Serenity, Courage and Wisdom: Part 3

This week I continue my exploration of the Serenity Prayer. Once again, for those who haven’t heard it, or don’t recognize it by that name, here it is:

 serenity_prayer

 

Last week, I looked at the first line, and today, I want to move on to the second – the one that’s all about the human trait of courage. Courage is one of those human qualities that we all desire to some degree, and yet, so often we shy away from it. Why? Because courage as a quality tends to feel bigger than we want to be, you know?

The thing about courage is that it exists within each of us. It often lies “dormant” to a certain degree because we don’t always feel called upon to access it. Put us in an emergency situation – especially a physical one – however, and most people can be as courageous as required.  It’s as though instinct kicks in and provides the necessary adrenaline to be courageous.

In the face of change, however, things shift.  The courage that’s required to initiate or implement change is of a slightly different quality. It’s not of a physical nature, but rather an emotional one, an intellectual one.  It’s often said that “change is hard” and so, we tend to get small in the face of it. Whether it’s changing jobs, changing homes, changing technology, there’s a certain amount of courage that we need to access to make it possible, to “boldly go” where we haven’t gone before.

How do we do that? Three simple steps will take you far:

  1. Think (for a second, that’s all). Thinking provides the necessary clarity for moving forward with courage. Note, I’m not talking about over thinking – just about giving your situation a modicum of thought. It’s about being deliberate and intentional, not rash.
  2. Breathe (deeply – the deeper, the better). Breathing grounds you, centers you, and helps you choose wisely.
  3. Act (in whatever way will move you toward the desired change). Do what you feel called to do from your place of grounded clarity.

The more you work this system, the stronger your capacity for the necessary courage will be.

The other piece of this line relates to what it is that you’re wanting to change. Specifically, it’s about changing the things you CAN. Think about that for a moment. What are the things in your life that are troubling you right now? What circumstances and conditions do you wish were different? How many of these are actually within your power to change? It’s important that you make and understand this distinction because, otherwise, you’ll be doing nothing but beating your head against a wall ad nauseam. And let me tell you, this is never a pretty site.

How do you know the difference? Well, the final line of the verse speaks exactly to this question and next week, I’ll share some thoughts to help you understand this last piece.

For now, the bottom-line is that COURAGE is a necessary human quality when it comes to being with and implementing change. You can absolutely develop your capacity for courage. Just remember: Think, Breath, Act, repeat.

This week I continue in my exploration of the serenity prayer. Most of us have heard it at some point or another in our lives, even if we haven’t called it that. For those who haven’t heard it, or don’t recognize it by that name, here it is:

serenity_prayer

The first line is what I want to focus on in this article. As I identified last week, there are three components to each line of the verse: a human trait, an action, and a “state of affairs”. In the opening line these three components flow naturally into one another. The  human trait is that of serenity, the action is acceptance, and the state of affairs is the “things I cannot change”. Let’s look at each of these and notice how they link up.

Serenity is a word that brings about a sense of peace, of calm, of bliss. While serenity can indeed be equated to those things, at its core, true serenity is about allowing. When you are in a state of serenity, there is no resistance, no pushing or pulling, no struggle. 

Acceptance then, is a natural extension of serenity. When you allow yourself to be serene, you allow yourself the experience of accepting, of noticing without giving in to the call to shift things that may not, in fact, need to be shifted.  Admittedly, this way of being with the world can be difficult. There’s a natural human tendency to manipulate circumstances and conditions around us. That being said, there are things that cannot be manipulated, that aren’t meant to be manipulated, and taking a minute to determine whether or not something is shiftable, malleable, changeable is important to investing your energy wisely.

Bottom-line: there’s something to be said for the art of simply allowing, accepting. When you can be in a state of acceptance, when you can stop trying to be in control of that which is outside of your control anyway, then you can experience greater energy for the things that you need to change. And there are things that need to change.

Next week: we’ll take a look at courage and identifying the things that are actually within your power to change.

The serenity prayer. Most of us have heard it at some point or another in our lives, even if we haven’t called it that. For those who haven’t heard it, or don’t recognize it by that name, here it is:

serenity_prayer

Three short phrases combined into one powerful request of God, the universe, whatever higher power you may believe in. Even if you don’t believe in a higher power outside of yourself, understanding the wisdom of this prayer can go a long way to helping you live and lead most effectively in your world. Over the next few weeks, my intention is to look more deeply at this verse, with a view to helping you understand the significance that it can have in helping you live your best life, and be the best leader you can be. Today, I want to take a big picture view, and look at the whole verse.

Why do I think this verse matters when it comes to life and leadership?

