I’ve been tossing around the concept that, at any moment, our lives are about one word. One word that expresses that which is compelling us from deep inside to step forward into a new truth for ourselves. Once we know our word (it’ll change over time), then we know what decisions to make toward our truest self, our destined future and ultimately, happiness.
The first person I talked to about this said her word was “rest.” She was through being over-taxed, over-stretched and over-burdened. She was practicing saying “no” so that she wouldn’t be so stretched, taxed and burdened and would have time to rest.
When I first inquired of myself what my one word is, I knew the answer immediately. Being somewhat of a word hound, I pulled out my dictionary/thesaurus to make sure I was capturing the spirit of my word.
My word, for this point in my life, is stillness.
Stillness, n: freedom from agitation.
Yep, that’s the one.
This is my word because it is very important to me to hear my truest voice speaking to me – because when I can, I have a quiet confidence about what to do, what to say, when to just be. It’s magical, simple and freeing. When I am experiencing stillness, it is much harder for anyone or anything to yank me around – which these days is what I want.
So, to test my word (and just for fun), I looked up synonyms for “freedom” and “agitation” so that I could do some mixing and matching to gain some subtlety and nuance to my understanding of what it is I am after.
Match any word in the left column with any word in the right column with “From” in between:
|Independence||Troubled in mind|
Aren’t those great? My favorites are “Exemption from Disquiet” and “Autonomy from Anxiety,” “Release from Frenzied.”
That’s what I want in my life. So now, when I am faced with a decision, my one word “stillness” guides me. Can I cram one more meeting in my day? Yes if it doesn’t impact stillness, otherwise, lets make it another day. Can I speak at one more event as a favor to someone? No, that takes me away from stillness. Want fries with that? Nope.
The reason this matters is that I am super curious about happiness and fulfillment – what impacts them, what makes them unfold, just how great they can be. I am curious about you, I am also curious about myself. I want to know just how happy and fulfilled I can be. Don’t you want to know that about yourself?
What is your one word at this moment? I would love to know what it is and why.
I assure you that you, and only you, know the answer.
Name your word, then live it. Watch the happiness and fulfillment unfold.
I have a combo dictionary & thesaurus that I carry (lug) around because I am interested in words – meaning, derivation, subtleties. Recently I removed the word “should” from my dictionary. I took a Sharpie and blacked it out as a ceremonial commitment to removing “should” from my vocabulary.
I am fascinated with human potential, what makes it bloom, what prevents it from blooming. “Should” is a word that bogs me down, it’s heavy and guilt-laden. If I am doing something from a point of “should” I am not acting from my highest potential. I am acting from something lower.
If I say to myself “I should call my brother,” then I have a feeling of burden, that I’m somehow, immediately upon that thought, doing something wrong or am less than some ideal. “Should” implies obligation, duty or so-called propriety. I can’t see much human potential emerging from that.
Instead, if I say to myself “I could call my brother,” it is ripe with possibility and potential.
In different belief systems, this topic comes up. From a Biblical point of view, obedience flows from love, rather than the other way around. In the Buddhist tradition, social duty (which sounds like “should” to me) was one of the three temptations that Buddha had to overcome on his path to enlightenment.
Let me offer practical implications of living from “should.” The first is energy. I have a finite amount of energy each day; it is one of my most precious resources. When I believe and act from a point of “should” it saps my energy, continues to hover over me, luring my thoughts back, continuing to eat away at this precious resource. Sounds awful! Is awful! Click here for more info on energy & happiness.)
The second is the unfolding of human potential. “Should” keeps me from acting from my very best self; decisions made from the point of view of “should” are not aligned with the emergence of my potential.
I get it, there are fears creeping around “should” – a big one being what people think of us – at work, with family, at church. What others think of me changes by the minute and therefore isn’t foundational to my life. I cannot build on it. The reality is they (ah, the mysterious they) aren’t thinking of me at all. Other people’s opinions are their business. Acting from my own character and potential is my business.
So, I am practicing. Replacing “should” with “could” whenever the blasted word shows up in my thoughts. I observe it. Then I choose to go another way, one that is energizing and perhaps leading me in the direction of my fullest potential.
I have a deep interest in comparative religion. It’s fascinated me for years and I’ll often get up at 4 a.m. just to study, read and learn. I find it fascinating to understand what people believe and why. I love coming to see what different beliefs have in common (a lot.) This is a lifelong interest for me. When I was 5 years old and my family was piled in the car on Sunday morning going to the Presbyterian Church, we would pass the Methodist Church, Baptist Church, Catholic Church, Episcopal church. I would inquire of my parents, “Who is right? What’s the difference?”
