“Hero of Your Destiny”

Thanks to my friend David for sharing this poem with me.

The Declaration

By Robin Sharma, author of The Leader Who Had No Title and The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

Today, I declare I am strong and brave, not timid nor weak

Today I declare that my past will no longer limit my future and just because I couldn’t achieve something yesterday doesn’t mean I won’t do it this day.

Today I declare that I’ll honor my talents, express my gifts and reveal my creativity to everyone around me.

Today, I declare I’ll be loyal to my values, respectful of my mission and fiercely focused on my dreams.

Today, I declare that I am a maker versus a consumer, a giver versus a taker and a visionary versus a victim.

Today, I declare that I will always be part of the solution and never part of the problem.

Today, I declare that when I fall, I will certainly rise and when I’m in doubt, I will persist.

Today, I declare that I will cherish my health, feed my mind and nourish my soul.

Today, I declare that I am surrounding myself with people who are smarter, faster, stronger and better than me so I am uplifted by their models and inspired by their examples.

Today, I declare that I set the standard in my work, am becoming the icon of my industry and a legend at my craft.

Today, I declare that I adore my family, am grateful for my friends and am an encourager to all those who are blessed to cross my path.

Today, I declare that this New Year is MY year. My time to grow, excel, laugh, love, win, believe, persevere and serve, knowing that I am truly the leader of my fate, the owner of my results and the hero of my destiny.

Blind Spots, In A Good Way

It’s been delayed gratification all semester.  We’ve been discussing the VIA character strengths probably since September, but have gotten precious little in-depth information or training on the subject.  As a Gallup Strengths Coach, this is like putting home baked cookies in front of a three-year old but telling her she can’t have any.  Ever.

Today we had the privilege of having Ryan Niemiec from the VIA Institute come teach us about character strengths.  VIA strengths differ from the Clifton StrengthsFinders in that there are 24 character strengths that comprise human virtues.  The strengths fall into six core themes:  wisdom, courage, temperance, humanity, transcendence and justice.  Like the CSF strengths, building character strengths promotes engagement and satisfaction at work; using strengths is fulfilling and satisfying.   Empirical research also shows that using our highest character strengths, or our signature strengths, improve well-being, life satisfaction and symptoms of depression.

And the test is free.  Go to authentichappiness.org and take the test!  How cool is that?

Finding new ways to improve upon our signature strengths was easier for some strengths than others. We asked others to rate what they thought our signature strengths were.  Where strengths list coincide, we’re using our strengths well and transparently.  Where strengths are going unnoticed, we can work to improve their use so they are more apparent to others.  For example, I learned, though high in gratitude, if I mix-up the ways I express my gratitude, I could be more effective in sharing this life satisfaction-inducing strength with others.

But what I found most interesting was my character strength blind spots.  In this case, my classmates pointed out strengths that I was unaware of.   My classmates indicated that they thought I was high on self-regulation and leadership, whereas I ranked myself fairly low.  I guess I could reflect upon the reason for the discrepancy, or even better, just focus on trying to enhance and optimize those strengths.   Given I have a self-regulation strength it should be fairly easy for me to integrate and adopt those changes.

Now, isn’t it nice to learn new ways you are appreciated and ways in which you can improve, simultaneously?

A Perfect Balance of Talent and Virtue?

We all want to have talent and virtue in abundance.   Aristotle believed that happiness is not possible without excellence or virtue.  So give me talent and virtue.  Lots of it.   But is it possible to have or overuse talent and virtue to where they become a bad thing?

Aristotle also believed that virtues such as courage and temperance are best when exercised in balance.  Too much courage, he says, makes someone rash and belligerent.   Too much modesty can make someone shy.  Extremes of virtue (too much or too little) then become a vice.   Instead, Aristotle contends, that we should use reason to exercise our virtues like Goldilocks does: “just right” (he didn’t quite say it that way).

Similarly, the Clifton StrengthsFinder identifies the top 34 strengths that people use to be successful.  We can think about our strengths as either being in the “balcony” or the “basement”.    The former refers to optimal use of our strength, the latter when we are using our strength ineffectively or even counterproductively.  For example, my Input strength gets in my way when I start asking too many questions.   I need the data.  The 411.   This can be disruptive, annoying and intrusive when I’m in the basement with it, but I can also be a glorious source of useful information when my Input is exercised correctly.

Again, I would contend that reason, or I would call it wisdom, is what separates the basement from the balcony, the virtue from the vice.    The right balance is circumstance-dependent, so the same formula doesn’t work in every situation.  Wisdom and experience allows us to find that sweet spot as much as possible. But since every situation is different, we’re unlikely to hit it every time.  Or are we?

