How to Be a Leader without Really Trying

“A leader leads by example whether he intends to or not.” ~Unknown

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to “be somebody.” For the majority of my life, I worked very hard at being whatever I thought I needed to be in order to be a great leader amongst my peers.

I wanted so deeply to inspire and move others, and to make a difference in a way that was unforgettable. I thought being a leader meant that I had to constantly prove that I was good enough to win the acknowledgment and appreciation of others.

For the first 25 years of my life, I exhausted myself trying to be the smartest, the prettiest, the most outgoing, the coolest, the sexiest, the fittest, the most fun, the most envied, the most desirable, and the most popular.

As a result of my inner passion and desire to be a light for others, I ended up destroying many parts of myself. I sacrificed my authenticity, my intuition, my self-respect, my self-love—all for the sake of “being somebody” in the eyes of other people.

I allowed myself to stay in relationships that were toxic for me, I treated my body like a human garbage can, and I sabotaged myself in the face of opportunity because deep down, I felt like a fraud.

This is because in many ways, I was. I was so busy trying to please everyone, and to be the person that had all the answers that I lost myself completely.

This journey brought me so much pain, but I’ve decided there is light in the darkness. There is possibility, healing, and joy in learning from the pain and creating something useful with it.

My mother once told me, “Erin, once you know, you can’t un-know.” She meant that once I know I have a choice—that it is possible to experience something better—I will never be able to forget it.

That made it much harder to keep doing the things I knew weren’t good for me. This was why I began to let go of the need to be a leader, and instead decided to just learn to be myself. I chose to “be somebody” in my own eyes first and foremost.

Until we know ourselves, we are lost. Once we find ourselves, we can be found by others.

I think about how right my mother was on a daily basis. As I continue to learn more about who and what I really am, I now fully embrace the idea that life is choice. We get to choose how we interpret and perceive everything. What we choose determines whether or not we rise or fall.

I am also learning that a real leader doesn’t try to lead, but simply becomes the kind of person who others observe, learn from, and feel inspired to follow.

A leader is a teacher by default. A leader doesn’t try to be happy all the time, but embraces every aspect of his or her process, quietly shining the light for others to do the same.

A leader simply is.

As I learn to live my life for me first, I begin to see how the choices I make effect more than just me. When I’m operating from a place of fear, worrying about how others perceive me, that limits the positive impact that I can have on the people around me.

This makes me realize how much opportunity there is to be of service in the world, just by living my own life honestly, authentically, and in alignment with my own heart.

It’s important for us to understand the power of learning about who we really are and what really matters to us. Then, we can align our choices with the morals and boundaries we set for ourselves from a place of self-love and self-respect.

What we contribute to the world through the choices that we make has a ripple effect. Your life affects mine, and visa-versa.

Ultimately, the way we choose to interpret and perceive things will not only affect our own well-being, but it will affect the collective well-being. Therefore, we must lead by example. We must honor ourselves instead of judging ourselves.

Judgment keeps us stuck exactly where we are, and the world suffers as a result.

When we’re conscious of the simple, yet profound power that lies within our choices, we can create a better world every day and be powerful leaders just by shining our own light.

Ultimately it comes down to this: What kind of person do you want to be? Who does your heart know you already are? What type of world do you want to create for yourself and for the future generations? Do you believe you have the power to make a positive difference?

I believe we are all leaders inside. I believe that we all have something to teach one another. I believe that there is power in living authentically, in alignment with our own hearts and intuition.

Everything we do matters, whether we realize it in the moment or not.

This is not to say that we should expect ourselves to be perfect, because that’s not realistic, and we can always learn a lot from mistakes. However, I have to wonder what the world would be like if we all took responsibility for what we were contributing or not contributing to it.

I have to wonder how nice it would be to live in a world where everyone chose to learn from wisdom, rather than from fear.

What if everyone thought “What can I bring to the world?” instead of “What can I take from it?”

If we choose to awaken the leader within, then life is no longer about “us against them” or comparison, competition, and all these things that are rooted in separation and fear, which ultimately destroy us.

Instead, we can choose to quietly lead by example, from a place of wisdom, responsibility, integrity, trust, love, joy, and connection to each other.

As our inner leader awakens, we will know that who and what we really are and what we contribute does make a difference. I am already somebody. You are already somebody.

Photo by suez92

About Erin Lanahan

Erin is an Internationally Certified Life Coach, Yoga Instructor, and Motivational Writer and Speaker. Her mission is to inspire as many people as possible to return to their natural state of peace, abundance, health, inspiration & love so they may create the life the deeply desire. Visit her blog  and  You Tube Page.