Recently this exploration led me to a new field of psychology called Positive Psychology. The traditional field of psychology, say Freud to modern day, has been focused on how we can be not-quite-so-miserable. This new field of Positive Psychology instead poses questions like: Just how happy can people be? Is happiness genetic? What portion can we control?
So that got me to thinking about my own happiness. I realized that for me, there are two important clues when I am onto something that makes me happy.
The first is enthusiasm. When I am enthusiastic, I am happy. I’ve learned to observe when I feel enthusiasm. I take note. The word “enthusiastic” comes from the Latin “entheos” which means “inspired of God.” Pretty good clue if the big guy is involved that would cause happiness. How cool is this? We all feel enthusiasm and if we can put aside our thoughts on what “should” make us enthused and instead be honest with ourselves about it, happiness will ensue. Studying comparative religion makes me feel enthusiasm – and happiness.
The second clue is energy. When something makes my energy go up, happiness is not far behind. Energy is related to enthusiasm, however there can be times when my energy is going up because I am mad about something – a wrong that needs righting, for example. Also, when I do things that take my energy down, such as eating foods that I know crash me or not getting enough sleep, my energy goes down and my happiness suffers.
For both enthusiasm and energy, I know when they hit and what I’m doing that causes them to soar. I observe what makes them plummet. The question I pose to myself is – am I going to put this into work in my life or am I not? My life is a live experiment and that makes it fun. I really do this stuff.
Wisegate makes me happy. Whenever I am deeply engaged – talking to a member, brainstorming with the team about new ways to serve our members, painting the vision – I am enthused and energetic. Oh, and happy.
Take note of these for you. And watch the happiness soar.
Last Sunday I drove to a local farm that’s about 15 miles from our house. There are two ways to get there – 70 MPH highway all the way, or turn off onto this no-name dirt road. Either way gets me there.
Sunday I took the dirt road. I immediately noticed how rough the road was – my car was shimmying and shaking and my first instinct was to step on the accelerator and speed up to get that awful, uncomfortable, shaking feeling to cease. Every bit faster I went just made it worse – it just got rougher. So I slowed down.
Soon I am tootling along at 10 MPH and I felt my blood pressure drop, I exhaled deeply. And I started to look around. I could see the trees, I could see the water paths by the patterns of tree growth on either side of the road. I could hear the crickets roar. I saw a deer and her fawn dart across the road. I got to wave to a little girl walking into the gate of what I imagined to be her grandparents’ farmhouse. I felt the wind and the heat. Oddly enough, I was deeply content going slow over that rough road.
So it got me to thinking about my rough roads in life and how, when I hit one, I want more than anything to speed up and get the rough part behind me.
As the CEO of Wisegate I have been in fundraising mode, talking with investors about Wisegate. I do not enjoy this part of the job. I don’t enjoy it because I’m anything but an expert at it, because I’m not focused on members or employees or strategy and, most of all, I’m uncomfortable because I don’t know the outcome. You could say I’m going over a rough part of my road. I long, I ache for a smooth patch where I can speed up and fly.
As I look back over my life so far, it’s the rough parts of my road that have honed me into present-day Sara. Unarguably those rough parts have made me who I am. So I got to wondering about slowing down over this rough part. Seeing if I can observe what’s happening around me, what’s going on, what there is for me to learn.
Let me encourage you – Slow down over the rough parts in your road, they just might hone you into the next version of yourself – and that’s something the world is aching to see.
Do you know Harry Max? If you don’t, I recommend you find an excuse to meet him – fascinating guy who I now get to call my friend (i.e., I’m pretty sure he would come get me out of jail at 3 a.m., which as I’ve said in an earlier post is my definition of a friend (https://listeningtoit.com/2012/04/26/the-crush-of-constant-connection/.) One day I was visiting with Harry and he mentioned the idea that, when it comes to talking with people, it’s always preferable to approach them with authenticity vs. technique.
I get to interact with people a lot and there are occasions just about every day where I am not quite sure what to say. I prepare ahead of time, that’s my DNA. That said, when it comes to communicating with someone I care about, I often don’t quite know what to say.
Enter authenticity vs technique. When I quit worrying about doing it right and instead try my honest best to show up, say what I need to say in as straightforward and caring a way as possible, all will be ok. I still prepare, I still worry, and then I let go – I trust that if I am as authentically Sara as I can be, and say what needs saying, all will be ok.
This works with my husband (whom I adore), with my business partners, with employees, with friends. It just works. I ask myself the question, “what needs saying here?” and let it flow from there.
Let’s consider the words for a minute.
Authentic means of undisputed origin or authorship.
