Walking the Heart Path

If life is a journey, I believe each of us must honor the sacred integrity of our own path. We must learn to lead from within, aligning our outer choices with our inner values, callings, and convictions.

But how exactly?

How, for example, do we discern and distinguish our own path from others’? How do we hear our own voice above the noise and courageously honor our own callings in the face of resistance from others?

Sometimes we lack a sense of vision, purpose or the ability to hear our calls. Perhaps we have a limited degree of self-awareness, and in the absence of self-knowledge and respect, look to the external to define our sense of worth. Sometimes our paths are laid out Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 9.26.57 AMbefore us by others, and we blindly follow what we are often unable or afraid to discover for ourselves. Perhaps we internally judge ourselves as unworthy or incapable of making a different choice, choosing powerlessness over self-empowerment. We allow fear to overshadow the gift of authenticity and allow the opinions of others to trample our own. Sometimes, we may find ourselves in a different role — judging others, perhaps harshly so, as if our subconscious’ way of defending the fragility of our own choices and ego.

In recent weeks, I’ve been inspired by those whose path have crossed my own; those who are not only daring to dream, but who have challenged themselves to leave the security of convention, convenience, and/or comfort to follow their sense of calling and conviction for their lives. While the stories differ in detail, what they share in common is a sense of daring and the courage to try, regardless of whether their decision to change was by choice or chance. What they share is the belief that when vision and effort are combined with core values and a deep-centered sense of faith and possibility, baby steps taken can begin to propel them toward their dreams and to live a life of purpose.

I’ve also encountered others who have shared their struggle to find their authentic voice and walk their true path, finding comfort instead in the status quo out of fear of what might happen if they dared to make a change. Not surprisingly, instead of projecting a sense of inner peace with their decision, energetically, they project a sense of dis-ease at best, and sometimes even outright anger as their internal discontent morphs into judgment and criticism of others.

Wherever we find ourselves on the continuum of life, if we are to honor and embrace our authentic voice and the essence of all that we have to offer, we must learn to silence the critics, whether our own or others. To realize our leadership potential, we must also own our truths and find the courage to live our convictions however and wherever we choose to live out our leadership in our individual journeys.

Exercising the courage to live in integrity with who you authentically are and to live out your callings and convictions is at the essence of heart-aligned living. In doing so, we not only find our true heart path but help pave a path forward for others, too.

Promo_FB_AP_Quote_Launch

Yesterday marked the official launch of my new book, Walking the Heart Path: Bite-Sized Bits of Wisdom on Living & Leading from the Inside Out. It was also a day recognize and celebrate International Women’s Day.

As a way of giving back and helping pave a path forward for others, $1 of every book purchased will be donated to the Foundation for Girls. Focused on nurturing the leader in every girl, this Charlotte, NC-based 501(c)3 providing mentoring, financial literacy, STEM, and other skills-based training to at-risk girls in Charlotte. 

From Surviving to Thriving: 16 Principles for Empowered Living

Before we can lead ourselves or others_fb header

Before we can effectively lead ourselves or others, we must first feel worthy of the journey itself. We must develop the confidence and courage to step up and into our own voice and to live our own truths with mindful intention and integrity. Whatever the road behind us, if we are to reach the places we’ve chosen to go, we must learn to live in such a way that our outer lives reflect our inner values. This is the essence of empowerment and heart-based living.

Almost any journey toward empowered living can be broken down into three distinct phases: 1. Self-awareness — that moment when we begin to become aware of ourselves — our dreams, our goals and our (self)limiting thoughts and behaviors that often hold us back;  2. Learning — a formative period of insight and exploration, shaped by mentors, role models and other ways we learn; and 3. Application of tools and wisdom that can help propel us out of our limitations and into the fullness of our own voice.

While there is no substitute for the journey itself, these 16 principles can help propel you forward and serve as a guidepost as you embark on your own journey of empowered living and leadership.

1. You must let go of the need for others’ approval if you want to claim your own power. Every time we depend on others to feed our own self-worth, we rob ourselves of our own power. This perpetuates our dependency on the external, for as we disempower ourselves, we become more needy and desperate for the validation of others. Invariably, this increases the likelihood that we will make poor choices — of partners, bosses, friends, etc.