In a nutshell, having serenity, courage and wisdom are essential qualities for living and leading powerfully. When you can approach all aspects of your life with acceptance (which is the essence of serenity), courage and wisdom (which is a different kettle of fish from mere knowledge) you are powerfully armed to deal with the challenges which life will present.

Each of the three phrases in this well-known prayer are comprised of the following: a human trait, an action, and a “state of affairs” as I call it. Understanding each of these three components within each phrase goes a long way to understanding the verse as a whole. The words are simple in and of themselves. And, they are incredibly powerful when combined. So powerful, in fact, that this one little prayer has the power to absolutely and irrevocably change the way you interact with the world around you, the way you lead those who choose to follow you, and the way in which you experience this thing called life.

Next week, I’ll share my thoughts with you on the first line of this prayer. Remember, whether you’re a spiritual person or not is irrelevant. This article series is about enriching your human experience in a surprisingly simple way. Stay tuned and until next week, stay true to you.

11688backyard_hammockSelf-employment and summer. I sometimes think that these two things are just meant to go together. I mean, as a self-employed individual I get to work when I want, I get to work where I want (can you say “hello hammock?”), I get to soak up the sunshine on my deck while I work – in short, I get to call the shots in a lot of fun ways. Heck, I could theoretically take the whole summer off if I wanted. Which isn’t what I want at all this year, and at the same time, I do want time to enjoy all that summer has to offer.

Since I entered into the world of self-employment over a decade ago, the summers have been one my most enjoyable seasons.  While all of the perks mentioned in the first paragraph are technically available to me year-round, there’s something about summer that heightens my gratitude for my status as a self-employed individual. Summer has always been my favourite season of the year, and generally speaking it brings about an opportunity for me to modify my work schedule in such a way that feels more slow-paced compared to the rest of the year. I consciously choose to work what many would consider “reduced” hours, giving myself more chunks of time with my family, friends or even in solitude, time to enjoy this season completely.

One would think, given my particular penchant for “slow paced” that I would be less productive, that I would get less done, that I would “squander” my time. Ironically, however, I actually manage to be as productive — sometimes moreso — with these summer hours as I do the rest of the year. How? By keeping things “bite-sized”.

Every day, I choose two or three things that must get done. I’ve always said that to-do lists are a set-up for failure because they’re never-ending. There’s always something more to add to the “to-do list”. By picking two or three specific items from the list each day, those projects/tasks/activities become my focus. Once they are done, that’s it. I allow myself to put everything aside and move on. This sort of “bite-sized focus” allows me to channel my energy in a super-concentrated way. I’m really clear on what needs to get done, by when, and what awaits me once the task is complete. The result? Far-greater productivity in the long run, than is possible when I’m starting at longer “to-do lists”.

Admittedly, this sort of bite-sized focus can actually be used year-round. Its effectiveness is not limited to summer-time by any stretch of the imagination. The beauty of summer provides such incentive for me, however; this is why I find this approach particularly effective during this season. There are summer-time perks that are mine to enjoy, once my bite-sized list of tasks is complete.

Bottom-line: if you want to get the most out of summer – whether you’re self-employed or not – keep things really focused. Choose to hone in on two or three tasks MAXIMUM each day. Once these are done, shift yourself into that “lazy, hazy” gear that we generally associate with the summer season, and allow that flow to permeate your being. Bite-sized focus. This is the key to maximizing productivity.

Canada-Day-PartyI know that I’ve written about this before, but every year – several times a year – I’m struck by the tendency that many of us have to make celebrations complicated. We organize activities, create extensive guest lists, plan elaborate menus – all in an effort to “celebrate”. Too often, by the end of all of this planning, the host or hosts are too exhausted to enjoy the event – and the minute details that have been tended to haven’t been appreciated by the guests either.

So what’s the solution? Keep it simple, my friends. I can’t say it often enough. And I know this from my own experience. There is something to be said  — an elegance to be found – in a simple celebration.

The goal of any celebration is to mark or honour a moment, or an event. When planning a celebration then, the event must be the focus of those plans. And the plans must in no way overpower the event itself.

