In the spirit of often mocked but often clickable end of the year listicles, here are the top posts from this blog in 2017.

#1 Top Post

Lessons from Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness

The most clicked and most read was this post summarizing my take aways after hearing Brené Brown speak a couple of days ahead of her book launch. I’m a bit surprised it was the leading post. Perhaps there are lots of folks looking for key take aways. Perhaps one of the take aways was really helpful. Perhaps Brené Brown’s name itself just generates clicks.

#2 Top Post

5 Lessons from The Book of Joy

This is my second visited post from this year and one of my favorites. This is a terrific book that I not only enjoyed reading but have found myself recommending to others regularly. I also love the inclusion of Natalie Allen’s mind map as well. I’m also working with Hilary Lichterman and Amanda Knerr on presentations for ACPA and NASPA respectively on Mindful Leadership using the 8 Pillars of Joy as an organizer. It is great learning with and from others.

Top Post Not from 2017

3 Lessons from Rising Strong by Brené Brown

This post from 2016 was also a top post this year. Brené Brown does seem to be a fan favorite.

Personal Favorite

Mindful Leadership

This is my favorite from 2017. A collection of thoughts and insights on Mindful Leadership. I work on practicing these myself and often come back to these nuggets with coaching clients.

 

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Here is a brief recap of most of the books I “read” in 2017. I put “read” in quotes as I listen to most of these via Audible as I workout, commute, or travel. Perhaps you’ll add some of these to your reading list and make a suggestion or two that you think I should add to my list for 2018.

Highly Recommend

These are the books that really resonated and I recommend to all.

Book of Joy

This is an outstanding book and I have recommended it regularly since reading it. These two close friends share insights that span their histories facing oppression and genocide, the teachings of their different religious and spiritual traditions, and the lessons learned in long and remarkable lives. The book captures a conversation over a week together. The audiobook is tremendous with actors with similar accents giving you a sense that you are almost in the room with them. Here is my post on 5 Lessons from the Book of Joy.

Becoming Wise

I love Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being. In this book she steps out from asking the questions to sharing the best insights and ideas from her podcast guests and from her own listening, questioning, and living. The book is essentially the best wisdom and insights from more than 10 years of interviewing people on the question, “What does it mean to be human?”. Tippett is also an incredible writer. Much of her sharing of wisdom is done so beautifully that it borders on poetry. This is also a great listen as she weaves in content from the actual interviews throughout.

Braving the Wilderness

I was able to hear Brené Brown speak a couple of days before her book release of Braving the Wilderness. I shared my lessons on her talk in what has become my most visited blog post of the year – by far. There must be a lot of people searching for lessons from Brené Brown. As I listened to the full book later I was again struck with how often our culture dehumanizes others and also how social media especially enables and fuels this dehumanization. It has been a clarifier for me of my own values as an educator and a useful reminder of how and where I fall short. I’m recommitting to focusing on growth and transformation toward liberation. This book is shorter and insightful. If you’ve enjoyed Brown’s other books, as I certainly have, I think you’ll enjoy this one as well.

Peak Performance

The authors of Peak Performance discuss the science of what helps people reach their best whether that is athletic accomplishment, creativity and innovation, or productivity. I enjoyed the lessons grounded in science explained in very practical terms with clear “performance practices” to apply this learning. The central tenant is “stress + rest = growth.” The book explores ways to usefully and helpfully stress yourself through challenge and intense focus and how to rest with intentionality to recharge, rejuvenate, and grow. More on my 4 Lessons from Peak Performance here.

Recommend

These are books that I enjoyed and recommend depending on people’s interests.

Sapiens

Author Yuval Noah Harari gives a brief history of humanity from the beginning of the universe through human evolution to the development of civilizations to present day to projecting the challenges of the future. It is an intense and long read with very clear and direct writing. Harari explains complex subjects with the clarity of a good teacher. I particularly found the parts on human evolution fascinating in how it applies to our adaptation (or lack thereof) to today’s modern life. This is great for those seeking a nice summary of human history – very broadly defined.

Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield shares the story of his life becoming an astronaut and the life lessons he has learned through his path from dream to goals to reality and beyond. It was gifted this from fellow proud Canadian Natalie Allen. His insights are grounded in real world experience and he has a genuine sense of accomplishment and humility. It was an interesting autobiography in that the author seemed more interested in offering guidance for the reader. If you ever wanted to be an astronaut, this is a fascinating look at what it really is like.

White Out

I was invited to read and write a review for White Out for an academic journal. I appreciated the authors use of current examples of Whiteness and White dominance as well as their efforts to offer new metaphors and vocabulary for established concepts. This would be a great book for those looking to explore Whiteness seriously for the first time or a book group on the topic. It could also be a useful tool for those teaching about Whiteness.

