The Balance of Self-Leadership and Leaning on Others

Self-leadership has become a popular term. Who is more responsible than you for your attitude, actions, and motivation? So much of what I’ve learned and used in my own life has been based on the idea that we have the power to choose our thoughts to create the best outcomes for ourselves and others.

Yet, there can be times when self-leadership is not enough. Or maybe it’s just plain out of reach.

When I was at the World Happiness Summit a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen to one of my amazing past teachers in positive psychology, WBI’ Megan McDonough. She referred to the idea of self-leadership as “selfing.” While acknowledging its power, she also acknowledged that there are times when we’re just trying to endure life and selfing is just too hard.

I think about a friend who lost a son to fentanyl-related poisoning, or a friend who is fighting a deadly form of cancer, or another friend who is extremely frustrated at the state the world and humanity is in. These dark times can make it difficult to find your way through. It can drain our souls of life and energy.

Megan used the term “un-selfing” to emphasize the idea that at times we need to let go of our individual separateness; that sometimes we need outside help. This could be leaning on others or leaning on our spirituality, whatever that looks like for us.

It is easy to withdraw and feel alone in our misery. Instead of turning to friends, family, and/or the divine, we can be lured in by the escape of alcohol, comfort food, addictive shopping, and other unhealthy distractions that provide temporary relief. Or we can spiral downward into negative thinking that blocks our ability to see any of the good in our life.

Megan quoted William James: “We are like islands in the sea—separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”

Are you ready to move from self-leadership towards un-selfing? Are there times in your past when un-selfing was a better choice? Are you aware of someone in your life that needs to un-self? If so, could you offer to help them? 

This post was reprinted with permission from Tina’s website,

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