Here are some suggestions for creating simple celebrations in your life, whether you’re celebrating an achievement, a birthday, a life event or anything else:

  • Keep the guest list meaningful – in other words, it’s not about the number of people, but rather about how these people connect to the celebration at hand
  • Ask for help – enough with trying to plan things on your own. Invite your family and/or friends to assist with any and all tasks
  • Let go of “obligation” – in other words, don’t do anything for the celebration simply because you feel you “should”
  • Bust the myth of the celebration trifecta – food, money, alcohol. None of these things is what makes a celebration great – a celebration is about marking an occasion, nothing more.
  • Consider what will be meaningful and memorable in the years to come – will you be more appreciative of an event where you spend time with a few select individuals, or do you want to be surrounded by everyone who’s known you since birth? (or something in between?)
  • Tune in to what feels like an authentic representation of whatever it is you’re striving to celebrate
  • Never underestimate the power or significance of a solitary celebration. While celebration is often best when shared with at least one other (shared joy is double joy, as the saying goes) sometimes, it can be valuable to just be by yourself
  • In the spirit of the last point, a celebration can be as simple as treating yourself to a walk on the beach, enjoying an afternoon reading, or writing in your journal

Bottom-line: keeping celebrations simple can actually be a far more meaningful experience than trying to complicate things. As the week ahead unfolds, and indeed as the year’s various moments invite you to celebrate, give thought to how you can keep things simple. In this way you won’t lose sight of the event you’re trying to honour, and you’ll create an experience that’s truly meaningful.

focusThis past week was an opportunity for taking stock. This is a deliberate project which I undertake every year, usually during the month of June and again at year-end. While I believe in evaluation and self-reflection as a regular part of my business, these structured opportunities allow me to take a more deliberate look at what’s working, what’s not, what needs tweaking – and then move forward with greater clarity.

The act of “taking stock” is always a valuable experience. Lessons are learned, ideas are formulated, plans are created. And every so often, I get taken by surprise.  This was the case this past week. What I discovered as I evaluated where I was at relative to where I want to be (and to where I’ve been) was an eye-opener to say the least. Especially since what I discovered is exactly what I caution against, on a fairly regular basis.

What did I notice? Blurred lines. Boundary-lines, that is. As I looked at my schedule and looked at how I was working towards the achievement of certain objectives, I realized that over time I had, slowly but surely, created a circumstance in which my boundaries were no longer clear. What boundaries? The boundaries between personal time and professional; the boundaries between individual project times; the boundaries between specific spaces. The blurring of these lines has negative implications to say the least. In a nutshell, I have been less productive than would otherwise have been possible.

So how did this happen? How did I, who knows the value and importance of clearly defined and honoured boundaries, get myself into a situation where said boundaries were anything but?

Simply put, I wasn’t paying attention. I got caught up in the throes of everyday living and “going with the flow” to the degree that things started to blend and bleed into one another. Go figure.

I’m sure that this has been a contributing factor to the degree of fatigue that has been part of my experience of late. I’m sure that this has been a contributing factor to the lack of efficiency that I’ve noticed. And I’m sure that this has been a contributing factor to the frustration that sits just under the surface as I try to “get it all done”. When boundaries are blurred – moreover, when boundaries are not respected – things just don’t run as smoothly.

So, what’s the lesson? What I’ve learned – and what I want to share with you – is this: pay attention. Pay attention to what you’re doing and when. When you stop a project – for the day, for the moment, for the week – let it go. Kick it out of your brain space and allow it to percolate elsewhere.  Moreover, delineate your physical spaces clearly, particularly if you work from home at all. Leave your work tasks and projects in a defined space, preferably behind a closed door when you’re not in work mode.  There’s a reason that we’re taught to have a space for everything and put everything in its space. It’s about honouring boundaries.

Bottom-line: blurred lines can happen to the best of us. No matter who you are, if you don’t pay attention, boundaries can get crossed, without you even realizing it. The crossing of boundaries – especially when done without intent – gets in the way of effective, productive work. So pay attention. Be deliberate. And watch as everything falls into place.

stillnessMomentum. When it comes to achieving what you want, accomplishing an objective, or reaching a goal, having momentum seems like a desirable thing. Momentum is what keeps you going. It’s the energy of continual movement. And if you’re moving toward something – anything at all – having continual movement must be good, right?

Wrong. And here’s why.

Momentum that serves is actually punctuated, however briefly, by times of pause. Moments of stillness. Time to stop and take a breath.

Momentum that is unchecked, by its very nature, accelerates to the point of being uncontrolled. When it is uncontrolled, you can so easily get off-course and because you’re moving so fast, you don’t realize you’re off-course, which makes course-correction difficult (if not downright impossible).

The solution? Take or carve out deliberate time to stop or, at the very least, to slow the heck down. This isn’t about smelling roses as the cliché would have us believe. Instead, when it comes to momentum, slowing down is about ensuring that the momentum you’re building is actually moving you in the right direction at all times and about making sure that you haven’t missed key markers along the way. Sometimes, when momentum builds as quickly as it does, you can actually move right on past your objective and not even realize it. Sometimes, when you’re moving that fast, you lose clarity. Sometimes, when you’re moving that fast, you get caught up in the movement and really can’t focus on where it is you’re heading.

