SAL Book: Self-Action Leadership Theory


YOUR EXISTENTIAL ROCKET SHIP


In the SAL theory, a rocket ship serves as a metaphor for YOU, me, or any other self-action leader seeking to transcend Existential Gravity and earn Existential Growth. As a rocket ship travels higher into the upper levels of the atmosphere, the air becomes thinner and the gravitational pull of the Earth gets weaker. As the atmosphere diminishes with altitude, less fuel is needed to maintain the same propulsion and speed.

Rocket ships carry enormous amounts of fuel on their journeys into Space, the majority of which is burned up within the first few minutes of flight as the rocket penetrates the lower levels of the atmosphere where the Earth’s air density is thickest and its gravitational pull is strongest. As air thins and gravitational pull weakens, less fuel is needed. Similarly, lower levels of Existential Growth require greater effort to transcend, and are generally accompanied by more internal insecurity and external adversity. Your journey then becomes easier as you rise to higher levels of Existential Growth.

The SAL theory identifies nine different levels (or stages) of Existential Growth. These levels correspond to the Earth’s surface (Level 1), six different layers of the Earth’s atmosphere (Levels 2-7), Outer Space (Level 8), and astronomical bodies throughout the Universe (Level 9).

ATMOSPHERIC LAYERS [1]


This chapter explicates the nine levels of the atmosphere, as follows:

Layer 1: The Earth’s Surface
Layer 2: The Troposphere
Layer 3: The Stratosphere
Layer 4: The Mesosphere
Layer 5: The Ionosphere
Layer 6: The Thermosphere
Layer 7: The Exosphere
Layer 8: Deep Outer Space
Layer 9: Astronomical Bodies Throughout the Universe

Layer 1: The Earth’s Surface


Though technically not a layer of the atmosphere, the Earth’s Surface is a boundary signaling the beginning of the atmosphere. At sea level or below, atmospheric pressure is the greatest, the air is the thickest, and the gravitational pull is the strongest.

Layer 2: The Troposphere


In this, the lowest level of Earth’s atmosphere, air is thick and gravitational pulls are strong. The troposphere rises to a little over six miles (11 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface. The higher you travel into the troposphere, the colder the temperature gets.

Layer 3: The Stratosphere


The stratosphere lies above the troposphere, and rises to about 30 miles (47 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface. The temperature rises in the stratosphere due to a high concentration of ozone, making it friendly for jet airplane and hot air balloon travel.

Layer 4: The Mesosphere


The mesosphere extends beyond the upper limits of the stratosphere to about 50 miles (80 kilometers). Temperatures drop dramatically as you rise higher in the mesosphere, producing the coldest temperatures in the atmosphere. This layer is too high for airplanes and hot-air balloons and too low for orbiting satellites, and is therefore difficult to explore.

Layer 5: The Ionosphere


The ionosphere begins where the mesosphere ends, and forms the lower section of its succeeding layer, the thermosphere. The ionosphere rises to a height of about 250 miles (400 kilometers). The aurora borealis (northern lights) and aurora australis (southern lights) occur in the ionosphere.

Layer 6: The Thermosphere


Sitting atop the ionosphere is the thermosphere. It “contains only a minute fraction of the atmosphere’s mass.” [2] Deeper than all preceding layers, the thermosphere rises to heights of about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers). Temperatures increase dramatically in the thermosphere due to the low density of air molecules (but curiously, we wouldn’t feel hot at this level because there aren’t enough molecules to effectively transfer heat energy to our skin). Space shuttles, space stations, and satellites orbit the Earth in the upper levels of the thermosphere.

Layer 7: The Exosphere


Planet Earth’s last atmospheric level is called the exosphere. This level is by far the deepest atmospheric layer, extending to nearly 120,000 miles (200,000 kilometers) beyond the surface of the Earth, or halfway to the Moon. While this layer is extremely large, it is hardly a layer at all because air particles are so far apart, and the Earth’s gravitational pull is so weak, it becomes largely indistinguishable from Outer Space.. It is the zone of transition between the Earth’s atmosphere and Space.

Layer 8: Outer Space


Beyond the outer sections of the exosphere, the Earth’s atmosphere ends completely, leaving a rocket ship to travel in the gravity-free zones of Outer Space. In Outer Space, a spacecraft can maintain its propulsion and speed indefinitely without the aid of fuel.

Layer 9: Astronomical Bodies Throughout the Universe


As you travel throughout Outer Space, an innumerable host of astronomical bodies (stars, planets, etc.) can be found in tact, or in the process of formation or destruction.



My next blog post will explicate Part 2 of the SAL theory, where the nine levels of Existential Growth will be presented as metaphorical analogues to the Earth's surface, atmosphere, Outer Space, and other astronomical bodies throughout the Universe. 


[1] The eight sections that follow paraphrase the following two textbooks:
Lutgens, F. K., & Tarbuck, E. J. (2010). The Atmosphere: An Introduction to Meteorology (Eleventh Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Tarbuck, E. J., & Lutgens, F. K. (2009). Earth Science (Twelfth Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice-Hall.
[2] Lutgens, F. K., & Tarbuck, E. J. (2010). The Atmosphere: An Introduction to Meteorology (Eleventh Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. Page 28.




Review an explanation of the Self-Action Leadership Theory and its metaphorical analogy to space travel, click HERE.

LEVEL 1: THE EDUCATION STAGE


The Education stage corresponds to the Earth’s surface in the analogy. This is where you begin your journey to Self-Transcendence.

You cannot do what you do not know. You must, therefore, learn knowledge before you can apply it. The Education stage is where you first learn about SAL. Here, you are introduced to the first major principle of SAL: that certain thoughts, speech, and actions lead to higher levels of Existential Growth and others lead to lower levels and failure. This stage is where you first experience that great personal leadership epiphany that you don’t have to be a victim of your circumstances—you are not a helpless entity subjected entirely to whimsical external realities.

Far from being a one-time exercise, this stage continues throughout all other stages. It is an ongoing process of learning lessons that are necessary to reach higher levels of Existential Growth. In this sense, it can be compared to Mission Control in Houston – the traditional command center of space missions. Mission control and their colleagues train (educate) the astronauts (self-action leaders) before they begin their journey into Outer Space (Self-Transcendence). After leaving the Earth’s surface, the astronauts continue to communicate with Mission Control in a process of ongoing education about new obstacles and opportunities that will greet them on their journey.