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  • Amazing Erin. It’s like you were saying the exact things that have been going on in my head.

    I talk and write about living a life that is authentically yours, but I find myself teetering on the line of hypocrisy when a handful of my actions occur just to be perceived as something else: the most social, the most fun, the person people envy….I mean you pretty much summed it up.

    My actions were and still are, to some degree, fueled by the perception I want to cast about myself instead of just being myself.

    “Once we find ourselves, we can be found by others.” Wow, that’s insightful.

    I find my actions tiresome because the motivation is not coming from within. I do this and that because I feel like I have to. But once I find myself, who I am and what I believe in, then I act because I want to not because I have to. Suddenly it doesn’t seem so tiresome anymore.

    Just wanted to say this post really resided with me Erin. Thanks for sharing.


  • Cat Li Stevenson

    Hi Erin~ This post resonated with me quite a bit.

    The past 27 years of my life I’ve often sought out, externally, meaning and satisfaction for myself.

    It wasn’t until I stopped moving around so much that I realized I needed to take time to get to know myself: by “doing” less and “living” more. Then I started looking inside.

    I also love that you ask the questions of :” What kind of person do you want to be? Who does your heart know you already are? What type of world do you want to create for yourself and for the future generations? Do you believe you have the power to make a positive difference?”

    Asking questions seems to be so powerful. Even if the answers aren’t there for us right away–today, tomorrow or even a year from now–eventually the universe does respond, if we genuinely and open-heartedly ask the questions.

    Love to you. Keep sharing your gift 🙂


  • Donna@gardenseyeview

    Erin your post was on target for me and my life…realizing these things and my authenticity came after a difficult time in my life and really took flight once I started blogging…in my daily job I am a school administrator in a leadership position where you do get trtapped into being everything to everyone and solving everyone elses problems and leaving yourself to last…the health and emotional issued I suffered were non-stop until I took care of me and I became a better leader for it. Fanatastic right on the money post..thx!!

  • John

    I want to offer one sobering perspective on the philosophy of this article, based upon a very painful person experience. There’s a way that the thoughts expressed above can be distorted and used to cover up a deeper truth.

    I have a family member who for years seemed to want to ‘help’ people- including me. She bought people presents, gave advice, hosted gatherings.etc. On the face things, she seemed to want to shower others with love. But what myself and others came to realize was all the ‘giving’ that she did was based upon a rather selfish desire to be admired and to keep herself as the center of attention. It was all based upon a desire to appear special. To always play a preconceived role in which she would be appreciated. It was about getting something for herself, acting out a play in which she was the heroic, starring character. And people, including me, gradually sensed this.

    The truth was, she didn’t want to be an ‘equal’ to others. And her motivations were not coming from love.

    When this general pattern was raised with her she would pick a fight, storm out, and refuse to talk to people for months or even years at a time. Exhibiting no interest in feedback of any kind and labeling any such attempts as ‘judgments’ and a ‘lack of appreciation’.

    And then she abruptly ripped herself away from people’s lives, including mine, citing themes of ‘liberation’ and ‘self determination’. Saying that she had sacrificed so much for others. AND SHE BEGAN SAYING THINGS REMINISCENT OF THIS ESSAY. Painting a picture that she had tried so hard to love others, when actually something quite different was going on.

    She’d been caught at her game and then left because the payoff was no longer there. What she succeeded in showing was that she never really loved the people she was showering with presents and favors in the first place. That her desire to please everyone was not a manifestation of a desire to connect but rather a quest for admiration. That ‘people pleasing’ is very often not about a desire to please (or love) people.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love this article. But on this day some sections of it echo with the sting of a painful exodus in my life accompanied by deflective and dishonest rationalization.

    If a person is going to go into a new chapter it’s important that they be honest about what they were really up to in the old chapter.

  • Lula

    Thanks for your sharing Erin. I have been always amazed how TB articles come in the right moment.
    Just yesterday I had an abrupt realization on how I am keeping myself away (again) of creating the person I want to be for myself and others, mostly lead by the fear of the thought I am not going to be good enough.

    Coming from a place of “once I knew” it was a bit frustrating to be lead by this fear again and going through the same train of thoughts, so having this conversation with a friend and now reading your blog, have definitely helped to bring me back to the place where I want to be, back to the path of discovering and creating myself.

  • Erin Lanahan

    Hi Lula. That is really cool to hear, that you have made a conscious choice to reman true to yourself. Ithink we all get faced with this decission all the time, and sometimes multiple times in an hour. The mostimportant thing, is that we always come back to our highest truth. So much love to you! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • merlot

    Erin!!Your post came at the right time;I was just thinking about all what u’ve written above!!Love how the Universe works for us:)

    This post is an organized form of my mixed thoughts, gave me alot of encouragement and made my day.Thanks again to you and Lori! Xx

  • Erin Lanahan

    Hi John, thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I know how that feels, as I too have been in relationships that went something like that.

