Heart of The Leader

The email came through that my divorce finalized as I was rolling my mat up after evening practice in Costa Rica. We were about halfway through our week of leadership training. The sun was setting. I felt a wave of emotion come over me and then… tears. I’d been waiting for this moment for so long.

The divine timing of being here in this magical place couldn’t be more perfect. I hugged my teacher, Stacy Dockins, as I told her the news, and she held me for a moment as I cried a little more. I’d been so curious what it would feel like to navigate this new mental space of just being “me” again… free from the tie of marriage, finally.

Relationships have been a huge area of focus for me during this training. I’ve always felt my closest relationships to be my biggest teachers. They hold up a mirror for me to look at my shit honestly, speak up when I need to, and grow. I’ve committed to fierce self-love for the rest of this year and really strengthening my commitment to myself, so that I (hopefully) don’t get lost and codependent in future partnerships ever again.

What does all this have to do with leadership, you may ask? Well, everything, actually.

In this training, titled Heart of the Leader, we were asked to consider leadership in a larger sense – not just in our work or how we lead groups, but as in the way we intentionally live our lives. 

That encompasses a whole lot. We wrote down our values. We journaled about what love means to us and the importance of love within mindful leadership. We talked about vulnerability as the hallmark of excellent leadership, how we give our power away, and identified the armor we wear (thoughts, emotions, and behaviors) when we aren’t willing to rumble with vulnerability (which moves us out of alignment with our values, corrodes trust with our colleagues and prevents us from being our most courageous selves). Through discussion, journaling, and lots of partner work, we worked through situations where each of us currently felt stuck in our lives, decided if we needed to bridge the gap through changing our behavior in some way, or change our values. We talked a lot about the inner critic, self-care practices that strengthen our values, and ended with powerful work around self-compassion. It’s honestly too much to write, but you get the idea.

Perhaps the most profound work for me was what we ended with… self-compassion. Aka quieting the inner critic. This work is so important, you guys. We are all so hard on ourselves. So much harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else. And it looks different for each of us. Why is that? What warrants us to tear ourselves down when we’re actually doing the best we can, most of the time? We all do it differently, but this is arguably the root of all of our suffering, and if we can find a way to shift the dialogue around how we talk to ourselves in these crucial moments, we can really start getting somewhere. Our capacity to love others and common humanity at large starts with our capacity to love and embrace ourselves. Period.

Self-Compassion: The Work

Next time you are feeling the pain of failure, for whatever reason, big or small, notice that voice in your head that wants to break you and make you feel like shit. What words or phrases do you use? Or is it more feelings or emotions that come over you? What are they? What body sensations do you feel? Or is it a combination of words, emotions, and body sensations? Get clear on this.

A lot of my work lately has been around relationships and motherhood. I tear myself apart often for my decisions in past relationships and get down on myself when I get angry at my son. I say to myself, “Really, Loren?!” I feel guilt, shame, and I shut down. But at the end of the day, I’m doing the best I can. And I’m loving with my whole heart, something I value deeply.

Perhaps the most beautiful realization I’ve had is that when something happens, I don’t have to act right away. The awareness in itself is powerful enough to create a shift in the process. What if we just let ourself sit in the process and experience it? Could there potentially be healing, empowerment and growth in that? Can we just practice giving ourselves grace and keep going, keep feeling through it all, and take our time? Hell yes.

Why is self-compassion so challenging?

A great question to ask yourself. For me, it’s because it requires me to give myself grace and remember my humanness in moments where it’s often really hard to do so – like when I feel guilty, shameful, or in the “wrong” for whatever reason, like maybe I went against one of my values and I’m trying to navigate what to do about it. These are pivotal moments where we have an opportunity to shift our inner dialogue. And this is a practice. Self-compassion is not linear. We might have an amazing moment of growth and awareness, then something happens and we feel like, “Wow, I have so much more work to do.” As a friend in training put it, it’s like “human archaeology.” We dig, and sweep. Dig, and sweep. Dig, and sweep. There’s always more to uncover. Always more to learn.

So, be gentle on yourself. Start by noticing your inner critic. Pay attention to the words and phrases you use when you’re feeling the pain of failure. Write them down. Write down how you feel in those moments. And come up with a few phrases you can use to shift the dialogue. You’re a human. You’re wired to fuck up again and again and again. It’s how you treat yourself in those moments that matters.

Shift The Dialogue, Quiet the Inner Critic

In these moments, a few ideas for what to say to yourself are (these were what some of the brilliant minds in our training group came up with this week):

  1. “What within myself needs more love right now?”
  2. “Ahh… it makes sense that you feel this way.”
  3. “Thank you, but not right now.”
  4. “Breathe. You’re ok.”
  5. “It’s ok to feel this way. Take the time you need to feel it all.”
  6. Imagine the loving arms of a mother wrapping around you.
  7. Come up with your own phrase or idea that could work, something you can keep close to you.

This all feels a bit jumbled as I write it – it’s hard to share the entirety of a beautiful week’s worth of training content, two yoga classes per day, amazing food, daily ocean swims and sunshine, solid sleep, and waking up to the beautiful jungle scenery in one blog post, but I hope I at least gave you a glimpse into this transformational experience. I’m getting on the plane back home today feeling immensely grateful and excited for the future.

I’ll leave you with a letter I wrote to myself at the end of training. This was a powerful activity that I highly recommend doing if you feel called to it. The assignment was: write a letter to yourself, from the perspective of a good friend who knows you and wants the best for you. What would he or she say about the challenges and opportunities you are facing?

Dear Loren,

You are so strong. You give 100% in all that you do – from your work, to being a mom, to the way you love with your whole heart. It’s just the way you are and it’s so beautiful. You wouldn’t be you if you weren’t this way. You care so much about everyone in your life and the greater good of humanity in general.

Embrace this strength in the way you are and the commitment with which you approach everything with all of yourself. This is what makes you you.

I know this commitment to what you set your mind to leads you to set the bar pretty high for yourself in all areas, so remember to give yourself extra grace in moments when things don’t go as planned or you feel the pain of failure overwhelming you.

Allow yourself to sit with it as long as you need to and experience the full spectrum of emotion that ensues… create in those moments. Write. Pour it all out of you, and whether you share it with the world or not doesn’t matter. This is your process. Own it.

You are an artist and you are committed to cultivating your craft forever. You won’t give up on creating because you know that would mean giving up on yourself, and you won’t do that. This is what makes you so special.

And when the healing and clarity come, let yourself enjoy the sweetness of it. Like the sun on your skin or a dip in the ocean, let it bathe you in inspiration and joy, because you deserve it.

You’re a great mom, a passionate lover, and a devoted friend and creator.

Keep doing your thing, love.