Fractures and Fault Zones

The daughter of a geophysicist and a long-time Houston resident (which if you’re not familiar with the city, has a massive fault zone running through it), I’ve always been intrigued by fractures and fault zones; of the seismic shifts that can occur over time and why some foundations can withstand the shifts, perhaps even becoming stronger over time, while others crumble in the wake of a single tremor.

In any team or long-term relationship, whether familial, romantic, professional, etc., there is the almost certain inevitability that at some point, sooner or later, fracture lines will form — cracks that form in the wake of too much pressure or perhaps the revelation of some fact, truth, or behavior that lay hidden just beneath the surface. Sometimes these revelations are the result of unforeseen triggers or unresolved business that may surface in our memory. Sometimes they are the result of people, events, and circumstances that we simply cannot control.

Whatever the trigger; whatever the cause, over time, too many fractures can eventually form fault zones that threaten the very stability of our foundation. Over time, too many fractures can cause us to question the integrity of intention, too, causing us to reactively look outside ourselves for answers (or blame) instead of taking time to look inward at our own role, choices, and behaviors.

So what do we do when we first see them surface? How can we create enough spaces in our togetherness or teams to allow for the natural expansions and contractions that occur over time? How can we practice self-care and cultivate the strength and resiliency needed in the event of a sudden quake or seismic shift? How can we do a better job of communicating our needs, fears, dreams, and hopes, while creating a safe space for others to do the same?

One answer is to take responsibility for our own choices, feelings, and behaviors, while establishing healthy boundaries that both honor the self and others; boundaries that reflect and defend our core values and truths, enabling us to form our own solid foundation even as we live and work in community and relationship with others.

Another strategy is to practice letting go of our need to both know and control outcomes, while allowing Faith to be our guide. So often we assume we know what is ‘best’ in any given situation — whether for ourselves or others, though this need to know or control not only damages others, but prevents us from being fully present in our own lives too. It robs us of the mystery of the moment and erodes our capacity for living from an inquisitive point of view — essential for continual learning and growth.

In the end, we cannot always predict a tremor or quake and we certainly cannot control the outcome. What we can do is take the time to build a solid personal foundation that can withstand the tests of time,  while cultivating the personal readiness and resiliency needed to navigate shifts, expansions, change and disruption, when they inevitably come our way.

Bite-Sized Bits

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Leaning Back

 

Sometimes we get so caught up in the pursuit of our dreams, we stop living life in the process. We become so focused on the what, where, how, and with whom, that if we’re not careful, we can lose our deeper sense of why. For those of us deeply committed to our causes or careers, sometimes, even when we’re clear, our sense of purpose can get buried when we fail to set boundaries in our lives and sacrifice self-care in the process.

I know this story well, for I’ve been there myself.

(More than I’m proud to admit.)

Regardless of our path or pursuits, we may justify our choices in any number of ways:

“I’m just doing what I have to do.”

“It’s only for a little while.”

“This is the price of success.”

“But I want to make a difference.”

Even when we defend our work for the love of what we do, if we’re not careful, we can lose perspective and potentially get lost along the way, believing that our purpose can only be lived by following a prescriptive path of achievement.

What happens, for example, when external achievement and what others think becomes more important than how we live, lead, love, and serve others in our everyday lives? At what point does a commitment to what we do become more important that who we are — whether as a colleague, parent or friend? What happens when our work, no matter how worthy the cause, actually becomes a way of avoiding responsibility in other areas of our lives? What happens when we fail to show up fully for those we love and/or abandon self-care in the process?

Recently I ran into a friend and former colleague who knew of my recent work and asked how it was going.

A childhood dream realized after years of effort and overcoming numerous obstacles along the way, it represented the crowning glory of what I had once hoped to achieve, but previously feared was forever out of reach. Without question, I loved my colleagues, expanded my skills, and furthered my knowledge of issues I care deeply about. I made deep and lasting friendships, while connecting with women and men around the world whose commitment to women’s empowerment reflect my own. Significantly, I was privileged to be a part of a collective body of work that continues to elevate women’s voices and generate positive ripples of change. For these gifts and so much more, I will always be grateful.

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But as my contract was nearing its end, I realized something else, too.

I realized fairly quickly that sustainable ‘success’ on that particular path required a degree of commitment beyond what I was willing or able to give in this season of my life and found myself re-examining my own sense of purpose, value, and vision for my life moving forward.

