Originally published February 4, 2021 on Forbes
At your best, you choose love.
You feel fear, or anxiety, or selfishness, or anger, or hate. But you choose love.
You choose love because you’ve chosen fear and anxiety before. And it paralyzed you.
You choose love because you’ve chosen selfishness before. And it isolated you.
You choose love because you’ve chosen anger and hate before. And it poisoned you.
Your eyes are wide open. You know that choosing love in a look-out-for-number-one world isn’t easy. No one would blame you if you didn’t choose love. But you’re not doing it because it’s a nice idea; you’re doing it because it’s necessary. You realize choosing anything else is a dead end.
You choose love because when you look into the eyes of your family, your friends, your colleagues, and your neighbors, you see yourself. When you look into the eyes of people across the nation and world, you see yourself. And even, in your clearest moments, when you look into the eyes of your enemies, you see yourself. You might not see yourself in their behavior, but you see yourself in their struggle. You see yourself in their humanity. It’s jarring, and it opens your heart.
In your moments of clarity, you realize that our most intractable global challenges are rooted in the simplest of indecencies: the failure to see humanity in each other.
You’re not sure how you’re going to make a difference, but you know it starts with your heart. So you choose love.
At your best, you find courage.
You know, unmistakably, that our current moment requires guts. You know that ideologies are easy but pragmatic solutions are tough. You know that power has a vested interest in selling oversimplified narratives for expedient political purposes, and that year after year this sell-job has had a cumulatively pernicious effect.
Still, you wake up each day with a sense of possibility. Cynicism is always next to you, begging you to listen, but its voice gets fainter until you just don’t listen to it anymore. The beauty around you drowns it out. It gives you courage.
You know that the courage required on the road ahead will take many forms. Sometimes standing up. Sometimes standing aside. Sometimes fighting. Sometimes forgiving. Sometimes holding on. Sometimes letting go. Always listening.
You also know that the road ahead will require vulnerability: showing up when you want to hide; admitting weakness when you want to be strong; or saying “I don’t know” when everyone is looking for an answer. Your vulnerabilities are never your problem; your relationship to them is. When you find the courage to own them with confidence, you find power.
At your best, you see humor.
You will feel joy and sadness, hope and resignation, confidence and doubt, acceptance and rejection, ease and adversity, and comfort and grief. With luck you’ll feel more of the good stuff than the bad. But being human you’ll feel all of it. The irony of life is that the more attached you are to only feeling positive emotions, the more you’ll worry and the less you’ll enjoy. To live life is to feel grief. To try to avoid it is to invite more of it.
So dream big dreams, make big plans, open your mind, open your heart, and pursue with courageous conviction. That’s what a great life is made of. And lighten up along the way. Life will pinch you, punch you, and kick you in the teeth. Find the humor in it. Roll with it. Nobody is getting out alive or without scars.
At your best, you inspire.
Inspiration doesn’t come through fancy words or big ideas. Inspiration comes through your actions, every day. Amidst fear, selfishness, and hate, people see you choosing love. Up against difficult odds, people see you finding courage. Feeling the heaviness of life, people see you smiling and laughing.
You inspire because you shine a light, allowing others to do the same.
This is true leadership. The most important work in the world.