All as One

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The state of our world today makes me think about the course I took at Landmark years ago (and reviewed twice since, each time getting it on a deeper level).

Just to give you a little background, Landmark is a cutting edge transformational company that offers courses that support people in living a created life.  There is a curriculum for living, as they used to call it, that included 4 courses:

  • Landmark Forum – where you got your personal transformation
  • Seminar Program – where you practiced the tools in your life
  • Advanced Course – where you got to create yourself as a possibility in the world
  • Self Expression and Leadership Program – where you got what it takes to transform your own community

The first course was awesome, I remember being in it like it was yesterday.  In just one weekend, I have turned my life around.  I was a 27 year old Montenegrin girl living in New York, bartending for living even though I had a Master Degree in Liberal Arts (Film and Psychology) and struggling with my identity, relationships, finances and self-image.  Sunday afternoon of the Landmark forum was the moment I realized, down in my bones, that I create my life.  I reap what I sow and if I wanted different results, I have to be different, which would have me do things differently, which will, in turn, help me create a different life.

This will sound like a total brag because it is:  I have since, taken charge of my finances, turned them around, repaired relationship with people in my life, created different jobs until I created my own business, gotten married to an amazing man and had 2 children, created ton of art and have lived those 15 years with every cell of my being.  I was down at times but never too long and never without realizing what was stopping me, letting it go and going back up.  I have learned and acquired many tools since, but the transformational tools I got at Landmark have been crucial in my ability to turn things around.

As someone who always wanted to do well, personal transformation made sense.  I was often complimented on how I do things in comparison with others but since we don’t live alone on this planet, it wasn’t enough for me to know.

In the second course, called Advanced Course, for the first time ever, I learned about what it was like to be all as one. You see, in life, we often make sure we clean “our side of the road” and then we get right about how well we did make others around us wrong for not stepping up.  You can like being right only so much because eventually you become this superhero and everyone around you seems to be the jerk.  I know some buy into that story but it’s absolutely contradiction this notion that we are all one.  So, if we are all one, how do we deal with someone “misbehaving?”

I remember sitting in my course after a lunch break waiting for the leader to start.  When someone yelled: “when are we gonna start?” she got up and said: “As a community, we are not here.”  This puzzled us at first:

“But I am here!” “I don’t care someone else is late” “Why should we suffer because someone is not showing up” were just some of many things that people were shouting, all of us expressing the way we deal with the crises.  Some of us were annoyed to be slowed down by others, some of us completely resigned to that fact.  But the magical thing happened next: as we were each dealing with our egos, and willing to acknowledge it and get what was at stake, people start arriving.  As if by magic, when we were all willing to see that we were, in fact, one, everyone was in their seats.

Years later, in preparation to leading my own course, I reviewed this program.  Same conversation happened, except now, I knew that we weren’t going to start until everyone was in.  Josselyn, one of my favorite humans and leader at Landmark, stopped people like me dead in our tracks. Instead of making the conversation about everyone being in their places, she called those of us who were leaders and had us stand up accountable for not acting like leaders.  In my head, what went on was something like this: “Let them figure it out, I already know this!” which was sadly, just a different version of the initial upset with people misbehaving.

Fast forward, 2 years ago, right after my husband reviewed the course for himself, he insisted I did it too.  But this time, when we were coming back to the break, instead of waiting for Josselyn to start the conversation about integrity and “operating as one,” I got up and looked around and despite not wanting to act almighty, I started asking everyone with an empty seat next to them: “Do you know who was sitting here and can you get in touch with them?.”  Before you knew it, a few of us were stepping up assuring people were in the room and I have felt so much gratitude inside for what was available when I stepped up and demanded of others that they step up.

