A lesson in growing up: SLC edition


Stop chasing what you want and start chasing who you are. Magic happens when we approach life this way. #2013tips

The UBC Student Leadership Conference was this past weekend. As my 5th SLC experience, it ranks in my heart as the best yet; I struggle to articulate how blessed, humbled, and catalyzed that day has left me.

A bit of context.
I’ve been lucky to play different roles at the SLC since 2008 (day-of volunteer, workshop presenter, panelist, full-day delegate, alumni mentor…) – most years I was more than one. Translation: “always on & hustling from one thing to the next”. Non-stop all day; exhilarating and exhausting.

Each time, a part (if not all) of my intent was like a hungry child unleashed on a buffet: the focus was me. What could I get from these incredible workshops to satiate this hunger? What secrets could I learn from these extraordinary speakers? What did I want delegates to walk away with from my workshop? In short:

Full of entitled expectation.
“What’s imperative for me to get and give?”
Devour and deliver accordingly.

Case in point: SLC 2011. It was the first year (1) as an alumni presenter (2) partnering with a dear friend, creating something ‘all our own’ and (3) presenting a workshop of independent content (i.e. not tied to / dictated by a place of employment). All exciting things. Yet, in all honesty — my eyes were also on a certain prize. The conference has these “Best of the SLC” awards; I wanted one.

So we designed and delivered an un-workshop called “Flip” – to challenge assumptions, and rethink buzz-words & cliché concepts. No doubt, the process and product were both good. I wouldn’t trade the experience in for anything. Yet, in having that award as a disproportionate driving motivation while not admitting to it (hello, denial & dissonance!), I robbed myself and everyone involved of something great.

I know this because I remember sitting in tentative hope at the closing ceremonies while the award winners were revealed. I remember feeling disappointed and confused when we didn’t win (the former for obvious reasons; the latter because I wouldn’t let myself admit to the former). I remember smiling at the winners, feeling happy for them, and simultaneously small within myself. Fueled by the fundamentally flawed focus on an external reward, I’d fallen into playing tactics and dressing them in noble robes. By being dishonest with myself, I sabotaged the very thing I was after.

Success sabotage, and how to avoid it.

• • • Fast forward to this past Saturday • • •

For the first time, I attended this conference with a solid understanding of who I am and what I believe in. The focus was “what are delegates looking for, and what value can I deliver to this end?” It’s like my brain transitioned more fully from “leadership as selfish” to “leadership as service”.

With this shift from “me” to “everyone else”, I presented a session called “Two peas: the keys to unlocking limitless leadership.Magic happened.

 I felt settled and powerful in being vulnerable, living the content, sharing openly, and leading by example.
The possibility of impact is worth any personal discomfort or embarrassment.

 Overwhelming support showed up in the form of a couple of young women I respect, and am so proud of.
They can chat with me at anytime. They could have capitalized on the workshop buffet today, and they chose to be here so we could create a unique ‘us’. (Thanks for being there, ladies!)

Power showed up as a heartfelt comment and a hug at the end of the session, turning someone who was a stranger 50 minutes prior into a face I won’t soon forget. Another small comment humbled me to my core.
They may not realize how much of any impact they have just had on me. (Thank you, gents.)

 The best feeling showed up as my little sister coming to one of my workshops for the first time ever.
She actively does not listen when we talk about these things at home in our jammies, and she chose this session today – over all the others – to support me and hear what I’ve got to say.

In summary: the experience fundamentally changed when I was no longer out to be remembered, and was simply out to be a messenger. Just like that, the message and the content became more important than the fact that I was presenting. The audience – their wants & needs – were now at the forefront of every decision, and risk-taking with authentic design now trumped any question of “what would make the session look good… so that I look good”. Best.

The day somehow kept getting better, as I made space to live it as it felt right (pushed by intention rather than pulled at by obligation). Wrapping up the session, sat solo and jammed to the session playlist as I reflected on what had just happened. Proceeded to find and chat with 3 incredible women over lunch. Wandered and reconnected with familiar faces. Attended a workshop. Had a 3-hour conversation with 2 lovely souls about… everything in life. Fawned over amazing people at the Awards Ceremony. Had a heart-to-heart with Luca ‘Lazy Legz’ about the meaning of unintentional leadership. The day wrapped with dinner in such great company it makes my mind spin. (Seriously, life. Save some ‘incredible’ for the next day…)

Oh, and – surprise! I was awarded a “Best of the SLC” this year. Funny how, when it was the farthest thing from my mind and completely unexpected, this incredible gift chased me down. Dr. Frankl, you were so right.

