Several years ago, I worked on a writing project with two successful leadership clients. One was an older gentleman in charge of a large organization and the other was fifteen years his junior. They were co-authoring a book and wanted someone to help them bring everything together.
One of the major themes of their manuscript was emotionally healthy leadership. But the relationship these two men had with each other was far from healthy. Almost every time we got on a call, the older gentleman would talk down to the younger man. He'd speak over him, get mad if he was a few minutes late to the conversation, and act as though his opinions didn't matter.
It was bizarre.
Hour after hour I'd listen to these men share about how they wanted to help business leaders develop emotionally healthy relationships with those they led - only to hear these same men argue the entire time they talked!
Not surprisingly, this relationship didn't last long and I'm not sure if they ever finished their book.
Coming away from these conversations, I realized this older author was writing from the perspective of the person he wanted to become rather than the person he was.
He wanted to be an emotionally healthy leader, but this wasn't who he was.
After working with dozens of authors, I've noticed this desire to project a false image is common. I think of the man who wrote a book on having healthy relationships, even as he went through a painful divorce. And then there was the client who wrote about balancing work and family but told me he'd spent years apart from his kids.
Time for a personal example.
Did you notice that picture above of my family at the Golden Gate Bridge? Looks great doesn't it? But here is what you didn't know. No one was in a good mood as I took that picture. And it was my fault.
I was upset about where we'd parked and wanted to just snap a picture and get out. Janan wanted to stay and take in the view (obviously an unreasonable request).
And rather than change my mood, I made everyone frustrated.
Notice this image below. Even though I was upset, I took a moment to collect this timeless snapshot.
And every time I look at this picture, I laugh. Because despite my best efforts to put my best face forward, it's clear my perfect picture and reality didn't align. No smile could make up for how miserable I'd made everyone feel. But this didn't keep me from trying!
Of course, this is a temptation we all face. I've always found it funny how the guy whose finances are upside down always wants to tell others how to live. Or the mom who is always posting "perfect parenting techniques" is the quickest to yell at her kids.
Why do we do this? Simple: We want to project the ideal reality we envision rather than the person we actually are. This is why we post Instagram pictures of our happy marriage, even as it's falling apart. And we talk down to those who struggle with alcohol addiction and then spend all our evenings and weekends at the office.
So how do we change? How do we be the same person behind the camera that we are in front? Here are a few choices you can make.
If you're a new Christian, don't be so eager to share your story that you call others to a higher level than you're living. If you're overcoming an alcohol addiction, try being one year sober before telling others they can do it too. If you're a recovering workaholic, embrace the mundane rhythms of raising your family before talking to others about how balanced you are.
Be the same person on Monday that you are on Sunday. Ask your closest friends to talk to you about ways you live one way in public and another way in private. Strive to demonstrate the same level of character in all situations.
Mark Batterson says, "Success is when those who know you best respect you most." In an age where anyone can have a platform, it's imperative that we never lose sight of those relationships that matter most. When we impress people from afar but act like jerks to those we say we love most, we've lost our way.
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