    I think, for me anyway, it’s been really important for me to recognize my own judgments of others. Especially if they are “people pleasing” becuase I think we all sense inauthenticity when its there, and it’s easy to feel put off by it. However, I have come to learn in my own life, that people pleasing is really driven by a deep longing to feel a sense of belonging and unconditional love and purpose in one’s own life. The problem is, most “poeple pleasers” think they can find this outside of themselves…from other people, when actually, it must come from within. What “People Pleasers” really need, is to love and approve of , and accept themselves. It is important for them to learn about who they really are and what is really meaningful to them, so they CAN live their lives in accordance to their highest, most authentic truth. Ulitmately when we feel this way about ourselves, we no longer NEED to seek it from others, and can therefore give, and shine our light from a place of overflow.

    Now, I am able to have a lot of compassion for people who are driven by the need to feel a sense of belonging and unconditional love, becuase I recognize that they are witholding it from themselves. They also most likely really do have a purpose that requires them to shine their light for others, that they have just not tapped into yet or learned how to use effectively in a positive way. Therefore, this awareness allows me to stay in my own self love and sense of belonging, rather than getting offended by their inauthenticity, and send them love instead.

    I am sorry your relationship ended badly, and I do hope it receives whatever healing is best for both of you. I felt strongly about sharing this article, because of my own healing around people pleasing, and because so many people feel the same way as I once did. Have a great weekend!


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  • Erin Lanahan

    Hey Donna…WOW, thank you so much for sharing your experience! That is super cool 🙂 I too found myself very much so after I began to blog. Something about writing, is just so healing and really helps one connect to his or her innermost self, highest truth and authenticity. I love that you recognized the importance of taking care of yourself, and how ultimately it’s the best way to lead is by example. Thanks again:) Hugs to you!

  • Erin Lanahan

    Ooooo….goose bumps, thank you Cat, that was beautiful. You hit the nail on the head. Questions are so powerful. They are like planting little seeds that begin to sprout into more and more awareness and clarity over time. What a gift:) Thanks for sharing! It’s pleasure to connect with you.

  • Erin Lanahan

    Hi Chris. Thanks so much! I love it, and say that to my clients all the time. The goal is, to get to a point of doing things because we WANT to, not because we HAVE to. However, sometimes we HAVE to do things until we WANT to:) Ex. It’s easier to eat healthy when we KNOW what feeling healthy is like, but someone must eat healthy first, to know what feeling healthy is like. Therefore, one HAS to eat better so they can realize that they WANT to eat better. Although it def has to come from within too.

    You said:
    “My actions were and still are, to some degree, fueled by the perception I want to cast about myself instead of just being myself.”

    I think that we cannot expect ourselve to be perfect. All we can really do is be aware of our intentions and motivations and remain as conscious around our choices as we can at any given moment. We are all learning and growing every day, and we are going to have good days and bad days, and thus some days that are easy to align with our highest self and authenticity and other days when it’s harder to recognize.

    I think just the fact that you WANT to be authentic and honest is enough to keep you heading in that direction. Just maintain the brilliant awarenss you already have and check in with yourself often to make sure your choices are rooted in your own self- love, self-respect, and trust in the Universe.

    Thanks again

  • Erin Lanahan

    Wow. Too cool…the Universe rocks doesn’t it! I am seriously blown away by it every day as well 🙂 I am so happy it was delivered to you right on time. Thank you so much for connecting with me.

  • Very well done Erin,

    “Be the Change, you want to see in the world =).”


  • This is an excellent post. I’m someone who often tries to lead, and I’ve realized over time that it’s a big hassle. I had pretty much given up on the idea of “leading”, but perhaps that’s where the wisdom is.

    If I grow my integrity, I can lead without really leading, and just be an inspiration for others. Great article, thanks. 🙂

  • “However, I have to wonder what the world would be like if we all took responsibility for what we were contributing or not contributing to it.”

    If only this idea was something everybody would consider. Responsibility is such an important word in relation to how we all interact and affect others. Just by taking responsibility, each person could literally change the world. I would like to think that’s possible, but the cynic in me knows it’s not likely to happen.

    When I was younger, I think I realized how easily people looked to me and I was kind of an “accidental” leader. I used to think I had to be loud and make big statements to make a difference or get people to listen to me. Just in the last few years I’ve learned that I need to quietly lead by example in whatever way I can and that has been so much more powerful.