Books Written by Friends and Colleagues

I also had a chance to read advanced copies of books written by some friends and colleagues for interviews for my blog.

Good Enough Now

This is a book on self-acceptance, learning, and action, especially on issues of social justice by Jessica Pettitt. The book focuses on head, heart, and action aspects of this work. It’s a helpful framing that compliments well my conceptual model of aspiring ally identity development. It’s a great guide for self-reflection and pushing social justice minded folks into realms they may not be as comfortable in such as head, heart, or action. You can read my interview with Jess on her book here.

But I’m Not Racist

Early in 2017, Kathy Obear released her book on Whiteness called But I’m Not Racist. Kathy is an expert facilitator on social justice, race and racism, and especially Whiteness. In this book she puts some of her best teaching and learning into book form to share more broadly. It’s a great, accessible, and useful tool for those seeking to explore their Whiteness and racism more deeply. You can read my interview with Kathy on her book here.

In It for the Long Haul

Later in 2017, Kathy Obear released her book on burnout and self-care for social change agents called In It for the Long Haul. I have no idea how someone releases two books in one year. This book is about recognizing, minimizing, and avoiding burnout through self-care, especially for social change agents. Kathy shares her own struggles and the insights from her own learning and the ways she helps her coaching clients be their best selves. You can read my interview with Kathy on her book here.

Coming Up Next

On the Move by Oliver Sacks

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

Any suggestions to add to my list for 2018? If so, leave a suggestion in the comments.

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Stress + Rest = Growth. Brad Stulberg & Steve Magness, Peak Performance

In Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success, authors Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness share the science on what makes successful performers, whether they be winning the New York marathon, writing a best selling book, oil painting, or corporate consulting. Their insights comes from research and interviewing high performers from the realm of athletics, creative work, and business. Below are 4 of my key lessons from Peak Performance.

1. Stress + Rest = Growth

The central message of the book is “stress + rest = growth.” Athletically, we call this balancing of stress with recovery “periodization training.” This kind of cycle of intense focus and stress matched with recovery not only leads to muscle and cardiovascular growth, is also what leads to creativity, productivity, innovation, and problem solving. So many of us fall into what Stulberg and Magness call a “grey zone” where we aren’t rested enough to put in intense effort and we aren’t stressed enough to utilize our rest for growth. We just fall into a cycle of always being tired and not being able to give our best.

The brightest minds spent their time either pursing an activity with ferocious intensity or engaging in complete restoration and recovery.

This came at a good time for me as I had just finished lots of travel for work and was trying to focus on recovery and rest to fuel more creativity and innovation. I was using the analogy of a singer/songwriter. There is a time to tour and there is a time to write new music. I’ve been having lots of conversations about the difference between manager time and maker time. I often have a hard time resting and feel constant “shoulds” about not “being lazy” or “sleeping my life away” and needing to work harder, more, and to just keep grinding away. Not only is this not sustainable, it isn’t a great way to cultivate good thinking, creative ideas, and clear problem solving. Working smarter does not always mean working harder. But we live in a culture that translates more hours as more commitment, suffering as dedication, and rest as lazy and selfish.

2. Intensify Your Focus

Stress is necessary to challenge us and push us toward growth. Especially, when we frame “stress” with a growth mindset as a sign of a challenge and an opportunity to grow and learn. Amateur athletes and performers are overwhelmed by stress and it inhibits their ability to perform. Elite performers aren’t beyond stress, rather they recognize it and use it to fuel their performance. This reminded me of how I wrestled with managing the intense opportunity and pressure as I was preparing to give my TEDx Talk. As the authors in Peak Performance mention, “skills come from struggle.” They also call on us to cultivate “productive failure.” This is not just lazily or mindlessly failing but thoughtfully pursing our best and realizing when, where, and how we fall short to cultivate learning and problem solving. This kind of intense energy, focus, and effort is what Cal Newport discussed in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

I especially needed to hear their urging to avoid multitasking, pointing out that for all but 1% of the human population multitasking is neurologically impossible. The rest of us are just shifting focus quickly from one thing to another to another, and undermining ourselves in the process. The book urged me to focus on one thing at a time, practice mindfulness in my work, give up on checking my phone mindlessly, and to enjoy missing out. I do suffer from Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and it isn’t working for me. Instead, I’ve decided to try and indulge and practice the Joy of Missing Out (JOMO).