LEVEL 2: THE BEGINNER'S STAGE


The Beginner’s Stage is likened to the troposphere. It is here that Existential Gravity exerts its greatest negative influence on your efforts, often making it a very unstable level. Like the arbitrary behavior of the weather in the troposphere, the this stage is filled with metaphorical hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning and thunder, rainstorms, snowstorms, hailstorms, fog, and wind. These metaphorical weather events manifest themselves in a variety of internal and external problems and difficulties. External variables might include poverty, poor parenting, illnesses and limitations, abuse, neglect, bad luck, difficult peer and residential environments, interpersonal pressure to make poor choices, the poor or evil choices of others, lack of educational opportunities, etc. Internal variables might include a bad attitude, a pessimistic outlook, a victim’s mentality, dishonesty, unkindness, maliciousness, low levels of emotional intelligence, narcissism, jealousy, insecurity, vindictiveness, etc.

Existential Gravity exerts its greatest impact in the Beginner’s Stage. It is in this stage that you are introduced to Existential Crabs or the “Crab Effect.” The “Crab Effect” refers to a phenomenon that can be observed among live crabs placed together in a bucket. If one crab is placed in a bucket, it can escape, but if multiple crabs are in the bucket together, none of them will escape because their fellow crabs will continually circumvent any attempts by its fellows to gain their freedom. Jealous of the progress of their fellows, crabs will not let one another succeed, but will just keep pulling each other down to shared mediocrity.

EXISTENTIAL CRABS


People and organizations that act to undermine and limit your Existential Growth.


Human beings, especially in the Beginner’s Stage, have intense crab-like tendencies and often seek to prop themselves up by pulling others down. As the age-old cliché goes: “misery loves company.” The “Crab Effect: explains, in part, why elementary, middle, and high school can prove more socially difficult than adulthood, since most children and teenagers reside at lower levels of Existential Growth.

The pull of social mores and negative peer pressure combined with a person’s initial lack of Existential Growth can prove overwhelming one this level. In fact, if a person does not have external advocates to support and guide them through this vital stage, they will likely never rise above it. Just as we will not succeed if we do nothing, we likewise will not succeed without the help of others.

No matter how naturally gifted a person may be, failure is common at this stage. One may work very hard and suffer quite intensely with relatively little to show for their efforts and pains. As a result, many feel overwhelmed. Without vision and faith in possibilities lying beyond extraordinary adversity, many choose to quit trying, or, in more severe cases, even end their life.

It is easy to become discouraged at this juncture, and self-doubt is commonplace. Self-esteem and worth are typically very low, even though it may be masked with an outward display of swagger, bravado, and pseudo self-confidence. Aside from any external limitations you may face in this stage, a person’s internal limitations are also at their peak. These limitations are borne of insecurity, diffidence, and a tenuous track record of success.

SAL beginners are apt to blame most – if not all – of their problems on other people, events, and circumstances. But it is also where they have the opportunity to begin exercising their faith in SAL principles of personal responsibility.

For some, this stage will be the most difficult to transcend. For others, it will be relatively easy. The difference will be determined by a person’s unique formula of SAL limitations and benefits. For example, those born with natural inclinations toward mental hygiene and a supportive family with a mom, dad, and sufficient resources will likely progress through this part more easily. Someone born with neurosis or psychosis, or to a fractured family (or none at all) with a tenuous (or non-existent) support system and few resources will likely have a very difficult time transcending this stage. But all self-action leaders should remember that no matter what their challenges and limitations are, it is possible to make it past this stage. Difficulty does not spell impossibility.

FINANCIAL STANDING AS A METRIC FOR MEASURING EXISTENTIAL GROWTH


In general, financial status is an imperfect metric by which to judge Existential Growth. I have met or known of very wealthy people who frequent lower levels, or who entered higher levels, only to digress to lower levels after becoming victims of their own avarice. On the other hand, I have met or known persons who have risen to the highest levels without ever becoming monetarily rich.

But despite these inconsistencies, financial solvency and success are meaningful benchmarks to measure Existential Growth against. This is only true, however, when wealth is earned in an honest manner through diligent industry that benefits others. Wealth that was inherited or gambled into has little, if any, effect on Existential Growth. While many exceptions exist, the Beginner’s Stage is typically marked by financial dependence on one’s parents or initial caregivers. If you are on your own, you are likely struggling to make ends meet, as I was at that point in my life. Some will even be homeless.

LEVEL 3: THE PRACTITIONER'S STAGE


The Practitioner’s Stage is likened to the stratosphere, where most jet travel takes place. Transcending Existential Gravity sufficiently to arrive at the Practitioner’s Stage is not easy, but when you do, a newfound freedom awaits you. This freedom is evinced more by internal power than external rewards or altered circumstances, although both may accompany your advancement. Existential Crabs still exist in this and other stages, but their numbers and toxicity diminish with each succeeding stage. Unfortunately, this means their techniques for dragging you down will be more clandestine and clever.

Nevertheless, as you grow more confident in yourself and your life’s direction, your capacity to disregard the unimportant and invalid criticism of others expands. Arriving at the Practitioner’s Stage is a significant achievement from the simple fact that many people never fully break free of the Beginner’s Stage.

The Practitioner’s Stage is a relatively calm period compared to the Beginner’s Stage. Externally speaking, you may have transcended a lot of the toxic relationships and/or troubling circumstances that marked the time you spent in the Beginner’s Stage. Internally speaking, you no longer see yourself primarily as a victim of circumstance or the actions of others. It’s easier to recognize the power you possess to determine your own destiny. This knowledge may motivate you to exercise that freedom and power to contribute to the lives of others while furthering your own education. Financially, you have likely acquired the means to provide basic life essentials for yourself, or are at least proactively progressing toward supporting yourself financially.

This level is called the Practitioner’s Stage because you have sufficiently developed your SAL knowledge and skills to the point where you can competently practice them on a consistent basis. Moreover, you have developed the inner strength, security, and resiliency to continue your rise in Existential Growth even if those who helped you in the Beginner’s Stage are no longer with you. This stage marks the beginning of the transition between dependence and independence.[1] For some, it is a magnificent stage where they can really begin to stretch their wings in conjunction with learning more about SAL. For others, it may be a disillusioning stage with two options: digress back to the Beginner’s Stage, or move forward in faith toward a greater, but unknown, future.

Breaking free of this first stage is a significant achievement that should be accompanied by a sense of satisfaction and achievement. Accompanying this celebration will be an eagerness to keep on progressing towards the Refining Stage. Do not confuse this achievement as a pseudo-arrival; that will lead to a cessation of effort and a plateau to your progress. This stage is often accompanied by a tangible life achievement such as graduation, getting your first “real” job, or getting married. Be cautious of viewing this stage and its accompanying achievements as a destination rather than a milestone lest you end up living the rest of your life in the Practitioner’s Stage. Such stagnation precludes countless possibilities of future achievement and greatness.

A filtering process occurs in the Practitioner’s Stage to separate proactive self-action leaders from those who settle for paths of lesser resistance. The former will work harder than ever to rise to the next level; the latter will begin to settle for a status quo of relative mediocrity.

