Sinkholes don’t announce their presence. They reveal themselves in the most terrifying and destructive manner. At best it’s a section of road or property that disappears, at worst they swallow houses, cars, swimming pools and people.
Sinkholes are caused when the substrate becomes unstable and is weakened causing a collapse and inevitable damage or destruction. Personal sinkholes are no different. When morals are compromised and ethics are abandoned and self-justification clouds or distorts our thinking, we can fall into an emotional or relational sinkhole because our foundation is undermined. On the surface we may look great and have all the pieces in place – job title, power, authority, influence, control, money, possessions, etc. Below the surface our foundations may be weak, damaged, or at risk of collapse resulting in moral and ethical failure. Keeping our foundation strong and stable is as important as the regular maintenance we do to our vehicles, airplanes and the elevators we ride in. We are keenly aware of the impact of mechanical system failure but often less aware, or totally unconscious, of the risk of ethical failure.
Just because your firm has core values and ethics policies in place is no guarantee that management and employees will honor them. Similarly, on a personal level we can say the right words and phrases that make us appear to be trustworthy, but our actions communicate our true self. The adage ‘actions speak louder than words’ applies.
Avoid the sinkhole syndrome by:

  1. Reflection time: Regularly spending time alone reflecting on your core and deepest values that govern your actions and behaviors. Now is a good time to start if you haven’t articulated yours.
  2. Personal charter: Write a personal charter or core values document that you review daily or weekly at minimum to assess your actions to evaluate if you are living and acting within the parameters that define who you strive to be.
  3. Live your values: You are always being watched – no good or bad word, action, or gesture is missed. Someone always notice what you do. They may not say anything, but they will notice, and remember. (If you have children you’ll know they are quick to point out our violations of the rules we place on them.)

Spend time cultivating and developing your private world. You can only withstand and deal with external challenges, threats and even successes, to the degree that your inner world is strong, healthy and resilient. “Control the controllables”.
Consider the words of Oscar Wilde in his reflection on the loss of self.
The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. . . .Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensation. The paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion.
I grew careless of the lives of others.
I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on.
I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber, one has some day to cry aloud from the house-top.
I ceased to be lord over myself.
I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it.
I allowed pleasure to dominate me.
I ended in horrible disgrace.
Author: Oscar Wilde, Source: quoted by Gordon MacDonald in “Ordering Your Private World”