Executive Conundrum #3: Untapped Potential
May 16, 2023. By Lori Brewer Collins
This article is the last in a three-part series.
“The red convertible and the island getaway were nice when I turned 40. But the shine has worn off. As I look toward the next few decades, there has to be more.
I’ve accomplished a lot in my career. My international assignments run the gamut—from leading teams to leading regions and business units. My influence is now global. I have this sense of completion.
I look around me and ponder what’s waiting to happen and, in that, what might be left for me to do or bring to the world.
It’s not as if I need to prove myself anymore. I don’t.
I’m clear that, at this point in my career, I’m curious about certain things. I actually thrive on steep learning curves.
It’s important to me to remain relevant. And there’s no reason I can’t.
What in me is still untapped?
I’ve experienced so much in my life. And there are still aspects of “me” waiting to be expressed. You could say I’m still growing into my leadership. It’s almost as if I’m meeting myself again, looking at the combination of what I really want and what’s calling to me now.”
If this is your dilemma, you’re entering what’s called the third stage of adulthood.
The coaching conversations I have with senior executives in their mid-40s and 50s about this mostly revolve around how to take everything you’ve learned and all the wisdom you have and give it back.
This isn’t just about figuring out how to fill your time for the next 10 to 15 years. It is about envisioning yourself beyond the organizational structure. It’s about making a contribution that keeps you enlivened, jazzed and engaged with your own life and that of others.
It’s funny but I find 7 and 8-year-olds are often clearer about who they are and what they want to do than adults in mid-life. Fortunately, this third stage of adulthood presents us with the opportunity to return to our “True Self”, to the parts of us we may have put aside earlier in life and which are still waiting to be expressed. As Richard Rohr writes in Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self:
“I promise you that the discovery of your True Self will feel like a thousand pounds of weight have fallen from your back. You will no longer have to build, protect, or promote any idealized self image. Living in the True Self is quite simply a much happier existence, even though we never live there a full twenty-four hours a day. But you henceforth have it as a place to always go back to.”
Ken Wilber adds, “Becoming a leader is the same as becoming a fully integrated human being.”
Many executives, after looking at all that has happened in their life that led them to this place, gravitate to an entirely different form of service. Some start entirely new ventures or projects. Others deliberately dive into philanthropy. Some choose mentoring or coaching, while others work with groups.
My only suggestion to you: don’t turn this into a strategic planning exercise. Leave room for the mystery, for what cannot be known in advance, for what must be allowed to unfold as you take each ‘next step’ of your life’s journey.
Photo credit: Jerry Park, “Idyll”, Slow Roads America.