I've been thinking a lot lately about the things that stop us, the things that prevent us from taking the steps to get what we really want from life. There are very real things in our external world that hold us back: time, money, access, gatekeepers, systems of oppression, etc. These things can be frustrating and harmful in and of themselves. But we also face internal barriers that compound these external barriers that prevent us from moving forward. Our internal barriers are the messages going through our heads that tell us we are not good enough, or that we should be afraid, or that we should doubt things about ourselves and our abilities that we intuitively know.
There are a lot of ways that we develop these messages throughout our lives. We mess up. We make mistakes. We are harsh, unforgiving critics of our past actions. We start to look for all the ways these messages can be confirmed by our relationships and in our careers. We hear or interpret these messages directly or indirectly from people we know and often love. Especially for women and people of color, these messages are reinforced in the media and popular culture. They are institutionalized by what is taught in schools or what we learn in our jobs. With years of practice, we get really good at sending ourselves messages that we are not enough and too much at the same time. We are not smart, not good-looking, not worthy, not anything. We are bad people, bad friends, bad parents, bad at everything. We are too loud or too big or too small, too everything. Who do we think we are to possibly want something else out of life? Over time, we might even come to believe these messages to be true.
The difference between whether or not these messages are true is the difference between self-consciousness and self-awareness. We do ourselves a disservice when we confuse these two things or when we let our self-consciousness get in the way of developing our self-awareness. To me, self-consciousness is the judgmental assessment of our feelings, thoughts, and behavior. We over analyze and over think until we get stuck, can't move forward, and convince ourselves of all the things we can't or shouldn't do. We listen to the messages that are overly present in the external world until they are internalized and become what we believe about ourselves. We feel self-consciousness in our bodies like the ways in which we experience stress, and that can have long term impacts on our health and wellbeing. Self-consciousness actually blocks our ability to be in touch with our bodies and what we need. Symptoms of self-consciousness look like:
The thing about self-consciousness is that these messages are not always active thoughts. They are often hiding out in our subconscious. Rather than interrogating them as to whether or not they are true, we let them dictate our behavior so that we are passively engaging with life, rather than proactively taking steps to live the life we want.
On the other hand, Daniel Goleman and others have described self-awareness as the nonjudgmental assessment of our feelings, thoughts, and behavior. Self-awareness is tapping into what our bodies are telling us about what we are feeling. With self-awareness, we act consciously rather than passively. We raise our thoughts and feelings to a level of conscious reflection where we are able to pause and ask "Where did this message come from? Is it true?" And it's in that place in the pause where we get to choose how we react and move forward. We are now driving our thoughts rather than our thoughts driving us. Outcomes of self-awareness look like:
Over time, we can even replace those old messages that no longer serve us with messages that keep us proactively engaged in our lives. Increased self-awareness leads to greater efficacy and knowledge that each step we take is leading us closer to our purpose. The more we are able to pause and reflect on what we are really thinking and feeling, the more we are able to make conscious decisions for how to move forward, rather than letting our self-consciousness decide our behavior for us.
The next time you are feeling self-conscious, pause. Take a deep breath. Notice what message you are telling yourself in that moment. Reflect on where that message came from. Then really challenge yourself to think about whether or not it's true. Try this several times over a week or so and notice if you start to take different actions because of your increased self-awareness.
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with my amazing, fantastic friend, Lindsay Guentzel. Lindsay and I have known each other for a while now, and over lunch we talked about how to move forward on goals, especially when life gives you so many options. Lindsay is one of those people who sees opportunity in everything. She's got this incredible energy that she uses to make things happen in her life. In November 2018, she traveled to St. Thomas to volunteer her time to help with hurricane relief efforts. She shares her amazing gifts and love of cooking whenever she can. She tells stories and hosts conversations where people feel welcome, loved, and respected. She inspires me all of the time with her outlook and the action she takes to keep moving forward.
I was thrilled when Lindsay reached out to me to have a conversation on WCCO Radio about coaching. Lindsay framed it up to essentially ask, "What's the benefit of having a coach in your life who is helping you to stay accountable to your goals?" We had a fun conversation that you can listen to on the link above, and here are a few summary points:
One caveat I want to make in reference to the recording is the difference between coaching and therapy. Lindsay mentions how she sees coaching is like a mix of someone holding you accountable to your goals and unofficial therapy. Many people make a connection between coaching and therapy. Sometimes that happens because people have past experience with therapy so they compare it to what they know. Other people think coaching is like therapy because we're talking about things like feelings! But, therapy and coaching are not the same and are two very different things. Through my coaching training with IPEC, we talked about the difference between therapy and coaching:
I am not a licensed therapist. I am thrilled and proud to be a Certified Professional Coach! If you think you could benefit from any of the things that I talked about with Lindsay, reach out! I'd love to talk with you about what coaching can do for you.
