Archive for compassion

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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Remember That We’re All Doing the Best We Can

mirando el horizonteNovember 13, 2014

I’m sometimes amazed and embarrassed by how critical I can be – both of other people and of myself.  Even though I both teach and practice the power of appreciation (as well as acceptance, compassion, authenticity, and more) when I find myself feeling scared, threatened, or insecure (which happens more often than I’d like it to), I notice that I can be quite judgmental.  Sadly, as I’ve learned throughout my life, being critical and judgmental never works, feels good, or leads me to what I truly want in my relationships and in my life.  Maybe you can you relate to this yourself?

I’ve recently been challenged by a few situations and relationships that have triggered an intense critical response – both towards myself and those involved.  As I’ve been noticing this, working through it, and looking for alternative ways to respond, I’m reminded of something I heard Louise Hay say a number of years ago.  She said, “It’s important to remember that people are always doing the best they can, including you.”

The power of this statement resonated with me deeply when I heard it and continues to have an impact on me to this day.  And, although I sometimes forget this, when I do remember that we’re all doing the best we can given whatever tools and resources we have (and given the circumstances and situations we’re experiencing), it usually calms me down and creates a sense of compassion for the people I’m dealing with and for myself.

Unfortunately, too often we take things personally that aren’t, look for what’s wrong, and critically judge the people around us and ourselves, instead of bringing a sense of love, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, and appreciation to the most important (and often most challenging) situations and relationships in our lives.

When we take a step back and remember that most of the time people aren’t “out to get us,” purposefully doing things to upset or annoy us, or consciously trying to make mistakes, disappoint us, or create difficulty (they’re simply doing the best they can and what they think makes the most sense) – we can save ourselves from unnecessary overreactions and stress.  And, when we’re able to have this same awareness and compassion in how we relate to ourselves, we can dramatically alter our lives and relationships in a positive way.

Here are some things you can do and remember in this regard:

  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time people have good intentions.  Many of us, myself included, have been trained to be cautious and suspicious of others, even seeing this as an important and effective skill in life and business.  However, we almost always get what we expect from people, so the more often we give people the benefit of the doubt, the more often they will prove us “right,” and the less often we will waste our precious time and energy on cynicism, suspicion, and judgment.
  • Don’t take things personally. One of my favorite sayings is, “You wouldn’t worry about what other people think about you so much, if you realized how little they actually did.”  The truth is that most people are focused on themselves much more than on us.  Too often in life we take things personally that have nothing to do with us.  This doesn’t mean we let people walk all over us or treat us in disrespectful or hurtful ways (it can be important for us to speak up and push back at times in life).  However, when we stop taking things so personally, we liberate ourselves from needless upset, defensiveness, and conflict.
  • Look for the good. Another way to say what I mentioned above about getting what we expect from other people is that we almost always find what we look for.  If you want to find some things about me that you don’t like, consider obnoxious, or get on your nerves – just look for them, I’m sure you’ll come up with some.  On the flip side, if you want to find some of my best qualities and things you appreciate about me, just look for those – they are there too.  As Werner Erhard said, “In every human being there is both garbage and gold, it’s up to us to choose what we pay attention to.” Looking for the good in others (as well as in life and in ourselves), is one of the best ways to find things to appreciate and be grateful for.
  • Seek first to understand. Often when we’re frustrated, annoyed, or in conflict with another person (or group of people), we don’t feel seen, heard, or understood.  As challenging and painful as this can be, one of the best things we can do is to shift our attention from trying to get other people to understand us (or being irritated that it seems like they don’t), is to seek to understand the other person (or people) involved in an authentic way. This can be difficult, especially when the situation or conflict is very personal and emotional to us. However, seeking to understand is one of the best ways for us to liberate ourselves from the grip of criticism and judgment, and often helps shift the dynamic of the entire thing. Being curious, understanding, and even empathetic of another person and their perspective or feelings doesn’t mean we agree with them, it simply allows us to get into their world and see where they’re coming from – which is essential to letting go of judgment, connecting with them, and ultimately resolving the conflict.
  • Be gentle with others (and especially with yourself). Being gentle is the opposite of being critical. When we’re gentle, we’re compassionate, kind, and loving. We may not like, agree with, or totally understand what someone has done (or why), but we can be gentle in how we respond and engage with them. Being gentle isn’t about condoning or appeasing anyone or anything, it’s about having a true sense of empathy and perspective. And, the most important place for us to bring a sense of gentleness is to ourselves. Many of us have a tendency to be hyper self-critical. Sadly, some of the harshest criticism we dole out in life is aimed right at us. Another great saying I love is, “We don’t see people as they are, we see them as we are.” As we alter how we relate to ourselves, our relationship to everyone else and to the world around us is altered in a fundamental way.

