I have always been amazed by the number of people who seem to think of work as something of a necessary evil — simply what must be done to earn a paycheck. For so many who toil through their workday, the primary goal is to make it to the weekend so they can really live. Going through the motions, working side by side with others whose hearts and minds they seldom truly connect with, they withhold the very parts of themselves that make them come alive.
For some work wasn’t always a grind.
Many began their careers ignited with passion and optimism, only to find that their flames began to flicker as they encountered obstacle after obstacle that kept them from achieving what they believed would be success. Succumbing to the unwritten rules of the organizations and other environments they found themselves in, which suggested they needed to act or think in a certain way to get ahead, they may have slowly sold out on their dreams and relegated themselves to quiet complacency.
Many of us were not brought up to expect that work would (or should) be fun or gratifying.
That’s why they call it work, we may have been told. As a result, we may have never really expected much from our careers or professional lives. And as the saying goes, life has a way of living up to our expectations. In just about every corporation, nonprofit or other organization, you will find people in jobs that do not ignite their talents and passions. Some remain dormant in those jobs because they fear that if they pursue their hearts’ desires, they won’t be able to put food on their tables. Many don’t realize that there might be a better alternative.
Most of us have learned how to turn ourselves on and off at will.
It’s something we often do to spare ourselves the pain of disappointment or frustration — or to maintain what we have come to believe is a professional demeanor. It is not uncommon to hear people say that they are very different at work than they are at home. Those golden parts of ourselves that we think we are protecting suffer when we do not let them breathe and interact in the very realms that provide us opportunities to learn more about who we are and what we are here to do in the world.
We miss the chance to become a part of something greater than ourselves.
And the organizations and communities we are a part of miss out on the unique contribution each of us has the potential to make. We can no longer afford to fragment ourselves in this way, denying the fulfillment of our secret dreams and downplaying the insights we have about what we can do to make life better — for ourselves, and everyone around us.
As more and more of us feel the pain that accompanies the denial of our spirits, we start to realize that the time has come for us to bring the totality of who we are to what we do, no matter our vocation, title or role.
We are beginning to awaken to our unique calls to service, creativity and innovation.
As we find ways to unleash our distinctive talents and passions at work, we will significantly increase the quality of our own lives, as well as the lives of everyone around us. Corporations that take steps to create environments that allow people to thrive will be met with rich rewards as ingenuity pours forth in ways that lead to increased profit and market share – as well as the creation of self-sustaining cultures that inspire people to sustain success by doing what they do best.
There are people among us who have the ability to snap us out of our trances.
They show us how to liberate ourselves from states of quiet desperation and help us bring more of who we truly are to everything that we do. They can do this for others because they have done it for themselves.
They are called leaders.
You may be one of them. And if you are, the world needs you now more than ever.
If you are interested in answering the call to lead yourself and others, and learn approaches to help you connect with your own unique path in a way that reinvigorates your own life and that of everyone around you, I invite you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Registration for the fall program is now open. Enroll by 9/1 with the code EARLYBIRD2 to take advantage of the early bird discount!
~ Henry B. Adams
Like many of us, I grew up thinking that things happened in a linear way.
First this, then that. One building block upon another in a definite order. Cause and effect. But over the years, I’ve noticed that life isn’t always like that.
Often it seems life is a series of random events that don’t seem to make much sense.
But when you have a larger vision and experience that vision as though it has already happened, you can begin to see this apparent chaos in a whole different way. Often what we experience is a chain of seemingly disjointed events that are in reality very connected.
Think of watching a movie of a glass shattering, only in reverse motion.
Pieces fly together from all directions in a disjointed fashion and assemble into a perfect whole. Each piece is absolutely necessary, though, in and of itself, incomplete and inconceivably connected to a larger picture.
We will experience ups and downs and travel roads that deviate from what we anticipated.
Nevertheless, these seemingly divergent paths may in fact be prerequisite to experiencing the totality of our vision. At times the healing process entails pain, discomfort or other symptoms. While we may point to these as signs of illness, we could alternatively consider them evidence of our recovery.
