There’s not much wilderness in my suburban Philadelphia landscape. Sure, I can gaze at preserved open space out my front window. Yes, I still drive past some farm land on my way to work. None of that scenery comes close to matching the harsh images of wilderness.
Our American culture values individualism. We celebrate independence and self-sufficiency. Leaders fall prey to this thinking. We convince ourselves that needing others is a sign of weakness. Showing vulnerability is frowned upon. Might these represent our version of wilderness?
A Wilderness Experience
The Biblical story of Israel’s journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is detailed in the book of Exodus. It’s an epic tale involving thousands of people and countless animals. It took 40 years to make the trek. An entire generation died before reaching their destination.
Moses was the appointed guide for this massive undertaking. While he had plenty of education and experience that qualified him for the assignment, he was a reluctant and imperfect leader. Like many leaders today, he was plagued by self-doubt and sometimes impulsive behaviors. He lacked effective communication skills. Yet, he led the people in the wilderness.
Wilderness can be a place of restoration and opportunity.
In the desert, Moses needed to rely on his God and others for direction and support. He couldn’t always fix the problems that emerged. His leadership was tested by ambiguity, lack of resources, and frequent complaints by those who followed him.
How I Experience Wilderness
Unlike Moses, I’m not literally in a wilderness or leading a large group of followers. That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with some of the same issues he faced. Here are some of my wilderness challenges.
- Loneliness. Like many leaders, I sometimes feel alone. Maybe not physically, but certainly emotionally. How should I proceed when the way isn’t clear? Who can I count on when I’m facing a crisis? What can I do to maintain a healthy perspective?
- Fear. Leaders don’t like to admit we are afraid. Yet, fear can trigger our worst responses. When we are afraid, we can become defensive, controlling, and angry. It’s hard to be vulnerable and admit mistakes. What will others think? How will they react? Fear can paralyze and demoralize.
- Self-doubt. This is one of my biggest wilderness challenges. When a prospect rejects a proposal it’s hard not to take it personally. If a client project fails to deliver everything that I expected it’s easy to blame myself. Even something as simple as honest feedback can be interpreted as a failure.
Surviving the Wilderness
Experienced outdoor guides know the importance of preparation, knowledge, and experience. They understand that things will likely go wrong. Yet, they proceed in spite of potential setbacks.
I’m still learning how to navigate my wilderness experiences. Here’s what I have learned. Don’t become isolated. Admit your fears. Ask for help. Accept feedback gracefully. Learn from failures. Trust in God’s provisions and promises.
How do you experience the wilderness? What coping lessons have you learned?
Photo Credit: istockphoto.com