Bottom-line: when it comes to goal achievement, momentum is good. That being said, it needs to be complemented by stillness. The stillness actually feeds the momentum rather than stalling it, contrary to popular belief. So take time to be still, and ultimately, you’ll reach your objective faster.

Angelou

I’m a lover of quotes. Anyone who knows anything about me, knows this. I don’t always know to whom I should be attributing a quote, but I do love leaning in to sage words of wisdom, especially when I’m in need of inspiration, motivation, or simply reassurance that I’m not the only one to have felt whatever it is I’m feeling in a particular moment.

Maya Angelou was a woman filled with wisdom. Inspiration from her abounds in the pages of books, on blogsites, in magazines. You don’t have to look far to connect with some nugget that she shared. Because I have often found myself referencing her wisdom and because I have found her teachings so valuable, this week, I’m going to deviate from my usual format and simply share some of my favourite Maya Angelou quotes with you. For each quote, I will extrapolate my understanding of the poignant lesson contained therein. My hope is that you too will find inspiration in at least one of these.

 

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”
Lesson: Unleash your inner gifts, not because of what you will gain or how the world will benefit, but simply because it’s your gift to share.

“I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Lesson: Pay attention to your impact on the world around you. In the end, that is what really matters, because the impression you leave is what others will remember about you.

“If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
Lesson: Stop complaining and start changing what you can. Take responsibility for your own happiness.

“While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.”
Lesson: We are all special, we are all connected, we are all worthy of being treated with respect.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Lesson: while people can sometimes get off on the wrong foot, often, who you see at first glance is actually who they are. Never believe that someone who treats others poorly, couldn’t or wouldn’t treat you any differently.

“All great achievements require time.”
Lesson: be patient. The expectation of instant results, instant gratification is unrealistic and doesn’t serve.

“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”
Lesson: Anger can serve you very well, so long as you don’t allow it to fester. Use anger constructively.

“We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.”
Lesson: Failure does not define you, nor is it an indication to give up.

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.”
Lesson: Be aware of your own prejudices, because any prejudice gets in the way of sound judgment. 

“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”
Lesson: Every experience informs and shapes who you are. It need not define you, but it does influence you, so find the lesson – the nugget – in each and every experience and soak it up.

fb3As most of you know, I’ve spent the better part of the last year writing a book.  This isn’t the first book that I’ve been associated with; it is, however, my first solo project (aside from this ezine, of course J ).

Over the course of the project I’ve encountered all sorts of speed bumps, roadblocks and other obstacles as it were. In the initial phases, it was a question of crystallizing the content. As things progressed, it was often about deciding how that content would best flow. And throughout, I’ve had to overcome my own fears: will the book be well-received? Does it make sense? Can I make this a viable (read as “successful”) project?

Every obstacle I’ve hit has required me to take some time – moments, hours, days in some cases – and get clear about what I’m doing, what my message is and why I want it to be in this format. Interestingly, the obstacles of my own creation – my own doubts, my internal saboteur-voices – have been the hardest to overcome. Until last week.

The most recent phase of the book has been to garner endorsements, testimonials, little sound-bite nuggets that I can use to bolster my marketing efforts. I’ve chosen to lean in to individuals I trust for this process, and individuals who I feel will be aligned with the content. Some I know well, some I don’t know at all, and some are acquaintances.

Slowly but surely, the testimonials have been coming in. And my heart has been overflowing with gratitude to read some of the thoughts. Here’s an example:

“Gail Barker has made something great with this little gem of a book. It is comprehensive in its scope, deep in its meaning, personally touching and a pleasurable read you will want to go back to again and again. In fact, to get everything that she is giving, you’d have to.”

How could I not feel fantastic after reading that? So far, all of the endorsements have been of a similar sentiment. Until last week.

An individual who I very much admire didn’t share the same experience of my book. And, despite the way in which the reader’s feedback was shared – with extreme compassion and genuine desire to support me in my work – I was deflated. I felt myself questioning my own intentions and capacities. What if he was right? What if the book wasn’t all that I thought it was? What if it missed the mark?

My initial reaction was to go right to work and change my book – rewrite it, as it were. And then I stopped myself. I reminded myself that his opinion was nothing more or less than that – an opinion. He might be right – and he might not be. While I absolutely respect his input, others whom I respect as much if not more had shared with equal heartfelt support of me that the book is good.  And so, I really had to take time and evaluate before taking any action.

