A Guide to Anti-Racist Stretch Goals: What It Means to Be Anti-Racist and How to Take Action


The anti-racist stretch goal is s a core element of the Authentic Solidarity Program that pushes us to take action. It’s about building new practices, stepping outside of routine, creating neural pathways, building new muscles, and getting out of your head. It’s about taking your equity and inclusion values and making them real

To be successful in your anti-racist stretch goal, it is important to choose a goal that is uniquely tailored to your experience, passions, skills, and platform. I will describe what the anti-racist stretch goal is and provide you with examples to support your implementation of a goal that makes ​​sense for you.

There are three core ideas that inform the anti-racist stretch goal that we must take into account before getting started.

#1:  What does it mean to be anti-racist?

#2:  How does racism show up in the world, and where can you intervene? 

#3:  What is a stretch goal?

Let’s take these, one by one.

#1:  What does it mean to be anti-racist?

The idea of being anti-racist has been around for a while, but became popularized in 2019 when Dr. Imbrim X. Kendi wrote: “How to be an Anti-racist.” In this work, Kendi quotes famous civil rights activist, Angela Davis, explaining:

“in a racist society, it’s not enough to be non-racist, one must be anti-racist.”

Below, I will describe my take on what Davis and Kendi mean by being more than just non-racist. To hear more on Dr. Kendi’s anti-racist definition, see here

Being non-racist means refraining from being racist, right? Most of us today, when we think of racism, we think of things like telling racist jokes, only hiring White people, making ill assumptions about people of color, or more serious incidents like BIPOC targeted police brutality. We think of racism as serious, overt actions that “other people” do. 

So, if I don’t do any of these things, that means I am not racist and have done my part, right?. Unfortunately, the systems of racism and inequality are so deeply rooted that simply refraining from overtly racist acts is not enough. Being anti-racist goes that step further. 

Many people are starting to see that simply being non-racist isn’t enough to create meaningful change. My favorite synonym for being anti-racist is to be “pro-active.”  Rather than waiting for something racist to happen, what can you do to get ahead of it?  Or rather than refraining from feeling judgmental towards people of color, can you make an effort to understand why you have that initial perception and then shift towards acceptance?  (Only if you really mean it though).  Rather than making sure you don’t discriminate against people of color in hiring, what if you made an extra effort to recruit qualified candidates of color?  These are all definitions of anti-racist actions vs. non-racist actions.  Being proactive, making an extra effort, and intentionally amplifying the achievements of people of color, are all part of being anti-racist.  

#2:  How does racism show up in the world? (So you can pick a focus)

Ever heard of a SMART goal? (If not, you can learn more here.)  I like to focus on what the “S” stands for, which is SPECIFIC.  The idea being, that the more specific your goal is, the more likely you are to focus your energy and actually achieve an outcome.  So, how do you get “specific” when it comes to racism?  Racism is a complex, multi-faceted, long-standing dynamic.  

To be successfully anti-racist, I don’t think you need to study the intricacies of how racism functions in society, but I do think it is key to have a general understanding of the four primary ways racism shows up in society. 

The  four primary ways racism shows up in society are:

  • Individual:  Within oneself
  • Interpersonal:  Between two or more people in a relationship
  • Cultural:  Within messages, symbols, films, books, and shared assumptions
  • Structural:  In the legal structures of organizations and institutions

And of course, these all overlap and influence each other, but let’s look at them briefly one by one.  

Individual (Within oneself):  Racism lives within each one of us that has grown up in a racist society.  It lives in our thoughts, beliefs, stories, assumptions, and unconscious associations we make about people of different races.  Research shows that every single one of us is biased as a human, along all different vectors, race certainly being one of them.  Changing our thoughts and beliefs is hard, but possible for humans.  We can become more self-aware if we are willing to try.

Interpersonal (Between two or more people in a relationship):  Racism also shows up in our communication with each other.  When you show up to your child’s first day of school – who do you choose to talk to or introduce yourself to?  During a team meeting at the office or group discussion, who gets the most air time?  These tendencies to be around and offer preferential treatment to people who look like or remind us of ourselves is called inter-personal racism.  

