Centering Yourself for the Roller Coaster of Life
As most of us have experienced, some days are a like jarring roller coaster ride, filled with exhilarating highs and frightening drops that leave your heart pounding – and finding a way to center ourselves in the midst of it all can be hard. For me, Monday was such a day.
Yesterday morning, thanks to the work I am fortunate to do with SMU’s Cox School of Business’ Executive Ed Program, I spent four pinch-me-is-this-my-life hours with an inspiring group of Tunisian women who have traveled to the US with the Bush Institute’s Women‘s Initiative Fellowship program. I felt quite spoiled, as I think I learned as much from them – from their thoughtful questions, the rich discussion, and the insight that followed – as they gained from me. They reminded me that most of what I know and teach is simply an amalgamation of all I have learned from the participants who have so fully and courageously shown-up in my sessions. Together, we grown and learn, enriching one-another’s understanding of what it means to be an authentic leader and to influence powerfully. As I finished the session, looking out at the group of extraordinary group of Tunisian women who will no doubt shape the future of their country, I felt completely overcome by emotion. I think it is one of the greatest thrills of my life to watch these women step into their power and get clear about their purpose. An exhilarating high. I felt grateful.
Not five minutes after the session ended, as the women were leaving the room to go to lunch, I checked my email for the first time all morning and discovered a note from the Superintendent of our school district. There had been a lockdown at my son’s elementary school – a false alarm, thankfully – but no doubt a terrifying experience. As I stood in that SMU classroom in Dallas, I felt so far away from New York. All I wanted to do was hold my child. To tell him I love him. To let him know everything was going to be okay. I felt angry at the loss of innocence. I wept as I stepped into their experience emotionally and imagined how the teachers and the children must have felt. The awareness of what a “lockdown” means to our community, only 30 minutes away from Newton, CT. A frightening drop from my so recent high. And yet, as I fell down the deep, deep well of emotion, below the sadness, and fear, and anger, when I hit the bottom all that remained was gratitude. He’s okay. It’s okay. I avoided over-reacting. Gratitude helped me get back to center.
One of the things I talk about in my sessions – and we did so yesterday morning – is distinguishing the difference between what we can control in life and what we can’t control in life. Life is going to deal us highs and lows – shuttering our reality in the blink of an eye – often outside our realm of control. From an authentic leadership perspective, what do we do? How do we manage ourselves and our own feelings and still be able to be that strong, centering force for others? What I know to be true is that stuffing it away or numbing it doesn’t work – while it might provide short-term relief, the list of negative repercussions in doing so has filled thousands of books.
But to “get real” about our own human experience while understanding how others are feeling around us, to focus on what we can control, and find our strength in the midst of it all in order to lead isn’t easy. I don’t believe there is one simple answer. But if we’re committed to bringing our best, we have a responsibility to find something to center ourselves, and that “something” will be different in each situation. For me this time, my centering force was gratitude – but I recognize that won’t work in every situation. Sometimes, no matter how positive we are and what great intentions we hold, bad things happen that make gratitude very hard to find.
We must deal with what is real. Even in a leadership role, we are humans who feel and experience the things that happen as much as anyone else – pretending otherwise is anything but authentic. And yet in times of trouble our families need us, our employees need us, our community needs us – people look to the leaders to give them strength and reassurance. We must find a healthy way to center ourselves.
Like yesterday, sometimes it might take focusing on gratitude. Sometimes purpose. Sometimes faith. Sometimes reaching out to others for support. Sometimes, when all else fails, simply finding a moment to breathe. One…breath…at…a…time. Breathe.
To center. To put our own air mask on so we can be there for those around us.
For the roller coaster isn’t going to stop, we have to find a way to help each other hang on for the ride.
©OnStage Leadership, 2013; Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. If you found this helpful, interesting, thought-provoking, or inspiring please “recommend”, “Like” and share. It is only through your generosity that we can reach those who may find it valuable too.