So much gratitude, and huge congratulations, to the SLC team of 2013. Co-chairs, directors, coordinators, countless day-of volunteers, staff advisors, and all the rest: you created space for magic to happen. It was a hell of a day.

Humbly,
~ H

* Clarifying note: I think it’s absolutely necessary to travel through “leadership as selfish” to work to reach “leadership as service”. You can’t be of service to others if you don’t take care of yourself first. My journey took years of leadership development both in theory and practice, and is a work in progress always.

Other #UBCSLC talk
E – one half of the Passion Project founding duo – on her love affair with the SLC.
Matt – one half of crowd fave #TheCorkers – on how much of a BDF this SLC was.
Mel says stuff about her SLC experience.
• SLC thoughts by Paul Lee.

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Success is: connecting.

Riding on last week’s ideas of letting go of entitlement & being inviting, I love this second line from Charlie’s post:

Making yourself inviting means enjoying the conversation, in and of itself. Even if that’s the only interaction you have with someone, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t go anywhere. Let go of the notion that success means anything other than a good connection.

(emphasis mine)

My mind  links it to the following “notes to self” that I visit often:

1. Be here now. Enjoy something for the sake of it. Don’t keep looking to “what this is going to get me” or “where is this going to go”. The “where” is here, and the “what” is now. Dive deep. Engage fully. That is enough.

2. “Producing, ergo worthy” can be a damaging belief. I’ve struggled – and still do at times – with “having something to show for” what I choose to spend my time on. It’s become second nature to tie my worth to roles, titles, products, achievements, awards… that’s a tough bond to break.

Connecting to self
Sometimes, though, the most important work – being alone, engaging with thoughts, reading to absorb ideas, diving in to meaningful conversation – doesn’t produce anything immediate & tangible to easily “signal success” to the whole wide world (or the world wide web).

It can be hard to live out that knowledge in our hyper-connected, achievement-driven present, where it seems almost ridiculous not to keep an interaction going, given all available channels. (Phone, text, email, Twitter, Facebook… “stay connected” is essentially the default expectation.) Add to that a layer of “entrepreneur culture”, and you’ve got a recipe that thrives on FOMO – where every conversation & connection needs to be followed up on, lest we miss out of something that might come of it.

A recent story
Last  Wednesday, I took part in the SFU Public Square event “Our Voices: Creating a Connected Community”. The day-long conference was extremely well-run (hat tip to all involved in organizing!), and lunchtime was a fantastic conversation with a great woman and fellow attendee. She came up and sat beside me; we proceeded to bond over common beliefs, ideas, and experiences (and thoughts on the great food  – here’s a plug for Potluck Café Society, a non-profit social enterprise & registered charity doing great things in the DTES since 2001).

Our chat touched on issues of feeling isolated & lonely in a crowd, of culture clashes in connection, of how Vancouverites seem to glib past each other like ships passing in the night – in broad daylight. I fully enjoyed the conversation, in and of itself.

Wrapping up at the end of lunch, we both seemed to choose not asking for / offering any contact information. It was a very deliberate and somewhat difficult (in)action on my part – one I had to actively think about not doing, as the definition of “connection” was probed throughout the day.

Maybe she and I will cross paths again. Maybe we won’t. What I do know is that I wish her well, that I think she has a kind heart, that I hope she and her husband keep enjoying life in Vancouver as it sounds like they do, and that she continues being involved in the things that make her heart beat. Choosing to leave our interaction where and when it happened, pristine & impactful, was me living the knowledge that respect for the already-shared connection is not negated by the choice not to pursue further connection.

I spend hours and hours in conversations – challenging, stimulating, illuminating, terrifying, humbling, uplifting, uncomfortable… most with those I know, some with strangers passing through my life. These conversations are incredible, and they are my inputs: what I have to show for them is who I am. That connection to myself through others – that’s my measure of success; that’s my “enough”.

Sometimes “then & there” is where the value of an interaction is seeded; the continued value lives in us, and how we were shaped by that connection. Keeping that in mind, I find it easier to live “the beauty of letting go”.

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

Sometimes connecting demands letting go.
There’s a certain joy in fully experiencing the moment, with no ulterior motives or further expectations.
Defining our experiences as “success” or “failure” based on something other than future outcome can be extremely liberating.
“Connecting” can mean many things; the notion of “staying connected” is but one definition.
We don’t always “have something to show” for what we’ve done; this doesn’t negate the worth of what we’ve done, nor our worth as the do-ers.

Do you struggle with leaving a moment or connection behind? Can you see success in letting go, do you think that is a missed opportunity and that I’m jabbering non-sense?

