Imagine finding yourself in a dark room…It’s a room that was once lit, but has since dimmed.
And you have been doing everything you can to turn that light back on. You’ve even gone so far as to build a contraption that allows you to generate electricity through your own manual effort, sort of like a giant hamster wheel.
The problem is you have to run continuously to produce the smallest splinter of light. And you find yourself pushing harder and faster to get that light to grow so that more of the room is illuminated once again.
Off in the distance, there is another room that glows brightly and warmly beckons to you.
The radiance coming through the doorway of that space is pure and beautiful and you can almost feel its glow.
But despite the draw of that warmly lit room, you stay right where you are. Instead of getting off the crazy hamster wheel that requires constant exertion and toil, you just keep running faster and faster.
And you are becoming exhausted.
This metaphor came to me in a moment of reflection. I had noticed a theme that I’ve seen echoed among several of my executive coaching clients – and in my own life as well, from time to time.
You see, business and leadership is fluid, never static, which means we can’t rest on our laurels very long, because before we know it…
What used to work well no longer produces results. And that’s a problem.
What was once easy and energizing begins to feel cumbersome and draining. And rather than moving us forward, in some cases it actually thwarts our progress.
But when it’s all we know, it can be difficult to let it go.
We worked so hard to perfect those ways of being, of working, of relating. And it paid dividends in the past. We think to ourselves, “If I could just double down, and put a little more effort into it, a little more discipline, I could turn it all around,” right?
That’s what many of my clients thought. Maybe you can relate…
For some, the work they did won them a promotion.
Their intense operational focus and ability to dig in and get results merited them an increased scope and elevated role. They became responsible for leading and empowering others to do the work they once focused the majority of their effort on. They were being called to make a bigger, more strategic impact, but their fierce and intense focus on operational details was preventing them from making that leap.
For others, it was work that once excited them but was no longer stimulating.
They could do it in their sleep. Sure, they were good at it, but it was becoming a boring, tedious grind. It was harder to get out of bed in the morning. There was nothing to look forward to. And in their quiet moments, they dreamt of doing something bigger, bolder and more impactful.
Some even had ideas and projects they longed to pursue or propose. But they just couldn’t get themselves to break out of the ruts they were in, and/or doubted whether they really had what it took to do anything different.
And for many others, it was about working in a way that was simply not sustainable.
They had a tendency to take on more than most, prioritize everything equally and live in constant fear of letting people down. So they continued running a race that was increasingly difficult to keep up with, let alone win. The stress and pressure of their environment was high, but small in comparison to the anxiety they heaped upon themselves.
Regardless of which group you find yourself in, there is a better way not far off in the distance.
At some level you are probably aware that something has to give… You dream of feeling energized again, of being unencumbered and inspired and engaged in meaningful and fulfilling work. But you can’t get to that new place without being willing to leave the old one.
You can choose to stay in the dark, dreary room because it’s comfortable.
It may no longer be satisfying, or even pleasant, but it’s familiar. Do you ever shy away from the light that is beckoning you to leave that space because you are afraid of what you’ll see or whether you’ll be able to handle it?
Sure, we all do that from time to time, even though…
The light reveals new possibilities for growth, significance and satisfaction.
It not only illuminates the challenges and opportunities, but also your strengths – including some you may not have realized you have. And it ushers in new vitality, new energy and new clarity. When you summon the courage to leave your dark, dull room and follow the light, you’ll be filled with vigor and joy, and you’ll find your enthusiasm renewed, your passion reignited, even if you don’t believe that yet.
The light of new possibilities brings both freedom and flow. No more running like hell without getting anywhere. No more banging your head against a wall only to end up with throbbing pain. No more feelings of being trapped by your circumstances. Once you summon the courage to follow the light into new possibilities and ways of working, you’ll experience a momentum that propels you forward in a sustainable way.
I know this because I have experienced it firsthand myself.
And over the last twenty plus years I have helped hundreds of executives just like you experience it too. I can tell you that there is simply nothing like it. And it has to be experienced to be believed.
That light that beckons to you is a call to step into something bigger and more satisfying.
It invites you to release old, outworn ways of working that no longer serve you and step into your personal and professional best – to unleash your greatness, to make a bigger impact and a bigger contribution. And it brings with it not only new levels of performance and effectiveness, but also fulfillment that enhances your life both on and off the job.
I wrote this article for you, because my life’s work is about helping high achievers effect this transformation in their lives and their organizations. Because when you answer this vital call to realize more of your true potential, magic happens. You can quickly make a bigger impact doing meaningful work without sacrificing who you truly are. Best of all you’ll enjoy your life more. You become a shining example and a far more effective leader to others who will learn to make the same improvements in their own lives and careers.
