Heroic tendencies

Instead of writing this piece, I should have been hosting a Leadership Embodiment community of practice day in Fife. Based in the Cairngorms, the deciding factor in calling off the event was the prospect of driving 100 miles in snowy conditions. I rarely cancel workshops for my own welfare and I found it immensely difficult. What’s that about?

I was due to travel on Wednesday and the journey looked possible on Tuesday morning. All of Scotland was under a ‘amber warning’ for snow and ice, but south of me, the forecast for Wednesday was cold, sunny and dry. Further north, where two of my group live, the forecast was less benign. Perhaps it would be wise to cancel?

I decided to check in with all the participants and see how they felt about their journeys. The answer from those north of Inverness was clear – unwise to drive. Everyone else was fine to travel.

This left me – and I was hosting the day.

Meanwhile, at home, it began to snow.

In the past, when I’ve cancelled a workshop at the last minute, it’s almost always been for the safety and/or benefit of others. I don’t do it lightly, having a strong orientation towards fulfilling my commitments. Cancelling also involves a lot of work! And this was a community of practice day, which I get as much from as others do – I can work on my own practice and it’s heartwarming to be with a group committed to Leadership Embodiment work. I wanted the day to happen.

So, most of the cells in my body were urging me to proceed.

And yet… it was still snowing… and at the back of my mind, there was a nagging doubt about the wisdom of driving in wintry conditions. I was trying to ignore this: even if it snowed all day, the gritters would be out in force and tomorrow’s forecast remained fine. However, despite my efforts, an alarm bell continued to ring, albeit softly.

Feeling pressure to decide one way or another, I drew on an approach from Leadership Embodiment to untangle what was going on for me. This involved looking at three centres – head, heart and hara (or core/gut) – which we most often use to clarify intentions. On this occasion, I used them to gain insight into my indecision. This is what I discovered…

My head was focused on managing immediate tasks, led by a familiar drive to deliver. It was also trying to assess the risks of making the trip, but this activity was being drowned out by the keen desire to discharge the commitment I’d made.   

In my heart lurked the notion that I’d be letting others down if I cancelled, accompanied by a fear that they’d think less of me. These feelings added to the temptation to overrule any misgivings.    

Then, deep down, in my hara, which I rely on to guide me towards doing the right thing for all concerned, I found the root of my indecision. Scared of driving in difficult conditions, I was affecting a gutsy bravado. I even had a thrill of excitement about taking the risk. Ah! Doing this feels heroic!

I learned long ago that I make unwise decisions when my heroic tendency kicks in. Not far below the surface of ‘heroic’ is a sense that I’m invincible. And since I’m not, it pays to attend to whatever underlies the heroic feeling – in this case, trepidation about winter driving. If the weather turned out to be even a little worse than forecast, it would be hazardous. I cancelled the workshop.  

Why was it so tortuous to make this decision? Partly, it’s about attachment – both to the workshop itself and to the idea of myself as someone who does what they’ve agreed to do. I had to loosen these attachments before I could see clearly. In addition, I’m quick to insist that others don’t put themselves at risk to get to a workshop, but slow to apply this to myself – which I put down to the lure of being heroic, of overcoming danger.

On reflection, the more heroic choice was overcoming the perils of my own nature – and cancelling.    


  • Think of a situation when you ignored a nagging doubt and went ahead anyway – what prompted you to proceed? What insights might this offer?
  • What might you do differently the next time you have a nagging doubt?