3. Prioritize Quality Rest, Recharge, and Rejuvenation

Peak Performance helped me give myself a little bit more permission to rest. It’s helpful for me to reframe rest not as laziness, but as necessary to rejuvenate or recharge my batteries or position me to be at my best for others. I love the analogy of the oxygen masks on airplanes. We’re always told to put our own mask on first so that we can best help others. But in real life many of us feel like we should or pride ourselves on putting everyone else’s needs ahead of our own. That’s a great way to make sure you aren’t really able to be there for anyone else. It also builds suffering and resentment.

Rest not only prevents burnout and fatigue but it also is necessary for creativity and innovation. The authors of Peak Performance share a study of a consulting firm in Boston, where pressure is high and working around the clock is the encouraged norm. In the study, some workers were required to not work for one entire day per week AND to reframe from work after 6pm another day each week. These simple limitations may seem absurd to some or like an unjustifiable luxury to others. But the lesson of the study is that those who scaled back did not suffer compared to their harder working peers. In fact, those who had limitations put on their work hours were 20% more productive. This made me wonder how pushing myself to keep grinding could actually be undermining what I am able to contribute for others.

Not only is rest key for productivity but it also key for creativity, insight, and innovation. Our aware or conscious brain can only handle so much sustained focus, but our subconscious brain is always on processing information below our level of awareness. Rest helps us quiet the conscious brain and allows us to realize the insight or ideas from our subconscious processing. This is why many of us have great ideas in the shower, on a run, in dreams, washing the dishes, on vacation, or as soon as we stop thinking about our challenge.

4. Get Some Rest

If you are convinced to add more rest, here are a few ways to get quality rest.

  • Nature – Spending time in nature pulls you away from your problems and can help you get perspective. This can be a walk in the woods or as simple as looking out a window.
  • Sleep & Naps – More than half of US citizens don’t get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep allows not only for our bodies to recover but also for our brains to organize our experiences, make meaning, and foster learning. Storing this information helps clear space for new thinking. Taking short naps, 26 minutes according to NASA, can be a great way to give your body and your brain the rest they need to return to full capacity.
  • Mindfulness – Being fully present in the moment can be a way for us to rest and avoid worrying about the future and ruminating about the past.
  • Meditation is the practice of being mindful. It can give us space and openness and train us to focus where we want and to let go.
  • Walking – Walking can be a way to step away and get a new perspective (literally) and give our minds a break. The physical movement also engages our bodies differently which also engages the brain.
  • Silence – Just sitting in silence can be hard for many of us. We are so used to filling silence with others, music, noise, or our own thoughts. Yet, just being in silence can be rejuvenating and foster new ideas.
  • Exercise can be a break for the mental, social, or productive work we are doing and the ways we engage our bodies can fuel our brains with endorphins (natures painkillers and anti-depressants) which can often clear our brains and spark new ideas.

I enjoyed Peak Performance for its no nonsense science based recommendations. The performance practices throughout the book are also helpful clear directives on how to put this science into action. It’s helpful without being overly prescriptive. I also have found both authors, Brad Stulberg (more cognitive focus) and Steve Magness (more athletic focus) to be solid Twitter follows.

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Mindful Leadership

Mindful leadership seems to be a term resonating with folks, even if they aren’t sure what it means. Many of us are looking for new ways of being as leaders. Here are some of the components of mindful leadership I find myself working to practice myself and discussing with others in keynotes, presentations, and retreats.

Control

Mindful leadership is about letting go of control AND claiming agency. Weather is a great example of this. When it is raining it doesn’t serve us well to lament and complain that it shouldn’t be raining (control). Instead, we’re well served to acknowledge that it is raining and make decisions about bringing an umbrella or not (agency). Yet, many of us experience significant suffering because we are trying to control things that are out of our control like weather, circumstances, elections, or other people AND we give up agency over changes we can make within ourselves like choices, decisions, and actions. The image below describes how I think about this.

How can I give up as much control as possible over what is beyond me & simultaneously claim as much agency as possible over what is within me?

I think about this regularly when I fly. I am surrounded by people who are frustrated and even angry about things they cannot control like the flight time, temperature, noise, other passengers, wifi, etc. But I find there is much I can claim agency for like whether I sleep, meditate, listen to music, enjoy a podcast, talk with the people next to me, make a to do list, or just let my mind wander and enjoy those moments of being disconnected.

Process vs Outcome

How can we let go of the outcome, which we often have little control over, but put our energy into the process? This is outlined through the lens of Stoicism in Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle Is the Way.  How do we let go of control over the outcome such as whether we win the game, get the sale, find the right person, or get our kids to wear winter jackets? How do we instead focus on putting in all of our energy and effort into each play, connecting with the client, making ourselves vulnerable, or being as patient as we can?

