By Carolyn Campbell, MA, CPPC

As I write this newsletter, I am flying over the Atlantic Ocean, heading back home after two powerful weeks in South Africa. The plane is darkened so everyone can sleep for hours and hours—it’s like flying through a black hole of time. There is an odd stillness. I hear the hum of the plane, people snoring, and the sound of my breath. No longer where I was. And not yet where I will be.

In 1986 I was a Peace Corps volunteer near South Africa at the height of the anti- apartheid movement. It was a powerful time. I hitchhiked to Johannesburg to hear Bishop Tutu speak, marched through townships protesting the killings of teenagers, and saw some of the most potent theater I have ever experienced. I even watched the coronation of the young king of Swaziland. My job: a community development specialist working with village women struggling to get by while their husbands worked in some of the most dreadful jobs in South Africa. I was young and naïve. As I reflect back on it now, I find it extremely presumptuous that Peace Corps would have a 25-year-old kid from America telling women how to develop their lives. (And, I must say, I learned so much that I still use today.)

Now, speed forward almost 30 years.

On this recent trip, I had a first-hand look at how the “community” has developed. My journey took me from the beauty of the Cape Town seaboard to the prisons of Johannesburg, where I joined a colleague who creates “theater of life” with imprisoned women around the world.

As I worked with the women in prison, it reminded me of a belief I’ve held since I was an undergraduate studying education, recreation and criminology. What I learned then and what I still see today is that when we don’t live our purpose and our deepest passion, one of two things happens. We either act out against others or we go inward and become destructive toward ourselves.

In Africa, where the unemployment rate is 46 percent and racism is rampant, opportunities are slim and abuse is beyond comprehension. I listened to the stories of these young women as they shared their fractured lives so openly. For many of them, jail is a safe haven from the brutality of their lives. But they had in common the desire to be loved. To be seen. To value themselves. And for others to have faith in them and push them forward.

As I fly back home, I think about their struggle in comparison to the challenges we face here. Our struggles revolve more around finding the courage to stand for what we believe in. Risking failure. Believing in the value of our work. Connecting with others who seek what we offer.

In this age of transformation, it takes guts to really own your stuff. To know what moves you so that you can be more present with others. To be a leader from the inside, asking questions even when you’re not sure you have the answers. Because, the truth is—no one does.

As I talked to people from all parts of the globe, one song kept running through my head. “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

One evening as I was walking back to my lodging in Johannesburg, I noticed a sign someone had painted on a wizened gnome: “It isn’t the ones who are the smartest who will succeed, but rather those most able to adapt.”

So true! Those who succeed will be the ones committed to their vision and courageous enough to be part of changing the voice of leadership in the 21st century.

Being a leader today doesn’t mean being the president or being the best marketer. It means having a strong conviction for what you offer. It means knowing where you fit in the equation of life and choosing other leaders to partner with. And, most importantly, it means being ready to stand for what you believe in, for those you serve—again and again.

As I return from my two-week journey that took me a lifetime away, here are my questions for you:

  • What do you stand for, without question, in your business?
  • Who is on your “team” to push you forward and remind you of your greatness, even when you are in doubt?
  • How ready are you to be judged, criticized, or even rejected?
  • How aligned is your message style with your personality or the personality of your business?
  • And, finally, is your passion for your work greater than your fear of failure?

Because the guts of glory lie in the willingness to fall in order to fly.

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Carolyn S. Campbell has been working with visionary entrepreneurs and progressive Fortune 500 companies for more than 15 years. A sought-after international speaker and coach for such companies as Umpqua Bank, Regence Life and Health, SBA, and the Arts & Culture Council, Carolyn is the author of Beyond Marketing! How To Create an Unstoppable Following and the forthcoming Beyond Leadership: 21 Secrets to Passion, People & Profit.

If you are ready to build a strong following or lead with impact, Carolyn would love to hear from you.