It’s September! (well, it’s ALMOST September – close enough, as far as I’m concerned.)
It’s September! (well, it’s ALMOST September – close enough, as far as I’m concerned.)
September is a very interesting month. For many people, it’s the equivalent of January 1st, acting as an impetus to dream new dreams, revitalize old dreams, begin things anew, and set new goals. While New Year’s resolutions aren’t generally set in September, the fact remains that this month invites people to “begin again.”
The ability to “begin again” is a critical skill when it comes to the achievement of anything. I don’t care what goal you set, what objective you have, what dream you’re trying to make into reality, the fact is that you are more than likely to “fail” at least once. Something will fall short. Something will get in the way. And when you “fail”, the temptation is to stop completely.
Such “stopping” does not bode well for success. While temporary failure is bound to happen, no matter the goal, permanent failure only happens when you allow yourself to stay in that “stopped” state. No matter what it is you are working on, or working toward, if you want to succeed – to truly succeed – then you’ve got to give yourself permission to try again. As the cliché says, if at first you don’t succeed, try gain.
Bottom-line: the achievement of anything requires you to redefine what it means to fail. As Mary Pickford has been quoted as saying, “this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” No matter your goal, when you fall, get back up. If you need to take a breath before you get back up, do so. Give yourself permission to begin again, as many times as necessary. With this sort of permission, you are guaranteed to succeed.
Vulnerability: It’s Great, and IT HURTS!
I’ve written before about the importance of vulnerability within the realm of leadership. The work of Brene Brown (Daring Greatly) has profoundly shaped my thinking with respect to this idea. In a nutshell, Brown would have us believe that the greatest leaders of our time – those who generate results and do so while holding the respect of their followers – are those who know how to be vulnerable.
The challenge, of course, comes from the misrepresentation of the term. Vulnerability is generally painted as soft or weak. Tears in particular often lead to judgments, based on a collective discomfort. As a society, we are taught that tears are a sign of weakness. Therefore, when someone in a leadership role cries, we mistakenly interpret those tears as an “inability to do the job”. What I’ve learned – both from watching leaders and from being a leader – is that the opposite is true. Those who are willing to let themselves be vulnerable in this way are, in fact, showing great strength. Rather than running and hiding until their tears stop flowing, they are strong enough to let those tears be part of their whole leadership presence.
That being said, there is a further challenge that arises when you choose to be vulnerable, one that goes beyond simply being perceived as weak. Even if you can get past the judgments, the finger pointing, and the head-shaking, allowing yourself to be vulnerable can be excruciatingly painful. Here’s why:
Being vulnerable means being open. And when you are open, while others around you are closed, a great deal of the negativity comes your way, by virtue of the fact that you are the only one who is open. Make sense?
This was a hard thing for me to experience recently. I allowed myself to be completely vulnerable in an extremely challenging leadership scenario. The vulnerability was absolutely necessary, I know that: it required transparency, brutal honesty, an invitation for others to be equally truthful in what was a fairly volatile scenario. The vulnerability was necessary in order to diffuse the volatility. Overall, I believe it served the group well. And, in inviting others to be honest and vulnerable with me, boy did I get nailed. Not by all, but by some. Accusations came flying at me. Some were justified, some were not. And in all cases, I realized that they came at me specifically because mine was the heart that was open to receive. It was enough to leave my heart feeling bruised for sure, and perhaps even momentarily shattered.
Confession: in that moment of intense pain, I wanted to throw my copy of Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly in the trash, close myself to all feelings of vulnerability and interact with the world from a place of intense stoicism. And then I remembered the words of one of my mentors Karen Kimsey-House. The upshot of what she said ist his: when it comes to relationships, your heart can be closed, or your heart can be bruised. Both have consequences. In the former, you will deprive yourself of any meaningful connections in your life. In the latter, some days, you will be in some pretty intense pain. Bruises are like that. But when it comes right down to it, those bruises speak to great courage and great strength, and ultimately, to a life well-lived. For me, this extrapolates to the idea that great leaders are those who show great courage, great strength and live life well.
