Everywhere I turn these days, change is right there with me. I recently stepped away from some obligations I’ve been participating in for many years after transitioning into a new role in one area of my life. At the same time, I took on a whole truckload of work in another arena altogether. From my carpool status to my credit rating, I’ve adjusted a significant number of previous agreements and understandings while addressing competing expectations in multiple areas. I’ve changed how, when, where, why and with whom I conduct much of my daily life.
I’ve pretty much re-negotiated most of my standing commitments, and I highly recommend it. (And yes, it was partly foreshadowed by this post.)
The most difficult piece to navigate has been the relationships. It’s hard to say no, to feel like I’m disappointing people I care about and whose opinions and feelings towards me I care about also. I hate knowing that even though we all agree that none of this is personal, dynamics will inevitably change. I already miss the affirmation and confidence that came after accomplishing certain assignments that only I could pull off. I grieve the sense of competence that goes with being able to execute something effortlessly. The bottom line is there are things I do well, things others appreciate and highly value, that I can’t justify doing anymore.
We are each responsible for leading our own life. If we don’t accept that responsibility, whether it’s because others try to stop us or because we are not aware that it is our responsibility in the first place, the odds of each of us becoming who we are meant to be or who we want to be are much much lower. The actions of others are not our fault, but acting as a leader (of yourself), even in situations where we encounter strong opposition, is always the best and strongest and most powerful choice anyone can make.
The fact that this is much easier to write in a blog post than it is to live out on a regular basis doesn’t make it any less true. This is the gritty side of self-leadership; the part that hurts and doesn’t feel powerful or fulfilling or nascent. It feels confusing and sad and like nothing will ever be the same but in a scary way, not an exciting way. And no matter how many times we have been through a life transition before and come out the other side, the process is far from painless.
Making the choice to lead your own life as best you can doesn’t mean that you have to become a narcissist or begin dominating others. Quite the opposite! Being an effective self-leader means you have no need to grab onto external power or manipulate people. You aren’t compelled to exert your influence over situations in an arbitrary fashion, pushing your agenda out of insecurity or a compulsion to be in control. Aggression is not your default. Rather, you take after the oceans’ tide; flexible, transparent, open, yielding—and with unstoppable force.
The more in touch we are with this concept, the more we’ll understand how to manage when others resist our self-leadership.
There’s a book I don’t like very much called “Non-Violent Communication; A Language of Life.” One of the things I do appreciate about the book is the way they relate effective action with martial arts principles. For example, in Aikido, both halves of the technique, that of uke and that of tori, are considered essential. Tori learns to blend with and control attacking energy, while uke learns to become calm and flexible in the disadvantageous, off-balance positions in which tori places him. This “receiving” of the technique is called ukemi. *
Ukemi is such a great metaphor for self leadership. Once I am clear on my goal and how to get there, I can receive any challenge with grace and skill. I can be both nimble and reverent in my response to hostility or antagonism, and I can choose to see a challenger as a partner in training.
What this looks like for each of us in our individual contexts depends on our current situation. Ultimately I hope you find purpose and peace in the clarity that comes from knowing who you really are and what you deeply want. May we all be strengthened in ukemi, and may we continue to lead ourselves well.
*Adapted from Wikipedia; “Aikido Techniques”