Vietnam Adventure 16: Leadership – the Ultimate Interior Journey

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Across the spectrum of social, economic, environmental, political and global spheres, leadership challenges are abundant. Now, perhaps more than ever, our world demands the need for wise, grounded, innovative approaches to complex problems. I believe leadership is the duty of every individual on the planet – we are called to lead in our personal lives, our professional lives, our family lives. We are called to care for our communities and our environment. If each of us could see and capture the chance to lead, the ripple effect would be enormous. So especially, are people in positions of leadership called to an extra measure of responsibility? In my experience, the interior life of a leader is the cornerstone, the essence of not only effectiveness, but also sustainability. If we are committed to leading from the inside out, the experience of ourselves and of others can be deeper and richer, bringing greater vitality to our family, social and work communities.

 Why self-care?

As a leader there are inevitable moments where we are asked to inspire, asked to listen and understand, asked to delve into complex issues, asked to create change, and asked to influence without power. Too often we have so many competing priorities. At work there are endless amounts of meetings, tasks, decisions, conversations – to keep up we move swiftly, multi-tasking where we can. At home we may be bombarded with other demands including care for our partners, children, finances, homes, friendships, health and hobbies. Our capacity to respond effectively and authentically hinges upon our capacity to regularly access our inner resources. Perhaps then, it is our duty, our responsibility to discover and commit to practices that create space for clarity, wisdom, peace, discernment, creativity, connection, deep caring and love to emerge. That space can be created through daily rituals which we some refer to as self-care practices. These practices can and should vary based on what is most natural and compelling for you as an individual; it is also important that the practices are continually evolving, bringing fresh energy such that they feel like a life source to you, not another task on the to-do list.

What is self-care?

For some of you the idea of self-care may be a new one, for others it may be somewhat cliché, therefore lacking depth of meaning or purpose. I see self-care as an all-encompassing framework for bringing intentionality into every area of life including our health, relationships, finances, spiritual, intellectual and professional development, etc. Some helping professionals will simplify the concept by making it 3-dimensional – attending to our bodies, minds, and hearts. Needless to say the scope of self-care is vast, and often overwhelming, causing many people to feel they are too busy for self-care. Thus, our focus for today will be on the first step to self-care, and perhaps the most critical one, which is simply committing to a daily practice. By establishing a simple structure within your life, you can find immense freedom to explore and expand what self-care means for you as an ongoing journey.

 Commitment to the practice

The biggest barrier to consistent self-care is nearly always lack of time – I’m sure most of you may be thinking that even now, “how do I add yet another responsibility to my life?” If you begin to see self-care as the ultimate source of strength, inspiration and sustenance not only to your life overall, but in particular to your desire to lead well, you may find self-care rituals quickly rise to the top of your priorities. In my experience, the very best way to ensure self-care is an integral part of your life, is to begin each day with your practice. If it is the very first thing you do when you wake up, absolutely nothing will take priority over it. That may mean waking up just a bit earlier, which leads me to share about another essential element to creating your practice. Commit to an amount of time that is workable for you – you may just have 5 minutes in the beginning, perhaps you have 10 minutes, 30 minutes or more. Trust that whatever amount of time you can generate for yourself in this season will be enough – you can always change it along the way.

Choosing your practice(s)

Now for the question of how to select your self-care practice(s) – recall that what is most important at this stage is developing a steady practice. In that spirit, you may choose your practice by asking yourself some of the following questions – what part of me feels the most neglected right now? What practice feels the most inviting and life-giving right now? What practice would generate the most benefit to my life overall, and specifically in my capacity to lead right now? What practice would be the most accessible to me, the easiest/simplest to incorporate at this time?

Reflecting on those questions, may lead you to clear responses. The range of practices that we may classify as “self-care” is very broad, and certainly should be tailored to what resonates for you as an individual. For those of you who may be drawing a blank at this point, some ideas for self-care practices may include reading and reflecting on an inspirational passage, writing/journaling, meditating, praying, yoga poses, drawing, or walking, to name a few. As you ponder your choices, perhaps it is useful to consider what practice(s) are most likely to bring you into alignment – into a place where your intuition, your intellect and your body can function at their very best. What practices will offer you an authentic connection to the parts of you that bring forth wisdom, clarity, creativity, and in so doing offer you a greater sense of peace, serenity and centeredness?

At its core, self-care is designed to give you to access your whole self – body, mind and spirit – to cultivate the deep, rich inner resources we all have. The practices are also meant to be a container for sorting through the difficult, sometimes painful elements of life and leadership. As we allow ourselves to be with the emotional and mental challenges that invariably come our way, we are able to craft the space to find and experience inner sources of strength, courage and love we may not know we had. I have found this to be true again and again throughout my various roles as a mental health counselor, a yoga teacher, a retreat facilitator, a leader within Higher Education (career development) and most recently in delving into and leading a drowning prevention program within the international development space. Navigating the changes, the risks, the fear of the unknown throughout this adventure that is life, my self-care practices are my safe haven, they are my foundation, and they are my guideposts pointing me toward the next step. I’m grateful that we use the word “practice.” That allows me and all of us room to make mistakes, to revise, to sharpen, to add and eliminate – to refine.

Leadership is an extraordinary privilege; one that I’m honored to share with each of you. My wish for us all is that we may be granted the grace and fortitude to care for and attend to our one precious vessel – the body, mind and spirit we all uniquely possess – in service to inclusive excellence, greatness, and innovation for ourselves and our communities. I leave you with the traditional closing of a yoga and meditation practice – Namaste – “the student and teacher in me bows to the student and teacher in each of you.”