2. Boundaries are not nice-to-haves; they are must-haves. If you are to live and lead from an empowered place; if you are to quit giving your power away to others, boundaries are essential. Boundaries let others know where you stand — with yourself and with them — exuding self-love and respect as you honor your own needs and values. Without boundaries, you not only create confusion for yourself and others, but open the door to needy, controlling and/or predatory personalities — those who feed themselves by robbing others: of their time, energy, ideas; dignity, innocence or worth.

3. As you begin to claim your own power, your relationships with others will begin to shift. You will gain the respect and support of some, but lose others along the way. Not everyone welcomes change and growth in others, especially those who have come to depend on our neediness for their own sense of worth and value. Don’t fight it. These shifts in relationships are a natural and evolutionary process, and the people you attract into your life from a newfound place of strength will result in healthier, happier, more productive relationships.

4. You must face your fears. When we bury our fears, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn about ourselves and grow in the process. When we bury our fears, we are essentially telling ourselves, “you can’t handle this,” re-enforcing our own self-limiting beliefs while missing opportunities for growth. Worse still, when left unresolved, we can count on our fears to manifest themselves — in our relationships with people, money, work and health — further undermining our capacity to overcome and build resiliency in our lives. The pain that we fear in facing our problems will not kill us, but holding on to our pain surely will.

5. You must learn to work through conflict. Few people like conflict, myself included. But in our idyllic pursuit of peace, we often forget that peace, courage, self-confidence and esteem do not arise from passive avoidance, but from working through. It comes from courageously facing ourselves and others, seeking as much to understand our triggers from within as the conflict from without. When we avoid conflict, we not only internalize our pain and potentially damage ourselves, but relieve others of their own accountability in the process.

6. Trust your gut. This truth applies as equally to opportunity as it does to people and situations we would rather avoid. Trusting your gut is not the same thing as giving yourself unbridled permission to ‘do whatever feels right’. It is, however, about learning to trust yourself and your instincts, without which we remain hopelessly vulnerable to and dependent on the agendas of others’, whether honorable or not.

7. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Learn what triggers you — your fears, your insecurities, your jealousy, anger or judgment. Once you know what triggers you; what threatens to pull you off-center, you are better equipped to respond proactively instead of reactively, a core element of living an empowered, intentional life. If, for example, a certain personality type consistently wreaks havoc in your life, learn to recognize it early and set boundaries accordingly. If you know in advance that a certain situation leaves you feeling vulnerable or insecure, you can buffer and diffuse your fears by envisioning a positive outcome in advance.

8. Victimhood is not a badge of honor. When you feel powerless in your life, it’s usually because of a painful event or series of events that happened in your past and/or is occurring in your present. Perhaps you feel you are a victim of difficult circumstances outside of your control or have been victimized by others. Life can be hard, tragic and painful, and as much as we may hate to admit it, there’s no escaping this difficult truth. By definition, people are human, and from that place of humanness, people often project their own wounds, hurt and dysfunction onto others, whether consciously or not. Sometimes we become ensnared in their pain. Sometimes we get hurt. Still, when we consistently hold on to our pain; when we wear it on our sleeve as if a badge of honor, it only serves to keep us trapped in our own victimhood.

Consider these words from ‘The Boss’, Bruce Springsteen:

You can find your identity in the damage that’s been done to you. You find your identity in your wounds, in your scars, in the places where you’ve been beat up and you turn them into a medal. We all wear the things we’ve survived with some honor, but the real honor is in also transcending them. -Bruce Springsteen

9. The stories we tell ourselves and others have the power to shape our future. If we are to live fully empowered lives, part of giving up our victimhood badge requires being intentional in our thoughts, words and deeds, for while we are not always in control of what happens to us, we can choose how to wisely respond. Just as our thoughts become words and our words become actions, the stories we tell ourselves and others have the power to shape our future, for better or worse. If we want to change the outcome, we need to change the script. We need to reframe our story, shifting our perspective from victim to victor. Instead of emphasizing what was done to you, focus instead on what you are doing. Instead of being absorbed with yourself, shift your focus on to others. Instead of dwelling on the past, share your vision for a better future.