Since then, having given myself some distance, I’ve taken the time to reread my final draft and hold it up to the feedback that this individual provided. And truthfully, I disagree with him. I have definitely found a few edits to make, but not many – and nothing substantial. I appreciate and respect that he doesn’t feel able to endorse my book. And, at the same time, I cannot lose sight of the fact that others feel more than able to.

I’ve had to remind myself that this is a classic example of not being able to please everyone.  When you undertake a project of any sort, some will be onside, some won’t, and some couldn’t care less. In my case, some will like the book, some won’t; some will agree, some won’t; some will promote it to anyone and everyone while others will not say much. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. And when it comes to the completion of this project – of any project – my own clarity and opinion is what matters the most.

Bottom-line: I share this story with you because I want you to remember that your own opinion is important. Listening to the feedback of others is important as well; I believe it’s the sign of an open-minded personality. That being said, listening to feedback does not equate to buying in to the feedback, one way or the other. Whatever it is that you’re up to, take time to get clear on the essence of it and don’t waiver from that clarity.  From that place of clarity, invite others to critique your work as appropriate. But don’t allow those critiques to sway you from your vision. Respectfully staying true to you – when you’re clear on what that means – is what truly matters at all times.

frustrated-woman-at-computerIt has been said that there is more to communication than simply the content of the message.  Tone, body language and context contribute in great measure to any effective, meaningful communication exchange.

We live in a world that relies heavily on written communication, as opposed to verbal. Not that verbal exchanges don’t happen. These days, however, the written exchange often surpasses the verbal, simply because of perceived ease. It’s often easier, quicker and more immediate to send a text or an email rather than arrange a time to connect verbally, whether in person or by phone. 

When I first entered the professional world over two decades ago, email hadn’t even been heard of. Now, it’s just assumed that everyone has an email address, is comfortable corresponding via email, and accesses email regularly (read as at least 16 hours out of every 24).

While theoretically written and verbal communication of information should stand on equal footing, there is an inherent challenge with the former. Simply put, a lot of what contributes to effective communication – context, body language and tone – gets assumed when it’s written, rather than being necessarily accurate. Assumption is rarely a good thing – the cliché as that when you assume you make an ASS out of U and ME – and in the context of email exchanges, assumption often leads to misunderstanding and less than effective communication.

Here’s an example to illustrate my point. Earlier this week, during a committee meeting, I heard someone say that he had received a snarky email from another committee member. Further, this individual said that he chose to “not respond to the email; it’s just better that way”.  And I got curious.

What was it that led to his believing that the email was “snarky”? I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a “snarky” font in existence at the moment!  I know that my acquaintance and the sender of the email in question had recently had a few disagreements related to committee work. I also know that the sender of the email, in verbal communication at any rate, tends to be extremely soft-spoken, open-minded, and respectful, even in disagreements. That being said, she can also be very committed to her position. 

The problem with this individual’s assumption lies in his corresponding choice of action – or lack thereof. By assuming “snarkiness”, and choosing to not respond, communication effectively broke down. He didn’t bother to check with the sender of the message – either by return email or a phone call – to see whether or not there was any negative or harsh tone intended. He didn’t address the supposed frustration or angst, instead assuming that if he ignored the email, such angst would pass and committee work could simply move on. Maybe it will; so often, however, these assumptions simply pile up and work behind the scenes, slowly but surely eroding effective relationships and communication attempts.

In order to avoid the potential negative outcomes of such assumptions,particularly when it comes to written communication, you’ve got to do one of a couple of things:

  1. Stop assuming tone and respond to content only, as much as possible.
  2. When you experience negative tone, speak to it, even if it is in a return email. Letting people know how you experience them serves to deepen relationships.
  3. Be aware of your own biases and put them aside.

Bottom-line: email is great. It often allows us to get the information we want out there, and to do so without the same limitations of time and space that verbal or face-to-face communication can be bound by at times. That being said, it’s easier to make more assumptions than with verbal exchanges. And if these assumptions are acted on without being checked out, communication isn’t effective at all; it breaks down. So lose the assumptions, and if you can’t do that, at the very least address whatever it is that you perceive as negative. This will ensure that communication of all sorts serves its actual purpose: to accurately convey a message.

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Writing provides me with an outlet for sharing my insights on a regular basis. I freelance for magazines and publications as opportunity presents itself. I also channel my thoughts into regular blog posts and monthly articles. Blog posts are visible on my blog page, and an archive of articles from my monthly ezine, LAUNCH –as well as some articles from publications – can be found on the “articles” page of this site.

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