Self Awareness

To say I am a Springsteen fan is an understatement. His recent run on Broadway made me verge on coveting the tickets that several of my friends scored to see the Boss “live” and in person. I had to wait for Netflix to tape one of the last shows and put it on the air before Christmas….Merry Christmas to me!

The show is superb. I enjoyed his music, playing solo with guitar, with a little help from his wife, Patti on a couple of songs. Raw, live music…as good as it gets. The connection of his lyrics to his surroundings was remarkable as he was the poet of an era on the New Jersey shore. I was moved by his description of his friends who were drafted and died in Vietnam, as well as his thanksgiving that his name was not on the memorial wall in DC. And when he talked of the Big Man, Clarence, he brought me to tears as to his sense of brotherhood, the type that only happens in a band. His lyrics evoke a depth of feeling in me that I can’t quite explain, from the brash Born to Run  all the way to plaintive The Rising, which he recorded in Atlanta at Southern Stages after 9/11. I love me some Bruce.

But the thing that grabbed me about this special Broadway performance was his honesty. Honest, not only with his fans, and his audience in the theater, but more importantly, with himself. Simply, he knows himself.

He owned up in his autobiography that he was from a boardwalk town that was tinged with fraud. In his show, he is even more explicit, admitting that he had written songs about fast cars, when he didn’t even drive; written songs about blue collar workers without ever setting foot inside a factory. And he laughs about it as he fooled us all with his lyrics….because, as he quips, he’s just that good! The ability to be honest with oneself is a rare gift, I think. No, I know.

Rare, and yet it is the essential ingredient in life, particularly if you aspire to lead. Just who do you think you are kidding? is a damning self-indictment if you are found to be caught unaware of your mixed motives, or your darker sides. There’s the face that you present to the world in order to gain what it is you want, what you desire. It’s a face that you have been perfecting since you emerged from the body of your mother in utero. It’s a face that you use to attract, to get reaction in a way that gets you what you need. And by the time you reach mid-life, say forty, there’s very little you have to learn to perfect that face. You have it down. Carl Jung, a depth psychologist, called it one’s persona. And everyone has one. If you are reading this and thinking that you don’t….that is a sign that you are in trouble.

Most people have some awareness of the mask they wear, but many have only a slight conscious sense of how they use it to get what they want.

That’s the first step of self awareness: What is it that you want? It’s an existential question that goes to your heart of hearts. When I am teaching or training a group of leaders, it is often my FIRST question, because I think self awareness is the starting point for leadership, for that matter,  for authentic being. What is it that you want? Do you know?

Bruce tells a funny story about taking a rented guitar to his backyard with his neighborhood kids when he was eight or nine years of age. He didn’t know how to play the guitar, but it did not matter. He banged on his six string box, known as a guitar, and made noise to get the attention of the other kids. But more importantly, Bruce said, he used the guitar to pose, that is, to present himself in a way that got attention. And that was when he was hooked. That’s what he wanted, and he rode that  intention all the way to to the stage. He was honest with himself then, and now. Attention is what he wanted, what he craved. What do you want? Do you have that awareness?

When I work with people in therapy, coaching or teaching, I often demonstrate this principle by coming clean as to my own driving motivation. I spent years and thousands in analysis and therapy to get clean with myself and Self as to what was driving me. There’s a host of nuances to my drivers but it come down to a need to be chosen. To be “the one” that is chosen from the others, the one who is anointed by choice. Imagine the power of the chase to get someone, like my wife, to choose me, David Galloway, over her other suitors. Imagine the thrill of getting a call from a predominantly black congregation to call me as their leader, me, a white guy from Atlanta. It was the stuff of my dreams….to be chosen. To know was is subconsciously driving you gives you the opportunity to be aware of what’s happening, and if you are good, as good as Bruce, you can avoid making some bad decisions.

My brother, Mitch, remembers a time in high school when he received a standing ovation for his superb, and surprising performance in the musical Carnival. He loved it. And he is self aware enough to recognize that when he is presenting in corporate settings, he is wanting another standing ovation. It drives him to be an outstanding presenter that delivers good information in an accessible way. It makes him one of the best presenters in the healthcare industry. But he knows what drives him. He is self aware enough to throttle back when the situation is not appropriate for his Broadway flair. He also knows when to “turn it up” when his best performance is demanded.

Some of the folks I worked with articulate other drivers. A minister friend of mine admits, sheepishly, that he wants to be adored…..not just liked, but adored. If you were to watch him in action, you would know he’s telling the truth. It has led him to some heights of leadership and popularity, but it has also led him down some roads that almost destroyed him.

Another person told me that what drives her was just a need to survive. Her early abuse, lack of self confidence drives her to be cautious, careful, and this too makes it known in her everyday existence. She has worked hard to recognize that driver and change her mindset.  Knowing what drives you is the beginning. You can know it, recognize it when it emerges, deal with it, turning it “up” or “down”.  And you can change it. It’s not easy, but the work I do with many folks is to help them examine and then transform that driver.

What is your driving motivation? How did it come about, what’s its source? How has it worked for you and how is it limiting you? These are worthy questions that are some initial steps toward self awareness as you move into the New Year.


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