Living Above The Line

Books + People, Thoughts + Opinion

I would have never guessed that a single horizontal line would be one of the most interesting models I learned about. And I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that same model would have a meaningful impact on my life.

Shane Parrish’s blog Farnam Street (and Podcast Initiative “The Knowledge Project”) is one of the most unique and informative resources I have ever come across. If you have never heard of it, or not made time to check it out, I cannot encourage you enough to go to and see what him and his team are up to. The self-described purpose that sums up Farnam Street – especially the podcast – is that Farnam Street “helps you master what other people have already figured out”. The Knowledge Project has dozens of impressive guests. The discussion with Jim Dethmer has left a measurable impact on my life and I think that particular conversation is relevant for everyone.

Jim Dethmer is the founder of the Conscious Leadership Group. His work focuses on becoming a better leader, self-awareness, and eliminating victim mindsets (among dozens of other topics). On his episode of The Knowledge Project, he and Shane dive into many topics on leadership and ensuring openness as a person – from emotional intelligence to the root of highly successful peoples’ motivations.

The model Jim mentions (described as “Leading Above The Line”) is discussed immediately, kicking off the conversation. Jim outlines how that as he and his team begin their work with leadership teams, they want a simple but effective way to kick off conversations on leadership, mindsets, working environments, and awareness. The model he developed is the horizontal line.


At any given moment as a leader, you are either above the line or below the line. Being above the line means that you are open, curious, and committed to learning. Jim elaborates that this means there is a sense of trust – between you and yourself, your team, the world around you – you are open to new ideas and concepts and are in a “positive” and understanding state of being. Shane summarizes this as “outcome over ego”. Being below the line, you are contracted – closed off, defensive, and attached to proving that you are right.

While being incredibly straightforward, that simplicity is what makes this model so approachable, practical, and easy to reference for everyone. The discussion continues into a level of depth and variety of topics I cannot do justice to in such a short post, but the concept of leading above the line is something I carry with me in my everyday life. As the discussion continues topics such as being open to seeking feedback, the value of conducting meditative practices and self-reflection, and ultimately understanding motivation as a way to better understand yourself and engage with the people around you are discussed – all of these concepts are woven not just into how we can be better leaders, but how we can live a better life.

Now I always carry with me this question – “am I living above line?”. I use it beyond leadership and focus on all of my actions and interactions in life. Same as Jim gives an example of a leader pausing to reflect and acknowledge what he is feeling before engaging with his team to ensure he is above the line, I try to do the same thing with my colleagues, my friends, my family – everyone I encounter. I use that question as a reminder for how I am approaching my projects and creative work. For when I am struggling to muster up the motivation to do something I’d rather put off for another day. Taking that invaluable model Jim has developed, along with the dozens of concepts in the discussion – which are really just how to we live more engaging lives and better understand ourselves and those around us for the best possible outcome – I can now carry this simple question with me that helps me find myself and re-calibrate my head space and approach to whatever I may be doing.

This has been an unique for me in how big of an impact such a small question has had on my life and mindset. The work to get to a better place is difficult and never ending, but there is so much good energy and reflection wrapped up in that one question, the magnitude of its impact relative to its simplicity has been impressively disproportionate. So, every day I think to myself “am I living above the line” and it has tangible, positive impacts on how I think and act. It leads to better interactions with people I care about, and better outcomes in how I choose to spend my time. It’s an invaluable well of insight I consistently go back to; and without it I would certainly not be the person I am now. All from a single horizontal line.

See you tomorrow.

Inspirations: Jim Dethmer, Farnam Street, Shane Parrish
Image Source: Jim Dethmer – Conscious Leadership Group

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