The sad reality is, some of us stay in our dark rooms longer than others.
Making that move requires resolve and determination. And it starts with a conscious decision and a commitment to yourself. But the process can be unnerving. It requires you to let go of something you know in order to move into something you don’t. And though the rewards of making that move are profound, it isn’t always easy. Especially when you try to go it alone…
Having someone to guide and support you through the process can and almost always makes all the difference.
That’s why I created The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive to help high achieving executives just like you make that vital leap with professional high level support and guidance, so you can move through it very quickly, with courage and grace.
The program is a distillation of the most impactful approaches and techniques that have helped my clients over the last twenty plus years to successfully affect their own personal and professional transformations. These are powerful methodologies I repeatedly utilize in my own life as well.
If anything you’ve read has resonated with you, I encourage you to give yourself the gift of registering in the program right now.
I’ll be personally guiding an intimate group of eight executives through this process over the next twelve weeks utilizing a powerful blend of online training (that you’ll have lifetime access to), small group mastermind meetings and one-on-one coaching support.
This is the final notice, and registration for the program closes on Friday so that we can begin our work together next week.
Sure, you could probably do this on your own – through trial and error… in stops and starts battling frustration and confusion each step of the way…
You can make this transformation so much more easily and quickly by joining me in this program – to get the support, guidance and coaching that helps you build momentum and sustain your progress.
There are five essential phases in this process of transformation that we’ll move through together.
- VISION: The first phase involves having a vision of what is possible and what your work and your life will be like when you achieve it. The Personal Power Grid™ and associated exercises we’ll cover in the beginning of the program will help you gain clarity and see new possibilities.
- AWARENESS: The second phase entails becoming aware of your current state and the impact it is having in your life. You’ll also begin to recognize what is and isn’t working – which thoughts and behaviors are aligned with your vision and which are not. This is a tricky step because much of it occurs at an unconscious level.
- INSIGHT: As your awareness grows, you’ll gain vital insight that will help you strengthen your vision and inform your actions. This program is designed to help you cultivate your OWN insight in ways you were not able to do before, so that you can find answers that are truly fitting in your own life.
- ACTION: Once you have insight about what you need to do more and less of, you can begin to experiment with action, utilizing tools and methodologies shared in the program. The activities and reflective exercises provided will help you turn information into transformation. The process is iterative, as every action you take allows you to gain additional insight and awareness.
- ANCHORING: To ensure you don’t get sucked back into old habits and patterns, we’ll review the five pitfalls you’ll be most likely to fall into as well as strategies for prevention and recovery. We’ll also discuss regular practices you can institute to leverage your progress and keep you on your path to freedom and flow.
What differentiates this program from all the others out there is that it isn’t about blindly following some recipe for success that attempts to make you someone you are not.
The program is designed to help you move more deeply into who you truly are, so that you can connect with your own wisdom and allow it to guide you in ways that are authentic and natural to you, and lead you to your own personal uniqueness and strengths.
You’ll learn to leverage your experiences in ways that bring clarity and focus into your life, and experience lightness as you begin to let go of things you’ve been making yourself do all these years that have weighed you down and created unnecessary pressure and anxiety. All this while enjoying unprecedented levels of performance and energy that is sustainable – because it comes from the inside out.
I hope you’ll take me up on my invitation to join me now and answer your own personal and professional call to greatness. Step out of that dimly lit room and into the light of possibility, expansion and growth.
The FINAL SEAT has your name on it, so claim it right now, before someone else does.
If you’ve read this far, you know it’s time to act.
P.S. Does your organization sponsor professional development? To assist you in getting approval to use corporate funds for your registration in the program, download the business case for participating in the program.
You might tell yourself that work isn’t supposed to be fun – that’s why they call it work. But when you spend the majority of your waking hours just getting through the day or counting down to the weekend, you have a bigger problem than you might think.
Most of us don’t start our professions that way, but over the years disappointment, frustration and pressure can lead to disillusionment, disengagement, and burnout. Lack of passion and joy on the job will hit you hard in three major areas:
Let’s take a look at how work becoming a grind affects you personally.
You might think that as long as you can enjoy yourself after five (or six, or seven) and on the weekends, you will be just fine. But when you spend the better part of your day on a kind of autopilot, feeling like you’d rather be somewhere else, it’s hard to keep that negativity from spilling over to the rest of your life.