Related:
JOMO! A favorite blog post that flips FOMO on its head.
Achievement addiction – which I think has trickled right down through to childhood.
• Feelings of social isolation are prevalent in Metro Vancouver. The Vancouver Foundation has done some community-based research to back this up with data. So no, we’re not imagining it, and yes, it’s a big issue. You can read the results here.

Baby Steps+

There are baby steps.

Then, there are “baby steps” that, for the person doing the stepping, are actually pretty giant leaps. You may know what I’m talking about – to anybody else, what you’re about to do – or are doing, or have just done – is just a little thing. Another line item on the To-Do list. Practically inconsequential and potentially met with an “Oookay… great. You did that. Good for you!?” from others, punctuated with the “?” of their confusion as to why you’re making such a big deal out of it.

These are what I mean by Baby Steps+. They’re the “little big things” that keep getting bumped, keep not getting done… and usually not because we lack the know-how to make them happen. I seem to have had this conversation with a lot of different people lately. It could be pitching that client. Trying that yoga class. Cleaning out that closet. Putting pen to paper and drawing. Applying for that grant. Sending that email… Here’s a small selection out of a buffet of my recent Baby Steps+ (as they came to mind, in no particular order):

Go snowboarding for the first time Attempt a back hand-spring Donate my hair Get contacts  Start a blog

They seem simple enough, no? Innocuous, even. Here’s why they were more than “just a line item” for me, in brief:

Boarding Despite living a hop and a skip away from Whistler, this was 7+ years in the making. Seriously. (Right?!) My biggest hurdle was not the boarding itself – I’m a bit of a speed junkie & thrill-seeker. My biggest hurdle was actually “I can’t afford it” – negotiating my mental relationship and invisible scripts around money & value. There’s a long story behind this, of course, but it essentially boiled down to this: Spending a couple hundred dollars on a one-time ‘frivolous’ adventure (gear rental, lift ticket, travel, food) that I’ll have “nothing to show for” afterward was _____ (irresponsible, unreasonable, not realistic…) considering everything else that money should be earmarked for.

Hand-spring Long history on this one, too. I’d never been in gymnastics, dance, or sports as a wee tot, and recall being a somewhat cautious kid when it came to anything physically out-of-the-ordinary. Both feet off the ground, physically suspended in mid-air? Definitely qualifies. Paired with a conservative Eastern cultural upbringing (this “kind of stuff” is not for girls, it’s hardly lady-like, you’ll get hurt/bruised, what’s the point?, etc.) and believing the “window of learning” had long-since closed for me, this meant that a back hand-spring (or even falling into a back-bend, for that matter) was something to behold in awe when others did it, but not something I could do.

Hair On-again, off-again, I’ve had what I consider to be an unhealthy dependence on my hair. At times I’d cling to it as a major sign of my femininity & something that was beautiful; other times as a differentiator or an accomplishment. (Since I think that sounds weird, I’ll explain.) I wasn’t a fan of the way I looked growing up, and don’t consider myself to be particularly ‘pretty’ – but having nice, long hair was a tether. And I hung on TIGHT. Plus, growing / maintaining it takes a certain commitment & dedication, and I got a lot of compliments when it got stupid-long. It’s always nice to feel accomplished and be noticed / complimented…

Contacts A “pffft” point for many – but I’d been afraid of putting things in my eye since as far back as grade school. Why? Who even knows. What I do know is that my blink reflex has always been stuck on ‘hyper-drive’ and I was mad uncomfortable at the prospect of the whole process. (Sticking something in your eye? We have this blink reflex for a reason, people…) And what if you can’t get it out?!

Blog Excited, but extremely anxious & terrified. ‘Nuff said.

What made all these things fall into the big-hairy-monster “+” category? A few commonalities:

1 “I can’t”

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
– Author unknown

This quote may be very familiar to you, but it’s so true it hurts and I’d post it a hundred times more. It’s funny we sometimes don’t even know how powerfully persuasive we can be, just by repeating something: silently, then out-loud, then in our actions… and how they turn into our beliefs. (Advertisers & marketers have been on to this for decades, if not centuries…) For all five of the “little big things” above (and so much more!) I kept thinking “I can’t”… so I kept saying “I can’t.” So I didn’t. I shut myself down before I even gave myself a chance.

2 Those lurky, “ninja” bits that I held as ‘a-given’s – and didn’t even know

There was always something bigger behind any supposed “baby step” that blew it out of apparent proportion – and kept me from doing it, even when I wanted to. Boarding wasn’t about boarding – it was about money and guilt. Contacts and acrobatics weren’t about wanting to see clearly and flip around – they were about my convincing myself I couldn’t, based on some outdated beliefs. These “iceberg-under-the-surface” bits were usually things established years ago, dangerously left unexamined and unchallenged, that still effected some of my ‘today’ decisions. (In my defense, I didn’t know! The mark of a good ninja on the lurky bits’ part.)

