So Far From Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World
by Margaret J. Wheatley (Berrett-Koehler, 2012)
What are the big take-aways?
Meg Wheatley, a teacher of social and organizational change and best-selling author of Leadership and the New Science, issues a call-to-action in So Far From Home. Actually, she calls it an invitation: an “invitation to warriorship” amidst the challenges facing the world in our present time, which Wheatley describes as a very dark era. She writes on pages 10 and 11:
I want to encourage us to claim this role for ourselves, to be warriors for the human spirit, people brave enough to refrain from adding to the fear and aggression of this time…As I’ve claimed this role for myself, I’m learning that the capacities and skills we most need – patience, compassion, discernment, effectiveness, courage – are available to us if we can see the world honestly and not flee from its harshness.
In this book Wheatley confesses, “I no longer believe that we can save the world” (page 5), yet she argues that if “warriors” accept the world the way it is and let go of both hope and fear, there is a path forward. Beyond hope and fear there is “clear-seeing, right work, commitment, energy, strength, perseverance, love – all the warrior skills” (page 159) discussed in So Far From Home. Wheatley concludes that ultimately all any of us has is the human spirit, our relationships with each other, and being together.
Why do I like it?
As a leadership specialist who is fascinated by the intersections of ego development theory, neuroscience and social change, I found Wheatley’s point of view to be very exciting. I don’t know that I liked the book, nor am I sure I even agree with her premises, but I appreciated – and learned a great deal from – her courage to express her truths. I was intrigued by Wheatley’s explanation for why she shares her assessment of the world as largely doomed: “not to add to our despair” but “to increase our clarity so that we might discern wise action” (page 25). I felt enlightened by the unique sense of opening (or unburdening, perhaps, or freedom) she offers through this important distinction.
In what situations would this be useful?
As Wheatley herself writes on the jacket of her paperback, “I wrote this book for you if you offer your work as a contribution to others, whatever your work might be, and if you now find yourself feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and sometimes despairing even as you paradoxically experience moments of joy, belonging, and greater resolve to do your work.”
I choose to focus on Wheatley’s headstrong and heartfelt story – her journey from lost to found in So Far From Home – as a window into the meaning-making of a deeply developed person. She seems to have discovered her capacity to disengage from dichotomous (e.g., “lost” vs. “found”) language into a more unified experience of reality (which is full of things that do not lend themselves to language, such as how humans can find themselves in being lost). Wheatley valuably reflects on what it is like to grow less attached to one’s identity and become more capable of letting-go.
What does this have to do with leadership? In my view, Wheatley is a model warrior and – therefore, I believe – in many ways a model leader at least in developmental terms. It is worth bearing witness to her sophisticated struggle to reconcile (and not necessarily alleviate) her individual confusion and sense of loss with the lesson for all “warriors” that is inherent in such suffering. She offers to lead us toward another way of approaching intractable societal problems.
What other resources might “pair” well with it?
If you’re interested in leadership exercises or a workbook that could help you explore many of Wheatley’s themes, I recommend Kevin Cashman’s Leadership from the Inside Out. For tactical advice, I’d suggest taking a look at Ronald Heifetz’s classic, Leadership Without Easy Answers (Harvard, 1994). Both of them have been previously reviewed in the Leadership Library. A difficult book, which might offer you compassion and positive provocation around some of Wheatley’s ideas that have implications in the spiritual domain, is Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass, 2011).