You may find yourself irritable, preoccupied, exhausted or just brain dead.
And whether you know it or not, that infringes on your ability to fully enjoy the things, experiences, and people in your personal life that you hold most precious.
You may even have a decent paycheck and enjoy a position of influence and status in your organization. But when the work you spend more of your waking hours doing is a continual grind, it’s easy to begin feeling as though life itself lacks meaning and fulfillment.
Perhaps you’ve made the decision (consciously or unconsciously) to put your personal happiness on the backburner in the name of your professional success and upward mobility.
Well, unfortunately lack of passion and joy on the job has a negative impact on your professional effectiveness as well. Let’s take a closer look at that.
You can try all you want, but when you are exhausted and overwhelmed you will work very long days spinning your wheels without getting a whole lot done. You may think you just don’t have enough time to finish everything on your plate. And while it is true that time is finite, your real problem is lack of energy.
Creativity and Problem Solving
Lack of energy makes everything take far longer than it should. It blocks you from accessing your creativity, leads you to unnecessarily complicate things, and pushes the solutions to your problems just out of reach. All of this will contribute to a feeling of being unable to get important things done, which will cause you to work longer hours and become even more exhausted.
If your job requires you to have even the slightest degree of influence over others, consider this: getting someone excited about doing something is largely a matter of sharing your enthusiasm. But enthusiasm isn’t something that is easily feigned. And when you try to fake it, you will come across as being disingenuous, which will keep others from trusting you.
It’s exceedingly difficult to get anyone — whether they are your coworkers, your direct reports, or your customers — to become excited about something you can’t muster up the passion for yourself. And while we’re on the subject of coworkers, direct reports, and customers, let’s talk about the impact lack of passion and joy on the job has organizationally.
If you are a leader of others — whether you know it or not — you are setting the tone for the entire organization.
If you are not feeling emotionally committed, passionate, enthusiastic and connected to your work and the people you partner with to do it, chances are the people you lead will not be feeling it either.
Research indicates that as much as 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged. That translates into people who are physically present on the job, but not emotionally or mentally all there. When people are disengaged they go through the motions, doing as little as possible to fly under the radar.
The Cost of Complacency
This complacency causes all kinds of problems, including low quality products and services, plummeting productivity, low creativity and innovation, strained customer relationships, intra and interdepartmental conflict, absenteeism, high turnover, and ultimately low profitability. It does little to attract key talent, and certainly does not contribute to having a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
What does that have to do with you?
Engaged employees are people who feel part of something bigger than themselves — an organization with a shared purpose that has meaning to them. And they want to work for a boss who is turned on and tuned in to the organization and them as people.
If you have no passion or joy for your own work, you will be hard pressed to inspire it in others. In fact, you could end up unwittingly sucking the joy from those who already are engaged, and/or driving them to look for work elsewhere.
Losing your passion and joy at work has significant implications for you on three different levels:
(1) Personally. You just can’t turn it on and off like a light switch. If you are feeling a lack of passion and joy at work, chances are good it will translate into your personal life, like a dark cloud that follows you around despite your insistence that you can shoe it away. You deserve more out of life than that.
(2) Professionally. The overwhelm, frustration, and exhaustion you feel is likely keeping you from performing at your best. While you may be working very long hours, your problem is not lack of time but rather lack of energy. Lack of energy is accompanied by lack of creativity, problem solving and influence. Energy comes with passion and joy. And when passion and joy are lacking, your performance will be lacking too.
(3) Organizationally. Just as passion and joy can be contagious, so too is the lack of it. A leader’s lack of passion and joy gets translated into disengagement, both for the leader, and the followers. Disengagement negatively impacts productivity, innovation, customer satisfaction, employee recruitment and retention — and ultimately profitability.
So if you feel like work has become a grind — but not a problem you have the luxury to address right now, think again. It may well be that you can’t afford not to. Rejuvenating your passion and joy on the job is easier than you think. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to find another job.
Consider making reigniting your passion at work a priority.
And if you are interested in receiving some support and guidance, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow Group Intensive, an exclusive twelve-week small group mastermind/coaching program/online training course kicking off on March 20. Sign up before March 10 and receive a 15% early bird discount!
And what do you need to let go of to allow it to fully take root?
Every year, we are encouraged to set New Year’s resolutions.
We are a goal driven society that is conditioned to seek more. Our egos desire more money, more fame and prestige, and more stuff. A deeper part of ourselves longs for more peace, more meaning, and more purpose in our lives. We want to move beyond our previous realizations of what we’ve already accomplished to master newer, better ways of doing things—whether that be what we create in our lives or in our organizations—and as leaders what we can inspire others to do as well.