    This is a great piece–such an important message! Thank you so much, Erin.

  • Geordiep8

    What a fantastic post! Such a good reminder that just being yourself and living authentically is good enough. I am a stay at home mum and often feel inner pressure to be out in the world achieving things and being noticed. Despite this, I feel that being a stay at home mum allows me live a beautiful life that is in line with my true values. It would be a shame to sabotage my happiness with the desire to be a supermum and prove myself to the outside world by running myself into the ground.

    Thankyou for sharing your’ve obviously inspired a lot of people with your excellent post.

  • Erin Lanahan

    Yep, right on the money:) Thanks Fred! Have a great weekend!

  • Erin Lanahan

    Ahhhhh, beautiful:) You are so welcome Alannah. I too have learned the same thing 🙂 I also believe that in time, we will get to the point where everyone is conscious and aware of their own impact, and will therefore take responsibility for their thoughts, actions, words, and choices, but until then, those of us who do understand, must keep on keep’n on…quietly shining the light for others 🙂

    Thank you!

  • Erin Lanahan

    Love that quote…as it says it all:) Thanks for sharing!
    xo Erin

  • Erin Lanahan

    Love that quote…as it says it all:) Thanks for sharing!
    xo Erin

  • Erin Lanahan

    Thank you so much. Your words are very powerful. Also, you say “mum.” Are you an Aussie by chance? Or British? I’m half Aussie, half American:) Dual citizen.

    I think you are tapping into your truth when you say, that what you are currently doing IS your authentic path. It can be all too easy to compare ourselves to others, but the truth is, we have NO idea what other people’s journey is about, so best not to compare and just do what feels good in our own hearts for us.

    Thanks for sharing with me 🙂

  • Erin Lanahan

    Thank you so much. Your words are very powerful. Also, you say “mum.” Are you an Aussie by chance? Or British? I’m half Aussie, half American:) Dual citizen.

    I think you are tapping into your truth when you say, that what you are currently doing IS your authentic path. It can be all too easy to compare ourselves to others, but the truth is, we have NO idea what other people’s journey is about, so best not to compare and just do what feels good in our own hearts for us.

    Thanks for sharing with me 🙂

  • Susan


  • ErinLanahanMethod

    Thanks Susan:) You are beautiful!

  • Miss_Absolute

    it’s important to be yourself whatever U do
    to be,but not ‘seem’

  • ErinLanahanMethod

    Yes…and we must find ourselves in order to be able to BE ourselves:) Thank you!

  • Marie

    Erin, I have goosebumps reading your post. I can definitely see my journey through yours. Thanks for the inspiration, you are a beautiful person!

  • Thanks Erin – so insightful and so true. Over the years a few people have said to me “you are unapologetically yourself”. At the time I wondered if it meant I was something an overbearing ass. I came to learn that what they meant was that I live my life true to myself and my values. Your statement “Until we know ourselves, we are lost. Once we find ourselves, we can be found by others” really struck a chord with me. The people I – and probably most people – are naturally drawn to are those who radiate a positive, confident energy. You can’t help but view them as leaders, whether it be in the business world, their circle of friends, or community.
    Lastly, your emphasis on what we can give to the world instead of take away from it reminded me of my favorite quote by Nelson Mandela that sits on the wall above my desk: “Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.” I plan to play very, VERY big.

  • John

    Thanks for your reply. I think your perspective on what is going on inside people pleasers is very accurate.

    I note that you focusing on me making the best of the situation by bringing love and understanding to my family member. Giving me guidance on how I might work with the situation. Your advice is valuable and well meaning. But I don’t want it to dilute the purpose of my posting.

    I was trying to give advice, perspective and feedback to people who are acting like my family member. I was saying: ‘All of us should be honest about whether we are screwing people over when we painfully rip ourselves away from them while offering up stories of woe, personal freedom and a fatigue of generosity.’

    You empathize with my feelings in the situation but, significantly, you don’t enjoin me in the advice I’m giving. Instead you focus on me and my evolutionary journey. Regarding me as a receiver of your wisdom more than acknowledging the wisdom I am trying to give others.

    It’s understandable because this your blog. A place where you offer wisdom, advice and empathy.

    I guess I was treating this more as a public forum. And on top of that I was focusing on a very specific issue and not on your article as a whole. Thanks.

  • Hi John,

    I thought I might hop in here, if that’s alright with you. I’m Lori, in case you don’t know. I run this website. It is, in fact, a community forum where anyone can offer wisdom, advice, and empathy through both blog posts and comments..

