“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” –from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson.
Glad to be alive, Divya Dhar stared at her nearly totaled car in the middle of nowhere New Zealand, and realized exactly how dependent she was on her car for freedom. Further, she began to see how often in life we are dependent on others: society and frequently those closest to us. This dependency limits our freedom and stifles the achievement of our dreams. Sometimes, what we need most is to learn to listen to ourselves, and then we can truly be free to achieve our dreams.
All great leaders exhibit the ability to listen to themselves, despite what others may say. In doing so, they discover an appetite for risk, clarity of mind, and courage to act in those key decisive moments. These moments are when you face the decision on whether to follow the path towards achieving your dreams. As Divya emphasized, we have to prepare to be able to make that decision, it won’t just happen. In preparing to do so, most of us encounter three constraints to truly being free: society, community, and our own self.
Society, represented by popular opinion, authority, or often friends and family, will often tell us what the “right” thing to do is. However, sometimes the greatest leaders, like Divya’s hero Mahatma Gandhi, inspired others to find freedom through their example of shunning society and its norms when necessary. Such leaders inspire us to be creative, to let ourselves be free, and to give courage and hope to others.
In her illustration of community as a constraint to one’s freedom, Divya described a situation she faced in New Zealand when attempting to build support for a student-led research conference and exchange of ideas in health care. Divya saw an opportunity to present student-led research in her undergraduate program to the broader health care community. At first, the so-called experts told her it was unrealistic to expect a few months’ worth of undergraduate research to be able to compete with the work of graduate and doctoral level research. However, after appealing to them in their own language, asking them to experiment and test their hypothesis, the very same group actually chose an undergraduate project as the winning submission. She learned that when we are clear on our own vision, no matter what experts may say, we can create great opportunity for positive change.
Finally, we can be our own greatest obstacle to truly being free. For many of us, probably when we are very young, we formed our first recognizable opinion. That opinion, often formed as a result of hurt, can stay with us for the rest of our lives and can be either empowering or debilitating. For Divya, it was the awareness that in her culture, girls were not valued as highly as boys. Angry and motivated to show that she was good enough, she rejected female-centric work and was inspired to prove, through her achievements, that she could do anything. As she grew older, and through consistent, conscious self-reflection, she decided that she did not want anger to be the motivating force behind her work. Instead, she chose creation as her source of inspiration. She entered into the business world to lead among the growing ranks of female CEOs and learned to see business opportunities as chances to create, unconstrained by the limits of society, her community, or even her own beliefs.
Listening to ourselves ultimately leads to the realization that some actions are simply objectively the right thing to do. Practicing this art, we can take ourselves out of the equation and determine what’s really important. We may not end up in power, or be recognized with statues, or achieve great wealth, but someone will get an education, someone will get clean water, and someone will get belief in their self.
Divya’s Peer Perspectives on Leadership video can be found on SPIKE’s Media page under the category, “Perspectives on Leadership.” Wharton Peer Perspectives on Leadership is an innovative attempt to explore the unique leadership experiences of the Wharton MBA student body. This forum is part leadership lecture and part roundtable discussion. It is designed to challenge MBA candidates to think about leadership from new perspectives, while celebrating the experiences of fellow students.
For more information on the Perspectives on Leadership student speaker series or to nominate a student to speak please e-mail Lindsay Schroll: firstname.lastname@example.org