What if you started with less instead of more?
Though it is tempting to occupy ourselves with thoughts of how we can go about achieving all of this and what we need to do more of, perhaps what we really need to start with is what we need to do less of – what we need to let go of to create the space for something new to come in.
We are constantly evolving as human beings.
It is so easy to look to the past to define who we are though the things we’ve already done – goals we’ve achieved, titles we’ve acquired, and creations we have built. Our previous experiences coagulate to form an identity that is easy to confuse with our true nature.
The fact of the matter is, you are not your accomplishments, your creations, or the sum of the various roles you play in your life – manager, director, vice president, mother, father, friend, son, daughter, etc. You are much, much more than that. Your potential is limitless.
And yet, we limit ourselves by definitions of who we think we are – or should be.
They filter the experiences we allow ourselves to have and compel us to define the form that our deepest longings should take. To be happy, we reason – we must get that promotion, achieve this or that goal, hit that target. So we continue to go through the motions, doing the kinds of things we’ve always done – on a sort of autopilot.
Some of this may bring satisfaction, and some may lead to discontentment.
We need to attune ourselves to that which brings us the most of what we truly desire and open ourselves to the possibility that what we really want may need to come in a form that has previously been undefined for us. In short, we must allow ourselves to surrender what we think we know to open to the mystery that is unfolding in each of our lives.
Easier said than done, right?
How exactly do you go about letting go of the known when it is all you know?
We can take our cues from nature. Snakes and other reptiles shed their skin, trees drop their leaves, and caterpillars create cocoons in which their forms entirely dissolve before recreating themselves in the form of butterflies. Even a fish in a bowl cannot stay in water that contains its excrement – the waste must either be emptied and replaced with new water, or absorbed by something else that will remove it from the fish’s environment. Without engaging in these renewing processes, these creatures will die. And so it is with us. Many of us are already walking around encased in layers of old, dead stuff that needs to be released.
What are you holding onto in your life that has run its course?
- What are the old outmoded ways of doing things that no longer bring you energy?
- What are the things you’ve acquired that you no longer need?
- What beliefs are you holding onto that are no longer true for you?
Pay attention to the times that you feel constricted, anxious, or tired and in those moments ask what you can let go of. Don’t be afraid of the answer. Though it may frighten you because it introduces an element of the unknown, following these insights will always lead to freedom and liberation.
Your computer can only handle so much data, and the same is true of you.
If you do not delete old email and get rid of files that have been accumulating over the years, and if you continue to add new programs without deleting old ones, you will find that it becomes sluggish and unresponsive. Just as freeing up space allows your computer to process things more quickly, so too will clearing your own personal space (whether of things or thoughts) allow you to access new levels of clarity and creativity.
Space brings freedom.
You will breathe easier, be more present in every action and interaction you partake of, and bring more of who you really are to what you do. And you will open the space of possibility that will allow something to come in that may surprise and delight you. Rather than being something you slave away for, it will simply emerge and reveal itself to you.
And of course, any work you do on yourself will serve as a form of leadership for others who, like you, seek their own answers and could benefit from your example of unearthing what is possible and allowing it to take form in new and unexpected ways.
Taking the time to discern what is and isn’t working in your life and up level your game becomes easier and more fun when you have support.
If you are ready to do a deep dive to supercharge your leadership and your life, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow Group Intensive, an exclusive twelve-week small group mastermind/coaching program/online training course kicking off on March 20. Sign up before March 10 and receive a 15% early bird discount!
One day when my kids were younger, they had a play date with some friends. I heard one of them telling the other that Santa Claus wasn’t real. My son, who was eight years old at the time, vehemently defended the jolly old man, with elaborate explanations of why something not easily proven was worth believing in anyway.
It reminded me of my own childhood.
I had to laugh, as I flashed back to one of my own experiences with a little girl in my neighborhood who made fun of me for believing that a fat man in a red coat actually came down my chimney every year. I was so mad that, when she wasn’t looking, I broke all her crayons and put them back in the box (and spent the rest of the holiday season worrying that I had just put myself on the naughty list).
I have since learned that it is okay if everyone doesn’t believe what I do.
And if he hasn’t already, my son will learn that too. But he is the one who taught me something that day. I was buoyed by his unwavering belief and faith in something he’s never really seen and inspired by his example.
I can’t help but believe that those who trust in something magical will experience that magic in ways the skeptics will not. And I think the same is true in life.
There will always be someone around to tell us what cannot be done.