    I’m glad that you shared your story here, as it seems Erin is, as well. I’m just curious: What is it that you are recommending to someone who might acting like your family member?

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  • Af

    Very well written. I had similar experiences spending alot of time chasing other people’s dreams, trying to be more like someone else, never really seeing it for what it was. o One’s greatest opportunities, successesses, and connections came from being more of ourselves, not more like somebody else. I found it so compelling I have started to collect interviews with other people like yourself who are doing the same.

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  • Pearl

    Hi Erin! I want to thank you for sharing such a wonderful post. It really resonated with me. A couple of weeks ago I started thinking that I want to do what I “want” and not what I feel “have” to do. (although they are linked!) I realized that knowing what I “want” to do was difficult for me to distinguish amongst all the other motivations for my actions. Ever since the day I had this realization I’ve been regularly self checking my motivations. Sometimes when I start to stress about all the things I should do or should be for one reason or another I can instantly de-stress by bringing myself back to the moment and what it is I authentically want in that moment. I have learned that constantly projecting myself back to the past or into the future is definitely not what I want.

    Thank you 🙂

  • Erin Lanahan

    Hi there, Pearl is it? That’s great you too are finding more awareness around who you authentically are and what you authentically want. I believe that as long as we are aware of wanting to be authentic and live an honest, and good intended life, that we will walk the path that leads us exactly to those choices ultimately. Thank you for sharing, you are beautiful 🙂

  • Erin Lanahan

    Thank you:) It is so powerful isn’t it…truly connecting to our innermost truth and aligning our actions, words, and choices with that. I will check out the link you provided above. I appreciate what you are doing!

  • Erin Lanahan

    …And I apprecdiate you for playing big and bringing your light to our consciousness Jenny:) Thank you for your beautiful and kind words. It is so contagious isn’t it…to be around someone who radiates wth their most authentic truth. Such a beautiful thing to witness and be a part of. And it most certainly is an empowering feeling when we are illuminated by our own commitment to living an authentic life. Every single one of us really can and do effect the WHOLE. So great to connect wth you!

  • Erin Lanahan

    Thank you Marie…back atcha 🙂 Grateful to have had the opportuniy to share this with you. Have a great weekend!

  • Erin Lanahan

    Thanks John, I appreciate your efforts to help others grow and learn.

    It has been my experience, that all we really have control over is our own thoughts, actions, and choices, and the way in which we chose to perceive and interpret everything. Therefore, it is up to the people pleasers and the people in relationships with them to take responsibility for their own personal happiness or lack thereof. It’s always most useful and helpful, for me anyway, to look at myself and what I can do to be the most authentic and loving in any situation, rather than pointing out to someone else that they are wrong or out of line, unless it is absolutely necessary, etc.

    One of my favorite sayings is:
    “My happiness depends on me, so you’re off the hook.”

    I am wishing you a wonderful, beautiful weekend:)

  • Erin Lanahan

    Hey Allen, after my first response to you, I took a look at your site. I LOVE it. Thank you for putting that out there for all of us to find hope, light, truth, strength, and inspiration:)

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  • John

    On the face of things, you are simply sharing your thoughts and experiences with me. But you are effectively trying to give me advice and redirect my focus, by morphing the discussion about ‘people pleasers’ into the topic of self responsibility.These are two different things.

    People pleasers can benefit from feedback. I’m offering them food for thought.I choose to express myself, to have a message, to interact with my world. Part of being responsible for one’s own happiness is offering the world feedback. That’s what I’m doing. It’s hard for me to imagine that your world doesn’t include giving others feedback also…

    Lori, you ask what I am recommending to someone like my family member. I guess that they look honestly at their thoughts, beliefs and actions. That they be wiling to see how they have given a false impression of connectedness to others, and that abruptly cutting others off from their lives is a magnified manifestation of that pattern, rather than a step toward honesty.It’s akin to quitting your job as soon as your company catches you embezzling…

    I also have feedback for some of the modern ‘workshop’ philosophy out there which counsels people that they ‘don’t owe anyone anything’ and ‘are not here to live up to others expectations’. Yes, this is true, but if you have given people false impressions about your feelings and intent then you are a free person who also lacks integrity. It’s sad when when ‘I don’t owe anyone anything’ morphs into ‘I don’t have to look at what I do to people’.

    Just needed to express this. And, no, I’m not writing this because I need to be ‘counseled’ or ‘advised’ about it.

  • Hi John,

    I can sense that this situation has caused you a lot of pain, and I’m sorry that you’re dealing with that. I hope that you and your family member are eventually able to discuss everything that went down so you can both make peace with it. I don’t regret very much in life, but I regret every moment I wasted being angry with people I love. This isn’t counseling or advice–it’s just a well-intentioned wish for your peace of mind, because everyone deserves that.


