I had lunch with a dear friend of mine who is a real-life astronaut! I try to drop that little nugget as often as possible (dear friend of mine… astronaut). Just kidding—kind of. During lunch, we talked about how we came to be in our current professional positions. Him working as a worst-case scenario trained medical doctor for the international space station and me serving as the Chief Executive Officer for a faith-based nonprofit. Both of us told stories, which in hindsight, were of simultaneously the darkest life experiences and the experiences we are most grateful for. We both independently and in agreement pointed to a time in our lives during which our innate goal-oriented vision was temporarily suspended. We both recalled those times as uncharacteristically being unable to see what was professionally in front of or next for us. We discussed the mortifying feeling of being blinded by circumstance beyond “our” control.
There is an account in the Bible of a guy known as the Apostle Paul. Some might say the part of the story I’m referring to is of Paul’s conversion to Christianity, but I believe Paul was already zealous in his pursuit of God. Therefore, he did not need to be converted, he needed to be redirected. He needed a new vision for the best use of his gifts, talents, and resources. It just so happens, he was too busy working a losing strategy to see his best course of action. The account is found in Acts chapter 9. By the way, if you are a leader of any type and have not included the stories of some of the greatest leaders in history and the stories of applied leadership principles found in the Bible, you may be missing a lot in your development as a leader (diverse beliefs included). The account of Paul (aka Saul) is of how Paul was working to eradicate a movement he felt was detrimental and counter to what he believed to be true and right. He believed so much in his understanding and position, he was willing to literally kill those who adhered to, in this case, another doctrine. Paul had mobilized teams of people, developed a comprehensive strategy, and was in full plan execution mode. The report describes an instance, while on a road to Damascus, during which, our Lord blinded Paul. His blindness caused him to halt his operations and to open his mind’s eye to a new vision of what he was to do. Applicable to today’s post, while Paul was blind, God gave him clear instructions as to what to do next. The rest is history… Check out the story if you haven’t read it. The leadership lessons within the account are near endless.
My friend and I both determined we believe sometimes preemptive and temporary visionary blindness, on our life’s journey, may actually help us to gain directional clarity. In other words, throughout our careers, both of us felt as though we had a plan for how things were going to play out for us. Him deciding at 11 he wanted to be an astronaut and me deciding at 13 I wanted to be a CEO. Both of us being unaware of what it would actually take to get to the professional places we desired to go. Don’t get me wrong, we thought we knew what it would take (hard work, grit, determination, yada, yada, yada), but because moments of terror are not generally aspirational, we never in a million years would have picked the steps we had to take on our paths to where we are. Most of us don’t plan for devastation or loss as an intentional part of our planned pursuits. However, like many things we know to be true and ignore, what will be for all will be for us.
In our professional lives and in leadership, a temporary lack of clarity or vision, may prove to be the best way to obtain directional clarity. This is especially true for those of us who are extremely zealous or passionate about our pursuits. We will continue going gangbusters and full speed ahead unless something stops us in our tracks. Sometimes what we think we know as the steps we “should take” are reasons why we are not getting where we are intended to go. There are times when the only way we will stop pressing forward and course correct is if or when we face an obstacle we can’t see past. Darkness makes us stop and stopping gives us cause to think. Often, after we have come through moments of temporary professional blindness and then regain our vision (spoiler alert: Paul regains his vision) enough to be able to look back, we will see clearly the path marked out for us from the beginning. There have been times in my life when after I’ve gone through something unplanned and extremely difficult, I was able to honestly say, “if I would have had a glimpse of what it was going to take to get here, before I started this or that journey, there is no way I would have taken the initial steps or ever made it to this point. I am so thankful for the “temporary blindness.”
Remember, nothing said is everything, but everything said is something…
Charles Pulliam (until next time…)