Let’s suppose for a moment that all  the talents and virtues are identifiable and quantifiable and that there are 100 of them.  I have all 100 and I use them all the time in just the right manner.  In other words, I’m perfect.

Yeah, right.

I know some of you think that you’re pretty darn close to that, or should be.  I know that because I used to be that way too.  This is perfectionism, and the need for perfectionism is the opposite of acceptance.   Acceptance is an important virtue and as humans our reality is that perfection is neither possible nor desirable.  First, perfection leaves no room for growth or improvement.  By definition, that’s stagnation.  What’s perfect about that? Second, stagnation and the smugness that often accompanies people who think they’re perfect is downright unappealing.  .  Third, everyone has a different interpretation of reality, and so even if you’re objectively “perfect,” someone will disagree.    Finally, the tendency to believe one is perfect will prevent one from actually seeing where a fix is needed.  So, which is more likely to be closer to perfect, something that is never improved upon, or something that undergoes continual improvement?  It’s ironic, then, that belief in perfectionism actually encourages the opposite.

This is the folly of human nature.  It takes wisdom to recognize and learn from it, forgiveness to feel OK about it, and humor to laugh at it.   This is how we thrive.

Thinking (T) versus Feeling (F) – A Marriage Made in Heaven

One of the reasons I love the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is because I have learned how the other half think.  As an extrovert (E), I now know that introverts (I) get their energy from being alone, whereas I get energy by being with others (a common misconception is that E/I refer to outgoing versus shy, respectively).  Those introverts are just not as annoying when they go escape for alone time now that I understand how they’re wired.

Same with those other MBTI dimensions.  Until I understood how others function, I would get frustrated with them because they were different from me.   Perceiving (P) folk like to keep things open-ended, but Judging (J) folk like myself like to make decisions and have closure (“why can’t you just make a decision, already?”)  Intuiting (N) folks tend to be big-picture types whereas Sensing (S) are more detail-oriented (“why do we have to keep going over the details?  It’s so BORING”).

The same holds true for those feeling (F) people.  F’s make decisions based on how a situation or decision feels, whereas  Thinking (T) people like myself make decisions based on thinking things through.   But with the T/F and all the other MBTI dimensions, not only have I learned to understand the other types, but more importantly, I appreciate and value them.  I mean – who better than a detail person to have around when you hate dealing with that stuff?  It really makes sense, when you stop feeling annoyed, that having both types provide input is ideal for the best outcome.

But the cool thing is that there is scientific evidence for the benefits of having both sides of the T/F dimension.   I know, you’re thinking:  “what possible benefit can there be to having F’s around?” (just kidding!).   Turns out there is a part of the brain that’s responsible for emotionality called the ventromedial prefontal cortex (vmPFC).  Patients that have damage to their vmPFC do not have the same emotional response to stimuli that others without brain damage have.  So while I might get excited about the idea about choosing a vacation destination, they will simply impassionately review the list of thousands of options and make a decision.

In other words, they would score off the charts on the T side of the MBTI.

They make great decisions, right?


Those thousands of vacation destinations have to be evaluated individually by whatever criteria the patient selects.  Imagine having to do that with every purchase at the grocery store, every turn you have to make in the car on your way to your destination.  Every decision becomes prolonged and laborious.  Now imagine having a difficult conversation with a loved one about a sensitive subject but without your emotional radar.  Imagine having to navigate a political situation at work.  As you might imagine, these patients tend to make terrible decisions or no decision at all, and have unhappy relationships.  In other words, even us unfeeling T’s rely on our emotions for even our most mundane decisions.

It’s so obvious now the value of  both T and F (and all the other MBTI dimensions), which means we don’t have to fight over different styles any more.  We also get to quit relying on only half of our brain, or half of our population for decisions and planning.  I don’t know about you but the number of brain cells in my head are not increasing, so it’s time to recruit all of them to the task.  Maybe that’s what makes us wiser in the end.

Follow the Leader

Leadership and followership

Leadership and followership

One of the strengths I’m only just now learning to love is Command. My Command strength explains why others have always both considered me bossy but simultaneously have turned to me for leadership, even when I was a shy girl with little confidence.

So to be consistently in a follower role now is like writing with my left hand.    Or maybe, more accurately, it’s like taking a different route to work, or putting my pants on starting with my right leg instead of my left.

It’s different.  It takes some adjustment.  It’s not necessarily better or worse, overall.

The main advantage of being a follower is that when I’m following a good leader, I don’t carry the weight of the responsibility of the project on my shoulders.   I love this.   I can focus on my more limited role than being responsible for the whole shebang.