  • John

    I think I picked the wrong circumstances for the wisdom I have to share. There’s a feeling of not being really met in what I have to say, and I sense a desire on your part to wrap this thread up. It’s understandable, this is the comments section of a blog written by people who offer advice centered around inner self reliance. Not the place to discuss issues with other peope or advice we have for them. Perhaps I’d find a more interested audience on a website like NVC (Non Violent Communication).

    Thanks for the thoughts though.

  • Hi John,

    I didn’t intend to imply this conversation needed to be wrapped up. I think your suggestion that people be honest with themselves is excellent advice. I was just expressing my empathy for your situation because I have been there before. I know how painful it feels to feel angry and confused by someone I love, and I know how it feels when a family member feels that way toward me.

    I have only the purest intentions to understand and offer compassion toward you because I got the sense that you are hurting from this experience.


  • Louisa

    Wow…I know a few people who would benefit from reading this article. Although it would be a helpful thing to share this with them, it’s not my place. That would be rather judgmental of me. The only thing I can do is learn from my own mistakes as a people pleaser and not taking care of myself and accept those who are in that position just they way they are.

  • ErinLanahanMethod

    Hi Louisa…I like your style 😉 Thanks for sharing!

  • John

    I think the best way for me to describe my angst is with an analogy.

    Suppose we were all residents of a Buddhist Center and I spoke up about how the cooks might improve the food. (Let’s say that they were routinely overcooking the rice, for instance.)

    I would feel frustrated if I voiced my suggestion about not overcooking the rice and in response I only got advice about working internally with my dissatisfaction about the food. I might then speak up again and say that I really do want to focus on actually IMPROVING THE FOOD. But this time the response is giving me empathy for how it feels to not get the food I want.

    I would again speak up and say that though I appreciate the empathy and guidance, my goal is still to actually IMPROVE THE FOOD.

    Then, we finally invite the cooks into the conversation and ask if they would be willing to cook the rice for 45 minutes instead of 60 minutes. They agree. Then we all enjoy our meals a little more.

    I really was just trying to dispense advice for others which would benefit us all in our interactions with them. The advice and empathy for me has its place- but I don’t want it to crowd out the advice and wisdom that I’m trying to offer.

    That being said, you have acknowledged my original advice and input, so I feel a sense of closure. Thanks.

  • You are most welcome, John. I think for me this seems a little different than the analogy you offered because we are talking about other people, and somewhat assuming we know their motivations and intentions (that they are not being honest) regardless of what they’ve said.

    Improving rice may require a simple shift in cooking, but improving a person is largely dependent on whether or not they feel they need to be improved–and it seems like in the case of your family member, what you believed and what she believed were two different things (neither one right or wrong, just different interpretations). I offered you compassion because she is not here to defend or explain herself, so all I know for certain is that you seem hurt by this.

    Regardless, I still appreciate the suggestion that we all be honest with ourselves!

  • John

    Lori, I realize that the issues brought up by this are important to me right now. So I will invest a few paragraphs if only because I need to get this out…

    The scenario of ‘improving the rice’ was simply meant to represent a situation in which you could enjoin me in a potentially beneficial suggestion to others- as opposed to only counseling or empathizing with me. You and I were the key players in the analogy.

    I only made myself ‘right’ about the cooking time of the rice to illustrate a scenario where my suggestion proved to be beneficial. A more realistic scenario would have been you telling me that you had not been eating the rice and had no opinion on it, but that you knew what it was like to eat overcooked rice and that you would pass along my feedback to the cooks.

    But, hey, I think analogies are powerful so let me give you a better overall analogy in which all parties are represented:

    Suppose we are again at a Buddhist retreat. (I’ve been on several long retreats myself.) As with most retreats, the communion and interaction with others is an integral part of our experience. There are group discussions. There are group work crews. There are all sorts of issues and challenges with others that we benefit from working through.

    Now suppose that there are also solitary meditation cabins that any person can go to whenever they feel the need to be alone. They can just get up and go there. It’s totally up to them and only they know what their needs are.

    What can (and does) happen is that people use the meditation cabins to ‘hide’ from the work they have with others. Running to the cabins whenever a difficult situation arises. Using them as a place of escape. Of course, only they can truly know if they are ‘escaping’ in any instance.

    I use this analogy because it closely mirrors the situation of my family member leaving my life rather than working things out.

