Two weeks from now, the USA goes to the polls to elect their next president.
After he secured his party’s nomination, Barack Obama gave a speech in New Hampshire. The still black-haired future president told his audience that day that the change they so desperately desired was on it’s way. He had a three word message for them – yes we can.
Eight years on and we all feel a little let down, don’t we? Even if we’re not American citizens or residents, we had all wanted more. More than the rhetoric of Hope with a capital H. More action behind the soothing words.
But he says it right there in New Hampshire: “It’s not what I can do; it’s what we can do together.” It isn’t enough to put your X in a box once every four years; you have to put your shoulder to the wheel of what you believe in. It isn’t down to one person and it never was.
We were, all of us, trained to ask permission. As a child, I quickly learned that ‘I want doesn’t get,’ that ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ might possibly get me closer to the thing that I desired, especially if spoken in a particularly whining or wheedling tone. The mantle of authority passed from parent to teacher – ‘please miss, may I go to the bathroom?’ – then from teacher to boss.
‘Please sir – may we have some more?’ we ask, modern day Oliver Twists. May we have some more justice for the poor and the sick? May we have some more protection for our environment and our wildlife? May we have some more fairness and equality? Like good children, we do what we were trained to do – we ask nicely.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m all for good manners. It doesn’t cost anything to acknowledge a fellow human being who is doing us a kindness or a service. I see your worth, I acknowledge the energy you are expending on my behalf and I appreciate you, we’re saying.
But asking permission is a different thing.
How many of us are, at some level of our being, waiting for someone with authority or influence to tell us ‘yes we can’? In Cognitive Hypnotherapy we refer to this as having an ‘external locus of control’ (ELOC): you have placed the power to make decisions and grant wishes outside yourself. It’s opposite, funnily enough, is ‘internal locus of control’ (ILOC) – you’re the boss and you get to say what happens.
In his book The Success Principles (which I thoroughly recommend), Jack Canfield places ‘Take 100% Responsibility for Your Life’ at the very top of the list. Success principle number one is a hard lesson. Take 100% responsibility? I didn’t invite that drunk driver to nearly knock me off my bike then get out of his car and punch me! No, you didn’t. But you are responsible for how you respond to this event, for whether you let your anger about it blight your life or you take your arnica and self-defense lessons and accept that some people sometimes behave like jerks.
The uncomfortable truth is that we often like it when someone else is in the driver’s seat, as long as they are going the right way. It is comforting sometimes to be able to blame (Brene Brown uses her wonderful humour to get this point across.) But every time we don’t show up as leaders in our own lives, every time we abdicate responsibility for our results, we drift a little further away from the path to being the very best version of ourselves we can be.
We let ourselves down. We sell ourselves short. And while we love to blame our politicians for the fine state we’ve gotten ourselves into….well, we voted for them.
I know it’s hard to move forward without the support and validation that you’d like from your partner, boss, friends, parents and co-workers. But we are all leaders – we lead ourselves. Want to write that book? Yes you can. Want to open that retro clothing store? Yes you can. Want to hike Kilimanjaro? Yes you can. Want to take up painting? Yes you can.
Want to stop asking permission to do the thing that makes your heart sing, to do the thing you were born for? Altogether now: YES WE CAN.