Six weeks ago is when it hit.
A seemingly normal Saturday morning in early October, a great morning to take in a quiet run by myself. An opportunity to slow my life down a bit after an intense couple of months.
As the day progressed, I began to feel a pressure in my head and I just felt off. I stay pretty tuned into my body, how it feels and why and I quietly said to myself “something is wrong.”
Something was wrong and it continued to worsen over the next five weeks. It seemed as each week passed new symptoms arose: back aches, numbness throughout my body, dizziness, nausea, neck pain, lethargy, sore muscles…
My day to day life honestly became the concept of “just put one foot in front of the other” all with a smile on my face. Why the smile? Because mental toughness is my go-to strategy for curve balls in life. Sure, I felt horrible, but I could overcome it with a healthy, positive and determined mental attitude.
And I did for several weeks. Then I grew tired and became downtrodden a bit. It was winning.
Or, was that not it at all?
It was at this point I opened my arms to life and said, “Okay, there’s a lesson I’m supposed to be learning here. What is it?” I said to myself “I’m willing to learn, whatever it is, just reveal yourself to me.”
There was daily physical ailments that challenged me. But, what I know to be true is this: it is during times like this that there is a deeper message to be learned. Something I wasn’t seeing. A lesson to be re-learned, perhaps.
Did I uncover some of the lesson? Sure, part of it, I did.
You see, I had gone two months with a life out of balance. There was a part of my life that demanded a lot of hours at the expense of my exercise, the time to refuel myself and life a life according to what I value most, my family. I can sit here and tell you I thought I had to. I was tasked to do something and the bottom line was it had to be done.
But the truth is that it was at an expense. I know I needed to slow down life, to refuel, to be the best me I could be for the people that mattered most, my son and husband…and me.
I wasn’t being the best me, the whole me, because of that.
I re-examined my scheduled and reprioritized my life, again. I had already started this process prior to the physical pain, but the physical pain forced me to put me first. It forced me to put only the highest priorities at the top of the list.
The physical ailments continued, but so did the reflection and, in time, a bit more balance in my life.
I do think there’s still a bigger lesson I haven’t uncovered yet. And, I may not know that for a while.
Luckily, most of the symptoms have subsided and I’ll get answers to the physical ailments soon.
But, I would end with this: I am grateful for the five weeks of pain. There are lessons in the pain. I am fully confident of that.
I was holding him when it happened.
I had allowed a bit of peace come over me as we were finally at urgent care where a doctor could help my little boy. A very kind-hearted nurse had just left the room after giving Jonas, my three-year-old son, ibuprofen for his increasing temperature. And he even made her laugh despite the fact that his little body was worn out.
And then, moments later after making the nurse laugh, he turned around in my arms, and his body went stiff…and began shaking.
“Focus,” I told myself.
“Lay him on his side. Protect his head. Get help. Then let him have his seizure because there’s nothing you can do.”
That’s what I heard instantly in my head in the five seconds it took me to lay him down and call a doctor for help.
Doctors and nurses came and I had to just let it happen.
It was completely out of my control.
As tears rolled down my face, my son endured his third seizure. I had to step out of the room.
It is beyond difficult to live through those two minutes during the seizure and 10 minutes in his postictal state. I had to let his body do what it was going to do. Even worse, the doctors couldn’t stop it.
I focused on the ony thing I could control…me.
Despite the tears rolling down my face, I steadied my breathing, regained composure and entered back into the room where my son endured this. I waited for his eyes to open.
I knew, if I let myself think about it, the tears would roll again. So, instead I focused on what I had to do.
Be there for him.
As the paramedics loaded him in his car seat so they could transport him to the hospital, he finally showed an awareness of what was going on…he was scared and didn’t want to be in that seat. That’s when I knew he was coming back to us.
I hated this. But, as in all difficult challenges in life, we had a choice. To be courageous despite fear for our son. To be steady and focused. To be composed. And, to be there for him even when we couldn’t control the circumstances or outcome.
I found strength in that moment. I found strength in me.