    Now imagine Erin speaking up to the group about the benefits of going to the meditation cabins. You know, taking time alone to sort though things and discover yourself. And then imagine me following up her point with the caveat that, as beneficial as they can be, using the meditation cabins as a ‘hiding place’ can cause more harm than good. That it can actually prevent challenging but rich experiences with others. My words would represent a suggestion. Something to be explored. Bringing awareness to a phenomena that can happen- without my needing to provide ‘proof’ that this phenomena happened in any one instance.

    My advice and wisdom may stem from a specific painful personal experience (perhaps someone abruptly left an important emtional discussion with me to go to a meditaion cabin) but I wouldn’t be asking anyone to express an opinion on that specific experience. I’d simply be referencing my subjective experience so that you know why the issue is important to me.

    Setting the analogy aside…

    You talk about my family member not having the opportunity to ‘explain herself’ or ‘defend herself’ here. As if you might need to refute my interpretation of my experience. However, since you agree that people sometimes ARE dishonest in this way then why would you feel the need to cast possible doubt on the specific story that inspired me to speak up? Isn’t there a point at which the specifics of my story yield to the principles being discussed and admittedly agreed upon by you?

    For instance, if we both agreed that drunk driving was harmful, would you sift through my stories about drunk drivers and challenge me to prove them? Probably not. Then why sift through the story about my family member if you agree that you have similar stories in your life? If she or I were known to you in any way then it would be different. But we’re not.

    In your last reply you use the term ‘All I know for certain is…’

    Empathy is about dropping the need for the kind ‘certainty’ you refer to. It’s about a different kind of ‘certainty’. It’s about you being ‘certain’ that you have been in situations and feeling states that are similar to mine where people were dishonest in pulling away from you. Which you say you have.

    Back to my analogy about the meditation retreat…

    If I spoke up to the assemblage at the meditation group during a community discussion (as I am doing here) and I cautioned people about the possible detriments of ‘hiding’ in the meditation cabins, would you challenge me to prove that my specific experiences with this phenomena were true? Probably not. You’d probably nod in agreement as I made my point. Yet such a nod is so carefully withheld in this discussion. Curious.

  • Hi John,

    Point taken. In general, it’s a smart idea to consider your motivations before acting. I agree 100%. I’ve felt a natural instinct to discuss the specific situation because you started this conversation around it. And in responding to you, I know that somewhere out there, there’s a woman who you’ve discussed here on this blog with a sense of certainty as to her motivations (that she wants to be special, wants attention, etc).

    I also know from what you’ve written that this woman does not agree with your take on her motivations. So in reading your advice to people–the suggestion that they’re honest with themselves about their true motivations–I am somewhat considering the fact that sometimes we as outsiders judge other people’s motivations without really knowing what they are.

    So I get that sometimes people go into the meditation cabin to avoid things they don’t want to deal with. But I also know that we don’t always know precisely why people are going into the cabin.

    What I hope I’ve communicated in this comment is that I understand your advice, and I respect and appreciate it. I am merely adding to it that while we may want to be more honest with ourselves, we may also want to questions ourselves when we feel inclined to judge other people for not being honest with themselves without knowing for certain whether that is true.

    I don’t mean to undermine your advice. I just can’t help but feel this way knowing what you’ve shared. If I were in your family member’s shoes, I would not want the people around me to assume they know my selfish motivations and then dispense their judgments and advice.

    If you would like to talk further over email, I am open to that! My email is email(AT)


  • John

    It’s funny what this thread has lead me through. I realize now that all of the questions and comments and discussion that you guys have had with me on this has served to flatten out, whittle down, overgeneralize and overqualify my point. Not necessarily because of overt intent but certainly its been the net effect.


    It’s a powerful story and a pretty accurate description and it conveys a significant truth. If you have a need to poke at it and twist it and cast doubt upon it until you feel its invalid then that’s your loss.

    My point to Erin was to not so casually offer vision and advice to others about abandoning and dismissing other people. That sometimes such a move is cowardly and dishonest and only delays dealing with issues that will arise again.

    And my point to Lori is that your concern for whether my family member is being well represented has the feel of simply being your next attempt to squelch my point. No, we don’t have god himself telling us what the objective truth is in this case. But the fact that you want to focus upon that ambiguity indicates that you are more interested in discussing the scenario not being true than being true. There’s a bias there.

    In the end I strongly suspect you are identifying with my female family member as if she is you. Perhaps relating the situation to some scene in your own life.

    Anyway, I offer my original entry- take it or leave it.

  • Hi John,

    It is true that I identified with your family member. I felt an instinctive resistance to your advice because I was frustrated by an attitude I felt I recognized (and remembered as hurtful). For that I apologize. I can see that I took this conversation in an unnecessary direction, and I thank you for your willingness to contribute to this conversation (and others you may join down the line!)