Middle Path

Buddhist refer to this as the middle path or healthy non-attachment. On one hand we have caring too much and holding on too tightly to what happens and on the other hand we have not caring at all and giving up. Neither serve leaders very well. The middle path is about letting go of where this might go or what might happen but focusing on being and giving our best toward the outcomes that are important to us. How are well all in with our time, energy, and effort but let go of any expectations that it will work out the way we wanted? This is what Buddhist call engaged Buddhism and related to what bell hooks describes as engaged pedagogy in Teaching to Transgress.

Professional Will and Personal Humility

Mindful leaders practice professional will and personal humility. They take their work very seriously but they don’t take themselves seriously at all.

“This is far too serious a matter to take too seriously.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn

I heard Jon Kabat-Zinn use this approach when talking about the impact on social media on our well-being as well as instances of global terrorism. How does our taking critical issues too seriously prevent us from seeing possibilities, solutions, and creatively addressing problems? Below is a great and funny TEDx Talk from my friend Paul Osincup on the power of humor for leaders.

Being an Essentialist

If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. How can you do less, so you can be more? How can you weed the garden of your life? How can you apply the Pareto principle? Author Greg McKeown explores all of this in his book Essentialism. I recommend it highly and often.

Mindfulness and Meditation

These two are often confused and used interchangeably when they are two different but related ideas. Mindfulness is simply the practice in being in this moment. And then in this moment. And being fully present in each moment.

Meditation is the focused practice on being fully present.

Meditation is simple. It is hard. It takes practice. And it is often mis-understood. It also has been proven in thousands of research studies to make us happier, healthier, and more effective. Here is the most succinct and clear explanation I have found.

Letting Go

Mindful leadership is mostly about letting go. About letting go of control, perfectionism, fear of failure, being right, getting it right, and more. It means letting go of your ego to open yourself up to be more effective aligned with your purpose.

 

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Authentic Masculinity. Recognizing external socialization. Discovering self. Giving up performing & mask wearing. Aligning with full authenticity & humanity. Living in integrity.

Men are socialized, as soon as we enter this world, about how we should think, feel, and behave as men AND how we should not think, feel, and behave as men. This gender socialization is so successful that my research participants couldn’t tell me when they first learned it, because they couldn’t remember not knowing it. People of other genders learn these rules and also help to perpetuate and reinforce them as well.

We are all socialized by the traditional hegemonic definition of masculinity. Critical gender scholars call this hegemonic because it places men above other genders, some men above other men, and limits all men. This is also called dominant or Toxic Masculinity. We have come to call this Toxic Masculinity as a way of pointing out how toxic it is to everyone.

We are all also socialized into many other cultural masculinities at the intersections of other identities. These include masculinities such as working class, gay, Black, Jewish, able-bodied, Latino, midwestern, and rural masculinities. Each of these masculinities is also plural because there are many different rural masculinities, many different Black masculinities, and so on.

Critically exploring masculinities can help illuminate privilege, address systemic sexism, and begin to create greater liberation for people of all genders. This includes liberation for men from the confines of masculinities that deny our authenticity and humanity.

There is a growing societal awareness of Toxic Masculinity. Many have tried to encourage a different version of masculinity, called Healthy Masculinity. For those just beginning to explore Toxic Masculinity, pursuing Healthy Masculinity, which is more pro-social, can certainly be helpful in guiding them in a different direction. In other words, this might be a good strategy, depending on where others are at in their learning. However, ultimately Healthy Masculinity is just another externally imposed set of guidelines that can also be restricting and limiting. What is Healthy Masculinity for me, might not be healthy for someone else and vice versa.

I’d like to make the case instead for Authentic Masculinity. This masculinity is individually defined and allows each person who identifies as a man to decide what is really authentic and genuine for him about his masculinity. This requires recognizing the gender socialization that is externally imposed by hegemonic masculinity and various cultural masculinities. Exploring who he really is beyond the faking, performances, and masks to live up to these external expectations. This is challenging to do. How does one explore who one really is when when has been taught to live up to others expectations for their whole life? To paraphrase how one participant put it:

I really like football. I played football. I like college football, professional football, fantasy football. But how do I know if I really like football or if I’ve just been taught my whole life that I am supposed to like football…and if I don’t know if I like football, how do I know if I really like girls?

So as you can see, once football is up for grabs, everything is up for grabs.

Encouraging Authentic Masculinity means recognizing the external expectations, exploring who one really is, and living in integrity by aligning what one values with what one does, consistently. In my research this evolved from learning external expectations, realizing that they couldn’t live up to those expectations and wearing a mask, to discovering who they really were, to living in integrity as who they really were consistently.