10. Let it go. Whatever pain you’re holding on to; whatever experiences define your badge of disempowerment, let them go. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. When we hold on to or focus on the pain of the past, it robs us of the capacity to live fully in the present. Hold onto our pain for too long, and we end up allowing it to define us, blocking our true essence and the light of our soul. When we hold on to our fear, we lose our capacity to love. When we hold onto bitterness, we lose our capacity for joy. When we act from a fearful, self-protective place, we lose our capacity for authentic connection with others. Whatever you’re holding onto, give yourself permission to let it go, for by losing our baggage, we create space for new growth.

11. Our circumstances do not have to define us. You are not your circumstances. You are not your poverty, your unemployment, your divorce, your disability or your health issues. While your choices in the present may be influenced by the events of your past, you need not be defined by them. Moreover, while you may not be able to change others’ perceptions and biases, you need not be limited by them, either. Just as significantly, though our culture, profession, ancestry, religion, geography, socio-economic status, education, etc. are all factors that influence our identity, at any given moment, we are each free to step out of the proverbial box of pre-defined limitations and into the total truth of who we are.

12. You must be willing to take a risk. Growth is risky. There are no guarantees. There is no certain, predictable outcome.  The only guarantee is that by embracing growth and the inevitable change that accompanies it, you will embark on a journey that will both challenge and ultimately enrich your life beyond measure.

13. There is power in vulnerability. The very act of taking a risk; of extending ourselves beyond the comfort of the familiar and into the unknown requires a willingness to embrace vulnerability. It requires a willingness to let down walls built to protect; to dissolve layers of ego so that we can see beyond our defenses and into the essence of our heart, for it is there that we will find our true strength and power.

14. No pain, no gain. Growth is not only risky, it’s hard work, too, often (usually) accompanied by pain. By its very nature, growth and change require we be willing to leave the comfort of the known for the discomfort of the unknown. Just as in physical exercise, when we’re building our resiliency and courage muscles, there’s a painful tearing down process that must first occur, essential to building a stronger heart and foundation for our lives. There’s no escaping this fact, though it is usually the pain and discomfort of the status quo that ultimately challenges us to confront our deepest fears and surrender to this process.

15. Start with where you are. So often we put off until later what we can do right now. We hold on to the (false) idea that anytime must be better than the present time to confront our problems, face our fears, and embark on this journey of growth. “When this, then that,” we say to ourselves. ‘This’ may range from “when my children are grown” to “when I get that promotion” to “when I recover from my illness.” But putting off the steps we need to take to live our own voice out loud, robs us of both joy in the present and hope for the future.

16. You are enough. Each one of us is unique with our own set of gifts to share with the world. Each one of us has within us the capacity to love and be loved, to serve with humility and to act with compassion. We do not need to wait for someone else to tell us we are enough — good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough or lovable enough, for we are each a precious gift of God. Our worth is not found in or measured by the external, but resides within, if only we will dare to uncover the truth of who we are.

 

 

 

 

The Global Girls Project

global girls project 300 x 300 boxOn October 11, the world will celebrate International Day of the Girl, honoring and recognizing girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.  At the heart of these challenges is access to education, so it is no surprise that the theme of this year’s Day is innovating girls for education, including engagement of young people themselves.

But education (and the end goal of empowerment) is about more than tools and resources.  While access to formal education is an undeniably critical and transformative element in advancing opportunities for both girls and societies-at-large, true empowerment is as much about self-education and what happens within as it is about what happens without.  Without an inner passion for learning and commitment to growth, access to even the best resources will not be enough to yield the results we are seeking.  In this way, education and empowerment are integrally linked, and as we grow in both knowledge and belief in ourselves, our confidence, capacities and competencies to become leaders in our own lives increase immeasurably.

“When we truly know, honor, trust and act from our core selves; when we lead from within, we empower ourselves and others beyond measure.”

In the spring of 2013, my ten year old daughter and I each faced a significant challenge and setback that collectively provided rich fodder for introducing her to the subject of women’s empowerment and what it means to live one’s voice out loud.  Poignant to me at the time was the realization that my young and impressionable daughter, who has at times struggled to exercise her own voice, was the same age I was when I first began to lose mine.

“Before we can be empowered to lead others and live our voice out loud, we must first feel worthy of being heard.”