3 “What if…”

Whether closely tied with “I can’t” or as a stand-alone, “what if” always crept in at some point, the leader of a barrage of doubts and worries. It pushed uncomfortable boundaries and poked at insecurities – but in a bad way. Often followed by “… I’m not ___ enough?” (rich / strong / pretty / careful), it was also a great way to catastrophize. (What if I couldn’t get them out? And they got infected? And I went blind? I’ll put up with blurry if it’s my eyesight on the line, thank you…) “What if….” is usually laced with implications and really cares what other people will think – I’m too old. It’s too late. I’ll look stupid. I might fail.

• • •

I went snowboarding for the first time in April. I attempted my first (and second and third and fourth…) back hand-spring in February. I chopped my locks and donated 12″ in January. I first got contacts back in October 2010. I started two blogs this month. BOOM. How?

• • •

Incremental progress over (a long!) time. (Sorry, if you were looking for some magic bullet – there’s no such thing). The trail & error eventually turned into a framework of tiny habits. Anytime I’m faced with a new Baby Step +, I try to live through my learning that came by doing (and then reflecting):

Say it. Out loud. To myself at first if that’s all I’m comfortable with. Something that I don’t think I can achieve, that sounds completely ridiculous to me. Something that I really want. I say it in the positive. I say it on paper / on screen.

Swap out little words. I don’t shut myself down before I even start; I stopped saying “I can’t”. First I sub it for “I’ll try”. Then down the line, “I will”. And eventually I do. My words have so much more power than I ever gave them credit for. I used to think it was fluffy and all the rest, but my life has shown me otherwise – little words, big impact. (Note: I start at “I will” much more than I used to. “I can’t” often creeps back in. I just have to go through this “can’t → try → will” cycle for each new big scary thing that comes my way.)

Dig deeper. There are likely still some deeply-held beliefs / fears of mine that won’t jive with what I want to do. In my defense, they’re very ninja, and I don’t often know that they were behind my actions / inactions right off the bat. I believe that I can’t change something effectively until I understand what’s going on, enough to take the appropriate step. So now whenever I get stuck, I get brutally honest with myself as to why I’m not doing the things I want/need to – am often surprised by what I find – and then get to steppin’. (Don’t be fooled if this sounds pretty; it can still be a long, tough, ugly process. It’s just worth it.)

Break it down. Potentially obvious, extremely important. I’ll turn any giant leap into a series of what I (not someone else) actually consider to be legit baby steps, no “+” allowed. Even if I’m just moving a hair forward – it’s better than sitting still or spiraling backwards. Knowing what I’m actually stuck on (by having dug deeper) helps me move in the right direction, at my pace, by focusing on the right things.

Share it. To me, including other people makes it real. It holds me accountable. So I share my Baby Step+ with someone I trust. Then with a few more people. I’ve found it’s a great way to built that foundation of support & encouragement, since that’s the type of crowd I’m surrounded with. (And I will say – I’ve found it important when in my fragile “someone batting an eyelash at me will shut me down” phase, to tell the right people first. Build up enough gusto. Seek out some tough love to get a balanced view. Then do.)

 Link it to something bigger. Anything to remind me why I want this in the first place, why it’s important. I tend to tether things to my values (e.g. following through on something / keeping my word to someone).

Slap on a “by when”. Sometimes it’s a milestone. Other times an arbitrary date or time. Having some point in time to work towards it makes things (1) less daunting and (2) more real. My sister’s destination wedding was my catalyst for the contacts. A gift certificate expiration date got me on the mountain. A somewhat-sudden group decision had me flipping over backward by the end of that class.

Not all of my Baby Steps+ have needed going through all of the above, nor necessarily in that order. Sometimes one of the above turns into a Baby Step+ of its own (e.g. telling someone else). In the end, these are just some of my tried & true that I wanted to share with you. Maybe it helps you as you do your incredible things. Even when the world sees it as nothing more than a baby step – we know it’s something much more than that, don’t we?

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

What’s easy for you isn’t easy for someone else, and vice versa. Work on you.
Our thoughts and words often play a bigger role than we sometimes realize (or admit to).
Achievements are our habits manifest. Drill down on the habits and awesome things will follow.
Build in tiny wins & celebrate them. They’re huge, and often lead to snowballing.
Create a framework to guide your “conquer Baby Steps+” process. Make your own, borrow mine, remix what works…

Have you hit any Baby Steps+ lately? What’s your approach to getting past the roadblock?  Any tiny-win celebrations to share?