Bottom-line: it takes great courage to lead. And it takes even greater courage to lead with vulnerability. Bruises are bound to bloom. But in the end, in life, in leadership, in relationships of all sorts, a bruised heart beats a closed heart, any day.
Leaning In to Leadership
A while ago, Sheryl Sandberg wrote a fabulous book titled “Lean In”. The book, as I recall, is for women aspiring to lead, reminding them to find ways to lean into roles that they want, claiming their right to lead where men have historically done so. I may have that synopsis slightly off, but that’s the upshot of what I remember.
Lately, I have had opportunity to thing about the concept of “leaning in” not only with respect to leadership, but also with respect to partnership. In my world, while I work in isolation a fair bit, the fact is that I work in partnership almost in equal measure. There’s the partnership of my marriage, the partnerships of various committee projects, the partnerships I form with my children, the partnerships with colleagues. Partner work happens all the time.
Now, when it comes to partner work – and leadership, when done effectively, is a form of partner work – there are a couple of ways to engage. One way, is for one person to lean towards the other, and the other to lean away – almost as though one is doing the work and the other is observing or supervising. Another is for both people to lean away from each other, each engaged in their own thing. And a third way is for both partners to lean toward each other, each engaged in the same space.
This last way of being in partnership, when both are leaned into the project together and toward one another is actually more effective, in my experience. In this scenario, both partners are engaged to the same degree (literally and metaphorically), both are holding equal stake and weight, and both bear responsibility for the outcome of the project whatever it might be.
I first learned the power of this approach to partnership when doing a high ropes course several years ago. My partner and I were each standing on a rope about 30 feet in the air, facing each other and charged with the task of walking from one end of the ropes to the other. The only way to do this successfully was for each of us to lean fully into the other – not away from, but towards – and be fully with one another to get as far as we could. It was a fabulous exercise in truly full engagement and leaning in.
The lesson extrapolates to tasks and projects of any sort. When two people incline towards one another, with equal investment, equal energy and equal commitment, they are able to move further along the path to success than otherwise.
Bottom-line: when you’re working with another, there’s a great deal to be said for leaning in. Such leaning in must be done in equal measure by both partners. When partners lean in, they can and do go far.
A Few of My Favourite Quotes
As you know, I’m a quote girl – as in I LOVE quotes – and over the years I’ve gathered a few favourites. At various times in my life, each of these quotes has played a part in keeping me grounded, providing inspiration, moving me forward. So this week, I’ve gathered them all together in one space. Hopefully at least one will land powerfully for you.
In no particular order, here are my top 10:
- “If your success is not on your terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, then it is not success at all.” ~Anna Quindlen
- “It is our choices that show who we really are, far more than our abilities.” ~J.K. Rowling
- “Impossible is not a fact, it’s an opinion. What’s impossible only remains so until someone finds a way to do what others said could not be done.” ~Tony Robbins
- “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” ~Norman Vincent Peale
- “Holding on is believing that there is only a past; letting go is knowing that there is a future.” ~Daphne Rose Kingma
- “Find out who you are and then do it on purpose.” ~Dolly Parton
- “Leadership and learning are indispensible to each other.” ~J. F. Kennedy
- “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
- “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” ~Maya Angelou
- “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.” ~Abraham Lincoln
And really, I could probably add 10 more, but for now, these seem to cover most of what inspires me. As a bonus I will add this one from one of my favourite mentors, Henry Kimsey-House: “Ask for 100% of what you need, 100% of the time, then stay available to negotiate the difference.”
A Process for Letting Go
So, last week I shared a lesson with you that I had gleaned from watching my son. The capacity to “let go” and move on, is one that he seems to have in spades. And I envy him. As someone who has held on to hurts and wounds and lessons with an almost tight-fisted determination, the process of letting go is one that I’ve grappled with for much of my life.
It seems that my article last week stirred things up for a few of you. You thought the information was great – and, you wondered about how to actually implement the concept. In other words, the upshot of what I heard was, “the concept of letting go is all well and good, but how do you actually do it?”
