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We’re All In This Together

November 16, 2016wordswag_14792552365823

Like so many people here in the United State and around the world, I’ve had a very strong reaction to our election.  Given the pre-election polls, I was shocked by the outcome, and given how I voted, I was disappointed by it.  As I’ve ridden the roller coaster of intense emotions over the past week and listened to reactions, read articles, and talked with people in my life – I’ve been struck by the profound level of division and disconnection in our society, which actually concerns me as much as almost anything else right now.

Elections often get nasty and we tend to hold our political views passionately.  However, as a student of American politics (my degree from college is in American Studies) who has followed campaigns pretty closely for most of my adult life, this one has been particularly negative and divisive.  And, with issues of race, gender, and class being so prominent in the debate, it took on even more intensity and fear than I’ve ever seen or experienced.

In response to some of my feelings and insights about the election – specifically related to my concerns about the treatment of women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community, I wrote an “open letter to my fellow straight white men” last week and posted it on social media.  It felt both important and scary for me to write this piece and share it.

The feedback has been mixed, but enlightening – lots of comments of support, as well as many comments of disagreement.  More than disagreeing with me, however, I’ve received a number of personal attacks – people calling me horrible names (especially onTwitter), questioning my manhood and intelligence, and more.

I realize that people’s emotions are running hot right now, but I wasn’t quite prepared for this reaction.  However, I think this is important to pay attention to on a few levels. After my initial shock and stopping myself from reacting back in anger, I’ve read through all of the comments and have been sitting with my feelings of anger, sadness, confusion, defensiveness, fear, and more. When we feel attacked, it’s easier to either fight back or run away…but I think it’s even more important to lean in, get curious, and be willing to engage.

Engaging in dialogue or debate about important issues online is tricky and often unproductive – I rarely do it. I also don’t often get intense negative reactions to the things I write and say – both because of the general topics I focus on and also because of the size and nature of the audience with whom I’m communicating.

One of the main reasons I don’t usually write about or talk about politics, as well as issues of race, gender, class, oppression, and/or anything else that may be considered “controversial,” is because I don’t want to create more division – there is so much of this in our culture as it is. My work, as well as my overall approach to life, is focused on inclusiveness as much as possible. I also, quite frankly, don’t really like being called names, attacked, or criticized – I’m a pretty sensitive person, so throughout my life and with my work, I have chosen to stay away from things and topics that might open me up to harsh judgments from others.

This election outcome and the feelings and reactions of the past week have pointed out a few things to me about this. First of all, for a variety of reasons, I think it’s important for me (and many of us) to be willing get past our fears and talk about these important topics, even and especially if they’re uncomfortable. Second of all, this is hard and most of us, myself included, aren’t that skilled, experienced or comfortable doing it – especially with the intensity of the emotions and the situation right now. We also often have blind spots and insecurities – some of which we’re aware of, some of which we aren’t.  And, third of all, there is a lot of anger, fear, and separation in our country and our world right now. I’m not sure I was as fully aware of it before the election as I am now.  It’s there and although the intensity of this past week may dissipate a bit as we move into the holiday season, the underlying issues and disconnections don’t seem to be going away on their own or anytime soon.

My primary question to myself right now is: How can we lean in and engage with one another about these important issues in an authentic and productive way?  The challenge I’m sitting with personally at the moment is how to speak up for what I believe to be true and important, and at the same time do so in a way that brings me closer to those who may disagree with me?

My main questions to all of us are: How can we speak our minds and keep our hearts open? How can we stand up for those we believe are being discriminated against, and not discriminate against others in the process? How can we engage in big, complex problems, and come up with solutions (not just argue and make things worse)?  How can we be both fierce and kind at the same time? How can we see and take responsibility for our own bias and arrogance, and actually listen to one another with understanding?

I’m not sure there are easy answers to any of these questions, but it feels as important as ever to be asking them right now.  I do believe strongly that if we’re willing to ask and answer these questions, and if we have the courage to engage with each other in a productive way, it’s going to take an enormous amount of authenticity by all of us.

As I’ve learned over the past many years studying human behavior and relationships, and specifically inquiring into the nature of authenticity, it’s much easier said than done to be authentic.  Authenticity is about having the courage to be honest, first and foremost.  But, it’s also about having the self-awareness to remove our self-righteousness and the confidence to embrace vulnerability.  Honesty, without self-righteousness, and with vulnerability is what true authenticity is all about.

Dr. Martin Luther King said “We have no morally persuasive power with those who can feel our underlying contempt for them.”

