Serving Others By Serving Yourself: Lessons from a Recovering Workaholic

Photo courtesy of Blue Moon in her Eyes

A couple weeks ago, I hit the wall. Hard.

This Workaholic’s Intervention

Let’s take a short trip down memory lane. *cue rewind sound effect*

“I get that you like to serve others–you’re a ‘server,’ like me. But sometimes, serving others looks like crawling into a cave to rest.”

These wise words were spoken to me right after I hit the (figurative) wall.

I was about to begin assisting Day 2 of a 3-day CTI workshop. Despite the fact that I was feeling physically exhausted, feverishly ill and extremely emotional, I had sucked it up and shown up at the workshop, determined not to let anyone down.

Wise Words About Connection and What It Means to Step From The Heart

My vision for the HeartStepping movement is to inspire others (that means you!) to embrace connectedness and connected action. To know deeply that you are not alone, and also to know that no one can replace the unique qualities and superpowers that make you, well, you.

But my goal is not to create a tribe of followers of me. Rather, it’s to make way for a tribe of leaders who create and inspire in their own unique ways.

Because what I have to say is nothing brand new, really. I’m offering up my thoughts and wisdom here in ways that reflect my own unique message and experience–but the elements are all pieces I’ve gotten from other wise people along the way.

So, in the spirit of not making this all about me, this post honors the fact that I am connected to those who’ve shared their messages with me, as well as those of you I’m sharing my message with.

Here are words of wisdom from others who have at some point influenced or inspired me. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list by a long shot. If I wanted to, this collection of quotes could go on for days! (I’ll spare you that, don’t worry.)

The following quotes highlight some key definitions of HeartStepping.

Honoring Wholeness In Ourselves

HeartStepping sometimes means connecting with our heart, our center, our core. It means tapping into ourselves for the sake of healing, and being fully present.

“When you honor your body temple and begin to achieve balance and union, all manner of cosmic doors and windows begin to open. Through them, you see to another level of consciousness. You let go of old wounds and all hatred. You begin to see the good in the universe, not just the bad, and you see the same goodness in yourself (after all, you are but a reflection of the universe).”
–Bikram Choudhury, Bikram Yoga

Bikram yoga played a huge role in my own healing process, and his quote describes my experience to a tee. Through a year and a half of dedicated practice, I went from feeling numb yet uncomfortable in my body to feeling truly connected to the universe. Many times, as I lay in the final relaxation pose after many a Bikram yoga class, I felt a sense of intense gratitude at how both precious and universal each of us human beings is. Our bodies are full of emotion, energy, and wisdom, and “yoga”, which literally means “union”, was instrumental in my own journey to uniting and transforming my mind, body, and spirit.

“‘Opening our heart’ may enhance our feelings of compassion and unconditional love, but it only transmits a fragment of our self. Without integrating the other energetic centers of the body, we cannot effectively manifest love or a sense of wholeness.”
–Donald Epstein, Healing Myths, Healing Magic

My sister is a Network Spinal Analysis practitioner–a practice derived from chiropractic that was created by Donnie Epstein. I’ve gotten network care from her for years, and I love the whole philosophy behind the practice, which is all about honoring the unique rhythms, strategies, and wisdom of our bodies. Donnie offers an expanded view of healing that incorporates our whole bodies and selves, not just our “heart center” that’s the seat of our emotions. In HeartStepping, I define “heart” loosely to include any and all of our energetic centers. It’s really about taking action that is connected and conscious of what’s inside and outside ourselves, whatever and wherever that may be.

“Concentration is a narrowing down of the mind. But we are concerned with the total process of living and to concentrate exclusively on any particular aspect of life, belittles life.”
–Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do

My family used to watch Bruce Lee‘s movies with an immense sense of pride–thinking that because he was Chinese and we were Chinese, he was practically our brother! In my view, Bruce Lee’s mindset and wisdom were just as breathtaking as his skill as a martial artist. In this quote from his book laying out the philosophy of his own martial arts methodology, he also points to the importance of expanding our view of life to encompass wholeness. When we try to break things, people, and our environment down into their parts, we miss the synergy of how it all works together.

