Reality has an irritating habit of shifting and changing, totally undermining our hopes, dreams, and fantasies. 

When our ideas and plans collide with reality, reality generally wins. Whether it’s the reality of our aging bodies and minds, of our mercurial emotions, of upheaval in the business world, or of the shifting priorities and feelings of other people – family, friends, and coworkers.

When this happens, we may not want to admit that reality isn’t going to meet our expectations. We may even create trouble for ourselves by avoiding what’s in plain sight. But we need to see what is, what in the military is called the “ground truth.”

This is what is truly happening, the reality of the battle or situation on the ground, as opposed to what intelligence reports and mission plans predicted would happen. The ground truth is what you say to yourself and closest friends about your actual experience, as opposed to what you want, or what you hoped or planned would happen, or how you’d like to appear to others.

For a moment, consider your “ground truth” in these areas:

– Your well-being, including sleep, exercise, diet, and your state of mind

– Your work

– Your experience of your core relationships

In each of these areas, how does your experience compare to your vision or higher aspirations?

In war and life, there are always gaps between our ground truths and our visions of what we expect or want.

Naturally, we ’d like to close these gaps if we can, but first, we have to see and acknowledge them. An important practice is to acknowledge where you are right now, where you want to be, and the gaps between these two. Doing this requires being curious, appreciative, and warmhearted with yourself while at the same time looking directly, sometimes even fiercely, at what exists and what you aspire to/for.

This is an important, even paradoxical skill and practice: the skill of acknowledging the gaps between what is (the ground truth) and what you want, while at the same time fully appreciating this current moment/situation.

For example, your ground truth might be that you are rarely exercising, or meditating, despite your good intentions. You might want to take on more responsibility in your work or are in some way dissatisfied with your current job and want to make a change. Perhaps it’s that a project or book is just not getting the time and attention you had hoped for.

Creative Gaps

In his groundbreaking book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge calls these gaps “creative tensions.” Senge explains that one of the most important skills of leadership is staying with these gaps instead of covering them over or finding strategies to make them go away in order to feel more comfortable.

Some popular strategies for avoiding these gaps include:

– lowering the bar of your visions, goals, and aspirations

– getting so busy that you lose sight of the goals

– becoming embroiled in emotional difficulties to avoid the gaps

These strategies or habits are wonderful ways in which to avoid the discomfort of moving from where you are to where you want to be. And they ensure that we remain in the status quo.

Instead, having considered your “ground truth” in several areas, try to identify some of your core or most critical creative gaps.

Then, ask yourself:

  • In what areas is the difference between what actually is and your vision of what you want the widest?
  • What are some ways you might narrow or even close those gaps?
  • What support do you need?
  • What skillful conversations might be useful?
  • What are some of your strategies for avoiding discomfort and not recognizing or staying with these gaps?
  • What is there to learn?