However, given the follower role comes less naturally for me than leading, I do have a lot to learn about being a good follower.   Here is what I’ve  learned so far:

  1.  Stay engaged – Just because I’m following does not mean I abdicate responsibility for the overall outcome.  It’s still a team effort and I should keep an eye on the overall progress even if it’s not my primary responsibility.
  2. Communicate – It’s a bad idea to assume the leader or others have already anticipated the concern I’m struggling with.  Communicating my concerns or improvements will help the team be successful, even if that’s not necessarily “my responsibility.”  It’s also important to make sure I understand what my role is on the team.  If I don’t have a clear understanding of what I am supposed to do, my failure to uphold my responsibilities can have  a negative impact on the project.
  3. Timing and delivery – Though communication is important, when, how, and to whom I communicate are equally important. I have made the mistake of belaboring a point to the whole group, wasting everyone’s time and frustrating others, long after a decision has been made.    A good follower accepts and supports the  wisdom of the group after a  decision has been made.   To keep the project moving while considering a course correction, communication one on one to the appropriate individual (as opposed to the group as a whole) may be more appropriate.  Timing is also important.  Big decisions should not be forced in the heat of the moment.  Undermining the leader by challenging him during a chaotic situation is unlikely to help, though quiet suggestions at this time can be helpful.  Instead, leave the important discussions to quieter, calmer places and times.   This takes some patience, not my greatest virtue.
  4. Take the initiative – Being a follower does not equate with being passive, either in communication (above) or action.  It also doesn’t mean taking the project on tangents that are not agreed upon.  Again, communication with key individuals to make sure I, and the project as a whole, are on track improves the odds of a good outcome.
  5. Be supportive – Even if I disagree with the leader or the group, there is a time for discussion and disagreement, and another time for action.  It is important to recognize and respect those distinctions.  Challenging the leader, if necessary, should generally be done in private.  Gloating is also neither attractive nor helpful if, in the end, I was proven correct.   Followers should also remember that leading is difficult, and to be as supportive of the leader as possible, even during disagreements.

My take home lesson is that it is just as hard to be a good follower as it is a good leader.  As with many things, followership is a skill I did not know I needed but is hopefully not too late to start learning.

The Ubiquity of the Importance of Presence

No, not "presents"

No, not “presents”

I figure needing to google a word that I use in the title of this blog portends well for neither me nor the blog.  Yet I feel the need to explore this topic of presence (ha!  You might’ve thought I would google ubiquity… or maybe importance?).  I wish to differentiate presence from the concept of being present.  They are related, but different.  English majors, spiritual gurus and psychologists everywhere:  I apologize for taking liberties, as usual.  This blog is where I attempt to convert naïveté into a semblance of coherence, in a public fashion.

The presence I’m referring to is defined in the book Leadership Presence, by Lubar and Halpern.  The  book talks about presence in terms of leadership,  but learned from the art of acting and theater.  This type of presence is also used for professional effectiveness in terms of public speaking and interacting with customers or patients in a way that is responsive and authentic.  The authors describe four components of presence (PRES) as being present (P), reaching out to others with empathy and sharing of self (R), being expressive with body language and tone (E), and self-knowing (S).   R and S, and maybe to some degree E, are important components of emotional intelligence (EQ).   If you think about it, isn’t PRES the primary ingredients you’d like to experience when interacting with another person under any circumstances?

I personally feel presence, as defined by Lubar and Halpern (PRES), has been hugely helpful to my effectiveness as a speaker, facilitator and teacher.  But I am finding that PRES is also important in other areas of my life.  First, for my Command strength, I believe this strength has everything to do with PRES.  Command is not just about being able to command an audience or attention, but also has to do with influence and leadership.   Developing PRES concurrently develops Command skills in the best possible way, at least from my perspective.

PRES is also important for communication in my personal life.  Chris and I have decided to be proactive about managing our communication, especially when conflict is involved.  As a result, we have learned to use deep listening skills to communicate our relational needs to each other.  I know, it’s a little bit of a cliché, but when you commit to the process and really do it right, it makes a world of difference.  What is involved is listening to the other person until they’ve said everything they want to say (in a non-blaming way), and then you reflect back to them what they said.  When they’re done, it’s your turn.  There is no interrupting or criticizing the message (though you don’t have to agree, just try to understand).  To do this successfully, you must be total present to accurately capture their message, you should respond with empathy, and when communicating your own perspective/needs, you must have self-knowledge and share yourself.  Yeah.  That equals PRES.

