Seeking a Healthy Private Life That Sustains a Healthy Public Life

There is a sobering leadership principle every leader needs to know. Often we learn it the hard way, so I think it might be helpful if I prepare you for it—in case you don’t know. The fact is, who you are in your private life impacts who you are in your public life.

These two aspects of life cannot be separated from each other. There have been many who have tried to separate these two and keep them separated, but the result is watching their whole professional world come crashing down around them, because of something that was hidden in their private life. Many of us can recall leaders who have been significant to us publicly, but their demise was their private life. You can try to manage two identities—pretending in public everything is OK in private. And, it might work for a time … but it never works long-term.

We all have a public life to our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, social media followers, etc. If we are to have an influence in these realms just mentioned, then your leadership comes with a platform. There will be times you step on your platform and you will have the opportunity to make a difference to those around you.

Platforms are made for you to “step up.” Some are bigger than others. But they are made for you to be “elevated.” To my introverted friends, don’t let that word scare you. Sometimes that is a literal elevation as you step onto a stage. But we have relational platforms that God gives us to inspire and influence those around us. When you give your opinion, when you talk about your expertise, when you pray, when you encourage, when you talk about what’s in the Bible, when you reassure and when you give advice, you are being seen and heard by those around you. And whether you want to believe it or not, you have an opportunity to influence; and that makes you a leader. What I’m saying is, all of us have a public life that others are observing and being impacted by.

And all of us have a private life that we are impacted by. This is the real you—the collective whole of your thoughts, choices and values. This is the real me. It’s the “who you are when no one is looking” you. Former UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” We usually tend to be on our best behavior when others are listening to and watching us. But who we are when no one is watching and listening to us is where character comes in. That’s why it’s critical to live a consistent life both privately and publicly. Your private and public life are inseparable. How you navigate these two areas is massively critical to your personal, professional, relational and spiritual success.

Who you really are will ultimately be discovered. Jesus made that clear when he was speaking with his disciples.

“For there is nothing hidden which will not be disclosed.” – Jesus (Mark 4:22)

The only real, sustainable solution for having a successful public life is by continually working to protect and improve your private life. The inventory of your personal mission, vision, values and virtues forms the true you the world is waiting for.

Here’s the big question for you and me: What in your private life has the potential to sabotage your public life? And, what are you going to do about it?


1. If you don’t believe it privately, they won’t believe you publicly. Conviction is everything. That’s why defining your values matters when creating a strong private life. You will always make decisions based on what you value most. When you identify your values, you identify the driver for your choices. If you privately value honesty, then you will publicly choose the truth. If you privately value respect, then you will publicly choose to esteem those over you, etc. What you value shows me what you believe. What you find worthless you will ignore. Make a list of what you personally value and use these values as guardrails in your decision-making.

Discover your virtues. Your virtues are what you find morally excellent and what you would celebrate as an admirable quality in a person. Make a list of people in your life who have virtues you admire. Then write down what it is in them that put them on your list. Those qualities are virtues you are not only drawn to, but are in some way important to you.

At the center of the crossroads of your virtues and values is your convictions. In the center of your passion about it and your actions towards it are your convictions because of it. Your conviction will always be the evidence of what you really believe. Use these convictions as a guide to live a consistent life and be the example God is calling you to be.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” —1 Timothy 4:12

2. Your reputation is who you are in the presence of others, but your character is who you are in the presence of God. We put a lot of emphasis on our reputations. Why? Because we all have one. There is a public opinion about you whether you believe it or not. And unfortunately, we care about that opinion. We care about what others think. It’s human nature. So, you’re not alone when you feel the pressure of what others think about you.

We can easily go to Jesus and look at what people thought about his reputation. Jesus had a reputation to some that he was part of the family of Mary and Joseph, a rabbi and the Savior of the world. To others, he was a false prophet, a liar and a friend of sinners. Jesus chose to make himself of no reputation.

“[Jesus] made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” —Philippians 2:7–8

When it comes to reputation, he chose not to allow what others thought about him to control him. That’s why Jesus did something that we can all do as we are learning to align our public and private lives: He valued what God thought about him and his ministry more than what others thought about him and his ministry. In the midst of an itinerary going from city to city speaking, feeding the homeless and less fortunate, caring for family and friends, he chose to value the presence of God more than the presence of others. We are reminded of the instances when the disciples were looking for Jesus so he could step onto his platform and be the leader, be the communicator, be the bringer of ideas, etc. But when they were looking for him, he wasn’t to be found. He was with God.

“‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’” —Mark 1:35–37

An indicator of building a strong public and private life is having a quality prayer life. Get alone with God. The needs of the people around you will always be there. Those closest to you will always want you close to them. The demands of the busy life will always beckon to you. But Jesus understood that the pressures, the opinions, the harassment, the needs and the mission were dependent on aligning his private life with God.

