When we talk about leadership, we typically do not think beyond the world of business, maybe politics, maybe academia, maybe we expand our definition to include people at any level of an organization.
But do we think about writers?
They open new worlds for us through which we can imagine better. For example, J.K. Rawling’s Harvard Commencement Address was an opportunity to reflect on how what we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.
How about actors?
They provide experiences through which we live vicariously, try on new stories, confront our fears and other emotions. The ancient Greeks had a term for this, Aristotle called it catharsis#:
(from Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning “purification” or “cleansing”) is the purification of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration.
In the Commencement Address at the 2014 Graduation of Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, comedian Jim Carrey, along with his artwork, delivered an inspirational talk.
You are the vanguard of knowledge and consciousness; a new wave in a vast ocean of possibilities. On the other side of that door, there is a world starving for new leadership, new ideas. I’ve been out there for 30 years!
Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about your pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.
So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying, I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it — please!
My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive.
I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.
When he was a young man, Carrey he discovered his mission — “to free people from concern.” Part of it is by playing parts to elicit a cathartic effect on the audience. He especially loves “playing ego and insecurity combined.”
When I was about 28, after a decade as a professional comedian, I realized one night in LA that the purpose of my life had always been to free people from concern, like my dad. When I realized this, I dubbed my new devotion, “The Church of Freedom From Concern” — “The Church of FFC”— and I dedicated myself to that ministry.
What’s yours? How will you serve the world? What do they need that your talent can provide? That’s all you have to figure out. As someone who has done what you are about to go do, I can tell you from experience, the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.
That work however had an effect on us. As he describes when he unveils his very large painting, Carrey also uses art for its cathartic effects, to keep sane. “Painting is one of the ways I free myself from concern, a way to stop the world through total mental, spiritual and physical involvement.”
The next part reminds us of the late actor Robin Williams whose comic genius was great because of his great humanity.
My choosing to free people from concern got me to the top of a mountain. Look where I am — look what I get to do! Everywhere I go – and I’m going to get emotional because when I tap into this, it really is extraordinary to me — I did something that makes people present their best selves to me wherever I go. I am at the top of the mountain and the only one I hadn’t freed was myself and that’s when my search for identity deepened. I wondered who I’d be without my fame.
Who would I be if I said things that people didn’t want to hear, or if I defied their expectations of me?
Ultimately we need to understand that “we’re not the avatars we create.” That includes the dreams of fame and material wealth, which are not ends but mere means. We are all actors in our lives, and when we realize that, we are empowered not to identify with the trappings. Because they become shields.
You can join the game, fight the wars, play with form all you want, but to find real peace, you have to let the armor fall. Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory.
Carrey describes living in the moment as a reset button to stay clear of the extreme competitiveness of constantly comparing ourselves to others.
Our eyes are not only viewers, but also projectors that are running a second story over the picture we see in front of us all the time. Fear is writing that script and the working title is, ‘I’ll never be enough.’
This is the voice of your ego. If you listen to it, there will always be someone who seems to be doing better than you. No matter what you gain, ego will not let you rest.
He concludes a humorous and profound talk on a high note about opportunity. We can choose love, or we can choose fear:
Your job is not to figure out how it’s going to happen for you, but to open the door in your head and when the doors open in real life, just walk through it.
Companies love their way when they give in to fear and operate in hope.
“Hope is a beggar,” says Carrey. This is an aphorism, a challenging statement that should prompt for a response. Like “Buy in hope. Trust in fear.” it requires mental preparation to unlock its meaning. We can acquire that preparation to respond rather than react to life by letting the armor of our protective story go and embracing a larger narrative.
To expand opportunity, organizations need to move beyond protecting value into forming strategy, communicating vision, and building the larger narrative that translates power into purpose where culture thrives.
Watch the full video of the talk below.