Strength. I possess strength in abundance. In the early 1980’s I sat still with my soul to understand who I am in my core being. During this period reflection, one that involved backpacking through Europe, Egypt, and Russia, participation in a series of self-awareness workshops, and time alone bicycling and camping throughout the Northwest, this is what I learned, “I am a beautiful, strong, loving woman.” My soul-song is “Sister” by Chris Williamson:
“Born of the earth, child of God … just one among the family. And you can count on me to share the load, and I will always help you. Hold your burdens, and I will be the one to help you ease your pain. Lean on me, I am your Sister. Believe on me, I am your friend.”
It didn’t occur to me that while my beautiful, loving self knows no boundaries, my strength is finite. Perhaps it didn’t occur to me because up until this past year I’ve found reservoirs of strength within myself, drawn on the strength of others, or had times of respite to refuel my strength. But this past year drew down my strength in a continuous, relentless, unforgiving manner.
I experienced a specific breaking point, a moment when it became clear that I lacked the strength I needed to carry on. And so I had a choice. I could choose to give in to fear and selfishness, an approach that would place few demands on the need for my strength. Or I could explore ways that I could refuel my strength, and get back to being who I really am.
A son’s deployment, a son’s fight against a life threatening illness, a daughter’s departure to independence in far flung countries, demands of a profession, interactions with un-kind people, and day-to-day stressors formed a perfect storm that drew down my strength through a slow, steady depletion until my strength was gone. While it was tempting to give in to my emotional exhaustion, I decided instead to begin a new journey – a journey to fuel my weary soul. And I decided to share my journey in case someone else out there is feeling weary, and looking for ideas as to how to refuel their soul.
My personal journey is based on kindness. It is my belief, and research supports my belief, that kindness is a most effective fuel for a weary soul. The first part of my journey examines three stops I have made to fuel my strength through kindness to myself.
Miguel Ruiz’s lessons in the “Four Agreements” were the perfect first stop in my journey of kindness to self. Each of the four agreements is a lesson of how to act in alignment with one’s soul. My approach to integrating the four agreements into my daily routine began by covering my bathroom mirror with sticky notes containing elements of the four agreements. Lucky for me, I have a husband that accepts my journey and didn’t worry that my Obsession Wall was reminiscent of The Imitation Game or A Beautiful Mind!
1) Be impeccable with my word – speak my personal truth clearly and confidently
2) Don’t take anything personally – people’s slights are about them and their relationship with themselves, not about me
3) Don’t make assumptions – ask questions to understand what is true, and clearly express what it is that I want
4) Always do my best – there is no other yardstick by which I can measure myself, and no more that I have to offer
Stop #2: “Daring Greatly” by Brene’ Brown. I studied the research of Brene’ Brown. Her book “Daring Greatly” offers useful re-fueling ideas. Brown writes about the importance of large doses of self-love and self-acceptance as fuel to live true to my core self:
- trust myself
- treat myself with respect
- be kind and affectionate toward myself and others
Brown’s research reminds me that, while I am not in charge of the demands life will place on my strength, I am in charge of how I manage my strength reserves. Phil will deploy again, Kevin’s path to health is a long, winding road, and Kate needs remote support as she steps out into the world. Un-kind people will enter my life, and professional demands will continue. Self-love and self-acceptance offer great sources of strength for my journey.
Stop #3: Reflected Best Self Portrait. As part of the graduate leadership development course I teach, I’m experimenting with the use of a Reflected Best Self activity developed by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations. The third stop to fuel my weary soul involved conducting a version of the Reflected Best Self. I gathered feedback from family, friends, and colleagues to understand how others experience and observe my best self. Reading the words and stories has been the best fuel I’ve found. My fuel:
Passionate – Compassionate – Caring – Tenacious – Positive – Intelligent – Brave – Adventurous – Generous – Authentic – Sensitive – Warm – Leader – Listener – Accepting – Advocate – Broad-minded – Reflective – Helpful – Involved – Strong – Motivator – Level-headed – Activist – Well-intentioned – Perseverant – Thoughtful – Balanced – Engaged – Resilient – Wise – Patient – Kind – Principled – Friendly – Objective – Enthusiastic – Problem-solver – Fearless
Reflecting on the self-kindness portion of my journey to re-fuel my strength is the realization that running out of strength, or depleting a part of my core self isn’t a bad thing. When I acknowledge my limits and express my vulnerability, I can then begin a journey back to wholeness. I have a team of supporters gathered in front, beside, and behind me. Some reach out their hands to pull me out of the morass, some step beside me as we fuel our tanks together, and some stand behind me to provide a soft landing when I slip. These hands and hearts make my journey both easier and more joyful.
So cheers to running out of strength, and cheers to my resolve to refuel my strength so that I can continue being the beautiful, strong, loving self that I am.
“Lean on me, I am your Sister. Lean on me, I am your friend.”