Seasons will change, and so will we.
A phase of growth and expansion is often preceded by a period where things unexpectedly fall away. We can look at the void as a loss, or recognize it as the space necessary for new creations to take root and flourish.
We may not initially realize the significance or relevance of our chaotic experiences.
But in hindsight we often realize the importance of enduring specific challenges, setbacks, delays, or what felt like irrelevant nuisances. These obstacles give us a greater perspective on who we are, deeper appreciation for where we have been and where we are going, and compassion for others who have experiences similar to our own.
As we rise up to these little challenges, we find strength we didn’t know we had and realize we are far greater than we thought we were. And as leaders, we can help others appreciate and leverage their own chaos as well.
Appreciating the perfect order unfolding in our lives more of an art than a science.
Most of us never really take the time to recognize it. If you are interested in leveraging the seeming chaos in your own life and life’s work, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
You’ve just been promoted. The excellent work you have been recognized for has landed you a new job with expanded responsibility and significance. Perhaps you lead an organization of other talented professionals who now look to you for guidance and support. Maybe you are a leader of leaders.
The game you were playing just got bigger – and so did the playing field.
And your role has changed. What earned you this promotion will not be enough to allow you to succeed in your new role. In fact, if you continue to do what you did before, you may actually sabotage your newfound success.
You have gone from player to coach — or perhaps manager/owner. And if you jump back into the game, no one will be there to call the shots, to develop the talent, to create a strategy to advance the standing of the team, to gain the supporters and funding that will allow the team to continue to play.
Yet despite these consequences, you — like many leaders faced with similar opportunities — may have difficulty with the transition. You may have fears:
- Fear than no one can do things as well (or better)
- Fear of becoming obsolete
- Fear of failure
Fear that no one can do things as well (or better)
The problem with this fear is that it is actually well-founded. Chances are, especially if you are at the top of your field, very few will be able to do the job as well as or better than you can. But that doesn’t mean you should be doing it for them — or even along with them.
And yet you will be tempted to. Especially when the stakes are high. Or when things get extremely busy and it seems like targets will not be met if you don’t jump in or take over altogether. You may hover over people, micromanaging them or smothering them with well-intentioned guidance.
But your very fear that things will fall through the cracks may well cause that which you most want to avoid. Maybe not in the short term. In the short term, you may revel in your ability to keep the balls from dropping and save the day. But as more and more begins to be added to your plate, your problem of not having people who are skilled enough to take the baton will be even greater than it was before.
Worse yet, you will have conditioned the very people you need to develop to become dependent on you and quite comfortable performing at much less than their true capacity. In the meantime, the bigger, more strategic work that you have graduated to will be piling up and fairly significant opportunities will pass you by.
Your people may well be on a pretty steep learning curve at the beginning. They won’t get everything right. And they may resist taking on the responsibilities you used to perform. But you need to transition from performer to coach.
Give them opportunities to try things out. Let them make mistakes. Then help them to learn from those mistakes and perfect their craft. And do the same for yourself in your new role.
This leads us to the second common fear that keeps leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of becoming obsolete
It’s not necessarily a rational fear. After all, leaders who are on the brink of playing a bigger game have plenty to do. They have a whole new role to fill. But that doesn’t stop people from worrying at some level that if they teach and empower others to do what got them accolades and attention that they will somehow lose their edge and fade into obscurity.
Often when people have performed a certain role or become masterful at a particular skill, it can become infused with their very identity. And until they have performed in their new role for awhile and become accustomed to the different kinds of activities and opportunities that it brings, they are likely to continue to identify with their old role. Which may lead them to wonder, “if I’m not that anymore, who am I?”
This ambiguity and lack of role clarity can send people back to what they know is comfortable and familiar, even when they have outgrown it. And even when going back there isn’t in their best interest (or the best interest of those they lead.)
To counteract this, it is important to fully grasp the opportunities and possibilities that playing a bigger game brings. It allows you to go from being immersed in the game with a view limited from one point on the playing field to seeing the game from several different angles. You can evaluate each player’s contribution and the way they work together.