Stepping Forth With Courage

Did you know the word “courage” derives from the word “coeur,” which literally means “heart”? Sometimes HeartStepping means courageously moving forward.

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time…”
–Andre Gide

Andre Gide was a French author who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947. This quote of his inspired me to finally take the leap of faith of quitting my 7-year career as a software engineer to become a full-time coach. It reminded me that at the end of the day, regardless of how meticulously I had prepared myself financially for the career change, it wasn’t possible to predict the future, and that was okay. I knew I would face uncertainty for a time, but the new lands I was setting out to discover were well worth it!

“We are practicing not weightlifting but commitment. Commitment spawns success. Only by redoubling our efforts do we best succeed. Expecting success to motivate our efforts is the loser’s gambit.”
–Greg Glassman, creator of CrossFit

I’ll never forget a session I had with my own coach in which I expressed a fear of what would happen if I failed to succeed at my new career. I thought it meant I’d have to give up my new career altogether–until I started comparing my new career to a really tough CrossFit workout. My coach asked me, “So what is the equivalent of failure in a CrossFit workout?” “Dropping the barbell,” I replied. “And what do you do if you drop the barbell?” “Well duh, I just pick it up again–OH!! I get it!” That’s why I love doing and teaching CrossFit. It doesn’t just make you fit–it changes your mindset about what’s possible, and busts through the limits of what you thought you could achieve.

Connecting With Our Passion

HeartStepping is also a way of guiding ourselves through life using our own internal compass. When we connect with what our instincts tell us, we create powerful results.

“Masters focus on what they do best. That’s how they become masters. They stay in their zone, and the zone is what feels good. Damn good.”
–Danielle LaPorte, The Fire-Starter Sessions

Danielle LaPorte is a wisdom- and truth-teller, blogger, and author, and seems to be everywhere these days, taking the world by storm! And deservedly so; she is bold, inspiring, and insightful. She’s all about finding and doing what feels good, and creating momentum for yourself and your passion that way. Have you ever been paralyzed by a sense of obligation and heavy, heavy boredom? I sure have! Danielle’s work is a breath of much-needed fresh air that teaches you how to leverage your talents with ease.

“Do you want to dwell in a peaceful abode, with a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose? Or do you want to wander the corridors of a House of Horrors where ghastly apparitions appear without notice? It’s your choice. And only your choice. And it is far, far better to live in the bosom of a benevolent Universe.”
–Srikumar Rao, Are You Ready To Succeed? Unconventional Strategies to Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life

This book by Srikumar Rao is refreshing in its straightforward simplicity. He also makes a strong disclaimer at the beginning of the book that none of his ideas are brand new, and that he’s merely compiled them from other wise people before him. In this quote, he makes it crystal clear that we are ultimately at choice in how we experience life. As my coaching clients discover all the time, we get to choose the perspective we live in. Learning to become aware of our perspectives, and to consciously choose ones that empower us into resonant action, can transform what’s possible our lives.

Bringing Our Hearts Out

Another flavor of HeartStepping is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in front of others.

“In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right?” His voice dropped to a whisper. “But here’s the secret: in between, we need others as well.”
–Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

Such an endearing quote, isn’t it? I’m sure you’ve at least heard of this book, if you haven’t read it. It’s full of the true-story wisdom of Morrie, a man dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. What I love most about Morrie’s story is how fully he accepts and surrenders to his utter vulnerability and dependence on others, and how much he is loved as a result. So many of us strive to be ultra-independent, thinking that makes us brave. I know I’ve certainly fallen into that thinking. In many cases, it’s actually our willingness to need others that takes the most courage of all, and that allows others to connect with us.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
–Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Brene Brown kicks ass, in my book. If you haven’t watched her quintessential TED talk on the power of vulnerability, do it now! Her concept of wholeheartedness is all about how we as humans crave belonging, and how we must believe in ourselves and our worthiness to truly open ourselves to human connection. Her ideas have been a huge inspiration to me as I’ve created HeartStepping. In many ways, HeartStepping could be defined as “applied wholeheartedness” or “wholehearted leadership.”