As the Dalai Lama so brilliantly says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Everyone around us – our friends, co-workers, significant other, family members, children, service people, clients, and even people we don’t know or care for – are doing the best they can, given the resources they have. When we remember this and come from a truly compassionate perspective (with others and with ourselves), we’re able to tap into a deeper level of peace, appreciation, and fulfillment.

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Life’s Easy… It’s Dealing With Ourselves That’s Hard

nothing-changes-until-you-do-pintrest16May 8, 2014

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

With my new book, Nothing Changes Until You Do, just released I’ve been reflecting a bit on the whole experience of writing this new book and now putting it out into the world.  As with my previous two book writing and launching experiences, it has been exciting, challenging, fun, vulnerable, and growth-inducing on so many levels.

This experience, however, has been quite different in many ways.  Maybe it’s because I’m a few years older and have a little more perspective or maybe it’s because the focus of this book is on our relationship with ourselves, but what I’ve learned this time around is that it really is all about me!  What I mean by this is that writing and promoting a book are actually relatively easy things to do, it’s dealing with myself that’s the hardest part.

I think this is true with most of the things we do in life – even the most challenging ones.  It’s usually our own fears, doubts, insecurities, attachments, and resistance that makes things difficult, not so much the things themselves.  Whether it’s our jobs, our relationships, our goals, our physical health, our finances, or anything else that’s important to us – regardless of the specific circumstances we’re facing, when we make peace with ourselves and what’s going on, life tends to flow with more ease, joy, and grace.  When we’re not at peace with ourselves or life, it doesn’t matter how “good” or “bad” things may be circumstantially, we suffer.

Three of the main themes of my new book are also three of the main things I’ve been learning in the past year as I’ve worked on this book.  I’m no longer surprised when this happens (i.e. I end up learning exactly that which I’m attempting to teach).  I realize this is all part of the process for me and I actually enjoy and appreciate it.

Here are three core lessons for how we can make peace with ourselves at a deeper level:

1)  Have Compassion For Yourself – Self-compassion is one of the most important aspects of life and growth, but is often something we either overlook, think is “soft,” misunderstand, or simply don’t know how to practice.  There are three key elements to self-compassion.  First of all, mindfulness and awareness for how we’re treating ourselves.  Second of all, a sense of kindness and forgiveness towards ourselves.  And, third, a realization of our common humanity with others (i.e. remembering that we’re not alone in our experience).  As I was writing the book and as I’ve been promoting it, when I’m able to be gentle and kind with myself and reduce my self-criticism, it has been way more fun and I’ve had much more success.

2)  Surrender to Life as it Actually Is – Surrendering isn’t about giving up or giving in, it’s about making peace with what is (even if we don’t like it.)  A big paradox in life is that until we can be at peace with what’s actually happening in the moment (i.e. letting go of our resistance and of our obsessive focus on how things should be), we’re not able to make the changes we want or to experience the joy we desire.  During the writing and editing process, as well as in the ramp-up and launch process with this book, whenever I’d resist, judge, or fight against what was happening, I’d suffer.  However, when I was (and am) able to allow things to be exactly as they are, it has been remarkable to me how easy things have flowed.

