Dealing with the Darkness: Honoring the Life of Robin Williams

Robin WilliamsAs I continue to sit with the tragedy of Robin Williams, I am filled with mixed emotions and thoughts in how to best honor his legacy – his light and darkness.

As someone who has struggled with depression at different times in my life, I can get the despair that can swallow you up, grabbing the steering wheel, while you ride shotgun. The darkness is palpable. Even with all the tools I have learned on my journey, I am not immune to the darkness taking hold.

I have learned that if you try to fight or deny or dismiss the darkness, it just squeezes tighter like the toy – Chinese Finger Cuffs.

fingercuffsI have learned to lean into the darkness from a place of curiosity and exploration. I know this may sound counter-intuitive, but this isn’t about giving up or giving in. It’s about dancing with this part of me that is just as real and valid as the lightness within me.

While we experience the pain, there is nothing inherently wrong with darkness. It’s how we relate to the darkness–our thoughts and actions in response–that are most damaging. By removing the judgment from the dark experience, you can create more freedom to dance with the darkness and in turn grow stronger.

By dancing with my darkness, I learned to reclaim my power and reclaim my life. I can take the wheel back and steer toward the light.

You may be asking – How do you dance with the darkness?

Here are a few practices inspired by Robin’s own words:

Dead-poets-societyUse your Voice

“You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!” Dead Poets Society

So often we stay silent around darkness. It’s barely talked about in close circles, let alone in public circles. That’s how it lives and grows…in the silence, in the shame. By bringing voice to the darkness, it brings it into the light and loses strength and power.

So when the darkness descends, reach out and find someone to talk to about it, someone you trust. It can be a family member or close friend, a therapist or even someone on the end of a hotline. By simply speaking it aloud, the darkness begins to loosen its grip.

good-will-huntingLook for the Good in the Dark

“People call those imperfections, but no, that’s the good stuff.” Good Will Hunting

Life is messy, filled with imperfections and flaws and failures—filled with darkness as much as the light. If we continue to dread the darkness when it shows up…and it always does in this crazy world, then fall victim to the darkness.

If we can see the good stuff, the gift, the wisdom in the darkness, then we can begin to change our perspective on the darkness. We can begin to see what it can give us instead of all that it takes away. I often find that my darkness gives me the gift of reflection as well as connection to others.

patchadamsNever Give Up

“The most radical act anyone can commit is to be happy.” Patch Adams

I don’t say this lightly because it takes something to Be Happy, something radical. It doesn’t mean you have to feel happy all the time because that just isn’t humanly possible. We all experience the darkness, but it is important to stay vigilant and never give up in that darkness.

We must commit to return to the light, each and every time. The commitment is not to stay in the light because we will have those descents into darkness, but simply do the work necessary to return to the light without judgment, without shame.

If you are dealing with some darkness, know that you are not alone. Reach out to those who love you. If you are not able to see the light right now, let your loved ones hold the light for you until you can see it yourself. The light will come.

 

Robin Williams – You may have lost the battle with darkness, but you will be remembered for the brilliant light that you brought to the world.

 

Speak Up – Speak Out against Oppression!

woman-covering-mouthYour voice needs to be heard.  That’s what I tell my public speaking students on the first day of class.  So much of my message, my life’s mission really, is to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.  Well, that requires people to speak up and share their truth even when it’s risky or vulnerable, especially when it’s vulnerable.  It is then that our power and greatness shines brightly.

Last week, I saw a young man, Jay, do exactly that – speak his truth – in a powerful and inspiring way.   At the Q & A segment of Michael Eric Dyson’s talk on Race and Race Relations in America, Jay was the first at the mic.  He spoke about his experience as a young Latino man on campus, his desire to feel a sense of belonging for himself and other students of color and the barriers he experiences. The whole audience was riveted by his heartfelt plea to create something different, not just for him but for the next generation.  I was in awe of Jay’s eloquence and courage.

Now…I recognize that Jay’s experience isn’t unique.  It’s unfortunately all too common on college campuses across the country.  It was happening when on my college campus – that sense of exclusion, both conscious and unconscious, that had students of color feel unwelcome and unwanted. A continued conversation is needed. It is an uncomfortable conversation for sure, but an essential one.  We cannot remain silent.  We must ALL courageously step into this conversation with compassion and connection at the forefront.

So when someone from the college responded to Jay’s plea with a commitment to take action and continue the conversation, I was excited that it didn’t fall on deaf ears and someone listened, not with defensiveness but with an interest in engaging.  I am hopeful that this is the first of many exchanges in the dialogue.

When listening to Jay, I was reminded where I stopped engaging in this conversation, not just about race, but about social justice issues as a whole.  In my twenties, I was a loud mouth activist who spoke up anytime I heard a remark or witnessed an act that perpetuated oppression, be it racism, sexism or homophobia.  Whether it was my personal and professional life, I would not stand for any injustice.