Wow, what a definition. Being authentic, by that definition, is a monumental challenge in our mass consumer mindset that tells us to be homogeneous, be just like someone else. Wear, think, do just like someone else. Which is, by definition, un-authentic.
Technique means technical skill and the ability to apply procedures or methods so as to effect a desired result.
Wow, what a definition. Sounds a bit inhuman to me.
I know which I would rather be on the receiving end of.
Try letting your words be of undisputed YOUR-NAME-HERE origin.
Be you. Say that.
Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.
I’ve had a few conversations lately with people who tell me they have all the answers. That when it comes to asking questions, seeking counsel, getting guidance – that’s not for the likes of them. You see, they have all the answers. At first glance it might seem that people with all the answers would inspire me. Not so. They make me sad.
They make me sad because they’ve lost hope that there is something left to discover, from a nuance to a whopping realization. They’ve lost that beauty of beauties – curiosity (and its subsequent exploration and learning) – that lights up our lives like the first dawning of sunrise. That light guides us to our potential.
Human potential is an unending source of fascination for me. I believe every single being on the planet is here for a reason and has unique gifts and talents to offer. Perhaps the reason this knowing-it-all bothers me is that it is anathema to potential.
Here’s the rub:
When you know it all you shut down. You don’t ask.
When you don’t ask, you don’t grow.
When you don’t grow you aren’t striving to your potential and your ability to contribute you to the world.
Here’s what a successful life looks like to me:
- Struggle with something that matters to you.
- Gain a bit of wisdom.
- Notice something that lights a spark of interest in you, struggle to learn, grow with and explore it.
- Gain a bit of wisdom.
- Repeat until you die.
I’ve come across what I call the wisdom sentences* – 4 sentences to utter regularly in our unending quest for our wisdom and potential.
- I don’t know.
- I need help.
- I’m sorry.
- I was wrong.
With Wisegate, I don’t know that we have much to offer with the “I’m sorry” and the “I was wrong” sentences. Other than perhaps having to say those less frequently to your boss because you have better information to make decisions and won’t mess up as much. But then I’m advocating for saying those sentences less…Hmmm… let me stick to the point here.
At Wisegate we help people gain wisdom from tapping into the collective experience of expert peers. Every day our members tell us how much help they are getting and that they can’t this anywhere else. For them to get the help that is so, well, helpful, they must first be willing to say – I don’t know (all the answers) and I need help (so I am going to ask some questions.)
The Wisegate members inspire me because they are willing to ask for help and in doing so, they open doors, they learn, they experience excitement and encouragement and they become better. Not just at their jobs, but at living.
Try the 4 wisdom sentences. See if you don’t feel like a kid again.
Fear is at work at work.
One day, years ago now, I realized how much fear I had. It certainly spilled over into my work. Fear that I wouldn’t perform. Fear of what others thought of me. Fear that I wasn’t good enough. Fear fear fear.
So I spent the better part of a year studying fear. I sought to understand what different philosophies, including my own, had to say on the matter. I also sought to understand just what it was I was so afraid of.
No matter where I looked, what I uncovered was that we were not made to be afraid. Imagine my surprise.
As for my personal fear, when I played it out to the very end (i.e., asking myself, so if that happens, then what? Then what? Then what? Etc.) it always ended up with me alone, hungry and dying under a bridge. Seriously – that’s where it ended up.
So then I began to experiment with living without fear. Just to play with it – what might happen if, just for today, I let go of fear based behavior and completely went for it (with “it” in this instance being reaching for my potential in that moment.) Imagine my surprise. It worked. It works.
What I fear more than anything these days is not reaching my potential on this planet while I am here. Which, ironically, requires fearless living. What I want is to look back on a life well lived. And to have some fun and be of service along the way.
I talk to a lot of people these days who work in the corporate world and there is a lot of fear at work. The double meaning here and it is intentional. There is a lot of fear in the workplace and fear has a grip on us. People are afraid that someone will outperform them. People are afraid of losing their jobs and not knowing how they will pay their bills. People are afraid to leave abusive work environments. People are afraid to leave big or steady paychecks even if their something in them is crying out for something else. People are afraid to change their zip code, even if keeping it requires sacrifices that just don’t quite feel right.
Our corporate work world will feed on fear. A ton of people wandering around driven out of this kind of fear will literally work themselves to death.
Learn to examine your fear. I do it all the time now – its helpful. When I am halted or find myself not doing something I need to do, I just examine it. Usually there is an irrational fear at work. Once I look, it loses its grip and on I go.
Living fearlessly is how we reach our potential on this planet. It is how we discover ourselves and our gifts. And it is how we contribute our potential at work. Ironically, this is exactly what will make all those things you are afraid of at work way less likely to happen. Imagine your surprise.