Do you ever have moments in your life when you wish that you could tune into The Force, use your telepathic powers and call Yoda for advice? I do.
We talk a lot about the importance of business experts or professional mentors in the context of career development. But when you want to do something really bodacious, like start a non-profit organization or open a business or write a great novel or radically change your life, you need to think bigger. You need a High Council of Jedi Knights.
This wise council is made up of people that you really respect and admire and see as symbols of who you want to be when you grow up. They don’t have to be powerhouses or stars, or old in age, they just need to be highly evolved people in business and in life. I see this group in addition to your immediate family, who obviously also plays a huge role in supporting and encouraging you.
How do you identify your own High Council?
- Notice the kind of people in the world that get you really excited. Are they authors, musicians, doctors, computer programmers, spiritual figures? Scan through your bookshelf and determine your favorite books. Examine the blogs that are at the top of your RSS reader. Note the kind of people that really interest you when you read about them in the newspaper or watch them on television.
- Pay attention to how you feel when you think about these people. Some smart people have lots of knowledge but make you feel a bit inferior when you read their work or interact with them. The feeling of positive connection reserved for High Council members is what Martha Beck calls “the urge to merge,” where you feel an unexplainable desire to be in their presence. Yes, at times it is fan boy or fan girl behavior, but very powerful nonetheless. If you really pay attention, you will notice that you have very strong positive physical feelings when you imagine these people, like openness in your chest, easy, relaxed breathing and the feeling that your brain is tingling, as if your neurons were jumping around doing the happy dance.
- Ask: Do they use their superpowers for good? This is a favorite expression of my dear friend Marilyn Scott-Waters, who creates f*ree paper toys on her website thetoymaker
(over 3 million downloads and counting!). Someone can be brilliant,
charismatic and accomplished, but how are they using their life? In
Star Wars terms, do they lean towards The Force or The Dark Side? Are they involved in activities that solve problems, heal wounds, increase happiness and bring people together?
- Imagine that you are in a critical stage of your bodacious goal and you feel really awful. You want to cry and give up. Who would immediately make you feel better? Who has faced a similar challenge and moved through it with success? Who would be gentle and loving while at the same time push you very hard to live up to your highest potential?
Here are some people on my Council:
Seth Godin: I love the way Seth thinks and how he produces such a consistent flow of high-quality work. He is down-to-earth and very true to his beliefs. As a marketing expert, he practices what he preaches and has a series of healthy businesses as a result. While he doesn’t write extensively about his family, it is clear that he is proud of and devoted to his wife and kids.
Isabelle Allende: She is one of my favorite authors and her novels carry me away into a wonderful world (favorite: The House of the Spirits). She is an amazing storyteller, and very connected with intuition and spirituality. She is an activist for human rights, and does not shy away from serious world issues.
Martha Beck: Martha is fiercely interested in the world around her and has a gift for translating complex concepts into useful tools. I adore her sense of humor, and appreciate that she is fiercely committed to being truthful, even if it generates enormous criticism.
Oprah: Despite all of her fame and fortune, I never forget that Oprah created her empire from humble roots. While she might not have time to sit on my Council, I reserve her an honorary chair.
Steve Darden: Steve is a dear family friend and medicine man. He is the kind of person who emanates love in everything he does, but is a warrior for truth and justice. He is an accomplished artist, passionate family man, and tireless advocate for sharing the traditional Native American way of life.
Guy Kawasaki: I like the playfulness and generosity of spirit that Guy demonstrates in his work, and the way that he actively promotes and develops young entrepreneurs. He takes risks and stands up to criticism with humor and strength. He is a devoted family man and not embarrassed to gush about his wife (what I consider a great quality in a man).
Nancy Duarte: Nancy is the CEO of Duarte , an innovative communication design firm with decades of excellence in its field. Nancy is the presentation coach for TED presenters, and the author of two amazing books, Slideology and Resonate. But beyond her professional accomplishments, she is funny, kind, open and supportive of others. She is the kind of leader that I want to emulate.
Desireé Adaway: My best friend, and one of the smartest people I know. She is an amazing Mom, manager and thinker. She currently is taking on the small task of revamping Habitat for Humanity’s volunteer system. She is the kind of person who always has something wise and uplifting to say, no matter the situation. And she always tells the truth, even if it stings.
Creating this list is certainly an exercise in positive visualization. If you imagine a circle of highly accomplished, creative, productive people who have designed lives that you admire, you will feel increased motivation to move forward with your plans. Unlike fictional characters like Yoda, these are real, live human beings who faced the same fear and doubt as you, but moved forward anyway.
The exercise can also be something more: you may actually find that by identifying the best in your field, you meet them in real life. When I read Martha Beck’s book seven years ago, I never dreamed that I would actually work with her. But because I connected so strongly with her ideas, our paths eventually crossed. Guy Kawasaki started out as a blogging hero, and has since become a friend. You may be very surprised to find that those people who seem out of reach are actually very open to connecting with you.
Once you create your list, use it in times of stress. Sit down somewhere comfortable, close your eyes, and imagine yourself as a young Luke Skywaker (correction thanks to Joe: it was Anakin who visited the council, not Luke!) stepping into the quiet circular room of the High Council of Jedi Knights. As you look at the faces of your wise mentors, don’t you feel better? Doesn’t it make your task of writing a book or starting a business or losing 50 pounds a bit more like a spiritual quest?
Try the exercise and let me know how it works. Who is on your High Council?