Within culture: Racism shows up within culture through the constant flow of information and entertainment that we all digest. Movies, streaming series, advertising, symbols, history books, music, etc.  All things which inform our collective thoughts, beliefs, and actions. And when these different forms of media reinforce racist stereotypes or assumptions, we are being influenced by racism within our culture, which can be extremely powerful in upholding a racist society.. Therefore, we can define cultural racism as the patterns of interpersonal relationships getting played out at large across society. 

Within legal structures:  While all areas of racism are important and worth attention, this fourth area is often considered the most important. However, strangely enough, it is often the most overlooked.  Note:  Many, many organizations have their take on these four levels, some use five or more.  The World Trust Educational Center uses this graphic. The National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian describes it this way.

While many of our laws have since been refined, for hundreds of years there were legal systems in place that discriminated against people of color, particularly Black people. The effects of those discriminatory laws are with us still today.  Until the 1970s, Black people were legally turned away from acquiring bank loans to buy a house as well as to attend universities they were equally or more qualified for. The way wealth works in this country is that it gets passed down and accumulates, primarily through homeownership, generation to generation. – it’s the single largest driver of wealth in the country. Therefore, through legally sanctioned discrimination, people of color have been historically locked out of access to build wealth.  Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones describes the history of legal discrimination against Black people and its relationship to building wealth in the US here.  

No single one of these areas alone will eradicate racism, yet all of them are crucial.  As my participants draft their stretch goals, I recommend focusing on one area deeply.   Are you going to work on deepening your own self-awareness of your racist thoughts and attitudes?  Are you going to work towards speaking up more about racism that you witness or are a part of in relationships?  Are you going to contribute to cultural change through writing or producing art?  Are you going to organize to change laws and policies, either in government or in your company/organization? Know that being an anti-racist is a lifelong journey, you can devote a year or more to one area and then move on to another. 

#3: What is a Stretch Goal?  

The “stretch goal” is a common idea in leadership development and behavior change. The basic idea is the following: Choose a goal that is not so outside your comfort zone or what you are used to that you panic or freeze, (The Red Zone) but also not something so close or familiar that you aren’t challenged at all, (The Comfort Zone).  The idea is to be just uncomfortable enough that you are learning and growing, (The Green Zone).

Let’s look at this idea of a “stretch” with a racial equity lens. For many people, taking any action at all around race is intimidating.  Immediately, many people feel like they are in the panic zone.  

So, if that’s the case, be real with yourself;

What can you do that isn’t so scary but is a bit more than you are doing now?  

Here’s another thing.  I can hear my colleagues of color taking deep breaths as they read this, trying to manage their frustration with White people who are “so scared” of taking any action.  Let’s look at this, fellow White people. What are we actually scared of when confronted with the prospect of examining our internal racism, speaking up around race, putting some anti-racist art or messaging out there, or organizing with others for more anti-racist policies?  Damaging our reputation? Losing credibility?  Rupturing important relationships?  Probably some combination of these fears is coming up for you.  And these are legitimate fears! The stakes are pretty high professionally and personally for getting it right when having conversations about race. We don’t live in a culture that allows for a lot of mistakes.  It does seem sometimes like one slip of the tongue, and you could be “canceled.”  This is the reality we live in, and it does need to be taken into account when considering your stretch goal.  

While these fears are real, let’s look at what our colleagues of color face in the workplace, what they might be scared of, and what’s at stake for them.  Every day the challenge of re-training people to think of them as competent, qualified, “easy to work with”, and not a threat is present, if not in the foreground, in the background of everyone’s consciousness, including their own. Every day the prospect of being stopped by the police, or someone they love being stopped by police and being mistreated either verbally or physically is in the background.  Every day, navigating the question of the impact their race has on interpersonal and professional dynamics; did I get that promotion because of my race?  Did I get passed over for that promotion because of my race? Can I give my supervisor feedback, or will I be perceived as a problematic employee because of my race?  Every “risky” moment that we all face in navigating power dynamics, is that much riskier if you are Black or a person of color.  