I don’t ever want anything bad to happen to my son, but I do know it is the most difficult challenges in life that test us, that call us, that even beg for us to be our strongest person.
And, if I can find courage, focus and composure in a time like that, there’s really nothing I can’t handle.
As we return to normalcy tomorrow, I keep things in perspective and am reminded of what I am really capable of.
And, I have a heart of gratitude because my son is now on the mend. There is still the uncertainty of future seizures, but his smile is back and he is back to his old self, always making others smile. (He actually picked up his humor and kindness at the hospital when he called the nurse “pumpkin.”)
Gratitude. Courage. Composure. Focus. Strength. That is what I choose.
I knew the question was coming.
After I left LifePlan, I quickly started this blog and my put my ideas down for a more specific implementation plan. I did this because I knew the success of LifePlan was mostly dependent on me.
And, I knew the question was also coming from a new acquaintance, another LifePlan attendee I had connected with online.
“Do you feel like you’ve stayed on track with your LifePlan?”
Easy question, right? I don’t think it is. It requires revisiting the process, those two days of intense conversation digging into your root system and coming to revelations that you had no idea existed.
As I consider my implementation of LifePlan, I can categorize it two ways:
1) Truths I Discovered in LifePlan
2) Habits & Actions Afterwards
Let us first explore some truths I discovered in LifePlan to see if they still ring true today, four months post LifePlan.
There were many truths that I unveiled during LifePlan, one of which was the source of self-worth. Truth be told, I was struggling a lot those two years prior to my LifePlan in June of 2015 (outlined on my Before LifePlan page). I had transitioned into mid-level leadership and was quite hard on myself when it came to my success in this position. Though I was learning a ton, it was a position that is tricky to navigate through. (See John Maxwell’s book, The 360 Degree Leader for a clearer understanding of the complexities of mid-level leadership). I had an idea of where I wanted to be as a leader and in my career and I wasn’t there yet.
The truth I learned in LifePlan: one’s self worth comes from a higher source.
For some, that is a god. Whether one is spiritual or not, this resonated on a deep level with me. I realized my degree of self worth was tied to my achievement, and my inaccurate perception of my accomplishments. My self doubt, negative, self-talk and sense of failure was increasing because I got my self worth from achievement.
It’s been enlightening to see how this truth, as well as others I learned in LifePlan, have become a permanent part of who I am. I travel between two elementary schools as a part of my job. I was making my way to my car on a quiet and gorgeous fall day and I “heard” something:
It was that truth: “My self worth is not dependent on my success or lack thereof in my job. My worth comes from something higher, and that worth is permanent and unchanging.”
This was incredibly helpful as I navigated through some major work challenges over the last two and a half months. It was freeing. It was just the truth. And, it allowed me to move forward through those challenges in a more healthy and productive manner.
In regard to the “truths” I learned in the LifePlan process, the implementation has been successful. Because there really is no denying them once they are internalized. They give me peace and an enormous degree of gratitude for what they offer me.
The truths I discovered in LifePlan are the lens through which I view my life.
There were many truths that bubbled to the surface during LifePlan, as well as after. Here are some others that I still implement and let guide me on a daily basis.
- We all have a root system and we need to show ourselves and others grace.
- Achievement is partly defined for me as being a good steward with all that I’ve been blessed with so that I can serve a higher purpose.
- Achievement is living a life that matters to me, one that represents my core values.
- Your whole life matters (as author and speaker Matt Ham says), not just your career.
Now, do I have moments where I have to remind myself of these truths? Sure, but here’s what I love. I honestly hear these truths “whispering” themselves to me fairly quickly when I’m struggling.
I don’t get stuck in the struggle.
The impact these truths have had on my life are immeasurable. And, the beauty in truth, is that I personally cannot refute them and thus they become a permanent part of who I am.
In my next post, we’ll explore the second category: Actions and Habits to see if I have successfully implemented those post LifePlan.
“You always put a positive spin on a situation. Why do you do that?”
Joel, my LifePlan facilitator posed that question to me. That question caught me off guard a little bit.
