Expansion in business happens in tandem with expansion in our personal and spiritual capacity. Each time I’ve made a step change professionally, it was preceded by deep personal work. Each time I’ve felt out of the flow at work, it was not the work but my attitude, perspective and resistance which kept me blocked.
Gone are the days when we can clock in at nine, leave at five, and compartmentalize our inner and outer worlds in neat boxes. I remember ten years ago the sentiment “leave the personal stuff at home” was still the norm. How much of this societal shutting down of our deepest selves at work was related to our own fear of being seen and not accepted? I never actually heard those words “leave it at home” from any of my bosses – those words were a prison made of my own self-talk. Thankfully I’ve had some amazing leaders, who were fine with me visiting my Little Sister (in Big Brothers Big Sisters) over the lunch hour. They didn’t flinch when I cried in their office out of frustration on feeling belittled in a meeting. They accepted my sensitivity, knowing it was the flip side of passion, and part of the same coin of desire to make a difference.
The entrepreneurial journey is the spiritual journey, wrote one of my good friends and mentors, Lotta Alsen, recently in the Huffington Post. I believe all business journeys are spiritual journeys. Those aspects of our lives are not separate – they feed each other.
Beyond a spiritual tool, meditation is really also a business tool. Meditating allows us to sift through the critical and the mundane, giving our brains time to process and integrate. As we sift through our judgements, fears, and reactions, we can also witness our compassion, priorities and values. Meditation allows you to convert the energy of stress into the energy of excitement and purpose.
When we fill our lives with multiple passions, it gives space for all of them to bloom, like a field of wildflowers. When I’m resisting a big project, my favorite strategy is to sign up for a pottery class, write a poem, or get out my paint brushes. Eventually that creative juice erodes my resistance to the “work” and I start getting antsy to get back to whatever business project I had previously avoided. Especially when a creative endeavor pushes me, is quite scary, it becomes easier to say yes to work. Last week I was supposed to go to a dance class – petrified and excited by that possibility, I decided to work instead. Was I avoiding stepping into something new? Most likely. And yet it also gave me the zest I needed to dive back into a big project. I will make the dance class, and in the meantime my work is my energized safety net. However, if I were to stay too long in the net of work, it would become a spider web.
Major steps in my career became possible through this dance between self-care and self-courage. Choosing to end a relationship led to trying management consulting in New York City. Spiritually questioning my purpose led to launching Executive Sutra. Being treated poorly by a boss led to asking for more and actually getting a promotion. Taking a week to retreat led to a deep relationship.
Ask most sales people what led to their success and it’s not sales strategies. It is inner qualities like courage and positivity. Marketing executives rely on intuition and creativity. CEOs require leadership, first of self, based on deep inner awareness, then guiding others. What holds us back is not so much skills as our ability to go within and then to express that quality externally.
There’s a correlation between our capacity and our responsibility. When we say yes to a new opportunity, we are forced to grow, adapt and learn new soft and hard skills. When we take responsibility for difficult feelings instead of running away, our capacity grows to be present for the feelings of others. We build a bigger container to hold our life and our experiences. We can choose to become complacent, neither growing in capacity nor responsibility, or we can say yes. Yes to a new adventure, role, class or relationship. Yes to dealing with our inner struggles, yes to the patience required to find those deeper gifts. And so the cycle between capacity and responsibility continues. We make a choice to grow, knowing the container we build with deep self-work will lead to more responsibility and fulfillment, when we have the courage to say yes.