This plateau represents an existential comfort zone wherein the reactive decide that life is good enough, and that whatever freedom or additional benefits exist beyond this point are not worth the extra effort and sacrifice required to obtain them. It is the place where avoiding pain to maintain comfort trumps sacrificing temporary pleasure for greater growth down the road. After all the hard work invested just to get to the Practitioner’s Stage, many may find themselves feeling content to coast along the highways and byways of SAL stasis. They work hard enough to maintain a basic set of habits that enable them to avoid slipping back to the undesirable external circumstances of the Beginner’s Stage, but they fail to embrace any opportunities that will produce greater internal growth and external opportunities available in higher stages. They are content to merely maintain an existential state of above-average mediocrity.

In the Practitioner’s Stage, proactive self-action leaders become increasingly internally motivated. On this level, your desire further development transcends merely eating and paying your bills. It extends to seeking self-improvement and personal fulfillment. It also manifest itself in a desire to help others and influence them for good. The forward-thinking person wants something more. This desire inspires you to work your way up into the Refining Stage, where the authenticity and strength of your desire will be tested like never before.

LEVEL 4: THE REFINING STAGE


Your initial entrance into the Refining Stage may occur against a backdrop of some significant personal achievement, success, or milestone. For example, you may have finally graduated from college or trades training, received a graduate degree, earned a significant promotion in your company, or started up a new business. As a result, your graduation from the Practitioner’s Stage may be marked by pomp & circumstance, excitement, celebration, personal satisfaction, and the adulation of others. This personal triumph serves as a cleverly camouflaged “calm before the storm,” and can be very deceiving. This mirage of your “ship coming in,” however, never lasts indefinitely, as the fiery heat of the Refining Stage begins to blast away at you in the form of all kinds of unexpected adversity.

Many enter this part of their journey with high hopes that their troubles are now behind them—only to discover that in reality, their greatest challenges lie ahead. This realization may lead to profound disillusionment, which is common, justified, and understandable. It is not, however, cause to give up and fall behind. Remember, a refiner’s fire serves to strengthen and purify, and this necessitates a certain amount of discomfort to gain more Existential Growth.

Examples of trials you may encounter in the Refining Stage include:

  • The death of a loved one
  • A job layoff
  • A personal disappointment or rejection
  • A major career set-back 
  • Severe physical illness or injury
  • Experiencing a nervous breakdown, depression, anxiety, or other mental disorder
  • A crisis of self-confidence or security 
  • Battling through a spiritual or mid-life crisis
  • Feeling trapped in the “existential vacuum”[2]

The Refining Stage is likened to the mesosphere in Earth’s atmosphere. Just as the coldest temperatures in the atmosphere are found in the mesosphere, the Refining Stage offers the greatest challenges of your existential journey. As difficult as the challenges in the Beginner’s Stage may have seemed, the challenges of the Refining Stage are often far more painful and difficult to transcend. Unlike the trials of the Beginner’s Stage, which can be solved despite a very low level of existential development, the challenges of the Refining Stage occur after you have already experienced significant growth. By this time, you are relatively mature, experienced, and capable. Such challenges can therefore come as a great shock to your system, a “system” you once believed was indestructible and omnipotent. This is a time of rude awakenings, failure, and set-backs, but not of surrender.

This stage was by far the hardest I’ve ever gone through, and it will likely be the hardest you’ll ever go through as well. Self-action leaders go through the Refining Stage at different periods of life. Some may be refined relatively early in life; others may experience their refining in middle age; and others still may be much older when they eventually face their personal refining process. I was blessed (or cursed, depending how you look at it) to face intense refining periods in my own life in my teenage, adolescent, and young adult years. Though these periods will always carry echoes of pain and heartache, my progression has made my suffering entirely worth it. And while I would never want to pass through such a hellish period again, I wouldn’t trade anything in the universe for what I have become through the process. As someone who has passed through this fiery phase of life, I therefore urge you will all of my heart and soul to hold on to the idea that this will all be for your benefit later.

The challenges of the Refining Stage are designed to polish and humble you. Such lessons in humility are often excruciating. Intellectually speaking, any sane person would gladly accept this process because it is the only way to advance to the next level. Realistically, however, the challenges of the Refining Stage break many otherwise highly intelligent and capable men and women. This “breaking” occurs when people choose to cling to ego and selfish pride, even when doing things “their way” is damming up their progression. Consequently, they refuse to accept any information, even when it is true, if it conflicts with their worldview.

Sadly, such individuals will sometimes go to great lengths – up to and including dedicating their lives – to coming up with all kinds of clever arguments for why their way (the Wrong way) is in fact the Right way. And the more ardent and energetic they are in their quest, the more convinced (self-deceived) they become that Wrong is Right and vice versa. They become like delusional demi-gods determined to poison the minds and hearts of anyone willing to listen to the pseudo truths of their cherished ideologies. The result? They voluntarily give up their opportunities for further Existential Growth and progress. They build their own glass ceiling, and refuse to ever break through it. For these people, the Refining Stage has an impenetrable ceiling attached to it. This ceiling is not impregnable because it cannot be breached, but because they choose not to breach it. They would rather hold on to their way and remain forever in the Refining Stage, or, as is more often the case, digress to lower levels previously attained.

If you had a relatively easy experience transcending the Beginner’s and Practitioner’s Stages, the trials of the Refining Stage may catch you completely off guard and prove even more difficult and painful because you have not yet faced serious adversity in your life. For example, if you’ve had a healthy and privileged upbringing with access to many resources and opportunities, you may have met with a lot of initial success and very little failure in the first three stages. Perhaps you were also sheltered from many painful and precarious situations inherent in a less privileged upbringing. While there’s no shame in this natural naïveté, it might mean that you may be less prepared for the emotional realities of the severe adversity you will most certainly meet in the Refining Stage. Ironically, this naïveté is often fueled by highly involved and well meaning – but ultimately unwise – parents, teachers, coaches, etc.

If, on the other hand, you had a very difficult time transcending the Beginner’s and Practitioner’s Stages, you may be better equipped for this stage because you’ve developed certain survivor’s instincts through a familiarity with adversity. In the process, you have developed tenacity, resourcefulness, courage, and self-reliance.

