Usually, when we run into a challenge, we focus most of our effort on changing what we do…and we make little or no effort to change the way we think. Yet the power of thinking far outstrips the effects of doing. It is only when we change the way we think that we change what we do in a sustainable way. This is a key principle of accountable leadership: Action always follows belief.
If you fix only the way you do something, but you are still thinking things through in a way that does not support your best self or the best potential of other people, your relationships will suffer, and you will descend into negativity when you encounter a challenge. On the other hand, if you fix the way you think by connecting yourself with the fountain of personal wisdom that I call your Source, you will automatically upgrade the way you do things—and improve all of your relationships.
- Your Source–the set of unique personal lessons, examples, and reference points that clarify your beliefs and instantly direct you toward your best course of action–enables you to turn even the gravest challenges into opportunities.
- Your Source always draws you toward the best person you are capable of being. It brings out the very best in you and in others. If you are in touch with your Source, you are in touch with your purpose in life.
- Your Source is clarified by Source Experiences.
What is a Source Experience?
A Source Experience is an event, good or bad, that taught you an important lesson about life. From that lesson you gain clarity about what does and does not work for you … and you are able to trace what does work back to its origin: Your Source.
That Source you track down could be a person who served as a mentor or guide to whom you kept coming back, or it could be a transformative personal experience (such as nearly dying), or it could be a book that you return to over and over again, such as the Torah, the New Testament, the Quran, the I Ching, or even The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Your Source is the foundation of your deepest and best beliefs. You encounter signposts along the way in life that point you toward your Source. Those signposts are Source Experiences.
Let me give you an example of how all this works, an example from my own life. Growing up, I was lucky to have parents and others who taught me to treat people with respect and consideration. I was told countless times by the people I loved most, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And: “Treat people the way you would want to be treated.” And: “Don’t discriminate against people based on their race or religion or anything else.” There were innumerable variations on this message.
But even though I was taught these important lessons growing up, even though I knew intellectually that they were a vitally important part of family and social life, I had not internalized those lessons. I thought I had incorporated those lessons into my life, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job of living according to them. But there came a day when I had to acknowledge to myself that I had not yet completely built what my parents had taught me into my belief system.
Here is what happened. About five years ago, I was heading home from a speaking engagement with my assistant, Sharon Miner. We were great working partners; she and I had become a team, a well-oiled machine that served as the engine of my business.
That day, we were headed home—me to St. Louis, Missouri, and Sharon to Amarillo, Texas. We arrived at the airport early. I noticed there was an earlier flight to Amarillo than the one Sharon was booked on. I told her, “Look, there’s an earlier flight. You should get on it. You’ll get home quicker.” Sharon agreed. We went up to the gate agent.
This is the part of the story where I need to tell you that Sharon is African-American. She said to the little bald man behind the counter, “Hello, I’m on this other flight. I want to get an earlier flight. Is there any chance I can go standby?”
The airline worker looked her up and down, made a strange and dismissive expression with his face, and said in a derogatory tone, “I’m sorry, but you would have to have status to go standby on an earlier flight.”
Not “Do you have such-and-such status with our airline?” Just: “You would have to have status to go standby on an earlier flight.” Because she was a woman of color, he made the automatic assumption that Sharon did not and could not have the status necessary to go standby!
As it happened, Sharon had platinum status on that airline!
She flew all the time! She was already qualified to go standby at no charge, at the top of the list. But the little man behind the counter had not seen fit to ask about any of that.
Now, I was standing right by Sharon’s side, and I heard every word of this exchange. When the man said that, the experience literally pushed me backward. That is how stunned I was. I had to take half a step back. My eyes started to tear up a little bit.
At that moment, I felt for the first time what it was really like to be a person of color in the United States of America. To be instantly marginalized. Discounted. Dismissed. Based on absolutely zero meaningful information.
That man had looked at her and seen the color of her skin and made an assumption about who Sharon was as a person. And in that moment I felt shame for the little bald man at the counter, shame for my country, and shame for myself at having made similar assumptions about people in the past.
I stepped forward, and I intervened. I said, “She’s platinum with your airline. She qualifies.”
The little man bristled but then realized he had made a huge mistake—and set about fixing it. Once we got the booking straightened out, Sharon and I turned and walked off. I looked at Sharon as we were walking.
I said, “I know you have talked about this a million times. But I have never physically experienced that kind of discrimination before. And this time I did. This time I got a glimmer of what it must be like to have to go through something like that on a regular basis.”
Connect to Your Source
That, for me, was a defining moment–a Source Experience. That was a moment of understanding what it really meant to love another human being as myself. I deeply felt what Sharon was going through; I knew what was behind it from the airline worker’s standpoint, too, because I realized that like him, I had made plenty of assumptions about people based on zero meaningful information. But I also knew that that could not happen again, because making those kinds of assumptions was the exact opposite of what I had taught people for years and what I had always said I believed.
That experience at the airport galvanized something deep inside of me. It was the moment when I realized in my gut that I could never participate in or support a situation like that ever again, even accidentally. I could never look at someone and prejudge them or make a determination about who they are or what they are capable of based on something superficial like the color of their skin. It may be easy to do that, but I realized in that moment that I could simply never allow myself to do it again. And I could never allow someone in my presence to do the same thing without my speaking up, regardless of whom I might offend
That day, I realized what love your neighbor as yourself really means…for me. After that incident at the airport, I had the opportunity to think very deeply about the principle of “love your neighbor as yourself.” And I found myself going back to the verse in the Torah from which it sprang:
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”
After that experience with Sharon at the airport, I realized that that verse had to be a central element of my code for living. It had to be something I took action on regularly. It had to be part of my belief system. Because it was my Source. And I had to connect to it if I wanted to be the person I was capable of being.
That’s my Source. I don’t know what yours is. But I do know this: There is an art to transforming what you believe. Mastering that art begins with getting deep clarity on your Source…and it continues with making choices that support that Source.
To learn more about the art of identifying and connecting with your Source, pre-order my book PIVOT: Three Big Questions That Reframe Your Perspective, Maximize Your Potential, and Improve Your Life!