I have become truer to myself
When I first began my journey through the concept of justification, I truly believed that I did not justify anything. As I became more knowledgeable about the concept, I realized that I was justifying my justifications, fully believing what I was doing was right and thus, not recognizing them for what they were. I began to see how any, even tiny rationalizations are harmful and a potential slippery slope.
My goal now is to never employ justification, but to instead find other ways of accomplishing the ends I am seeking, such as through gentle, yet rigorous honesty and acceptance. As a result of this process, I now recognize when I am headed down the path of justification and am able alter my course. Subsequently, I have become truer to myself and more adept at communicating with others.
There is no final destination in skill development, but rather it is an on-going journey
One of my most profound learning experiences during VIM’s self-discovery process centered on honesty. As I began to practice “rigorous honesty”, I experienced increased clarity and less drama in my life, but also saw there were some aspects to my use of honesty that were creating challenges. I began to identify situations where I was not being kind to myself. In the name of honesty, I heard myself judge certain actions harshly for even the smallest of errors and say things to myself that were laced with negativity, anger and self-doubt. In addition, I was receiving negative feedback from individuals in my life, including my wife who told me I was hurting people with my “honesty”. What was the solution? It was twofold: first, I don’t use honesty to justify hurting myself or another. Second, I practice compassion. Honesty without compassion can be cruelty. Honesty has become a valued, necessary compass which guides me in the flow of my business and personal life. I now know there is no final destination in skill development, but rather it is an on-going journey.
I learned to practice acceptance
When I began the lesson on guilt, I understood it as a feeling utilized by individuals, groups or societies to control others and that at most, it played a minor role in my life. This definition, although pretty accurate, was lacking in a significant area – self-imposed guilt. This was an inner tormentor I carried around in my mind: fear that I was lacking or not good enough, fear that I was not as brilliant as my peers thought, fear that I could lose it all. This often became a spiral for me, which ultimately led to guilt for not living up to my own expectations.
I discovered that guilt strengthened the law of scarcity in my life. I found it difficult to live up to my potential, and began to fear that if I relaxed, I would fail. In response, I justified my obsession with work as simply having a great work ethic. I even began to experience a subtle, yet toxic guilt for enjoying life or even feeling happy at times. In retrospect, I was completely unaware I was experiencing this.
As I explored the feeling of guilt, I learned to practice acceptance whenever I experienced it. It then became possible to stay steady, connect with the underlying energy, and discover the insubstantial nature of the feeling. This lead to a powerful awareness. As I practiced identifying and accepting even the smallest fragments of guilt, I experienced a crucial breakthrough with a longtime demon of mine, a significant, yet cunning form of fear – self-doubt. Although not completely free of guilt or self-doubt, my life is no longer weighed down by the burden of these challenging forces. They no longer hold power over me.
Once again in conscious control of my destiny
Just a couple of years ago we had a thriving company and then what seemed like overnight, the financial bubble burst; suddenly we found ourselves in survival mode. I was taking on the responsibilities and tasks of key employees that we had to let go and working 60 hour weeks. I became exhausted and stressed beyond imagination. The pain and chaos were manifesting in my relations with my family and in my health.
I discovered hope; by learning to accept “what is”, I began to gain clarity and focus. By treating my challenges as if I were running a marathon – “it is an inside job”- I understood how to cultivate my mental energy and developed the skill and discipline to plan and pace my energy for my business, my family and myself. I was once again in conscious control of my destiny.
A new skill I subsequently developed
As I learned about boundaries, I became more aware of my inner feelings, who I share them with and how. I learned that by being aware of my feelings and accepting them, I gained an understanding of the nature of my connections with others. I came to accept that I cannot control how others choose to respond to me or what they expect of me. I gained the power to prioritize what relationships I will foster and those that I will back away from. I know how to handle situations by trusting the process, my intuition and by living with integrity. A new skill I subsequently developed, was an acute awareness of other’s boundaries. This resulted in significant growth of my leadership skills.