Discovering Authentic Masculinity is likely a life-long task to discover, re-discover, and live out fully. But anything else is simply living one’s life by other people’s rules. Authentic Masculinity means identifying as a man but making your own meaning about what that means for you personally, without needing for that to be shared with other men. It can change and evolve as you do and the world around you does. It is liberating.

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Supporting survivors. Safety. Believe. "It is not your fault. Empower.

When I speak about preventing sexual violence on college campuses, I often share brief definitions of different forms of sexual violence including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. Once I’ve given these brief definitions I then ask, “How many of you know someone who has experienced sexual violence?” Again and again, on campuses across the United States and Canada, 75% of college students consistently raise their hand and say they know someone who has experienced sexual violence.

Those who do direct advocacy and support work get at least 40 hours of training and often times much more including on-going training, certifications, and advanced degrees in the areas of counseling, neuroscience of trauma, and more. It’s unrealistic to offer this level of training to college students generally, but it is critical to offer them some tips to support survivors. Especially, because 75% of them already know survivors and 80-90% of sexual violence on campuses go unreported to police or campus officials. We have to equip individuals and communities to be able to respond to survivors in ways that avoid harm and are helpful. Here are the four overly simplified suggestions I make to college students about supporting survivors.

1. Safety

Make sure the individual is safe. Are they injured? Do they need medical attention? Do they have a safe place to stay? If the person who harmed them is someone they live with, can you offer them another place to stay? Are they mentally and emotionally safe? Are they suicidal? Do they need immediate counseling and support to be safe? Make sure they are safe.

2. Believe

Very rarely do individuals claim that they experienced sexual violence when they have not. Many of us have an inflated sense of this happening, because of how the media portrays these things. Just because a criminal process didn’t find it beyond a reasonable doubt that the person identified was guilty, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Just because a campus process didn’t find a preponderance of evidence that the identified person was responsible, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Just because someone rescinds a report of sexual violence after being socially ostracized and isolated, or physically and violently threatened, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. According to the FBI the incidents of individuals claiming they experienced sexual violence when they did not is about the same rate as people who said someone stole their car when that didn’t happen.

If someone shares with you that they have experienced sexual violence, believe them. It is highly unlikely they they are making this up. AND it is not your role to investigate, gather information, and share that information with decision makers. Someone else will be in that role. All you have to do is believe them. And tell them that you believe them.

3. “It is not your fault.”

Victim-blaming is all too common for survivors of sexual violence to experience. No one should be made to feel responsible for what someone else has done to them. Victim-blaming can contribute to hurt and trauma. Victim-blaming’s roots are in the rape culture in our society, our reactive approaches to sexual violence, and our own cognitive protective mechanisms. Our culture says, to women in particular, “don’t wear that, don’t drink too much, watch your drink, go with your friends, and come home with your friends” These messages are often intended to help individuals reduce their risk of experiencing sexual violence. However, they are strictly reactive and amount to telling women what they need to do to respond to being an environment and society where sexual violence is all too common, rather than being proactive and trying to prevent that sexual violence from happening in the first place to that individual or to anyone. These messages can also lead to victim-blaming.

Survivors of sexual violence often hear these messages, before and after experiencing sexual violence. We all want to believe that horrible things won’t happen to us. We want to believe in what cognitive science calls the “Just World Hypothesis.” We want to believe that the world is a fair and just place. So when horrible things happen, we scan for information that makes this situation unusual and therefore one that we don’t need to worry about. By doing so, we can maintain our belief in a just world. When we hear someone was mugged at 4 am, we think “that’s awful, but I would never be out at 4am” and then we can go on not feeling afraid and believe that the world is a fair and just place because we would never do that. But this leads to victim-blaming. We can even do it to ourselves. We may not want to believe that this horrible thing could happen to us again, so we may be tempted to find the thing that even we ourselves did wrong, hoping that if we just never do that thing, then this will never happen to us again. No one should be made to feel responsible for what someone else has done to them.

This is why it is so important to say to someone who has experienced sexual violence, “It is not your fault.” Even if they haven’t mentioned hearing or thinking anything that sounds like victim-blaming, say it anyway. Even if you have said it before, say it again. Even if you’ve repeated it endlessly, keep repeating it. Even if you feel like you are being ridiculously redundant, keep saying it. Survivors of sexual violence can’t hear those words enough.

4. Empower

Those who experience sexual violence have had their choices and ability to make decisions about themselves taken away. Make sure you are empowering them to make decisions about what happens going forward, both with their healing process and with any reporting they may choose. This can be especially hard when the person telling us they have experienced sexual violence is some one we care about deeply, and we feel we know what is best for them. Make suggestions. Make recommendations. Repeat them if you feel you need to. But, be sure you are empowering them to make their own decisions.