So, when thinking about risk-taking (which is basically what a stretch is), I suggest to my White clients and partners, what if you thought about what could be gained from this risk, rather than what could be lost?  What if by talking more openly, honestly, and bravely about race in the office; you gained more trust among a broader, more diverse group of staff?  What if your risk-taking added to your credibility?Because even when you made a mistake, you owned it, apologized, and then were able to move on. What if Black employees, peers, and colleagues felt more seen and appreciated – felt the effort to really see and appreciate them. What if that could lighten their daily stress load and allow for more creativity and calm throughout the office?  If all of that were possible, wouldn’t it be worth it? That’s the thing about learning and growth, you can’t really get the rewards without the risk. And usually the greater the risk, the greater the reward. 

If equity and inclusion are something you truly care about and genuinely want to experience, you aren’t going to have that experience without taking the risk.  

Let’s look at some examples of anti-racist stretch goals:

  • Call-in my colleagues to anti-racism by naming and noticing unconscious racism when I see it. (Inter-personal)
  • Add IDE (i.e., equity and belonging) as a standing topic to the monthly meeting with the expectation that leadership will cascade topics and conversations to their teams. (Inter-personal and Cultural)
  • Increase racial diversity by 20% on the Executive Team via proactive recruitment. (Inter-personal and Legal/Policy-oriented)
  • Build a social & racial justice lens to our innovation launches, bringing tangible new products to market as a clear and bold commitment and point of differentiation. (Cultural)
  • Ensure that an inclusive process, across race and other historically marginalized identities, exists for assigning task force project opportunities for career development, by end of Q1. (Inter-personal and Legal/Policy-oriented).

Notice that the goals span interpersonal, cultural, and legal realms. They are also specific and measurable, with many including specific time frames. The degree of risk must be determined by each person, leader, and team.  

What is your anti-racist stretch goal? How will you challenge yourself to go beyond being non-racist and be more pro-actively anti-racist, or pro-actively and intentionally inclusive across race? What feels like a do-able stretch for you? How can you step outside your comfort zone without panicking and stick with it?  What is a small but significant change you can make consistently over time? And finally, who can support you? Choose a friend or colleague that you can share your goal with and talk about how it’s going in order to help you stay accountable. I’d love to hear more about your stretch goals here. The more transparently and openly we all talk about how to make our values of inclusion real, actionable, and measurable, the closer we get to moving towards justice.

Grief and Renewal in Times of Transition

For most of us, 2020 has been marked by loss.

Hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans have lost their lives — or those of family members — to the coronavirus and COVID 19. As has been well documented, the pandemic has disproportionally affected communities of color.

Ongoing racial injustice – historical and present-day — continues to result in the loss of additional Black and brown lives. Police brutality and lifetime prison sentences continue to afflict minority communities while Native Americans continue to mourn the loss of their ancestral lands, culture, language, and more. All of us, if we stop and look, have to face the loss of human and civil rights — either our own or those of our neighbors.

Over the last six months, we’ve also lost our routines. Parents have lost child care and youth have lost their schools, friends, and their primary places to socialize. So many have lost their jobs, their homes, or their sense of security – and again, these losses are carried disproportionately by people of color.

In a stunning and stark reality that has been brewing for nearly four years, we are on the brink of losing our democracy and the institutions upon which it is so fragilely built.

Are we also losing our collective grip on reality?

There is so much loss and so much grief.  But how should I grieve?

What function does grief have in society? Is it best done alone or among others? Do I risk going into a dark place I can’t get out of? What if I don’t know what to say or how to respond to someone else’s grief?  

These are all questions that were alive for me when a colleague, Erica Peng, invited me to a ‘grief ritual’ online, in community, last week. Despite how much I was walking into an unknown experience, it felt right. I NEEDED it.  And the experience was profound.