Now, I have noticed areas where I have silenced my activist in my professional life.  While many of my programs incorporate courageous conversations about oppression, the silence has infiltrated in little ways.  I hold back on Facebook or Twitter so as not to upset or offend any of my followers.  But in my silence, there is a form of condoning, an allowing, that I have perpetuated by not speaking up, but not speaking out against the injustices that are happening across the nation every day.

So, inspired by Jay’s courage, I am committing to speaking up and speaking out against the oppression that still plagues our country.  If this is the land of the free and home of the brave, I must be brave and speak out to ensure true freedom for all who live here.

I need your help though.  I ask that you join me to speak up and speak out.  I need you to be brave and speak out for justice.  It doesn’t require a protest sign, all it requires is for you to speak your truth.

There may be areas where you do speak out and for that I thank you greatly.  However, if there are areas where you don’t, now’s the time.  The next generation is waiting.

Question: Where do you feel silenced? Where are you willing to speak up?

Going for Gold? Go Within

With my fascination of Olympics, I have been in awe of all the tremendous hard work and difficult decisions that the Olympians have had to make over their lifetime to achieve their ultimate goal – GOLD!

With so many difficult decisions and sacrifices they have made to pursue their dreams, they had to look within, trust their gut or intuition to determine which way to go.

You have probably heard someone say, “Go with Your Gut!”  That’s what I often say when someone is struggling with a  decision to make.  The reason for this simple answer is that we truly do know what is best.  We have the wisdom within us to make those difficult choices.  It’s that quiet whisper that nudges you to make a choice that is consistent with who you truly are.

It’s not always the easier choice.  In fact, it is often more risky, more uncomfortable, but oh so much more rewarding.  In his famous 2005 commencement speech, Steve Jobs encourages “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.“

Every time, I am struggling with a life decision, especially the bigger ones, I waiver between what my inner voice says and what I think I should be doing.  The suffering that occurs in my head – should I – shouldn’t I.  In the end, after all the back and forth, when I go with my gut, I am so much happier and it more often works itself out.  When I follow the “should,” I often create more struggle and suffering.

Now this is not to say, seek out the advice and opinions of others or consider all options.  I am a big fan of checking in with others – the people who know me well or have some experience with the issue.  Sometimes, I seek out direct advice.  Sometimes, it’s just listening and teasing out what’s going on underneath the suffering.  They can provide new information to assist in making a stronger choice.  Who do you reach out to for advice or support?

Now you may be saying to yourself, “How can I trust that voice? I have made bad choices in the past, I don’t know if I can trust myself.” Self-doubt can run rampant in tough decisions.  Look – I get it.  Why do you think I suffer so much in decision wavering?  I am afraid of making the wrong decision. So I sit on the fence, which can be really uncomfortable – Ouch!

So it’s time to get off the fence and make a choice.  Remember you aren’t married to your choice – you can always make another choice later. As I look back on those bad decisions, I realized that I wasn’t following my inner wisdom, my fear or need to prove myself.  It was more in quick reaction rather than taking a breath, settling in and finding what was the deeper wisdom.

So the next time, you are going for gold or simply struggling to make a decision, take a breath, listen to that quiet wisdom, and step forward!

A Deeper Look

  • What would you do if you listened to your inner wisdom?
  • Who can you seek out for support?

Creating Your Definition of Success

success-coaching-header

We all want to be successful in life, but what does that really mean?

Well, if you go by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Success is defined as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.” But what if you have wealth and fame and no happiness?  There are plenty of cases where we have seen wealth and fame backfire on celebrities and other people in places of power.

We learn the meaning of success from our family, friends, and society as a whole from a very young age. And that definition continues to be reinforced as we grow older and new expectations are inserted – job, salary, family, etc.  Sometimes that works for people, but many times it causes undue suffering.

What if what’s important to you isn’t in the standard definition of success?  Does that mean you won’t be considered successful?  In my humble opinion – Of course not!

The danger is that if we aren’t considered a success by others, we won’t consider ourselves successful.  Even more dangerous – we may consider ourselves a failure. I have definitely traveled down this dark dangerous alley – beating myself up along the way.

After a good self-inflicted assault, I realized that I must create MY OWN definition of success.  I haven’t been one to follow the path of others; I like to take blaze my own trail.  So why wouldn’t I blaze my own definition of success?

So I invite you to take a deeper look as to how you define success.  Is that what you really want out of life?  Or is that what other have said that you should want?  Are you striving for that will make you happy?  Or will it make others happy?

It is your life, so you get to define the terms…you get the final say in your success!

Looking Deeper

  • How would you define success?
  • What’s important for you to feel you have a successful year, a successful life?

Turning Crisis into Triumph

The last few weeks, ok…more like the last few months, I have been struggling with a problem that I haven’t had to deal with ever before. If I was being truthful to myself, I would even call it a crisis, a financial crisis. It has pushed me and pulled me in ways that I could have never envisioned I would experience at this point in my life.

Now I have struggled financially off and on over the years, but never to this extent. Due to some life circumstances and some mental roadblocks, I find myself in new territory.

