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

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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

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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!

Taking Leadership Beyond the Obvious

We often associate leadership with an impressive title. If we’re not President or Captain, we might not consider ourselves to be leaders. But leadership doesn’t require a title.

Leadership is an attitude–a way of being–any person can express in any moment. Yes, of course we can lead in an official leadership role, like Class President; but we can make just as much of an impact from the middle or even the bottom of the pack. Who says you can’t be a leader as a center midfielder on the soccer team; or even as…a freshman!

By following these simple principles, we can be a leader in any area of our lives:

Follow Your Gut – This isn’t probably taught in most MBA programs, but it is a powerful tool in your leadership toolbox. Your gut, your wise inner voice, is incredibly useful if you pay attention and listen to it. The inner voice is often ignored if there is no hard evidence to back it up. But the inner voice is incredibly wise and is speaking up for a reason. Listen to it – it can bring you success and take you down the right path. Trust yourself and the inner voice to carry you down the road of success.

Own Your Successes and Failures – We need to look at both our successes and failures with a keen eye to recognize where we stand. Honoring the successes, no matter how big or small, gives us an opportunity to see our brilliance, as well as shows us how we can stretch even further next time. Owning our failures gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the risks we’ve taken, and what we can learn for our next adventure. The more objective we can be in this assessment of successes and failures, the easier it will be to further develop ourselves as leaders.

Ask for Support – While often leaders try to be the “Lone Ranger” by trying to get it done all on our own, we limit what can be accomplished with just one person. As a recovering “Lone Ranger,” I have found that true leaders look beyond themselves to focus on the larger goal and seek support to accomplish that goal. The more support we have, the larger the goal we can tackle. Remember to view your support team as leaders too, so they too can step up in big ways.

In any moment, whether at school, home or hanging out with your friends, you may be called to step up and lead. If you remember to trust your gut, own your successes and failures with a keen eye, and seek support with the larger goal in mind, you will have the tools to lead successfully in any situation.

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.”

Mentoring – A Crucial Tool for Success

Mentoring is one of the most effective tools for success, both personally and professionally. Utilizing the people around us to enhance our skills and confidence, connect us with important people, and advise us in challenging moments creates a more direct path to achieving our personal and professional goals. Effective mentors open the doors to success rather than needing to break them down ourselves.

Spotting a Mentor
– Mentors are everywhere – sitting across the conference room table, but also across the table in Starbucks. By looking outside the box, the opportunities are endless. Don’t just stop at one mentor either, find many. A variety of mentors can support different mentoring needs, which also prevents over-relying on just one person to meet all of our mentoring needs. The more people looking out for our best interests, the better.

Utilizing a Mentor – Clear communication of expectations allows the mentoring relationship to be successful. It’s essential to clearly express the mentoring needs: acclimating into a new position, attaining a job or promotion, or seeking advice on navigating group politics. Knowing the mentoring needs, a potential mentor can assess how successfully he/she can meet those needs. Equally important is a structure that works for both parties, whether it’s face-to-face meetings every two weeks or occasional email exchanges. Ensuring both parties are clear in the expectations minimizes frustration and disappointment, creating a more effective relationship.

Keeping a Mentor – A mentoring relationship is first and foremost, a relationship. Both parties need to benefit from the relationship in order to sustain it over a long period of time. Invest the relationship with time and attention by getting to know the mentor as a person. This will also provide opportunities to reciprocate and support the mentor, further investing in the relationship. Mentoring relationships, like any relationships, require attentive care to ensure it’s mutually satisfying and therefore, long-lasting.

Investing in strong mentoring relationships allows us to gain access to information and opportunities vital to our development by looking for mentors outside the box, expressing expectations clearly and investing in the relationship. While enjoying the benefits of being mentored, remember to pay it forward and mentor others along their journey.