome. However, our planning, reasoning, or methods may have unwillingly manifested the opposite result.

How could something like this not create sad, despondent, or sorrowful feelings?

It’s perfectly okay to have those feelings. Although we may despise the fact we are currently suffering them, there is nothing wrong in and of itself to have or experience them.

Learn to transform these unwanted emotions into a catalyst for change.

One of the remedies for overcoming these situations begins with understanding the difference between guilt and shame. Many times, guilt can be a moral compass of sorts. When we make a mistake or a bad choice, the painful, lingering thoughts can help remind us of our mistake and change future behaviors by reviewing our processes and learning from errors and oversights.

On the other hand, shame not only wants us to feel badly, it tells us we must, and we couldn’t have done anything differently because we don’t have the ability to do any better.

Not only do we feel bad, but we feel badly about feeling bad!

Unfortunately, many cultural norms adhere to this philosophy; warning or even threatening punishment should we not feel bad in these types of circumstances. This kind of obligatory conditioning is a major deterrent to our own personal development and self-understanding. These feelings are perfectly normal and not an indication something additional is wrong.

The issue becomes multiplied when others we trust think they are trying to help us by telling us we shouldn’t feel that way. It’s difficult enough experiencing those uninvited feelings. We don’t need the incident to be compounded by adding shame into the mix.

The mistake was made. The wrong choice, confusion, or whatever situation occurred will not be undone by our contrite reactions. My suggestion is to experience those unwanted feelings and perhaps even embrace them. Recall how dreadful they made you feel so the next time a similar instance occurs, it will alter your thinking and actions to better improve your odds against repeating the same mistakes.

Telling ourselves “we shouldn’t be feeling this way” accentuates the problem and is another great example of how damaging shame can be. Do you recall the last time you felt badly about feeling bad? Was there shame accompanying those thoughts?

It’s highly probable because this kind of reasoning is precisely how our own shame wants us to react. Our natural inclination is to feel disappointment when we make a mistake. Shame now takes this natural emotion and tells us we’re wrong for feeling that way. It’s the perfect environment for shame to thrive.

The good news is that once you become aware these types of feelings are natural and normal, emotional healing and self-growth occur more easily. The undesirable feelings will pass because: 1) it initiates a type of self-forgiveness by acknowledging the mistake; 2) gives you an awareness of your apologetic and remorseful attitude; 3) sparks a willingness to do better. Your intentions didn’t cause the mistake; it was in the performance and you are determined to improve.

This week, when you or someone you know are in a similar predicament, remember that it’s not wrong to feel bad. Acknowledge the original intent wasn’t the cause and you will strive to do better. Do what you can to stop the little things from becoming the bigger issue.

My thanks to Karsten Würth on Unsplash for the beautiful picture and I look forward to your comments.

The oldest challenge

Photo by Ricardo Moura on Unsplash

“Love is no assignment for cowards” – Ovid

The opening quote was penned by the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso who, these days, is more commonly known as Ovid. He reached high acclaim in his day along with his older contemporaries Virgil and Horace.

Unfortunately, as was known to happen in ancient times, Ovid was exiled to a remote province on the Black Sea, by Caesar Augustus. He was never given any reason and was left there for the rest of his days to speculate on which of his writings was the cause of Caesar’s wrath.

Fortunately, along with other of his writings, this quote survived; indicating that love has been a challenge for the human race for several millennia.

Love, and loving relationships, are well-known to be nothing short of challenging for many. To say that it has been the subject of countless authors, poets, and artists of all kinds, would be a gross understatement. But why does it continue to elude, avoid, and escape far more people than those it has blessed by its presence?

Ovid’s quote provides us no insight; it’s more of a warning than a remedy. But he should not be frowned upon. Far greater minds devoted their lives to finding an answer yet none of them ever provided a surefire elixir for this quandary.

With all due respect to those artists, philosophers, religious leaders, I do not believe there ever will be a magic potion or secret formula which universally will unravel this mystery.

This, however, is not a reason to give up on your own journey.

Love – and especially the kind in intimate relationships – has a different meaning and purpose for each person. Complicating matters more is that no two relationships will experience love in the same way.

Humans are a complicated manifestation of physical parts, emotional feelings and circumstantial events. It only stands to reason that when another complex element such as love is added to the mix, it exponentially confounds the situation.

What may be helpful in finding what works for your particular situation is to determine what love means to you, and just as importantly, what it means for everyone involved.

One of the biggest obstacles many face in understanding and achieving what they perceive as love, is what they are told love is “supposed” to be. Although a good love story portrayed on the big screen can be entertaining and inspiring, some people will attempt to measure their own relationships to these fantasies and when they fall short, believe they’ve failed.

The other trap which ensnares many is they believe having and loving someone will change everything. While good relationships are transformative, it is not the solution in and of itself. Believing that “the right person” is the magic remedy is often more a recipe for failure.

Love, and loving relationships, succeed when they are mutually beneficial. The idea that one person is the catalyst to magically make the relationship work and bring you happiness, will ultimately lead to some kind of difficulty, distrust, or dissenting conclusion. No matter how dynamic a person is, the knight in shining armor is also best left in fairytales.

Ovid stated that one should not be cowardly. But what he also said, which I believe slips past most peoples’ perception, is that it is an “assignment.” Love takes work. And the more importance and meaning a relationship has, the more effort will be required.

All too often, love is portrayed as smooth sailing with no problems whatsoever. While these are the ingredients of a good romance novel, it is hardly the reality. One of my favorite expressions is, “If you are not having problems in your relationship, then there’s a good chance that there’s a problem.”

By no means am I insinuating that love and problems are synonymous; but we are all unique and are bound to have disagreements. If one person always succumbs to the wants and needs of the other, it is not a relationship but more of a boss-employee type situation.

Problems are not a sign of failure; they are an indication of differences. When relationships learn to deal with them, each person gets a greater understanding of the other. Just as we tackle a problem at work and become a better person, the same is true for relationships.

Will there be challenges, sacrifices, mistakes, or arguments? Of course. But those are also opportunities for love to grow. When love is mutual, we want the other person to grow, develop and succeed just as much as we want it for ourselves. Both celebrate the success of each other since it frequently occurs because of the sacrifice of the other.

If I may be so bold as to add to Ovid’s quote, “Love is no assignment for cowards but those who endure will be greatly rewarded.”

In the next few months, I’ll be completing a workbook on toxic relationships: why they occur and how to overcome them. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to me directly.

My thanks to Ricardo Moura on Unsplash for the fitting photograph. To read more articles about personal development and emotional healing follow VictoriousStruggle on Facebook and my WordPress blog. Thank you and I look forward to your comments.