And there will also always be people who, upon being so told, will do it anyway. Their faith, determination, and belief in something they have yet to see will allow them to persevere until their dreams become reality.
One of my favorite authors on personal and spiritual growth, Alan Cohen, once said “You do not need to get others to believe in your truth. You just need to live it.”
Trust, faith, and perseverance go a long way.
In a world where much is uncertain and the old success formulas no longer seem to work, I believe it is more important than ever to trust in what we know to be true in hearts, even if our minds cannot figure it all out. It may go against what we have been conditioned to believe, see, and do – but perhaps this makes it even more important.
To bust out of old paradigms that keep us from realizing our greatness, perhaps we need to stop questioning what is possible and start challenging our limits instead. As we do, we will begin to make manifest that which we previously only dreamed was possible and, through our example, show others the way to rise.
Believing what we want to see is especially important when creating our future. But it is only one component of a vital process I’ll be covering in my upcoming online course and group intensive, The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow. Stay tuned for more information or click here to get on the waiting list and get first priority (with no obligation) at the limited spots that will soon be available.
Every day offers us a new challenge and an opportunity to see what we are made of.
Some days more than others. Think of all the resources you have at your disposal to rise up to these challenges. You have your intellect, style, wit, humor, strength, resilience, patience. You have friends and colleagues, family members, and other special people in your life. You have your possessions, your resources, your health, your savings, your home.
When you get down to the bottom of things, one of your most valuable resources – which allows you to enrich every other aspect of your life, is the way in which you view yourself and what you believe you are capable of. This one thing plays a monumental role in determining your fate, because it drives your actions and responses to everything that happens to you.
This quality is confidence.
You know it when you see it, don’t you? A confident person walks into a room and doesn’t have to say a thing. They wear their faith in themselves and their abilities like comfortable clothing. They do not need to be arrogant or assuming. They are at ease in their own bodies.
What exactly is confidence? And how do you get it?
Some would say confidence is being able to show others that you know what you are doing, that you have what it takes to succeed, that you are in control. Others speak of confidence from the standpoint of having courage to do things that require a high degree of skill, knowledge, strength, coordination, or that may entail some degree of risk. Still others would say confidence is the ability to inspire trust in others. Merriam Webster defines confidence as “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances” and “faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper or effective way.”
Confidence is something that must come from the inside out.
What do I mean by that? Every day we face challenges and opportunities that allow us to exercise confidence. We can do things today that we were unable to do last year, or maybe even last week. When we get to a point where we no longer question our abilities and simply execute the task at hand in a manner that is fitting to the situation, one could say we are acting with confidence.
Exercising confidence does not require that anyone else believe we know what we are doing, or even that they witness us doing anything at all. It requires us to do what must be done at any given time, utilizing the resources at our disposal and calling on our own strengths, ingenuity, and discernment to do it.
It is easy, however, to fall into the trap of trying to gain confidence from the outside in.
We often go about our tasks with an eye on the perceptions of others and allow their reactions to determine our confidence level. A positive response increases our confidence, and a negative one decreases it. When we repeatedly engage in behavior like this, we will subjugate our ability to perform and stunt our inherent talent by interrupting its natural flow.
Imagine yourself standing in a room trying to balance on one foot while holding the other in your hand and looking up at the ceiling. Now add about fifteen to twenty people to the room who are trying to do the same thing. If you worry about whether you look good and imagine that everyone is staring at you, you will lose your balance (and your confidence). If, however, you center yourself and focus on the task at hand, you will find your core strength and a sense of calm, and you will achieve your goal. It may take awhile, but you will get there.
“It is very easy in the world to live by the opinion of the world. It is very easy in solitude to be self-centered. But the finished man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
This phenomenon becomes more complex when we assign value to others’ perceptions.
The opinion of someone we highly regard may weigh more heavily than someone we don’t. And strangely, getting validation from someone who doesn’t seem to think well of us can have more significance than hearing praise from people who are our biggest fans. Why? I think we tend to focus our attention on that which mirrors our own thinking. Criticism stings the most when it amplifies our own self doubt. And when we find ourselves craving acknowledgement from others, it is likely because we are withholding it from ourselves.
As we go about trying to win approval, we allow others to define our sense of self.
And as a result, we grow ever more unaware of the treasure that sits in our own back yards. We leave our true fortunes to seek things that glitter and fade. The harder we try to win the confidence and validation of others, the further we will get from achieving it and the more deeply buried our inherent riches become.