We Have Impact

HeartStepping is also about stepping off the “island” mentality that isolates us from others, and simply realizing that we are all connected, and that we always have impact on others, whether we’re conscious of it or not.

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
–Marianne Williamson

I think this quote is on many, many people’s all-time favorite lists, so I won’t belabor the point too much. Basically, whatever we do to bring our true selves out and into the open, benefits others as well. ‘Nuff said!

“The point is that we all learn from one another every day. You can learn to improve yourself, or to advance in a discipline. You can also pass on your knowledge and influence to others. See: great power, great responsibility.”
–Chris Guillebeau, The Art of Non-Conformity

This quote is from a recent post by Mr. Non-Conformity himself–creator of the World Domination Summit and other fun goodies. Chris’s blog turned into a full-on movement, and the worldwide community he’s created around living a bold and unique life is totally inspiring! I really appreciated the message of this post: that we all have the power to influence others, and that being conscious of our impact is therefore important.

The Best Leaders Serve the Greater Whole

Finally, HeartStepping is about leadership that’s connected and conscious. Connnected to a sense of compassion and purpose, yes, but also connected to a sense of the greater whole. Here the “heart” really refers to higher wisdom, intuition, and sensitivity to what’s present in ourselves and in our world.

“…the meltdown of old organizational forms from a hierarchical wiring diagram into the mandala of a web, along with the ascendance of teamwork, increases the importance of traditional people skills such as building bonds, influence, and collaboration.”
–Daniel Goleman, Working With Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, who coined the terms “emotional intelligence” and “social intelligence,” has raised awareness of the fact that it takes much more than book smarts to be a successful leader. Here, he notes that the nature of our organizational structures is changing, and increasingly require us to connect with and work with others on real, human levels. To thrive in today’s world requires greater awareness of complex relationships and group dynamics.

“A true Master is not the one with the most students, but one who creates the most Masters.
A true leader is not the one with the most followers, but one who creates the most leaders.
A true king is not the one with the most subjects, but one who leads the most to royalty.
A true teacher is not the one with the most knowledge, but one who causes the most others to have knowledge.
And a true God is not One with the most servants, but One who serves the most, thereby making Gods of all others.”
–Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Book 1

While I don’t personally ascribe to any particular religion, I have a rich spiritual experience of the world, and I am often fascinated and inspired by the common messages and threads of various religious beliefs. In this book, Neale Donald Walsch goes through a written correspondence with himself, and he believes God is speaking through him. The book literally reads like a dialogue between himself and God, and whatever the truth may be, there is a lot of beautiful wisdom in the book. The above quote is from the book’s God character, and it really points to the selfless nature of leadership. It’s not about being given praise, power, or respect. It’s about being of service.

“A fixer has the illusion of being causal.
A server knows he or she is being used
In the service of something greater,
essentially unknown.

Fixing is a form of judgment.
Serving is a form of connection.”
–Unknown

The above quote is an excerpt from a poem I encountered while going through CTI’s Co-Active Leader Program. It distinguishes between “fixing” or “helping” and “serving. Fixing and helping frames things as being wrong, weak, or in need of fixing, and creates an “I’m right, you’re wrong, let me help you” energy. Serving, on the other hand, is less divisive, less self-seeking or judging, but fosters connection, respect, and encouragement–all important qualities of a leader.

Do You HeartStep?

So there you have it folks. I didn’t make this stuff up all by myself!

