Intention is a powerful thing. It drives every conversation I have, and every story I choose to tell, especially in a business setting. In most meetings I’ll tell folks my goal in the form of an intention: “My intention is to start an internal conversation about this issue.”
A year ago, I went on a journey that those of you who’ve been reading along for a while (thank you!) have heard me talk about before. It was a ten-day walk on the Camino de Santiago – and before I left, more than one person asked me what my intention was.
I laughed a bit, and asked questions about how to avoid catching bed bugs. Mostly I wanted a bit of escape and a lot of rest. But truthfully I wanted some space to think long thoughts about a number of work projects swirling through my head.
So it came as a huge surprise, that five days in, the intention of my journey came thundering down upon me in whispers to the heart and shuddering, sobbing realizations. Alone, cleared of the clutter of stuff and email and tasks, I was faced with the biggest exhortation yet:
The self who had started too fast, and now had sore hips. The self that dallied too long, and got lost finding her hotel after dark. The self that sang to cows. The self that drank wine at lunch because it was included in the special deal. The self that checked off every box and still felt it wasn’t enough. That self.
Love? Not the egoistic, can’t see anyone’s needs but my own kind of love. Rather, the tenderness and delight and occasional spurring on of a best friend kind of love. That love.
Days after my trip, I wrote down what I called were the “Big Camino Rocks”:
1. CULTIVATE SELF-COMPASSION
A year later, the memories of that sobbing moment in the field with the cows has faded, a bit. But the conviction that we must cultivate self-compassion as leaders has only strengthened. Because in the past year I’ve stepped courageously into conversations and actions and projects – more than I ever have in the past. And the fuel that has picked me up from each ensuing vulnerability hangover (a Brene Brown term) and sent me courageously back into the fray is self-compassion.
Self-compassion isn’t a switch – it’s a daily practice, and a weekly reminder. It’s the fuel for courage, and it’s also the thread that we need to lead others. Because I know that when I practice self-compassion I’m more able to treat others more kindly – which includes not rushing to judgement, as well as holding people accountable.
4 Steps to Practice Self-Compassion as Leaders
1. Own our Worthiness
I’ve come to understand that no one will ever come up to us and say – “you deserve to be here.” In the past, I tried to prove that I belonged and was more than enough by earning every award there was to get. Yet there was always another room of people, another space to prove myself. It’s exhausting. And, as leaders, it also makes us play small.
So since no one else will say it to us – we must say it to ourselves. “I am worthy.” “I deserve to be here.” “I have a voice and ideas that need to be heard.”
2. Observe Self-Defeating Talk
One of the most powerful ways I’ve found to cultivate self-compassion is to interrupt all the negative self-talk. The brain is an amazing entity – and my thoughts can swirl their way quickly into a knot. And suddenly, that pesky non-self brain is sending down thoughts like “I can’t believe you just said that!” or “Everyone else knows more about this than you.” Even taking a moment to name that errant thought helps me disassociate from that negativity, and move on.
3. Be Curious about Judgement
One of the most chilling truths I’ve come to face is that whenever I’m judging someone else, I’m really judging myself. So whenever I find myself crash-coursing into judging others, even and especially in my own head, I try to get curious about what that nagging voice is telling me about something I need to work on – some unfinished business. This helps me to flip the switch to self-compassion:
Judgment Voice: “I can’t believe they are wearing tennis shoes to this event.”
Self-Compassion Practice/Work: “Wow, it’s hard to feel like I need to impress others all the time in order to be accepted.”
Judgement Voice: “That person is always doing self-promotion.”
Self-Compassion Practice/Work: “I feel shame around telling my own story of my accomplishments. But if I don’t tell my story, no one else will.”
4. Be Still, and Know I Am
At a recent WITness Success conference (see you there in July?), Ashima Saigal led a session on the Power of Mindful Self-Compassion. She led us through a number of different exercises – including compassionate listening, and reflection. The most powerful exercise for me was one that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing under her leadership at a number of events – taking a moment of quiet reflection.
Today I walked down to the park near my house to get away from the noise of our roofers, and I closed my eyes and felt the sun on my arms, and listened to the birds chirping. It was magical, and the moment was mine.
Packing compassion for the journey ahead,