3)  Take Ownership for Your Life – Ownership is about taking full responsibility for our lives and for what shows up around us.  This can be tricky for a few reasons.  First of all, we live in a culture that loves to blame and make excuses, so we’re swimming in that ocean all the time.  Second of all, there are a lot of things that happen in and around us that we don’t have direct control over (other people, economy, weather, and many circumstances and situations).  However, we always have a choice about how we relate to what’s going on and how we interpret the things happening around us and even within us.  When we take ownership for our lives we let go of blaming and excuses (or we notice as soon as we can when we’re heading down that negative road.)  And, we make a commitment to ourselves that we’re going to create the life we truly want – not simply react to life as if it is “happening to us.”

These are all fairly simple concepts, but like many things I write and speak about, understanding them is quite different than practicing and embodying them (i.e. they’re easier said than done.)  When we’re able to have empathy and compassion for ourselves, and remember that truly nothing can change until we change, we’re reminded that we’re the source of our own pain, joy, difficulty, and success.  It’s both sobering and liberating when we embrace the idea that it truly is all about us.  And, paradoxically, when we get this and live this way, we actually end up releasing ourselves from a great deal of unnecessary stress and make ourselves available to show up for others and for life in an open, authentic, and empowered way.

Let me know your thoughts about this and how this relates to you.  Leave a comment here on my blog – let’s engage in a conversation with each other about this.

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Self Improvement vs. Self Acceptance

Close-up of red blood cells and germsMarch 28, 2013

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

I had the honor of meeting author Robert Holden recently when we both spoke at the Hay House IGNITE event in San Jose, CA (which was an amazing experience, by the way).  Robert is someone whom I’ve admired for quite some time.  It was wonderful to get a chance to meet him in person and hear him speak live.  In his talk, he said “There’s no amount of self improvement that can make up for a lack of self acceptance.”

This statement really struck me and as I started to think about it more, I realized that so much of my life and my work is focused on self improvement.  And while there’s nothing wrong with me or any of us wanting to improve ourselves – too often we go about it erroneously thinking that if we “achieve” the “improvement” we’re after, we’ll then feel good about ourselves.  As Robert pointed out in his talk (and most of us have experienced this in our lives many times), it doesn’t work this way.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with self improvement.  We turn on the TV, look at magazines, take classes, read books, listen to others, surf the web and more – constantly getting various messages that if we just fixed, changed, and improved ourselves a bit, we’d be better off.  How often do you find yourself thinking some version of, “If I just lost a little weight, made a little more money, improved my health, had more inspiring work, lived in a nicer place, improved my relationships (or something else), then I’d be happy.”   Even though I “know better,” this type of thinking shows up inside my own head more often than I’d like.

The paradox of self improvement is that by accepting ourselves as we are, we give ourselves the space, permission, and opportunity to create an authentic sense of success and fulfillment.  When we insatiably focus on improving ourselves, thinking that it will ultimately lead us to a place of happiness, we’re almost always disappointed and we set up a stressful dynamic of constantly striving, but never quite getting there.

What if we gave ourselves permission to accept ourselves fully, right now?  While this is a simple concept, it’s one of the many things in life that’s easier said than done.  One of the biggest pieces of resistance we have regarding self acceptance is that we erroneously think that by accepting ourselves, we may somehow be giving up.  It’s as if we say to ourselves, “Okay, I’ll accept myself, once all of my problems and issues go away.”

Another reason we resist accepting ourselves is the notion that somehow acceptance is resignation.  It’s not.  Acceptance is acceptance – it’s about allowing things to be as they are, even if we don’t like them.  As Byron Katie says (and I often quote), “When you argue with reality you lose, but only 100% of the time.”

The paradox of self acceptance is that when we allow ourselves to accept who we are, where we are, what’s really happening, qualities about ourselves, aspects of who we are, and more – we actually set ourselves up and give ourselves the opportunity to make changes, improvements, and enhancements to ourselves and our lives in an authentic way.  When we obsess about and/or demand these improvements or changes “in order to” be happy, feel good about ourselves, or think we’re successful, it almost never works.

If you take a moment right now to think about some of the most important improvements and changes you’re attempting to make in your life, ask yourself this question, “What would it look like, feel like, and be like for me to fully accept myself in these important areas of my life?”

Most of the time it’s our own self criticism, perfection demands, and impatience that are actually getting in our way of making the changes, creating the success, and experiencing the fulfillment we truly want.  What if we changed our approach and with as much love, compassion, and vulnerability as possible, just accepted ourselves exactly as we are, right now!