“Umm…I responded. It’s just who I am. I don’t dwell on the negative aspects of life. I feel like I can see through the challenges for the beauty that’s in them.”
In my head, I was contemplating, “Isn’t that a good thing?”
Admittedly, I was a bit perplexed by his question and honestly, I’m still exploring that question. Positivity is a trait that family, friends and colleague have described me by. My pride in that probably comes into play.
Fast forward to today, as I am reading Matt Ham’s book, Redefine Rich: A New Perspective on The Good Life. Matt digs into four principles that are represented by the letters in rich. The first one is Recognize Your Broken.
This particular principle causes me to pause. Even after reading the chapter about brokenness, something is whispering to me to “keep exploring” this principle. What does it mean for me? Why am I caught up on it?
Here’s a peek inside the book and Matt’s thoughts on brokenness.
“This process of understanding brokenness is necessary to obtain the outcome of living richly. In fact, I think we need to work on being broken as a way to grow….Here’s the tension. The world says, You aren’t broken; you’re fine. It’s just a phase.”
Here’s what I do know, I pursued and experienced my LifePlan experience with Joel because I was broken. That has been truth that I’ve known for months now and is outlined on my blog here. It makes sense that I was broken prior to LifePlan, particularly if you look into my root system. That was a past that included an absentee father addicted to drugs. It included verbal abuse where I was consistently told that I was selfish for pursuing goals and constant attacks behind closed doors and in public on my character. I had mentors, but I lacked a consistent guide in life. Thus, I navigated life internally and did the best I could, but it did leave me with misplaced self worth.
But, what about now? Am I still broken? After all the discoveries? Even though I have appropriate placed self worth? Even though my level of content is far beyond what it was a year ago?
There’s a small whisper in me that says a gentle “yes….”
I’m also hearing…
“Here’s the tension. The world says, You aren’t broken; you’re fine. It’s just a phase.”
“You always put a positive spin on a situation. Why do you do that?”
So, what is still broken? Is brokenness a big ginormous elephant in the room that can’t be ignored or can be a small aspect of your life that is broken that prevents complete richness? If so, what is that for me? Does it lie in a choice I’ve made? Am I living life on my terms, not society’s? Am I truly pursuing my passion? Is there a lie I’m still telling myself?
What I do know about brokenness is this. It’s a pursuit, one that I might have thought ended with LifePlan, but perhaps it never ends. Life is challenging and there’s likely always going to be lies that we hear and believe. Maybe the pursuit of overcoming brokeness is always there?
My first inclination is to deny that. I find little value in getting caught up in obstacles in life. But, that’s not what I’d be doing, is it? I would simply be defining the broken aspect and overcoming.
Are you broken? Do you understand that brokenness? Who can you seek out to help you navigate that?
The power of learning how to lead oneself is powerful beyond measure.
As a part of Chris LoCurto’s LifePlan process, you look at your root system. This a journey back in time where you examine those factors in your life, particularly in your childhood, that has led to who you are today. It’s impact on your perspective is immense and allows you to continuously dig deep into the “why’s” of your life.
As I navigate the waters of leadership, I am defining what leadership means to me. I’ve learned it is vital to explore one’s own definition of leadership, because the only leader I could possibly be successful at is the one that uses my unique talents and gifts. Leadership cannot always be defined by a pre-determined list of qualities. Take a listen to Marcus Buckingham refer to this in an EntreLeadership podcast.
I found myself looking into my root system to understand the type of leaders that lies at the heart of who I am.
My childhood lacked a consistent strong role model in regard to growth and improvement. I was raised in poverty. With an absentee father whose main committment was to drugs, and a home life that had dysfunction, I was left to find my own resources for navigating life. I sought those out in the forms of books and mentors and they did indeed play a key role in my life. At the end of the day, though, I was left to the thoughts in my own head to be able to break the chains of poverty–both the financial chains and the mindset shackles.
Ultimately, I had to lead myself to break free of those chains.
As an impressionable teenager, I had to…
Recognize when my actions didn’t line up with my professed values.