To which I say, “Great question.”
I’ve already confessed that this has been an area of challenge for me, historically. I’m very, very good at holding on to things. Letting go has not been my forte. And at the same time, I’ve challenged myself to develop the capacity to let go, because I know that it will actually serve me better. I have come to believe that the capacity to let go leads to a sense of liberation. And who doesn’t want to feel liberated?
Before I dive into what I believe the process of letting go to be, I want to make one thing clear. Letting go is NOT about forgetting that something happened. It’s not about pretending that all was well when it wasn’t. It’s not about ignoring an individual’s behavior and allowing them to continue to behave badly towards you. Instead, letting go is about fully acknowledging what is and was, and then being able to MOVE ON from it. Letting go is about remembering that you are more than a circumstance, and while I situation has impact on you, it need not define you or your future. Personally, it’s this last part that I myself have been challenged by, as I believed for the longest time that my experiences truly defined me, rather than simply being part of a greater whole.
So, how do you let go? What’s the secret formula that some seem to have mastered, while others grapple? Having paid attention to those who seemingly let go with ease, here’s the process in a nutshell:
- NOTICE the script in your mind, which is likely in repeat mode. In order to let go, you’ve got to be aware of when you’re holding on, and what it is you’re holding on to.
- ACKNOWLEDGE that you’re replaying the past. Don’t make yourself wrong or beat yourself up. Just gently point out to yourself that this is what you’re doing.
- SHIFT your focus to the future. Using words to the effect of “I am not my past” look ahead to what it is you wish to create. Who are you becoming? Answer this question as a guide to moving on.
- WRITE a new script. If you’re going to be rid of the script about your past mistakes or hurts or whatever, you need something with which to replace it. A revised script – one that addresses who you are now, who you are becoming and what you’re striving to create is just the ticket.
- REPLACE the script of the past, with the one you’ve now written. Every time you hear yourself hanging out in the past, use your new script to bring your attention to what you’re really about.
Bottom-line: the capacity to let go can be developed. Your ability to do so lies in knowing that your past is nothing more than a part of the tapestry of your experience. Your past informs who you are, without being the complete picture. So stop playing the script of the past, and create a script that is more accurately reflective of you ARE and who you’re BECOMING.
A Pivotal Lesson from an Unlikely Source
Confession: I have a hard time letting go of things. Not material things so much (although sometimes, those can hang around for a while) but emotional things and social interactions. If someone hurts me, it’s a long time before the sting is gone. If I make a mistake, I berate myself for months thereafter, sometimes years (no, I’m not kidding). If someone abuses my trust, I’m not sure I ever recover from that. This inability to let go has been a part of my modus operandi for as long as I can remember.
The thing is, I know that this way of operating does not serve well. I know that there is something to be said – actually, a whole lot to be said – for developing the capacity to let go of things. To release myself from the emotional prison that I inadvertently create, and to release others from the boxes in which I tend to place them. As a leader, this ability is essential.
This week, I was blessed to witness several examples of this ability to “let go” – and it was from what many would consider an unlikely source; my 16-year old son, Jacob.
First, let me say that the fact that he’s 16 is mind-boggling to me. I can still remember the first time I held him, like it was yesterday. And while I have watched him grow, watched him attain every milestone, been present for most of his accomplishments, the fact that 16 years has gone by seems unimaginable.
Regardless, the fact remains that 16 years has gone by – and this young man who has grown before my eyes has this extraordinary capacity to let go. I’ve watched it time and time again. Something happens in his world – a disappointment, a supposed failure, a missed opportunity – and while he absolutely experiences and expresses his frustration and disappointment in a way that you would expect, it’s not long before he has totally moved on and is poised to deal with whatever is next.
Let me be clear: in “letting go” of whatever it is that needs to be let go, Jacob doesn’t just sweep the experience aside, pretending it never happened. Instead, he allows himself to be with whatever emotion arises, makes a choice as to what action to take (if any) and then he puts it out of his mind and moves on.
