It never ceases to surprise me: the world is full of dreamers willing to pay anything to those who promise they can make our dreams come true. A great example of this is the best-selling book The Secret.
The book promises that “Everything is possible, nothing is impossible. There are no limits. Whatever you can dream of can be yours, when you use The Secret.” and “Ask. Believe. Receive.” Well, sorry to break it to you folks, this is not the way the secret works! Rather, it’s the other way around. And getting it right is the difference between being a dreamer and a leader.
The main idea behind the book is the law of attraction. We attract people and events in our lives that respond to what we carry inside ourselves. There’s no mystery here. This pearl of wisdom is included in most spiritual lines of thought, and depicted on ancient cave walls, traditional pots and paintings the world over. The inference that we can control or choose what we attract, however, has turned out to be a very profitable distortion of the original law.
I wonder if money and fame were what the author was unconsciously trying to attract when she “Asked. Believed. Received.” Or more likely, whether the excessive attention that comes with money and fame was the secret her heart truly desired. The genuine secret is that our life experience is a mirror of what we don’t want to know about ourselves. Life does not give us what we choose or ask for. Many of us would be incredibly good-looking millionaires if asking and believing were enough.
Nope, life gives us what we need in order to help us face hard facts about ourselves. About our family history, our unconscious feelings and our hidden desires. Life’s learning is not in getting what we want. It’s in getting precisely what we don’t want. Get it? If we go back to Freud’s terminology, the secret would be the gap between the “super-ego” and the “id”. The super-ego is the perfect image we formulate about ourselves. It’s the best possible version of ourselves we try to fulfill.
The id, on the contrary, is the hidden, wild animal within us. It’s the part of us we try to control and discipline into civilized behavior. It’s the sum of our unexpressed frustrations, trapped desires and unspeakable whims. Freud concluded that our behavior, or as he called it, our “ego”, was the result of our lifelong battle between these two extremes. Repression was the name of the game. Pleasure was guilty. And very, very secret! Back to the bestseller fantasies of our internet era.
Byrne’s book promises we can magically materialize our super-ego’s intolerant requirements if we try very, very hard to believe them…. if we quash all our inner fears of impossibility. Reality, however, guarantees just as many problems, sabotages and traps to help us acknowledge and express the deeper truth of our own panic in order to release it. I frequently laugh at how it took me two full years of failure in a saddle to recognize and release my own fear of riding (and anything else that moved before I gave an instruction!). The secret, in fact, is on us: all we need to experience effortless abundance is to fall in love with the wild emotions and impulses within us. Without judgment or intolerant ideals. Rather than repress and deny what we feel deep inside, reality pushes us to let it all out for once and for all. That is the end of subjugation, control and wishful perfection.
Because utopian dreams become irrelevant when you’ve come to embrace the person you really are. Repression and strict discipline are no longer needed when you let go of your own cruel judge. In leadership terms, the secret is the gap between the idealized fantasies of success, the super-performance we try to live up to every day and the deep, hurtful realities about our jobs we try to leave behind. Unsuccessfully. As long as we strive for the pretty future in order to hide from the ugly present, the law of attraction keeps us trapped in endless repetition. We find ourselves reliving the same patterns over and over and over: same conflicts with the boss, similar predicaments around finance, familiar issues in our teams.
Let’s look at Steve, an international activist, for example. He has founded many projects and NGOs to fight against the ugliness of our world: plastic pollution, animal cruelty, political corruption and other images that mirror humanity’s lower imperfections. Steve describes the sublime, super-ego definition of what he does: He passionately believes that his activism is like a nurturing mother caring for her baby: endless patience, a loving response to all desires, and gradual guidance towards the right direction. Steve likes to think of himself as someone who changes the world with the power of nurturing love and irresistible charm.
Zero violence whatsoever. Steve’s reality, however, is quite the opposite. He bans any caterer who packs food with plastic. He will not do business with companies that rely on animals in captivity, and he writes many abrasive articles against politicians he suspects of corruption. While such behaviors are apparently consistent with his business goals, his ban on plastic actually cripples many families’ current income models in several third world countries.
His refusal to work with attraction parks using animals does little to change the way such parks think or operate. Quite on the contrary, many of them go out of their way to contradict him with defensive ad campaigns. And his insulting articles have won him a pretty acid reputation among colleagues and peers. Steve’s demeanor and language are quite aggressive in general. His eyes have a steely-hard shine to them, and his voice cuts off harshly at the end of each sentence.
Steve wants to be nurturing and tender like a mother. But icy violence is contained in his words and actions. Which of course brings him no shortage of entrepreneurial explosions, exhausting battles in court, and distasteful public attacks at events. The world brings Steve exactly what he needs to unveil the secret of his own personality: he is not the loving mother he would like to become. He behaves much more like the violent father he tries to forget.
Life, and its fundamental law of attraction will continue to bring conflict, attack and hardship on Steve until he comes to terms with his past reality. So if he asks you for your investment, well, what do you want me to say? Simply be aware that if you strongly feel like you should give him your money after reading all this, it’s because your secret means you need to lose some money in order to uncover something valuable about yourself! ;-)!
The secret to your leadership is right in front of you. Just look at what life offers you here and now, and stop dreaming of something else. This is who you are. The day you fall in love with this, here and now, is the day you’ll be ready to lead others. Your secret will be unveiled.