Change Isn't Painful. Resistance to Change Is.

I write today in the shadow of the shootings in El Paso, Dayton, and in our own backyards here in Chicago.  The day is heavy with a deep sadness.  The thoughts strangle me as I try to understand why – how we have created a world where rage, hate and fear is too often expressed with extreme and acute violence.

 And while I know I can only control my own little world and do my best to do what’s right, it does make me wonder what I might be holding onto – what biases – that can cause harm.

Unconscious bias.  It’s the result of deep-seated and unintentional thoughts.  They are learned.  They will stop us from leading a compassionate life every time unless we are committed to understanding our internal conversations.  And though they may not fuel the heinous acts of this past week, they can still cause pain.

Our judgements can change how we see any given situation – any person – at any time.  Our unconscious bias creates a clouded reality.  What we have learned from past experiences can define our present.  But, do they have to?

So how do I find clarity – the truth?

I recently heard a question that struck me. It leads us down an uncomfortable path that challenges the unintentional.

When we notice a belief that judges without love, we should ask ourselves…

What is it I need to believe to hang on to this feeling?

It’s amazing what we learn when we follow our answer with the same question - What is it I need to believe to hang on to this feeling? Then we follow the same question again and again until we get to the untruth of it for ourselves. At the end, we’re up against our most core values – the things we profoundly believe – and they don’t align. And so, we must change. We must interrupt our judgement.

Change isn’t painful. Resistance to change is.

But can we imagine not changing...living an unintentional life?

 

It’s time to shift the internal conversation...to be open to gentle self-honesty.  It’s time to lead with compassion and abandon differences and hate.  It’s time to build trust. We all want to belong.  We all want to be loved.  We are people.  And when we community together – we are hope.

 

 

Check Your Why

Ever have a conversation with a 4-year old?  You give a response to a simple question and then they ask “why”.  Answer that question and they follow up with another “why”. And soon you are down the rabbit hole in the Land of Why.

While we may not want to get lost down the same rabbit hole, the vast majority of us could do a better job of playing the 4-year old Why Game.  We are so busy thinking about what we want or running in the opposite direction because the choice terrifies us, we forget to ask ourselves why.  Whydo we want it?  Whyam I afraid?  

And just as each of us flourishes when we understand our purpose – being what we’re meant to be – the public and private sectors also need to ask the bigger questions.  Why should donors care about our mission? Why are we losing market share? Why are we struggling to grow?  Why are our social change efforts losing ground?  Why is my team unhappy?

In our culture we’re impatient to get to the answers, but less adept at framing the questions. Why?  Because asking why is not especially comfortable.  Why requires deep reflection.  Why requires honest and transparent conversations. And it takes courage to delve into the why.

Following is an example of a conversation a coach may have with a client who has “imposter syndrome” - the “What if I’m not as good as I think?” syndrome. Finding the way to why anchors the letting go of what doesn't serve us well.

The belief: I feel like an imposter.

Coach:

  • Is this true? Are you an imposter?

  • When does this feeling surface?  

  • How does it make you feel?  

  • What happens when you feel this way? 

  • Who could you be if you could live without this doubt?

Next Step: Pivot your thinking.  

Coach:

  • What if you told yourself I believe in me, and I have everything I need to succeed?  

  • How would that make me feel?  

  •  If you own these feelings, what might you do differently?  

  • What might happen if you owned this new-found power?

Client’s Why Question:  So why am I holding on to this belief about myself?

  • What’s the origin of this feeling - “not good enough”?

  • What will it take for you to let it go?

  • How do you remind yourself that you have everything you need to succeed?  

  • What steps do you take to support yourself and live your purpose?

Organizations must also check in on their why periodically.  For nonprofits, the allure of securing a new, significant donor could take them off mission. Businesses losing site of their whymay be inclined to follow the next shiny thing, grow too fast, and forget about how their loyal customers brought success. We can’t be all things to all people. 

We can, however, be loyal to who we are, what we create, and why we create it.  Our strength lies in living our own authentic purpose.  It is here we find our “why”.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Agreed to the Rules?

Ever hear a parent tell their kids “life isn’t fair” when a child complains her sib’s cookie is bigger?  I do. I was one of those parents.  I know…I know…What was I thinking?  

Don’t ever think your kids aren’t listening.   I overhead my four-year old tell her bigger sister that life isn’t fair after she complained about a game they were playing. Out of the mouths of babes.  What was I teaching my kids? 