Here are three big learnings that happened to me that will help me continue to grieve while holding space for others who need to grieve as well:

3 Steps to Grieving

#1 The Setup Matters

Before coming to the grief ritual, I had made a deal with myself. If I got overwhelmed, I was going to give myself permission to leave. When I arrived, the facilitators had set up a wonderful list of intentions to help keep the container safe and inviting. The intention that made the most difference for me was an offering to meet with one of the co-facilitators, a trained somatic healer, in a private one on one space, if anyone was feeling overwhelmed. In this way, you did not have to “leave” the community, but you could get a tailored kind of support, respecting you may indeed feel overwhelmed, to help you stay connected rather than opting out altogether.

While I didn’t find I needed to take advantage of the offer, knowing it was there calmed my nervous system tremendously. Other intentions that were meaningful included: acknowledging the courage that it took to come, confidentiality, and a reminder that while we may be remembering moments of pain and harm, the harm isn’t here now with us today in this space.

#2 Share the Labor:  Your Grief Allows Me to Touch Mine

This was a new idea for me. We were invited to give gratitude to others in our group for expressing their grief because when they do, they are lightening the load for all of us. To witness someone else feel into their pain and begin to release it, it was as if all of our loads began to lighten. As people began to cry and release, emotions I had stuffed deep down began to surface, and I started letting them go. I thanked those that cried first and I meant it from the bottom of my heart.

#3 Move In and Out of Darkness and Light

We spent three hours together in the grief ritual. We grounded by calling in how we are resourcing ourselves lately, which reminded us of our natural resilience (this was by design to do first our facilitators later shared). Throughout our time together, we read poems, we breathed, tapped our bodies, and sang. We learned a call and response chant and our facilitators played drums. We brought symbols that were meaningful to our grief and the wisdom of our ancestors known and unknown.

For me, there were moments of deep sadness, but also moments of giving and supporting others by simply holding space and witnessing, which also served as a break from my pain. There were moments when I simply paused and rested, there were moments when I felt light and joyful, and moments when I dipped back into my sadness.

Disability Rights, Racial Justice, and Radical Summer Camp

“Crip Camp,” the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Winning documentary, recounts how a summer camp designed for people with disabilities led to a revolution in the 1970s.

I was moved by the passion and persistence of the real-life activists featured in the film and saw so much relevance to today’s work of fighting to end structural racism and also re-imagining education.  

Continue reading

In Conversations About Race, ‘Safe Space’ is a Cop Out

We are in a moment, as Angela Davis would say, of “radical reckoning” with respect to race. White people are waking up to the vast difference in our experience compared to our friends, neighbors and co-workers of color. Our histories are different, and our present experiences are different, even when we live in the same neighborhood, go to the same school, or work in the same building. White people are seeing how truly segregated our lives still are. Real integration — in our schools, our neighborhoods, our churches, and our work lives —  has failed. Collectively, we are finally starting to talk about this failure.  But it is not easy. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color often have vastly different experiences than White people even in the same conversation.

 

Here are few examples of these differences that I see showing up in organizations:

  • An email exchange in a large women’s empowerment network post-George Floyd blows up because years of unchecked micro-aggressions finally get called out. The White women feel shamed, embarrassed, and confused. The Black Women, and Women of Color, feel some relief, but the resistance of the White women triggers both anger and exhaustion.
  • A multi-racial social justice network adds to their norms that space be made for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) to speak first in the debrief of a presentation.  Questions and comments from White people are taken only if time allows. BIPOC feel seen and appreciated in new ways, while many of the White people feel left out and express themselves at length in online chats.
  • A company begins recognizing that systemic racism may be playing a part in the fact that their leadership is mostly White. Race starts to be a topic that comes up frequently.  The mostly White staff complain, “I can’t say anything anymore.” The staff of color on the other hand, say “acknowledging the problem is just the first step; we’ve barely begun.”   