Seek out knowledge on psychology, sociology and emotional intelligence.
Be courageous as I took on navigating life on my own.
See the mindset that was facilitated in me and recognize I had the power to change that.
Dismiss the lies in my home that attacked my character and self-esteem.
Push away the thoughts that my circumstances defined me.
If we pinpointed the one thing that allowed me to mature past the mindset in my root system, it would be the fact that I led myself.
Fast forward to today. Can I now use this mindset of leading myself to become a better leader? Absolutely! It’s my strength. It’s second nature to me because I’ve had years of life experiences in leading myself.
Now, I will say that all leaders should be leading themselves. I’m not unique in that. I’m just unique in that my root system, and the necessity that I lead myself to overcome it, positioned me to have this be one of my greatest advantages as a leader.
I an not at all saying leaders should only look within themselves when leading others. However, if a leader can truthfully face their root system, digging through all the positives and negatives of that, and become a better version of themselves…I guarantee you, their tribe will respect, trust and follow them with no hesitation. And, they will position themselves to be the authentic leader that can make a difference in the lives of others.
So, for me, leadership defined, begins with “someone who can lead themselves.”
“I want to master life.”
That’s what I told my LifePlan facilitator. As the words came out of my mouth, there was a nagging thought that said “that’s not true.”
It wasn’t until today, after reflecting on a stressful week last week, that I realized how I needed to shift that mindset.
It’s three months post-LifePlan for me. I’ve been reflecting on my the event and my LifePlan, self-assessing where I’m at. The truth is I’m flawed and some weeks I do better than others. Work demands led me to putting in a lot of hours last week, at the cost of exercise and other things that refuel me like reading and writing. We dove into a weekend with a full schedule. Saturday night hit and I was spent. I hit my point where stress was allowing victim thoughts to enter my thought pattern.
I intentionally did three things that changed that.
I flipped through Rory Vaden’s book, Procrastinate on Purpose. I read these words.
- You need to free yourself of the need to feel like you have to be everything to everyone.
- You have to let go of the absurd idea that you owe everyone an explanation.
- You have to learn to flat out Ignore certain things.
- If the only reason you are doing something is because you feel obligated just because someone asked you to do it–don’t do it.
I was busy at the time, in the midst of “finally” doing duties around the house (something I had neglected throughout the week). But, I put these thoughts in the back of my head.
I listened to Michael Hyatt’s podcast, “How to Finally Achieve Work Life Balance” during an early morning run.
I was reminded of what this means to me…my belief that work life balance is living out my values. Honesty with myself, led me to admit that I didn’t live out my values last week by neglecting being a good steward with my physical health and allowing work to consume me. (Which caused frustration with myself because in LifePlan I said my number one thing that caused me to put my breaks on in life is my health–when I’m not taking care of myself, everything suffers). Granted, there were things with work that had to be done, but I was not strategic enough in setting up my schedule in the first place.
The most important intentional move I made of the weekend….saying no to some things Sunday afternoon that were not priority (despite the fact that they felt demanding) and I retook control of my life–control I had given away. I put on my running shoes and hit the asphalt. I came home and prepared healthy lunches for the week. And, I spent some time alone refueling. Did that mean I didn’t get work done? That is true. But, my mindset is healthy and ready to take on the week. And, I’m no longer a victim.
As I mowed the yard Sunday evening, it hit me. What I said in LifePlan was wrong. I don’t want to master life. I can’t control “life” as I had it defined in that statement–outside influences.
I want to master me.
Because here’s the thing. We are human. We are flawed. We become stressed. We are challenged. We even sometimes have to fight a victim mindset. But, we have so much more power than we claim to. We have power over our thoughts. We have power over our victim mentality (even in the midst of stress, which is when it creeps in on me). We determine our actions. We have the power to shift our mindset.We have the power to live our values.
We have the power to master ourselves.