Which of the above definitions of HeartStepping resonate with you the most? What other definitions can you think of that I haven’t touched on here? And how does (or could) HeartStepping enhance your experience of connection with yourself, others, and your world?

Step on, my friends!

Father’s Day Reflection: On Respect, Honoring, and Looking Again

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and it was a difficult day for me.

It was the first Father’s Day since my own father passed away a few months short months ago of an unidentified disease. I spent the day with my mother, my sister, and my fiance. I’m not gonna lie; I was a hot mess. I felt the loss of my father ever more, and was at times full of heartache, tears, and wishing that things could be different.

But though the day brought fresh waves of grief into the forefront of our hearts and minds, I also had a chance to reflect on what it really means to honor someone on their special day.

2 weeks ago at my last retreat within CTI’s Leadership Program, one of the leaders asked us to treat each other with “respect.” She broke the word down into its roots: “re-“, meaning “again,” and “-spect”, meaning “to look.” She said that to “respect” someone is to be “willing to look again” at them with fresh eyes.

“You’ve all grown a lot the last 10 months,” she said. “Be willing to look at each other as you are today, not as you were 10 months ago.”

What a profound concept. So often in relationships, we develop assumptions and expectations of people, until we stop being curious and open with them. We think they’ll never do anything to surprise us. This is especially true with family, who in most cases comprises of the people who’ve known us the longest.

And what’s worse, it’s not just that our family members fail to see us as the people we are today. We actually show up differently, too. In my college days, I used to get so frustrated with myself, because on my own I’d be totally self-sufficient, responsible, and proactive. Then when I’d go back to my parents’ house to visit, I would find myself slipping back into the listless, admittedly lazy, and spoiled child of yesteryear. No one expected me to show up any differently, and it was easy to slip back into that familiar role and pattern within that familiar context.

The best way we can truly honor the people we love is to respect them–to commit to looking at them again with fresh eyes, and not to move through our relationships with them on auto-pilot. The best relationships are those in which we get to continually show up as our whole selves even as we evolve and grow over time.

Father’s Day, or any other day that honors one of these special people, be it a birthday, an anniversary, or any other celebration–is the perfect opportunity to really put this into practice.

Yesterday, I took my family to Santa Cruz to sit on the beach, and we each told stories of memories we had with my dad. A lot of these stories were ones we all already knew–but in telling those stories again, we treated them with respect. We were able to look again at the experiences, to see them again and fill in some of the details for each other that we’d missed. And most importantly, we were able to truly honor and celebrate my dad, even in his absence.

It was a beautiful moment.

How did you honor and pay respect to the father(s) in your life yesterday? What relationships in your life could use a fresh dose of curiosity and looking again? I’d love to hear stories in the comments, if you have any!

And remember: you don’t have to wait until Father’s Day next year to practice respect and curiosity. Life is short, and every day is an opportunity to connect with the person in front of you.

The Gift of Discomfort

Do you ever notice how when a theme pops up in your life, it tends to show up in not one place, but all OVER the place?

I’ve been observing discomfort in myself and all around, and understanding ever more deeply: discomfort is the ultimate guidepost for growth.

When you hear the word “HeartStepping,” maybe you think it means stepping towards what feels “good” or “right”. About doing what feels full of love, resonant, earnest. And you’d be right–it absolutely is all of those things!

Except when it’s not. (Yeah, I know you saw that one coming!) There are many situations where discomfort is a sign of good things happening.

Discomfort Grows Confidence

The other day, one of our members at CrossFit Kindred wrote an eloquent reflection on her CrossFit journey, including a beautiful acknowledgement of Jeff and me that made me feel on top of the world! But the piece, the lesson, that really stuck out from what she wrote: her path to discovering what she was capable of was damned UNCOMFORTABLE–let’s just say the word “HELL” was used at some point.

She said she “stepped out of her comfort zone” and it hurt. But she persevered, and eventually, what was uncomfortable in the beginning became easier.

