Looking over my life, I see how often, my biggest obstacle is me. I grew up as the child of an alcoholic with the family dysfunction and codependency that accompanies alcoholism. I was an unpopular kid at school—teased daily and a social outsider. All through school I never felt I belonged. By the beginning of high school I became a master at fitting in. Sociological researcher Brene Brown calls ‘belonging’ being accepted for who you are. ‘Fitting in’ is being accepted for who others want you to be. In my journey I mastered fitting in rather than belonging. My wife Lisa and I have faced the challenges of having two sons—our oldest has a severe genetic disorder (Cornelia de Lange Syndrome) and our younger son is a creative with a world-building imagination like J.R.R. Tolkien. I have been fired from jobs, robbed by people I trusted, and experienced the stresses of business success and failure over the past decade. But for all those obstacles, the one that holds me back the most is me.
For a long time now, I have believed I was made share a message with the world. This sense led me into the pastorate for ten years. The internal yearning led me to step into the role of leading our fledgling business almost a decade ago. I’ve had a few fits and starts, but eventually I find my self fighting against an internal struggle more powerful than any external obstacle I have faced. Fear. Insecurity. Self-doubt. Self-criticism. The result? More often than not, I stop. I keep my real self safe and hidden away. While I held a semi-public job as a pastor and have been the business face of our company for a long time, I can see looking back how I have always carefully avoided stepping out in my own name. I fear criticism. I fear rejection. I’m scared I might fail. But inside I long for more. In my heart I have a story to share.
As I share my story with other men I hear the same tension. I think of the teacher who loves his students and family. He earns a living to provide for his family and is present for his wife and kids. He spends himself earnestly for his high school students to help them see a vision for their future and to strive for it. But he also longs to step out and start a brewery and restaurant to create a great product and community building space so friends and family can gather and share life.
I think of the executive who has reached professional heights most of us only dream of reaching. He is responsible for hundreds of employees, large budgets, and a division of his company. He works hard, mentors his team in work and life, and exhibits a life of values-based professionalism. While living up to the high demands and travel schedule of his job, he does all he can to be present for his wife, his kids and takes his wife out date nights and little getaways. Still, he feels pulled between his career that provides for his family and his longing to be more present with his family and to give himself to his dream of launching his own ministry to reach people with his faith.
And there are many more stories of life in tension I could share. I am sure you have your own. You may want to launch a business, write a book, change careers, ask for a raise, find your purpose or simply spend more time with your family. The list is not complete. Many feel the tension of living our lives, dutifully showing up, but longing for more.
This tension has lead me to launch Stephen David Leonard. I believe the bravest person you can be is you. Not the version of you others want you to be, but the version of you God created you to be. My biggest obstacle is me. I get in my way when I give in to fear. Launching the Stephen David Leonard site is an experiment in facing the things that scare me most and taking the risk. The product on the site are reminders of living the life we are intended to live. They are meant to encourage and spur us on in our journey. I invite you to join me. Join me as I share my story. Join me in taking your own brave step—large or small—to be who you are created to be.
I love the Theodore Roosevelt quote about the man in the arena. It reminds me when I shrink back I run the risk of become one of those “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Instead, I choose to step into the arena and top spend my life in the worthy cause of spurring one another on in the full life each of us is meant to live.
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…” Theodore Roosevelt