By the time next break rolled around, many people came to thank me and I realized, for all this times I considered myself a “leader” as a title or something I achieved, it is only when I put it in action that people were relating to me as a leader.  This was life altering to me and taught me a valuable lesson: “don’t wait for someone to show up and save you, do what you can do right now, do it to the best of your ability and be willing to demand leadership of others because we can’t do anything alone but we can each do our part”

In times like this, we are called to be bigger than we want to be.  I told my husband last night as I was just digesting everything that happened in my day: we are called to be the bigger versions of ourselves.  The way we are right now isn’t enough.  For me, that looks like taking care of kids, making sure that they are learning, playing, growing such that I can work on my books, help through my online programs, offer sessions for people to heal the parts of themselves that are still left disintegrated.  These types of events bring out  our own survival so it’s important to acknowledge where the fear is coming from and be sane in how we go forward.  I also send emails to teachers to help them in every way and families that are impacted by kids staying at home.  It’s just a beginning …

Now I ask you, what can you do right now?  How can you step up into the leadership where you are and let go of a thought that one person makes no difference?  A friend yesterday posted on Instagram a pot of food she made and offered to run for medicine and errands for elderly.  I was so moved by her generosity.  What can you do and how can I help?  Please share your ideas and this blog with all those you think it can inspire into action.

Our Unique Gifts: the Responsibility We Have

 

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I was a curious child.  My mom had me explore the Larousse Encyclopedia before I started my elementary school.  I have no idea if the reason behind it was her personal love of reading and ambition or the fact that I showed signs of interest.  Regardless, when I sat in my first grade, while other kids around me were following the words with their fingers and stuttering, I was already a fluent reader.

My summer vacations were a huge part of my childhood.  I was blessed with the privilege of summer vacations in a family home built by my grandparents.  Even during those months filled with play an vitamin “sea”, my mom would religiously replenish my book pile every Friday so that I could continue to read and learn.

It is easy to think that some people are born gifted.  I was told that I was smart and talented too many times to count.  I don’t want to discredit it here: I think I was.  But for as long as I thought that my success in life came from my lucky gene, I was paralyzed and arrogant.  I expected to be noticed and discovered rather than powerfully taking steps to succeed and explore.  Working hard and putting in an effort seemed embarrassing and as an antithesis to my inate ability.  On another hand, I was never acknowledged for the times when I did put in the work.  The credit went to God, or my nature – not my efforts.

I had a quick text exchange with my 6-year-old’s school teacher this morning after she sent out a message to parents that most of the kids failed the spelling test and had their homework incomplete today.  I knew my Adrian was not among those kids as both my husband and I hold ourselves accountable that his work is done and that he goes to school prepared.  We do this because our son thrives on being prepared and doing the work allows him the confidence to embrace school as an opportunity and not a chore.  While he is definitely a smart kid, I make sure I praise his effort and not his “gene.”  For as long as he knows he put in his best effort, he can embrace both failure and success, even if he prefers the latter.

What I know to be true is that successful people are those who put in the effort not the whiners who sit on sidelines and complain that life is unfair or wait to cash in their gift without moving an inch. How crippling it must be to have a gift and try to milk it while consistently witnessing failures because you don’t put in the effort that is necessary to nurture and share them with others?  We all come with unique gifts.  However, nobody succeeds without effort,

It helped me a great deal when my Family Constellation mentor Suzi Tucker shared with me that my gifts don’t come from me, but through me and that gifts that are unexpressed can become burdens. This allowed me to shift the context and look deeper into what was unique to me with responsibility to put in the effort necessary to nurture, grow and share it with the world, with people that wanted what I had. Suddenly, I stopped feeling overwhelmed by them but organized myself to humbly do the work to embrace and expand what I was born with, giving me sense of purpose and North Star when I open my eyes in the morning.

This allowed me to put my ego aside, to clearly see what was on or off my path, to let my fears dissipate and stand my ground unbothered.

What are your unique gifts and how do you honor them with effort?

If You Are Tempted To Give Unsolicited Advice, Please Read This First

When you are someone who deeply cares about people and the world, you are bound to have opinions about how things can be better, what would make a bigger impact or how to achieve the best outcome.  If you are smart, involved and invested, you likely have opinions. Most people who never give advice are not necessarily kinder people, but often resigned that there is anything they can say that really matters or they simply don’t care.  If you want to tell people things, you are most likely passionate.  I truly respect that and it’s actually why I shifted the way I now hear other people’s advice even when I know I didn’t ask for it.

