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.

 

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?

Nelson Mandela – A Model for Forgiveness

mandela-wave

As we continue to mourn the death of Nelson Mandela, there is so much to celebrate as well.  I have watched countless TV segments, read numerous articles about his life, I am reminded of his incredible leadership qualities that I strive to live in my own life: His Endless Courage to speak up and speak out against the brutality despite the threats to his own life; His Incredible Commitment to Serve his country and the world no matter his age; but most of all, I am inspired by his Tremendous Capacity to Forgive. (Scroll down to view a beautiful tribute poem from Maya Angelou.)

Forgiveness is a powerful tool to end the suffering and create peace.  While this may be simple, it is definitely not easy.  Mandela suffered for decades at the hands of the prison guards and the Apartheid government.  Tens of thousands of his brothers and sisters jailed, beaten or worse…left for dead in the streets.

The crimes against humanity were horrific.  Mandela had more than enough reasons to seek revenge, but he knew it would only extend the suffering; more lives would be lost.  Forgiveness would be the key to bring the country together, create a unified country rather than one of suffering and segregation.

Committed to a larger goal, a bigger vision, he worked through the pain and found a place of peace.  First within himself, he then worked to create that for his country.   It wasn’t about forgetting what happened, but about healing the pain for the greater good of the country.  When we hold onto the resentment, we hold ourselves back, we limit our impact, we limit our power. By letting go, we can attain something far greater than ourselves. By Mandela’s capacity to forgive, he was able to attain something incredible for his country and the world.

While Mandela practiced Forgiveness and created Peace on the world’s stage, we can follow his lead and create peace within our families, our businesses, and our communities by practicing forgiveness.  Where are you holding onto resentment, seeking some revenge in your life? Where can you practice forgiveness for the commitment of a larger goal, a larger vision for a friendship, partnership or business?

In celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life, I invite you this week to seek out the greater good and practice forgiveness where a relationship is strained.  Take the first step in creating a sense of peace this holiday season.

Thank you Nelson Mandela for your countless contributions
to the world. You will always be remembered!

New Year’s Resolutions: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

With the beginning of the year, people often make New Year's resolutions, or at least consider it. If you did make some resolutions and you are anything like me, you've probably already broken your resolutions. That is not only common, it's expected. We stick to our new year's resolutions for a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks, but by February, we can't even remember what the resolution was.

What if you could actually have your resolutions stick? It requires taking a different look at resolutions. It takes looking at the good, the bad and even the ugly :)

The Good Stuff – Resolutions by themselves aren’t bad. They actually come from a good place, a place inside us that likes to start fresh, to start newly. That feeling shouldn’t be dismissed, but celebrated that it reminds us that we want to grow and change.

The opportunity to start fresh is important to recognize and take advantage of. When we do look at how we want to grow and change, it’s important to pay attention to see if it’s something we truly want, or what we think we “should” have. We can often get caught up wanting to change to be like someone else, instead of being our true selves. Be sure that whatever resolutions you make, it’s something that YOU really want and you stay true to yourself.

The Bad Stuff – We often make resolutions that we know we can’t keep, setting ourselves up for failure. One way that we set ourselves up for failure is by focusing on the doing, rather than on how we want to feel, successful, healthy, powerful, happy, loved, etc. We think that if we do this particular action, we will feel a particular way. For example, I have made lots of resolutions where I won’t eat chocolate so I can lose weight and feel healthy. It’s ridiculous because I know I can’t give up chocolate completely. I usually last about a week before I have a piece of chocolate in my mouth.

However, what if we flip the resolution on its head and make a resolution not about the action, but about the feeling, what we truly want. If I focus on being healthy, I have more flexibility in the actions I can take. I can eat more vegetables, drink more water, exercise or not eat chocolate. You can take little steps or big steps. You get to choose. More choice means more power. More power means more success.

The Ugly Stuff – What can make resolutions most dangerous is how we treat ourselves after we break the resolution. We can judge ourselves harshly; maybe even call or label ourselves unreliable, weak or even worse. When we make promises, like resolutions, and don’t keep them, it can be difficult not to judge ourselves. However, it is crucial to have compassion and patience when we don’t live up to our promises. Remember we are human. As humans, we make mistakes, lots of them.

When we are trying to change a habit, it’s especially challenging because the old behavior is so automatic. Even as I am writing this, I am scarfing down a chocolate, chocolate cookie, after making a resolution to be healthy. I have to forgive myself for eating the cookie and start again. If we practice patience and compassion, our resolutions will be much easier to maintain in the long run. The resolutions will stick around and become more automatic.

