Over the last four months, fear has taught me some truths.
Truth #1: Fear is real. Fear is simply a threat to something you care deeply about. It’s a natural and very human reaction that elicits your emotions. It can dominate your thoughts, affect your mental capacity as well as your emotional and physical state.
Truth #2: Fear is real, but it is also a liar. Fear tells whispers in your ear, “You can’t.” Don’t listen; that is a lie.
Truth #3: Fear plays the role you allow it to play in your life.
Beginning on Oct. 10, 2015, life threw our family a curve ball; one that brought about medical conditions that caused severe and continuing headaches, extreme fatigue, numbness in my body and a poor quality of life. We thought it was as simple as degenerative disc disease. I did in fact have that, but I learned that was very manageable.
What was not manageable was what I later learned that I had: sleep apnea and Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS). My condition causes me to quit breathing about 15 times an hour and wake up, on average, 41 times an hour.
I began to have extremely restless nights getting very little sleep that was non-restorative. My muscles were not getting the oxygen they needed and were fatigued to the point where this avid exerciser had to forego anything physical. Just walking up the stairs took a lot of energy.
During my initial sleep study, I unfortunately had technicians who lacked a servant’s heart (in addition to poor bedside manner). During my sleep study, I was supposed to wear a CPAP machine, which is basically a machine, with a mask attached that blows air into your nose or mouth so that your airway doesn’t become obstructed. Long story short, the experience was horrible (one the business later apologized for).
Fear entered my life. And over the course of several weeks, it consumed me.
How long can I go on living extremely fatigued?
How long can I continue with this headache?
Am I going to get extremely sick because my body cannot get the rest it needs and fight off sickness?
What kind of mother am I right now?
Will my husband lose me?
Will my son have to be raised without me?
What will my husband say to my son when he asks “Where’s Mommy?”
With all this said, it’s important to know that sleep apnea is a treatable condition. Unfortunately, CPAP therapy can take weeks to adjust to, accept emotionally, and beat mentally.
I eventually got a second sleep study and was able to wear the CPAP so the neurologist got the information they needed to give me my own machine.
Though a hurdle was jumped, the fear remained. For many, definitely for me, the CPAP wasn’t something I adjusted to easily.
There were emotional breakdowns due to fear. What if I can’t do this? I am failing.
There were tears due to fatigue.
There were nights that fear said, “You can’t do this.” You’re not who you thought you were. You don’t get the life you wanted.”
Honestly, this is when fear consumed me.
But it was also at this point, that I stopped it. I put fear in its place. I had to, because living the life I was choosing to live left me drained in every way possible.
You see, thoughts of that machine and my life expectancy and condition consumed me. Despite that, I kept working full time. And, I attempted to continue to be the mother my son deserved. I continued to try to keep a functioning home. But, what was in my thoughts despite the fact that I kept putting one foot in front of the other was fear.
I knew it had to stop. So, I stopped it.
I quit thinking about it. I put what little energy I had into things I cared about. Impacting others through coaching. Beginning my reading again. Spending time with my husband, not thinking or talking about my condition. Being mentally present when interacting with my son.
Then, at night when it was time to sleep, I just put the machine on, laid down and didn’t allow fear to say, “You can’t.” I tried to make that the only time I thought about the machine.
I put fear in it’s rightful place in my life.
Is it still there, at times? Sure, I’m human.
But, when it pops up, I put it away. Because it’s a lie. Because if I allow it to, it consumes me.
I am now learning to sleep with the CPAP and beginning to get my energy back. It is still going to be a process and there will still be ups and downs, but fear no longer determines my path. I do.
As I walked into work each day, the kids in our school were learning about courage. One classroom had this posted outside their room: “Courage is the ability to persevere through any emotion.” There’s no promises of this being easy. But the chance is there and the path lies in our ability to choose. Choose the role fear plays your life.
The last four months of my life have been the hardest I’ve ever lived. But, it has provided lessons that I have never experienced to this depth. I am grateful for the experience. I am stronger because of it.
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?
For me, courage is supreme of all core values.
I can’t speak to any other time in history, but in our current society, it’s paramount because so much in our society says we should do “x” often times at the expense of what is best for us.
After listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast entitled “How to Achieve More by Sleeping More,” I began to write a post about sleep, particularly since there was one night I didn’t get much sleep this week and my mental, emotional and physical health didn’t even compare to the rest of the week. I wrote the post, then thought, “the message here is bigger than sleep. The message is about courage.”
As Hyatt talks about in the podcast, I hear conversations almost daily of people talking….really bragging about their lack of sleep, as if it’s a badge of honor. People even say to them “You’re amazing! I couldn’t go on four hours of sleep.”
Let’s have courage in the face of this cultural acceptance of lack of sleep and instead look at those who are disciplined with their sleep and thus more productive and happier and say to them “You’re amazing. I can do that, too.”
Does this take courage? Sure it does, because it’s going against the norm, the cultural norm.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not on a pedestal here. I am the wife of someone who owns their own business. I have a three-year-old son. And, I work full time as well. I don’t always get my sleep.
And, there will be seasons in your life where it’s necessary that you go without sleep. The goal is to not make that your norm.
Following LifePlan, I made it more of a priority and it has opened up doors like crazy. I am able to maintain emotional stability when things get stressful at home. I am able to exercise more effectively. I am able to be a more productive worker. And, I am happier.
A sobering fact was shared in Hyatt’s podcast. A research study showed that people who only got 6 hours of sleep for two weeks, functioned at the same level of impairment as someone who is legally drunk.
“We act like sleep is a luxury or an indulgence. As a result, sacrificing sleep in the name of productivity has become routine. But the opposite is true. Cheating our sleep is like maxing out our credit cards. There’s a benefit now (at least it feels like it), but the bill always comes due in the form of decreased health and mental ability.”
Have courage. Be different. Take care of yourself. Watch your achievement soar and, more importantly, your health and relationships be given the priority they deserve.