I am a voracious consumer of content, year after year: 50+ books, 12 Harvard Business Reviews, lots of HBR Articles, a dozen “non-fiction” podcast subscriptions, 20+ speakers/workshops, and…and…and. A few years ago, one of my mentors posed the simple question of “why?” that has remained unanswered all this time. 


Don’t get me wrong, I was able to give him a perfectly suitable answer of “I want to learn from the mistakes and failures of others, because I will run out of time and money before I screw everything up myself” but it felt hollow, incomplete. That question has been gnawing at me for years…but I’m pretty sure I found my answer…in a movie theatre…watching Frozen 2 with my family. I know, right?


Like all perceived “eureka” moments, with some introspection, I can trace its roots back and through several experiences I’ve had in the last several months. Experiences challenging my preconceived notions, my mindset, my self-limiting beliefs.


But leave it to Elsa to capture the essence of this struggle for leaders with two powerful ballads.


In the movie (spoiler alerts below: but you will find this shocking, happily-ever-after ensues), Elsa is compelled by a secret siren to go “Into the Unknown” and explore what she hears and feels, that nobody else seems to notice…which ends up opening up a world of problems disrupting the lives of everyone around her (I doubt this sounds familiar, because it’s not like any of us have ever created any collateral damage chasing a vision only we can see or anything like that).


Determined to seek her truth, Elsa sets out on a seemingly impossible journey demanding the full expression of all her experiences, powers, and network of hard fought allies. On the precipice of coming face-to-face to the answer, to which she wasn’t entirely sure the question, Elsa emphatically implores the secret in the shadows to “Show Yourself” as she explores deeper and deeper. Until she finally discovers what she has been seeking her whole life…in an emotional crescendo of lyrics, music, and visuals with such power it gave me goosebumps and maybe, just maybe, a little extra lubrication provided by my tear ducts to make sure there were not irritants or foreign objects in my eyes.


What did Elsa find? After a lifetime of searching for answers “out there”, she finally understands what she seeks was inside of her the whole time:


“I am found. Show yourself. Step into the power. Throw yourself into something new. You are the one you’ve been waiting for.”


The trials and tribulations. The successes. The failures. The pain and suffering. The joy and fulfillment. All a wonderfully terrible part of the journey. The path of self-discovery, of the full expression of the gifts and opportunities, the setbacks and disadvantages, all to find the special something we all have inside of us.


After I walked out of the movie, and back to the craziness of life with two young kids and a few companies to run, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew something had shifted inside of me. For the last month, it’s been floating around in my head, and more recently it’s hanging around the “Why do I consume so much content?” thought, which I found pretty curious…until they snapped together into one.


My whole life I have been looking “out there” for the puzzle pieces of success. I know full well there isn’t one secret or one answer, but if I look/study/work hard enough, I will undoubtedly find the ingredients and recipe to achieve this elusive state. 


My whole life I have been seeking permission to be successful. 


None of this was really occurring at the conscious level. No, if it was there, I would be able to explore and dissect it. No, it was operating in the background, subconsciously, baked into my operating software as an unintentional bias that was only unlocked with a combination of events, with Elsa being the last click of the tumbler freeing it up.


My whole life I have been seeking permission to be successful.


Success for me has never been about the money. I grew up on a farm, so never really had any, and whatever money I’ve made over the years has almost all been pushed back into the middle of the table with ever increasing bets on my team and abilities.


Success for me has never really been about the adulation either. Does recognition make me feel good? Absolutely. But I find that glow wears off about as quickly as the buzz from a glass of wine, leaving nothing but a low-grade headache.


My whole life I have been seeking permission from myself to be successful.


To believe…to know…that I’m good with where I am, wherever that may be…that I don’t have to prove anything to myself, or as Elsa perfectly captured:


“I am found. Show yourself. Step into the power. Throw yourself into something new. You are the one you’ve been waiting for.”


I never could have imagined the amount of mental and emotional energy freeing myself of those shackles would unleash, and how liberating it would feel to finally give myself permission to feel successful. To be successful.


What questions can you not seem to fully shake?

What answers do you seek from others that you can only find in a mirror?

What would it take for you to make the space needed to reflect on these sorts of questions?


I can promise you that for me, this time has a higher ROI than anything else I do. My company (or my family) will never outgrow the mental limitations of success or happiness I place on myself.


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