We don’t fear the unknown, we fear separation.
Dr. Jerry B. Harvey
Affirmers are driven by establishing and maintaining warm, harmonious relationships. They are always there to listen to our problems, to empathize with our challenging situations (even if we created them) and to lend a helping hand. In many ways, Affirmers make work, and life, worth showing up for. However, under stress when they sense conflict or a relationship “break,” their “Fear of Rejection Leadership Shadow” is activated and they become overly accommodating, indecisive and conflict avoidant. Tragically, as Viktor Frankl points out in “Man’s Search for Meaning,” that often leads to “paradoxical intent,” which is experiencing the very thing we are trying to avoid. Said another way, Affirmers often meet their destiny – separation from others – on the very road (e.g., being overly accommodating, always saying “yes,” etc.) that they took to avoid it. The purpose of this blog is to examine the notion of connection, especially connection to purpose, as a powerful antidote to the “Fear of Rejection Leadership Shadow.”
Connection: Internal vs. External
The late Dr. Jerry B. Harvey, famed author of “The Abilene Paradox,” spent many years investigating how the fear of rejection (he also referred to it as fear of separation) impacts our lives. For Dr. Harvey this was serious business, as this fear represents primal, existential questions that we all face: Am I going to die alone? Who will take care of me if I get sick? What will my legacy be? From examining the dynamics of couples who aren’t in love but decide to get married anyway, to work teams “getting on the road to Abilene,” he carefully explored how our fear of being separated or rejected by others leads to dysfunction, and often rejection, in our decision-making and behavior. By cultivating a sense of connection to our purpose, we can remedy this fear.
Too often we think of connection as having an external-only dynamic: our connection to family, friends and community. In this instance, however, I am referring to an internal connection – a connection to purpose. Individuals who are willing to invest the time and energy into discovering their authentic purpose or “noble goal” become much less concerned about the approval of others. When you find and connect to your purpose in life, winning the approval of others becomes a secondary concern, if one at all.
The Role of Solitude in Connection
Ironically, spending time alone in quiet reflection and contemplation is the most effective way to discover your purpose. Affirmers often give all of their time and energy to others. And while that is an admirable quality, it is ultimately unsustainable. Too often Affirmers sacrifice their true needs, wants and values by trying to please others. Deciding to spend a weekend alone in order to take stock or to reflect on purpose cultivates a powerful sense of connection and confidence for achieving your highest potential.
Cultivating a Sense of Connection
If you are an Affirmer you have so many qualities to celebrate: loyalty, humility, empathy and an intuitive sense that allows you to notice and appreciate the many nuances of human experience often missed by Achievers and Asserters. However, if you allow your “Fear of Rejection Leadership Shadow” to manage you, you will likely never reach your highest potential and purpose because you will have relegated that desire to “someday” in the future, after you’ve taken care of everyone else. Here are some tips for cultivating the antidote for the “Fear of Rejection Leadership Shadow,” connection:
- Confront Your Shadow – As with so much in life and leadership, development starts with the profound awareness that comes from confronting your Shadow. Cultivating a deep and authentic sense of connection to your purpose must start with your willingness to acknowledge that your Fear of Rejection is currently preventing that from happening.
- Examine Your Negative Thoughts and Fears – Our thoughts are always with us, always “on.” We often think worst-case scenario and catastrophize every possible outcome. Pay attention to your negative thoughts, and the world they have created for you. Have the courage to test those thoughts, and see how realistic they are. Irrational thinking can only lead to irrational behavior.
- Step into Solitude – One of the greatest challenges for Affirmers is to spend time alone. So much of this style is driven out of a need for others: connection to, and approval from, those in your life. In fact, oftentimes the thought of spending an evening or weekend alone seems selfish and can stir up feelings of guilt. Do not let that happen. Time in solitude is absolutely essential to renew, reflect, and most importantly, connect to purpose.
- Practice Saying “No” – If you are going to achieve your highest potential, you need to create a “To-Don’t List.” We all have so many demands on our time, and Affirmers often feel guilty when saying “no.” However, it’s critical that we create space for us to follow our passion and purpose, and that means we will have to turn down many requests for our time and energy. Harvard business professor and strategy guru Michael Porter’s insight on what makes companies great applies to individuals too: “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Same goes for purpose.
- Take Action – Affirmers need to make an intentional and focused effort to try new behaviors (e.g., saying “no,” etc.) in order to translate intellectual and emotional insights into a new way of being. Sometimes Affirmers suffer from “analysis paralysis,” meaning that we spend too much time in our own heads. Create the time and space to reflect, but make sure you are taking action to actualize your potential and connect to your purpose.
It’s often been said that we come into this world alone, and we leave it alone. What would be possible if you reminded yourself that it’s okay to live in it alone sometimes too, because that’s the only place where you can discover your potential and connect to your purpose?