Why I practice daily to be present
A core element throughout my exploration with VIM, has been for me to take 100% responsibility for my life. I want to share my reflections and what I learned about shame, why it was important to me to try to understand this toxic emotion and how it differs from guilt.
Guilt is generally a response to something I did bad, the focus being on my behavior. There are some positive elements of guilt, such as when I have harmed myself or others and I genuinely feel sorry for having done so, or after I have done something, I hold it up against my values and it does not feel right. Guilt allows me to hopefully grow wiser from my mistakes. As I learned to make amends to myself and others for my ‘wrongs’, the rigorous honesty required for taking responsibility for my behavior actually strengthened my relationships and subsequent changes in my future behaviors.
Shame on the other hand is about humiliation. Shame requires an audience. There is a significant corrosive nature to shame; deep inside it breaks the mechanism of belief in my ability to change – “I am bad.”, “I am less than.”. Further, the toxicity of shame is very pervasive. When a parent, spouse, leader, etc., resorts to shaming another person, two things happen. First, the person who elicits shame has compromised his or her integrity by humiliating another person. Second, the victim can carry the shame (no matter how irrational or unfair) in their heart and mind for a lifetime. Shame’s pervasive toxicity can be seen beyond individuals, in corporate cultures, communities and societies. This has been a powerful, dark force used to advance racism, anti-Semitism, the subjugation of woman, gays, etc.
I am very grateful that my exposure to shame has been minimal. Unfortunately, I have witnessed it countless times. My responsibility as a business leader, parent and citizen is to be aware of my actions as I lead, direct and guide others. This exercise has been a vivid reminder of why I practice daily to be present, to be aware of my feelings and emotions and to consciously hear my thoughts.
I began to experience freedom and joy
When I first engaged with VIM, I became aware of how fear and self-doubt were forces that were impacting my life to a much greater degree than I realized. As I gained more awareness in my self-actualization process, the fear and self-doubt, although not completed dissolved or eliminated from my life, began to exist more on the peripheries of my life, rather that at the center. I began to experience a freedom and joy that had not been fully in my life since my youth.
In working the exercise on “Trust”, I was truly amazed when I began to see the pattern and thread of trust I had developed for myself. Trust was the subtle, yet powerful weaving of so many of the components of the exercises together. I began to see how trust was an antidote to fear.
As I learned to trust my instincts, I regained a consistent confidence in my decision-making processes. This rather quickly evolved into a skill that in recent years was rather fabricated – collaboration. One of the challenges I created for myself as I became quite monetarily successful was my view of being the ‘Lone Ranger’ in complex problem solving; it was safe. Even though I had a good network and I would go to individuals, when necessary, ultimately I trusted only my skills and was not particularly excited about exposing my ideas and thoughts – I was not comfortable in being vulnerable. With my renewed confidence, I naturally began putting my ‘master mind’ principles to work and advanced into the ‘Design Thinking’ arena, where as a leader, I put together a collective of successful individuals with diverse business and academic backgrounds, who are skilled in problem solving and are invested in helping achieve a desired outcome. Above all, we, as a collective group thrive on being vulnerable – and have found that an amazing momentum can be created, based upon spontaneity, creativity, sharing and challenging one another. The foundation is trust.
There is one last aspect of trust that I would like to share. When I learned to trust my authentic self, put away my masks, I found I could genuinely practice gratitude, patience and openness to explore life and grow. I now truly understand the power of trust in stilling/training my mind to be awake and present to what is going on within me and around me.
I found a much more powerful tool
I’ve always struggled with my propensity to try to dictate how others perceive me. I think we all do to some degree. It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to control how others relate to us, treat us, and respect us. [But in the end, it’s a fool’s errand.]