In the wake of these challenges, we watched live streaming interviews with Sheryl Sandberg, talked about women’s suffrage, and explored how and why women and girls are still denied equal access to education, opportunity and/or pay.  We talked at length about honoring ourselves, our voice and our talents, and finding the courage to stand up for ourselves and others, too.  As I watched her study my face anxious to offer ideas to help, I soon realized that how I responded to my own challenge could profoundly impact, influence and shape how she would respond to her own.

I could choose to stand up (or sit on the bench).  I could choose personal accountability (or view myself as a victim).  I could exercise my voice (or remain silent).  I could mindfully act, turning a challenge into an inspiring opportunity (or thoughtlessly react, while sucking on a bitter lemon).

The choice was mine.  The impact was ours.  And out of that moment the Global Girls Project was born.

About the Project:

Based on the United Nations Millennial Development Goal of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment and sixteen defining principles of heart-aligned leadership, the Global Girls Project is a collaborative writing project that invites women from around the world to share their own story of empowerment and leadership.

The goal of this project is to create a collection of stories that not only inspire and uplift, but encourage and empower others to find their own voice, too, thereby passing on the legacy of leadership from one generation of women to the next.

Please join me in continuing the conversation and lend your support to the project!  

Below is a list of ways to get involved:

  • Subscribe and/or comment on one of the stories on the website
  • Like or follow the Global Girls Project on Facebook
  • Follow the Global Girls Project on Twitter
  • Submit a guest post on the blog (women only)
  • Provide a link back to the site in a blog post or on your web site
  • Share this post with others who may be interested in participating in the project

Note:  Proceeds from any future publication of stories submitted will be donated to select NGOs that support women and girls’ empowerment and leadership development.

Me and My Shadow

The sun shining over endless fields of corn as the sun rose to meet the day, I walked in peaceful reflection, grateful for this season of joy and abundant growth.  As my mind and body meandered along the path, I became aware of the shadow cast, at times looming large in front of me, while at other times trailing behind, depending on the sun and the direction I chose to take.

Isn’t that how it is with life sometimes?  With every choice we make, we can choose light or shadow.  When we turn away from the light, allowing ego and fear and darkness to dominate our thoughts and action, our shadow selves can loom larger than life, threatening to overshadow all that is good and beautiful.  Like child’s play on a bedroom wall, we can even create distortions and illusions in our shadows; perhaps entertaining in the moment, though forever distracting us from what’s real and what’s true.  Alternatively, can choose to walk toward the light, both figuratively and literally.  We can choose to lead with love, enabling our hearts to open in the warmth of the sun, leaving our shadows trailing behind.

I’m curious…How do you live and lead each day?  Do you walk toward the light with clear intention and purpose, or allow shadows to cast darkness over all that is good and true?  Do you distort the truth or walk with integrity?  Do you hold on to what is real, or find yourself chasing illusions?

windingpath

TEAM



TEAM

To me, the word TEAM stands for ‘Together Everyone Achieves More’. And it’s true.  When the values and actions of many align with the vision of the whole, just about anything becomes possible. Add love, humility and a servant’s heart to the team and everyone benefits.

Yesterday I had the privilege of having lunch with someone who leads with love. Someone who believes that his company’s ongoing success, despite a difficult economy, is the result of taking care of his people – creating a transparent environment of trust where people are empowered to lead and live up to their fullest potential; an environment where balancing the demands of work with time for family and self-care creates sustainable high performance instead of pushing people to the point of burnout.  His vision, values, and commitment to TEAM are clear and the results speak for themselves.

I saw a different, albeit equally impressive example of TEAM last week in China. I was there as part of a delegation formed to share best practices in clean energy innovation in sustainable urban planning. Our team visited several communities and met with various Chinese urban planning officials, policy makers and clean tech companies working together on an unfathomable scale to address the environmental impact of mass urbanization. We were collectively awed by the possibilities of what clear vision, effective teamwork and strong leadership can produce. Equally impressive was their willingness to seek advice and input from others, recognizing that there is much to learn from each other.