Rather than acknowledging evidence that is all around us which confirms that we are competent, creative, talented, worthy and capable of achieving great things, we waste our energy focusing on what we believe is lacking. As a result, we pay attention to data that validates our feelings of inadequacy, which leads us to act in ways that sub optimize our potential. This further erodes our confidence and we risk locking ourselves in vicious cycles of deteriorating performance and eroding self assurance.
Confidence is an inside job because we cannot expect others to believe in us if we do not believe in ourselves.
To be truly free, we must become independent of the opinion of others.
This does not mean we stop seeking feedback or valuing input and suggestions. It simply requires that we learn to become unattached to others’ approval and instead draw upon our own inner reserves. When we stop seeking validation, we find our centers again and learn from our own experiences and inner wisdom.
Practice and simple adjustments allow us to find our zone, listen to our intuition and slowly perfect our game. Becoming quietly confident, we lose the need to prove that we are right, defend our honor or value, and impress others. We simply do what is ours to do in any given moment and judge our success on the merits of the work itself.
When we truly go within to discover and unearth our own value, a funny thing happens.
Over time, we will come to be surrounded by people who mirror our own positive assessment of ourselves. Criticism may still come, but it will no longer have the sting it once did. Void of the emotional charge, we can take feedback for what it is – data that helps us to see something we may have missed, so that we can make a course correction if necessary.
No longer basing our value of ourselves on what others think of us, we can refocus the energy we spent seeking validation into helping others recognize their own value. In modeling this behavior, our increased confidence in ourselves engenders confidence both in and from others, and we can truly lead.
When we have confidence in ourselves, we regain a sense of power and faith.
No matter what happens in the uncertain world around us, we know we have what it takes to rise above our challenges and turn them into opportunities. We act in ways that show others they too have the ability to shape the world around them by starting with themselves.
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Yoga image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
This week’s post features a video that I initially didn’t equate with getting out of fear. In fact, I originally titled the video From Self Absorbed to Self Empowered. But after writing last week’s post, A New Way to Look at Fear, I realized that this video is actually a demonstration of one of the best ways I know to get out of fear. It’s simple, easy and powerful. I hope you enjoy it. And I encourage you try it for yourself. Let me know how it goes, will you?
Have you ever been faced with a challenge that all but brought you to your knees? One that tested every ounce of grit, determination and courage you had?
Often these types of challenges are not something we volunteer ourselves for (at least not knowingly). And yet, we find ourselves immersed in them with no other choice but to reach deep within to find within the strength we need to persevere and make our way through.
About six and a half years ago, my martial arts practice pushed me to my limits. It was an experience that almost kept me from continuing in my journey — a journey that ultimately led me to be promoted to first degree black belt this time last year. I look back on it now with gratitude for all that I learned. And I recently came across an article I wrote when that test was finished.
I want to share it with you in the hopes that reading it will somehow help you to connect to your own powerful reserves — so that you can find within yourself the strength you need to face anything life throws at you. I hope you enjoy it.
Waiting outside the dojo, I quietly prepared myself, breathing slowly and deeply. I adjusted my mouth guard over my teeth, feeling like a horse trying to acclimate to its first bit. After my name was called, I was ushered into a circle of black belts standing around a plastic red padded floor until I stood face to face with my opponent. Our heads were swallowed up by the protective foam of our sparring gear, exposing only eyes, cheeks, noses and lips. Before me stood one of the most intense sensei’s I had trained with. It was not the first time this man had pushed me out of my comfort zone.
After bowing to each other, we began to spar. I threw a few of the punches I’d practiced every week in karate class and managed to get some kicks in. But for every strike I made, it seemed my sensei threw at least three more. I continued to circle, launching a few more tentative jabs here and there. The black belts surrounding us were shouting encouragement, their voices merging into chords of indistinguishable tones.
And then I felt a sharp blow to my face. I instinctively curled toward my stomach and felt a burst of fluid that was not yet visible. When the blood appeared, the sparring session was stopped and a hand appeared with a wad of Kleenex in it. As I cautiously dabbed at my nose and wiped my eyes, someone asked me if I wanted to continue.
I heard myself say yes. Squinting through the sweat that was dripping from my forehead and feeling my heart beating in my face, I raised my gloved fists higher and took a few more shots.
Before I knew it, I was taken to the ground. I was vaguely aware that there was at least one, maybe two other black belts in the sparring match now. As I grappled on the ground, fatigue set in. I struggled to escape the choke hold, forgetting everything I had learned and feeling like a spider’s prey wriggling and writhing to escape while the grip became tighter. And then, thankfully, that part of the test was over.
