Thought Leaders

Years ago, I decided to keep a self-improvement book list and try to continuously work my way through it, reading a few chapters a week, one selection at a time. Most recently I’ve finished Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. She’s a terrific writer and motivational speaker. Her journey has forced her to be brave and her catch phrase reflects one of her central messages: We can do hard things. 

Simple and powerful. And she’s right. We can. 

Oprah Winfrey calls Glennon a thought leader. I’ve heard that term more and more over the last few years and I decided to look it up. Google says a thought leader is “one who’s views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential.” 


Wikipedia says, “thought leadership is influencing a narrative by understanding what needs to be done.” 

OK, by those standards I’m a thought leader. Suddenly, this is a big day for me. All I did was go on Wikipedia and now I’ve got this huge news about myself. 

I kept reading. 

Wikipedia goes on to say, “A thought leader can be recognized as an authority in a specific field whose expertise is sought and often rewarded, that can be an expert, a historical figure, or a ‘wise person’ with a worldly impact.” 

So, based on these new criteria, I am, as it turns out, not a thought leader. 


I read on. 

Wikipedia says some people feel the term is “an annoying example of business jargon.” The article goes on to say the term appeared in “Forbes magazine’s 2013 annual ‘tournament’ of ‘corporate America’s most insufferable’ business buzzwords and cliches.” But by publishing editorial opinions on business terms, isn’t Forbes acting as a thought leader? I mean, who cares what they think, right? 

I don’t know what to think.

Oprah’s just about worn me out telling me to “live my best life.” I read my self-help books. I set up and check daily alerts and reminders on my health, my attitude, my social responsibility, my finances, my relationships. Every morning: ready, set, go – except the “ready” part takes half my day. 

A little over a month ago I started “feelin’ poorly” – that’s what I used to hear my very southern relatives call it when somebody was sick. I started feeling poorly, I think, on a Monday – my favorite day to check my lists and be all like “ready, set, go!” I went through my routine that day, all while pushing down a general malaise. A day turned into a week, and I called the doctor. I’m going to live. I’m even going to enjoy continued good health. But I may not be a hundred percent for a few more weeks or so. It’s been about five weeks, so far. 

Over the last month, I continued to try living my best life. I did the whole routine: the lists, the reading, the mental exercises, some of the physical exercises when I felt I could. 

My thoughts were loud and persistent. On and on they went, just like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. “Go,” they said. “Forward,” they said. 

One day, after about two weeks, my body pulled rank. 

I closed my computer, got up from my desk, grabbed a blanket and went to bed. 

There was no thinking. 

I felt awful, but…I felt relief. Getting sick let me stop. Being sick made it OK to not strive to be bigger, better, faster. 

I watched TV – awful TV, by the way. I loved hating the awful shows. I told people about these awful shows and just how truly awful they were. Then I made people listen while I reviewed the awful plots scene by awful scene. 

I Googled. Did you know you could hover over your own neighborhood on Google Earth and go back through 30 plus years of changes? Neither did I, but it’s fun. 

Crossword puzzles are fun. I’d forgotten how fun. 

Eventually I picked up my partially finished Glennon Doyle book. She is good. I found myself led by her thoughts. 

Glennon says – now this is my version of her words – not to turn away from pain. She says our passion is where our pain is. Listen, she says, to what makes you uncomfortable, to things that disturb you. Let that be your calling. We are all called, apparently. 

Except for this – all the thought leaders tell me to think for myself. And what I think is that maybe we’re all thinking too much. What if while we try to figure out how to live our best lives, the real one – which is far from perfect – passes us by? What if all the thought leaders realize one day that the best way to live our best lives is to intuit our way through? What if we can end up where we need to be by just listening to our guts? What if it turns out we’re not supposed to spend our entire lives striving? It would save a lot of us from some terrible headaches. But bankrupt the self-help industry. 

I got a lot from Glennon Doyle’s book. She said I could do hard things and she’s right; I know I can. She told me to stop explaining myself to people. My gut says that’s good advice. I’m gonna’ take it.

But I don’t think I’m going to take her advice and get comfortable listening to what makes me uncomfortable, disturbs me. I’m gonna’ have to pull rank on her there and subscribe to a different philosophy. I think I’m best when I do what makes me happy, when I linger in my happy thoughts. She’s right that anger and pain can be great motivators and bring great change, but so can joy and laughter. Wait, what am I doing – I don’t have to explain. Thanks, Glennon.

I don’t know what my next self-help selection will be. I haven’t gone through my book list yet. Whenever it is, I’m sure it will help me grow, or at a minimum, give me something to write about if it’s an awful book. 

But from time to time, I’m just gonna’ skip my reading and listen to my gut. It served me well this last month. It helped me heal and introduced me to some great, awful television. 

Moderation in all things is my goal. Any adage that goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks must be good. But then again Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” So honestly, who knows what to think?


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