You can change the way the game is played — and in some cases, even change the rules. But only if you free yourself up from the myriad of tasks that will always be there beckoning you to come back into the operational and out of the strategic. And the lure of the old role becomes even more enticing when you factor in the next fear that keeps many leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of failure
When you go from executing the plays to determining what those plays should be, you enter unchartered territory. First off, it is likely something you won’t have a lot of experience doing. And when you don’t have a lot of experience doing something, it is uncomfortable.
You may not be very good at it in the beginning. It will be messy. You will second-guess yourself. And you will likely miss being able to do your work with the same level of confidence and ease that you did before.
It will feel a lot like going from being a senior to becoming a freshman again.
Second, the very nature being a strategic player will require you to navigate through uncertainty and ambiguity. You will be called on to blaze a trail where none previously existed. While this can be incredibly exciting and invigorating, it can also be somewhat daunting and stressful.
And when the pressure gets high, you may find it incredibly tempting to get sucked back into doing things you shouldn’t be doing anymore. Things you can check off your list and feel a sense of accomplishment from. Things that restore your confidence and give you the illusion of being in control. Things that would be better delegated to others. Or not done at all.
So when that happens, you need to remind yourself that whatever you did that allowed you to rise to new heights wasn’t likely something that always came easily to you. You had to start somewhere and struggle in the beginning before you began to gain competence and confidence. But you stuck with it and gradually got better and better. And you can do that again now.
Leadership is about “going before” others. Your new promotion will require that you wade through your fear, your discomfort, your resistance and your uncertainty to find within you the core of your true potential and act from it. And as you do so, by your very example, you will lead others to grow, expand, push their limits and play a bigger game as well.
Playing a bigger game often brings pressure and anxiety. But it doesn’t have to. You can make a bigger impact without running yourself ragged – and enjoy the process along the way. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive will show you how. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
I am all too familiar with that awkward, humbling stage that comes with learning something new – when you want to run with the stallions but feel more like a donkey. It’s a universal phenomenon, really. Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that, “Every artist was once an amateur.”
We can all learn a lot about our paths to proficiency by looking at the ways in which we have mastered things over the course of our lives – whether it is how to drive a car, play our favorite sport, or take up a new hobby. Upon reflection, I realized how I can transfer my learnings from one arena to the other.
(1) There is power in persistent practice.
Sometimes my yoga instructor demonstrates a pose that evokes a “you’ve got to be kidding” response from me. I always give it a try, and usually the first time I do I look a lot like I feel – completely inept. She managed to work one of those dreaded poses in for several weeks. But I gave it a shot every time, and I have to say it gradually became less awkward. Before too long I was actually able to hold the pose – even if only for a few seconds. And I realized the more I practiced, the better I would get and the easier and more fun it would become.
Isn’t that like life, though? Every day there are things you can sail through and there are those things that require practice and patience before you can feel even the least bit effective. But if you keep at it, one day you will surprise yourself with how far you have come. And everything that led up to that point will be worth it.
(2) Learn from and admire others, but don’t compare yourself to them.
As a novice, you watch people perform so that you can see how things are done. And even as you gain skill, you can still learn a lot from others’ examples. But the minute you begin to compare yourself, you will lose your focus and dilute your effectiveness. This is true regardless of whether comparing yourself to others makes you feel inferior or superior.
When we gauge how well we are doing by comparing ourselves to others, the energy and focus that is required to perform effectively becomes scattered. And if you do not believe you can do something, you will inevitably prove yourself right. On the other end of the spectrum, when you believe you are outperforming others and become a little too smug, your confidence can turn into arrogance, which shifts your focus from what you are doing to how others are perceiving you. And anything that is more focused on appearances than substance lacks foundation and eventually crumbles.
The best of the best gain their confidence from within – as a product of their effort, focus, and the results that come with effort and focus. They don’t need to compare themselves to other to know that they are good – or to learn that they can get even better.
(3) Lighten up and have some fun.