I walked into the bathroom to pull myself together, feeling bruised, bloody and beaten. Outside the door were others waiting for their turn to test, friends who through our shared experience somehow became bonded in a way that transcended language. I knew that if any of them had emerged from the dojo looking the way I did, I may have lost my nerve and my courage. So I had to find it in myself once again.
In the moments that followed, I sat exhaustedly pondering the experience I just had and waiting for the next portion of the test while people continued to give me Kleenex and hugs.
“Why didn’t you just quit?” I was asked in the oral part of my test. I stood facing a long table of black belts that stared back at me with inquisitive eyes. I would be asked that question many times in the coming days by friends and family who thought I was a little nuts to willingly participate in an activity with such a high probability of physical pain.
After a few moments I realized why I had to continue, despite the blood, the tears, and the exhaustion. It was the same reason I kept coming to karate classes all those years, the same reason I left my cushy job to start my own company, the same reason I picked myself up and kept at it after failed marketing attempts as an entrepreneur.
“I wanted to see what I had left in me,” I replied. And though what I had left in me on that momentous Saturday morning landed me in a headlock I could not escape from, I learned a lot about myself and life as well.
We will always be faced with challenges and opportunities. Some of them may feel daunting. They will push us to our edges and summon up every last bit of strength and fortitude we can muster. And we may find ourselves on the ground (literally or figuratively), feeling defeated and fatigued. In those moments, when we look inside ourselves we will find courage we didn’t think we had – even if only to stand up and be knocked down again.
Each time we rise to our challenges, we learn a bit more about how to handle the next one. Having been in the grip of our own fear and experienced the disorienting confusion that panic and adrenaline brings, we can learn to be in the midst of chaos and find our calm.
Here’s what I learned from my sparring experience that I intend to apply to all parts of my life:
- Keep your hands up. Children taking karate are encouraged to see their arms as the bars of a cage. “Keep the tiger in the cage,” they are told. This does not mean that we need to learn to become withdrawn and reserved so that others cannot see or interact with us. Rather, it means that we need to learn to love and protect who we are and deflect the jabs and punches of a society that will at times entice us to act in ways that are not aligned with our true selves.
- Breathe. When we become panicked, our breathing gets shallow and our brains do not get as much oxygen. We literally go out of our minds, unable to access the reserves of wisdom we always possess. Breathing allows us to inspire – to take in spirit, to regain our connection to something bigger than ourselves and allow it to guide and inform us.
- Take responsibility. We are never victims. In life’s most dire circumstances, much can be taken from us, but we will always have the ability to choose the way in which we respond. We can see life as a battle in which someone always seeks to defeat us, or we can choose to experience it as an odyssey made up of a series of epic adventures that allow us to become our own heroes. Just as I signed on for karate and knew that the testing experience would push me to my limit, so too do I sign on for life – knowing that with every challenge is a gift, every seeming adversary a teacher.
- Choose peace. In any conflict, our responses can range from fear and even desire to inflict pain to peace and willingness to practice love. When we become too attached to defending ourselves, being right, or winning we stay on the lower rungs of the ladder, engaging in behavior that escalates conflict.
However, when we step up a few rungs, we move from a point of view to a viewing point, one in which we can identify what is important not only for ourselves but others as well. In this manner, we can transform conflict into collaboration.
When we seek to understand what is most important to everyone involved, the energy that was previously fueling fear can be redirected into something that promotes peace. In my sparring match, I stayed on the lower rung, more identified with fear of being attacked than acting in ways that could promote peace. As a result, I cut myself off from the inner wisdom and knowledge that would have allowed me to deflect my opponent’s blows and redirect his force in a way that could have ended the conflict.
Next time, I’ll be that much more prepared. I will know what it feels like to lose my center and choose a different response. And though I may not be able to practice my sparring every day, I can choose to rise up in whatever circumstances I find myself in and help others to find the resilience in themselves to do the same.
Just beyond the borders of what we believe to be our limitations lie vast and unending reserves of strength, courage, ingenuity and love. May you discover and unleash it in yourself and everyone around you.
With much gratitude to The Center for Humane Living for all I have learned about karate and myself.
Can you recall the last time you were faced with great change, challenge and/or uncertainty?
Times of great upheaval and transition require that we bring our very best to the scene, and yet they also have a way of unnerving us. When you don’t know what to expect and feel as though much of what is happening around you is out of your control, it’s easy to begin to doubt your ability to successfully navigate through it (not to mention lead others to do the same).
This week’s video is about how to summon and embody your true strength — one that isn’t dependent on external circumstances, but rather self reliant and resilient in the face of any situation.
