September 11. “The secret to happiness is to admire without desiring.” (F.H. Bradley)
I am a day behind in my writing, in part because I really wasn’t sure what to make of this quote. I turned it over in my head for an extra day, and to be honest, I am still not sure I have it figured out. Anyway, here’s where my thoughts are.
Having admiration for others is a noble thing. It shows that I have appreciation for who they are, what they stand for, what they have accomplished, or their character. The truth is that while I can admire any number of people for some or all of their characteristics, there are only a few that I will ever know well enough to know whether they are truly admirable. The sad fact is that some people, especially public figures, will show a part of themselves that seems admirable, but the truth may be something quite different.
When admiration becomes desire, trouble can ensue. If I allow myself to go from a healthy view of someone, and a like for some of the things they do, to actively trying to be more like the person, or attain what they have, then I lose something. No matter how amazing a person may be, and no matter how deserving of my laud and praise, it’s not healthy for me to desire being that person.
I have great admiration for some people in my life who were role models. I think that their approach to being a parent, or a husband, a teacher, or a boss is sound. I like the example they set, and how they encourage people around them. I try to take the best of what I have seen in these examples and incorporate them into my approach. This is how I grow as a person. Where I have come off the rails in the past has been when I tried to too closely emulate a particular person, while ignoring who I was.
I once had a director who was very successful. Over time I built a lot of admiration for his approach to leading people. He was known to be a rough person to some, and there were many who straight up hated his approach to management, and thought him to be somewhat of an A-hole. Because I worked closely with him, I knew that he was actually a very kind and thoughtful person. He truly was interested in developing people who worked for him. He was demanding to be sure, and he had no tolerance for people who tried to BS their way through meetings with him. He was a straight shooter, and expected the same from those around him. At times he was rigid, with meeting start and end times for instance. And he could be inflexible when he had a standard that was established.
Over the 4 or 5 years that I worked in his organization, I learned a great deal about leadership, management, setting standards and so on. I incorporated a lot of what I saw in him into my approach, and that was helping me grow as a manager / leader. My admiration for him was pushing me forward and helping me become a better person. Somewhere along the line, though, I emulated him too closely. I began to take on his swagger, and became less flexible on things. I was rigid with people and it was incongruous with who I was as a person. The fact was that I hadn’t earned the right to be at his level of rigidity, considering he was 3 or 4 levels above me in the company.
What started as healthy admiration had turned into desire. I wanted to be more like him in a way that wasn’t good for me. I ended up becoming unhappy as people’s reactions to me change.
Before he retired I had moved on to another organization. With the perspective of distance I began to see where I had gone from incorporating the best parts of his style, to straight up emulation. Once I came to that realization I became much more picky about what aspects of his approach I used.
I have no idea if any of this qualifies as the “secret of happiness”. What I do know is that for me to grow as a person, I have to first and foremost be myself. If I try to be someone else, I will inevitably become unhappy. I am a unique individual with my own quirks, strengths, weaknesses and challenges. Accepting who I see in the mirror is a road to happiness. Trying to be someone, or something I am not, is the road to doom.
Today my reflection is on being myself. After all, I gotta be me. What else can I be but what I am?