The Refining Stage is “no respecter of persons.” It does not care whether you are rich or poor, gifted and privileged—or not. Everyone who rises to the level of refining will eventually get one’s chance to be refined. It is not fun, and can be terribly painful, but the results are beautiful beyond description.  Victor Frankl once wrote about the ironic existential egalitarianism as it relates to adversity in the Refining Stage when he wrote that, “the ‘size’ of human suffering is absolutely relative.”[3]

The Refining Stage has the power to incinerate the roots of personal weakness that inhibit your Existential Growth. It also has the capacity to sever relational ties with Existential Crabs that have been holding you back in lower levels. The co-dependency of your past grows into the independence of your present and the interdependence of your future.[4]

To transcend the Refining Stage, you must demonstrate high levels of physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial self-reliance. The Refining Stage provides you with an opportunity to prove to yourself, other people, and life itself, that you are capable of facing extreme difficulty, challenge, or even tragedy, and successfully come out the other side confident, courageous, and standing on your own two feet.

“Life is a grindstone, and whether it grinds you down or polishes you up is for you and you alone to decide.”
– Cavett Robert (1907-1997) 


The Refining Stage will test you to your very core. Its purpose is to see you are really made of, or, looked at another way, to see what it can make of you. Just as gold, platinum, diamonds, high-grade steel, and other precious stones and valuable metals cannot be refined without the fiery heat of blue hot flames, you cannot be refined without the scorching heat of personal adversity.

The Refining Stage is an existential sieve that separates the strong and humble from the prideful and weak. It is an opportunity for you to prove to yourself that you can “partake of life’s bitter cups … without becoming bitter.”[5]

Not much is known about the Mesosphere because it is too high for hot air balloons or airplanes, yet too low for orbiting satellites or space stations. Similarly, the Refining Stage produces a series of trials and challenges that are uniquely tailored to YOU—the individual. As such, no other human being can tell you precisely how to best navigate the journey and cope with the pain. In this sense, it is a journey you must ultimately make on your own, making the Refining Stage is a profoundly lonely phase of your existential development. This is not to say others cannot help you along the way. It merely means that no one else can make the journey for you. In her poem, Solitude, the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox eloquently articulates the loneliness of this stage:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you ;
Weep, and you weep alone,
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer ;
Sigh, it is lost on the air,
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you ;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.

Be glad, and your friends are many ;
Be sad, and you lose them all,—
There are none to decline your nectar’d wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you life,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.[6]

Not everyone will experience the Refining Stage as one, long, extended trial as I did with OCD, depression, despised love, and professional failure. More often, people go through many cycles of the Refining Stage with a variety of deep and difficult challenges at different junctures in their lives. In my case, a chronic mental illness—and all its concomitant problems—dominated my life for over 20 years. In someone else’s case, several acute episodes may be spread out over many years. Realistically, everyone (myself included) will experience several periods of refinement throughout one’s life. The regularity, intensity, and longevity of each subsequent period will differ vastly from person-to-person. But no matter what comes your way, if you work hard, remain determined, and patiently endure the crucibles faced in the Refining Stage, you will come out on the other side refined, newly strengthened, and ready for the next level—the Polishing Stage.




In my next blog post, I will introduce Levels 5-9 of the SAL Theory.


[1] See Covey, S.R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York, NY: Fireside.
[2] “The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom.” Frankl, V. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. Page 106 (see pages 106-108). I have spent a great deal of time in an OCD-influenced existential vacuum accompanied by depression and a dread of life. I found living to be an odious condition, and one I had no zest for during that period.
[3] Frankl, V. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. Page 44.
[4] See Covey, S.R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York, NY: Fireside.
[5] Maxwell, N. M. (2004). Remember how merciful the Lord hath been. The Ensign (Online). Page 1. Retrieved from URL: http://lds.org/ensign/2004/05/remember-how-mercifulthe-lord-hath-been?lang=eng
[6] Wilcox, E.W. (1889). Poems of Passion. Chicago, IL: Belford, Clarke & Co. Publishers. Page 131-132. . (Google Books version).


Review an explanation of the Self-Action Leadership Theory and its metaphorical analogy to space travel HERE.

Review the explanatory information on the first four levels of the SAL theory HERE.

LEVEL 5: THE POLISHING STAGE


The Polishing Stage corresponds to the ionosphere, where the dazzling aurora borealis and aurora australis (Northern & Southern Lights) occur. For those who make it past the painful challenges of the Refining Stage, the views in the Polishing Stage are are spectacular—and “sorely welcome.”[1] While passing through the adversarial depths of the Refining Stage, you may question whether it is worth it to keep striving. This vacillation of purpose occurs not only because the Refining Stage is so difficult, but because it can also last a long time. I have personally spent more than half of my life in the Refining Stage. At times, the pain of the refining process in my life proved horrifically excruciating, and often seemed like it would never end.

By the time you arrive at the Polishing Stage, you discover by degrees that all your efforts and sacrifices were worth it many times over. While I shudder to think about “doing it all over again,” (I thank God I don’t have to), I can say without reservation that I am incredibly glad I chose to successfully endure. Life looks very different from the “far side” of the Refining Stage than it does from the “near side.” I have come to learn that in some respects, life doesn’t even begin until after you’ve entered the Polishing Stage. Such a vantage point clarifies the tragedy of an individual’s decision to quit short of the goal of transcending the Refining Stage.

“I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity; I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935)


Moving from the Refining Stage to the Polishing Stage is like advancing from the mesosphere to the ionosphere. In the Polishing Stage, successes usually come more quickly than they did before. After all the heartache you faced in the Refining Stage, this may initially be a welcomed change. However, new opportunities come with new challenges, so your entrance into the Polishing Stage is not a cue for idleness or rest, but a chance to exercise your growing capacity that has been so beautifully refined in previous stages.[2]

“The reward which life holds out for work is not idleness nor rest, nor immunity from work, but increased capacity, GREATER DIFFICULTIES, MORE WORK.”
– Elbert Hubbard (1856 - 1915)


Having significantly matured as a self-action leader, you can now take joy in doing more with yourself and your surroundings. It is now time to begin “polishing” the skills that have been refined.

The Refining Stage does more than merely test your character; it forges it. Once a steel sword has been removed from the refiner’s fire, it cools and eventually hardens. It is now ready to be polished. Likewise, your own mettle has been forged in the fires of the Refining Stage, and now has a chance to cool off and harden into consciously chosen traits of character, which can now be polished to shine ever brighter in your personal decisions and interactions with other people. This stage offers you the opportunity to take skills, attributes, character traits, and talents to the next level by adding a degree of polish that the Refining Stage alone cannot produce. This polish comes through further practice and the acquisition of additional knowledge.

By the time you arrive at the Polishing Stage, your character and integrity will have developed great strength. This does not, however, mean you are immune from future trials, nor does it guarantee you will never digress backwards to earlier stages. While this stage doesn’t preclude you from experiencing hardship, you have become a self-action leader that will likely weather future storms with dignity and poise. As a result, future adversity will actually have the effect of polishing you up rather than grinding you down.