When we get all balled up in knots trying to make things perfect and avoiding every possible misstep, we risk becoming stagnant and playing small. Getting too attached to the results leads us to stiffen up and become consumed with needing things to happen in the exact way we want them to. Without flexibility, we lose our ability to bend and make the necessary course corrections that allow us to ultimately excel. If you ever look at the top performers in any industry, sport, or artistic endeavor you will notice that accompanying their intensity is an ability to relax into their game in such a way that it appears easy and natural. The ability to play at work is another mark of the master.
(4) Replenish yourself regularly.
In our frenetic lives, it is easy to forget about the importance of pausing every once in awhile to make the most of our experiences – whether by giving ourselves a needed break, or simply taking a moment to assess where we are going, to what degree we are still on course, and what, if any, course corrections are necessary. Being willing to invest our precious time into replenishing ourselves in this way pays handsome dividends – and sometimes the times we think we can’t afford to slow down are in fact the times we cannot afford not to.
The speed and effectiveness with which we move toward mastery is a direct result of the way in which we approach our challenges and opportunities. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive is a program designed to help you make a bigger impact while enjoying the process, both on and off the job. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
A client told me in a recent meeting. He added, “I come into the office and there are papers flung all over my desk, half started projects buried in piles with new requests heaped on top of them. But I never seem to have time to go through them because by the time I get there, a line of people waiting to talk to me has already formed outside my door and I have no choice but to spring into action. And my days are full of requests that add new papers, projects and action items to a pile that grows faster than it shrinks.”
He felt like Sisyphus – like he was constantly pushing a big rock up a hill only to have it roll back down as soon as he got near the top.
“What do you think I should do about it?” he asked me. I knew he wouldn’t like my answer.
“Move into it,” I told him. “Tell me more about how starting your day like that affects the quality of your life.”
He was perplexed. “Why would I want to move into something so awful? Shouldn’t I be figuring out how I can move away from it? Rise above it?”
He was essentially living as Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, constantly reliving the same day over and over again. However, there are hidden gifts in such a predicament.
That is the reaction most of us (including yours truly) have when faced with an unpleasant predicament. But rising above an unpleasant predicament often requires us to change habits or patterns that are ingrained and comfortable. And initiating and sustaining a change like that requires fuel — fuel that will allow us to break through our obstacles and limitations at the very moment when it seems most difficult.
Change occurs when the pain of the current state is greater than the perceived pain of making a change, and the pleasure of making a change is greater than the pleasure (or payoff) of staying the same.
When you truly move into your frustration, you begin to open your eyes widely to recognize the impact a problem is having on your life. You allow yourself to accept that this pain will continue until you do something about it. And until you are truly ready to do something about it, you will continue to do what you’ve always done and suffer as a result.
This can be done long before you know what that solution is. And just as you can move into your pain, so too can you move into the pleasure of what life would be like without your problem. This too, serves as fuel that will ultimately allow you to do what it takes to create and implement a lasting solution.
Moving into your frustration illuminates not only the problem, but also the underlying factors that contribute to and exacerbate that problem. It gives you insight.
Most of us instinctively move away from pain, firing shots over our shoulder at what we believe to be the antagonist without really recognizing or locking onto a target.
To really know what needs to be done to slay the beast, my client needed to take a closer look and recognize what it eats, how it grows stronger, and how he might unwittingly be feeding and nurturing it. That’s exactly what moving into the frustration with a spirit of curiosity does.
When he got curious about his predicament, he began to notice that he had a tendency to book his appointments back-to-back, starting first thing in the morning and say yes to more things than he could realistically accomplish. He realized that he didn’t have a clear sense of what was truly a priority and that in the absence of that clarity, he was making everything number one — except his own sanity.
The more awareness he cultivated in the presence of his frustration, the more he began to identify and understand what was really causing your frustration. This also led my client to discover and embrace the third gift of frustration.
Insight opens the door to possibility. Once you have an understanding of the factors that cause or contribute to a problem, you begin to recognize a multitude of options that can lead to lasting resolution.
In the days and weeks that followed, my client identified a number of strategies that could potentially work for him, including scheduling, communication, and delegation tactics.