This week, I witnessed Jacob move through this process, just as I have many times over his formative years. And I asked myself why he was able to let go so easily. As I sat with this question, I recalled the quote by Daphne Rose Kingma: “Holding on is believing that there is only a past; letting go is knowing that there is a future.” Jacob – and others who are able to let go effectively – are able to do so because they can see beyond the moment (even as they fully immerse themselves in it) knowing that there is so much more that lies ahead. They are not limited by what has happened. Instead, they can and do step out of the experience, and move on to what’s next.
Bottom-line: in life and leadership disappointments and hurts are inevitable. The key to navigating these times is the ability to let go. And when it comes right down to it, the secret to letting go is to know that there is still more to come. You cannot embrace what will be if you are holding on to what was. So let go – and notice how your burdens lessen.
What Have You Read Lately?
Last week I wrote about the importance of creating a summer “bucket list” as it were. I know that many of you found it helpful; there was something about it that resonated, and I’m glad. This week, I want to take one item off that list and expand upon it. Why? Because I find the enriching power of this one item particularly compelling.
Which item am I talking about? Item #2: “Read at least 5 books that I haven’t read before.”
I confess, I have been an avid reader for all of my life. I am one of those strange folks for whom good books are like good friends: always reliable, filled with wisdom, and often capable of eliciting a belly laugh which, as anyone knows, can be particularly healing. I have books on my shelf that I have read so many times, the pages are well-worn, to say the least. Some books I have had to replace, they are so well-worn. And others I hold on to for dear life, reluctant to ever replace them, because of the memories they hold for me. Books are awesome.
What I know for sure is that reading is a hobby/habit/practice that can enrich your life like nothing else. If you’re uncertain about something, a good book can inform. If you’re feeling stressed, the right book can lighten your mood. If you’re sad or lonely, there are books that can lift your spirits. And if you’re bored, books can transport you to another world, expanding your horizons.
In light of this, I believe it’s imperative for you to find a way to incorporate reading into your life. While I so prefer the tangible nature of “real” books, I cannot deny that there is convenience to be found in using an ereader or tablet of sorts. Whichever format you use, if you cultivate a practice of reading even if it’s only for a few minutes a day, your mind will be better for it. Heck, your entire life will be better for it.
So, to help you get started, I’m going to share with you a list of my favourite books. These are in no particular order (and truthfully, my list often changes from time to time, based on new works that I discover).
- Anne of Green Gables (the entire series), by Lucy Maud Montgomery
- Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom (I recommended this last week)
- Harry Potter (the entire series, although I think the Goblet of Fire is my favourite), by J.K. Rowling
- The Clifton Chronicles series, by Jeffrey Archer
- The Anatomy of Peace, by The Arbinger Institute
- Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown
- The Timekeeper, by Mitch Albom
- Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
- Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
- The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
- The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman
- Watership Down, Richard Adams
- Conversations with God, Neale Donald Walsch
- Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting, by Lynn Grabhorn
- Still Alice, by Lisa Genova
- The Red Tent, by Anita Diamont
- The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory
- My Many Coloured Days, by Dr. Seuss
- You Are Special, by Max Lucado
- Oh! The Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss
I could probably keep adding to this list, but I won’t. As you can see, I’m a rather “eclectic” reader. Everything from children’s books, to mysteries, to epic adventures, to romance and non-fiction – it all appeals to me. And they all help to keep my brain humming along and my world expanding.
Bottom-line: reading is an activity that can work for everyone. Dive into a good book, and you allow your life to expand. And expanded life is an enriched life. Which is a really, really good thing.
What’s On Your Summer Bucket List?
Generally, when you hear the term “bucket list”, you think of a to-do list for life. It’s a list of all those places to go, people to see, things to do and accomplish over the course of your life. The thing is, such lists don’t have to be limited to covering a lifetime. They can be smaller versions applying to a smaller stretch of time.
