BUT FIRST, LISTEN
Practicing a mindset of Stoic Empathy allows you to endure hardship gracefully while maintaining healthy emotional connections with yourself and others.
When I was a young girl, my father used to read me the poem If by Rudyard Kipling, just as his father used to read it to him. The poem was framed above my little bed and was illustrated with all my favorite African animals — a giraffe, an elephant, a lion, a zebra.
After receiving heartbreaking news from the doctor a few weeks ago, I found myself Googling Kipling in need of his poem’s wisdom. The beginning of the second stanza stood out to me:
Stop dealing with stress through control and start reducing it through connecting to your authentic self.
Nothing lasts forever — not even stress. No matter how intense a problem or how significant a challenge, life moves on eventually. This too shall pass, as the Sufi poets taught us.
Of course, understanding the inherent ephemerality of life does little for us when we’re in the thick of a problem. All things may be temporary, but stress sure does feel permanent when it sinks its teeth in. It doesn’t matter what we do or how hard we try, we can’t seem to shake it. The stress, the challenge, the problem sticks around.
In times of small challenges and big ones, the first thing we can do is just listen.
Taking the time to actively listen to ourselves, others, and the world around us not only gives us knowledge and insight but calmness and stability too.
What is your mind, body, spirit trying to show you?
What are others trying to tell you with their words, body, actions?
What are the trees, birds, winds, rivers trying to teach you?
The answers are within and around us, we just need to first be able to listen for them.
You cannot find fulfillment without first knowing what fulfillment looks like to you.
You cannot show empathy and compassion to others without first showing empathy and compassion to yourself.
You cannot correctly interpret what you sense in the external world without first correctly sensing what lies in your internal world.
Self-wisdom is the prerequisite to worldly wisdom.
It’s not about denying your innate exposure, it’s about leveraging it for success.
There is no denying that by nature we are vulnerable. As human beings and social creatures, we are naturally open to attack and capable of being hurt. But it is also true that by nature we don’t want to be attacked or hurt. As a result we find we’re always doing all we can to protect ourselves and hide what we see as our weakness.
Herein lies the vulnerability paradox. To be innately vulnerable while denying our vulnerability seems to be what is at the heart of being human, and more so, of being a leader.
The more we deny our vulnerability, the less influence we have on the world, the people around us, and ourselves. The more we hide away from what makes us feel uncomfortable, the less fulfillment and connection we experience.
It’s not about right or wrong but about finding the best path forward with what you know.
Decisions, decisions, decisions.
Every day we make hundreds of them. What outfit to wear. When and where to go for lunch. How to word that important email. We make so many decisions so frequently that for the most part we’re not even aware of the decision-making process. It’s intuitive, quick and pain-free.
But as we move through life, inevitably some decisions arise that feel neither quick nor easy. They dig in and take root in our brains and our hearts and force us into a state of turmoil, often for weeks, months or even years at a time. The more we think about them, the less clear the path forward seems. Easy answers elude us. Trade-offs and trip-ups lurk everywhere.
Rarely do we solve problems by staring at a screen. Our best ideas come when we step away and look out - when we daydream. Here's some steps to do so.
Riding the subway home the other day I caught myself daydreaming. It was a wonderful feeling. The rattling of the train, the faces and the sounds around me ... all of them slipped away as my brain turned in on itself. I felt my ideas start to wander. I felt the joy of discovery, watching where my brain roamed free of my own judgement, free to just be.
I used to daydream all the time. I was known for it back in high school in Australia. I remember sitting cross-legged in a circle of girlfriends. Everyone would be talking and I would zone out. My friends knew the look — my gaze went distant, my eyes stopped blinking.