When any of the scenarios above arise,  someone in charge is likely to say, “We need to deal with this!  Let’s facilitate a conversation to try and bring people together.” 

Navigating Tough Conversations

As a seasoned facilitator myself, I know that the first step in navigating tough conversations is  to develop a good set of ground rules that guide the way participants will engage in that conversation before launching into it.   

Unfortunately, when addressing potentially uncomfortable race issues, a common trend I see come up again and again during the ground rules conversation — the conversation before the conversation — is this: White people will request that the conversation feel “safe” and that everyone “assume best intentions.”
The result of these requests is that BIPOC feel silenced from the get go. Should they make any of the participating White people feel unsafe by sharing their actual experience, they will be pegged as ‘the angry BIPOC employee.’ In these scenarios, the stakes are especially high for those who identify as Black.  

When talking about the need for creating a ‘safe space’ such as in the scenario above, it is important to consider two key questions:

  • What does “safety” mean when talking about race?  
  • Does  “safety” mean the same thing for White people as it does for Black, Indigenous and People of Color?

When White people ask for “safety” as a prerequisite for even beginning a conversation about race, the impact on Black, Indigenous and People of Color is often: “You have to be f-ing kidding me?!”  When Black people are shot and killed by the police regularly, when their competence in the workplace is constantly questioned, when the only neighborhood where they can get a loan approved is a high crime area, the fact that White people would ask for “safety” before having a conversation is the ultimate expression of privilege – the luxury of not needing to know or care about the context of danger in which Black people live on a daily basis

It also plays directly into the myth that Black people are dangerous. Many of my Black colleagues have shared with me that this lack of awareness from White people is deeply painful for them.  

And it is.  

However, underneath the request for ‘safety’ and ‘assuming best intentions’ is an expression of a different kind of risk. Entering into a conversation about race in which many White people believe (rightly so) that they could say something triggering or harmful to People of Color — and that this will be noticed and probably commented on publicly — feels risky.  And it is risky. But we must then ask: What’s at risk? Is it a human life? No. Is it a sense of identity and belonging? Probably. If my White identity is built around me valuing diversity, appreciating human beings regardless of race, and of being thoughtful, sensitive and inclusive, and this gets called into question, it can indeed feel deeply painful. And if belonging and feeling accepted in this multi-racial group matters, having that sense of belonging threatened feels risky too.   

Let’s acknowledge that these two risks — losing and/or shortening one’s life due to structural racism vs. a loss of identity and belonging — cannot be compared.  They are in two totally different spheres.  So, White folks, let’s not use or request the safety parachute for these conversations — It’s a cop out, and it is just too painful.  

Alternatives to Safety: Start Somewhere and Grow

So, what ground rules can create containers for productive conversations about race? What’s the alternative to safety? This poem by Micky ScottBey Jones offers an alternative. The first few lines of the poem recognize that:

“There is no such thing as a ‘safe space”’ — We exist in the real world. We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.”

This deeply human recognition that we have all hurt others, and we all have hurts, different as they may be, allows us to connect to our own and each other’s humanity, and invites us to drop the notion of “safety” altogether, because the notion itself is not even realistic.  

Later in the poem, one of my other favorite lines is:

“We have the right to start somewhere, and continue to grow.”

Rather than asking for assurance that everything we (especially us White folks) say will be seen in a positive light, this line asks us to be compassionate with ourselves and non-judgmental with each other, because we all have to start somewhere, and to simultaneously hold that we all have the capacity to grow. As a White person, I can totally live with this. I can let go of my need for safety (i.e. to be fully understood in my good intentions) if I can also recognize that I am on a journey of growing and evolving. 

“We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.” 

This is a powerful call to action for us White folks especially, not to be passive or extractive in conversations about race.  

Creating a truly integrated multi-racial space in which power is shared, requires a mutual investment in examining our beliefs and being open to those beliefs changing. This is a responsibility — it’s a requirement, I would say — especially for White people, in creating a truly integrated space.  