I hope you enjoy it!
Do you ever feel like you are in the middle of some kind of transformation, but not yet clear on exactly where you are going and what form things are going to take? Speaking from my own experience, it can be a bit unnerving when you are in the thick of it. You may feel as though you’ll never find your way through.
They say it helps to find inspiration from those who have gone before you. On that note, this week’s video post (which I filmed a few years ago when my daughter was still quite young), features a caterpillar.
I hope you enjoy it.
We have all experienced times of pressure, anxiety and sudden change.
When jobs are tenuous or organizations are restructuring, it might feel as though life itself is turning upside down. Frustration and turmoil is a common response to this kind of uncertainty and disorientation. It can lead to exhaustion and hopelessness. But consider this as you think about the things in your life and career that may feel as though they are spinning out of control…
What if the only thing standing in your way of perfect peace, true productivity and the satisfaction of living a life of purpose – was your thinking?
I know it may feel as though you are at the mercy of your circumstances. However, even in the worst of situations you have more control than you might realize. One of the key attributes embodied by extraordinary leaders in all walks of life is encapsulated in the word “responsibility” – not just in a moral or ethical sense of being accountable for our actions, but also – and perhaps just as essential in times of change and chaos – remembering that there is wisdom in recognizing that we have the ability to choose our response. And that the response we choose will have a resounding impact on ourselves and everyone around us.
Start with awareness.
The greatest change agents start by recognizing what they have to work with before they can create change that will be sustained. They assess their environment to determine what the best entry point for that change is before they make their move. They don’t waste their time worrying about things that are truly out of their control, like changing the weather. Instead, they focus their attention and energy on those things that they do have the ability to influence and start there.
Extraordinary leaders know that the most powerful and sustainable change must start from within themselves.
Watch your stories.
The thing that fascinates me about a seemingly chaotic state of affairs is not so much what is happening, but the stories we are telling ourselves about what it means — and the impact those stories are having on the way we are responding to it. When we react to things with fear, we end up amplifying that which we are afraid of and adding to the anxiety. Our fears drive us to act in ways that keep us from acting on our intuition and finding the answers that will truly serve us. Sometimes, we end up behaving in ways that make our fictional stories become real.
As an example, when you tell yourself a story about what is happening that leaves you feeling threatened, you may find yourself closing up and treating others with suspicion and mistrust. The way you are behaving toward people may well provoke a response in them that appears to validate your fearful story. However, in this scenario, it is very likely that their behavior is more of a reaction to the actions your story led you to take than anything else.
Our fearful stories are like the viruses we protect our computers from.
These nasty viruses are often embedded in emails that pique our curiosity or rouse our fear. When we unwittingly activate them, they spread often uncontrollably and we risk passing them to the computer of our friends, associates and countless others. The viruses corrupt our systems until they no longer function effectively. Like computer viruses, our stories have a way of spinning us out of control and interfering with our ability to rise up to our challenges to find the opportunity that is always there waiting for us to discover and leverage it.
Our rational minds want answers and security.
They need to figure everything out and almost automatically occupy themselves with trying to sort through data to arrive at conclusions. The problem is that our minds are plugging imaginary variables into the equation that end up further exacerbating the anxiety we are already experiencing. When they are done with one variable, they plug in another and the churning continues, leaving us with an uneasiness that keeps us on edge.
What’s the worst that can happen?
In the grip of this madness, sometimes the best thing you can do is indulge your mind with a variable that will allow it to do its thing. Go ahead and plug in the worst case scenario. If the worst possible thing happened, what would you do? Alloy yourself to sit with that question for awhile. Let the fear move through you and keep asking the question, what would I do that would allow everything to be OK? If you sit long enough with your question, you will arrive at some workable alternatives and reconnect with that part of yourself that is strong, resourceful and resilient.
Armed with the knowledge that you will be OK in the worst of scenarios, you can come back into the present and recognize your fearful thoughts for what they are – fearful thoughts. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, which I pass along frequently is don’t believe everything you think.
You have everything you need.
In the present moment, devoid of your stories about variables that are truly unknown, you are OK. And when new events begin to unfold, if you stay in the moment and access your inner wisdom, you will know exactly what you need to do – or not to do – to be OK then too. And as you go about your daily life in this way, your calm resolve will permeate your interactions with others and through your example, you will help others to rise up to their challenges in ways that unearth the greatness in themselves as well.
For more tips on navigating through change and uncertainty, check out my book, The Pinocchio Principle ~ Becoming a Real Leader, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.