But more important than the fitness gains was the victory they represented. She gained a huge sense of confidence in having made the impossible possible. She learned that she could be uncomfortable, doubt herself, step into the unknown–and she could prevail. And when this level of empowerment is created, it begs the question: What ELSE are you capable of?

Discomfort Indicates Meaning

Another thing discomfort does is to indicate that you’re doing something meaningful. When I quit my unfulfilling career in software development, I spent a lot of time at first creating financial projections, making plans, educating myself, all in preparation for the moment. Yet, at the end of the day, I had to accept the feeling of being exposed–that I was stepping out on my own, removing the safety net, and that my decision might be judged, especially if I failed.

Later, in creating the concept for this blog, I was surprised to discover just how difficult it was for me to receive feedback on it! Here I was, unfurling the message of my heart, my deepest yearnings and sense of purpose in the world, and displaying it for the world to see. When at first people weren’t getting what it was I was trying to articulate, it felt painful. I was afraid I wasn’t being seen, that my message wasn’t important, that it wasn’t going to have the impact I was hoping for.

In both cases, discomfort had come from a feeling of vulnerability. I was terribly afraid of failing or being rejected in these endeavors. Yet, looking underneath the discomfort, what it really drove home to me was how important each of these steps were to me. They were both so aligned with my sense of purpose and meaning, that I really REALLY wanted them to work out well.

The lesson here? Experiencing discomfort can be a good sign that you’re making changes that are near and dear to your heart!

Discomfort Precedes Learning

Last weekend, I assisted a coach training course at CTI. At every single one of these courses, students experience all sorts of discomfort as they go through the failures, confusion, and frustration that are a part of the learning process. For that reason, the course leaders like to remind students about the 4 stages of learning:

  1. unconscious incompetence: “I’m blissfully unaware that I don’t know this.”
  2. conscious incompetence: “Oh crap! I don’t know this! How will I ever get there?”
  3. conscious competence: “I’m getting the hang of this–but it still feels awkward.”
  4. unconscious competence: “It’s second nature.”

What they point out about these 4 stages is that being in the training course involves a whole lot of being at learning stages 2 and 3. And they also point out this fact: Being at stages 2 and 3 is NOT comfortable! Yet, it’s a necessary part of building new skills and understanding.

Discomfort Inspires Connection

Another theme that came up in this weekend’s coach training course was the importance of wholeness in creating intimacy. The CTI course leader spoke of how, at birth, we have a whole range of ways we can be–but as we grow up, we learn to narrow down the ways we act, the things we say, and even how we think based on how we’re received by others.

This isn’t always a bad thing, yet it’s a slippery slope that can kill relationships. We think, “My husband/wife/friend/brother reacted badly when I expressed this particular emotion/discussed this particular subject/made this particular suggestion. I guess I won’t express/discuss/suggest this thing anymore around him/her.” And before we know it, we’re no longer fully expressed around our loved one. We feel less connected, and experience less intimacy and authenticity around those people.

Ironically, this impulse to avoid conflict (and therefore discomfort) by narrowing down our range of expression comes from an underlying desire for belonging, acceptance, and companionship! But true intimacy doesn’t come from always staying within the range of what’s comfortable. To truly connect with others and feel seen, we must make ourselves available to be seen. When we are willing to be vulnerable, we allow others to see our humanity, and give them permission to be human around us too.

Working with Discomfort

Not all discomfort is created equal. I’m not suggesting you should strive to be uncomfortable all the time; that’s not sustainable! And some kinds of discomfort or pain are good indicators that you should stop what you’re doing, not push through.

The key is this: be present with your discomfort. Don’t run away from it at the first sign of difficulty. And don’t ignore it, grit your teeth, and try to plow through without feeling any of it, either.

Breathe into it. Acknowledge it. Even get curious about it. As you grow your capacity to feel discomfort, you will free yourself up to grow, create, and connect.