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We’re All Doing the Best We Can

November 3, 2011

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

I’m sometimes amazed and embarrassed by how critical I can be – both of other people and of myself.  Even though I both teach and practice the power of appreciation (as well as acceptance, compassion, and more) when I find myself feeling scared, threatened, or insecure (which happens more often than I’d like it to), I notice that I can be quite judgmental.  Sadly, as I’ve learned throughout my life, being critical and judgmental never works, feels good, or leads me to what I truly want in my relationships and in my life.  Can you relate to this?

I’ve recently been challenged by a few situations and relationships that have triggered an intense critical response – both towards myself and some of the people around me.  As I’ve been noticing this, working through it, and looking for alternative ways to respond, I’m reminded of something I heard Louise Hay say on a number of years ago.  She said, “It’s important to remember that people are always doing the best they can, including you.”

The power of this statement resonated with me deeply when I heard it and continues to have an impact on me to this day.  And, although I sometimes forget this, when I do remember that we’re all doing the best we can given whatever tools and resources we have, and the circumstances and situations we’re experiencing, it usually calms me down and creates a sense of empathy and compassion for the people I’m dealing with and for myself.

Unfortunately, too often we take things personally that aren’t, look for what’s wrong, and critically judge the people around us and ourselves, instead of bringing a sense of love, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, and appreciation to the most important (and often most challenging) situations and relationships in our lives.

When we take a step back and remember that most of the time people aren’t “out to get us,” purposefully doing things to upset or annoy us, or consciously trying to make mistakes, disappoint us, or create difficulty (they’re simply doing the best they can and what they think makes the most sense) – we can save ourselves from unnecessary overreactions and stress.  And, when we’re able to have this same awareness and compassion in how we relate to ourselves, we can dramatically alter our lives and relationships in a positive way.

Here are some things you can do and remember in this regard:

  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time people have good intentions.  Many of us, myself included, have been trained to be cautious and suspicious of others, even seeing this as an important and effective skill in life and business.  However, we almost always get what we expect from people, so the more often we give people the benefit of the doubt, the more often they will prove us “right,” and the less often we will waste our precious time and energy on cynicism, suspicion, and judgment.
  • Don’t take things personally. One of my favorite sayings is, “You wouldn’t worry about what other people think about you so much, if you realized how little they actually did.”  The truth is that most people are focused on themselves much more than on us.  Too often in life we take things personally that have nothing to do with us.  This doesn’t mean we let people walk all over us or treat us in disrespectful or hurtful ways (it can be important for us to speak up and push back at times in life).  However, when we stop taking things so personally, we liberate ourselves from needless upset, defensiveness, and conflict.
  • Look for the good. Another way to say what I mentioned above about getting what we expect from other people, is that we almost always find what we look for.  If you want to find some things about me that you don’t like, consider obnoxious, or get on your nerves – just look for them, I’m sure you’ll come up with some.  On the flip side, if you want to find some of my best qualities and things you appreciate about me, just look for those – they are there too.  As Werner Erhard said, “In every human being there is both garbage and gold, it’s up to us to choose what we pay attention to.” Looking for the good in others (as well as in life and in ourselves), is one of the best ways to find things to appreciate and be grateful for.
  • Seek first to understand. Often when we’re frustrated, annoyed, or in conflict with another person (or group of people), we don’t feel seen, heard, or understood.  As challenging and painful as this can be, one of the best things we can do is to shift our attention from trying to get other people to understand us (or being irritated that it seems like they don’t), is to seek to understand the other person (or people) involved in an authentic way. This can be difficult, especially when the situation or conflict is very personal and emotional to us. However, seeking to understand is one of the best ways for us to liberate ourselves from the grip of criticism and judgment, and often helps shift the dynamic of the entire thing. Being curious, understanding, and even empathetic of another person and their perspective or feelings doesn’t mean we agree with them, it simply allows us to get into their world and see where they’re coming from – which is essential to letting go of judgment, connecting with them, and ultimately resolving the conflict.
  • Be gentle with others (and especially with yourself). Being gentle is the opposite of being critical. When we’re gentle, we’re compassionate, kind, and loving. We may not like, agree with, or totally understand what someone has done (or why), but we can be gentle in how we respond and engage with them. Being gentle isn’t about condoning or appeasing anyone or anything, it’s about having a true sense of empathy and perspective. And, the most important place for us to bring a sense of gentleness is to ourselves. Many of us have a tendency to be hyper self-critical. Sadly, some of the harshest criticism we dole out in life is aimed right at us. Another great saying I love is, “We don’t see people as they are, we see them as we are.” As we alter how we relate to ourselves, our relationship to everyone else and to the world around us is altered in a fundamental way.