A measure of financial security (not to be confused with financial independence) will typically accompany your entrance into the Polishing Stage. This means you no longer rely on anyone for your temporal subsistence. You likely also have an emergency fund to cover all expenses for three to twelve months, and have started saving for retirement. Moreover, you have acquired enough knowledge and developed your skills sufficiently to successfully absorb and rebound from a job layoff or other temporary financial setback. At this point in your existential development, you have purged toxic relationships in your life, and you are secure enough to laugh off detractors, naysayers, and other Existential Crabs. This feeling of being “at home” in your own skin, and satisfied and happy with yourself and your life, is a precious—and well earned—commodity of the Polishing Stage.

As you work to increase your knowledge and sharpen (polish) your skills, your life’s purpose becomes increasingly clear and illuminated. You have begun to comprehend who you really are, why you are here in this world, and where you are going in your life. You are preparing yourself to enter the next level – Actualization – on your ongoing journey to Self-Transcendence.

A fascinating component of the Polishing Stage is the presence and actions of Serendipity, which show up in powerful ways to clean up a host of residual challenges, stress, suffering, financial issues, or burnout that may linger from the crucibles recently passed through in the Refining Stage. This may explain why many who rise to this stage or beyond often exclaim humbly that they did so “only by the grace of God.”

In truth, these persons are, of themselves, among the smartest, strongest, and most savvy people on Earth. Because they are also wise, they understand they can’t legitimately claim sole responsibility for their successes. They recognize—and acknowledge—the enormous physical and metaphysical help they received all along the way. While Serendipity plays an active role in all stages of your Existential Growth, it is usually the most active (and ironically undetected), in the Refining Stage, and then most apparent in the Polishing Stage and beyond, where you may see for the first time, the enormous footprint that Serendipity has had in your life all along—and especially during your life’s most difficult tempests.

LEVEL 6: THE ACTUALIZATION STAGE


Just as man-made satellites and spaceships begin to orbit the Earth in the thermosphere, graduating from the Polishing Stage into the Actualization Stage launches you into metaphorical “orbit” as a self-action leader. This “arrival” does not signal the end of your journey, or of adversity. It does, however, mean you will have to burn less fuel to maintain the same level of performance in the future. In this regard, life does become easier once you have “entered orbit.”

Once you have entered into your own personal “orbit” in the Actualization Stage, the chances of digressing back to former stages is unlikely because your refining trials have strengthened and matured your character and integrity.

All human beings who come to this Earth have a purpose. At Freedom Focused, we believe this purpose, generally speaking, is to become self-actualized, and then help others do the same. Self-actualization looks a little different for each person, based on your own unique disposition, personality, desires, and talents. The process of becoming self-actualized is, metaphorically speaking, akin to boarding a train, and not just any train, but the unique existential train that life intends for you to board based on your unique potential for growth, achievement, and contribution.

Boarding this metaphorical train is not an easy endeavor in the traditional sense. You cannot merely buy a ticket and board at your leisure because your train makes no station stops. It stops for no one, not even for its intended occupant—YOU. Hence, you must catch your train while it is already charging down its tracks at full speed. To succeed in doing so, you must become well acquainted with how your train works. You must also develop the speed, strength, and agility required to catch it as it zooms by. No one boards one’s train on his or her first attempt. For most of us, many attempts are required. Your initial failures will result in all kinds of scrapes, bruises, and perhaps even dislocated or broken bones. Failing to board your train at each attempt will hurt, sometimes badly so. In fact, the only thing that can possibly hurt more than trying to board your train is suffering the pain of regret at having forfeited your opportunity to do so.

To succeed at boarding your train, you must repeatedly “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” It is an exhilarating, but terribly challenging, endeavor fraught with seemingly endless frustration – and sometimes discouragement, bitterness, and regret. There may even be times when you choose to turn your back to your train and stop trying to board it for a while. You may even begin denying that your train exists at all, and deceive yourself that moseying along through the prairie grass in an ox-drawn wagon is really preferable to a magnificent train ride anyway. But for those who endure the trials of boarding their trains, the ride is truly “out of this world.” Aside from being full of creature comforts and other personal and professional benefits, finally catching your train earns you a first-class suite whereby you will be able to comfortably reside while simultaneously teaching and helping others to catch their train (become self-actualized). Catching your train is a tremendously significant event in your life because as long as you choose to stay on the train, all tracks eventually lead to the highest levels of Existential Growth (Self-Transcendence and the Creation Stage).

Level six, the Actualization Stage, is an analogue to Abraham Maslow, self-actualization, which “refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely…the desire to become…everything that one is capable of becoming.”[3] More than merely becoming what you are capable of becoming, SAL actualization refers to your “making it” personally and professionally. It is marked by a clear realization of who you are, and what your purpose in life is. It represents a quasi-mastery of all principles and practices elucidated in the SAL theory and model. Still a long ways from perfection, you have nonetheless reached a high level of both understanding and application. Having become a person of great capacity and integrity, you have also begun to exert increasing levels of influence among others who seek the Existential Growth you have already achieved.

The Actualization Stage is likened to the thermosphere, where satellites and space stations orbit. They orbit in the thermosphere to obtain knowledge about outer space as well as to transmit information back-and-forth to Earth. Similarly, if you have reached the Actualization Stage and desire further Existential Growth, your focus shifts increasingly away from yourself towards helping those at lower levels rise in their Existential Growth.

Persons entering this stage possess high levels of personal integrity and moral character. They are proactive, emotionally intelligent and resilient, and possess an extraordinary capacity to respond maturely to a variety of people and situations. Although it might seem that these people all look alike, in fact, quite the opposite is true. The individuality of the SAL-Actualized person is more pronounced than at any preceding level. As C.S. Lewis once put it, “How monstrously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.”[4] M. Scott Peck put it similarly:

If one ever has the good fortune to meet a living saint, one will have then met someone absolutely unique. Though their visions may be remarkably similar, the personhood of saints is remarkably different. This is because they have become utterly themselves. God creates each soul differently, so that when all the mud is finally cleared away, His light will shine through it in a beautiful, colorful, totally new pattern.”[5]

In lower levels of X-Growth, insecure self-leaders often equate individualism and originality with marked deviations from traditional mores surrounding one’s choice of fashion, cosmetics, vernacular, and social milieu—and the stranger the better. In reality, such actions have little – if any – connection to one’s true identity and potential, to which they are virtually blind—and are typically undertaken to mask devastating insecurities with habits and accouterments which blaspheme the name of authentic originality. Conversely, the rich inner lives of authentic self-action leaders may appear modest and non-descript on the outside. Their tremendous inner security precludes the need to “make a statement” or otherwise attract unnecessary attention to their outer appearance.

