I love this time of year. It’s my favorite season. I call it “late summer.” The crisp air in my morning walks, the dropping temperatures, and the leaves beginning to turn remind me of going back to school, my days of harvest on the farm, starting a new year of teaching, and beginning a new business cycle.
And even though there is a lot that seems different this year with the pandemic, I’m still embracing the emerging fall.
Here are four keys to protect your mental and physical health heading into colder months:
1) Get outside. I’ve learned in my life that the way to grow through discomfort is to move toward what ails you, not away from it. There’s no growth in the comfort zone, so if you are going to grow and flourish, move toward what ails you, not away from it. The weather is the same way. If it’s windy or cold or stormy, put on the clothes that match the weather, get out and enjoy whatever is there. Pushing yourself through a little discomfort is good for both the mind and the body.
2) Don’t purchase collective disease. I’m hearing a murmuring of voices these days that say, “we’ll get another wave of COVID when the days get colder and flu season hits,” but I’m not allowing it to frighten me. I am embracing life too much right now to let any cynic bring me down with more depressive thoughts. They don’t serve me well and I don’t think they serve the world.
3) Live with purpose. A purpose or vision is a powerful force in one’s life. My purpose of making a difference in people’s lives through teaching and writing was shaken last March when people immediately stopped hiring speakers. When the pandemic hit, I faced depressive thoughts, self-doubt, and fear. I temporarily lost my purpose, but after facing the dark night of my soul and considerable reflection, I began to realize that my purpose lay not in what I do but who I am. With a steadfast purpose to continue to teach and a vision to shift my work to an online format, we developed a three month virtual Authentic Leadership Development Masterclass: https://ally-stone-9892.mindmint.com/landing_page_8o9taxbvabex0il3g7b4
While self-doubt, fear, and depressive thoughts still surface at times, having a renewed sense of purpose dissolves the negativity and empowers me with regenerated energy.
4) Don’t be distracted by the detractors. It seems to be human nature to succumb to negativity, self-pity, and self-absorption by binge watching Netflix or endless internet surfing. Rising above what is easy and comfortable by responding to a vision of possibility is where self-respect is born. Envision yourself as healthy or create a business that will make the world better or learn a new skill that will challenge and inspire you. Then turn off the TV, set your devices down, unplug the news, and go get some exercise, sign up for an online class that inspires you, check out a recovery group, or pick up a book and start studying. Stop complaining about the world and start doing your part to make it better. Do this not because it will make you better than others but because of what it will do for you.
I have always loved the words of the great Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, when he said, at the age of ninety-three, “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
As a parent, I have learned that children are great imitators. The key is to give them something great to imitate. Michelle Skene, principal of The Ridge at Kanata Montessori School, where my daughter teaches, sent an inspiring note to parents as they prepare to send their children back to school this week. Her message reminded me of what it takes to be an authentic leader right now. Not just in the home and in the school, but also in the workplace.
“During challenging times,” wrote Michelle, “children of all ages look to their parents and adults for guidance. They observe carefully how we act and take their lead from us. They learn from what we do far more than from what we say. If we are patient and positive, they will be patient and positive.” If we are critical and negative, they will adopt the same approach. If we are fearful and hesitant, they will be fearful and hesitant. If we are courageous and decisive, they will follow suit.
Michelle then challenged her students’ parents to begin the new year with a renewed commitment to serve our children by role modeling the people we want them to become. “Your children and our students need us more than ever to be at our best and we will not disappoint them.”
This is the work of an authentic leader. You can inspire the people around you by being the change you want to see in others.
While our public health leaders are asking us to do what’s best for society by following public health protocols, no one is asking us to be afraid. Of course, it is natural to be fearful in new and unfamiliar territory. But we can decide to be courageous even in the midst of anxiety and uncertainty. We aren’t born courageous; courage is an inner muscle we strengthen by learning to deal with difficult situations. Growth lives outside the comfort zone.
This is a time when we are being sorely tested. And courage can be displayed in ways large and small every day. Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s learning to overcome it. Courage is also about accepting that we can’t always get everything we want and have things the way we want them to be. Nothing is ideal for anyone these days. Hardships are a part of life. Coming to grips with all this will be good for us – now and in the long run.
What we are dealing with today, at least in this country, is mostly about inconvenience and annoyances more than anything else. Sure, there will be severe economic and mental health challenges in the days ahead, but with our courage and compassion we will get through this in our own imperfect way.
Authentic leadership is about modeling the way. Let’s choose courage. Let’s lean into what we are afraid of. Let’s show ourselves and those around us that we can do this – and do it together
I was lamenting with a colleague about how we all have areas in our lives and our leadership that drive other people crazy, cause damage to the world around us, and hurt the people we care about. And we are blind to them. That’s why we call them blind spots in our leadership development program. So much of what we bring to the world causes harm and requires intentional work to improve our leadership, and yet has become so habitual that we aren’t even aware of it. It all seems fine to us, but we are blind to how destructive it can be.
So it would appear that perhaps the eruption of anger toward inequality and discrimination in our society is a reckoning of our own blind spots around the issue of racism. Professional athletes this week have reminded us all that there is something more important at work here than winning games, making money, and the achievement of goals.
It seems to be human nature to avoid problems and dodge the truth. After all, who wants to look at the financial ledger of our businesses or our lives? It’s easier to procrastinate a visit to the doctor than face lab work results. It’s easier to avoid facing the difficulties in a marriage than confront what’s really going on. Who wants to admit they have an addiction and actually do something about it?
It’s easy to criticize leaders in an organization for not facing reality or confronting brutal facts and acting on the implications. But how many of us do this in our own lives? And it’s easy to judge the racism we see around us, but what about the unacknowledged prejudice within us?
I recently spoke to a high-ranking public service leader who publicly made a statement that there was systemic racism in the culture that she led, and she was taking action to rectify it. She opened herself to much criticism from her employees, but her courage to face reality demonstrated the strength of her character. It also deepened her credibility and the respect of her best employees.
We all have our prejudices. Only when we own up to them and face this reality will we begin to heal the world – and heal our lives. Helping people see their blind spots is a large part of the work we do in our retreats and online programs for developing authentic leaders (see www.davidirvine.com).
There are specific actions you can take to change the world by facing some of your own racism blind spots. Let’s do our part to heal the world by taking personal accountability:
- Speak to someone you know well who is different from you – in gender, race, ethnic background, or sexual orientation – and ask if they have experienced you being prejudiced, disrespectful, judgmental, or insensitive – and how. Say thank you and listen carefully to what they have to say. Be sincerely open to learn from them.
- If the level of honesty about these questions may be in doubt, invite the people you work with to provide the answers to these questions anonymously.
- If they honestly don’t perceive you as prejudiced, then still take time to listen to what they have to say. If something in you gets triggered, resist the human tendency to get defensive and instead use the trigger to open a new door to learn something. It’s important to begin the dialogue.
- Treat all diversity as an opportunity to learn and face the truth. It’s a life-long endeavor, and one worth pursuing – for the sake of a good life and for the sake of the survival of our species.