Really good ground rules should be oriented towards not only what does one need from the group to show up fully, but what will one give to the group so that others may show up fully. I sense in my facilitation that us White folks have been socialized to think of ground rules as an opportunity to ask for what we need from the group. When we consider the generations in which our needs as White people have come first, stepping into a multi-racial space in which we are committed to making a truly integrated space, should be seen as an opportunity to  give  to the space.

Letting go of safety and acknowledging that we are all starting somewhere, and growing, allows us to be more human – with ourselves and with each other. It doesn’t give us an “escape route” if things get hard, but it does open the door for self-compassion. Actively participating in questioning our beliefs, rather than advocating, explaining, or making really great points, also invites connection and builds trust.  This communicates that we understand that the world has tried to shape us in ways that divide, and that no one is immune to this. Trust comes not from absolving oneself from the impact of white supremacy, but from noticing it and actively questioning it. 

I hope we can all embrace the words of wisdom from Micky ScottBey Jones and create more brave (rather than safe), multi-racial, truly integrated spaces.  

Five Tips for Organizational Leaders Who Want to Respond to Systemic Racism

The public outrage over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmuad Aubrey, and the reckless behavior of Amy Cooper are catalyzing all kinds of action.  While the violence at protests is getting the most media attention, individuals and organizations are expressing solidarity in a myriad of ways.  I am finding even White leaders who haven’t necessarily been at the forefront of racial equity movements are seeking out information and guidance about how to step up for and stand by People of Color. As you move up your allyship, here are five tips for organizational leaders (particularly but not exclusively White leaders) to consider when responding to systemic racism.

#1.  Refer to the Individuals Who Were Killed by Police BY NAME. 

I have recently observed my colleagues of color have to do the work of asking well-meaning White leaders who refer to “the recent tragedies” “these difficult times” or “our current context” to honor the dead by speaking their names. Refer to those who were killed by the police by name; George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmuad Aubrey (and the list goes on).  If you want to up your game as an ally, feel free to request your White colleagues do this as well. Racism is sneaky, it thrives in vagueness and gets torn down by explicitness.

#2.  Take a Stand and Make it Known.

By taking a stand, I mean consider; what is your position on systemic racism? Identify what you believe in and then share it publicly. Your critical race analysis may be new, you may have lots of questions, and you don’t need to have it all figured out. Your staff, colleagues and partners need to hear you say that you are taking a stand against race-based brutality.  For example; “We at (name of organization) condemn the violence against Black and Brown communities and are committed to doing our part to bring an end to this brutality.”

#3.  Contribute Financially to a People of Color Led Effort.

Money isn’t the only way to contribute, but it is an important one. The wealth of our nation is based on stolen land and racially biased lending practices.  Making a financial contribution that acknowledges and recognizes this, is part of a personal and collective healing practice.  Consider giving to an organization led by People of Color that interrupts the systems of racism, not just now but as part of an overall practice annually.  Giving your staff a short list of choices that allows everyone to unite around taking action for a cause is a great mobilizer.  Here is a great place to start and stay tuned for a more on this topic from me.

#4.  Act Today, but Commit to the Long Road.

Yes, it is important to take action today and know that this work is life-long. There is no arrival or expertise.  If you missed a chance to act today, you can act tomorrow.  Signing a petition, making a call to an elected official, or contributing financially all matter, especially when we all participate.  AND consider; what kind of daily or weekly practice can you commit to? Can you commit to initiating a conversation with your White friends about race?  Can you commit to shorten the time you need to process your observation of a micro-aggression and speak out more quickly?  Can you choose at least one book a month written by a Person of Color to read and share what you learn? Here’s a great article that outlines 75 things White people can do to combat racism.

#5.  Make Space to Process, but Don’t Center Whiteness or White Guilt.