This month, I've been coaching a young woman on the brink of a major career change. She has just found out that her job is being eliminated, and she's hoping to make a smooth transition to something new. She wants to find an organization that aligns with her values. She wants to make the right move and not just jump into the first opportunity that presents itself. We've worked on articulating her values, describing the kind of organizational culture she's looking for and thrives in, and what she wants to get out of a new role. Yes, of course, a paycheck is important, but she wants a career that is more than that.
In one of our recent sessions, she realized how much baggage from her current job she is carrying. You can see the heaviness weighing her down. She was never really given constructive performance feedback, so she's incredibly anxious about whether or how she'll know that she can actually do another job. She's already doubting her own ability before she's even started. That's the baggage she's holding onto that she picked up from her current employer.
When I work with clients who are holding onto things that they no longer want to carry, I like to do a little exercise to have them think about their baggage:
Now that you've filled your bag with something else instead of the heaviness that was there before, you are reminded of what's truly important to carry with you and what is just taking up space and weight in your mind, body, and heart. Inevitably, we move on to new situations (jobs, relationships, etc) where we accumulate some new baggage. When things feel heavy, it's a good time to do this visualization again. With practice, you become better at packing your bag with just the essentials. Each time you do it, imagine saying to the things you are leaving behind, "I can't take you with me." Then pick up your bag and walk in the future.
I have to make another confession. I've recently connected with Kathy and she's become a mentor and friend to me as I am exploring working within living systems and within the realms of organizational development and leadership. I'm grateful to have found such an inspirational guide at this point in my career.
Ok, but there is much more to love about this book other than the fact I'm a fan girl of the author. Leading from the Roots offers us a different way to lead people and organizations. The industrialized way in which we work in Western society, especially in organizations in which we are trying to work on complex social problems, is doing much more harm than good, both inside and outside our organizations. We've come to view the world in a hierarchical, mechanistic way where parts (people) can be replaced and problems are solved with logic, force, and coercion, coupled with punitive policies and procedures that strip the humanity from those with whom we work with and for.
There is no better example of this than in our education system. As Sir Ken Robinson describes in this animated TED Talk, our public education system was built in a time when certain things were valued over other things, such as rote memorization over creative or divergent thinking. And the system that was created to reward certain behaviors and abilities no longer serves the students or the needs of our communities (if it ever really did). We treat students like robots who will go out in the world to perform jobs. And we rate their ability to be successful in a capitalist society through standardized testing, which acts as the dashboard through which we start to measure their productivity and potential contributions.
This isn't just a problem in education. Name a complex social problem and you can see the ways we have created machines of systems around them. And all of this leads to worse outcomes for our communities, increased disparities and inequities across the board in all categories, and exhausted, burned out people who are treated like replaceable cogs in the machine rather human beings.
Leading from the Roots says we don't have to view the world this way anymore. If we use nature as a metaphor and lead with a living systems mindset, we start to see the innate connectivity, interdependency, and reciprocity between people, organizations, and communities, and what it takes for all of them to thrive. Kathy talks about how organizations can evolve their consumptive practices into generous organizations that are multi-dimensional, diverse, and complex. She talks about the seven dynamics of living systems that we can draw on to shift our mindset:
The rest of her book describes the eight design principles nature has already shown us that can create more sustainable organizations. She wraps up the book by talking about what it means to lead from a living systems mindset and how we can create more generous organizations. Each chapter is packed with questions to consider for practitioners who want to lead organizations in a new way.
I'm intentionally not saying more about the contents of this book because I sincerely believe that you should buy it and read it for yourself. It will completely change the way you see the world, your organization, and your leadership. If you want a glimpse into what the book is like, check out Kathy's blog and peruse the amazing number of resources she has posted on her website. She embodies the notion of generosity. You can also sign up for her newsletter to have her wisdom delivered directly into your inbox each week. Kathy is committed to starting a living systems movement that can radically shift the way we lead organizations today. Join her.
Today, I am in Maine with three of my best friends in the whole world. We decided to travel together this summer for a short getaway where we could find peace with each other through deep conversation, time in nature, and lots of laughter. Two days ago, we met in Boston and drove up to Acadia National Park. In the car on the drive up, we spent time reconnecting, catching each other up on all of the things since the last time we talked, and excitedly making plans for our next three days.
As we are all passionate about the connection between our spiritual, professional, and personal lives (and because the drive was 4 hours long!), we made time to listen to and talk about Cory Booker's interview with Krista Tippett on On Being as we made our way up north. In the interview, Booker talks about the difference between tolerance and love. He says that while tolerance sounds good on the surface, when you dig deeper it essentially means that there is still something that we find distasteful about each other that we are putting up with. Booker urges us all to move from tolerance to embracing a daring love for each other. Without love, we won't be able to find the humanity in each other nor the common ground to lead to lasting change. It reminds me of what bell hooks describes in Love As The Practice Of Freedom, although I think hooks takes the need for love even further. hooks says, "Without an ethic of love shaping the direction of our political vision and our radical aspirations, we are often seduced, in one way or there other, into continued allegiance to systems of domination--imperialism, sexism, racism, classism." If we truly love each other, then there is no way that we can or will use domination and oppression of people to inform our policies, laws, and practices; liberation for BIPOC will not be achieved without it.
