“The way out is further in.” A close friend spoke these words to me nearly fifteen years ago as I was struggling to fit myself into a new set of role expectations that didn’t really fit. “If you can be 100% of who you are inside of your new role,” my wife Milonica had similarly said about this same situation, “then I’m in favor of you taking the job. But if you have to leave a part of who you are out on the margins of your life in order to do the job the way others want, then I’m totally against it.”
I have reflected on this long-ago set of conversations many times over the past decade and a half as I’ve worked with leaders who try to pound the square peg that they are into the perfectly round hole of other’s expectations for them. It’s not, by the way, a pleasant or attractive exercise!
Recently, I spoke to a large gathering of business and civic leaders and shared about what I had learned from my companions those many years ago. “The breakthrough that we’re all looking for is available now,” I said. “The person we long to be can start to exist right inside the person that we already are. There are no muscular or heroic leaps required. No outside expertise, delayed preliminaries, further proofs or final pre-arrangements are needed. A beachhead of our eternally significant and abundant life has already been established inside of our life as it already is.”
In short, who we already are, just as we are, exactly where we are – today, even – is a completely sufficient starting line for meaningful and purposeful living. A life of real contribution doesn’t need to wait for later. It doesn’t require time consuming preliminaries. There’s nothing left to get out of the way, nothing to yet acquire, no tests that we yet need pass as prerequisites. We can be. The way out is further in. The way forward begins in the present tense. The future is now.
True transformation is exactly of this dynamic – true transformation is always from the inside to the outside, from the here and now to the everywhere and forever.
Everything that I’ve just written is true. Yet, I haven’t yet written the whole of this truth. This transformation of which I speak is not self-generated. It doesn’t become true as a product of our believing that it’s true.
I can begin where I am – living meaningfully and purposefully as I am today – because of what God has done and continuously keeps doing. The life we long to live can begin within the ordinary circumstances of our unimpressive life – the one that is as it currently is. This is true because of the fact that, when invited, God plants his life into ours, like a small solitary acorn planted within a vast field of scrub-pine.
From time to time in my writings, I am compelled to open the curtain and examine what lies behind the leadership teaching, principles and practices that I share. For several reasons, this is one of those times.
Our capacity to be and to do more in the outside world comes from an oftentimes hidden, spiritual source in the inside world of our being, our character and our soul. We can’t give what we don’t have, as we aren’t capable of providing to ourselves the very things that we lack. Wherever you see an outcropping of strength and goodness and fruitfulness, take it to the bank that there’s a source.
We can no more force fruitfulness to spring forth from our lives than the branch of an apple tree can flex its muscles and pop out apples. Wherever there is fruitfulness, there’s a source, a vine, a root. The important thing about branches is that they must be connected to their source, just as we must be connected.
So, be! Be connected! And if you aren’t connected, then get connected.
The way out is further in.