It was time to go to the doctor. His eyes were red. His nose was a faucet and the sneezing was continuous. My son, Jonas, had never had allergies before, but clearly something was going on. Despite it all, he was his typical happy-go-lucky self. As we approached the desk of the receptionist, I didn’t get a warm and comfy feeling. I got a terse “Who are ya seeing?” I heard a huff and a puff as she pecked at the keyboard. And then Jonas looked at her with his red poofy eyes and light-hearted spirit and smile and said “What’s your name?” This changed her world. She replied with her name and it was as if she snapped back into reality. She admitted she wasn’t feeling good and that was the first time she smiled all day. She thanked Jonas.
One moment. One simple question. One simple smile. (Okay, and maybe the dimples on a two-year-old, curly-haired blonde). But, ultimately, it was one human yearning for connection and reaching out in a way that altered the other’s day.
What we say and do matters.
I began reflecting on my own life. Are there moments in time where time stood still for just a moment because someone impacted me in a small, but profound way. Sure, there were times like that. Here’s one of many:
“I am proud of you,” was not a phrase I heard often. Because of the root system of those around me, I really was left to navigate through ups and downs of high school and life by myself….along with a key mentor, my coach. Because I was immature, lacked guidance from home in how to navigate through life, and still hadn’t shifted my mindset to be completely healthy yet, I struggled through high school basketball, even considered quitting at one point. Through discussions with my coach/mentor, I battled through and got a taste of parental guidance. Following the last basketball game of the season, I was walking to the bus for the return ride home. My coach caught me, looked me straight in the eye and with such conviction said “I am proud of you.” I can still feel to this day, the feeling I had from those five words.
Then, I started thinking, how have my words and actions impacted others in my life? Here’s a couple that come to mind.
- In college, I was a sports and news reporter for the local paper. At the time, I was thinking I was going to be a high school teacher and softball coach. I began writing a sports editorial for our paper. Looking back, that was about me. I wanted to share some thoughts and knowledge about the subject. I wondered if people would read my stuff and what they would think. And, one day, I received a three-page hand-written letter from a coach who had retired from the local school district. He replied to much of what I had written in my editorials and then thanked me. My writing was rekindling something in him that was his passion and he was connecting with it again. My editorial was not just about me.
- I used to coach a competitive softball league for high school girls. One of my parents, out of the blue one day approached me and said thank you. I assumed it had to do with coaching her daughter, but it did not. “Thank you for all the running you do. You inspire me and now I am running, too, and I feel great!” She went on to explain that she would see me out running through our small town, which in turn caused her to do some reflecting on her life. I thought my running was just about me. It was not.
Here’s what I know to be true. Our words and our actions, impact others.
That makes sense right? It doesn’t take much to understand that.
But, here’s the thing…
What if we lived every day, every moment knowing that our words and actions impact others in profound ways?
Would we change how we walk? What we say? Whether we smile at others? Whether we call someone by their name? Whether we lace up our shoes and get outside to run? Whether we express gratitude to others? Whether we extend grace? Etc, etc, etc.
Your life matters. It matters every second. And, not just for you. It’s about you, but it’s also bigger than you.
I am the writer of my life.
I have choice in my setting.
I choose the home I live in, based on my values of living debt free and close to family.That means I am choosing to not live in my dream home yet.
I choose my place of refueling–outside, in the solitude and quietness of the morning.
I choose the place where my talents benefit others. For now, that is a school setting, and specifically in a classroom so that dialogue about students can take place with teachers.
I choose the characters written in my story.
I choose my significant other who I will walk through life with. I choose him daily because of who he is. I choose him in the good times and bad.
I choose to bring children into our life. I choose to make our son one of the most important people we pour into.
I choose my mentors, both face-to-face and the ones found in books and virtually. That means being proactive about contacting mentors of my past. And pursuing mentors of my present.
I choose my friends, who add value, joy and connectedness in my life.
I choose my mastermind, a group of ladies who hold me accountable and celebrate my successes.
Within the pages of my book is the plot of my life, constantly being reaped in the small habits that I partake in.
Sure, I didn’t choose my very beginning, the family I was reared in or their values. But, I did choose to allow them to impact me in a positive way or not to allow them to impact me in a negative way.