In sharp contrast, these last few weeks I have also bore witness to two separate, yet equally exhausting examples of an alternative, less savory version of the acronym TEAM. I have watched tremendous initiative, effort and vision of what’s possible get buried under an avalanche of noise manifesting as territorial behavior, rooted in ego, pride and fear. I have watched helplessly as people, organizations and ideas have become polarized – stalemate and inertia setting in, attempting to take root in ever-shifting sands. Sadly, I have watched as the acronym TEAM morphed into a different meaning altogether: Territorialism Eventually Annihilates Motivation.

So I wonder to myself and I’m curious to ask…

How do we lead with love, love our teams, and continue to build bridges in the face of resistance? How, as leaders, do we build foundations of trust and transparency when others would rather play politics? How do we stay motivated and inspire others to align to a common goal? How do we teach and model the true meaning of TEAM – that together, we really can achieve more than any of us can do alone?

Humility

It is very early in the morning, still dark outside and quiet in the house…my favorite time of day.  Even on the weekends I set my alarm so that I can rise before everyone else…stealing moments of time to sit in absolute stillness, gather my thoughts and tune into my spirit.  It is a time when the events of the previous days, weeks or months, settle on my heart and give me pause for deep reflection.  It is also a time of humble prayer and quiet meditation.

Today, I continue to reflect on the word humility.  Webster’s defines it as the quality of being humble, respectful and modest.  In a broader sense, it is not only the quality of being modest about what we do know, but an honest acknowledgement of all that we don’t know and still have to learn.  It is submissive in nature.  It is the opposite of ego and it is rooted in love.  It is the great equalizer when we find ourselves pulled off-center in a state of false pride.

It is at these times – times when we momentarily lose our balance – that our outer strength gives way to a deeper vulnerability, and in this raw, exposed place, we feel naked and humbled beyond measure.  It is these moments that tempt us to run away, bury our hearts, or hide behind thick walls of defense; moments when prideful ego or ignorance rooted deeply in fear, risk luring us away from the growth and wisdom that true humility provides. But experience teaches us that humility is a powerful, grounding force, if we’ll allow its rightful place in our lives.  It is not haughty or boastful or proud. It centers and grounds us in our wisdom, while gently reminding us of all we still have to learn.  It dismantles our ego, while opening our hearts.  It builds bridges instead of walls.  It unifies rather than divides.

Sometimes humility is simply God’s way of reminding us to be still and to submit to the truth that we are but one star in a galaxy of many.  No less important than others, but no more important, either; that just as we are all leaders in our lives, we are all learners, too;  that perhaps the purpose of life is not to rest in certain knowledge of the answers, but to humbly and courageously seek the truth while embracing the larger mystery that is life.

I‘m curious…

How do you define humility?  What role does it play in your leadership?  What role does it play in your life?  Have you ever found yourself thrown off-balance?  What role has humility played in bringing you back to center?  How has humility helped you grow?  

Do You Lead With Your Heart?

These last few weeks and months I have been meeting and talking with many people, each leaders in their own professions and/or the civic organizations they represent.  I’ve also been reflecting back on those others I have known and/or worked with, whether in my personal, professional or civic life.  In every conversation…with every interaction,  I learn – about them, about their perspectives and just as importantly, about myself.

What strikes me most, perhaps more now than at times in the past, is where their heart is.  As I engage others, I wonder and observe: Do they have a sense of passion and purpose in their leadership, or is it simply one more responsibility to endure?  Do they lead to enable and empower others, or to dis-empower through fear and control? Is their leadership driven by a desire to serve a collective vision greater than their own, or the primary desire of self-service and unbridled ambition?  Do they view the opportunity to lead others as an honor and privilege, or does their leadership instead take on an air of entitlement?  At my core, I wonder if they bring their heart to their work and lead from a place of love.

If how we live shapes the course of our own lives, how we lead has the power to shape and influence those around us.  The messages we communicate through our leadership, whether directly or indirectly, reflect how we feel – about ourselves, our work, our community, and those others we work and/or journey with.  Moreover, we attract that which we communicate.  Entitlement is met with ego, dominance breeds fear, and control erodes creativity.  On the flip side, empowerment breeds growth and transparency breeds trust, while heart-centered leadership inspires hope, dedication, loyalty, and a commitment to collective achievement.

I’m curious…

How do you lead in your own life?  What factors influence and guide your leadership style?  Do you bring your heart to your work, life and leadership, and if so, in what ways?  How are you influenced by other leaders in your own life?