The work of anti-racism is emotional as well as strategic. As a leader, you may intuitively want to make space for people to share their feelings at work.  This is a great instinct, and it is tricky.  If your team is diverse, consider having a brief check-in as an entire team (like 1 minute each timed) and then breaking up into racial caucuses for further processing and support.  What will only exasperate the harm for your staff of color is is asking them to listen to White staff process their guilt, confusion and paralysis. Support your White staff to do this work on their own time.  Here is a helpful article on breaking up into race specific caucuses.

***

The work of becoming explicitly anti-racist can be a joyful one.  Mistakes will happen and when they do, you have the opportunity to acknowledge you made a mistake, take in the feedback non-defensively, and shift. This builds the foundation for long term relationships across power and difference.  Its going to take a collective of deep and caring relationships to tear down and rebuild the systems that divide and harm us.

Transforming Guilt

Guilt.  I hear about it all the time.  Guilt is like an obnoxious neighbor that you wish would just move away, but is there spying on you from the window next door, catching you at an uncomfortably vulnerable moment.

I’ve spent a lot of time with guilt. And a lot of time turning away from guilt.  Having grown up white, middle class with a stable family, there are countless ways my life has been substantially easier than many of my friends, neighbors, classmates, or the vast majority of people in the world, for that matter.  Early in my life, I felt guilty about my privilege.  But I was taught by more mature activist allies that guilt was to be avoided and overcome at all costs. Guilt makes you lazy and causes you to focus on alleviating the guilt rather than on taking responsible action.  That was how I was schooled. So whenever I felt guilt…that feeling was not allowed!!

So who takes guilt’s place?  I believe guilt has a cousin.  This cousin is much more clean cut and desirable looking than guilt, but no less toxic.  Guilt’s cousin is the voice that says, “You can handle this!”

Here’s what I see happen; whenever we turn towards ourselves and consider meeting our own needs, Guilt starts in with her tirade, “what do you mean you want more adventure, or to come home an hour later to go to the gym, or more recognition, or to go on a trip by yourself?! That’s so lame and self-centered! Your struggling sibling, the countless people living in poverty, your own vulnerable children, clearly have needs so much more important!”   

So then we feel awful.  We feel guilty for feeling guilty!  So we shove guilt away.

Then comes guilt’s distinguished cousin, the “I Can Handle it!” self.  Here’s what she says, “You know – you are a powerful person, you can take care of yourself without asking for support.  You can make that sacrifice for your kids, because you are going to rock it as a mom, and you know what, you can power through ANYTHING because you are STRONG!”

And that feels pretty ok.  Yeah, we say to ourselves, I am strong, and generous, and willing to sacrifice, and able to handle all kinds of crap because I am really capable and flexible and adaptable.

But the truth is, we all experience pain. And we all have needs. It is part of being human.  Our pain is sacred.  Our pain comes from whenever our true gifts aren’t recognized or valued.  And our needs are trying to point us to our untapped potential.    It seems impossible to live in this world without feeling pain or having  needs, even when we live with privilege.

And the truth is feeling pain allows us to see our precious gifts and recover them.  Meeting our needs allows us to tap into our creativity.  In order to take responsible action, we need then to feel our feelings and get our needs met.

Here’s how we get hooked. The “I Can Handle It” self is right, at least in the short term.  We do “handle it” and we keep going, and often no one can even tell we are deep  down struggling. Sometimes WE can’t even tell we are struggling. At least for a while. Until one more cousin comes to town. She’s from a faraway place, and speaks another language, but she’s probably the most powerful one of all.  She’s our body.  And she will rebel against the “I Can Handle It” self, sometimes with devastating consequences; a cold that doesn’t go away for a year, back pain, insomnia, short temper, and worse.

Here’s the typical guilt/action process broken down:

  • I feel some sort of pain or unmet need
  • I recognize my privilege
  • I feel guilty for feeling pain or having a need
  • I stop the guilt and I stop the pain with “I CAN HANDLE IT!”
  • I become a less authentic version of myself
  • My body rebels

Here’s what we could do instead:

  • I feel some sort of pain
  • I recognize my privilege
  • I might feel some guilt
  • Rather than be revolted by the guilt, I compassionately ask the guilt to step aside in order to honor my feelings
  • I feel my pain, I experience my needs
  • I become more authentic, and am able to act more compassionately and responsibily towards myself and others.