It’s not that life is unfair.  Our broken ideas of what fairness can look like is what needs to change.  Who made up the rules?  Who agreed to those rules? Are the rules so set in stone they can’t change?  I would argue that fighting for fairness – for rules that serve the collective – are one of today’s most critical moral challenges.  

I’ve spent my career in the social sector, working for equal access and social justice.  Social justice is built on the premise that leveling the playing field – creating fairness and equity - is a moral imperative. And if you accept this premise, then how are you compelled to act?  You must do something.

I love a quote from Dr. Seuss in his book The Lorax.  

“Unless someone like you cares a whole, awful lot, 

nothing is going to get better.  

It’s not.”

So, I choose to care. I choose to care alongside all of you who work in this optimistic and unrelenting social sector, whether as a staff member, a board member, or a volunteer.  For all those people we serve who live life with grace and welcome us in with dignity, I say thank you.  Thank you for being my teachers.  

I join my colleagues in seeking wisdom, not just knowledge.  Someone once said, “When you know and choose not to do, you choose not to know.”  Knowledge can be culturally specific.  It can limit the experience.  Wisdom comes when we live our story and get out of our head…move out of our comfort zone. Wisdom sees to the heart.  Wisdom knows.

What If We Just Ask

I was hiking recently with my daughter and her family in Mesa Verde. We were on the Spruce Tree Trail in the San Juan mountains - a ridge of the Rocky Mountains - in southwest Colorado. Beautiful country.  The trail is 2.5 miles long. The first half mile or so of the trail was a walk down into the canyon.  The next part of the trail – approximately 1.5 miles - was up a steep and rocky incline before leveling off.
 
I was doing great when we reached the incline.  But it wasn’t long before I was struggling to catch my breath, feeling exhausted, light-headed, and nauseated as I was making my way up.  I had altitude sickness.  I wasn't certain I could make it.  And there was really only one way out.  Up.  I was scared.  It was scarier…I’m sure…for my daughter and granddaughter.
 
I finally asked for help. 
 
My daughter and granddaughter helped me work my way to the top – foot by foot.  I’d set a rock in the distance as my goal and worked my way to that point.  They provided encouragement and a hand (literally) every step of the way.  It was probably one of the most humbling times in my life.
 
I realize I’ve spent a good part of my life standing on my own.  I’m not inclined to ask for help.  I’ll figure it out as I go.  I raised my daughters to do the same.  They’re strong.  Independent. Smart.  Creative.
 
However, I hope my acceptance of assistance has taught me how to talk with them about “asking for help”. My daughter and granddaughter honored me with their love and concern.  It made me realize that by asking for help, we communicate trust. Being vulnerable means we’re human…open to what others can bring.  We’re not meant to make life journeys on our own.  We’re meant to make them together.
 
Pride does not serve us well.



Seeing Takes Time

Ever wonder where you are? Let alone where you’re going!  Are you simply walking through life maybe a little numb – not fully participating – just trying to hold it all together?  Are you happy?  Unhappy?  Not sure?

Join the millions of others who walk with their head down…focused only on where they’re going but not really thinking about who they get to be when they arrive.  And while we may interact with the “where we are” with “what we do”, we don’t actually connect on a deeper level that is meaningful. Instead we remain detached.  Isolated.

Sometimes we get lucky. We know our path.  We’re committed to our intentional choices.   However, most of us take a rockier road. To find our way, we need to clear the ever-present critics seeding doubt in our hearts and heads.  These critics   include our egos, others’ egos, rules that no longer apply, responsibilities, expectations and fear!  Instead we must rally our internal rebel to fight against what doesn’t serve us well.

Finding where, when and how to take this journey is a leap of faith.  Theodore Rothke (American Poet) once said, “I learn by going where I have to go.”  Where do you have to go?  What compels you?  What feeds your soul?  I know…I know…BIG questions!  Guess what? You have the answers!

As impossible as it may seem at the moment, know the best journeys are those of our own choosing. When we choose, we tap into what lies within us.  And I guarantee there all kinds of wonders tucked away inside of you.   When we take the first courageous step to “be”, we’re free to trust what we already know but have hidden from ourselves.  Be patient – seeing takes time!

 Questions for Your Journey

  • What personal qualities do you bring to your journey? (What makes you uniquely you?)

  • What fears do you bring? (And do you want to continue to carry them?)