  • John

    Like my family member, you’ve made repeated attempts to deflect this discussion away from the point that I have tried to make.

    -You’ve urged me to look at myself instead of my family member.
    -You’ve urged me to not cast blame.
    -You’ve urged me to respect the freedoms of my family member
    -You’ve urged me to let go of expectations,
    -You’ve urge me to largely abandon my point because ‘we never really know what’s going on inside another person..’

    Now you’ve cited an overarching reason for not really fully engaging me in my point which is that you sensed a ‘hurtful attitude’ on my part. But in doing so you’re offering a reason WHY you didn’t engage me while deftly skirting the obvious point that you didn’t engage me. As if explaining WHY a discussion didn’t really unfold in an unencumbered way is the same thing as actually having the discussion.

    Where you have agreed with me you have done so by taking my point and softening it up so much that all of its energy is lost. Saying: ‘Yes John, I Agree That People Should Be Honest’. Which merely cites the broadest of principles behind my message rather than enjoining its pointed and challenging wisdom.

    It would be like me trying to bring awareness to embezzlement at the office and having management tell me:

    ‘We agree, employees should definitely double check their entries on their expense reports. Thanks for the reminder!’

    The general wisdom I have tried to raise here is present in many traditions. It is the truth about how we offer up false truths to rationalize our actions and create much pain for ourselves and others.

    In the world of Group Therapy for instance there’s the principle of ‘Being Called On Your Stuff’. It’s when other group members become so familiar with your patterns and excuses and they challenge you to examine your motives. For instance, they may start off by empathizing with your need to skip work some days . But then after several months they realize that you seem to find one excuse or another to skip work one or two times every week, calling your boss with one excuse after another and leaving everyone at the office in a lurch.They’d tell you that the excuse you give to your boss on any one day no longer matters as much as the fact that you seem to always have an excuse. They’d be ‘Calling you on your stuff’. Much like I’ve tried to call my family member on her stuff.

    In the world of Buddhism there is a wealth of wisdom and advice about not rationalizing your actions at the expense of others. Some of the famous 59 Lojong slogans cover this. Slogans such as:

    ‘Don’t Act With A Twist’ or ‘Don’t Transfer The Oxes Load To The Cow’

    I’ve posted here to bring awareness to this kind of thing. Perhaps it is one way I am trying to work through the sense of deep betrayal that I feel, similar to how someone who’s been robbed might want to bring awareness to crime prevention.

    What I’ve encountered in this discussion is someone who has responded with the same mentality as my family member. Even if you did now finally respond by truly engaging me in my point, it would only be after this long, circuitous dialog that I have painstakingly had to lead you through. The strategy isn’t to never engage the other person, rather, it’s to make the process so drawn out and difficult that most people just give up along the way…

  • Vanessa

    Hi John,

    This is the first time I am reading this blog and I stumbled upon this post.
    I love Erin’s post and I also completely agree with your additional insights.

    What you have said is so true … I don’t mean to generalize, but there are unfortunately more people like your family member. I have seen so many people who are so proud of contributing to the world just to feel “special” or fullfiling their need to feel recognized.

    Your family member’s reaction is actually very normal as you have uncovered her true motivation or what we may say “poke the ego”. So she became furious. Authentic people will not react that way if they truly know themselves and their actions are aligned within their true motivations. If your actions are fully genuine, there should be no doubt withing and nothing can disturb that truth. By pointing this out to her, it triggers those uneasiness reactions because what you pointed out to her has some truth to it and her self-defense mode kicked in.

    As this is an open forum, I just want to add my perspective.
    Eventhough I recognize that the deep down motivation of some people may not be “honorable” at time (and it’s up to them or whenever the right timing for them to transcend), their actions serve somewhat a purpose.

    I am refering this mainly to people who donate money, clothes, foods, help in shelters, any great volunteer works … Eventhough they may be bragging about that to their friends, family, etc… , at the end of the day, the people in needs have benefited from it. Genuine or not, their actions made a difference in someone else life.

    Love and Peace.
    (P.S.: English is my third language, please forgive me for my poor language structure)


  • Erin Lanahan

    Beautiful Vanessa. Thanks for sharing with us 😉

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  • Anonymous

    “A leader simply is.”

    Constructive Criticism (harsh, but oh well):
    This is one of the most awful guides I’ve ever read. Don’t introduce a topic then fail to address it. This is just fluff, fluff, and more fluff. If I wanted someone’s musings I would read their diary.

    Don’t pollute the internet with this shit. Post an actual, helpful guide. How incredibly misleading.