 

 

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On Sunday evening I had the opportunity to hear Brené Brown speak in Minneapolis about her new book, Braving the Wilderness, which came out on Tuesday.

I’ve benefitted greatly from Brené Brown’s work including her previous books; Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong as well as her TED Talks. Her ideas and concepts have been helpful in my presentations, my coaching with clients, and in my own life in relationship with others and myself.

On Sunday she spoke about how as individuals and communities today we are sorted (into communities with others who are like us), lonely, and afraid (of those who are not like us).

In the absence of love and belonging, there is always suffering. Always.

She calls this a spiritual crisis of disconnection.

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and one another is grounded in love and compassion.

She calls for us to move toward true belonging.

True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.

True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are. It requires you to be who you are.

 

Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don't belong. You will always find it because you've made that your mission. Stop scouring people's faces for evidence that you're not enough. You will always find it because you've made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don't negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you. - Brene Brown

She offered four practices for doing so, which also are outlined on the back of her book.

  1. People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.
  2. Speak truth to BS. Be civil.
  3. Hold hands. With strangers.
  4. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

-James Baldwin

She shared this quote to talk about how tempting it can be to distance and dehumanize others who are different from us. You might think of your uncle’s homophobic comments at Thanksgiving, white supremacists in Charlottesville, or the roots of genocide around the globe and across history. This dehumanization is there for sure. But I was also wondering about how those of us who aspire to work to reduce violence and the roots in oppressive systems, also use dehumanizing language and approaches in the name of social justice. bell hooks reminds us that these are tools of oppression. It can certainly be palpably tempting to dehumanize those who have dehumanized you or those you love and care about. It can even feel good. Being self-righteous and scoring points or kudos from others who share our thinking can be affirming and validating. But it rarely is effective in bringing about the kind of change and transformation we seeking to bring about in individuals, communities, institutions, and societal systems.

Brené Brown quickly and rightly pointed out that the burden shouldn’t fall to the traumatized to invite the traumatizers to the table. Others of us can do that, especially those with systemic privilege. The kind of connection that makes change and transformation possible isn’t always possible, especially when someone’s physically safety is at risk. Some times the goal is not learning and transformation but simply interrupting and stopping harm. This calls for different strategies. And other times efforts at creating change and transformation can’t continue because one side continues to dehumanize the other side. In these cases we can prioritize our own self-care and healing by choosing battles and focusing our energy where change may be possible.

For more on Braving the Wilderness, you can read Brené Brown’s snippet in Fast Company here.

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Do you have a voice inside you that you trust? Could getting more clarity about that voice help you access it more readily? Could it help you trust your instincts or connect with what your brain is processing right below your level of conscious awareness?

One of the things I learned in my coaching certification program through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) is how to help people connect with their Inner Guide. This helps them identify and connect with their own inner wisdom and separate it out from the external shoulds and the undermining and chiding voice of their Inner Critic.

Sometimes it can be hard to explain this to new coaching clients. We aren’t trying to create something new. We are trying to help put you in touch with a voice you’ve had all along. It can sound a bit gimmicky, but this Shel Silverstein quote really helps explain it quite nicely.

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Last week I had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Kathy Obear‘s book In It For the Long Haul: Overcoming Burnout and Passion Fatigue as Social Justice Change Agents. Her book is out today and available for free download.

In It For the Long Haul is a much-needed look at burnout and sustainability in social justice work. Kathy explores the challenges and systemic roots of burnout as well as strategies for healing and sustainability in social change work. A great tool to help readers recognize, normalize, and address burnout in themselves and others.

As with her previous two books, Kathy generously agreed to do an interview for her book launch.

Keith: You describe your own life experiences with burnout as well as the experiences of your clients and workshop participants. What is pushing you to address this topic now? Do you see this issue worse now than before in yourself, in social justice circles, or in the broader culture?

Kathy: I am finding more and more people in deep burnout these days ~ and they are still getting up every morning to work for social justice. The challenge is they are depleting themselves, endangering their health, and undermining their long-term capacity to sustain activism and change work.

The cumulative impact of the increasing oppressive dynamics in society and in organizations is taking a deep toll. For decades, change agents have been resisting and creating greater liberation in the face of seemingly unrelenting systemic oppression. AND, in recent years, I have observed a significant increase in incidents and institutionalized oppression (whether there really is more occurring or we are just hearing about them more through social media and cable TV). For example, the seemingly daily or weekly news about another people of color, especially black men, being killed while interacting with police and the complete lack of justice in most every single death; the pervasive racism in the anti-immigration rhetoric that seems to be exponentially expanding everywhere I look; and the assault on health care that will endanger millions of people across intersecting identities, including age, disability, socio-economic class, immigration status, race, gender, etc. I could keep going because this current administration and their accomplices across the nation are persistently dismantling decades of progress through shifting policies, laws and practices that have created some degree of access and social justice over the decades.

