The Nature of Personal Reality

VineyardIn his book, Travels with Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck wrote that “we don’t take trips, trips take us.”  This reflects his assertion that despite all the planning, scheduling, maps, and good intentions, our travel experience is determined not by any initiative on our part, but by the unexpected twists and turns that lighten or darken our journey.  It is the aspects of our adventure that we cannot control, and perhaps shouldn’t even if we could, that provide the greatest value and most meaningful experience.

I must confess that I am not a good traveler, even when traveling for pleasure.  Traveling, or more specifically, the responsibility for the logistics of traveling combined with the stress of being away from home and my comfort zone causes a degree of anxiety sufficient to diminish at least some of my enjoyment of the experience.  This, I readily acknowledge, is illogical if not downright irrational.  My wife tells me I need to relax, as if it were only that easy.   I love the idea of traveling, of exploring new and interesting places.  But truth be told, when it comes down to the reality of it – of making reservations, packing and getting on a plane or train, I’d really just as soon stay home, or at least close to home.

I believe with all certainty that we create our own personal reality, weaving the fabric of conscious and unconscious disposition into a cloth uniquely our own.  And not to mix metaphors, but if the nature of our personal reality is rooted in preference and intent, it is most certainly shaped by the shifting winds of experience and nurtured by environmental influence and personal interaction.

Personally, I find memories more enjoyable than the actual experience.  The passage of time tends to have a leveling effect on memory, filtering out the bad, the stressful, even fear and pain.  Reality of the moment is fleeting while our memories remain, shaped by time and our tendency to reconcile the past to our own liking.  Thus is the nature of personal reality, and the reason why the same event recollected by a dozen different people can vary so greatly.

What does any of this have to do with leadership?  Only that when working with employees, staff, clients, friends, strangers, or even family members, it’s advantageous to remember that everyone has a different perception.  And more important, understand that each individual’s perception becomes his or her reality.  Leaders are tasked by necessity to navigate through the gamut of diverging realities, responding to often conflicting needs and expectations while maintaining a firm grasp on the helm.  They must often filter the emotion of the moment to influence the course of the future.  Ultimately, the solution is always more memorable than the problem.

Advertisements