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.

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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. 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

From Surviving to Thriving: 16 Principles for Empowered Living

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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.