  •  What values guide you in your life?

  • How do you express your frustration currently?  And how does that expression help or harm you?

  •  What drains you in your personal and professional lives?

  • What gives you joy and energy?

  • Where does your life and work flow effortlessly?

 Keep asking questions.  You will begin to see patterns that will guide you as you design your journey.  Remember…seeing takes time.

 

 

 

 

 

The Wolf You Feed

Anger is a mighty powerful thing.  It can threaten personal well-being and serve as a destructive and retaliatory force.
 
New brain research tells us the triggers are often rooted in our unconscious…by-products from our childhood. Research also tells us it doesn't have to stay this way. We can actually retrain our brains to identify the triggers and slow our learned reactions.  This is critical since anger continuously increases in its strength…becomes a pattern of behavior…each time we place blame or feel victimized by a presumed insult. It is a seductive and costly abuser. 
 
So how might we find clarity when our learned response is to simply react?  
 
We give ourselves permission to create space.  We find quiet.  We distance ourselves from the emotion.  It is in this space we uncover what the real thought is behind our rage and reframe it.   Insult becomes empathy for unnamed fear.  Abuse of power drives compassionate action.  
 
I love the Cherokee story about the wolf you feed.  

~~~~~~
 

A boy tells his grandfather about his anger at a friend who had done him an injustice.  His grandfather replies: “Let me tell you a story. I, too, at times have felt great hate for those who have taken so much with no sorrow for what they do.  But hate wears you down and does not hurt your enemy. It’s like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die.  I have struggled with these feelings many times. 
 
My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.  One wolf brings happiness.  It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  But the other wolf…ah!  The littlest thing will send him into a fit of temper.  He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason.  He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
 
The boy looked intently into is grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?” The grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”

~~~~~~
 
We reframe anger when we feed love, hope and happiness with what is already within us and when we act from a place of authenticity – a place apart from risk, fear, anger, and the hate it breeds.

“When things are at their worst, we have the chance to be at our best.”

Linda Graham




Curious?

Ever have a conversation with a 4-year old that quickly turned into a barrage of “Why” questions?  You know…Why do birds have feathers?  Why do they build nests?  Why are they different colors?  Why do birds have different songs?  Why do some birds sing at night when I have to go to bed?  And so on and so on…

So why do so many of us lose that sense of wonder – that sense of curiosity as we grow up?  Based on the vast research conducted by behaviorists, we know curiosity is a learned behavior that grows with careful nurturing.  When we neglect to nurture and encourage what is basically intrinsic to human development – it languishes. 

I believe curiosity is at the heart of resilience, adaptability, and our ability to manage conflict, sadness and even shame.  Curiosity feeds empathy.  Curiosity is the soul of innovation and problem solving.  Curiosity belongs to someone who seeks experience and knowledge. Someone open to the uncertainties of change because it’s a chance to learn.

So why is curiosity important to our personal and professional lives?  Curiosity…

  • Ensures we don’t limit ourselves by looking for answers that simply confirm our assumptions.  It challenges and tests limits.  It drives better decision-making.

  • Avoids judgement because the learning process is all about exploration and openness.

  • Builds stronger cultures – whether at work or within family units – because the very act of inquiry allows us to stand in each other’s shoes and seek to understand diverse ideas.

  • Opens up conversations in search of the best solutions.

  • Increases employee satisfaction and improves productivity.

  • Is results-oriented and collaborative.

  • Develops personal and organizational capacity to understand and lead change.

  • Builds perseverance.

  • Encourages meaningful engagement.