As the Dalai Lama so brilliantly says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Everyone around us – our friends, co-workers, significant other, family members, children, service people, clients, and even people we don’t know or care for – are doing the best they can, given the resources they have. When we remember this and come from a truly compassionate perspective (with others and with ourselves), we’re able to tap into a deeper level of peace, appreciation, and fulfillment.

Where in your life are you most critical of others and yourself?  How can you let go of your criticism and bring more compassion to your relationships and to how you relate to yourself?  Share your ideas, commitments, thoughts, dreams, and more on my blog below.

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Just Be You

October 12, 2009

I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine recently that had a profound impact on me. She had just come home from a two week trip to Israel, where she stayed on the same kibbutz she’d visited many times throughout her life. When I asked her how her trip was, she said, “Mike, it’s a magical place where I truly feel like I can be myself.”

“Why is that?” I asked. She said, “The people there don’t care what I do, about the big clients I work with, or so many of the other things we care so much about here. My only currency when I’m there is who I am.”

As she and I talked further and then got off the phone, it really hit me how much of my time and energy I spend and waste trying to accumulate “currency” in the form of money, accomplishments, appearances, status, connections, and other external things – all in an attempt to have people like and respect me, gain access to the things I think are important, and to somehow erroneously think that by doing all of this, someday I’ll “make it,” (whatever the heck that means anyway). Can you relate?

What if we lived more of our lives focused on who we are, and not so much on what we do, what we’ve accomplished, what we look like, who we know, what we’re striving for, and more? What if, as my friend realized in Israel, the most important thing in life is actually who we are?

Who would we be without our accomplishments (or failures), our degrees (or lack thereof), our bank accounts, our experiences, our titles, our homes, our statuses, and more? As simple of a concept as this is for us to think about and discuss, at least on the surface, it’s actually quite difficult for most of us, myself included, to genuinely separate who we are from what we do (or have done or not done) on a regular basis in our lives.

The deeper question for us to ponder here is really one of the big philosophical questions of life, “What makes me a valuable person?” While this is something we have all thought about to some degree, most of us don’t really engage in this question in an authentic way or on a regular basis. And, when we do, we often think that if we just got more done, lost some weight, made more money, took a vacation, accomplished a goal, had more meaningful work, made it to retirement, or whatever, then we’d be “happier” or feel more “valuable.” Sadly, as we’ve all experienced, this is not usually the case.

What if we could expand our capacity for appreciating ourselves in a genuine way, and have it have nothing to do with anything external? What if just being ourselves, the way we are right now was good enough? Think of the freedom and peace we could experience in our lives (and have at times) by just being who we are – not trying to be what we think we’re supposed to be, in order to get the things we think we’re supposed to want.

Being ourselves fully, takes courage, commitment, and faith. It’s a process of letting go of many false beliefs we’ve been taught and trained to reinforce (that we have to look good, be smart, know the right people, say the right things, have the proper experience, etc. in order to be happy and successful in life). Being ourselves can be scary and counter intuitive, difficult and even off putting, and, at times, lonely.

However, being our authentic self is liberating, exciting, and fulfilling. When we have the courage just being who we are, without apology or pretence, so much of our suffering, stress, and worry in life simply goes away.

Here are a few things to consider and practice as you deepen your awareness of and capacity for being who you truly are:

– Tell the truth to yourself. Think about and own how much of your self-worth is based on what you do, how you look, who you know, what you’ve accomplished, etc. (i.e. the external stuff)? The more we let go of being defined by the external, the more freedom, peace, and power we can experience.

– Appreciate who you are. What do you appreciate about yourself that has nothing to do with anything external? In other words, what personal qualities (of being, not doing) do you value about yourself? The more we’re able to tap into what we appreciate about who we are (not what we do), the more capacity we have for real confidence, peace, and self love.

– Practice just being you. As silly as it may sound, we all need to “practice” being ourselves. We have a great deal of experience being phony or being how we think we’re supposed to be, it actually takes conscious practice for us to be able to just show up and be who we are. We can practice alone, with people we know, and with total strangers. This is all about awareness – paying attention to how we feel, what we’re thinking, what we say, and how we show up. It’s not about getting it right or doing anything specific, it’s about letting go of our erroneous notions of how we think we’re supposed to be, and just allowing ourselves to be who and how we are in the moment.

Have fun with this, talk to others about it, and have a lot of compassion with yourself as you practice – this is big stuff for most of us. And, when we remember that it truly is who we are, not what we do, that gives us real value in life – we are liberated and empowered to be ourselves, which is what we all want anyway.

Where in your life can you (or do you) practice just being who you are?  Share your thoughts and ideas below.

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Get Honest Feedback

July 14, 2009

How do you feel about people giving you really honest feedback? If you’re anything like me, you may both love and hate it at the same time. Most of us want the honest feedback of those around us, yet at the same time we’re often scared about what people might say – especially if it could hurt our feelings, ruffle our feathers, or leave us feeling insecure, vulnerable, or embarrassed.

For the most part and in many situations, groups, and relationships in our lives there is an unspoken, unconscious agreement that we make with others – “I won’t call you on yours, if you don’t call me on mine.” While this makes sense and is understandable, given how sensitive many of us can be, especially when it comes to feedback, this lack of authenticity doesn’t serve us, bring us closer to others, or allow us to support and empower each other in any real way (which is what most of us truly want).

Think of some of the honest feedback you’ve received in your life and career and how valuable it has been to your growth and evolution. Although some of it may not have felt so good to hear at first – I bet you’re incredibly grateful not only for the feedback itself, but for the people who were (and are) willing to be honest with you. It takes courage to both give and receive feedback authentically. And, it’s one of the greatest gifts we can give to others. Learning to receive the honest feedback and coaching of other people is a critical aspect of living a life of success, growth, and authenticity.

Here are some essential things to think about and practice as you enhance your ability to receive honest feedback:

1) Ask for it. Since honest feedback can be a tricky thing all the way around and many of us are a little insecure about giving it, letting people know that you want them to be honest with you and pro-actively requesting the authentic feedback of others is a great way to make sure you get it. Give people permission to be straight with you – even if you’re a little scared about what they might say. We usually get what we ask for.

2) Be open to the feedback, but remember it’s not the “truth.” It’s important for us to be open to people’s feedback, whether or not we asked for it, and at the same time remember that nothing anyone says to us is the “truth,” (it’s just their opinion). This is one of the many paradoxes of getting feedback from others. Just because they say it doesn’t make it so. And, at the same time, the best approach we can take is to be open to anything and everything people have to say about us. Try on their feedback like you would a coat – if it fits and can help, use it. If not, disregard it. However, be careful about your ego – which will want to argue with feedback you don’t like as a way of survival (yet another paradox).

3) Give honest feedback to others. Be willing to speak your truth to other people, even if you’re a little (or a lot) nervous about it. This is not about “tit for tat” or some kind of competition, but if we really want to create relationships, teams, families, and environments where we can talk to each other in a free, open, vulnerable, and authentic way – we have to be willing to speak up and say things that might be uncomfortable to those around us. Doing this not only gives us the opportunity to make a difference for others, it also creates a standard by which we relate to one another and communicate.

Have empathy and compassion for yourself and others as you engage in these types of honest conversations – they can be sensitive and challenging (especially at first). And, as we all know and have experienced, when we’re willing to get real and give each other honest feedback like this – everyone wins and is empowered at a much deeper and more real level.

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