I recalled the wisdom of Secretary Albright whose path once serendipitously crossed mine. Sharing some of her own journey and the years of single motherhood that preceded much of her professional ascent, she emphasized the importance of staying clear on my priorities, true to my values, and patient with life itself.

In an honest moment of self-reflection, I also realized that at any given time and under almost any circumstance, each of us can live out our callings in any one of a number of ways — that the highest and best use of our gifts and talents need not be reflected in something extraordinary, but rather, in the ordinariness of our everyday lives; that the form of our work is less important than how we choose to show up, share our gifts, and serve others each and every day.

In that pause of self-reflection, I made a personal decision.

I chose to lean back, regroup, and realign.

I chose to step away from our culturally influenced narrative to relentlessly be more, do more and have more… to achieve, without regard for the cost, whether to ourselves or to those we love.

I chose to be still long enough to reflect on whether my outer choices truly reflect my inner values and priorities, and if not, to consider what needs to change, reminding myself that living an empowered life is as much about owning outcomes and accepting responsibility for my choices as it is about having the option to pursue them in the first place.

I’m curious to know…

In a culture that promotes ‘leaning-in’ — to our dreams, our callings, and our careers, often regardless of cost, what does it mean to ‘lean back’? What does that look like in your own life and career? Has there ever been a time when you stepped back or away from something in order to show up more fully in your own life, while holding yourself accountable for your life’s outcomes? Has there ever been a time when you realized that living on purpose is more than pursuing a singular passion; that it’s as much about how we show up and serve others as it is about what we do and the form that takes? Is your sense of personal success, identity and worth disproportionately defined by your achievements, or can they stand on their own?

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle Within

‘They’ say life is less about what happens to us, than how we respond to it, and that our attitude affects outcomes.  I believe in these principles and have often written about the same.

Put a smile on our face, respond with equal parts humility, forgiveness, gratitude and surrender, and all will be fine.

Only sometimes it isn’t.

Sometimes the battles we fight in our life;

Those people, events and circumstances that push us to the brink of our sanity and sense of self-worth;

Those moments that challenge our faith, our courage, and our self-respect, leaving us stripped of our strength and without hope, but for our carefully crafted facade of false smiles and false faith;

Sometimes these moments are about more than what meets the superficial eye.

Sometimes these battles without, are simply reflections or manifestations of a larger battle within.

Struggle with pride, for example, and life will find a way to humiliate you.

Struggle with jealousy and resentment, and you’ll discover little to be grateful for.

Struggle with fear, and life will most assuredly validate your fears, enabling you to stay stuck in the depths of your own shadows.

So how do we grow beyond these struggles?  How do we cultivate an attitude or response that enables us to grow through life’s inevitable challenges, instead of allowing them to defeat us?  How can we create a different outcome — one that enables us to live more fully, allowing love, peace and joy their rightful place in our lives? 

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We must be willing to fight our battles within if we hope to win the battles without.

We must be willing to slay our own demons before demonizing those who would battle with us.

We must be willing to challenge our own assumptions and question those stories we tell ourselves and others.

We must be willing to meet ourselves where we are and as we are — with grace, love, compassion, and forgiveness — to stand fully naked in our own truth before we can begin to advance forward.

I’m curious…

How have the events of your life reflected inner truths that you’d rather avoid? How has self-awareness enabled you to grow? What blind spots have you discovered within that when confronted and addressed, enabled you to live more fully without? 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Thought

Too often we say to ourselves or others, “how could this happen to me/to us/to our company?”  We believe we are powerless over forces and circumstances that seem to swirl about us as if in some conspiratorial way.  In this powerlessness, we cast ourselves as victims in our own drama, the villain always being someone or something else.  As people, we fall into these patterns because it is easier to project our pain, mistakes and short comings, than to own them ourselves.  We project onto others what we would rather not look at within ourselves.  We move frenetically through our lives without slowing down long enough to reflect, process, and discern, not only what is going on around us, but in our own thought patterns as well.  We thoughtlessly react, instead of thoughtfully acting.

When life throws us for a loop…or two…or three; when unforeseen events come crashing into our lives, disrupting our sense of equilibrium or illusions of control, it is natural and human to want to personalize the event(s).  Perhaps we were violated in some way or a trust was broken; perhaps illness or death invaded, casting a dark shadow over our life or those others we love; perhaps we lost our job – the result of economic and political forces beyond our control.

