The Coach is In…

You Don’t Have a Message, You Are the Message

I first heard this quote many years ago from the sponsor of Father Leo, a priest who was also a recovering alcoholic. It was part of a 12-Step program for teens that I was participating in as part of my family member’s recovery program. It was a powerful statement for me then. It still is. Why? Let’s explore why.

Post college I knew, or thought I knew, that part of establishing my credibility was to share with you what I knew. Put another way, I was driven more by what I said than what I did. It wasn’t that I didn’t think what I did was important. It just that what I said carried more weight, or so I thought. It was many years until I began to understand the need to modify that notion.

In my late 30’s I read a book called The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. In the book the first agreement was, “be impeccable with your word.” The intention with Impeccability was that your word (what you said) matched what you did. That made a great deal of sense to me. As I reflected on that I realized that what I said and what I did weren’t always in alignment. Ugh! That gap created an awareness that those gaps were also the places where I wasn’t fully trustworthy; and wouldn’t be until I closed that gap. Ugh!

Fortunately, I worked with someone at the time who was impeccable with their word. I observed and noted that she really didn’t care about the outcome, she was in the business of telling the truth. She lived by her statements of truth. She “walked the talk.” As I observed her, and observed me, and a lot of people, I noted that most people’s words did not fully align with their actions. It was the beginning of being more intentional about what I said and what I committed to, working toward better alignment between words and actions.

I realized that this was and would be extremely challenging work – especially when I realized that the work of speaking the truth did not involve me shaping the truth to paint a more favorable picture of me. And then I was listening to Father Leo and the statement from his sponsor – “Leo, you don’t have a message, you are the message.” Jim, you don’t have a message, you are the message. Long pause. I mean LONG pause. Jim, think about it. The impact of your father, of your mother, of significant people in your life. What was that about? It was about their actions. Ding! Ding! Ding! When I think about my 20’s, 30’s, a portion of my 40’s, a smaller portion of my 50’s…I recognize that my words were a way to put forth who I thought I wanted to be, or who I wanted people to think I was. The journey slowly became about becoming who I wanted to be, and less about an impression of who I wanted to be.

It is not an easy journey. And it can be a long journey depending on how long you hold onto being someone other than who you were meant to be. It can also be scary, as you wrestle with the idea of what might happen if you reveal more of your true self and shed more of your imposter. My experience is that I had to become very intentional about aligning my words with my actions. It required a shift in how I thought, and the willingness to adopt a unique way of acting. Over time I also learned that my actions were more powerful than my words. Along the way, an inner peace became a traveling companion as less and less energy was spent out of alignment.

My sense is that it is a journey many, if not most of us have taken. Did we learn that we “were the message?” When you think of your life in that perspective, what does it mean? What does your story tell you about the journey to become you? What would you share with others about that journey? What might you tell your children, your grandchildren?

When I reflect on this part of my story, in many ways it may be the most significant part of my story. It is the story of how I grew to be comfortable in my own skin. It was how I came to understand, and trust, that I was the message…and that was sufficient. And you?

Toward a better you…