PROLOGUE: Why I wrote Becoming …

This is a book about the rest of your life.

I believe we only live once and that we’re not here to do what’s already been done. With no opportunity for rehearsal or reprise, a notion worthy of serious reflection, we are often ill-prepared for the richness of living. Many stride forward haunted by versions of themselves they chose not to become. Permitting life to just happen, or to live according to the dictates of how others think you should, borders on negligence if not stupidity.

Life is often called a journey and that presumes a destination. The compelling question is whether that place or the next plateau will be of your choosing, will be decided by circumstances you think are beyond your control or, worse, will be determined by others. No one knows the ultimate time or location of the journey’s end. The past is gone but the possibility of an extraordinary future awaits, provided we are willing to choose the path that fulfills our purpose. We all have the capacity for endless reinvention and there is no expiration date on our ability to grow.

We live in troubling, complex, uncertain and cynical times. Life is not fair, talent doesn’t always count, dedication doesn’t necessarily guarantee accomplishment and there are countless unknowns. Failure and disappointment are part of the road we travel. If we choose to dwell on the obstacles, we can get frustrated, angry or distracted. Becoming fearful, insecure and bitter only wastes precious time – time that can be spent doing much more important things. Like making a difference.

Belief dictates behaviour. We can change our lives if we genuinely want to and if we believe we can. Notwithstanding uncontrollable events and occasional self-doubts, we are the sole architects of our fate. Each of us possesses a transformative and regenerative power that can determine our destiny.

Our legacy is defined by what we do with what we’ve got in the time we have with those who matter. Life isn’t forever. So our purpose ought to be a life of meaning. How we choose to react to our circumstances is entirely a consequence of our skills, insights, resolve, demeanour and character. Simply put: What we become is up to us.

I have dedicated my professional career to reminding people, without reservation, that it is within their power to determine their purpose and to demonstrating how incremental improvements can enable them to realize their innate potential. Your potential is the absolute best you are capable of becoming and that’s the only standard you should ever measure yourself against.

The counsel I offer has nothing to do with becoming what you are “meant” to be. That implies a higher order of design. I believe we become what we want to be, that the ability to do so lies within us and is not dispensed by some divine authority. Our destiny is not in the “hands of the gods”. It’s in our heads. If you truly believe your god has a plan for you, it follows that you don’t have a plan for yourself. Hence, you will just keep waiting for things to happen and hope for the best.

While anyone, regardless of age, may find value in the thoughtful contemplation of their aspirations, my intended audience consists largely of those at mid-life, mid-career or in the midst of a search for identity. The ones whom John Gardner so insightfully describes as “accomplished fugitives from themselves.” These are the people I sometimes find in my classrooms.

Understandably, younger people may have less interest in the concept of “becoming” as they tend to think they will live a long time, that they know more than others and believe what will be will be. They may be right. For them, a vision is just corporate speak and, as they so often ask, “What’s the rush anyway?” Hence, for these readers, my advice may not be instructive at this particular juncture of their journey. Fair enough.

The essays that follow represent a distillation of some of my work over the course of five decades, the consumption of a veritable library of books, insightful discussions with tens of thousands of learners from all walks of life and valued engagements with leaders seeking novel ways to realize the enormous but unfulfilled potential of their organizations. The views espoused do not reflect all I know about achieving success (I have written other books germane to that topic) but they come reasonably close.

On my own journey, I had some advantages over others. Orphaned early, I grew up with the priceless competitive edge of having to do it on my own. The absence of parental authority created a will to survive, the strength to challenge and, ultimately, my independence. I worked hard for what I achieved, though never considered it work. Effort scares off the lazy and the timid, leaving greater opportunity for those willing to plan and take action.

Circumstances and a curious penchant for the “path less travelled” led me down a winding road of unique obstacles, great relationships and unexpected opportunities. I made mistakes and dealt with my disappointments. Regrets were never a residue of the decisions made. I may have more successes than most but that’s because I’ve fallen down many times and got up again and again. During this process of enlightenment, I discovered my compass and my purpose.

If you find value in the pages of this book, make the discoveries your own. It’s not who said something that makes it worthwhile; it’s whether it adds to your life. I have provided spaces throughout the book for you to scribble personal notes and questions worthy of contemplation. Hopefully my thoughts will strike a responsive chord. If you disagree with them, I will be pleased – it means you’re thinking for yourself about the future to which you aspire.

It is never too late to be what you might have been.  – George Eliot