If you have made resolutions or goals for this year, or still considering, remember you will be more successful and much happier if you stay true to yourself, focus on your true desires and practice patience and compassion. Good Luck in 2012!

Reflecting back on 2011- Preparing for 2012

As the year comes to an end, people often reflect on what has transpired over the past year. How is my life different from 2010? It is an important question to ask and ponder. Are you getting closer to your goals and dreams? Perhaps even achieving them? Can you measure growth? . If you haven’t done this before, or you haven’t done it so thoroughly, I highly recommend starting the tradition.

When I reflect on the year, I look at the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s important to look at ALL that has transpired. If you only look at the good, then often the bad and the ugly hangs on like dead weight and baggage in the new year. It’s important to let go of any baggage accumulated from this past year – starting fresh in 2012. It’s also important to consider, if we only look at the ugly, then we miss the growth that has occurred. The good stuff is just as important as the ugly stuff.

When you reflect on the questions below, I recommend taking the time to write it down. You can be more thorough and visually see your year on paper.

The Good Stuff – What have you accomplished this year – professionally, personally, financially? What were the pleasant surprises of the year? Did you learn any lessons about yourself? About life? Celebrate this good stuff and share it with loved ones!

The Bad Stuff – What disappointments or regrets did you experience this year? What were some of the not so pleasant surprises? What mistakes did you make that you learned from? Try to bring some compassion and forgiveness to these moments, so you can let go and move on. If there are some lessons to learn from these experiences, be sure to take those with you into 2012.

The Ugly Stuff – What were the moments of 2011 that you would rather forget about altogether? The important part is that you have survived the ugly stuff. Although challenging, I invite you to bring up the memories, the feelings, and judgments, so you can let them go and move on. What’s also important in letting the ugly stuff go is finding the lesson, the gift, in these experiences. While this too can be a struggle, it helps in moving on so that they don’t linger or hold you back in the future.

Reflecting on the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2011 will give you the opportunity to celebrate all your successes, learn the important lessons, and let go of any excess baggage to make 2012 the best year ever!

Lessons from Steve Jobs

Steve JobsWhen someone as huge as Steve Jobs dies while still in his prime, it gives us pause in who was the man behind the accomplishments, behind the inventions. Steve has been compared to Edison and Einstein as the inventor of the 21st Century. We often don’t know the real story of Thomas and Albert, except what they tell us in history books. However with Jobs, with his life on the web, we have the great opportunity to uncover what made him a revolutionary, a game changer in the world of technology.

This man was truly a visionary in every sense of the word. He had many practices in his daily life that made him remarkable. He shared a few in his famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s definitely worth a look.

Here are a just a few to consider for yourself:

1. BE A RISK TAKER

Apple coined the term “Think Different” when he came out with the first iMac in 1998. He put iconic courageous people, like Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi, to remind us that being a risk taker pays off. It also definitely paid off for Apple too in revolutionizing the personal computer.

Taking Risks is an essential part of being a success, not just in business, but in life. It isn’t easy to be a risk taker, putting yourself out there for scrutiny and criticism. It takes determination, a confidence in yourself, so that others won’t sway you from taking action.

There are some people who just don’t care what others think. I so admire those people because it is human to be concerned about others’ opinions. The key is finding others who will support you no matter what, those who encourage you taking risks and achieving big dreams. I know the times when I risked big, like moving to NYC with no job, had the biggest payoffs, knowing that I had the support of family and friends.

Where are you taking risks? Where could you step up be a greater risk taker? Who can you have on your support team to cheer you on in your risks?

2. BE RESILIENT

Jobs and his company Apple are such great examples of resilience. In 1985, Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he started, but that didn’t stop him from creating what he loved. “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” He joined 2 startup companies, including Pixar, where he revolutionized computer-generated animation with Toy Story.

He was later brought back to Apple in 1998 when the company had lost its vision and couldn’t compete against Microsoft and Dell. Yet Jobs didn’t lose hope. He soon produced the iMac, and Apple became the comeback kid. Now Apple is the trendsetter, making anything they put out – GOLD!

In life, you are going to have setbacks, blocks and utter failures. The setbacks exist to test you and encourage you to grow bigger, stronger, so that you can face even bigger challenges that will most definitely come your way. While it’s much easier to just give up, life isn’t as fun or fulfilling that way. You can’t have the life you want without going after it. Go out there and demand the life you deserve and be unstoppable in getting it.

Where are you not going after what you want? Where have you settled? Where you could show more resilience? What steps could you take now to achieve your goals and dreams?