What’s tricky about this for most of us is that when we’re being self-righteous, we don’t think we’re being self-righteous, we think we’re RIGHT.  Self-righteousness fundamentally separates us from one another.  If I’m “right” about something and you don’t agree with me, that makes you “wrong,” and now we have a wall between us.  The natural human response to self-righteousness is defensiveness.

On the other hand, when we have the courage and confidence to be vulnerable, we let down our guard and share what’s true and real within us.  The natural human response to vulnerability is empathy.  Empathy brings us together and connects us with one another.  It also reminds us that we’re more alike than we are different – even when we disagree.

As hard as it may be for some of us right now, it seems to me that what we need is more empathy, understanding, and compassion for one another as human beings.  Some of us are mortified by the election results, some of us are thrilled.  I think that most of us are some version of scared – this is a change and a big change. Like with any change, we don’t know what will happen and how it will turn out.  Whether we think it’s likely to be terrible, move our country in the wrong direction, and have a negative impact on us and those we love, or we think it is going to be wonderful, move our country in the right direction, and have a positive impact on us and those we love, we simply have no way of knowing at this moment.

What we do know for sure, is that we can’t really do too much without each other.  In other words, WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!

How are you feeling about the election?  What can you do?  How can we work together and come together after all of this?  Share your thoughts, feelings, and insights about this below.

 

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An open letter to my fellow straight white men…

November 14, 2016

It’s time for us to step up straight white men! This campaign and this election have exposed many issues in our country and our world…issues that have been there for a very long time, and although we’ve made progress on them through the years, it’s time for real change and we’re a big part of that.

Being a straight white man, although it comes with an enormous amount of privilege – some of which we’re aware of and much we simply take for granted, can be challenging and painful in certain ways that we rarely talk about. I have spent much of my life feeling (or avoiding) the shame of what white men have done (and are still doing) to women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and those less privileged.

We often don’t like to acknowledge this because it feels awful, there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it, and it’s an incredibly painful and powerless experience. It’s also scary, uncomfortable, and vulnerable to talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, and oppression of any kind – especially as a straight white man. We usually aren’t as aware of it as those who are directly impacted and even when we are, we worry that we shouldn’t talk about these things because we may hurt, upset, or offend people…or be judged, misunderstood, shamed, or attacked…called a racist, sexist, or homophobe ourselves. So, we choose to stay oblivious, to avoid it, or just sit on our hands, which is safer and easier.

Many of us have dealt with our own challenges and obstacles in life – just because we’re white, straight, and male, doesn’t mean we were born with a silver spoon in our mouth, haven’t worked hard, don’t deal with our own issues, or don’t deserve any of the success or opportunity we may have experienced. And, yes, some of us have dealt with various forms of “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism” both personally and professionally. We also like to point to the fact that much progress has been made for women, people of color, and other minorities in our culture, which is true. Or we see, hear, and read about horrible acts of hate or abuse and say to ourselves (or others), “I would never do that…I’m one of the good guys.”

However, it’s important for us to both acknowledge the privilege and power we have as straight white men and also the responsibility. The vast majority of us are not abusing women, sexually assaulting them, treating them as objects, or consciously trying to hold them back. We’re also not overtly racist or homophobic – treating people of color or gay people in rude, cruel, and oppressive ways.

Yet, these things continue to exist in our culture all over the place – and there is so much pain, suffering, fear, and trauma associated with this for so many people in our world right now. Women are being abused, assaulted, and raped all the time – right in our communities and on college campuses. Plus, just about every woman we know has been impacted directly by sexism and even sexual assault – just ask them, as awkward as that may be to bring up. Every person of color and gay person we know has dealt with racism or homophobia in their lives – in many cases in a traumatic way. Unarmed black men are dying in the streets. Muslims are being targeted and taunted. Kids are being bullied in school for being “different.” Hatred, cruelty, and oppression are taking place in both big and small ways – even if we don’t see it in our own lives or families regularly.

We just experienced a Presidential campaign and election that was filled with overt and covert racism, sexism, and hatred. I choose to believe that the vast majority of the people who voted for Donald Trump are not racist, sexist, and homophobic. However, his campaign, his rhetoric, and his election have given a sense of permission and “normalcy” to hatred, fear, and discrimination of minorities, immigrants, women, and other groups…and that is NOT okay.

As good, strong, kind, loving, compassionate, and powerful men who love our country, our significant others, our friends, and our children, we have an important role to play in this…even if we may not always see it or feel comfortable with it.

Every straight white man I know has been in situations where other straight white men around us were being overtly or covertly racist, sexist, or homophobic. While we may not have participated in it directly (although in some cases we have, especially when we were young and less conscious), we have often not done or said anything to stop it…or to at least make it clear that it’s not okay. We can no longer do this!