Through our curiosity we gain the capacity to embrace the constant unpredictability of change AND prepare ourselves to deeply lead and engage as a participant in the future.                                                                                                                               

~~~~~

YOUR ASSIGNMENT:

Over the next week, ask yourself,

“What can I be curious about?”

And then boldly follow the path it shows you.

Be that 4-year old again and again.  Learn.  Seek to understand.  Keep asking “why” until you get to the true root of the issue.  Be bold.  Be courageous.  Become the explorer you were always meant to be.

We Tried to Save Each Other

“We didn’t save ourselves. We tried to save each other.”  

A survivor, World Trade Center, September 11, 2001
 

Don’t you find it interesting that in times of crisis, we rise to meet the challenge?  We forget what divides us...our differences.  We forget to judge.  We follow our innate need as human beings to connect.  We come together to save each other.
 
So, on a daily basis when we make assumptions about each other, what are we really saying and feeling about ourselves? Why can we be so willing to focus on the differences versus the ideas…the thoughts…the dreams that we actually share? When we choose to contribute to fear and decay we withhold our respect.  We withhold respect from others and from ourselves.
 
As we hold each other at arm’s length…judging, assuming, refusing to see the world the way it could be…we lose a bit of our own humanity.  We lose the chance to build a community that follows its passions – the very things it cares about.  We become selfish...because we live in fear.  And then we lose belief in ourselves and each other.
 
And yet – maybe in spite of everything - we find our humanity in times of crisis.  We love.  We give. We connect.  We create power as a collective.  Nothing is beyond our reach when we stand together…united…all for one and one for all.
 
Today – I challenge you to reach out to someone you might not agree with.  Listen.  Ask questions. Seek to understand and not judge.  Watch what happens inside of you.  Wait to see what evolves as the conversation moves forward.  You might actually find a gem that binds you rather than separates you.
 
And make respect and the need to connect the norm – not the exception.  We all deserve the best of each other.

Our Compassion is our Signature. Our Actions are our Proof.

Aurora, New Zealand, a Dutch train, in our streets, in our schools, and in our courts.  Violence.  Hate.  Injustice.  

It’s not been easy these days reading the news.  We’re feeling angry, helpless, anxious, drained.

Yet – we don’t have to be any of these.  We can defy what IS by creating caring communities wherever we stand, work, play, worship.  One step…one day at a time.

As we expect our leaders to exercise their moral conscience for the good of all, so must we demand the same of ourselves.  Leadership doesn’t come with titles.  It is found in the spirit of service – at all levels of our communities.  Communities awake to the full possibility of our own humanity.

How we choose to act on and express our true selves is where we find our genuine identity.  Our “self” cannot be found behind a public persona that is dependent upon external acceptance and approval.  So…

  • When are we ready to bring our best selves – our uncensored selves – on behalf of humanity?

  • What is our duty?

  • How do we choose to serve?

  • In the end, what story of “self” do we wish to tell? 

  •  What story of community must we tell?  

  • When we are gone, how will we want to be remembered?  

  • Where and when do we stand for kindness?  

Our compassion is our signature.  Our actions are our proof.

Leo Rosten, a Chicagoan, humorist, screenwriter and political scientist, once wrote, “Courage is the capacity to confront what can be imagined.” 

When do we bring our collective wisdom and courage to fight for what…for now…may only be imagined? When do we muster the courage to fight for what we know CAN BE?  Where and when do we stand for kindness and justice?

Answer:  WHEN WE BELIEVE – THROUGHOUT OUR BEING - WE ARE ALL BETTER THAN WHAT IS BEFORE US TODAY.  

 

 

Most Important

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.  I didn’t sleep well.  I keep getting distracted because what I’m really doing is avoiding pending deadlines. I have too much to do.  Too little time.  And so…I’m grumpy.  Yada yada yada!  Sick of my whining yet?  

Time to make a mental shift, because I can’t stand my whining either!  

A little help to put things in perspective came from a question I just ran across.  I welcome the writings of Pema Chodron (an American Buddhist nun).  She asked, “Since death is certain, but the time of death in uncertain, what is the most important thing?”

Hmmm…so in my mind this begs a follow-up question.  How do I make the best – the most – of this day?

Just think about it. We put energy into things that take our energy and then we fight to replenish what we’ve lost.   How does that make sense? 

We need to stop or at least slow ourselves down!  Suspend the intensity.  Stop focusing on the minutiae.  Step back.  Take in the whole of what and who is around us.  Enjoy the moment.  Soak up the colors, the sounds, the light..the everything.

Gather up all the “shoulds” and set them aside, because NOW is the moment to BE vs. DO.  Let go of the worry.  Breathe through it.  Take our time.  Feel our hearts slow down. 

Whatever we have to do, we know it can wait.  And when we meet that next deadline, we KNOW we will find ourselves calmer, happier, and more creative.  Energized. Real.

Today, I create space for myself.  I open myself to the wonders of life.  I don’t think about it, I simply breathe it in.  I don’t judge.  I embrace.

What is your most important thing?  How do you make the best – the most – of this day?

 

NOTE:  As I finish this blog my two cats have started fighting. Sigh.  Time to eject them from my office and find my moment to pause.