Professionally speaking, you have developed natural talents and practiced skills and are rightly referred to as an expert. Because everyone is unique, SAL Actualization will look different from person-to-person. This is another way that SAL Actualization mirrors Maslow’s Self-Actualization. “In one individual [actualization] may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions.[6]

Have you ever found yourself wishing you could be someone else? By the time you become self-actualized, such wishes, borne of poor self-esteem, will have vanished from your life. Self-actualized persons sincerely like who they have become. As a result, insecurities, diffidence, jealousy, and covetousness will have almost entirely evaporated from your internal world. You no longer see the world through a mindset of scarcity, but a paradigm of abundance.[7] Your new mentality engenders genuine appreciation for, and satisfaction in, the growth and achievements of others. You may even find yourself beginning to take more joy and satisfaction in the accomplishments of others than you do in your own successes. Knowing that everyone possesses the same existential worth, and therefore Existential Potential, there is no need to compare yourself to others any longer. The sense of inferiority or superiority toward others no longer troubles you. Your own inner peace and maturity makes it irrelevant; at this point, competing with other self-action leaders seems a silly pursuit. Your only authentic goal is to continue to be the best YOU of which you are capable.

Actualization as a self-action leader is a significant touchstone along your journey to Self-Transcendence and beyond; it is a considerable personal achievement. In a sense, it is the only level where you can legitimately claim to have arrived. As such, it represents less a stage and more an accomplishment, or milestone. It also represents an enormously important decision point in your life, where you decide whether you will take it easy and live for yourself, or dedicate your life to helping others join you in becoming SAL-Actualized. If you choose to settle down on Easy Street and live for yourself, you will remain at level six, or (more likely) digress back to lower levels. If you opt to dedicate your life to helping others progress to the Actualization Stage and beyond, you simultaneously choose to advance to the next stage: the Leadership Stage.

Although level six represents a huge “arrival” in your Existential Growth, it is not the highest level you can attain. If you seek further growth, this level becomes a preparatory stage where you ready yourself to lead others to achieve the same Existential Growth you attained. Regardless what you have become or accomplished in the past, the Leadership Stage is where you will begin to make your life’s most meaningful and important contributions. In this sense, life – or at least your new life – is just beginning in the Leadership Stage.

LEVEL 7: THE LEADERSHIP STAGE


The Leadership Stage is likened to the Exosphere, the top layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is also the thickest layer. The distinction between the Exosphere and Outer Space is slight. In this layer, the Earth’s atmosphere eventually fades entirely, preceding an astronaut’s entrance into deep Outer Space. The gravitational pull of the Earth is almost non-existent in the Exosphere. Likewise, the tugs and pulls of Existential Gravity are typically much slighter than in lower levels—so much so that highly developed leaders may not notice it at all. Moreover, Existential Crabs are virtually extinct. It’s not that they don’t exist, but only extremely crazy crabs are foolish enough to even try messing with you at this point, and those who try are typically marginalized and even scorned. The vast majority of X-crabs are too intimidated and frightened to even open their mouths in your presence because the metaphysical emanations of your leadership influence repel and shut them up. It is often comical to watch a X-crab try and take on a true Leader. It simply doesn’t have any palpable effect, and the crab ends up looking like bloviating buffoons in the attempt.

Upon reaching the Actualization Stage, the typical desire of a self-action leader is to help and empower others rise just as you have done. Whereas you were once focused on seeking out leaders, mentors, teachers, and consultants, you now become the leader, mentor, teacher, and consultant. Sympathy, empathy, compassion, and a truly altruistic desire to see others succeed are a natural outgrowth of inhabiting this stage.

In the Leadership Stage, your focus shifts from being primarily about your own growth and development to being primarily about the development and growth of others. Leaders at this level have an amazing capacity to forget themselves and go to work[8] on behalf of other people and causes larger than themselves. You are no longer "content with blessing [your] family alone, but [are] anxious to bless the whole human race."[9]

In the Leadership Stage, you become increasingly aware of the legacy you are leaving behind, and you seek to enlarge that legacy in a way that allows you to help even more self-action leaders. Many who reach the Leadership Stage have, through diligence and excellence in their professional pursuits, acquired sufficient resources to support themselves and their families without further employ. Thus they are empowered to direct their efforts toward service, humanitarian aid, writing, speaking, traveling, and philanthropy.

While the Leadership Stage is largely immune from Existential Gravity and negative influences, it is not free of temptation. Since those on this level are almost exclusively leading others, they often find themselves in positions of great power, authority, and influence. Accompanying these newly acquired “perks” are often the veneration and adulation of throngs of admiring followers. At this point, and with enough authority and influence, a cult of personality becomes a very real danger to even the morally conscientious, making it easier than ever before to succumb to greed and debauchery. If the leader chooses to engage in greed, lust, or unfair and unethical dominion over others, that leader will surely fall and digress to lower levels; the only question is when and how far?

Unfortunately, many leaders who enter the Leadership Stage are seduced by whatever fame, fortune, or increased power and influence they allocate. These individuals end up returning to lower levels. If proper amends are not made, they are sure to leave a legacy of disappointment, shame, and unrealized potential.

Fortunately, some leaders remain humble, steadfast, and compassionate no matter how high they rise or how powerful they become. Such leaders continue their Existential Growth toward Self-Transcendence and beyond. These leaders no longer care much, if at all, about who gets the credit; they are focused almost exclusively on results, and on lifting up those whom they serve at equal or lower levels of Existential Growth.

LEVEL 8: SELF-TRANSCENDENCE


The Self-Transcendence Stage, also known as the “Freedom Zone,” is the last official stage of Existential Growth. It is likened unto deep Outer Space. Just as a rocket ship has is no longer subject to gravity after exiting the exosphere, self-action leaders who reach this level are no longer subject to Existential Gravity. Having fully conquered the enemy within, they have become truly free. Self-action leaders at this level have become so fully actualized they are no longer candidates for regression to lower levels. On all the first seven levels, even the strongest self-action leaders remain susceptible to failure and regression. But upon reaching Self-Transcendence, you have finally “made it.” This doesn’t mean you are perfect in every particular—no human being ever is; it does, however, mean there is no longer any “air” whereby the seeds of moral failure can germinate or sprout.

At the level of Self-Transcendence, it’s not so much that your “ship has come in,” as it is that you voluntarily swam out to your ship, and conquered all the swells, wind, rain, hail, and storms on the way. As a result, those who transcend themselves through personal effort and serendipity enjoy almost unlimited personal freedom. They are almost always financially secure, and in many cases are financially independent. They are those who have received and embraced outlying opportunities to positively influence and meaningfully contribute to the lives of others. They have many relationships with others people that are deep, rich, and founded on impeccable trustworthiness. If they have a significant other, they have usually been with their mate for decades, are more in love with him/her than they were when they got married, and have a healthy, mutually satisfying union.

