by Niall Doherty

The Ukranian stood pondering, unsure what he should get us, his servants, to do next. After several more moments of head scratching and imagination searching, a light bulb went off and he brightened considerably. He looked at me. “You are a dog.” He looked at Travis. “You are a cat.” He looked back at me. “I want you to chase him.”

Madness ensued, as Travis and I dropped to all fours and unleashed our best dog-chasing-cat act. I barked and growled and pursued. Travis hissed and scampered and threatened me with fake claws. We did this for a minute or two, in a room of 30 people.

And then it was my turn to be master.


Last month I attended Steve Pavlina’s fourth Conscious Growth Workshop in Las Vegas. All in all, it was one of the best weekends I ever had, as I got to meet a bunch of exceptional people and learn lots about myself.

The scene described above happened during the first day of the workshop. Steve had the attendees divide into groups of three, and each person took a turn being the master while the other two acted as servants. As servants, we were allowed to refuse an order if it made us feel uncomfortable.

The goal of the exercise was to discover which role we were more comfortable in. Some people had no problem taking orders and preferred not to be in charge, while other folks reveled in their role as master, really enjoying the feelings of power and control.

We actually did the exercise twice, taking about 15 minutes each time. During the first round, the masters mostly instructed their servants to do silly things, like have a dance-off, poke other people in the room or pretend snow ball fight. Afterwards, Steve sat everybody down for a few minutes and had us reflect. We were asked to recognize where our hesitations were, and consider how we could be better masters and servants when called upon.

Then we started into the second round.

What I learned

The master/servant exercise was one of the highlights of the workshop for me. I learned a lot from it. Three primary lessons:

1. Go your own way

For my first turn as master, I fell in with the crowd and got my servants to do silly, trivial things. It was only during the break that I asked myself what I really wanted them to do. This is something I — and I believe most people — often struggle with. It’s easy to just do what everyone else is doing and not question it. It takes a lot of courage and consciousness to decide your own course of action — the course of action that feels most true to you — and follow it.

2. Push people

During the first round, I realized that I was only giving my servants tasks that I knew they would do, tasks they wouldn’t object to. I didn’t try to push them out of their comfort zone. This comes down to an irrational fear I have of rejection, and a weird double standard I have in my head. See, I love it when others push me, but for some reason I hesitate to push others and expect much less from them than I do from myself. Having realized this, I was more assertive and pushed my servants a bit more during the second round, and I know we all got a lot more from the session because of that.

3. Ask to be pushed

When considering how i could be a better servant, I realized that I just patiently awaited an instruction during the first round of the exercise, and then carried it out. The tasks didn’t really push me out of my comfort zone. What if I asked my master to give me some harder tasks, tasks that would stretch me? In the second round, when Travis was master, I asked him to push me. So he did, asking me to take my shirt off in that room of 30 people, then go around asking everyone else to join me in shirtless rebellion. That was definitely out of my comfort zone, so I did it, and it wasn’t such a big deal. I found what Steve Pavlina had told us to be true: “Beyond fear, there’s lots and lots of fun.”

Are you more comfortable being the master or being a servant?

Ideally, you should be comfortable in both roles. There will always be times when you’ll be called upon to lead, and there will always be times when you’ll be called upon to follow. Becoming aware of your strengths and weaknesses in those roles now will help you perform better in the future.