When it comes to leading an authentic life, one of the big challenges comes in around clarity. Many of us, haven’t spent enough time figuring out what matters most to us. Or maybe, like me, you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this very topic, but the answers that you’ve surfaced don’t ring true. There is the strange sense of misalignment between what we think and what we do, but we don’t have clarity on the connection points between those two things. 

At this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a particularly vile and destructive word, commonly used in the English language. SHOULD.

Should is the enemy of your Identity. Should is a barrier to being your authentic self.

Should makes us feel guilt, shame, and a sense of obligation to do or be something that we don’t want. And should is very sneaky – we often don’t notice we’re using it. Should disguises what we enjoy and what’s worse, gives us a false sense of being noble when we do something we think we should

Imagine, if you will, a hypothetical example. It’s late on a Thursday night and my child tells me at bedtime that they need a snack for school tomorrow. I sigh and say, “I should make cupcakes.” I have no earthly desire to make cupcakes. I have no interest. I have a sense of obligation to provide a snack. Making the cupcakes will not result in anything other than misery for me, even if it provides some amount of enjoyment for others. I only thought I SHOULD take on this activity because it’s what a “good mom” would do. It’s the “right thing” to do. Stale pretzels (the only thing left in the pantry) will be judged by the other kids/teachers/parents. 

And this is how should gets us to do things. It makes me worry about things outside of my control and guilts me into doing stuff I don’t really care about. Watch out for should as you work to create actions in alignment with your Identity. Your goal is to find the person you are, not the person you feel like you should be.

There are other factors beyond should that can also create challenges in the Identity piece of the ACTION plan. Here’s another example. I have a tendency to be a people-pleaser. For me, enduring my own discomfort is far more palatable to me than seeing others unhappy. Besides, I got used to being worried and uncomfortable, so it didn’t seem like a big ask to continue to feel that way. And so began one of the ways that my authentic self began to disappear. I was allowing others to choose what made them happy and going along with it, rather than choosing what would make me happy. Eventually, it got to the point where I didn’t even know or recognize things I would enjoy anymore. 

This one small personality quirk (people-pleasing) was one of the factors that created a sense of misalignment in my work and life. I share that story to help you see that inauthenticity can occur as a result of circumstances, personality, challenges, choices, and many other factors. Regardless of how we get there, the author Sarah Ban Breathnach reminds us, “Remember, we did not lose ourselves all at once. But we recover our authentic selves one kind gesture at a time.” 

So how do we go about this act of recovering our authentic selves? Or how do we make sure that our ACTION plan is authentically aligned? There are two key pieces that we’ll explore. 

First, let’s talk about the best version of you. The version of you that you imagine you are. You know, the one that you want to be, before the craziness of modern living wreaks havoc on that plan! What characteristics does your best self embody? 

Second is to assess (or review, if you’ve done this already) your values. You are authentically you when your values are in alignment with your actions. Each person’s values are different and unique to them. They can change over time. For example, until I had some health challenges, I didn’t realize how much I truly valued good health. My actions dramatically changed when I prioritized health.  

Any positive action you’re taking needs to help bring you closer to your best self and to your values. On any given day, there are millions of actions you can take, so ensure your actions are creating the alignment that’s been missing.

#PositiveAction What SHOULD do you need to let go of to live and work more in alignment with your values and best self? It feels amazing to let those unrealistic expectations go! 

Image from Pixabay

If only our dreams introduced themselves to us so neatly!

For a long time, I had a dream to “help the environment someday”. A very nebulous, though perhaps noble, goal. Unfortunately, there were always things that seemed to get in the way. I recognize them now as mostly excuses and fears, but at the time, they seemed like legitimate concerns.

I’m too busy. It’s very inconvenient. My kids are small and need all my attention right now. The list goes on (and on and on!). 

So I did what most of us do when confronted with all the reasons not to pursue my dream. I waited. I waited for the perfect timing (it never came!). I waited to be less busy (I never was!). I waited for the right conditions (you guessed it, never happened!). I waited for a sign (still waiting!). And a decade went by. 

You might be wondering to yourself how a person like me, known to many as a great accountability partner, could let this happen. Where was the accountability on my own dream? So glad you asked!

The first obstacle for me was that I didn’t acknowledge the fact that this was a dream. I had been treating it as a nice-to-have-someday sort of wish, rather than a dream I wanted to work to fulfill. We’ve talked before about the importance of dreaming big. I had failed to do that in this regard.

Another way I let myself off the hook was through inaction. I was paralyzed by trying to decide the best way to help the environment someday. Every time I would think about it, I’d feel stuck or overwhelmed, so I’d stop. I’ve shared before that hope isn’t a plan and sometimes the best plan is to stop planning and start taking action!

Interestingly, we all end up in this scenario at some point over the course of our careers. Sometimes, it’s the role we’re afraid to say out loud that we’d really love to have. It can be the new technology you’d like to take a class to learn more about, but are afraid of being the oldest (or youngest!) person there. Maybe you’d like to do a full career pivot, but don’t have the slightest idea what you’d pivot to. 

The writer Sarah Ban Breathnach reminds us, “It’s never too late to reclaim your individual gifts, resuscitate a dream, create an authentic life.” That’s some great encouragement! Especially for those of us with dreams that have been on the backburner for a decade or more!!

Where to start? How about with the same two principles that helped me finally move forward. Acknowledge your dream and put some clarity around it. Then, try doing one small thing to get some momentum. 

For me, it started with reading a few books and watching some documentaries. Then I decided to apply for a leadership training. After the panic wore off from getting accepted to the training, I found ways to make the training as meaningful as possible, including building connections with people. That led to forming a group in the Milwaukee area to support each other and continue to take action. 

I couldn’t plan out all these steps in advance because I didn’t know where each action would lead me. That’s the interesting thing about action. It often will surprise you with where you end up because you’re learning and adjusting as you go.

#PositiveAction Do you have something that you’ve been putting off for someday? It’s time to acknowledge that dream and turn it into action, one small step at a time!

 

Image from Pixabay

I love the end of the school year. Everything seems imbued with hope, just like the latest class of funny-hat-wearing graduates to cross the stage. They all have big plans and outsized dreams.

Eventually, we wake up when we’re 30… 40… 50… 60 (sidebar: isn’t it funny how we only seem to do major self reflection on round number birthdays? No one freaks out that they’re 43 and 5 months old and haven’t done anything with their life yet! I digress…) So we wake up and suddenly the path we’re on is nothing like the one we hatched as a hope-filled grad. 

We all face disappointments and setbacks in work and life, most of which we wouldn’t choose for ourselves, at least when they’re happening. Being laid off from your dream job. Watching your company go out of business overnight. Losing someone you care about. The details change for each of us, but the challenges are similar.

This quote from writer Sarah Ban Breathnach sums it up nicely. “…success in life is not how well we execute Plan A; it’s how smoothly we cope with Plan B.”

Coping smoothly when life smacks you in the face is tough, especially when you’ve been working on Plan A for a while. But coping is a whole lot more effective than complaining and wishing for the past. Acknowledging and accepting where you’re at is the only thing that allows you to develop a plan to move forward. It’s not the original path you charted, but it’s the path you’re on now.

As the wise and delightfully eccentric Doc Brown says in Back to the Future, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” It’s time to figure out Plan B (or C or D or Z!), with or without roads! 

If you need help figuring out what direction to head, you are welcome to reach out to me.