Such individuals have both the time and ability to contribute meaningfully to other people and their causes of choice. They also have the freedom to choose where and when they spend their time and money. While they may not be an organization’s formal leader, they usually have significant influence on great (sometimes vast) numbers of other people. They usually leave a deep and lasting posthumous legacy of greatness, honor, love, and charity for others to admire and follow.

Only a small percentage of the population reaches the level of Self-Transcendence during the course of their lives. Typically, people who do reach it are well known figures, who, in some cases, founded entire movements. For example, Jesus Christ, Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha), Confucius, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale, Mohandas Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and others like them are examples of historical and religious figures I believe reached, or may have reached, the level of Self-Transcendence.

You do not have to have a name as recognizable as Gandhi to transcend yourself and reach this level of Existential Growth. In fact, I believe the number of obscure individuals reaching this top stage far outnumber the number of high profile persons who have done so. Such impressive, albeit socially obscure, persons may not be known beyond their own families, friends, and communities; there is no specific audience size required to reach this milestone. Seemingly ordinary mothers and fathers are often candidates, many of whom eventually join the magnanimous milieu of transcendent achievers. In the insightfully queried words of one theological sage:

When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?[10]

Never underestimate the potential of any human being to eventually reach this level of Existential Growth. Don’t let the simplicity of your station in life, or the provinciality of your profession fool you into thinking you can’t achieve existential greatness. The homeless and starving ultimately possess as much existential potential as presidents and potentates. Anyone who has an opportunity to learn the principles that lead to Self-Transcendence has the freedom to choose to advance as far as their desire and work ethic will take them.

Remember also that someone like Confucius did not transcend self primarily because he founded a popular belief system. He reached it primarily because of what he became inside as a self-action leader. The movement he founded was merely an outgrowth of his inner accomplishments. When someone transcends self, extraordinary moral authority is an inevitable by-product of their personal greatness. Whether that greatness influences one billion, one million, one thousand, one hundred, or simply one, it is still greatness of a grand degree and kind.

LEVEL 9: THE CREATION STAGE


Something truly wonderful awaits you on the other side of Self-Transcendence. That something is the Creation Stage, which is likened to astronomical bodies throughout the Universe (e.g., stars, planets, galaxies, comets, etc.).

In the Creation Stage, a self-action leader is a builder of institutions, cultures, movements, philosophies, and religions. Most importantly, you work to develop other self-action leaders in hopes of helping them to join you in transcendence and creation. At the Creation Stage, there is no jealous threat of competition or one-upsmanship. All self-action leaders in the Creation Stage value each other as much as they value themselves, and take as much joy and satisfaction in the creations of others as they do in their own.

Men like Jesus, the Buddha, and Confucius created whole new religions upon entering level nine. Men like Christopher Columbus, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln discovered, created, and saved—respectively—an entire country that would eventually rise to an unprecedented status of power, magnanimity, influence, and moral leadership. Others like Florence Nightingale, Mohandas Gandhi, and Mother Teresa created powerful, positive changes in hospitals, subjugated nations, and poverty-stricken cities. I do not mention these individuals to suggest they led perfect lives; no mortal being has ever lived a perfect life. I mention them simply to provide examples of imperfect, yet visionary and impressive human beings that “created” extraordinary opportunities for millions of their fellows to better their own lives. People who arrive at the Creation Stage change the world and make it a better place to live—and their lasting legacies are burnished only brighter by the passage of time.

Depending on your visibility in a social setting, such contributions may be home impacting, neighborhood influencing, community changing, state improving, nation blessing, or even world altering.



CLIMBING UP THE LADDER OF SAL GROWTH


To illustrate how one’s Existential Growth grows from the Education Stage up to the Creation Stage, consider the career trajectory of a doctor. She starts by learning of her potential to someday become a doctor (Education Stage). Then, she throws herself into her K-12 studies to lay the foundation for her college and medical school (Beginner’s Stage). After successfully graduating from high school, she begins the process of her four-year undergraduate program majoring in a pre-med field of study (Practitioner’s Stage). Then she attends four more years of medical school. She also “pays her dues” by completing her residency and internships and overcomes whatever unexpected challenges that stand in the way of a good job (e.g., rejections, disappointments, failures, timetable setbacks, personal health issues). All of these difficulties represent the Refiner’s Stage. Transcending them to land her first full-time, full-paying job, she enters the Polishing Stage where she begins to fine tune and hone her reputation, credibility, and pay back her student loans.

Eventually, the day arrives when she is personally successful, professionally respected, debt-free, and making a handsome salary. As a successful doctor, she has fulfilled her goal and entered the Actualization Stage. As her career progresses, she becomes a well-respected doctor who eventually teaches, mentors, and leads others to greatness (Leadership Stage). Later in life, having earned all the money, acquired all the recognition and rewards, and helped all the people she has desired to help, she realizes she has truly become the doctor of her dreams (Self-Actualization). With nothing left to achieve at the hospital, she decides to invest her surplus time, effort, and resources, in starting her own hospital, research laboratory, school, or movement within a field she feels passionate about and knows she can contribute meaningfully to (Creation Stage).

THE DARK SHADOW


You may recall from your study of definitions in Book the First that there is a difference between self-leadership and Self-Action Leadership. The latter carries comes with a moral imperative to be honest, fair, transparent, and otherwise live a life of integrity so that your speech and actions create positive long-term consequences for yourself and others.

Unfortunately, some of the worst people on Earth are also some of our Planet’s best self-leaders. For example, Adolf Hitler – history’s most salient example of evil personified – was in fact a remarkably disciplined, diligent, dedicated, and hard working self-leader. He possessed remarkable amounts of vision, discipline, and passion. What he lacked, of course, was a conscience.[11]

In our world, some leaders, scholars, politicians, philosophers, journalists, pundits, business men and women, teachers, artists, athletes, actors, parents, et cetera, rise up in the world to achieve great power, popularity, and influence by defying conscience and disregarding honesty, integrity, and morality. Counterfeit rises up the hierarchy cannot be equated with authentic Existential Growth. Such pseudo progress is actually a progressive regression down an inverse plane of the SAL hierarchy known as the “Dark Shadow.” While it may appear on the outside that someone is making great strides toward higher levels of Existential Growth, such progress cannot be fully validated except through the passage of time.