While exploring accessibility through this exercise, I realized that I could create boundaries not just to define my interactions with others, but to define my interactions with myself. When I stopped using boundaries to regulate the energy of others and instead used them to nourish my own energy, I found a much more powerful tool.
Good boundaries allowed me to open myself up to others because their goal is to allow people closer, by helping us become more open and more present. In contrast, walls are boundaries that ask others to take us seriously, or to command respect. The boundaries found in this exercise helped me connect more fully to myself and others.
I began to gain clarity of my values
The examination of the concept of values opened my eyes and my mind to the subtle power they hold in each of us, not only on how we see the world, but the very emotions that go along with our perceptions.
I learned how I could needlessly constrict myself by holding on to basic concepts and constructs that have been ingrained in me since I was a child. An example of this is the “protestant work ethic”. Although a good work ethic is a powerful trait to possess when the situation calls for ‘rolling up the sleeves’ and making it happen, I came to the realization that I was carrying it to the extreme by working 60 hour weeks. I began the work on the myth that working harder is the key to success. My coach worked with me in being disciplined in my time/energy management, becoming better at delegation (as opposed to abdication) and breaking down my tasks by dividing and conquering one challenge at a time. When I started to become aware of how much time I was actually wasting in my work time, simply trying to avoid the tasks I really needed to get done, it was startling. My new value? “Work smarter, not harder.”
Another key result in exploring my values, was the need to uproot and modify my ridiculing philosophies. As I paid more and more attention to listening to how I was talking to myself and about myself, it was clear to me that I was often harsh, critical and judgmental of myself. If another person were to talk to me in a similar manner, I would have been deeply hurt and angry. My new found value? “Be kind and gentle to myself; it is OK to rate or measure my traits and performances, but never to judge my essence, my self.”
I also became aware of numerous self-defeating habits. One of these was my propensity to interrupt a person in the middle of a sentence or conversation. I learned I was communicating to that person, I valued more what I thought than respecting their words. Another habit was my constant looking for the certainty or affirmation in the eyes of others – a.k.a. ‘people pleasing’. Simply being aware of the disproportionate value I placed on how others perceived me, took away from my ultimate value of being a truly authentic person. Finally, I learned to understand that each and every person has their own set of values. When I began to gain clarity of my values, it opened the widows of my mind to respect the values of others.
There is much less pressure and stress in my life
I used to spend a lot of time focused on gaining the approval of others. I was very successful academically and in my career, but I was too outwardly focused. As a consequence, my decision-making was often plagued by self-doubt. I tended to be cautious and emotionally distant from others.
I have learned to spend more time looking inside and have learned the value of being rigorously honest when considering my strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, I accept my demons. Accepting myself has led me to be much more accepting of others. I spend less time judging others and more time trying to understand their stressors and the problems they are facing.
I’ve also learned to be more accepting of what is. I now make decisions easier and faster, while understanding there is much I cannot control. As a result, I am more accessible to others. I now understand that if others don’t approve of me, it is their issue and not mine.
Acceptance of myself, warts and all, has improved my sense of self-worth, which is something I rarely worry about now. It has also allowed me to be more authentic. I don’t have to wear masks anymore. What I feel, what I think, and the way I act can all be aligned, both in my personal life and at work. I stick to my core values and find that it simplifies things. There is much less pressure and stress in my life. I am much more at peace.
improving my own feelings of self-worth
Even though I had built a very successful company, I often did not have a good opinion of myself, I found myself being constantly concerned with what others thought of me, and any kind of disapproval or rejection made me uncomfortable. If others liked me, then I felt good about myself. Did people show me respect only because I wrote the checks or had the “power”? If they disliked me, or criticized me, I felt compelled to change in order to please them. Or, I would defend a mental position and attack them. My opinion of myself depended entirely on others. Today I realize that instead of putting the opinions of others first, I must work on improving my own feelings of self-worth. As long as I feel like a truly worthwhile person, I can be less concerned with what others think.