You may not be experiencing a financial crisis, but you may have some other challenges that are testing you, whether it’s a relationship, an academic or work situation. Unfortunately, as part of being human, we all are tested now and again.

Rather than focusing on problem and feeling disempowered, what we can do is reclaim our power and find a route to overcome the challenge. While I haven’t fully resolved my financial crisis, I have found some steps to begin to turn the challenge in the direction of triumph.

1. Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but…

Telling the truth in this area can be very challenging for me because I want to appear successful both to others as well as myself. However, ignoring the problem only made it worse. However, my work is about being authentic, so I thought I better walk the talk. So I sucked it up and began to tell the truth to myself and the people who loved me. When I did, the sense of relief was palpable. I found out I wasn’t alone and it didn’t diminish their image of me and my success. In telling the truth, I was able to finally take real action to shift the crisis into triumph.

2. Look for the Lesson

This is the crux of turning any challenge into triumph. While isn’t always easy or fun to look for the lesson or gold while in the middle of a crisis, this has been the quickest way for me to turn the tides. Sometimes I resist the lesson because I secretly like the drama of being in crisis. I am definitely good at the drama too. :) Yet, I know the struggle and suffering leaves me feeling powerless, so I look for the lesson or gift to reclaim my power in the situation.

As I look for the lessons in this financial crisis, two come to mind immediately. The first is my stepping up in financial responsibility – essentially putting my big girl panties on. I am now intimately connected to my bills and bank accounts in ways that will set me up financially for the rest of my life. The second gift is willingness to accept help. Being fiercely independent, I always hesitated to really depend on people because I didn’t want to be a burden. However, in this situation I have to make many requests for assistance, depending on people on a deeper level than ever before. This leads to the final step to turn challenge into triumph.

3. Seek out Support

The support from others was essential in helping me find solutions to turnaround the financial crisis. Whether it was simply a consoling conversation, advice on pinching pennies or job referrals, I was grateful for all the support I received to know that I wasn’t alone. Most people, especially our loved ones, are eager to help out in some way. The more specific we can be in our requests, the easier it can be to for supporters to step up. With our support team by our side, we can step up and out of our crisis and into triumph.

Whenever I am in trouble or even in the midst of a crisis, I am reminded of Christian D. Larson’s wise words. “Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.” Whether it’s a health crisis, a financial crisis or a relationship crisis – we can all find ways to not just survive the crisis, but more importantly you can find a way to thrive from it.

Befriending Fear to Create True Happiness

Befriending fear is the first and crucial step to creating the happiness you want. While it may seem counter-intuitive to finding happiness,  looking at the ugly stuff creates a clearer vision for true happiness.

Believe me, I am good at avoiding this ugly stuff myself. However, what I have found is that if I do step over this step and try to jump straight into finding what makes me happy, it often crumbles like a house with a bad foundation. The foundation of truth is crucial.

Telling the truth about what makes you nervous about your future. Is it the fear of failure, fear of not knowing, fear of hard work, fear of swallowing your pride, fear of success, fear of asking for help? All of these, if continually avoided, can stop us from creating a life of happiness and fulfillment.

The reality is that these fears are completely normal. Expect to have these fears and concerns. Make friends with them because they aren’t going away. They will be with you throughout your life at different points.

While I have experienced all of these, my frequent visitors are fear of asking for help, not knowing, and success. These will often paralyze me and keep me trapped into what is familiar and comfortable. I even had these fears visit as I am creating my upcoming webinar – I Got the Degree – Now What?

Oprah defines “COURAGE as not the absence of fear, but having fear and acting anyways.” To be powerful is not in getting rid of the fear, but befriending it so you have power over it.

What does it mean to be Friends with Fear? I know that seems a bit crazy, but it is incredibly useful. First, you have to shift your thinking that it is your enemy or shouldn’t be there. Fear is a normal and healthy emotion and filled with helpful information and gifts. Just like your friends brings something of value to the relationship, so does fear. It is just a matter of finding out what that value may be.

The value could simply be a reminder that you are stepping out of your comfort zone or to pay close attention. Or it could it serve a deeper purpose like a red flag to self-reflect and see if there is something you may need to consider.

In the last few weeks, I have experienced a lot of fear – the kind that feels like a knot in your stomach. I have even had a few sleepless nights. It wasn’t until I stopped avoiding it and befriended it, that is has finally allowed me to breathe deeply and fully. This fear was here to have me look at what I have been doing – playing it safe rather than going after what I really want.

Recognizing that it’s time to go after my dreams, the fear doesn’t magically go away, but it isn’t controlling me anymore. It now sits in the passenger seat rather than the driver seat. With courage, I can take the steering wheel and drive toward my dreams. And fear can ride along to remind me that this unfamiliar road is the path to my purpose on this planet.

What is fear telling you?  What can you learn from your fear if you stop avoiding it?

If you would like to know more or register for my upcoming webinar -
I Got the Degree – Now What?
Click here.