For better or worse, people listen to us in a particular way given our race, gender, and orientation. It may not be fair or justified (both positively and negatively), but it’s true. And even though it can be scary and uncomfortable, and some people might judge us, think we’re arrogant, insensitive, self-righteous, soft, over-sensitive, too PC, or worse, it’s time for us to step up, lean in, speak up, and do more to support the women and girls around us, and our brothers and sisters of color, everyone in the LGBTQ community, Muslims, immigrants, and any oppressed or under-represented group in our culture…i.e. everyone who is not white, not straight, and not male.

We also need to pay more attention, look, listen, and feel with as much awareness, compassion, and empathy as we can. We have to call out racism, sexism, and oppression when we see it – both personally and also in our organizations, institutions, and our society at large. This is not easy or comfortable, and isn’t usually encouraged or appreciated by those we may be calling out…but it’s essential. Sometimes we’re in a better, safer, and stronger position to call this out than the individuals or groups who are being discriminated against themselves.

This isn’t about liberal or conservative, Clinton supporter or Trump supporter, or even about our nation…it’s actually bigger than that…it’s about loving, caring for, and supporting our fellow human beings. We are brothers, sons, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, coaches, mentors, friends, and more. We are men…and at the core of our nature, we are here to provide and protect…that is our job and our responsibility, above and beyond whatever we do for a living.

And, as straight white men, we are in a unique and important position of privilege and power. We can influence change…we can stand up for kindness and compassion…and for those who need us to stand up with them or for them. We must! This moment in our history calls for our courage and strength…it’s not “someone else’s problem.” We’re all in this together…

With Love, Passion, and Courage,

Mike Robbins

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Embracing Change Without Suffering

September 8th, 2016wordswag_14732919424231

I’ve been reflecting on change quite a bit recently.  This year has been full of changes for me and my family.  The two most significant and emotional changes have been the loss of my sister Lori back in January and the purchase of our new house a few months ago. 
 
While these two experiences are very different in so many ways, they have each had a profound impact and have pointed out some things to me about how I deal with change, loss, and more.
 
My sister’s death has been hard, painful, and surreal.  And although I still find it difficult to believe she’s gone and her death definitely falls into the category of the type of change I didn’t want, wasn’t expecting at this time in my life, and wish hadn’t happened, I’m continually amazed at the growth, healing, gratitude, connection, and love that has been inspired within me and around me through her passing.  Even in the midst of the pain there has been real beauty.  It’s a huge change and one that I’m still navigating my way through tentatively and vulnerably.
 
The purchase of our new house, on the other hand, has been exciting, gratifying, and wonderful – we love it and feel so blessed.  As you may know and  I have written about in the past, we lost our house back in 2011 after getting ourselves into a very difficult financial situation.  Buying this new house is not only exciting in all of the normal ways buying a new house can be, it is a real triumph for us and something that seemed almost impossible just a few years ago.
 
As excited and grateful as I am about the house, I’ve been a bit surprised by how upsetting and unsettling it has been to make this purchase and to move (even though we just moved 3 miles away).  Of course I know from past experience how stressful it can be to buy a house, and how exhausting and overwhelming moving can be.  However, as I take a deeper look at this, I realize that this is more about how I relate to change and how easy it is for me to go into a place of suffering when faced with pain, loss, fear, uncertainty, or other intense emotions I often get scared to feel (i.e. try to avoid).
 
In the scheme of things, even as big of a deal as buying this house is to me and us, the death of my sister is much bigger.  And, although Lori’s passing is definitely something that I (and just about everyone else) see as being “bad” and buying a beautiful new house is something I (and just about everyone else) see as being “good,” I’m noticing that I can suffer about either one of them (or not), and it’s based much more on me and the story I’m telling myself, than it is about the actual circumstances.
 
In looking at both my own relationship to change and to change in general over the past few months, I think we tend to put “changes” into different categories.  We separate them into “good” and “bad.”  Good ones usually come in the form of new things we want – relationships, opportunities, experiences, accomplishments, etc.  And, bad ones usually show up as rejections, losses, disappointments, failures, and any other number of things not going the way we think they “should.”
 
Clearly getting a new job, moving to a new city, achieving a big goal, or falling in love are very different than losing our job, getting divorced, failing miserably at something important, or having someone close to us die.  However, regardless of the situation, all of these things (and others) are changes – some big, some small, some we want, some we don’t. 
 
