I wrote 12 words on a chalkboard on my bedroom wall. They are the 12 words I see each morning when I open my eyes, before I speak, before I reach for my phone to check in with the world.
THE CODE. These words, imperfectly scribbled by my own hand, are a reflection of not only who I am, but more importantly what I aspire to be. They are my intent. My values. My ground truth.
#1 BE REAL. I’ve struggled to share my real self with the world. I’ve possessed an insatiable need for positive attention and affirmation, ever since childhood.
My six-year-old self saw a neighbor talking with my older brother, asking him what grade he attended. I ran full speed towards them, yelling “I’mmmm iiiiiiinn kiiiiiiindeeeeeeergaaaaaaaarten” to drag her attention my way. My clumsy feet got ahead of themselves, and I tumbled face first across the blacktop driveway. My mother picked the pieces of tar out of my cheek, while I concocted a story of a dinosaur attack to tell my classmates — a deflection of reality to mask my insecurities.
As an adult, I can be that six year old, screaming for attention. Instead of running down the driveway full bore, I scramble my mind in mental gymnastics, trying to find the perfect way to write, post and share on social media.
I always emerge from this emotional pretzel in the same place. There’s no right answer, so I can only post what feels like me. This is the world’s largest cocktail party and I’m not a wallflower.
There’s only one story I’m qualified to tell: my own.
#2 LOVE ALWAYS. Love others and love myself. I’ve often failed to do the first by pretending I was doing the second. There was a point in my life where I could spin anything to justify it in my own head — when I wasn’t truly loving anyone, including myself. I still have these moments of unhealthy selfishness, but I’ve surrounded myself with people who’ll call it out when they see it. Love is putting aside this selfishness to do what is good — for me and those around me. Sometimes this love is simply a kind word or an attentive ear. Sometimes, it’s forgoing the immediate for the sake of the future.
#3 SHARE BEAUTY. If there’s one epitaph I’d chose among all others, it would be “He pointed out the light where others saw darkness.”
I see the world with a photographer’s eye, adjusting my perspective constantly to find the best frame and composition. I’ve found that these simple adjustments help me discover beauty that’s hidden from our default view. In my photography workshops, I encourage people to get down on a knee, lay on the ground — change the way they look through the lens.
It’s easy to see the ugliness and hate. I challenge myself to find the silver lining and share it with others. Some might call it optimism, but to me it’s survival. Beauty — in nature and others — is my spiritual fuel and I like to share the wealth.
#4 LEAD WELL. As the extrovert in the room, I viewed leadership as speaking up, being a significant part of every discussion, and being intensely present. See a problem, swoop in with a solution. My form of leadership, a competitive swooping into the spotlight, was something that came naturally to me. It’s easy to make leadership about me, rather than the group. And that’s not leading well.
Leading well is motivating others to help create a better future. It requires vision, intent, authenticity, compassion and — above all — integrity. I don’t claim to be all of these things all of the time, but the simple words lead wellremind me each morning that leadership isn’t about me.
#5 LISTEN MORE. I’ve been told I’m a good listener. I don’t really believe it, because I hear the voice of response building in my head long before anyone else hears me utter a reply. Too often in conversations, I’ll skip ahead, assuming I know what’s going to be said or judging it to be insignificant.
He likes the sound of his own voice. I can guarantee those words have been uttered at my expense, justifiably so.
I’ve said this code is equal parts reality and aspiration. This fifth tenet is equal parts aspiration and struggle, but one that I can’t live without.
By listening more to my heart, I can be more real. By listening more to those closest to me, I’m better able to love. By listening (and seeing) more, my senses are more alert to the beauty around me. By listening more, I hear the hopes, fears and cautions of those whom I lead.
Listening sits at the foundation, the glue of my code.
I wake most mornings to silence, swing my legs over the side of the bed, and look up at my code. I read the words slowly, pausing after each tenet to let it echo into place in both my mind and heart.
Be real. Love always. Share beauty. Lead well. Listen more.