3. There will come a point when God’s private intention for you moves to God’s public recognition of you. I’ve come to realize that before there is public recognition of you, there’s always a private intention by God to make you into who you’re supposed to be. God’s intentionality in your life can seem like it has no intentionality at all. But it’s the times when we have it the hardest when God is speaking the loudest, and the times when we are in obscurity and seen less that God is with us the most and is doing his best work in us and through us.

David battled bears and lions in private, in the field alone. The ferocious and fiercest battles we face will be the ones we face by ourselves. When no one is home, when you are away from home, when no one is looking and when no one is there to help. We bear the scars of these ferocious battles that sink their teeth into our souls. You asked for help and it didn’t come. You prayed to God to take away the wild beast that seemed to circle you and that was planning to pounce at just the right moment, only to find that your prayers didn’t seem to be answered. You fought anyway. You battled anyhow. And you have the scars to prove it. But while you ponder and ask the question of why I had to battle alone, you realize now that those scars and those victories were necessary. Because when you face the giant in front of you in front of others, you are reminded of what you learned in secret, alone with no one there to help you: God helped me defeat these beasts when I was by myself, surely I can face this giant in public.

“David replied to Saul, ‘Your servant has been a shepherd for his father’s flock. Whenever a lion or bear would come and carry off a sheep from the flock, I would go out after it, strike it down and rescue the sheep from its mouth. If it rose up against me, I would grab it by its jaw, strike it and kill it. Your servant has struck down both the lion and the bear. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them. For he has defied the armies of the living God!’  David went on to say, ‘The Lord who delivered me from the lion and the bear will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!’” —1 Samuel 17:34–37

David’s platform was in front of Israel. And when he faced the pressure of fighting the giant in public, he remained standing while Saul crumbled under the weight of it. The result was a platform that echoed, “Saul slayed his thousands and David his tens of thousands!” (1 Sam. 18:7). Slaying giants in front of others could only be accomplished by fighting bears and lions alone. The battles you face in private give you the strength to win in public.

4. Secret devotion is rewarded in the open. Jesus said in Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” The purpose you give to your prayer life, your quiet time and your devotional life has an outward effect on your public life. Being by yourself with God has an effect on your inner man like nothing else can. The more secure you are with God the less insecure you are with people. So, get comfortable with your Creator. Find that place with God, not because you have to, but because you get to be with the one who loves you most.

The word “closet” that Jesus uses in Matthew 6:6, tameion, is defined as a “secret chamber,” a place where a person may retire for privacy, or a place for storage (like a closet). These concepts unmistakably emphasize that this place should be private and cut off from the comings and goings of the household. It should be a place where the world can be shut out. And in a hyper-connected world, the need for a place that is cut off has never been more relevant. Because privacy fosters honesty, and honesty fosters relationship.

In this part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking about outward righteousness and inner righteousness. He speaks of how the Pharisees pray out loud, in public, so that people will see their spiritual awesomeness and be impressed. Jesus says that “they already have their reward” (Matt. 6:5), meaning that praise from men is all they will receive for this action. Jesus, in contrast teaches his followers to “go into their closet” to pray, so that they will receive no praise from people. If no praise is received from people, then our reward is from the Father instead—a much better reward. Your secret devotion removes the trying-to-impress element with others, working the room to schmooze and positioning yourself at the table to be noticed by the right people. When you begin caring more about what others think about you, you end up caring less about what God thinks about you. In the secret place, the only one who notices you is God. The only voice that you need to hear is God’s. And that’s all that matters.

5. Collect an arsenal of habits. Leaders have platforms because they have fought to get there. These kings and queens frequent the blacksmith shop of their own kingdoms where they’ve been forging and sharpening into strength in the heat and in the smoke of the fires of their own public pressures, collecting weaponry to add to their own leadership arsenal. Because the time will come when the Enemy of your private life will attack you, your values, your relationships and your future, and you need these weapons to stop this adversary dead in its tracks. This collection of protection and security that you have at your disposal is this: your habits. Becoming the best version of yourself in your public life requires you to be continuously refining your private life. And the best way to do that is with your own personal disciplines. You don’t have to be the casualty of your circumstances, but instead you can be the creator of your circumstances.

Your habits matter because they help you become the type of person you hope to become. They are guardrails for your private life to help you develop the deepest beliefs and convictions about yourself. Here’s the point: You become your habits. These disciplines become who you are; they become your identity. James Clear in Atomic Habits, puts it this way:

“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.”

Obviously, it goes without saying that the more positive disciplines you develop, the easier it becomes for you to do the right thing. Because when your behavior lines up with your identity, you stop trying to become the person you wish you were, and you start acting like the person you believe you are.

Goals are good at revealing the destination, but habits are good at giving direction. If you are the sum total of the five people you spend the most time with, you are also the sum total of the five habits you spend the most time doing. Good disciplines bring each day an opportunity while bad disciplines bring each day adversity. Every good habit you start and keep is a small move toward the person you hope to become. Minuscule changes in direction lead to a very meaningful change in destination. It’s not one single instance, but these daily choices will continue to move you closer and closer to becoming who you know you are.

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” —1 Corinthians 10:13

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This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.