Regardless of our passion and best intentions though, it makes no sense to spend any of our time and energy if it was going to land in a black hole, or even worse, if we  are going to be misunderstood and possibly attacked for it.  It is, therefore, so important to step back and think twice before we say something.  There is a saying in my culture that roughly translates as: “measure many times, but cut only once.”  I would say, think it over many times before you actually speak, or communicate, what you want to say.

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I believe that, regardless of our good intentions, it is our job to assure that what we are wanting to say is not only said as clearly as we could possibly say it, but is not falling on deaf ears and is actually making a difference for the person we are speaking to. The most important first step is: Understand why you want to say what you are saying, look for the agenda you may have, resolve for yourself that your communication is not merely a reaction to something that happened to you, or a response to something that isn’t happening now.  If you really look at this, often times you may realize that you are reacting to something and it will make it less important for you to speak to the person you originally wanted to give an advice to. You may realize, this is your own inner insecurity and something that isn’t so much about what you are to tell others but what you need to resolve with yourself.

I attended many transformational programs in my attempt to better understand myself and others.  In one of my first seminars, during the conversations about selling the next program, I raised my hand to acknowledge the current seminar team (volunteers). The leader asked me if I was open to having a breakthrough. When I accepted, she asked: “what had you raise your hand exactly during the sales conversation and not a moment sooner?”  Initially, I really thought that this was on my mind an entire evening, but she insisted that there was no accident I interrupted the sales conversation and not a moment earlier.  My eyes teared up as I realized, I was ashamed that I couldn’t afford to take the next program and was considering volunteering as it would provide me with the training and I wouldn’t have to pay.  Suddenly, an entire group of 80+ participant was moved by my transparency.  Those who could afford to go on were moved by my courage and those that couldn’t now new the way to continue their journey of transformation even though they didn’t have the money to pay for it.

In short, I made a difference. In my case, what I had to say was uncovered with a support of a very trained seminar leader.  We don’t always have that luxury, but it is always wise to think through what we want to say and why we are actually saying it.

Even when we are clear that we really have something to say, it is never OK to just “dump” our view on someone else without first asking their permission.  Dumping is simply inappropriate, but asking permission to say something allows the other person to set themselves up and be ready to hear what we have to say.  This doesn’t guarantee they will like it, most people just want to avoid looking bad at all cost so they won’t take feedback well at all.  However, being granted permission usually prevents people from getting  very defensive, and we have a fair shot at being heard.

After having the kids, I noticed my husband would get defensive when I made suggestions to him.  Luckily, we talked about it openly and he told me that he didn’t get defensive because he disagreed with me, but because of how and when I brought it up.    In moments when my husband was pressed with time and already feeling like he was failing, when I made suggestion, it sounded to him more like a complaint than constructive criticism and he wouldn’t take it well.  In addition, he often saw it as lack of gratitude and appreciation for all the things that he actually was doing and doing well.  This now has me work harder on finding a way to still speak my truth instead of forcing it down when it is convenient for me.  I also do my best to include my gratitude before I was talking say anything and this has really improved our relationship.

Lastly, we want to ask, is what we are saying really making a difference to that person?  I often feel like downloading my advice in comment section on social media and especially when people already openly ask for advice.  But here is a question I ask:  what is a difference we are trying to make and frankly, why are we giving it away for free? Most people are not going around wanting to give free advice to people who are in desperate need for it.  We are far more likely to want to say something to people we feel are doing well otherwise, it’s just this one thing that we feel we can add.  It often comes from us wanting to sound smart and be seen as someone qualified rather than an actual commitment to making a difference.  This is why, lately, every time I have an urge to give unsolicited advice, I write my own post about it and post on my Facebook, Instagram, or in this blog.  At least this way, I am honest with the difference I want to make:  I want to be seen and heard for the wisdom I share with people.  It takes discipline, but it’s far more satisfying at the end.

When it comes to unsolicited advice, there are rare occasions when the urge to communicate is stronger than everything I mentioned above.  I believe in exceptions though.  There are times and situations where we know the other person can’t even see that something that we have so much knowledge about and because that is a blind spot for them.  If the damage of the other person not seeing something is high, we may take a risk and say something anyway.  But if we are to do that, we have to address the elephant in a room, and call it what it is.  It may sound as simple as: “I know this is the advice you never asked for, but my knowing X makes me want to say Y so strongly and I hope you can consider it as I am really wanting to make a difference as wish someone have done it with me.”