It is time for everyone to step up their game, to do more, to be more, to create true equity and fairness for all. And we can’t do this if we are exhausted, overwhelmed, and burned out. We need immediate self-care and community care to sustain our change efforts for the long haul.

Keith: You described how much better you are when you are “spiritually grounded, emotionally present, and physically healthy.” Are these the three-legged stool of sustainability in social change work?

Kathy: Yes, though at times I may need a 6-legged stool! It seems easiest for many to start to create better balance in their physical health. Shifting how we eat, drink, sleep, exercise, play, and rejuvenate ourselves can result in a pretty rapid change in our energy and stamina.

As we eat nutritiously and cut back/cut out foods and beverages that deplete our immune system and energy, we most likely will notice we have more emotions than before and are more easily triggered. When we stop using food, alcohol, sugar, and other substances to cover over emotions, our feelings will resurface, often when we least expect! Deepening our capacity to effectively experience and navigate our emotions is critical to sustaining our change work. For most people I know, this will involve doing some deeper healing work to identify and resolve past issues and traumas that fuel our unproductive triggered reactions so we can be emotionally grounded and present in the work.

Finally, for those who have a spiritual practice, it may be useful to explore how you are currently using spirituality and/or religion to support your social change work. When I engage others out of ego or resentment or fear, I am far less effective and usually escalate dysfunctional dynamics that undermine my goal of greater equity and inclusion. However, when I ground myself in my faith and show up in ways that are consistent with my values, I am far more useful in the work. When I come from a space of respect, passion, compassion, empathy, authenticity, relating to the people I am engaging, curiosity to understand ~ then I am more likely to build relationships and deepen understanding, two critical criteria for creating and sustaining social justice.

Keith: You also describe seeking to engage with “compassion, humility, and accountability.” Is this another key three-legged stool?

Kathy: Compassion is a fundamental element of self-care and social justice work. I need to nurture deep compassion for those I am supporting and serving, including those with whom I disagree. People do not usually change when they are confronted out of anger or shamed into changing. One might see a short-term shift and “win the battle” as they say, but you will lose the war. I am in this for the long haul. I believe we need to build meaningful connections and relationships with people whose behavior we find disruptive and unacceptable. I find people only change when they are coached and supported by people they know and trust. We can be these change agents in people’s lives, but only if we engage them out of compassion and humility.

When I judge others, I am rarely effective as I interact with them. Yet, if I ground myself in humility and “see myself in them” instead of judging and distancing myself, then I am far more likely to build a fruitful connection. When I am stressed and burned out, it is so difficult for me to find any compassion or humility. I usually react with a depth of self-righteous anger and arrogance that completely undermines my ability to be useful and effective. I find more humility when I remember how I am just like those who I am judging OR how in a split second, I could say and do oppressive behaviors just like they are.

Accountability is critical to forward movement, yet so lacking in my experience. I need to hold myself accountable for my self-care and health so I consistently show up as a powerful, effective change agent. We also need to create greater community care among those with whom we work so we are all accountable for helping each other maintain the depth of stamina, passion, energy, and follow-through that we need to create meaningful institutional change. In addition, we need to hold each other accountable for our behaviors so that our actions do not collude and contribute to perpetuating the very oppressions we say we are committed to dismantling. This includes how we interact and engage other change agents as well as those whom we hope to educate along the way.

Keith: You cite a Brené Brown quote about how when we are overwhelmed we not only suffer but we get resentful as well. I can relate to feeling that myself. Do you think feeling that resentment can be an indicator of burnout?

Kathy: When I feel resentful of others or myself, it is a clear sign I am in dire need of self-care and healing work. I have an old pattern of over-doing and care-taking for others as I sacrifice attending to my own needs and desires. My guess is many people can relate!  Many of us are socialized to ignore ourselves and taught that setting boundaries and meeting our needs is selfish. I think these messages perpetuate oppression and maintain the systems of privilege and power. If we push ourselves past exhaustion, feeling resentful towards others, then we often stop out, possibly drop out, or if we stay in the work awhile longer, our resentment and rage fuels unproductive behaviors that undermines group effectiveness and team morale. We may keep showing up to planning meetings, but others will drop away. And without consistent, persistent effective organizing and strategic action, oppression continues to escalate.

It is critical that groups create the space to discuss how people are feeling as change agents and explore any sources of resentment that may be creating dysfunctional team dynamics. If we don’t, resentment and anger will fester and corrode efforts to create change.

