I remember the day vividly. On my third day in London, Steve took me to get a coffee at Costa Coffee, a well-known coffeehouse chain in the small town of Hedsor, west of Heathrow Airport about twenty-five minutes. We found a table outside, and I enjoyed a latte while Steve downed a stereotypical British tea. Getting to the coffee shop required a brisk walk of several miles to get to town from Hedsor Priory, where Steve’s family lived in a beautiful, historic, fourteen-bedroom house that looked out over the English countryside. Being there was like living in a Hollywood story.
We sat sipping coffee and tea, and I was feeling pretty good about the progress I’d made, when Steve dropped a bomb: “Brad, we’re killing this person you’ve known. Today, ‘Catalyst Brad’ is going away.’”
I almost choked. The brazen suggestion frightened and even angered me. How can I destroy the person I’ve been for ten years? And who does he think he is to even make such a recommendation? Like every good coach, he gave me silence and space to process, and I soon recognized he was right. The words started to sink in.
It’s not a stretch to say that “killing Catalyst Brad” was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever done. So far, we had worked on my personal leadership ability and forcing me to rest. That wasn’t hard. But this was painful. It meant a chapter of my life was done . . . over . . . finis . . . kaput. I was having to force myself to move on, to give up the false identity I’d crafted.
“Catalyst Brad” was barely “Brad” at all. I had stopped cultivating a habit of self-discovery, and it was time to begin again. My anger died down and I rested in knowing how necessary the task was. The facade I had created needed to die so I could locate the person beneath and help him live.
On the flight home, I recommitted myself to being “Brad.” No adjectives, no caveats, no prefixes or suffixes. Just “Brad.” Pure and simple. Not about what I’m doing, but who I am and who I’m becoming. I repeated this refrain multiple times in the months following this trip: “Who you are is not what you do. What you do is not who you are. Identity is unchanging. Being comes before doing. WHO you are determines WHAT you do.”
Decades ago, American poet Reynolds Price contracted a rare form of cancer that rendered his legs useless. When you cannot use your legs, everything changes. You can’t just run to the mailbox anymore. Using the bathroom suddenly becomes a burden. When you decide to get off the couch and grab a swig of water, it requires serious effort. But the aspect of the experience that jarred Price the most was the resistance of his friends.
“When we undergo huge traumas in middle life,” Price said, “everybody is in league with us to deny that the old life is ended. Everybody is trying to patch us up and get us back to who we were, when in fact what we need to be told is, ‘You’re dead. Who are you going to be tomorrow?’”
I needed to return to my true identity and what is core about me, finding joy once again in the journey. Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I embraced the fact that the person I had created was dead. Now I needed to realize who I was going to be tomorrow and the next day and the next. Developing habits to help one do this is difficult, but they are some of the most foundational in any leader’s life.
More on leadership identity and other essential leadership habits in H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle, which released this week.
Brad Lomenick is a renowned speaker, sought-after leadership consultant, and leader for 10 years of Catalyst, one of the largest gatherings of young Christian leaders in the nation. He is the author of The Catalyst Leader, and H3 Leadership. More at bradlomenick.com.