Almost all changes, even the biggest and best ones, involve pain and loss of some kind.  At the very least, they almost always involve fear.  We tend to seek and fear change at the same time, which is one of the many reasons it can be emotionally confusing. And, as I’ve been seeing in my own life significantly this year, change, especially big change, often involves suffering.  The suffering, however, isn’t actually due to the pain, fear, or loss itself; it’s usually a result of our avoidance of our feelings.
 
When we actually acknowledge and feel our pain (and don’t avoid it, run from it, pretend it’s not there, or rush to “fix” it) not only how move through it, it often nourishes us in the process…we grow, heal, evolve, and become stronger. However, when we don’t feel our pain (and the emotions connected to it), when we make up all kinds of fear stories about it (and ourselves), or, even worse, when we think it “shouldn’t” be there…we suffer, big time. As our late friend Debbie Ford used to say “Whatever you can’t be with won’t let you be.”
 
What if we stopped running away from the pain, fear, loss, or whatever else it is we don’t want to face or feel?  These things aren’t fun or easy to face, and we often need a lot of support, compassion, and courage to do so.  However, much of our power in life is tied up in our pain.  When we’re willing to lean into it and actually feel it, instead of thinking it will take us down (as we fear it might), it almost always builds us up and allows us to transform. 
 
As Haruki Murakami famously said, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”  We don’t have to suffer as we go through change – we can embrace it, be real about how we feel, and reach out to those around us to stand with us as we face the fear, pain, and discomfortAnd, when we do this, we liberate ourselves and give other people permission to do the same.
 
How do you feel about change?  How about pain and loss?  Share your thoughts, feelings, and insights about this below.

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Performance for Life

July 28, 2016EricServerson_Headshot

On this week’s episode of my podcast, Bring Your Whole Self to Work, I spoke with my friend Eric Severson. Eric has been working and studying the field of Human Resources for over 25 years. He spent many of those years at Gap Inc., which is where we met.  At Gap Inc., Eric served as the co-CHRO in charge of global enterprise talent strategy and operations.
 
Eric was deeply impacted by the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. The ideology of this book offered him the understanding that a cluster of different beliefs and behaviors could be learned to create what professor Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” Eric is passionate about applying this type of breakthrough science into the architecture of a company to help its employees and team to achieve their goals.
 
Eric believes that the pressures and stresses of the workaholism of the 1990’s and 2000’s reached a breaking point an integrated way of knowing the world is starting to take place. The internet has been disruptive in a good way as it erases knowledge borders and makes the world a smaller place. A holistic approach to leadership can be attained if leaders are able to tap into their own creativity and innovation.  Something Eric helped institute at Gap is called the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) which “revolutionizes the way people work.” he says.
 
Eric is fascinated with the science behind healthy workplaces and the many practices companies can put into place to encourage a healthy environment. Optimizing the mind, body, spirit and emotional energy allow human beings to perform at their best because all of their domains are being fueled and in balance.  At Gap he and his team created a powerful employee wellness program called Performance for Life.  The tagline of the program was “Better You, Better Gap.”  The research points out that when people take better care of themselves and feel their employer is interested in their well-being, they are much likely to perform at a higher level and commit to their work.
 
According to Eric, “bringing your whole self to work,” means that you harness all of the human energy and potential inside yourself, and focus it in a positive direction.  
 
I’m honored and grateful to know him and to have worked with him in the past, and I loved the conversation we had on my podcast.
 
For more information and resources about this episode, check out the show notes  Also, feel free to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (or your favorite podcasting platform), leave a review, and share it with others.

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My New Podcast: Bring Your Whole Self to Work

July 21, 2016Bring Your Whole Self To Work Podcast

I have a brand new podcast that I’m really excited about…it’s called Bring Your Whole Self to Work. I’m working on a new book (with the same title) and as part of the research for this book, I decided to interview some of the most interesting business leaders and thought leaders I know – to learn from them about their own personal journeys and also how they operate as leaders.

The focuses of the conversations and the podcast are:

1) How can we have the courage to show up and bring all of who we are to the work that we do?

2) How can we create and/or influence the environment in which we work so that it’s conducive to authenticity, kindness, humanity, creativity, compassion, and appreciation (in addition to success)?

In the interviews I get real with my guests, and find out the truth behind their own stories – their ups, their downs, their insights, their challenges, their milestones, and more.  I also talk to them about how they approach authenticity, teamwork, culture, success, leadership, and other important aspects of life and business.

These conversations are designed to give you specific insights for creating greater authenticity, courage, and fulfillment in your own life and career, as well as ideas for how you can create an environment around you at work where people get real, have each other’s backs, and have the courage to bring all of who they are.