Still, anticipated or not, how we choose to interpret and respond to life’s losses and challenges is within our control, and our thoughts, for better or worse, profoundly shape how we move forward beyond these circumstances into the future.  Put a positive spin on events, and your more likely to create a psychological opening for moving forward; respond with a heart of gratitude or compassion, and your more likely to develop a deeper appreciation for the beauty in each person and learnings in each situation; respond with integrity and transparency, and you’re more likely to build trust with others; respond with humility, and others are more likely to work with and/or support you in your endeavors.

I’m curious…

How do you respond to the invariable struggles of life?  Do you seek to find meaning, answers, and openings for moving forward, or do you find yourself stuck in a cycle of blame – whether of self or another?  When life’s challenges comes crashing into your world; when challenges result in personal grief or hardship, how do you choose to move through them?   Do you seek opportunities for growth and learning, do you tend to bury or mask your pain, or do you choose the path of martyrdom?  What role does forgiveness, humility, and gratitude play in moving forward?

Trust & Intentions, Part Deux

I keep thinking back to my conversation a couple of months ago with my long-time mentor and friend – the one who inspired the original post, Trust & Intentions.

The words lingering in my mind long past their prime, I have continued to reflect on his central questions, “How do you know who and what you can trust; how do you know when people are really being open with you?” In doing so, my thoughts have shifted from literal answers to the broader issue of transparency in the context of trust.

I am transparent.

Completely. Fully. Perhaps annoyingly so. At times, provocatively so.

Increasingly, I really do say what I mean and mean what I say. Having largely shed the once constant need for external approval (and with it the chamaleon-like behavior), I am rebelliously transparent, my commitment to my own personal integrity and authenticity running at an all-time high.  Remember my reference to playing ‘the (corporate) game’ in my earlier post, Square Pegs and Round Holes? I don’t play it, both because I’m not good at it and because I choose not to.

In that space of transparency, I am also trusting. Sometimes too much so. I trust others because I am trustworthy myself.  That’s an important point, because authentic transparency requires an intense and on-going commitment to integrity, of self and others.  I have also assumed this risk of vulnerable transparency, because the reward of genuine connection, when it happens, far and away exceeds the risk of being hurt. Still, I’ve been warned, “Be careful, Sharon. Not everything is as it seems. ”

It’s true.

Not everything is as it seems.

People have agendas, often hidden, sometimes deceptive, and occasionally downright rotten. I know. I’ve met them. And I’m pretty sure you have, too.

Master manipulators, whether in thought, word or deed, these same people often operate from a place of fear. Relentless fear. Suffocating, life-sucking, energy-draining fear. If you’ve ever studied fear, you know that it multiplies rapidly. It eats flesh. It stifles our thoughts. It breaks our hearts.

Having once fearfully defined my life and worth by those things, people, and accomplishments external to myself, I gave up fear when I embarked on this journey within. It’s not that I’m impervious to fear.  I’m not.  But in making the shift, I have learned to meet fear head on instead of running away, and in doing so, the same fear that once engulfed me has begun to loosen its vice-like grip.  Increasingly, fear has given way to love, and love has paved the way to authentic transparency.

I’ve been testing my theories lately, taking immense risks both personally and professionally, to be fully and completely transparent.  Living and leading from the heart; exchanging fear for an unwavering commitment to my values and dreams. Whatever notions I once had of ‘playing it safe’, I’ve thrown out the window. This is my life after all, and I’m tired of playing a defensive game. It’s all the chips in, win or lose.

So, for those of you who are curious, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The risk

1. Transparency is risky, it’s true. When we extend ourselves from the heart, fully and openly, we risk others’ rejection. We risk their condemnation. We risk their manipulation. We risk loss. All pretty scary stuff, I admit.

2. When we lead and love from a transparent and authentic place, we risk misinterpretation of our intentions, too. There are those jaded souls and/or seasoned sharks swimming around in this world who do not recognize or trust transparency when they actually encounter it, and as a result, will attempt to sabotage you at every turn. Sadly, there are also those so hungry for love and connection that they mistake transparency for instant emotional intimacy. You know the kind…the “I thought there was something special between us (even though I only met you five minutes ago)?” If there is indeed a mutual connection, great! Wonderful, actually. But when it’s a case of one-sided misinterpretation, the leech-like behavior is usually about fear and control.