The next time you feel like you are living the life of Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day, remind yourself that frustration comes bearing gifts. Reliving the same experience over and over again isn’t so bad if it ultimately yields fuel, insight, and possibility. Move into your discomfort, pay attention, get curious, and connect the dots. Then, you too will find a way to transform your frustration into freedom.
If you are interested in additional strategies for recognizing and moving beyond self-limiting patterns of behavior and thought, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive, an exclusive twelve-week group mastermind/coaching program/online training course kicking off the week of March 20. The program is a blend of online leadership development, small group mastermind, and one-on-one coaching, and is limited to eight people.
When you are up against a large task or project, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the details and the magnitude of what is before you. Sometimes it hard to know where to start, and once you do it can feel like a never-ending process. To make matters worse, when the project you are working on necessitates that you do something new—something uncomfortable and challenging—it often elicits fear, frustration, and anxiety. All of these things can keep you feeling stuck.
In a state of overwhelm, the focus goes from the joy of getting something done to the aggravation of having something undone.
We can become mechanized in our attempts to figure out what needs to get done and exactly how to go about it. We may also put a lot of pressure on ourselves and beat ourselves up for things we haven’t done, rather than recognizing and acknowledging ourselves for what we have done.
In what is often an unconscious attempt to regain a sense of control, we are easily lulled into doing things that we know will be easier and potentially more enjoyable.
Some tasks don’t really need to get done right now (or ever) or that should really be delegated to others, but we often prefer those. Some of the time-wasters we get sucked into include surfing the web, making idle conversation, cleaning out your inbox, or—my personal favorite—making more lists of everything we think needs to get done and identifying all the steps we need to take. This is actually a great thing to do when you’re focused, but, in a procrastination mode, it becomes to planning to plan—and then plan some more—until you have a rock solid strategy that you never actually execute.
It may feel like you are spinning your wheels—running like hell and just not getting anywhere.
I know this, of course, because I have been there. Repeatedly. And I’ve worked with others who fall into this pattern, as well, to stop the madness by recognizing what’s happening and making a shift to get back on a road that leads them where they need to go.
One of the most powerful things I have found for breaking out of a “spinning your wheels” cycle is to take some time to revisit your purpose—or the larger mission or goal behind what you are doing.
- Get clear about what—or who—the work is for.
- Identify how it will improve the quality of life for yourself or those around you.
- Reflect on the degree to which it will help people, contribute to something greater, or allow you to achieve a meaningful goal for yourself.
This doesn’t have to take hours and hours. Just pause for a few moments and ask, when this project/task/ initiative is finished, what larger goal or purpose will it accomplish? What would you like to accomplish? Write it down. Add to it as you think of additional bonuses. Then, sit for a moment and see if you can envision what it would feel like to satisfy that larger purpose, vision or goal. See if you can feel it so clearly that you are actually grateful for it.
This simple act will help you reconnect with something inside you that will propel you beyond the minutia. It will give you the courage and strength to walk through your fear or resistance to do something that you may not be so good at yet. And it will help you to get back to the joy that comes through the process as well as the attainment of the end goal.
When you approach things in this manner, all that you do will be instilled with a new energy—one that uplifts, delights, and inspires.
Whatever you experience as you work on a project will be the same thing people will feel when they partake of the fruit of your efforts. The more we remember this, the more we will experience the satisfaction and gratification of having done something truly meaningful—something that lifts us out of the humdrum and into a place of brilliance. And all who come into contact with our work will be better off because of it.
Interested in additional strategies and practices for getting out of overwhelm so you can have more traction, make a greater impact, and infuse more life and meaning into your work? Stay tuned for more information about my upcoming online course and group intensive, The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow 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.
There is major construction underway at the end of my street on into the main road that leads in and out of our neighborhood. It is blocking our normal traffic route to everything and has tripled the drive time to places I frequent every day, like my office, my kids’ school and the grocery store. If I forget about the blockages on my way home, I have to double back to the alternate route and it takes even longer. It’s throwing a huge monkey wrench in my daily routine and provoking an unbelievable amount of frustration and irritation.