The days of leading through anger and fear are over
Some of my greatest teachers in business happened to be of the “old school” of position power – very ego based and very self-centered; with ongoing overt or passive-aggressive anger, often simply managing by fear. Even in the last decade, prior to the bursting of the “financial bubble”, many CEOs and leaders were able to have tremendous success with this model. However, the landscape has changed dramatically and corporate sustainability and cultural integrity have become significant priorities. Today, even though a team operating out of fear can produce strong results, the ongoing anger and fear takes its toll and can be seen in turnover, dissent and the accompanying negative components.
The days of leading individuals or groups through anger and fear are analogous to the strip mining of the past – short term effective, but not sustainable, lacking in integrity and certainly short-lived.
I have now learned to change the way I look at my problems
In the past, I would carry the toxic cloud of resentments within me for extended periods of time – sometimes so long after the original event had passed, that I didn’t quite remember the exact event or what triggered it. Even worse, the people that I had the greatest resentment towards, were completely unaware that I was upset. They went on living their lives as they chose, while I remained bogged down in bitterness and negative thinking. I suffered, my law partners suffered, my relationships suffered.
I have now learned to change the way I look at my problems. I no longer “sweat the small stuff”. Immediately, when I become aware that something or somebody is giving me trouble, I ask for guidance to let me see the incident in relation to the rest of my life, especially the part that is good, and for which I am grateful. A wider view of my circumstances helps me deal better with all difficulties, big and little. A huge energy and time drain burden has been lifted off of my shoulders, heart and mind and been replaced with clarity and peace.
My growth in becoming a better communicator
I have become aware of how often my communication was really unconscious reactions to people, events or situations. I also began to see how in many situations in my life, I was somewhat going through the motions.
The first glaring area I began to work on was my listening skills. I found myself interrupting individuals in the middle of a sentence or thought, or even finishing a sentence for them. I learned the power of patience and silence. The greatest challenge was when I began to see the changes in me, as a better, non-critical listener; I saw how pervasive my old way of communicating had been in my personal life, especially with my spouse and children. Interestingly, as I became a better listener, I began to receive feedback from others that I was a great communicator.
One of the many paradoxes I encountered on my VIM journey, was once I had the listening part down rather well, another challenge surfaced. I began to see how often I hid my feelings and was reluctant to share them with others. The prior work on fear, self-doubt, self-worth and boundaries helped open my mind to explore the expression of my feelings in a conscious, authentic manner. It became tremendously freeing to be able to share my perspectives, my thoughts and my insights with confidence and without fear. I learned and truly understood “the power of expression and right action”.
With the above tools, I became more skilled in my ability to ask questions. The quote, “with the properly addressed questions, the human mind becomes transparent” became the core of my renewed ability to gain clarity, solve problems more effectively and live with simplicity.
The last aspect I would like to share regarding my growth in becoming a better communicator, is that I have learned not to take myself so seriously. When I am able to do that, it frees me to not take others so seriously. Succinctly put, I constantly seek to see the humor and ironies of life…I laugh more.
I learned how to calm the fear and eventually to remove its power over me
On the ‘outside’ my business associates, employees, even friends who knew me well, saw me as a strong, confident leader. Little did they know that at times, especially during times of chaos or turmoil, fear dominated my life. Denial clouded my perception. At these times I ignored reality because it hurt when I thought about it. When painful thoughts emerged, as they inevitably did, I quickly and anxiously shoved them away. It was as if my thoughts were my enemies, and as they approached, I turned and ran as fast as possible in the opposite direction. Instead of expending my energy on living my life, I focused almost exclusively on avoiding pain, hiding disturbing feelings, and keeping myself as numb as I could. When I learned to recognize my fear and accept the fact that I was experiencing fear, it was an empowering step for me. Next, I learned how to calm the fear and eventually to remove its power over me. My decision-making skills and anticipatory skills have grown exponentially and above all, I have an inner peace that fear can no longer steal from me.