3. You can’t always control the outcome or other people’s intentions, it’s true (but it takes far more energy to conceal than to reveal).

Not very encouraging, is it? But read on…

The reward

1. When we fully love and respect ourselves first; when we are aligned and committed to our core values, the potential for rejection or misalignment does not have to be our undoing. This is not only true in our personal relationships, but in our professional lives, too. If the shoe doesn’t fit, it’s not the end of the world…you can decide to continue to walk around with painful blisters, or you can choose to find a new pair to try on for size. The choice is yours alone to make.

2. When combined with a strong core, a heady dose of courage, and firmly aligned values, there is not only tremendous power in transparency, but the propensity for hurt I’ve been cautioned about has actually decreased as transparency has increased, not the other way around.

3. As transparency increases, so too, does respect. People may not agree with every decision you make, but when you live and lead from within, as Lolly Daskal would say, people’s respect for you increases 1,000-fold. An added bonus? Your self-respect blossoms, too.

3. Transparency paves the way for authentic connection with others. Isn’t that really what life’s about, anyway?

4. Sometimes, if the conditions are right; if we’re willing to embrace the risks to fully walk our talk, transparency might just plant a seed for positive and lasting change in others, too; and that, my friend, is what real leadership is all about.

I’m curious…

How to you live, lead and connect with others? Do you operate from a place of open transparency, or have you mastered the art of concealed agenda? Have you found a healthy balance between the two? What price(s) have you paid for risking transparency? What reward(s) have you gained from being authentic? At your core, do you live and lead from a place of fear, or from a place of love?

If Onlies and What-ifs: Harnessing the Power of Choice in Our Lives

For the last several months, I’ve been writing about letting go and moving forward; getting unstuck and reuniting with lost dreams.  I’ve also been writing about heroes and victims and the power of words and the stories we tell ourselves and others.

In this vein, I’ve been thinking about how we often find ourselves lamenting if onlies.  “If only he had been willing to change…”  “If only I had more time to finish my projects…” “If only I had this or if only he/she/they had done that…”  “If only I could…”  We torment ourselves in any number of ways – whining, musing, wondering, yet staying stuck all the same.  If onlies are about those things over which we feel powerless to change, whether people or events outside of ourselves or our own (mis)perceived personal limitations or struggles.  They are about playing the victim and avoiding personal responsibility.  They are the excuses we allow ourselves and they reek of fear, apathy and defeat.  “If-only” is dis-empowerment at its core.

Let’s try a different phrase on for size.  Let’s play around with “what if…”  Not the what-ifs that breed worry and inaction, but a different kind of what-if.  The kind of question that breeds hope and the belief in what’s possible by asking, “What if instead of allowing ourselves to feel victimized and stuck, we made a different choice?  A bold choice…an affirming and fully present choice?”  “What if we accepted what is, instead of focusing our energy on what could have been, should have been, or might have been?”  “What if we chose to act, instead of react?”

If onlies suggest that we are not happy with our present and sometimes that is true.  We believe that events and other people or sometimes even ourselves, are the cause of our misery and that we have been dealt a bad hand.   Maybe you’ve made a mistake; maybe someone or something has hurt you; maybe you have a physical ailment that you blame for holding you back.  Life is not always kind or fair, it’s true.  But once we truly accept that fact, we discover that even amidst the rubble, there is great beauty and joy to be found in this life, too, though you have to be willing to look past limitations to the possibilities; you have to be willing to shift from passivity to accountable action.

If you’ve been dealt a bad hand or you’ve played your cards poorly, you still have choices.  You have the choice of attitude (which, by the way, often shapes our actions (or inaction)).  You have the choice of playing your hand as-is, or folding your cards.  You can quit, change, act, rise-up, or simply surrender in peace.  But victimhood, should you choose to stay stuck, is a choice as well.

I’m curious…

How do the phrases “if only” and “what if” shape your life?  Are they catalysts for change or an excuse to stay stuck?  Do you own your choices, including your attitude, or do you resign yourself to playing the role of passive victim?  If you could eliminate the phrase “if only…” from your life, what impact might that have?  Do you routinely look for and find the gems hidden amidst the rubble, or believe that the rubble is all that there is?