The very first episode is called “The Whole Self is Everything with Chip Conley.”  I’m so excited that Chip decided to join me for this first show.  He’s a business leader, a thought leader, and a person I respect and admire a great deal. At 26, he started Joie de Vivre – which became the second largest boutique hotel company in the United States.  He’s the author of four books and after selling Joie de Vivre in 2010, he has worked as a mentor to the founders of Airbnb and a leader within the company as they’ve grown exponentially over the past few years. He is a true renaissance man of life, business, personal growth, culture, and more.

In this episode Chip talks about his fascinating journey.  He also shares some great tips for how to both show up as authentically as possible at work, as well as some of the things he did in building such a strong culture at Joie de Vivre.  They were voted the second best place to work in the San Francisco Bay Area (right behind Google).

I hope you enjoy this first episode and my conversation with Chip.  I’ve been having so much fun with this podcast – we’ve already recorded a handful of episodes and have some great interviews lined up.  I can’t wait to share them with you each week and I hope you will be as inspired, enlightened, and stimulated by these discussions as I am.  My intention is that this podcast is a benefit to you and those around you.

You can check out this first episode and the podcast on iTunes or visit our new podcast page on my website, where you can read more about each episode and guest, as well as link to any of the other podcast platforms you may like to use.

Let me know your thoughts about the show on my blog or on Facebook. Feel free to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (or your favorite podcasting platform), leave a review, and share it with others you think might benefit from it.

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Embrace the Gift of Life

July 7, 2016Lori[1]

On January 7th, 2016, my big sister, Lori Dempsey Robbins, passed away after an almost four year journey with ovarian cancer.  Lori was 45 and the single mom of our 11 year old niece.  She was my first friend and one of my greatest teachers
Being with her through her illness and her death was one of the most challenging experiences of my life.  There was so much sadness, pain, suffering, and fear involved.  The whole thing was very hard to face – for her, for me, and for all of us around her.  Trying to understand it all, make peace with what was happening, prepare for what was coming, and support her in a meaningful way was difficult, and, at times, seemed almost impossible.  It was an intense reminder of the ultimate vulnerability of physical life and the inherent powerlessness of being human.
 
At the same time, there were many moments of beauty, joy, gratitude, healing, and love – throughout her illness (even when it got really bad towards the end), as she died, and after she passed.  Lori and I experienced a transformation in our relationship over the past few years – we healed some old wounds and reconnected in a beautiful way, which was really meaningful to both of us.  She taught me and others a great deal as she faced cancer and death.  And, the love, support, community connection, and appreciation that showed up around her through her illness, as she was dying, and after her passing were truly remarkable.  She was loved and that love was expressed to her in many ways, and to all of us close to her, as she went through this painful process.
 
As my friend Glennon Doyle Melton says, life can be “brutiful,” (both brutal and beautiful at the same time).  Lori’s cancer, her death, and my own journey of grief these past six months have been the epitome of “brutiful.”  It is still surreal to me that she is gone.  I sometimes feel tempted to ask my wife Michelle, as I did often in those first few days and weeks after she passed, “Did that really happen?”  And, although I do feel Lori’s presence, have had a number of vivid dreams about her, and know it is possible for us to still connect and communicate in various ways, there have been so many times over the past six months when I’ve wanted to pick up the phone to call or to send her a text or email, only to remember I can no longer do that
 
Lori’s death, along with the deaths of our dad back in 2001 and our mom in 2011, leaves me as the sole living member of my nuclear family – yet another aspect of this experience that is truly disorienting.  I find myself feeling sad, scared, and lonely at times, as well as liberated, curious, and hopeful at other times.  All in all, it feels weird – like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
 
Through all of the twists and turns and the ups and downs of the past six months since Lori died and the past four plus years since she was diagnosed, I’ve learned a great deal (and am continuing to learn as I go).  As my big sister, Lori was one of the most significant teachers in my life.  Her teaching has continued, even through her death
 
Here are some of the key things I’ve learned through this experience so far, which even with all of the pain and sadness, I’m grateful to have learned and to share:
 
1) Say I love you – One of my sister’s friends said to me, “Lori was the first friend I ever said ‘I love you’ to – because she said it to me.  It used to drive me crazy and make me feel uncomfortable – we were in high school and friends just didn’t say that to each other.  But, I finally caught on and it is one of the things I loved most about her.”  Lori always said “I love you,” which is something we learned from both of our parents, especially our dad.  And, in the days and weeks after her passing, I was struck by the number of people who not only showed up with love and support for me and our family, but who actually said “I love you” to me – friends, family members, and even some business associates, colleagues, and clients.  In some cases these were people who had never said this to me before, but in the face of my grief, loss, and sorrow, they did.  It feels good to know we are loved and it is important that we let people know as often as we can, even if it feels scary, awkward, or uncomfortable to express it.
 