What would happen to the public parks in this country if we applied a politics of love, that didn't utilize systems of domination? What kind of relationship and healing could we create with the people from whom this land was originally stolen, and how could we all have a different relationship with the land itself? These are questions that will continue to stay with me, long after we leave this place. These are questions in which I'm determined to spend my life exploring for answers.
This morning, we decided to watch the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain. We spent most of last night singing around a fire, gazing up at the stars, basically howling at the moon. We got very few hours of sleep before we woke up at 3:30 am in order to make it to the top of the mountain in time to greet the sun. Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the United States to see the sun each morning. Bleary eyed but determined, we made the trek.
To our slight surprise but also great joy, there were already lots of people on the mountain when we arrived. We thought, "People who are willing to wake up at this time to watch the sunrise from the top of a mountain are our kind of people." We found a spot on some rocks on the hill, listened to the murmurs of the other conversations around us, and watched the horizon in anticipation of what was to come.
As we waited, one of my dear friends turned to us and asked, "What intention should we set on the sun today?" Setting intentions are a powerful way to live life with purpose. As Deepak Chopra writes, "An intention is a directed impulse of consciousness that contains the seed form of that which you aim to create." As if there were any other intention we could set that morning, we agreed on an intention of fierce love for each other, humanity, and the world. As we watched the sunrise, we pictured that intention following the sun as it shines down on the living beings on this planet.
Tomorrow, we'll leave this beautiful place and take this intention with us. We'll go back to our homes, our jobs, our responsibilities. We'll leave with a new sense of commitment to practice fierce love in ways big and small. We'll remind each other of this moment and ask ourselves, "How did you love today?"
I'm pretty excited about this upcoming webinar from Nonprofit Quarterly- Beyond Executive Coaching: How Coaching Can Develop the Next Generation of Leadership and Accelerate Organization Change. Coaching isn't just for executives! It's a really effective tool for leaders at all levels of your organization. In fact, it can be especially effective for people in new positions within your organization, or with teams who need support in working towards a common goal.
One of my current coaching clients is new to his position. He has more managerial responsibility than he's had in the past and he wants to make sure he moves his new team forward strategically and with confidence. He is incredibly competent and a great fit for the role, so he's just really looking for guidance, someone to ask him the right questions and encourage him to take the next steps. This is a great use of coaching that has benefits that will ripple throughout the organization.
I'm also coaching with a group of female employees who are working in a predominantly male industry. They are experiencing both overt and implicit forms of sexism, and when it all adds up, it's frustrating, exhausting, and defeating. I am coaching them as a team to draw on the confidence that they already have and claim their power. They have a vision of having their confidence vibrate through the walls of their organization so that no one is confused about who runs the place. Team coaching can really have huge impacts for the whole organization.
If you have been thinking about coaching for yourself, an employee, or a team within your organization, contact me! I'd love to talk about the opportunities with you. If you still aren't sure, sign up for this July 18th webinar from Nonprofit Quarterly to learn more.
At the 2018 Nonprofit Essentials Conference, I'm going to talk about one of my favorite topics. It's my experience that when most people think of leading from the middle, they think about how to manage up and down: providing direction and guidance to people who report to them and influencing the people they report to. There are certainly challenges of leading from that position and I totally get the desire to want to know what to do if you find yourself there. But, I actually think there is a completely different way to think about leading from the middle that can help you not just with the people that you work with directly, but about your role within the organization and with your organization's partners. If you think of your role in a networked way, and think of yourself less like a funnel between two parts of the organization and more like a hub in interconnected system, you open your perspective and perception of what is required of you from your position. So, if you are going to think of yourself in this way, what do you need to know? What skills do you need to have? How do you make change from this position? I'll be talking about all of this and more at the Nonprofit Essentials Conference! Register for the conference and stop by my session to learn more.
If you've been on a hiking trail, you've likely seen a cairn. These human-made piles of stones have served many purposes, both in ancient and contemporary times, all over the world. They have been used as landmarks, in ceremonies, and for hunting. Sometimes they tell you where something or someone is buried.
Hikers often use cairns as trail markers. In especially dense forests or in intensely networked trail systems, cairns highlight the path or indicate the way. They may also warn you about a potentially treacherous path or an unexpected drop on a mountain side. Cairns are there to ask for your attention, for you to be present, observe, and take in what's around you.
Cairns are also an indication that someone has been there before you. Someone has taken the time to prove that they were there. They have left their mark on the world. They have erected this little stone monument because they want you to see something that they think is important.
I decided to call this blog Trail Markers in the hopes that it can serve as a point of reference along the path. On Trail Markers, we'll honor the leaders who have come before us. I'll use this space to talk about things that I have learned or to process things that I'm pondering, and I invite you to learn and ponder with me. Let's post about books we have read and music that inspires us. We can use Trail Markers to discuss leadership, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, freedom, and perseverance. Like the trail ahead, there will be ups and downs, highs and lows. This will be a space to share what we learn when we are present, observe, and take in what's around us.
Enjoy the journey.