The Upside Down Mirror


A couple weeks ago the company where I work sent me to a week-long leadership development program located in an isolated spot in Northwest Arkansas.  I was told before I went that it would be an experience to help clarify personal and professional values, improve self-awareness, and identify blind spots.  To say that I was apprehensive going into the week would be a colossal understatement.  I envisioned a lot of sitting round camp fires, holding hands singing Kumbaya, and group sessions where we candidly shared our inner-most feelings.  The introvert in me was shitting mental bricks!  But continuing with my 2012 theme of making it uncomfortable in my comfort zone and recognizing this could be an excellent warm-up for my agent pitch a week later, I opened myself up for the adventure.

I’m happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed the week and even learned a couple things about myself!  One of the exercises we were encouraged to do was take a hard look in the mirror, look past the awkward smile and other physicality, and take inventory of what our core values might be.  I started out by listing between 20-30 of them, then slowly and meticulously narrowed the list to seven that I really felt passionate about.  An important part of this whole process was remembering that true core values remain intact regardless of what else is going on around you, or to you.  Imagine the mirror you’ve been staring into being flipped upside down, what happens to your reflection?  It remains unchanged.  Whatever is going on in the world around you that might change the orientation of that mirror, your image…your values, remain constant.

A lot is made sometimes about situational ethics, where the guidelines are flexible and the end can justify the means. But can our principles, our morals, afford the same latitude?  Through our writing we often have the luxury of experiencing a different set of values with the characters we create, and we work hard to maintain believability by ensuring their actions stay true when their mirror flips.  Is it right that we struggle to get those details just right, but then we waffle in our own lives?

I know I’m making this all sound super simple, when it’s really not.  Values are easy to maintain in a vacuum, but life is rarely like that.  We will be tested, and sometimes we’ll come up short.  I know I certainly have.  But the trap is allowing yourself to blame it on circumstances.  Whether lying flat, on its side, or upside down, the person in that mirror is still you.  Embrace that person!

33 comments

  1. I would have dreaded going, too. I am glad you got something valuable out of it. (And something you can use in your writing, too.)

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  2. So...Did it help you with your pitch session??

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  3. Sounds like a fruitful experience.

    I can't impose my values in all my characters. I've written many manuscripts, so it would get redundant. It is fun to have them own different perspectives. True--values are easy to maintain in a vacuum!

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  4. Interesting exercise. But you're right about the core values sticking with us - or at least they should.

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  5. What a great exercise. Something I always try to remember - I am responsible for my own actions. Can't keep blaming everyone else and the world when it comes down to...just like you said...looking in the mirror. :-) Great post!

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  6. You went with an open mind and got something valuable!

    BTW - I think I am your one and only "Blogging for 5+ years" person in your poll.

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  7. That's a really cool exercise about the mirror. It's something we should all try.

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  8. Did you do any rope courses or trust falls?

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  9. that's a really great analogy and would make me stop to think too. Sounds like a worthy experience!

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  10. For a second I thought you were saying that if I turn the mirror upside down, I'll stay the same but everything around me will be upside down. I was like, Whoa! No way!

    Then I remembered I'm not entirely awake yet.

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  11. It's tough sometimes to separate my own values from my characters. BUT I do try! It's a good point though that often our own values tend to waver as time goes on.

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  12. It's interesting that we spend so much time figuring out the values of our characters, while neglecting that in ourselves. Hmmmm ... something to think about.

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  13. I have to share this with you...I've been following your blog for quite sometime and you know? I JUST realized your blog title is Cruising ALTITUDE 2.0. NOT Cruising ATTITUDE. Oooo-kay. I am so glad I have that cleared up now.

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  14. I went on a couple of these leadership courses. They are worthwhile if you can take something away from it that helps you understand your 'self' better.

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  15. This reminds me of the phrase "Whereever you go, there you are", whether the mirror is rightside up or upside down. Good point!

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  16. DL, that sounds awesome Franklin Covey has a similar set of value steps. Very important.

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  17. Great motivational message! Love that exercise.

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  18. Interestingly enough, the book I'm reading right now talks about mirrors too. Twyla Tharp in her book, The Creative Habit, Learn It and Use It for Life, suggests going a week without looking in a mirror. Why? Because she wants us to find our identity in other ways. We'll stop looking at ourselves and look at others. We'll think more about what we do and less about how we look. She claims there's a difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us and going without mirrors might confirm what we think, or surprise us.

    Anyhow, another way to think of mirrors.

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  19. VERY cool- I would have been shitting mental bricks too-ha! But whoa, the stuff you realized (and revisited)!

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  20. It's good to be able to look in a mirror and believe that you do the best you do and to like yourself.

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  21. Sounds like fun to me! I can contemplate life and fall down introspective rabbit holes all day long...I'm annoying like that :)

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  22. Wow - that mirror is a really good analogy. I try really hard to be who I am, but it does get tricky at times. I'm going to be thinking on this one for a while - thanks!

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  23. "my introvert was shitting bricks!"

    Yep, about how I feel about those trainings too. But I usually get something out of them. I try to keep an open mind.

    The other night I was watching an episode of Criminal Minds and one of the agents lied to a family to get them to open up. I was glad that Aaron was ready to fire her over the "lie for a good cause".

    Personal Integrity is my highest value.

    .....dhole

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  24. I would have also dreaded going. Sound like the lame kind of thing my old company would have supported. Glad you got something out of the weekend in the end. That's gotta be worth something.

    And good luck with your pitch. :D

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  25. Yeahh! Way to put your fears aside and go, and I'm glad that it helped you! Nothing like reminding yourself of your own worth.

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  26. What a great exercise! It's so true that we'll be tested and that's when we really find out what we hold most dear, what we believe most.

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  27. It reminds me of the Michael Jackson song, The Man in the Mirror.

    Glad you enjoyed your week.

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  28. I really like that upside down mirror analogy! Core values are a good thing to be in touch with - yours and those of the people in your lives. I wish I'd have paid more attention to that sort of thing earlier in life.

    Glad the week was more than singing Kumbaya. :)

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  29. Excellent post and I can see how enlightening this exercise would be. I totally agree that values are easy to maintain in a vacuum. We are often tested and hopefully we pass more often than not. I was recently tested after being pushed past my limit. I reacted in a way that is in conflict with my core beliefs and values. You make an excellent point about falling into the trap of blaming it on our circumstances. It would have been so easy for me to do that and I came close to doing it. I realize, upon looking in your upside down mirror (and my own) that I came up short and I just need to accept that and not blame it on being pushed too far. I reacted poorly and I have to own that. Thanks for the ethics and morals refresher course. I needed it right about now,

    I know you are glad you went to the conference. Thanks for sharing what you learned with us.

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  30. That's great you got something so valuable out of it even though you felt apprehensive at first! Now I should probably go Windex the mirrors...

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  31. I think I would have dreaded the thought of going. That is because of the not really knowing what to expect factor. Sounds like it was a really great experience. Did you find that it will help with your pitch?

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  32. What an interesting exercise. Plus I bet you learned some thing you could use in writing too! Good luck with your pitch. :)

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  33. super interesting thoughts, DL! First, that sounds like a cool retreat, and I really like your point about how we work so hard to get the details right in our writing, but we waffle in real life. Hmm... Lots to think about here. Have a super week, my friend! :o) <3

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