2)  Be Proud of Who You Are and Where You’re From – My sister took pride in so many of the important roles and associations in her life.  She was proud to be a woman, daughter, sister, and mother.  She was proud to be from Oakland, CA and a graduate of Skyline High, Wesleyan University, and UC Berkeley.  She was proud to have been born in 1970 and raised in the 70s and 80s.  She was proud of her Irish Catholic and Ukrainian Jewish heritage.  She was a proud sports fan of all of our teams here in the Bay Area, especially the Oakland A’s.  She loved being connected to and associated with lots of different people and groups.  I used to make fun of her when we were younger for this – I didn’t totally understand or appreciate it.  However, as I reflect back upon it, I realize that her commitment to people, relationships, and community manifested itself through her genuine pride and in her desire to enthusiastically claim connection to so many diverse groups, which was beautiful.
 
3) Don’t Waste Time Judging and Criticizing Yourself – As much pride as Lori took in where she was from and various groups she was directly or indirectly connected to, she didn’t always take pride in herself personally.  Like most of us, she struggled to feel good about herself and to believe in her inherent value.  As I was looking through lots of old photos from different phases of her life, I saw pictures of this beautiful, passionate, engaged girl, teen, young woman, and woman.  In addition to the joy and sadness I felt looking at these photos, it also struck me that Lori, like me and so many of us, wasted a lot of her precious time and energy over her almost 46 years on the planet criticizing and judging herself.  Whether it was her body and appearance, her relationship status, or her results in school, activities, or her career, she often felt like she wasn’tquite measuring up or wasn’t where she wanted to be
 
Why do we do this to ourselves? Although I do realize it’s normal for us to criticize ourselves at times or to think we’re not good enough, the truth is that at some point whether we’re 10, 25, 45, 70, 105, or somewhere in between, we’re each going to die (although we tend to live somewhat in denial of this important fact).  When we’re gone, someone will be looking back at photos and memories of us – do we want them thinking or saying, “Wow, I wonder why they thought they weren’t good enough?”  Or, would we rather them think or say, “Wow, they really lived their lives to the fullest…how cool that they were able to appreciate themselves and their lives the way they did.”  We have a choice about this – we don’t have to criticize and judge ourselves so harshly.  It really doesn’t serve us in any way to do this.
 
4) People Are More Important Than Things – As I stood up to speak at Lori’s memorial service, I was struck by so many different thoughts, feelings, memories,and insights.  There were people there from throughout her entire life – elementary school, junior high, high school, college, grad school, various jobs, companies, and communities, and more.  Even with all of the twists and turns of my sister’s life, she always placed a priority on relationships.  She taught me so many things about being a good friend, about how to communicate, about connecting people with each other, and about caring about people.  Lori was a connector and she was loyal – she always remembered people and cared deeply about them.  As we all gathered in that church in Oakland in late January to celebrate her life, and people who could not join us in person sat in front of their computers to watch the livestream of the service, the things we talked about, remembered, and shared about my sister had mostly to do with the kind of person she was and the relationship we had with her.  It wasn’t about accomplishments, awards, or things…it was about her, who she was (not what she did).  All too often we get caught up in the “things” of life.  And while there are some things in life that are truly important, in the end we are always reminded in a profound way that people are much more important than things.
 
5)  Embrace the Mystical and Spiritual Nature of Life – One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of physical death is the mystery of it all.  Why do some people die young while others live a long time?  What really happens when we die?  Where do we go?  Do we come back?  These and other questions like this have been pondered for generations and are at the heart of many of the world’s religious and spiritual teachings.  While there are many thoughts, ideas, descriptions, and, of course, disagreements to the answers to these important questions, there aren’t definitive explanations or empirical proof.  Making peace with these questions, to whatever degree we’re able to make peace with them, takes faith and a willingness to embrace the unknown.  And while our spiritual or religious beliefs play a major role in our perspective about this, one of the things I’ve experienced first-hand with the deaths of my dad, my mom, and now my sister (as well as a few other significant people in my life in recent years), is the inherent mystical and spiritual nature of death (and of life).  When we are close to someone as they die and/or we lose someone close to us, these questions about life and death are no longer theoretical, they are real and personal.  And, when we go through this experience, we come face to face with the mystery of it all.  Confronted with a lack of concrete proof or understanding, we have to tap into the mystical and spiritual realms, even if we don’t often do that or don’t know exactly what we believe in that regard.  
 
