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Embracing Your Nemesis

“And God said, ‘Love Your Enemy,’ and I obeyed him and loved myself.” —Khalil Gibran

There is something about us in the people we don’t like.

People we don’t like can trigger things we want to change in ourselves, a reflection of our faults. It can be troubling, but it’s not a modern phenomenon. Many myths and modern classics are about battling the outer foes and inner demons that at first glance, seem different, but are actually closely linked. Harry Potter and Voldemort. The Wizard of Earthsea’s Ged and the shadow creature he releases. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

In the organizational world, I’m constantly reminding my clients that a challenging peer or difficult boss often reveals what they need to do to evolve into their fullest selves.

“Many of the faults you see in others, dear reader, are your own nature reflected in them.” —Rumi

  • Instead of being triggered by constant barbs and criticisms, we can decide to:

  • Understand where our colleague’s behavior is coming from.

  • Allow insults to wash over us.

  • Focus on doing the best job we can do with our teams.

  • Fight “The White Noise” distractions.  

  • “Be like water” and not react, but flow around obstacles in their path intentionally and without judgement.

  • Learn how differences relate back to ourselves.

Ultimately, we can decide to look beyond others’ behavior and be the leader that we’d like to see in the organization.

“Pursue the obstacle. It will set you free.” —Mark Nepo

Embracing a nemesis is a challenge. But the more we accept opposites, the better we understand ourselves. The concept is rooted in Carl Jung’s Shadow Theory. It asserts that suppressed and unconscious aspects of our personality are largely negative, rooted in the past and held in place by fear.

“Shadow-work” suggests that on a journey to manage others, we can 1) understand and embrace our fears; and 2) mirror the challenges within ourselves to become better leaders. Integrating “The Shadow” may lead to insight, self-confidence and a deeper understanding of the human experience that crosses all boundaries and lasts a lifetime.

Self-actualization. Now, that’s something that Harry, Ged and Luke can relate to!

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.” —Nelson Mandela

Where do you hold tension? In what ways does it hold you? What are the personal and professional costs?

Often, we inhabit prisons of our own making. What if the keys to freedom could be revealed by embracing your nemesis?

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