Seasons often flash by in the blink of an eye. Summer, in particular, has a way of zipping past and before you know it, autumn and the “return to routine” is upon you, leaving a sense of remorse that more of what you wanted to do, didn’t get done. This is a feeling that I’m familiar with – and I do NOT like it. It’s for this reason that I’ve created a summer bucket list. This is my way of keeping the things that feel important to me “front and centre”. This list provides me with something I can refer to from time to time, so that I can ensure that the things I want to do don’t get lost in the hustle and bustle of what can often be busier than anticipated.
By way of providing a wee bit of inspiration, this week I’m going to share my “summer bucket list” with you. Feel free to use this as a guide to create your own version of a summer bucket list – or use it as your own, if you wish.
- Get to the beach, at least once a week.
- Read at least 5 books that I haven’t read yet (I’m currently finishing Natchez Burning by Greg Iles, and plan to read the next installment thereafter).
- Visit Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto.
- “Date nights” with my hubby.
- A shopping trip to Ikea or something like it (furnishing the new house, you know?)
- Regular visits with friends.
- Hanging out in my backyard hammock.
- Visits to the farmer’s market
- Enjoying freshly picked corn on the cob.
- Strawberry picking – maybe blueberries and cherries too
- Evening walks.
- Games nights with my kids.
- Movie nights.
- Fireworks on holidays
- Checking out a live theatre production in Stratford.
The creation of a list like this provides a touchstone, something I can lean into and refer to, to ensure that I don’t forget to do these “summer things”, thereby missing the opportunity. This summer in particular is shaping up to be busier than ever. My children are getting older and as such are busy with summer jobs, social events, and activities of their own. These, by extension, become my activities, as I act as chauffeur and work to coordinate schedules. If I didn’t have a “summer bucket list”, it would be too easy to lose sight of the things that I want to experience – and before you know it, summer would be gone.
Bottom-line: if there are things you want to do, creating a “bucket list” of sorts can help keep you on track. Keep your list front and centre, and refer to it often. Then, come September, you’ll have checked off many items, if not all, and you’ll be able to move on with a sense of genuine joy and fulfillment.
Want to Reach Your Goal? Know Where to Keep Your Eyes
Goals. Objectives. Ambitions. Dreams. All of these things have one thing in common, namely, a desire for their manifestation. There’s a way that each of us – no matter who we are – wants these things to become our reality. What we’re talking about is achievement, accomplishment, that sense of success.
This summer, the topic of goals and achievement has been taking up a lot of brain space for me. Like most people I know I love setting goals; more importantly, I love achieving goals; and, sometimes, especially when goal-achievement seems elusive, there’s a way that I want to abandon ship. While I know that there is something to be said for knowing when to let go of a lost cause, I also know that there’s more to be said for sticking to your guns, for seeing a plan through to success. So how do you do that? How do you stay the course, when the end seems so far away? Or when your work seems to be yielding less than desirable results? The key lies in a classic “both/and”. Let me explain.
When it comes to goal achievement, conventional wisdom would have us maintain our focus on the desired end result. “Keep your eye on the prize” is the cliché, right? In other words, you are taught to keep your attention entirely on the goal you’ve set. You’ve also been told to celebrate your successes along the way to the ultimate goal, right? That’s where the potentially derailing challenge exists. Often, in celebrating your successes along the way, you end up taking your eye OFF the ultimate goal. That moment of averting your gaze can be enough to hold you back from achieving your goal, or at least to delay your achievement. Given that this is the result, one of two things tends to happen: you either forget about celebrating the successes along the way (because you don’t want to stop for any length of time), and thereby lose steam and fall short; or,you’re so busy celebrating the successes along the way, that your eyes are rarely on the prize, which results in losing sight of whereyou’re headed and not getting there in the end.
So, what’s the solution? It boils down to this: you’ve got to develop your capacity to HOLD IT ALL energetically. There’s a way that you must be completely, 100% aware of where you are, where you’ve been and where you’re headed, all at the same time. Celebrating successes along the way does not mean that you take your eyes off your destination. Instead, it’s about marking the success as you continue to move forward. Think about any of the runners in any sporting event; if and when they choose to turn and look behind them, they lose focus, they lose speed and they potentially lose the prize. If, instead, they mentally “check off” each and every milestone, they are in essence celebrating even as they keep pushing ahead. It’s a brilliant strategy.
