One of the things that has shifted the most for me is that I have let go of a work identity that was concentrated on “getting things done.” I now embrace an identity that is focused on being present and thinking about process more in my work. While I still take pride in getting things done, I realize how much the end-oriented focus contributed to my overwork and burnout. If your identity hinges on getting things done, then you always need to be doing something that has some clear deliverable! That leaves little time for reflection on how things went, what could have been done better, and whether it’s the best use of your energy and talents, as well as the effort and ingenuity of others.
My training in yoga and storytelling have been integral to coming to this awareness. Pace and pause are two important facets of both yoga and storytelling. Finding the “just right stimulus” —a phrase from one of my teachers—for the body in yoga is key to healing past injuries or releasing trauma. Going through a set of poses (asana) just to get to the end of it is likely to result in more injury. But if you pace yourself responsibly, and take pauses throughout a yoga sequence to pause to connect to the breath, you will be able to intuit what the just right stimulus is for your body in that moment.
Similarly, learning to tell stories in Toronto this summer, and taking multiple creative writing classes, I have learned that the audience requires the just right stimulus, and often needs a pause, or a deceleration of the narrative, in order to reach understanding. Whether it is leaving a question hanging in the air to increase suspense before disclosing the true identity of the villain on the stage, or lingering on details of a scene so the reader can soak up the atmosphere of the memory you’re recounting, pauses and pacing are central to delivering meaningful content that people can connect to on a deeper level. I experienced this visceral connection to the audience when I performed my first folktale at Storytelling Toronto, hearing laughter and gasps when I paused for emphasis. I also witnessed the power when I took my writing teacher's advice to draw out a scene with more details, and literally made my classmates cry. I had found the just right stimulus to make meaningful connections, which is crucial to building a team, leading a discussion, or writing an appeal for funding.
Consciously choosing to make moments available for insight and deeper connection is now central to my understanding of leadership and self care. Before the Bush Fellowship, I’m pretty sure my beliefs about self care were tethered to a mechanical metaphor: maintenance. It was about being able to maintain my level of ability to work hard, to continue accomplishing what I (thought) I needed to accomplish that day or week or month or year. Now that I have reframed self care as part of leadership, and pausing & pacing as part of being skillful at both, I have discovered another facet of leadership I’d not thought about previously: gratitude.
Reflecting on what I’m grateful for is becoming part of my weekly practices. To be candid, in the past I looked askance at things like the happiness project or #joychallenge. I thought it was merely whimsical musings of bloggers who had plenty of leisure time to brag about their handmade crafts and magazine-spread perfect kitchen counters. I didn’t take the time to consider that the practice could be something more than the media displays of (mostly) material things. My yoga study and memoir writing, though, have opened a window onto gratitude as part of reflection rather than listing things. It revealed that my striving to get things done was still, at some level, yoked to impostor syndrome. In other words, I wasn’t yet secure in feeling I belonged, so I had nothing to be grateful for—somewhere in my psyche I believed I still hadn’t earned it. How can you be grateful if you don’t feel worthy? Pretty difficult.
One of the guiding principles of yoga philosophy is Asteya, which roughly translates to non-stealing. At the surface, it’s a no-trainer: of course we shouldn’t steal! It’s against the law in all cultures. Beyond thievery, though, Asteya requires you to think clearly about how you might also be stealing from yourself, and how you might be stealing non-material things from others. If you don’t practice gratitude, and drive yourself to keep accomplishing more in your profession, then you are stealing time and peace from yourself, and likely from the others you are leading in the constant march toward goals. If you always jump in to complete tasks yourself because you like people to count on you to get things done, then you may be stealing opportunities from someone else to step into a new role.
Practicing gratitude in concert with making time to pause, reflect, and set the right pace, to alchemize the just right stimulus, creates space to clarify goals, to see resources where you may have missed them, and to consider colleagues in a new light. As I move through the last few months of my fellowship, I am grateful to have the time, resources, and space to incorporate these insights into present and future cycles of my life and leadership opportunities.