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.

 

Lessons from The World Cup

DempseyScoreI am a BIG World Cup fan! I come from a soccer family – my sister and I both played competitively and dad was a referee. Having come from a soccer family, I am excited to see the World Cup fever take hold here in the States! Having watched USA advance to the knockout round yesterday, I am struck by how much we can learn from the team and apply to our own lives.

Play with Heart - Team USA was placed in the toughest group for the initial round, nicknamed the “Group of Death.” It didn’t matter that they had lost to Ghana in the last two World Cups or that Portugal had Ronaldo, one of the best players in the World. Yet that didn’t stop them or dishearten them…it fueled them to push harder and prove they have the heart and the skills to succeed. They simply BELIEVED.

When you have a tough road to success in front of you, what do you do? Do you let it stop you or slow you down? Or do you push that much harder letting your heart and passion lead you? Do you BELIEVE?

Seize the Opportunity – Find the opportunity and seize it, no matter what! In Game 1, John Brooks scored the winning goal against Ghana. There was little expectation that Brooks would score – He was young and essentially a World Cup rookie. Yet he saw the opportunity come toward him, so stepped forward and scored! After the goal, he could barely believe what he just accomplished, which makes it even more remarkable. His age, his experience, his status on the team didn’t matter. What mattered was the opportunity in front of him.

How often do you step up and seize those opportunities even if you may not be “qualified”? Or do you hold back because you aren’t “ready” or others are better suited?

Success isn’t pretty – Success isn’t about winning every game. Yesterday’s game was a loss, but because we had played so well in the other games, we still made it to the next round. These last two games weren’t necessarily pretty to watch with ending in a tie in the literal last minute against Portugal and playing mostly defense against Germany. Most of the time, success is messy with close calls and losses in the mix. It doesn’t mean that we can’t call it success though.

Do you have a definition of success that narrows your view or creates opportunity to keep moving forward? How can you redefine success so that you can stand in a place of power even in the face of a loss?

I am continually inspired by Team USA as they struggle and strive their way to the next round. It had renewed my passion and desired to make a difference in the world. My success isn’t going to be all victories, but it’s about believing in myself and my work, seizing the opportunities and never giving up.

Team USA plays their next game is Tuesday at 4pm ET against Belgium – I hope you will join me in the World Cup Fever and be inspired to BELIEVE!

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.

Make Yourself Happy – Stop “Shoulding” on Yourself!

Do you find yourself saying “Should” often?  I should be doing better in school.  I should be finding a job for the summer.   I should be thinner.  I should be happier.  I should be a better friend.  I should be a better…fill in the blank.

If we put “should” in front of something we want to change, then it removes any opportunity for choice and inserts a lot of guilt and shame that we aren’t already there. We are “shoulding” all over ourselves and our lives, making a big mess. Once we can clear the “should” out, we can begin to find our own path instead of following the path others want for us.

Once the “should” is out of the way, we can see what we really want, what will make us happy. Our own path may contradict the norm, in fact I can almost guarantee it.  It takes extra courage and strength to follow your own path, to buck the system.  It may not make the family thrilled, it will likely be questioned by those around you, but you are the one who is living your life, not anyone else.  It is up to you to follow your own true path, and make you truly happy.

The best way to find that path is to listen to your inner wisdom, that quiet voice inside that knows your deepest desires and knows what’s best for you.  You may call that voice your gut, your intuition, your soul, Spirit, God, Goddess, or the divine within.  Whatever you may call it, it is important to listen to that voice.  For the purposes of this article, I will refer to it as intuition.  Our intuition is speaking to us all the time, but we may not always be listening.

So how do begin to listen?  Well, first we need to learn why we don’t.  In this society, we are taught to ignore our intuition because it’s just a feeling.  It’s not reliable to make decisions.  We are told to rely only on our logic and the physical evidence.  However, intuition is more than a feeling.  It takes in additional information beyond what our logical minds absorb.  It reads the energy and mood of a situation.  It taps into something bigger than ourselves to guide us in the direction we need to go.  Even if it is counter to our logic, we need to practice trusting our intuition and moving forward from that space.

There are many strategies to listen to the inner wisdom.   Listening to your intuition requires a sense of silence, a few moments where the committee (the chatter in your mind) is quieted enough for the intuition to be heard.  You may already have a few you use: journaling, meditating, prayer, or yoga.

Here is a suggestion that I use all the time. In order to quiet the committee, I take at least 3 long deep breaths. Sometime more if the committee is extra chatty. In that quiet moment, I ask my intuition one of two questions, “What is in my best interest?” if I need to make a choice or  “What do I need to know right now?” when I am experiencing a lot of drama or confusion in my life.  Sometimes it helps to write down the question and then write whatever answer arises.  Whatever strategy you use to listen and follow your true path, do it and do it often.

Once I began to trust my intuition and listen to it more closely, I have found myself to be happier and more fulfilled in life.  It requires courage and strength to go out on your own, but the satisfaction from making your own decisions and following your heart is priceless.

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.

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!