People often ask me why - as an executive trainer and mentor - I advocate beginning all change at the personal level.
The answer is deceptively simple - before you can hope to lead others you must first learn to lead yourself!
You must first learn to understand, access, and leverage your authentic self. To love yourself and deal with yourself free of ego, judgment, and negativity, for it is only when you step outside of those limitations that you become the person others want to follow.
Learning to lead oneself is both a process and a journey involving many phases; from my own personal experience these include periods of growth, stagnation, pain, change, joy, confusion, clarity, transition, beginnings and endings, connection and disconnection. In short it is a process that thrives on the duality of life - the good and the bad - and one must experience one or the other, and sometimes both at once in order to move beyond what has been, and get on the path of what is yet to be.
I wouldn't be human if I told you my own journey was always easy and joyful because no one's is. I remember all too clearly not trusting my authentic self, of being guilty of negative self talk, a prisoner of my own fears and insecurities. Like most people I spent a good deal of time fighting change, resisting taking the steps into the unknown and feeling insecure when I did. I resisted with all my heart doing the necessary inner work even though I firmly believed that those who did benefited exponentially from the effort.
Having finally embarked on my own inner work I now view my life as a journey of discovery; the journey of finding my true self in the tides of life, and understanding - who I am, my life’s purpose, my life lessons and my growth path. Every single step of this journey involved, and continues to involve, learning, growth and transformation.
The journey of self discovery can be difficult, scary and at times lonely. Life can throw so many obstacles at you that it takes hard work to overcome them all - but it is at these low points that the biggest break thoughts often occur. It is almost as if life is testing how much you really want something.
So what exactly is “inner work”?
Inner work is about identifying the things that keep you living your life in the status quo. It is about awareness and choice, and moving away from the known of what is, towards what could be - involving discovery, transformation and mindful choices.
Living the status quo is akin to living in a box with a limited awareness - defined by pre-programmed thought and behavior patterns which tend to be shaped by fear and a resistance to change. Those who live their lives in this way look at life through the lens of their expectations, attitudes, habits, beliefs, assumptions and judgments.
They accept these limitations and do not seek to step outside of the boundaries to discover new paths and directions, foregoing new insights and inspiration. In short it means living in a way that resists change despite the fact that change is a natural state for all of us.
Inner work involves surrendering yourself to change and accepting the challenge of personal growth in order to discover your authentic self. It means taking the time to listen within to learn more about your deepest self; questioning your views and values, beliefs, assumptions, and perspectives. Questioning your experiences in the context of your reactions to them and reflecting on the outcomes.
Inner work is about achieving forward movement on the inside and outside. It is about opening and expanding your horizons to try on new perspectives and possibilities - and reflecting on the resulting experiences. When we can accomplish this, personal growth becomes both a joy and an adventure.
The point at which we begin to enjoy this journey is the point at which we understand and accept that every obstacle offers an intrinsic learning opportunity, providing us with a lesson, nurturing further growth and transformation.
Stepping outside of your own personal box is not easy and best done with the support of a qualified and experienced mentor. Having the benefit of an understanding supporter can take some of the trauma out of taking these first steps into the unknown and help you keep taking the right steps long past the point at which you might be inclined to pack your shoes away.
Whether you are doing this with help, or on your own, the point about moving beyond your current boundaries is to start small and accountable. Embrace a new thought, a new routine, a different response or action, break up with an old habit or simply asking yourself questions you may not have had the courage to ask before. Make sure you follow through, committing and setting an intention to continue to move forward each and every day.
I invite you to sit with these thoughts and explore them. They are meant to serve as an inspiration for further exploration of the inner self, to help you to find your own way of finding and listening to your own truth.