Living with Integrity in Your Community (II): The Defining Choice

The Defining Choice

This is the third post that explores the options that we might consider when we find ourselves in a situation that pits our personal guiding principle against the shared values of one of our communities. This situation can (and probably will at some point in your life) bring you to a tipping point where you can and must consciously choose to define (or perhaps redefine) both yourself and your life.

Let me illustrate. Ten years ago, I was part of a small team of consultants and facilitators conducting leadership development seminars for clients throughout the country and all over the world. This required a ton of travel — another airport, another plane, another hotel, another dinner alone. And while it was up to each of us to choose whether to take on yet another client, culturally our explicit principles of teamwork and client delight translated into an implicit understanding that we would only sparingly say no. Each time I acquiesced to that cultural value, each time I said yes even though I really wanted to say no, I was choosing to be away from home. That choice chronically bumped up against my personal value that I would make healthy choices for mind, body and spirit (which included choosing to spend time with friends and to focus on forming a primary relationship). While I cared greatly for the other members of my team, and I was devoted to doing great work for our clients, I also deeply wanted to strengthen my friendships and settle with a partner (both of which required face-time at home). I had lived with the dilemma for many years.

It was mid-September when this chronic dilemma grabbed hold of me hard and offered me yet another choice between the competing values. I had just returned to work from having taken a two-month unpaid leave of absence into which I had tried to cram what I hoped would be a sufficient amount of face-time with friends to satisfy my longings to strengthen my relationships, and maybe even create new ones. I had also hoped that my sabbatical would help me establish a healthier balance between my personal principle to make healthy choices for my body, mind and spirit and the workplace values of teamwork and client delight. Yet, in the first few days after my return, I was asked to take on client engagements that would require nine back-to-back weeks of travel.

So, while I might have taken a break, my dilemma hadn’t budged, and it met me square-on upon my return. What to do?

I could go back to saying yes, even though I really wanted to say no, or I could choose to be the person I was striving to be. (Have you heard Einstein’s observation that insanity is defined as doing the same thing the same way you’ve always done it, and expecting to get different results?) Well, I chose to do things differently this time around. I made a choice in favor of making healthy choices for my mind, body and spirit. I ultimately decided to resign. More to the point, I decided to make the saner choice: to remove myself from a culture whose values caused me too frequently to minimize my own. I have never regretted that decision, never.

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader