Archive for July 2010

The Power of Getting Real

July 28, 2010

For this week’s audio message, click here.

A few weeks ago my wife Michelle and I found out, surprisingly, that we were expecting our third child. Since this wasn’t something we’d planned, we were shocked, excited and a bit freaked out, all at the same time. We began telling lots of people about this big news and starting to imagine our life with another baby – which was both thrilling and overwhelming for us to contemplate.

Within just a few days of learning about the pregnancy, however, we had a miscarriage – something we’d never been through and weren’t quite prepared for. The range of emotions we experienced during that week, and in the weeks that followed, has been quite intense.

As jarring, painful, and somewhat surreal as it has been, Michelle and I both feel a deep sense of peace and gratitude – choosing to believe that this happened for a reason and doing our best to use this experience to deepen our own awareness and healing in life. While it has been difficult, it has also been a very rich time of growth and connection for us on many levels.

One of the most complicated aspects of this experience has been sharing it with others – which we have been somewhat forced to do given that we told a lot of people about the pregnancy. Many people don’t talk about their pregnancies until the second trimester, since the majority of miscarriages take place in those first three months. I understand, even more so now, why people keep this private – as talking about a miscarriage can be quite emotional and uncomfortable for everyone involved.

However, even though this has been an intense process for us and many of the people we’ve talked to about it (especially those who have gone through this personally), Michelle and I have been so grateful for the amazing love and support we’ve received. We’ve also been blown away by how many other people have experienced a miscarriage – some we knew about, but many we didn’t.

Even in the midst of this personal and emotional experience, I’ve also been fascinated by human phenomenon of authenticity at play. There is such power, freedom, and liberation available for us when we get real. And while I do believe that it’s important for each of us to make conscious choices about what we share and with whom, far too often I think we choose not to share certain thoughts, feelings, or experiences because we deem them to be “inappropriate” or “too much” for people to handle.

Sadly, in this process of withholding our true experiences and feelings, we miss out on opportunities to connect with people in an authentic way, get support, share love, wisdom, and empathy, and connect in a real way with everyone around us.

Carl Jung said, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” And, Mother Teresa said, “Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable.” Then she said, “Be honest and transparent anyway.”

How We Can Get Real in a Vulnerable Way

One of the best ways to access a deeper sense of authenticity, vulnerability, and transparency is through a powerful exercise called “If you really knew me.” This exercise, which has had a profound impact on my own life and is something I’ve facilitated in various forms with many of the groups and individuals I’ve spoken to or coached over the years, gives people an opportunity to get real and vulnerable.

The exercise was taught to me by my friends and mentors, Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John, founders of an incredible organization called Challenge Day, which delivers life-altering, experiential, personal development workshops for teens, schools, and people of all ages. Challenge Day’s high school program is featured in the new MTV reality series which is actually called If You Really Knew Me.

How the exercise works is that each person in the group – usually a smallish group of anywhere from four to eight people (although it can be done one on one or with a larger group) – gets a minute or two of undivided attention from everyone else in the group and repeats this sentence, “If you really knew me, you’d know…” and then completes the sentence by sharing things that are real, vulnerable, and below the surface about themselves (thoughts, feelings, dreams, insecurities, opinions, experiences, passions, challenges, etc.).

There’s no pressure or expectation on each person to share anything they don’t want to share – just a challenge to step outside of their comfort zone, choose to trust the people in the group, and be more open, real, and vulnerable than they may normally be with others.

Whenever I either participate in or facilitate this exercise (as I just did earlier this week during a program I delivered), I’m always amazed by its power. People laugh, cry, get real, let go of things they’ve been holding onto, and truly connect with each other – heart to heart and in an authentic way.

What I always get from this exercise myself and hear people say in different ways is that even though we’re all unique, we’re way more alike than we are different. When we have the courage to get real with each other and speak our truth, it’s one of the most meaningful, rewarding, and connecting experiences we can have with other human beings.

Michelle and I have experienced the power and importance of getting real in these past few weeks. Even though we weren’t prepared for this, didn’t see it coming, and weren’t planning to share it with lots of people – it has been life-altering in so many ways and has taken a difficult, painful, and somewhat unexplainable situation, and turned it into something that is allowing us to grow, deepen, and experience more joy and gratitude in our lives.

When we get real (first with ourselves and then with others), even if it’s scary, uncomfortable, awkward, or intense, it has the potential to liberate us, impact those around us, and bring us all together in a beautiful and genuine way. We don’t have to go through whatever we’re going through in life alone – there is more love, support, and care around each of us than we usually realize and when we’re willing to be real about our experience, let people know what’s truly going on for us, and ask for help when we need it – it’s remarkable what happens!

What are you holding onto that you’re ready to reveal and release?  If people really knew you, what would they know about you?  Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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Stop Apologizing For Who You Are

July 21, 2010

For this week’s audio message, click here.

Apologizing can be a bit tricky for me.  While I pride myself on being someone who is able to look within, take responsibility, and resolve conflicts directly – I also know that my own arrogance and insecurity cause me to sometimes stubbornly refuse to apologize or, often more damaging, over apologize, which can include apologizing for who I am.

Being able to take responsibility for our impact on others, acknowledge and own our mistakes and shortcomings, and restore trust and connection with the people around us (i.e. what authentic apologizing is all about) are essential aspects of living a fulfilled life and creating healthy relationships.

However, many of us devalue, disrespect, and do harm to ourselves and those around us, by apologizing for who we are in a shame-based way – which usually comes from a place of shame (feeling as though we’re not good enough or there’s something inherently wrong with us).

Apologizing authentically is about taking responsibility for our actions, our impact, or our results, as an adult.  This is called remorse – wishing we hadn’t done or said something, and taking actions to address and rectify the situation within ourselves, with others, or both.

Apologizing for who we are is often about us thinking or saying some version of, “I’m bad, it’s my fault, or don’t hate me,” as if we’re a child looking for validation or approval. This is a specific example of how shame shows up in our lives. And, no matter how much we might “apologize,” when it comes from this insatiable, shame-based place, we’re never able to shake the feeling of something being wrong with who we are.

The more we notice that we’re apologizing for who we are, the more opportunity we have to look deeper – acknowledge, feel, and express our shame, and in the process begin to heal ourselves in a real way.

While we all have “issues,” “flaws,” and “challenges” in life – at the deepest level, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of us.  Most of us, myself included, spend and waste way too much time judging, criticizing, and being mean to ourselves.

Treating ourselves in this critical way never works – it doesn’t help us become better people, it doesn’t give us access to more love, power, or talent, it doesn’t make us more available for those around us who we want to support – it simply keeps us stuck in a negative story about who we think we are and what we think needs to be “fixed” about us so we can then live the life we truly want to live.

What if we stopped doing this to ourselves, stopped apologizing for who we are, and started honoring, valuing, and loving ourselves in an authentic way?

Do you catch yourself apologizing for who you are?  How can you stop doing this in a way that honors who you are and impacts your life in a positive way? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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Want What You Have

July 15, 2010

For this week’s audio message, click here.

Recently someone said to me, “Mike, I read the best book of my life a few years ago.  It only had four words in it, ‘want what you have’.”

As simple of a concept as this is, I was struck by its wisdom and began to think about it in my own life.  Sadly, as I thought about it more deeply, I realized that I put more of my attention and energy than I’d like to admit on either wanting things I don’t yet have or thinking that some of what I have isn’t quite good enough the way it is.  Can you relate?

How much of what you have in your life do you truly want (i.e. desire and choose)?  How much time and energy do you spend wishing things were different, or that you had a little more of this and a little less of that?

Most of us, even those of us who “know better,” spend and waste a lot of time thinking that things will be better when…we lose weight, get promoted, move into a nicer place, make more money, get married, have children, get out of debt, have more free time, start our own business, get the kids out of the house, retire, recover from a specific injury, illness, or setback, or whatever else it is we think needs to change in order for us to be happy and fulfilled.

While the circumstances of our lives – both “positive” and “negative” – do have an impact on us, the truth is that we always have a choice about how we relate to our circumstances and to ourselves in the process.  A great job, big house, large amount of money, fit body, incredible relationship, or anything else we say we want, can’t and won’t make us happy if we don’t choose to be.

In other words, to create an authentic sense of fulfillment in life, we have to learn how to want what we already have in our lives with gratitude.  One of my favorite and oft-used quotes is from author and teacher Byron Katie.  She says, “When you argue with reality, you lose, but only one hundred percent of the time.”

Wanting what we have doesn’t mean everything is “perfect” in our lives, which is almost never the case, or that we can’t desire for things to change or evolve in a way we deem positive.  It simply means we choose to accept what we have in our life, right now, with a sense of gratitude and surrender.

Surrendering is not about complacency, weakness, or giving up – it’s about learning to make peace with life as it is.  It’s important for us to remember that the passion, joy, and fulfillment we experience doesn’t come from life itself, it comes from us and our ability to accept, appreciate, and celebrate what we have in our lives.

Here are some great questions to ask yourself when dealing with some of the most difficult and challenging aspects of your life (i.e. the stuff you say you don’t want):

  • What good is here that I’m currently not seeing?
  • What is this situation teaching me that I’m grateful for?
  • Why is this happening for (not to) me?
  • What would it look like if I surrendered to this instead of fighting against it?
  • What aspect of myself can I appreciate more deeply as a way of loosening the grip of this issue in my life?

By asking and answering these questions (and others like it), you’ll give yourself an opportunity to look more deeply at some of the challenges in your life, realize that these things are here to instigate growth and expansion, and remind you that you have the ability to choose them consciously – which can take away much of the suffering you may currently experience.

By putting more of our attention on wanting what we already have, and less attention on fixing things or wanting what we don’t yet have, we can create a deep sense of peace and joy in our lives, our work, and our relationships, which, more than most specific outcomes or material possessions, is what most of us truly want anyway.

Do you want what you have? Where would focusing more on wanting what you have (and less on having things be different) make a positive impact on your life?  Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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Vulnerable Leadership

July 7, 2010

For this week’s audio message, click here.

Vulnerable and leadership are not usually two words or concepts we put together. Most of us, myself included, have been taught that to be a “good leader” we have to be strong, convicted, and confident. “Never let ’em see you sweat,” we’ve been told.

However, I believe it’s time for those of us who want to inspire, motivate, and lead others to step into our role as a leader with transparency, honesty, and vulnerability. As Mother Teresa said, “Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.”

Some of us have specific leadership roles in life – we manage other people in our job, we’re the head of a company, team, committee, or organization, we’re involved in school or community activities where our job is to lead others, we write, speak, or coach other people about taking their lives to the next level, and much more.

And, even if we don’t hold a specific position of leadership in what we do, just about all of us have the opportunity to be leaders in various ways. In our families, with our friends, in our community, and in our work – we have the ability to influence others in a positive way and many of us have a deep desire to impact those around us.

What if instead of obsessing about being smart, qualified, strong, powerful, innovative, creative, and other conventional leadership qualities – we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable as a way of freeing us up from the intense pressure we often feel as leaders and as a way to influence people in an authentic way.

While it may seem counter-intuitive and can sometimes be a little scary, being a vulnerable leader is what I think is needed (and often missing) in our businesses, schools, churches, communities, governments, and our world today.

Here are some key principles of vulnerable leadership:

1) Admit and own your mistakes – We all make mistakes, especially as leaders. The more willing we are to admit and own our mistakes (not make excuses, point fingers, or avoid responsibility) the more others will trust us and want to follow our lead. Taking responsibility, apologizing, and making amends for the mistakes we make are not always easy things to do, but they’re essential for us to have true credibility with the people around us.

2) Share your fear and insecurity – Fear and insecurity are inseparable from being human and being a leader. We all get scared, but too often deny or avoid it, so as not to look weak. However, admitting our fear and sharing it with others does a few important things. First of all, it can free us up from the fear itself. Second of all, it allows others to realize we’re human. Third, it gives the people around us permission to feel and express their own fear, which is essential for individuals and groups if they’re going to come together and move through adversity. Sharing our fears with others is not something we do to make excuses or to dump our “stuff” onto other people, it’s a bold act of vulnerable leadership and something that can have a profound impact on those around us.

3) Don’t take yourself too seriously – It’s important for us to have a sense of humor and not get too full of ourselves, which is something many of us do, particularly as a leader. As I jokingly say to my wife Michelle sometimes, “Do you have any idea how important I think I am?” We must laugh at ourselves, notice when we get too serious, and have enough self awareness to keep things in a healthy perspective.

4) Share your own process, journey, and challenges – We’re always going through a process of growth, discovery, and challenge in life – especially as leaders. This process doesn’t have to be difficult or painful, although sometimes it can be. The more transparent we are about our own process and the more willing we are to let the people around us know what we’re dealing with, learning, and challenged by – the more we let them know who we truly are, give them insight into how we operate, and create an environment around us that is open, authentic, and conducive for individual and collective growth.

5) Ask for and receive help from others – As leaders most of us like to help others, but often we have a difficult time asking for and receiving help. Requesting help can be perceived, especially by us, as an admission of weakness or an acknowledgment that we’re not capable of doing something. However, all of us need help and support – and in some cases, we need a lot of it. Being the kind of leader who is comfortable enough with yourself and the people around you to admit when you don’t know something, can’t do something, or simply need help in making something happen, is not a sign of weakness; it’s both a sign of strength and an opportunity to empower others in an authentic way.

How willing are you to be vulnerable in your life? Where can you expand your capacity for vulnerability, especially as a leader? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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