Is leadership an “out there” enterprise? Is it a function performed by other people– special, chosen others — who stand in front of a group and show us the way? Perhaps… but increasingly I’m realizing that our culture defines leadership too narrowly. What if instead of passing this practice off to the chosen few we considered it an invitation to put ourselves in the drivers seat, or in effect, to lead our own lives?
Each one of you has a powerful impact in your social eco-systems: your family, friends, work environment, and community. And as you grow and stretch there are ripple effects out in concentric circles from your life which touch, inspire and spark change around you. In fact this is one of my favorite side effects of my work as a coach: the honor of walking with people as they turn up their inner light and watching how it brightens and impacts the world around them. Often this happens in surprising and delightful ways. This is not a side effect we can engineer or force (and you certainly can’t approach self-growth work with the goal of changing someone else) but again and again I have witnessed people showing up for the gift of their own life in a fresh way and watched their courage and grace spill over around them.
So how do you lead your life?
Step One: Put your ‘beginner’s mind’ in the driver’s seat
Beginners mind is the practice of relaxing our mind’s habit of labeling or already “knowing” every experience and bringing your focus back to what you are actually experiencing instead of your idea of it. This practice is true in really stressful contexts or life experiences… for we can redeem even the most uncomfortable experiences by consciously choosing to learn from them. This shift of putting your most expansive you in the drivers seat can help shift the focus from blaming and reacting and gift you back a sense of agency, freedom and choice. (And these are the very things which are often in short supply when we feel backed in a corner with two bad options, anxious over finances, broken-hearted over a relationship or community conflict or are experiencing any other kind of grief, sadness, or fear).
So step one of leading your own life is to show up as a student, with open and receptive eyes to learn (even if part of what you are learning is how to avoid ever ending up in the same place again!)
Step Two: Stay in the Action
To lead your own life requires a commitment to stay in the action. Often in challenging situations or times of growth we become aware of a gap between what is happening and what we know to be possible, or between the pain we find ourselves living and the way we wish we felt. And the temptation in these situations is to flip out on one side or another of the gap rather than to hold the tension.
We can flip out on the side of cynicism, despair and withdrawal or we can flip out to the realm of irrelevant idealism, too much possibility and maintaining a life of illusion. We flip to either side of the gap to avoid the hard and painful dimensions of engagement. (indebted to Parker Palmer and the work of Courage and Renewal for this lesson). But flipping out of the gap also takes us out of the action, it takes us away from the space where we can evolve as people. We bypass our own opportunity to learn.
Staying in the action is not about striving or being hard on yourself. In fact it is the opposite. In order to endure the discomfort of change and growth in the gap it is essential to be compassionate with yourself and get really good at drawing in strength, energy, and resiliency from the resources which are available to you. (A meditation or centering practice is really helpful here… especially in times of transition.)
I’m curious… how can you imagine staying in the action today or this week? Are there ways you can resource yourself as you grow and change? I’d love to hear about it! Click reply below to leave a comment.