Temptation is an issue we all deal with. I don’t usually mix my faith which I deem to be a very personal issue with my leadership development work. And, I have no intention of radically changing course now, however what we read and study does affect us and inform our beliefs. From when I was a child I was very fascinated by the story of the “Three Temptations of Christ” which he endured while alone and fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. While suffering though this experience he was tempted by the devil to make it all go away and create a supposedly easier path for himself in the moment and moving forward. Thankfully, Jesus refused and the rest as they say is history.
The three temptations were Hedonism (self-satisfaction), Egoism (power) and Materialism (wealth). Areas where we all struggle to some degree in life. I’ve witnessed it up close and personal with friends, colleagues, clients and myself. You can hardly read the newspaper or watch television without being confronted with these issues on a regular basis. Interestingly enough, it seems that people who have achieved some level of professional success are challenged even more than the average every day person who has more fundamental life issues to worry about. It’s almost as if the more we succeed, the more we are tempted. All you have to do is to look to professional sports and Hollywood to see this dynamic play out.
I’ve always believed that if you want to know who a person really is give them money and power. When the basics are more than covered, you have a lot less to worry about and can spend more time focusing on what you want or desire rather than what you truly need. In addition, when you’ve already distanced yourself from the pack you don’t need to be that concerned with the problems or issues of the pack. You can forge ahead with your own agenda, whatever that ends up being. Gated communities, exclusive private clubs, personal jets, and luxury hotels may protect you from the masses, but they also end up stunting your perspective and limiting your personal and professional context. Moreover, when you can directly control the outcomes for others, it can become quite tempting to misuse this power and manipulate the situation to suit your own ends or settle old scores. Life should be a win-win proposition, but many accomplished people fall into the trap of win-lose thinking.
If you are constantly in search of pleasure or self-satisfaction, you will become more and more disenchanted with the result. Hunger comes in many forms. A hedonist is always in search of more satisfaction and gratification. They spend far too much time on the superficial aspects of their existence and not enough time working on become a better version of themselves. They look outside of the themselves for happiness and feelings of self-satisfaction. We are all tempted by personal acclaim, VIP treatments, drink, food, sex, exotic travel and other human pleasures. Feeling good is nice, overdoing it is gluttonous. As the saying goes, “too much of anything is never a good thing.” Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. In fact, the mark of a life well lived is sometimes having the personal self-discipline to do the opposite after weighing the true consequences of your actions.
Misplaced ego is a big obstacle for many leaders. Often it may lay somewhat hidden for years until the summit is achieved, but it will eventually will come out if there is a personality problem in this area. Once someone starts believing that they are entitled to certain things because of who they are and what they’ve accomplished, they are on a slippery slope. It can be even worse when they are born into a privileged situation. There is a fine line between having confidence and becoming ego-centric. I’ve yet to meet someone who is great at or knows everything. I’ve watched very talented people with special skills start to believe that what they think, what they want, and what they believe transcends all other opinions. Ironically, they usually have thin skin and will be easily affronted by criticism but think nothing of castigating or judging others. Of course, your life journey is about you and what happens to you, but it is equally about the concern you show for others and the positive impact you have on them as a result. Any power or advantage you may have attained over anyone, should be used judiciously.
Material things rarely lead to sustained happiness. There will always be someone with more than you. Your perception of the value they derive from this advantage may be far from accurate. Things do not make people happy, relationships and positive experiences make people happy. Sadly, many people forget this fact. The further you isolate yourself from others based on what you have, the lonelier you will become. Countless books, plays and movies have told this story. You will also have less and less people who can relate to your reality. Jesus, famously stated that, “it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than cross the gates of heaven.” I’ve always felt this was bit harsh and too general of an observation, however he often used extreme statements to get his point across. By all means, enjoy your wealth, but don’t make this the primary focus of your existence. Things cease to become special when they are achieved without effort. Success should be celebrated and rewarded but it is best when it is shared. I also believe we all find that the older we get, the more joy we get from giving rather than receiving.
Thankfully, I’ve also seen many good-hearted accomplished people, who are grateful for their blessings, keep their ego in check, and are generous with their time, treasure and talents. They continue to benefit the pack whether they have to or not. They see the bigger picture. They realize that the mark of a good life is doing worthy work that benefits others as well as themselves. They do remarkable things and have wonderful experiences and keep it all in perspective. The journey of life has never been just about the pursuit of pleasure or power, feeding and then placating your ego, or attaining a lot of stuff. I doubt any of us will ever have 40 days and 40 nights in the desert as Jesus did to contemplate these things, but we all will be tempted by our versions of the devil continuously throughout our life.