Similar to the phenomenon of people saying “I love you” to me in the days and weeks after Lori passed, I was also struck by the number of people talking to me in mystical or spiritual terms – letting me know they were praying for me, saying that Lori was safe in the hands of God, excited that Lori was reunited with my parents and others in heaven, talking to me about dreams of her and conversations on the other side, seeing rainbows, birds, butterflies, and other signs and knowing that was Lori sending a message, and more.  It seems that in the face of death, we feel a little safer and more comfortable thinking about, looking for, talking about, and sharing our insights, beliefs, questions, and ideas about the mystical and spiritual nature of life.  I love and appreciate this…and, I wonder why it often takes death for us to look for, talk about, or think aboutthings in this way.  Life is mystical and spiritual all the time, not just when someone dies…but it’s easy for us to forget this and/or feel uncomfortable thinking or talking about it in this way, for fear of being judged or separated from others based on our beliefs or questions.
 
I’m still deeply engaged in my journey of growth, discovery, and healing.  Lori’s death has had a profound impact on me.  I don’t totally understand it and probably never will.  I feel sad, confused, and disoriented as I continue to make my way through this process.  And, I feel grateful, joyful, and honored to have known my sister, learned from her, and for all of the gifts, blessings, and growth embedded in this experience, even as painful as it has been.  I also feel wonderfully and beautifully supported by some extraordinary people in my life as I navigate this process.
 
Life is a mystery in so many ways.  None of us knows how long we’ll be here or what’s going to happen next.  We each have a choice about how we choose to live in this moment.  Instead of waiting for it all to work out, make sense, feel good, look right, or be the “perfect” way we think it should be – what if we made a commitment to ourselves right here, right now to fully embrace the gift of life, exactly as it is?  It’s a simple concept…but a radical act!

How can you embrace the gift of your life right now? What support do you need to let go of what holds you back from doing this fully? Feel free to share your thoughts, insights, or any questions you have below.

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The Power of Letting Go

November 19, 2015

My wife Michelle read the bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and has transformed our house over the past few months. I’ve enjoyed and appreciated all that she has shared with me about the book, and especially all that she has done to de-clutter and tidy up. However, until this past weekend, I hadn’t really engaged in the process much myself. But, starting with my clothes and then moving onto my books, I had a transformational experience over the past few days going through everything and letting go of a LOT.

My understanding of the basic premise of the book and the process is to touch everything in your house and ask yourself the question, “Does this bring me joy?” If the answer is yes, keep it and put is back (in an organized way), but if the answer is no, thank it and let it go. While this is a fairly simple concept, it’s not all that easy.

In this video, I talk a bit about some of my challenges with letting go, as well as what we can do to let go of not just things, but thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs that may be holding us back…thus creating space for new things (as well as thoughts, behaviors, beliefs, and more) to emerge.

What are you willing to let go of? What support do you need to let go? Feel free to share your thoughts, insights, or any questions you have below.

 

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Take Care of Your Animal

October 29, 2015

This video blog post is inspired by an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert and my friend Jonathan Fields on his podcast, The Good Life Project.  Elizabeth talks about the importance of taking care of her “animal” (aka her physical body) so that her “supercomputer” (aka soul/spirit/creative life force) can function at the highest level.

I love this simple, yet powerful distinction.  If we can take good care of ourselves on a basic, physical level, not only are we healthier, but we become more open, receptive, creative, and powerful.

How are you doing taking care of your animal?  What makes this challenging for you?  What works best for you?  Feel free to share your thoughts, insights, or any questions you have below.

 

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Honor Your Emotions

September 17, 2015

I sometimes find it challenging to honor (and actually feel) my own feelings – especially if what I feel seems to be at odds with other people, or my emotions don’t seem to be “appropriate” to the situation.  While I’m not someone who tends to hold back sharing my honest opinions, desires, and feelings and, over the years, I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback from people close to me about talking too much, dominating situations or conversations, and being selfish – underneath all of this is a deep fear of certain emotions or that my feelings aren’t as important as other people’s.

It has been humbling to come to this realization about myself in the past few years.  However, it has also been incredibly liberating to see this pattern and to ask myself the question, “What would it be like to honor my real emotions and to live my life knowing that what I want and feel is just as important as anyone else?”

Honoring our emotions isn’t about being self absorbed, arrogant, or better than anyone – it’s really about being true to ourselves, honest with how we feel and what we want, and willing to engage in authentic conversations with other people – even, and especially, when we don’t feel or want the same things that they do.