Would you like to have an alternative to “I CAN HANDLE IT!” Are you curious what might be possible for you if you allowed yourself to feel and have needs? Would you like to be able to compassionately ask guilt to step aside?  Come to a FREE EVENT on Friday May 20th, in which we will examine how to tap into a more authentic relationship with and expression of yourself.

Dear Fellow Seeker

Dear Fellow Seeker,

I suspect we are on similar paths.

I am guessing that since you were young, you had a sense of your special gifts, but for a variety of reasons, you’ve held back.  Maybe you were scared of outshining others; maybe your brilliance made some people resentful; maybe it seemed the world didn’t appreciate, need or want what you uniquely had to offer.  Maybe it has been so long that you’ve shared these special gifts, you wonder if they are even still there.

You probably have found ways to use your gifts to certain success over the years, but still feel like there’s a part of you that’s been locked away and hasn’t had a chance yet to truly shine.

From a very young age, I had a deep instinctual sense of human beings’ untapped magnificence.  I knew for myself and I knew that for most people, there was a capacity for great creativity, connection, and compassion that somehow wasn’t being expressed hardly at all in our everyday lives.

A lot of the precious insight, wisdom, and awareness I had as a child was re-defined, re-packaged, or simply denied, as I adapted to the adult world.  Until one day, I reached a point where it was time to stop lying to myself.

Have you reached that moment?  Are you tired of waiting for the world to let you in?  Are you tired of living a life that isn’t fully you?  Are you ready to reclaim your life?

I sure was.  It was scary and awesome and I am so thankful for the incredible teachers, coaches, and mentors that supported me along the way.  Reclaiming my life started while training to be a professional coach, and now 5 years later, after supporting hundreds of others in my coaching practice, I recognize three essential phases of personal transformation.

1.    The first thing I learned to do was RELEASE.  Through some empowering coaching, I noticed all the stories I was telling myself about how I was “supposed” to be that were holding me back.  Some of my “supposed to be’s” included; “You aren’t supposed to be in an unequal relationship with a man – you are a feminist!” “You aren’t supposed to want material possessions, you are supposed to be “above” that!”  “You don’t have any reason to feel pain – look how good you have it!”  It took me a while to even admit that these “supposed to be’s” were there – but once I did…letting them go felt like a MAJOR weight lifted.
2.    Secondly, (and this was hard for me), I had to learn to take myself WAY less seriously.  I had to learn to PLAY.  I had to learn to accept that I couldn’t think myself out of my pain or confusion.  I couldn’t “figure it out”.  I had to turn off my logical problem solving brain and just BE.  Feel my feelings.   Mourn the losses.  Give myself a f___ing break! And admit – YES, I wanted to be happy, I wanted to be free, I wanted ease, I wanted joy!  And that actually – suffering isn’t all it is cracked up to be. This playful stance is a spiritual stance.  Once I embraced a lighter attitude, I was able to receive messages the universe had for me.  I was able to feel inspired and creative again.

 

3.    Finally, I had to learn a new way to LOVE.  A coach asked me at a critical moment of my journey – how can you be in a loving relationship with all parts of yourself?  Alarms went off!  First – at the time it sounded super cheezy!  Second, I went on a rampage of self-defense; “But I want to learn and grow and IMPROVE!  I don’t want to be lazy about this – I have THICK SKIN – I can take it!”  (The “it” being all the self-bashing my inner critic did to me, that I was absolutely 100% convinced was what was needed to improve).  I had to completely switch my mindset and accept that being in a loving relationship with myself (including all my flaws and shortcomings) was actually much more productive than beating myself up.  AND – being in a loving relationship with my brilliance was actually ok too.

Rebecca Aced-Molina is a certified professional coach who supports her clients to release, play and love through intensive journeys within and abroad.  http://rebecca-acedmolina.com/