For association speakers, spring is show-time! Crisscrossing the country several times a month, this spring has been exceptionally busy for me. Truly loving and thoroughly enjoying my work, I am so grateful. I’ve never believed more strongly that my messages are essential, relevant, and desperately sought by the thousands of audience members to whom I’ll present them this year. It’s a simple message really but I’m constantly reminded how challenging it can be for those who, so far, have spent their lives operating from a completely different, and often opposite, paradigm.
Case in point: I write this week’s Stretch on a plane flying home from Vancouver, B.C. where I presented two talks on personal leadership at the Pacific Dental Conference. The presentations centered around the concept and skill of examining what we believe to be true, reframing our current circumstances and challenges from a different, broader perspective in order to see and access greater potential and possibilities. I spoke about the trap of believing things are happening to us, that people are against us, or things should or shouldn’t be a certain way… instead of recognizing we are always creating and orchestrating our own unique experience of “what is”; that when we embrace what is and dance with it to mold it into the experience we desire, we then have the life we desire. Not the other way around. I used several experiential exercises to help the audience really feel how to do this and used multiple examples and stories to further illuminate the idea. Judging from the level of interaction, questions, and positive comments … I felt certain my message had landed well.
Afterward, participants came up to speak further with me or to tell me how much the presentation resonated with them. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman standing aside, looking slightly anxious, and waiting for the others to finish. When they had, I turned and greeted her. She managed a strained smile, offered a timid handshake, and began to speak with a slight tremble in her voice. Clearly, whatever was on her mind had her emotions running high.
She shared her story of being blissfully happy as the office manager of a wonderful practice for over 20 years with a doctor she adored but recently and abruptly being thrust into a whirlwind of unwelcomed change. Retiring suddenly, her doctor had sold the practice to a large, corporate dental company with multiple practices and a largely absentee owner. She had been retained (on the strong advice of the retiring doctor) to manage the largest practice. The only direction she had been given was to get and keep the large, multi-cultural team she had inherited in line, find a way to increase the bottom line and not bother the owner with personnel issues of any kind. “There is no way I can do it because the team is just awful. They are mean-spirited, self-centered, and unwilling to even converse with me, let alone be led by me. The oldest one has a personal mission to sabotage and undermine my efforts with the team and they have been allowed for years to do whatever they want, whenever they want to. They have no idea….”
After a time, as gently as I could, I cut her off. Didn’t we just spend three hours talking about this very thing? Had she been in the same class I had just given?
I was painfully reminded that while these concepts sound simple, easy to agree with and even, obvious… they are not easy to implement after a lifetime of doing it another way. It’s a mammoth shift to a new discipline, mindset, and perspective and requires a great deal of trust and faith.
I took her hands, leveled my gaze, and let the calm and confidence I felt pour into her. I assured her that no one was doing anything to her. She was in full and powerful control of every piece of how she would experience this opportunity… That where she had found herself was a place of huge possibility, enormous growth and likely the opening to an incredible new career, if that’s what she desired. If not, the same environment she had once enjoyed was also available to her somewhere out there.
She stated she wanted to make it work and wanted to “not be upset and afraid.” So I had her imagine finding the way to have a substantial and clarifying conversation with her new boss about his vision as well as her role, mission, authority, and the level of his support. I had her continue to imagine a gathering in the future with a team she had built who had been re-united and re-ignited around a powerful new vision, team culture, and leader they were delighted and anxious to follow. I asked if she believed any person had ever taken a circumstance like this and transformed it into something no one could have believed or predicted. She agreed that probably someone had. I reminded her, “If it’s been done… it’s probably possible.” And they weren’t any smarter, more talented, or any braver than her. They set their course, stepped in, and took on the challenge as a gift, a precious opportunity to advance and serve their own life as well as the lives of others. They embraced “what is” … just the way it is… and decided to dance with it, enjoy the process and see what happens.
I watched as her breathing settled, her smile brightened and tears brimmed in her eyes. “You’re right, when I think of it in that way, it feels exciting and full of possibilities instead of heavy and next to impossible. I can actually feel my anger about this happening to me subside as I consider it that way. I could even see how I could look back on this as potentially a really great thing in my life instead of one of my worst pieces of bad luck.” Exactly.
Anais Nin once said, “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” This week, you will be faced with a challenge of some sort: on the freeway, with your kids, attempting an impossible schedule, paying a bill, handling a conflict… and your experience of all of them will be shaped by what you decide is true and possible as well as what could be gained from the experience. Your shortest path to finding success is dancing with it exactly as it showed up and spending no time on how it should or should not have been.
Living in this way is a practice, helped I believe, by some quiet time each day in prayer, meditation, a hot bath, or a relaxing walk where you can reflect on your ability to create your experience to your liking and to fully relax into the perfection of what is.
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
~ Abraham Lincoln