In Australia every year on November 11 we celebrate Remembrance Day. It marked the end of hostilities on the Western Front in World War I and now serves as a day to honour all who have gone into battle. Across the country thousands of people gather to pay tribute, remember, honour.
Delusions of intelligence
In my late teens and early twenties I often declared ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day did nothing more than glorify war. I had aspirations of being revolutionary and counter-cultural so I drank coffee, smoked cigarettes and had (what at the time I thought were) intellectual discussions about the ‘pointlessness of it all’.
I was right to have my discussions over coffee. I was, however, wrong about my perception of ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day. Wrong to dismiss the contribution of past and present service men and women. Wrong to assume I knew anything about war.
(I was also wrong about what being revolutionary and counter-cultural actually meant, having based my opinions on movies, adolescent imaginings, and a brief liaison with a passionately anti-government/anti-establishment/anti-everything university student).
The beginning of wisdom
Both my grandfathers served in New Guinea during World War II. They believed they were fighting ‘for King and Country’, and for their families. They were confronted with difficulties and situations I will (hopefully) never face, and they believed they were fulfilling a purpose.
My brother walked the Kokoda Trail in 2011. Our paternal grandfather’s poetry written during the war, and my brother’s journal of his own experience, record the legacy of serving others and commitment to a mission which our grandfathers gave us.
Passion and purpose
Being part of a cause bigger than ourselves is what connects us as strangers, drives us to overcome our differences, and enables us to achieve things for an elusive but worthwhile Greater Good.
When we’re not involved in a purpose we are passionate about, we run the risk of being disengaged, disillusioned and dysfunctional.
In my early twenties, I was merely passionate about being passionate. I hadn’t connected passion with purpose. In addition to being bored, I judged those who had gone before me personally and professionally. I was critical of their choices. I didn’t try to understand their strategies, the scars they carried or their reasons for engaging in battles.
I drank instant coffee, pontificated a lot, and did just enough to glide by.
I was 28 when I had 6 hand-smacking-forehead-I-can’t-believe-I-didn’t-know-this-already moments.
These moments made me realise how much I’d wanted a purpose like that of my grandfathers…not that I wanted to fight in a real war, but I wanted to believe in something enough to fight for it.
Here’s what I realised:
- People matter. This was my game-changer;
- Having a purpose beyond ‘me’ is important;
- Passion without connection to purpose is pointless (apologies for the alliteration);
- Sometimes strategic battles are required;
- Leading well requires a willingness to put aside ego;
- I don’t know everything and I’m not always right.
Those head-smacking moments - while not history-making or world-changing - changed me. They made me a better person and a better leader.
Incidentally, the other Very Important Revelation I had was that drinking instant coffee is never an acceptable option.
That changed my life too.