Finally, I feel that what I learned at Arbinger is also the equivalent of PRES.  Arbinger talks of being out of the Box and interacting with people as humans, not objects.  So, PRES is required to some degree whenever you’re out of the Box.  But as I’ve discovered recently, when I move through life viewing every person I encounter as someone that is important, beautiful and talented (this is my interpretation of seeing them as people), I cannot help but interact with them on a new level.  I’m alive to where they are in that moment (distracted, happy, depressed), and open to interaction with them on whatever terms they wish (no eye contact, a smile, or a chat).  If they wish to engage, then my complete attention and Being is available to them.

Please do not misinterpret this essay to mean that I’m always PRES.  I’m not.  I’m only recently connecting the above dots (I told you I was working this out as I go) though this is probably painfully obvious to many of you already.  For me, I’m just getting my head around how important and impactful PRES is for almost every aspect of my life and deciding it’s well worth investing in.  Simply being present and out of the Box is difficult enough.   I’m never going to master either of them, but feel like these are essential tools for my lifelong journey.

I cannot help but feel that this is all the tip of the iceberg.  In what other dimensions or applications are these tools useful? What other tools are out there?  I’m excited to find out!

Leadership, Learned from the Gym

Some find enlightenment in a church, temple, or communing with nature.  I find it in the aerobics studio.

It’s not your 1980’s Jazzercise class, but it’s the modern equivalent, zumba.  We shake, we shimmy, we gyrate (I know, TMI), we move side to side, forward and back in unison.

Until we don’t.

There I am again, on the wrong foot, facing the wrong way, going against the flow.  And I think I’m pretty proficient at aerobics, relatively speaking.  After all, I’ve been doing some equivalent thereof for almost my entire life.  I learn the steps quickly, I remember the routines.  I try to count to keep up with the number of repetitions and attend to which foot we should be leading with.  I think I should be able to manage it…

Until I find I am colliding physically or visually with the rest of the class.  Then, my first reaction is, “Oh sh**,” or “Aacck,” or something to that effect.   It feels bad to be out of synch with everyone else.  In the early days I would just assume I was wrong and switch gears.  I have since learned that sometimes it just means we are now all on the wrong foot.  (Note to aerobics-phobes – this can happen when the instructor takes a mini-break or even makes a mistake.)

It struck me that this partnerless dance between me and the class is much like how one navigates one’s life.  If I lack principle or a rudder, then I’ll just make decisions based on the majority flow of the class, going along to get along. I’m not sure where the class is going with our choreography or whether it’s the right thing to do, but I don’t care because I don’t want to make others think I’m disagreeing with them or run the risk of running into them.  After all, they may not like me anymore!  (Never mind that they don’t know me so they can’t like or dislike me).  They may think I’m stupid!  Or, I might tell myself that few things are so important that they require I take a stand, so let someone else decide for me. (Clearly zumba class falls into this category but just bear with me.)

Or I can just go about the choreography as I know it’s supposed to be. I LEARNED the routine, I KNOW the routine, I’m going to DO the routine, regardless of what anyone else is doing.  Here, I am adhering to my principles and firmly fixing my rudder, but I am not flexible enough to make a course adjustment if, God forbid, I turn out to be wrong.  Never mind that I’m unlikely to find myself to be wrong if I don’t even consider the possibility of being wrong.  Instead of worrying that others might think I’m stupid, I might think they are stupid.

Another option is that I stick to the routine as I know it even in the face of dissent, but attend to what else is going on.  What am I missing, did I misunderstand?  What are the cues from the instructor?  Is she frowning, looking pleased?  Retrace my steps and think where I might’ve gone wrong. I don’t let the majority of the class drive my choices per se, but I take note and weigh that into my decision-making process.  I am certainly not going to get upset or feel judged, wrong or right, nor am I going to feel pressured to change course if I believe I’m on the right track.  No one here is stupid.  We’re just doing our best with the resources and skills we have.

OK, so these zumba quandaries are not exactly life- or death-type decisions, but rather a metaphor for how we decide how to navigate our complicated lives.  In the end, I must follow my inner compass.  Regardless of whether I feel awkward, uncomfortable, unpopular, or judged.  Regardless of whether I end up crashing, figuratively or literally.   While doing so, I must also continue to curiously probe the world around me as well as my own assumptions and prejudices, and adjust accordingly.  It’s an intricate dance that includes spins, turns and spills and even sometimes a beautiful synchrony.

See my previous post about enlightenment in the gym – My Age, My Asset.

NOTE:  I’m going on vacation y’all!  So I may not be posting next week, or only reblogging old posts, depending on my internet access and time.

Against the flow; out of step

Against the flow; out of step