3. BE YOURSELF

“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.” Steve Jobs followed his heart in almost everything he did, even if it was unpopular because he had a vision and wouldn’t let anyone or anything get in the way of that vision. He became unstoppable in creating what he knew to be the best product. He didn’t let naysayers stop him. He stayed true to himself, his vision and his heart.

Staying true to yourself is critical to living a life of success. So much of our lives is filled with input from others, that we often forget to listen to our own inner voice. What is it that you want? Remember to listen to your inner voice and act from there. It’s YOUR life, so make sure it’s YOU living it.

Where do you stay true to yourself? Your vision? Do you let naysayers or circumstances get in the way of your vision of what you want to create in the world? Where can you choose to follow your heart?

We are all visionaries. We have a vision for our life, a vision for our world. If you follow these practices from Steve Jobs, you too can fulfill on your vision. Remember in your quest, to use Steve’s own words, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

Loving Your Ugly

To really love ourselves fully, we must love all of who we are – the good, the bad, and especially the ugly.

For me and many people I know, it’s much easier to love and embrace the good – the best parts of us – our talents, positive personality traits, and the most attractive parts of our body. The bad parts are a little more difficult to love. Our ugly parts, the ones we often want to ignore or forget, are much more challenging to accept and appreciate. However, it’s these ugly parts that are the most crucial for us to love in order to be authentic and at peace in our life.

When we think of these ugly parts of ourselves, they’re often things we’re ashamed of, feel guilty about, and try to hide from others (and sometimes even ourselves). They might be parts of our personality, aspects of our body, or even actions or experiences from our past.

The ugly part of myself that I’ve been learning to love is the aspect of my personality that bulldozes people. This “bulldozer” comes out when I want something to go my way and there are others who think it should go another way. My actions and attitude will flatten them and silence their voice.

We are taught from a young age that we can only show our good sides, and we must hide the bad ones. Because we usually hide these ugly parts, we often think we’re the only ones who have them. If we start telling the truth about the ugly parts, we will begin to see that we are not alone – it’s just part of being human.

If we can embrace our humanity with compassion and forgive ourselves for these ugly parts, we don’t have to be driven by the need to hide them. Doing this allows us to become more authentically who we are and also allows us to regain the energy that we’ve used to hold down and hide this ugly stuff.

Sometimes, people confuse “loving” with approving or condoning, especially when our ugly parts hurt others or ourselves. The bulldozer part of me is definitely not something that I approve of or condone. However, “loving” can mean that we give up making it wrong and become more neutral about it. In other words, we accept it as part of being human and part of who we are. I can accept and embrace my bulldozer as one part of the spectrum of my humanness. I don’t have to beat myself up when it comes up, but just own it and apologize when it squashes people.

Here are a few steps to help you love your own ugly and to accept yourself fully:

1. Tell the Truth to Yourself – Before we can shift or change anything, we need to know what we are dealing with. Examine all the thoughts, feelings, and judgments you have about your ugly parts (or some specific ugly part you want to make peace with). It often takes a lot of courage for us to shine a light on something we try to keep in the dark. However, we can’t love or embrace what we can’t see.

2. Be Willing to Give Up the Judgment – Our thoughts and judgments about an ugly part of ourselves can often seem like the “truth.” However, they are just our thoughts and judgments. If we can begin to separate our judgments from the truth, there is space to see something new.

3. Find the Value – Everything has some positive value, even the ugliest stuff. There is a gift, something to appreciate, that this ugly aspect of who you are provides. This is often a difficult step since we have spent so much of our time and energy judging this part of who we are. Although it may be difficult to find, seeing the value of your ugly is the key to finding compassion and forgiveness for yourself.

4. Embrace and Integrate – Once we find the value, we can begin to embrace it for what it gives us rather than hate it for what it takes away. The protective walls containing the ugly part start to fall away. The negative charge around it diminishes. When you embrace and integrate the ugly, you will find more freedom and ease to be your authentic self.

5. Share with Others – Sharing with other people can remind you that you are not alone. Friends and family can also support us by reminding us to love that ugly part when we forget. Sharing can also inspire others to do the same – to love and accept all of who they are.

Please be gentle with yourself as you do this work. It can be quite challenging and vulnerable, but can have a powerful impact on your life in the process. Also remember that you don’t have to do it alone. I often do this work with people I trust since it can be scary to look at the ugly. But, the freedom and peace that comes from doing this, makes it worth it.

Sara Nowlin is a speaker and life coach, specializing in authenticity and self-expression. Her signature program, The Truth about Ugly – Redefining Self-Image, focuses on embracing and owning all of who we are so we can be free to be ourselves. For more information – http://www.saranowlin.com