I’m not the only one that has been twisted into a knot about it. We live one house down from the construction, where orange and white barricades frame a giant “Road Closed” sign. Every day I see angry people speeding to the end of our street, only to use our driveway to turn around. I can almost hear the expletives flying out of their mouths. Though I’m not a lip reader, I’m pretty sure they are some of the same words I’ve used upon encountering those barricades.
To make things worse, because of this construction our water has been turned off for hours at a time, and though there is warning from the city on when it is going to happen, I invariably forget until after I’ve rubbed a few squirts of liquid soap all over my hands and then realize I have nothing to rinse with. My groans are drowned out by giant clangs, bangs and booms and the beeping of trucks that may as well be backing through our living room window.
But even at the height of my aggravation a part of me has become amused by the degree to which I’ve allowed myself to become frustrated, grouchy and resentful over something that just is what it is. This calmer, wiser part of me knows that getting so incredibly irritated isn’t helping anything, least of all me. And I’m certain that in that state, I’m not improving the quality of anyone else’s day either.
I even found myself calling the 24 hour information line one day when the signs and barricades were still up even though the road appeared to be temporarily unobstructed. When the guy on the other end of the line answered, I knew by his tone that he had been inundated with calls just like mine. Nonetheless, he was kind and understanding and did everything he could to keep me calm and provide as much information as possible on the project. I realized this man was simply doing his job. And that there was no good reason to take my frustration out on him.
How often do you experience roadblocks in your life?
It often seems just when we have things figured out and going the way we want them to, life throws us a curve that yanks us out of autopilot and requires us to find a new way of operating. It’s so unsettling. The old moves don’t work anymore. Yet we haven’t quite become accustomed to the new way of doing things (or even found the way for that matter.)
We want things to happen the way WE want them to. We like to be the ones to call the shots, and to have some level of predictability and routine. I’ve often noticed that even people who claim to love change, don’t love it so much when they are not the ones initiating it.
But if moaning and groaning about it isn’t the answer, what is? How can you navigate life’s little barricades and construction zones with more grace and less stress? How do you redirect the energy that would have gone into complaining into something more constructive?
The answer came to me the other day in my karate class. We were practicing sparring, which those of you who frequent my blog know I’ve had my challenges with (and learned quite a few lessons from). Up to this point, sparring hasn’t been something I would choose to practice if given the option. But it is an important part of the martial arts, because it allows students to begin to see how the basic techniques they’ve learned are actually applied. It provides an opportunity to transcend mechanics and practice artfulness. And it also sheds some light on how we can do the same in our everyday lives.
When you are in the middle of a sparring match, you can’t just stand there while fists and feet are flying at you. And you can’t tell the person you’re sparring with to wait until you are ready or which arm or leg to throw their punch or kick with or where to aim it. You can’t plan in advance how you will defend yourself because you just can’t anticipate what is about to happen in a way that would lend itself to planning.
You have to be in the moment.
You have to make the most of every opportunity.
And you have to get out of your head in order to know what to do next.
Once you do that, you begin to see openings and opportunities instead of obstacles and threats. You find that you actually know more than you think you do, and a new awareness begins to emerge – one that allows you to think creatively and act with greater intent and impact. You move more fluidly and learn to trust and rely on yourself.
I haven’t actually gotten to the point where I can consistently do all that just yet, but I know I will if I just keep practicing. Which brings me back to the inconvenience of my little construction zone… While I’m still not thrilled about the idea of being forced to travel new roads instead of relying on the ones that have always gotten me where I need to go, I have begun to appreciate that little inconveniences such as these also bring gifts.
They give us the very practice we need get out of our heads and learn to look at things in new ways, make new connections, and creatively find and act on opportunities in the midst of our challenges. They also help us develop patience and exercise it in a way that allows us to remain calm and centered in the midst of chaos – and the next curve ball life will inevitably throw at us.
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?
