The backdrop is the Sahara with the tops of the great pyramids in the distance slightly obscured by the sand and dust-filled sky. The characters are my son Bryan upon a camel named Michael Jackson, my brother Robert upon a second named Oscar, and me upon the third named Casanova. The journey is a desert trek to the great pyramids of Giza.
The lesson: Embrace moments in the unknown.
I had feared the moment and now suffer from hesitation remorse.
When you caravan across the Sahara the camels are necessarily tied to each other, each one with a rope firmly affixed to the saddle of the camel ahead (think of all those Christmas cards with the three wise men silhouetted at the top of a sand dune). This keeps these magnificent (albeit ugly) beasts in line as they have learned in their domestication that they cannot break free.
Toward the end of our journey, we were situated on the crest of a dune with a great view of Giza. I asked the guide, using hand signals and broken English, if he would take a picture of the three of us, shoulder to shoulder, on our camels. “Yes, yes!” came the reply and he quickly began to untie each of our camels from the other. With a switch in hand, he smacked, yelled, and aligned all three camels so that he could step back and frame the scene. It was a beautiful picture, a Facebook favorite. [ See Photo Here ]
Having taken a couple of frames, the guide stepped forward and began to tie Michael Jackson to the saddle of Oscar. Much to my surprise, Casanova (my camel), noticing the guide had turned his back, realized that if he would ever be free from the switch of his taskmaster, that was the moment! In what became a futile attempt at freedom, he bolted!
With a voice that surprised me, sounding not unlike my morning voice, I pathetically whimpered, “Uh…” and quickly realized that I would need to do better than that. I ratcheted it up a notch with a nervous, “I’m leaving, Hello…” When that didn’t work I cried out with conviction, “Hello!” Finally, the guide came running at us, switch in hand, screaming words of Arabic in what sounded like a Jihad moment of anger and subdued Casanova with a few good smacks of the switch and a tug or two of the rope. After a bit of commotion and a few deep breaths, I found myself once again leading the caravan as both Oscar and Michael were tied behind Casanova and the journey to the pyramids played itself out in all its splendor.
Looking back at that moment, I ask myself why I did not immediately cry, “Help!”
After much thought, I have become convinced that some deep inner desire, which I refused to let surface, yearned for the adventure that the circumstance had presented. However, that deep longing for adventure was subdued by my fear.
In fact, I now wish that I had shut my mouth, overcome the fear, and held on tight for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can see myself bolting across the Sahara, bouncing like a golf ball in a blender on the back of that camel! Our guide would have found me… Eventually! However, on second thought, a camel can go ten days without water! Not good.
I had let my anxiety ruin an unbelievable life experience. I am not saying that the experience–to that point–had not been glorious, it had been. However, what fun it would have been galloping across the Sahara on the back of a camel running for his freedom from a tyrannical taskmaster. I had missed a life moment. One that others would have talked about for a lifetime.
I am typing this later in life and I realize that leadership is very much like that day. Every once in a while, you are going to have the privilege of just holding on. There will be moments that at first seem out of your control, but as you tighten your grip, learn to steer, you will find that you possess the ability to navigate a grand adventure. Let it happen! Be pensive, resolved and keep your wits but do not forget to enjoy the ride. Today, I tell my own leaders that vision is good, but achieving the vision is not where the excitement is. The excitement is in the progressive, sometimes out of control journey of getting there. This admonition reminds me of a bumper sticker that I recently saw on the back of a souped-up, red, 1965 mustang. It read; “Get in, buckle up, hold on, and enjoy the ride!”
As leaders, if we learn to enter the territory of apprehension, unfamiliarity, and fear, it may just lead to our break-out moment. If it does, we will be remembered for that ride into the unknown. However, if we back out when faced with that fear, we will continue in the status quo and that break-out moment will be lost forever.
I will never be able to recreate that moment on the back of Casanova. It is, regrettably, gone forever.