So why can it be so challenging for us to honor our own emotions?  Some of the primary reasons for this are:

  • We worry that people won’t like or approve of us
  • We don’t value ourselves in an authentic way (i.e. we think we’re not good enough)
  • We’ve been taught to put other people’s needs, desires, and feelings ahead of our own
  • We’re not comfortable feeling and expressing certain emotions
  • We don’t think we “deserve” to have what we want (i.e. we think we’re not important enough)
  • We haven’t been taught healthy ways to feel and express our true emotions
  • We worry that we’ll be seen as selfish or overly emotional
These and other things get in the way of feeling our real emotions.  Sadly, by not honoring our feelings we both discount ourselves in a painful, and ultimately damaging way, and we create separation between us and other people, often the most important people in our lives.

Here are a few things you can do to enhance your capacity to honor your own emotions:

  • Be Real About How You Truly Feel – The first step of any process is always about being real, first and foremost with ourselves.  Even if we feel unclear or uncomfortable with a specific situation or certain set of emotions or desires, the more willing we are to be real about what we truly feel and want, the more ability we’ll have to honor ourselves and be authentic with others.  Making it a practice of getting in touch with our true feelings is essential.  A great way to do this is through journaling. It’s not about justifying how we feel to anyone else; it’s about being honest with ourselves and out emotions.
  • Stop Judging Yourself – One of the biggest things that can get in our way in life, in general and specifically when it comes to feeling our emotions and expressing our desires, is self judgment.  We think to ourselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or “If I share this, they will think I’m a terrible person.”  We use these self critical thoughts to suppress our true feelings, which can have significantly negative consequences on us and others.What if we just allowed ourselves to be real and to honor what’s true for us in the moment, without judging it?
  • Give Yourself Permission to Feel – Because of our self judgment, we sometimes don’t give ourselves permission to feel… especially certain emotions.  As human beings we tend to have a hierarchy of emotions – liking the “good” ones (love, joy, gratitude, peace, etc) and not liking the “bad” ones (anger, fear, hurt, powerlessness, etc).  However, at the deepest level, all human emotions have value and can benefit us if we’re willing to feel them in an authentic and healthy way.  Giving ourselves permission to feel what we’re feeling is critical to our ability to honor and move through our emotions in a way that serves us, our relationships, and our life.
  • Let Go of Your “Story” – Many of us, myself included, are attached to our “story.”  We love all of the drama and all of the details that make up the relationships, situations, and circumstances in our lives (both past and present).  While our life story, as well as the details of specific relationships and circumstances in our lives, are important at some level, too often we get caught in the story and all the drama, which actually takes us out of our emotional experience.  Where we have real power is in feeling our emotions authentically, not talking about them, rationalizing them, or explaining them – but in simply feeling them.  Human emotions are not sustainable – especially if they are honestly felt.  It only takes about a minute or two to genuinely feel and move through an emotion.  However, when we attach an emotion to a story, we don’t allow ourselves to truly feel it and thus can keep it stuck in place.
  • Get Emotional Support – As important as our emotions are to our lives, our well being, and our relationships, sadly we don’t get a lot of emotional training in life (through school, at work, and in general) and we don’t often have built in, healthy emotional support mechanisms in our daily lives.  We live in a world that is primarily focused on action, results, and appearances – none of which has anything to do with our emotional experience (even though our emotional experience is not only one of the most important aspects of our lives, but is what drives much of what we do and produce in life).  There are, however, many ways we can find or enhance our emotional support.  Most of us have certain emotional support structures in our lives that we’ve set up for ourselves, consciously or unconsciously.  The key is for us to utilize these in a consistent and authentic way, as well as to make sure they are empowering us to honor ourselves and our emotional experience in life.

What do you do honor your emotions in a healthy way? What makes this challenging for you? Feel free to share your thoughts, insights, or any questions you have below.

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Making the Shift from Ambition to Meaning

September 3, 2015

The unexpected passing of Dr. Wayne Dyer has had a big impact on me.  He was an amazing teacher who inspired me (and millions of others) for many years.  He was also someone I was honored to have met a few times in the past few years when we both spoke at events for our publisher, Hay House.

In this video blog message, I talk about one of Wayne’s core teachings – how we can make the shift from ambition (focusing on our goals, achievements, status, possessions) to meaning (focusing on fulfillment, joy, purpose, and what and whom matter most to us).

This important lesson was the core theme of a film Wayne made a few years ago called “The Shift.”  I’m filled with both sadness (for his death) and gratitude (for his life).  He clearly didn’t die with his music still in him.  Thank you Wayne!

Check out the video below and feel free to leave a comment below about it. And, if there are people in your life or your social networks whom you think would resonate with this message, you are welcome to share it with them.

 

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