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?

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Have Enough?

If character is at the heart of effective leadership, do you have enough of what it takes to lead yourself and others — with courage, discipline, commitment, fortitude, integrity, humility, accountability, insight, resiliency and faith?

Do You Have Enough?

 

Making Peace

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Sometimes achieving peace without begins within. It begins with reconciling our heart with our head, facing head on those things we might rather avoid. It means taking a personal inventory of our behaviors and choices; making amends with those we have hurt or been hurt by. It means meeting others where they are and as they are… choosing to forgive and let go from a place of love, not ego; from a place of compassion, not resentment, without an expectation of reciprocity.

In celebration of International Day of Peace, recognized on September 21st, I’m curious to know and ask…

How do you achieve peace in your own life? What role can personal accountability, forgiveness and compassion play in achieving peace with others? How can holding space for another and/or opening a dialogue from a place genuine respect, create a bridge to deeper understanding and acceptance? As you inventory you own inner life, are there areas where you need to make peace, whether with yourself or others?

Photo credit: Chris Devers

The Possibilities of Hope

Over the past few months, I’ve been busy interviewing a wonderful group of young women — survivors of human trafficking who have each successfully transitioned out of ‘the life’ and are making positive strides towards a purpose-filled future.

In each of our conversations I asked them not only about their dreams, but what hope means to them and the role it has and continues to play in helping them navigate their own path forward. Their answers varied, though significantly, each of them held steadfast to the belief that their life would not change by waiting passively to be ‘rescued’, but rather, would require a willingness to actively take ownership of their own choices, moment-by-moment, day-by-day.

I have not walked in their shoes, though I admire their courage, resiliency and willingness to be accountable for their own choices and outcomes. As I reflected on our conversations, it got me thinking some more about hope and the role it plays in helping each of us move through times struggle, loss, transition or uncertainty.

The concept of ‘hope’ is often misunderstood and expressed as some platitude or affirmation that is supposed to magically transform our lives. But hope is more than passive, wishful thinking. At it’s core, hope is about possibility thinking — an active way of seeing, being and doing.

It’s understanding that while life can be difficult, filled with trials and tribulations that test us along the way, it is always changing. Where we are today, no matter how challenging the circumstances, will most assuredly be different that where we are tomorrow, next week or next year.

Hope Says

More than passively relying on extrinsic events to change our circumstance, hope is not only moving forward in faith and believing in the possibility for a better outcome when we are in a season of sorrow or difficulty, but having enough courage and confidence in the value of our dreams and vision for the future that we are willing to commit ourselves to doing the intrinsic work necessary to realize a different outcome. Whether from a Christian or secular perspective, it’s faith in action — taking steps to advance ourselves forward, while staying open to new possibilities along the way — an idea that in and of itself, gives me hope!

I’m curious to know…

What does hope mean to you? What is the relationship in your own life between faith and hope? How can taking responsibility for your own choices and outcomes enable you to shift from a mindset of ‘hopelessness’ to hopeful, even under the most difficult of circumstances?

Protected: Abandoning Ourselves

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Selling Out

Far too often, we sell ourselves short and/or sell ourselves out. We act from a place of fear. We act from a place of pride. Sometimes, we fail to act at all.

I should know.

For too long I allowed fear (and later pride) to hold me back. Pick your flavor, I’ve probably tasted it already. First, there was this overarching fear of what everyone will think; a malady I lived with for far too long in my life, and one that still rears it’s ugly head from time to time. I made relational choices early on that re-enforced this pattern and then chose a career that all but guaranteed that I would remain personally stuck (unless I dared to break through). A career where what others’ think does in fact matter and is an important yardstick for advancement. In certain spheres, it matters so much that I actually have friends who’ve worked hard to have a ‘zero’ social imprint. No LinkedIn, no Facebook, no Twitter, and certainly no blog filled with paintings, prose and personal revelations. And though as a child I aspired to be a diplomat (or in intel) like some of these others I know, these days I’m humming Garth Brook’s ‘Unanswered Prayers’ and am thanking God that it didn’t quite work out — at least not as I once imagined.

Then there’s that pesky thing called perfectionism.

I didn’t think I was one. Honestly, I didn’t. I thought perfectionism looked like my friends’ houses where there’s never a speck of dust or paper in sight. Or my friends whose perfectionist OCD tendencies manifest in their need to relentlessly organize their surroundings. That’s not me. Though I appreciate a tidy home, I don’t care much for housekeeping and prefer to have my ideas and creations visibly accessible, not tucked away in some drawer. So I was shocked to learn at a recent leadership retreat that there was universal consensus among the group that I was indeed a perfectionist, just of a different flavor. And while I’m letting go of my concern with what others think, I’m still left with that I think. And I think they’re on to something.

The truth… my truth… is that all of this perfectionism, people-pleasing and pride is exhausting. Really exhausting… And it has taken me into my 40s to finally begin to understand: if we’re not okay with ourselves, then perhaps it does matter… more than it should… and from that mindset, we’re likely to attract people and situations into our lives that validate these fears and keep us stuck. But however much we might protest to the contrary, ‘stuck-ness’ is really not about others, but about where we are with ourselves.

Want to let go of people-pleasing? Try a little self-love on for size. It’s not about being selfish, but it is about owning our own truth and valuing ourselves, including our imperfections and limitations. It’s about being at least as accountable to ourselves as we hold ourselves to others or others to us. Want to face down your fears? Try a little courage on for size and take on the very thing that you think you can’t do… the one that will help you advance your own dreams. Want to let go of pride? Take risks, fail publicly, acknowledge ‘not knowing’, give yourself a hefty dose of grace, then graciously return to the arena, wearing a little more humility than you once did before. Want to step more fully into your own voice and leadership? Learn to act from your core truths and values and lead with a servant’s heart — not from a place of all knowing, but from a place of quiet confidence in yourself and humble acknowledgement of all that there still is to learn.

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I’m curious to know

Have you ever allowed fear, pride or indifference rob you of your own dreams? Have you ever sold yourself short or sold yourself out? In what ways have perfectionism or people-pleasing kept you stuck in your own life? What steps can you take today to get out of your own way? What one step could you take today to move you closer to your own dreams?

About

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?