It’s Not Your Only Line in the Play
“I had no choice,” actually means, “I had only
one path that was easy in the moment.”
When I give keynote speeches and training on the Art of Self-
Leadership, one of the questions I inevitably get during Q&A or
privately after my talks is “But how can I be a Self-Leader 100% of
Unfortunately (for them), it’s a question I can’t answer because
I don’t know.
The beauty and power of reinvention and shifting from being a
Prisoner to being a Self-Leader is that it is a lens through which you
interpret, explain, and experience your world. It isn’t a preemptive
activity or something you plan for; it is a moment-by-moment
It is a choice; one that gets easier to access the more you choose
it—just like a swear jar that you deposit a dollar into every time
you spout a colorful four-letter word to help you alleviate that
vocabulary from your daily speech (What, you never had one of
those? You f**kin’ missed out!).
The truth is we are always making a choice, at any given moment
with any given situation and with any given person, to react as
Prisoners or to respond as Self-Leaders.
A more realistic question, or at least one that I can answer, is “Do
you choose to respond as a Self-Leader 100% of the time to 100% of
My answer is simple, “Oh hell no!” In fact, if I did, I would have
much less to train and teach others about.
Sometimes I do choose to be a Prisoner, but the difference now
is that I have enough self-awareness to admit it was a choice. I also
acknowledge that though I may have missed the opportunity to
choose Self-Leadership in the moment that just passed, it has no
bearing on me choosing Self-Leadership in this present moment or
the next moment.
Something else I don’t do (as much) anymore when I have a
Prisoner moment is that I don’t beat myself up for having reacted
from a Prisoner state of mind in that moment. If I do, I’m just sinking
deeper into a Prisoner perspective, being a Prisoner of my own
Prisoner-ness— crying over spilt milk and then crying because I’m
crying over spilt milk. That is a downward spiral that can get messy
and very Inception-like really quickly.
Through my own experimentation and quest for mastery of Self-
Leadership (and when I say “mastery,” I mean in the way Michael
Jordan “mastered” his jump shot. It never ended; he never stopped
practicing mastery. He never got to a point where he said, “I think
I have this jump shot thing figured out, coach. From now on just
call me when the game starts.”), I have come to learn that having
a momentary Prisoner reaction can be one of the greatest gifts I
It is in recognizing my Prisoner moments without shame, blame,
or guilt that I am able to see the obvious contrast and clear distinction,
both in how I felt and how I behaved, between that experience and
one where I exercised Self-Leadership.
It is a chance to see that, for example, if the freshly brewed coffee
burned your mouth when you tried to gulp it out of the carafe,
another option is to transfer it to a cup and let it cool down and sip
it instead next time. What better time is there to see that possibility
than when you experienced something that is the opposite of what
you would have liked to experience?
Ignoring the power of those moments and instead defaulting
to the all-or-nothing mentality of a Prisoner is one of the biggest
factors I have seen that derails people’s practice of Self-Leadership.
They will often start off excited to learn and practice this new
awareness and understanding. Then they quickly shift to the worry
of having to make it be the way they will think and act forever!
A single instance of Prisoner thinking or behavior gives them the
evidence they need to prove that they could never reap the benefits
of consistent Self-Leadership—it’s just not “who they are.” That
absolutely asinine assumption only serves to create debilitating
stress and pressure (stressure?) on what can otherwise be a fun
practice. Then, as a natural next step, that heaviness returns them to
Prisoner thinking because the inner chatter goes, “If I can’t do it all
the time, I’m not going to do it at all!”
It’s the same reason we make the New Year’s resolution to go
the gym five days a week for the rest of our lives and as soon as we
miss a day, we give up because, “If I can’t do it all the time, I’m not
going to do it at all!”
Listen, the Prisoner can be a militant, unforgiving, spiteful
schmuck! So for you to have the best chance at staying consistent,
relaxed, and on-purpose with your Self-Leadership practice, I want
to take you through a short exercise.
Imagine for a minute that you were in a play, a live stage
production where you had one small but pivotal line to deliver.
This isn’t some trivial piece of dialog, blowing a horn and
welcoming the king, or screaming, “RUN!” when the monster
appears from stage left. This line is a highly climactic, powerful
phrase that, when well-executed and delivered with confidence
and charisma, will make or break the entire performance. The
reviews, the applause, your entire future all rest on this one string
of otherwise meaningless words.
How do you think you would feel as you emerge from the
shadows, hit your mark, and begin to deliver your linguistic pièce
Did you think of words like relaxed, enthusiastic, effortless,
unattached, and fun? Probably not, but why not?
Because so much rides on this one line!
This is it. No redemption. No do-overs. No experimenting. It’s
all or nothing.
Now suppose instead that you were the lead in the play.
Imagine that you have countless scenes, pages and pages of
dialog, dozens of interactions and, in one particular instance, you
flubbed a word or gesture. Might it sting a little bit? Possibly. But
in the next 30 seconds, you will have another line to deliver—three
shows a night for the next two weeks.
The failure or success of the previous line or previous night’s
performance means nothing when choosing how to deliver this next
line. You can approach each line from a place of Self-Leadership and
genuine love instead of fear because there is no longer a belief of
scarcity or the heavy-handed, all-or-nothing Prisoner mentality to
contend with, struggle against, or overcome.
There’s a reason why doctors and followers of religion call
what they do practice. Because they and anyone who exercises Self-
Leadership are presented with limitless opportunities to learn, test,
play, tweak, and choose their response. It is through that practice
that we develop a deep knowing that we are never defined by any
As you are venturing out to start seeing and living your life as a
Self-Leader more often, see that you don’t just have multiple lines in
the play; you have all of them!
When you really see the truth in this, it is powerful and gives
you the freedom to play with and use life instead of treating each
moment like it is make or break, do or die, all or nothing.
One of my favorite comedians, Demetri Martin, illuminates just
how unlimited our options are to exercise Self-Leadership when
My favorite fruit is grapes. Because with grapes, you always get
another chance. ‘Cause you know, if you have a crappy apple or
a peach, you’re stuck with that crappy piece of fruit. But if you
have a crappy grape, no problem—just move on to the next.