I chose to study hard, work hard and be my own person in my K-12 education and athletics.
I choose to exercise on a consistent basis.
I choose gratitude in the small moments of the day.
I choose to lead myself and thus lead others.
I choose to see the beauty in the pain.
I choose to see the beauty in others and in myself.
I chose humbleness and confidence.
I choose courage to be honest with myself.
I choose grace.
I choose to believe that I have significance that is special and unique and will lead to the climax of my story.
I am the writer of my life…and look at the degree of choice I have in it all.
That’s what I heard on my drive to work as I contemplated what small thing I could do that day that would have a big impact on my ability to lead others.
“Lead me.” I wondered, at first, would that be “enough.” to effectively lead others that day?
But, then I paused and considered some of my core values. What I believe…no, what I know to be true is that if I am living by my core values, then I am truly leading myself.
The question is this: Would that also be leading others?
Let’s consider some of my core values.
- Confidence with humility – If I exhibited confidence in the knowledge that I had, while showing humility and a growth mindset with what I didn’t know, would I be leading that day? Of course I would.
- Stewardship – If I kept a focus that day on serving others, contemplating how I could add value to their life, would that be leading others? Yes, it would.
- Authenticity – If I focused on being my true self, capitalizing on my unique strengths and knowing that who I was and what I could provide was not only “enough,” but also “effective” in my role, would that be leading others? That is also true.
- Courage – If during those times of the day when a tough decision had to be made or I had to navigate a difficult conversation or I had to have the courage to do any of my other core values, would that be leading others? It would, because a leader has to exhibit courage, even if standing alone.
After considering just these core values, it was evident to me that what I was hearing (“Lead Me”), was indeed my path to being a great leader.
If found this interesting and powerful. So much of what I listen to and read on leadership is focused on systems thinking, on navigating the personality of others, on the change process, etc. All that is important as well. But, if we’re not leading ourselves during those small moments of the day, we’re not leading.
What are your core values? Let them be your guide. Because whether you’re a leader by title or not, you are a leader in some capacity (a father, a mother, a friend, a neighbor…all our roles have a component of leadership).
We live in a society of bold statements. We like bold statements. They elicit our emotions. They give us the perception that someone is a leader. It can even yield group think.
What if, instead of bold statements, we asked more questions of ourselves, of each other, and of the ideas and beliefs we hold?
Would that not allow us to grow more? Even, if we don’t agree with the answer?
I find this to be true in my work as an instructional coach. Upon entering this field, I felt I had something to offer. I had knowledge due to my voracious reading and passion on the topic of reading and instruction. It was my opportunity to invest in others by sharing that knowledge.
I’ve learned coaching is so much more. In a nutshell, the most effective coaches ask questions. It is during these conversations that those who I coach grow the most. It’s when I don’t offer them all the answers, but allow them to do the reflecting.
Wouldn’t it be quicker to just tell them what they need to know? Sure, and sometimes the situation necessitates that. But, are we going for quicker or more effective and lasting impact? When I facilitate questioning in a way that allows them to have their own aha’s, the impact is permanent. When, I tell them what they “need” to know, the impact is short-lived.
Applying this to my personal life, I would say this. I could easily make bold statements about who I am and the beliefs that I hold. But, there’s no growth in that, because I’m discussing the truths I already know or the truths as I currently understand them. But, if instead of that, I challenged myself with questions about my talents, my beliefs and the direction in my life, would that not lead to more growth?
For example, I could quickly say “courage” is my top core value, because it allows me to attain my other core values. It’s a simple, yet bold statement that….stops right there.
Or, I could ask myself: How am I applying courage to my everyday life? Did I have courage when I was challenged on a topic at work? Did I have courage to address a difficult conversation with my husband. Did I have courage to entertain the possibility that I could be wrong about something? You see, it is these questions that allow growth. Not the statements.
What questions do you need to ask yourself today? What questions do you need to ask your team? What questions do you need to pose to your spouse?