Many of us are experiencing a great deal of pressure, anxiety and sudden change. Jobs are tenuous, organizations are restructuring, and 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 everything is perfect just the way it is?
No, I haven’t gone off the deep end. Bear with me here… 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.
The greatest of 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. The greatest of leaders know that the most powerful and sustainable change must start from within themselves.
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.
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 even if the worst possible thing happens, 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.
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.
The above article contains excerpts from my new book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
For more on Surviving and Thriving in Change and Chaos:
Are you at your wits end in your job, career, relationship, life in general? Experiencing delays, frustration, confusion, and even a little fear? Well, you might be closer to achieving something amazing than you think.
My last post, On the Verge of Transformation, featured an interview with a caterpillar. The above video continues the play by play in the life of a caterpillar, only this time from the inside of the cocoon (or chrysalis, if you want to be technically correct). I hope you enjoy it!
Here’s what I said in the video:
My daughter has this butterfly pavilion that we’ve been raising butterflies in. It’s been days since all the other chrysalises hatched. In fact, we let nine butterflies go out in the garden the other day. But there’s one that’s still in there, in its cocoon. We look at it every day hoping that we’ll catch it as its just emerging and it’s still in there.
I know it’s not dead because when I push on the side of the habitat, the chrysalis shakes gently, which is something that I learned they do to ward off predators. And, I can’t help but think how often we feel this way: we’re in this cocoon, there’s all kinds of change that’s happening, we’re not really sure which direction is up, and we’re the last one. For some of us, it takes longer than others.
If you’re feeling like you’re stuck in the cocoon, I think it’s probably very uncommon. And uncomfortable.
I read a story about a man who actually saw a butterfly trying to get out of the cocoon and used scissors to try to gently help the butterfly out. The butterfly fell out of the cocoon and it’s body was small and shriveled. It just kind of stumbled around on the ground and was finally just still.
What this man learned later was that to get out of the cocoon, the butterfly has to encounter the resistance. In the act of bumping up and busting out of the cocoon, the butterfly’s body fills up with fluid that it needs in order to spread its wings and be free and to turn into the beautiful creature that it is.
It’s such a great reminder to us that just when we feel things are at their darkest, and everything’s closing in and you just can’t take another minute of it — maybe that’s when we’re the closest to actually being ready to bust out. And maybe instead of thinking of all the resistance as overwhelming and exhausting, we can think of it as that final push we need to give in order to just break through into something wonderful that’s just been waiting for us.
For more on change and transformation:
Busting Out of the Box (workshop)
Crazy businessman picture by Stephane Durocher from Dreamstime.
The video above was born of a desire to capture not only the feeling of frustration and chaos, but also a way to rise above it . Below is a transcript of what I said (minus the demonstration). And at the end of the transcript are links to other resources on finding answers in the midst of chaos.
Do you ever get so frustrated that you can’t take it anymore? Find yourself in a situation where you have NO IDEA what to do? So mad. All you want to do is get away. You want to leave. You want to escape. But you can’t. You’re stuck. And the more you panic, the tighter everything gets. The more trapped you feel. The more angry you are. And it gets worse. And WORSE.
Maybe it’s a conflict — a difficult conversation. Maybe someone just dropped a bomb on you — gave you feedback that was kind of painful. Or maybe someone just told you to get your project done in a day instead of a week. Maybe the rug just got pulled out from under you. Who knows?
We have this every day. I have this. And the more I resist, the more I LOSE IT. I lose my head. I lose touch with anything that might help me get out of the situation.
But you know what? Maybe, instead of trying to GET AWAY and make things happen just the way WE want them to, we can just relax, take a deep breath, reconnect, take another look and realize… Hey, you know what? It’s not as bad as I thought. I was making a lot of stuff up when I was panicking. But when I look at it and relax — when I connect, I realize I have everything I need.
And then, I find my answer. And so will you.
For more information on finding answers in the midst of chaos:
Miracles in Disguise
From Frustration to Fruition
Embracing Life’s Uncertainty
Busting Out of the Box
Enduring a Stormy State of Mind
Embracing Life’s Uncertainty
The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be