One final word about “keeping your eye on the prize”. I’d never really thought about this before, however, during the last summer Olympics this idea was drawn to my attention – and I’ve not forgotten it since. For athletes who run in dash events, the competition is really, really stiff. The difference between those in first and second place is a matter of milliseconds. During one of the dash races in the last Olympic games, it was noted by the commentators that what set the winner apart, was that sheran “through the finish line”. In other words, although the race was a 200-meter event, the winner very obviously was running well beyond 200 meters. Her eyes were fixed beyond the finish line. The second place athlete, however, was aiming for the finish line. Shouldn’t that have been enough? No, it wasn’t; and it isn’t. Why? Because when it comes to goals, there’s a way that your mind and body start to slow down before the finish, knowing that you actually need time to come to a stop. As a result, if your eye is on the finish line, you’ll slow down before that, stopping short of your desired objective. If, however, your eye is beyond the line, you’ll keep racing, giving yourself that critical edge in the end.
Bottom-line: if you want to achieve a goal, any goal, you’ve got to keep your eye on the prize, your head in the game, and your awareness on the entire journey. You’ve got to celebrate all that you’ve accomplished, even as you continue to move forward. When it comes right down to it, you’ve got to keep moving, no matter how tempted you are to let go. Go ahead; take that break, celebrate all you’ve accomplished, but don’t lose sight of the end-result. Holding it all together will ensure that you can celebrate it all together. I know. I’ve been there; I’ve done that. And I’m still moving forward to my ultimate goal.
When Risk-Taking Backfires
Risk. It’s a concept that some are more comfortable with than others. Although we often equate risk with dare-devil type personalities – those who engage in activities where the outcome isn’t guaranteed to be positive in any way, shape or form – at very heart of it all, risk-taking is about making yourself vulnerable in the face of something.
One of the things that is generally acknowledged as fact is that a life well-lived involves an element of risk. Calculated risk can be a very good thing; it’s that scenario in which you aren’t sure of the outcome, but you weigh out the pros and cons of your choice, decide that the pros outweigh the cons in some measure, and then go for it. The thing about “risk” is that by definition there are no guarantees. Sometimes, despite having weighed the odds, even the most well-calculated risk can backfire. I know. I had this very experience recently.
In this particular case, the risk I took was one involving a relationship. I chose to address a concern with an individual, in a group environment, and the entire scenario went sideways – fast. Despite my choice to be grounded, direct, firm and simultaneously as soft as possible in my approach, my impact was anything but grounded or soft. The person on the receiving end of my address “exploded”, resulting in an energy of palpable tension in the space. I took a risk, and it didn’t pay off – at least not in the way I would have liked.
So, what did I learn from the experience? What do I know now about risk-taking that I didn’t really know before? Here are a few of the tangible lessons that I’d like to share with you:
- Risk is risk. Sometimes, despite weighing the odds and determining the “best” course of action, the outcome is less than desirable.
- When you take a risk and put yourself out there, some will respect you for it.
- When you take a risk and put yourself out there, some will despise you for it.
- Taking a risk requires commitment; if you’re going to take a chance, you need to “stay the course”, even if things backfire.
- Commitment does not mean being pig-headed; if you’ve made a mistake, you need to own it and move on.
- Commitment does mean standing your ground – with integrity. It’s not about making others wrong, it’s not about losing your cool, and it is about being patient and grounded.
- Once you’ve taken a risk, regardless of the outcome, give yourself time to let things settle.
- If things go well, celebrate your success graciously.
- If things go sour, take time to evaluate –don’t sulk.
- Once the dust settles – good or bad – learn the lesson and move on.
Bottom-line: risk-taking is about living your life with purpose, with intention and with a view to stretching yourself. It’s about showing up fully and being all of you, in any circumstance. Sometimes the outcome will be greater than you could have imagined. Sometimes it will backfire. And when you take the time to learn the lesson from the experience, regardless of the outcome, risk-taking with clarity is always worth the price you pay.