To illustrate, I reiterate the contrasting lives of Adolf Hitler and Nelson Mandela. The first few decades of these men’s respective lives were strikingly similar in some ways. For example, they were both marginalized socialists with an axe to grind. Moreover, both men ended up in prison for attempting to overthrow their adversaries by violent means. However, the seemingly convergent paths that led them both to prison took startlingly divergent journeys after their respective incarcerations. Hitler spent his time in jail authoring Mein Kampf and otherwise planning his devious and diabolical plans for genocide and world domination. Mandela, on the other hand, who was serving a much longer sentence, allowed his heart to become softened, and was further inspired by the words of William Ernest Henley’s famous poem, Invictus.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.[12]

With Mandela's Statue in London, England
Nelson Mandela is an example of a good man who rose to the highest level of the authentic SAL hierarchy of Existential Growth. Adolf Hitler is perhaps the supreme example of an evil man who fell to the lowest levels of the Dark Shadow. Both men ended up achieving remarkable things on the levels of Creation, but only Mandela’s have lasted—and are honored and revered today. Hitler’s creations were vaporized by Allied bombs, and have since been relegated to the pages of history where they belong.

The Mandela/Hitler example is a valuable illustration of this vital contrast because of its extreme salience and clarity. It should be noted, however, that most people who rise in their personal or professional lives by “falling” to the lower levels of the Dark Shadow do so with much less pomp, circumstance, and visible destruction than Hitler did.  As such, it can be more difficult to identify, arraign, and justly convict them of their unjust doings in the court of public opinion, or, if needs be, a court of law.

In identifying those caught in the Dark Shadow, the most important sign to watch for is deception. Frequenters of the Dark Shadow come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, but they always have one thing in common: the truth is not in them. Nevertheless, because they are often smart and gifted communicators, their deception will almost always come in the form of half-truths and other sophisticated contortions of reality—for they know that outright lies are too easily exposed.

Beware of these wolves in sheep’s clothing, these venomous vipers cleverly disguised as purveyors of wisdom. They have little interest in your welfare, and will do virtually anything to aggrandize their own power, position, and pocketbook. Such “People of the Lie,” are infected with “the ultimate disease”; for “despite their pretense of sanity, the evil are the most insane of all.”[13] Avoid such persons like you would a deadly plague, and when possible, expose and indict them when necessary and possible—to the benefit of yourself and others.

REAL LIFE APPLICATIONS FOR EXECUTIVES


Without real life application, the SAL theory isn’t worth much. I myself am just beginning to unearth the treasure trove of wisdom available in this theory. Nevertheless, there are a few key points worth bringing to the forefront of any discussion of SAL theory as it relates to C-level leaders. This is not to say the theory is not applicable at other, lower, levels of an organizational hierarchy—but SAL theory may be more interesting and useful to executives, while the SAL model may be more interesting and useful to mid-level managers and front-line workers.

1. Executive, or C-level leaders will be more successful if they have achieved the Polishing Stage or higher. Executives and managers, therefore, ought to celebrate, not denigrate applicants who have faced great challenges and overcome them. Leadership expert and author Lee Ellis said it best when he wrote:

"Because wisdom and maturity are forged in trials, I would think twice before hiring someone for an executive leadership role who has not been humbled through significant struggles. Leaders devoid of crucible experiences are likely to be overly confident about their ideas, less sensitive to those of others, and surprisingly more susceptible to fears. Leaders motivated by fears and selfishness tend to make choices and cultivate attitudes that undermine the growth of the organization and its people."[14]
2. Executives can determine what level(s) of Existential Growth should serve as prerequisites for hiring various positions within the organization. 

3. Executives would be wise to develop their own personal plans for Existential Growth and review them regularly. Consider again the words of Dr. James Clawson:
“One of the biggest leadership issues [throughout the World today] is the inability of people – even and especially managers and executives – to lead themselves."[15]

4. Executives should provide training on the SAL theory and model to all managers and employees in the organization. They should encourage their workforce to likewise develop personal plans for Existential Growth, consistently execute those plans, and regularly review their progress with a mentor. With consistent SAL training throughout the organization, a culture of upward progress in the face of Existential Gravity can eventually permeate the entire organization. This will lead to dramatic increases in company cohesiveness, efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity. Company cultures that are founded on the SAL principles and Existential Growth will see unprecedented success in the long run. It will take time, but if implemented properly and persistently, stunningly positive consequences are inevitable.

5. The Nine Stages of Existential Growth have many applications to the Law of Attraction. First, persons will typically be naturally attracted towards those who are on the same level as they are. Hence, association becomes an easy way to discover clues about a person’s Existential Standing. Second, persons with authentic desires to rise to higher levels will seek out and spend time with those on higher levels; this behavior results from a genuine desire to learn from and attain similar growth and success. Such individuals—regardless of their background, education, and training—should be viewed as valuable employees in which to further invest through education, training, and mentoring. Third, honest, transparent, persons of integrity will be attracted to others of their character. Conversely, those more apt to deal in deception will likewise congregate over time. By observing this “grouping” over time, you will be able to take necessary actions to “accentuate the positive” and mentor, reform, or “eliminate the negative.” 


[1] A clever phrase I learned from Val Killian, who used it creatively in a personal conversation with me in 2010 in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
[2] Hubbard, E. in Hubbard, A., Editor. (1946). An American Bible. New York, NY: Wm. H. Wise & Co., Inc. Page 8.
[3] Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review. Volume 50, Issue 4, p. 370-396. Page 382.
[4] Lewis, C.S. (2001). Mere Christianity. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. Page 226.
[5] Peck, M.S. (1983). People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil. New York, NY: Touchstone. Page 264.
[6] Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review. Volume 50, Issue 4, p. 370-396. Page 383.
[7] See Covey, S.R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York, NY: Fireside. Pages 219-220.
[8] Advice of Bryant S. Hinckley to his son, Gordon B. Hinckley, during a trying period in Gordon’s life.
[9] Smith, J., Jr. (2010). Joseph Smith Resource Center (Quotes [online]). Page 1.
[10] Maxwell, N.A. (1978). The Women of God. (Public Address).
[11] Covey, S.R. (2004). The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. New York, NY: Free Press. Pages 68-85.
[12] Invictus by William Ernest Henley. In Cook, R.J. (1958/1997). One Hundred and One Famous Poems: With a Prose Supplement (Revised Edition). Lincolnwood, IL: Contemporary Books.
[13] Peck, M.S. (1983). People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil. New York, NY: Touchstone. Cover Page & Page 264.
[14] Ellis, L. (2012). Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. FreedomStar Media. Page 183.
[15] Clawson, J. G. S. (2008). Leadership As Managing Energy. International Journal of Organizational Analysis. Volume 16, Issue 3. p. 174-181. DOI:10.1108/19348830810937943. Page 175.

2 comments:

  1. Your journey then becomes easier as you rise to higher levels of Existential Growth. real sisters rising

    ReplyDelete
  2. Indeed, it does! While there are still challenges on higher levels, you are better equipped to effectively confront them because of your own personal growth -- what you have BECOME.

    ReplyDelete