At the end of the day, the truth is,  nobody really has to listen to our musings.  As wise and important as we may think we are, I believe people have freedom to live their life the best way they know how and have no obligation to hear us out.  If we remember that, I think we can nail the best thing to do most of the time.

 

 

Being Seen

One of my former clients, a comedian, once told me about the dilemma he was forming into a show.  He said “if you tell a joke in a forest, is it funny.”  I thought, of course not, if you tell it and nobody can hear it, find it humorous, of course it isn’t funny.

I was reflecting back on my past year or so of life when I began to realize more and more how much I like attention.  I was shamed for it at the very young age when I convinced myself that becoming a doctor or doing something worthy is better than being famous.  I didn’t suffer from wanting fame, my mother was fairly known while I was growing up and she raised me alone so I had a chance to meet many artists, musicians, actors and politicians then.  In fact, being VIP was the way things were, I didn’t have to worry about my fake ambivalence to fame.

When I moved to NY after my high school, I slowly began to understand what being a nobody was like.  In some ways, it protected me; I didn’t have to live up to the standards imposed by the people I knew.  I had total freedom to be myself and also, to define what that was going to be.  Luckily, not being able to travel frequently to my home country allowed me to create myself over and over again.  On another hand, it began to feel slightly weird to always have to think about getting tickets for something in advance, to not be  just “let in,” to have to know I can pay for everything I spend, to find my own way and spend my money where my mouth is.

I slowly began to desire to be seen for who I thought I was – worthy of attention and VIP treatment.  However, my pattern of pretending that I didn’t really want that was still going strong.  In fact, even during the transformational leadership course, when I got to be the first one to breakthrough and qualify as a leader, I spent time helping other people get qualified instead of mastering my game of leading.  My game was leading, no question about that, but it took me suffering for months to recognize and fully own it.

It seemed to me that wanting to be seen was just not a cool thing to admit.  I even read a Huffington post article a few weeks ago written by a psychologist who was defining narcissism.  I was shocked to see that I was nowhere near being one regardless of my Facebook and Instagram activity that I sometimes worry about would make me seem lame.  But the actual change happened in one of the courses for women that I took over a year ago.

As other women were owning their desire to be seen, taking attention when they could, occupying the space, I began to feel the grudge inside.  I was hating them, hating their power, wanting so badly to diminish it so that someone, out there, would see me instead.  It seemed so clearly to me that for as long as they shined, nobody could ever see my light.  I felt deep pain, I was miserable.  I kept thinking how much I have to offer, how deeply I wanted to contribute to people, how much I am wanting to write, to create art and know that what I do makes at least one other person happy.  I was looking for validation outside of me, and, it didn’t work.

So, after crying to my husband, who is also a coach, and to a couple of my closest friends who I thought knew me deeply, I realized, my hate came from envy, but my envy came from pain, the pain that I felt so deeply as a new mom, as a double mom in fact, for missing out on life, for not living it fully, for not sharing all that I truly wanted to share.

Don’t get me wrong, I had to get over the: “who am I to do this?” and “I am not good enough” and “people will laugh” and “I don’t want to be hurt!” But the truth is, I was already hurting, deeply, from letting my talents and passions go to waste, for killing possibilities before they could ever be realized.

Finally, this is what I learned, “is the joke funny if you tell it in a forest?”  Well, that depends on who is telling a joke and why they are telling a joke.  Being heard cannot be a guiding light, it is only a bonus.  Finding the light, humor and passion inside and then doing the work, that is the game.  So if you do tell a joke in a forest, and you enjoy it, you find it funny, I would say: it is funny.

It is not wrong to want to be seen, recognized and even famous.  I just think that being driven by that desire alone is not a mighty cause.  But I do think that people have a lot more to offer than they are offering.  At the end, I don’t write because I want everyone to read it, although I appreciate every single person that does so.  I am writing because I don’t want what I have to say to die with me in a case it will matter to someone who may read it.