This post was shared by Bill Pullen, MSOD, MCC, Director – Institute for Transformational Leadership Leadership
Many of us have experienced the feeling in recent years of being unmoored. Even lost at sea. At one time or another, most of us felt some degree of fear and disorientation during the once-in-a-century pandemic – coming at the height of a divisive political season while decades of racial and social tension finally come to a head with the murder of George Floyd.
And that was the world in the daily headlines. Closer to home and out of the spotlight, many of us grappled with our own personal struggles – whether that was personal problems, loss, or setbacks professionally.
In a world that feels continually disruptive, how do we take care of ourselves and keep going? Where do we turn for hope and wisdom?
I was honored to be joined on my podcast by one of the most extraordinary people I have met during my time with Georgetown University, Valerie Brown – author, Buddhist-Quaker Dharma teacher, facilitator, leadership coach, and self-described “professional pilgrim.”
We caught up on her new book Hope Leans Forward – Braving Your Way Towards Simplicity, Awakening, and Peace. In her book – written during a period of great personal loss and the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement – Valerie shares an abundance of Quaker wisdom, practices to stimulate mindfulness, and inspiring stories of ordinary people showing extraordinary bravery.
We caught up on the book, why it’s so important to slow down despite the frenzied pace of the modern workplace, and how to listen to the deep wisdom that comes from within.
Valerie quoted a poem by Mark Nepo that begins, “Brave your way on” – a phrase that encapsulates Valerie’s attitudes on persevering in the face of obstacles. Valerie has written of her own career epiphany and leaving a “high-pressure, high-stress” career as a lawyer-lobbyist. It took a moment of observing the clouds moving in the sky on a hiking vacation for Valerie to realize just how long it had been since she had turned her eyes skyward. She knew in that moment that she needed to make a change and slow down, ultimately leading to her newfound, purpose-driven work that she engages in today – no small task to walk away from a well-established professional brand and embrace the vulnerability of not having every next step perfectly mapped out.
Reading the book and talking with Valerie made me reflect on some of the darkest moments in my own life – personal struggles that I don’t always easily open up about (even when I know it helps to talk). Sinking into the depths of addiction, the loss of a brother to suicide, caring for my elderly mother after an accident. Each of these moments has shaped me indelibly.
In time, I have learned how each these experiences, as hard as they were, contained within them wisdom and the opportunity to grow and learn, deepen relationships, and transform the difficult times into something that could be shared with others -both in my life and in my work as a coach, leader, and teacher.
A few take-aways from our conversation.
Make time for quiet and reflection. As Valerie put it, “being brave is not just plowing through and keeping going.” Many of us operate under this approach and find ourselves burning out. We may venerate stoic behavior in the face of challenges (think of the iconic “Keep calm and carry on” mantra of the British in World War II) but we should also prioritize taking a pause to reflect on whether our day-to-day work still aligns with our values and priorities.
I’m reminded that countless other leaders have fought the temptation to cram every minute of their schedules full; in his memoirs, President Clinton wrote of his time in office, “I worked hard to schedule my time so that I’d have a couple of hours a day alone to think, reflect, plan, or do nothing. Often, I slept less just to get the alone time.”
Bring your whole self to work. Valerie talked about the virtues of what she calls “an undivided life” in which we bring the wholeness of who we are to the workplace. While some push back on the idea of revealing too much of ourselves at work, there’s a toll that is left when we feel like we must leave part of ourselves home each day. Valerie shared with me how she once felt that she couldn’t share the side of her that practiced meditation on the weekends. It wasn’t what was expected of someone with her high-powered legal identity. But over time, Valerie achieved greater equilibrium by bringing the two sides of her life closer together.
Make a deliberate attempt to find joy each day in small things. The last chapter of Valerie’s book is appropriately titled, “Bravely home, boundless joy.” She stresses the importance of finding small sources of joy each day to ensure the journey is rewarding, not just the \finish line. Even when the external circumstances we face are less than joyful – as amid a global pandemic – we can all find sources of rejuvenation, inspiration, and hope if we retrain our brains to actively seek them out – whether it’s a hummingbird in the garden or afternoon of sunshine.
One of my biggest take-aways was our talk was the idea of not waiting for the perfect conditions, “for everything to be joyful.” In our daily lives, we can embrace the seasons of life, accept it’s complications, and learn to find inspiration in each day as it comes.
To check out our full conversation, download the podcast today.