Keith: I have been thinking a lot about “healing” and “self-care,” both as concepts and terminology in the context of social justice. You use both. Do you see them as interchangeable or different?

Kathy: I see self-care and healing as overlapping to a great extent. And both are essential to sustaining our change work. I need to focus on the more current dynamics of my life to create greater self-care: the quality of my relationships, how I take care of my body and spirit, how I balance work and rejuvenation, how I navigate conflict and triggering situations, etc. And I also have to hold space for doing deeper healing work so old issues and unresolved dynamics do not fuel any unproductive choices or reactions in the moment.

For me, healing work includes identifying and shifting old assumptions and beliefs that drive my workaholic tendencies as well as untangling old traumas and wounds so I take back my power, release pent up emotions, and rewrite my stories about those experiences.  Self-care and healing are so inter-connected. We need to focus on them both as we commit to reclaiming ourselves and our lives as we create the stamina, clarity, and passion we need for the long haul.

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A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Jessica Pettitt’s book Good Enough Now. The book is out today!

Good Enough Now is a great book explaining how to really do the personal work to effectively raise awareness and engage in action around diversity, inclusion, and social justice. I really appreciated the focus on not being perfect and allowing for messiness. That is so important and often gets in my own way. Jessica has a great framework that is easy to understand and can be applied in a wide variety of situations to more effectively engage with ourselves and others.

Jess generously agreed to do an interview for her book launch.

Keith: In your book Good Enough Now, you explore how people can connect their head, hearts, and action to bring about more good in the world. Given all your work as a speaker, trainer, and facilitator, how did this format and framing for the book come about?

Jess: After doing diversity trainings, workshops, retreats, and answering questions after keynotes, I began to notice patterns of excuses as to why folks didn’t feel like they were good enough to intervene or interrupt oppression, let alone advocate for others and at times even themselves.  I developed a model that illuminated our response patterns and wrote the book to encourage readers to “do their own homework” and uncover the roots of the behaviors they are responsible for, how these were developed, and to leave room for someone else’s intentions.

Keith: Who is the audience you had in mind for this book as you were writing it?

Jess: Honestly, all of my products started with a problem I was having and couldn’t find another tool to lead me to a solution.  If it works for me, it could work for others, by sharing this tool with others paired with my own journey to problem solving, we could meet in an authentic and vulnerable space.  Anyone willing to meet up in this space can then be curious about others’ experience and generous.  This is the heart of social justice work.  The audience therefore got wider and wider and now includes anyone interested in doing something different leading to a different result.

Keith: Can you explain briefly head, heart, action as you use them in your book?

Jess:

HEAD – doesn’t mean intelligence or academic – it references a need for or getting hung up on small details, vocabulary words, statistics, data, content.

HEART – doesn’t mean nurturing or parental – it references the connection between something small to something larger, be it an idea, mission, value, or even events or programs.

ACTION – doesn’t mean athletic or fitness – it references the reactive or proactive responses and not a lot of planning, talking, research, etc.

All three variables are equally good and frustrating to others.  All three are in all of us all of the time.

I can (re)claim responsibility for my actions when I understand the patterns of my behaviors and the roots of these patterns.  Moreover, I can notice my excuse patterns that limit my responses that I can also lean into when needed to behave in ways that are needed in the moment that may be outside of our habits.  Lastly, if I can do this work myself, then I can hold others at a distance to see them for their behavior habits instead of just shutting them down or out due to my frustration.   Now we can make a better connection.

Keith: What is the “third rail” in terms of head, heart, and action?

Jess: We typically respond from two of the variables leaving the third to fuel our excuses or, as I call it, gas pedal us through crucible moments in our life.  Like on the NYC Subway system, the third rail powers the system and can also be deadly.  Kryptonite and a Vaccination all at once – it is how we use our third rail and work with others third rails too.

Keith: What has shifted within you through the process of writing this book? How do you show up differently in your doing or being?

Jess: I am a head/action person, so heart is my third rail.  The model, literature review, and research got feed in the First section of the book, Good.  When I read other books about different types of conversations, the “Now What?” section came off to me salesy or at times manipulative and I wanted to really drill home the concept of self responsibility and the claiming or reclaiming of it instead of waiting to be perfect before doing something.  I also didn’t want the Now section to be about using this new jedi skill to impact others, but to understand one’s own impact on others.  The middle section, Enough, is all about trying to try and doing the best you with what you have some of the time.  My own excuse patterns are much more familiar to me after getting this project completed because I believe this matters more than ever.  I am much more open to hearing from others my patterns that I don’t know about, way less defensive, and comfortable with the reality that I will never be done with this self-reflection work.

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