I got a little bit lost driving home from a holiday a month or so ago (which will be no surprise to most of you). I took several wrong turns before realising that I was absentmindedly following the lorry in front of me – even though I knew the route home. Zoe was sensibly following her sat-nav rather than my car and I felt a little embarrassed as I called to explain that I’d followed a Tesco lorry and gone offtrack. Oops.
I wrote before about how we live in a culture far more obsessed with leading than following, but I’ve since wondered how true that is. I can see that there’s far more emphasis put on leadership than followership and a lot more energy is put into developing people to lead (the number of books, courses, seminars, coaches and conferences is immense), but if you observe human behaviour its not hard to see that we’re actually obsessed with following – whether it’s fashion, music, celebrities, political parties, intellectuals or some other trend, our brains are programmed to jump on the band wagon and follow somebody or something.
I hadn’t really clocked this until recently. Honestly. Maybe its because in my fairly independent life it hadn’t occurred to me that I was still a follower, or maybe I was just naive, but whatever the reason I hadn’t realised just how much the things I so readily invest in were actually leading me and shaping me, I didn’t realise that I had a choice in the matter. I’m being led by people and promises all day long without even knowing it. I’m being led by adverts and a consumer culture that tell me I wont be happy until I buy certain products, I’m being led by the media and the fashion industry which bombard me with images of what I should look like and how I should dress. I’m being led by music, books, films and countless boxsets that slowly influence my understanding of life, I’m being led by my work and its values because I invest so much of myself into it, and I’m being led by the thoughts, words and actions of the people I surround myself with and over time I become more and more like them.
I mean I knew all of this to a certain degree, but I think I thought about the impact some of these things were having on society and our culture more widely rather than the impact they were having on me specifically.
Perhaps I’m over thinking all of this (that would be SO unlike me), but I feel a little like I’ve been hoodwinked into following lots of different stuff and its time I paid a little more attention.
I’m not saying that these things are bad (though some probably are), I’m just saying that I need to be more aware of who and what I’m following so that I can make sensible decisions. So I’ve started being more intentional about who I follow (that makes me sound like I’m a stalker, I’m not). There are a handful of people who are living lives that I want to learn from, or pointing in a direction that I want to go in, people who I resonate with when they start talking about life, and who I know that as I follow I’ll take bigger steps towards being the person I want to be. I’m blessed to have some great friends who lead me through the ups and downs of life and help me navigate the road ahead. There are also a few authors on my list, who tell stories that I want to be a part of and unpack parts of life in a way that helps me better understand my role in it. I know that I can get a little obsessive sometimes – my team could tell you that if I open my mouth to quote an author it’ll probably be Don Miller, or possibly Bob Goff or Shane Claibourne, and there probably isn’t a book of theirs I haven’t read – but I want to soak up the things that bring life, meaning and purpose. (I think I should add 24 and House to the list…because there’s no doubt that I follow them. I still want to be Jack Bauer).
My friend described me as a sponge the other day and I think I’m quite happy with that, so long as I’m paying attention to what I’m soaking up.
Maybe this is just a phase I’m going through and as I learn to lead its become more important to me to know who I’m following, but I hope that its not just that. I hope that I can stop being so easily led by things that don’t build up, restore and encourage us to live better stories, and I hope that I’m always eager to soak up the wisdom of others, follow those who are pointing to a better way of living or being, and slowly move towards that life. I really want to learn to follow well.