Everyone in our society seems to be striving to achieve something. To get to some desired destination – wealth, business success, published author, recognized expert, happily engaged with a loving partner, being slim and trim – you name it, someone desires it.
Yet, many are on a slow boat going nowhere because of a huge barrier preventing them from getting close to achieving their desired goal(s). In physics this barrier is called “inertia.” In life, this means that the status quo tends to remain the status quo unless some other force “acts” upon it.
In other words, you get into a particular groove in how you are living that turns into a rut unless other forces or actions force you into new patterns of thinking, perceiving and acting.
The challenge is this:
Humans tend to fall in love, or at least deep “like,” with COMFORT. People may feel stuck or even somewhat unhappy in their rut, but it’s velvet-lined in familiarity and safe in its predictability. This comfort zone becomes a trap for all too many people. Breaking free requires the Courage to Learn and Grow, and a willingness to actively step into the unknown, entertaining ambiguity and giving up any need to be right.
There is an old English saying, “If you want the fruit of the tree you have to go out on a limb.” This means deliberately making yourself uncomfortable by taking the risk of falling, of actually engaging in behaviors that feel difficult, challenging and even, at times, “unnatural.”
To overcome inertia you have to expend energy, effort, time, and actively step into discomfort.
When I think of the word “courage”, the first thing that pops into my mind is a firefighter pulling someone out of a burning building, or a person who grew up in poverty exerting a miraculous strength of will to do what they need to do to live a life full of abundance.
“Losing weight” or “getting healthy” are not the first things I think of when I hear the word courage. And yet, my journey of accomplishing those exact two things – and most importantly, the path of staying there to claim and live in the body size that is the best expression of me in this lifetime – has been the most courageous thing I’ve ever done.
It’s 1999 and I’m 4 years out of a very expensive college degree granting me the title of Dance Educator, accredited by my fancy NYU Bachelor of Science letters. I was 26. My dream was to perform on Broadway and I was deep in the pursuit of getting there.
There were quite a few wins among the scores of rejections during that time. But what caused me to quit and walk away from pursuing the one thing I was most passionate about –the thing I had dreamed of since childhood– was something that had been causing me pain and struggle for years – an eating disorder.
The day I put a tight little leotard on my body was the day I became obsessed about being thin.
The quest for this undefinable pursuit produced an obsession with every morsel of food I put in my body. I analyzed the calories, squabbled with myself over the carb-fat-protein balance in any given meal, and even created charts all over my refrigerator to make sure I was measuring at least four different scientific criteria at any given time to eat as perfectly as humanly possible.
Yes, it was maddening, but that’s not even the most interesting part.
The much more enthralling part to this story is that all of that mental energy for intense nutritional analysis flew out the window the minute I was triggered into a binge eating episode. Trying to control every calorie I ate during the day didn’t do squat to overcome the massive amounts of chocolate covered donuts and chipwiches I was stuffing in my face at night.
The enormous effort I put into being in control of my food most of the time was perfectly equal to the complete lack of control I had the rest of the time. This truly insane cycle of analyzing – planning – control during the day, and complete loss of control just hours later, went on for about 12 years.
This was binge eating, now labeled as Binge Eating Disorder or BED. There is one major factor that separates binge eating from overeating: compulsion.
Nineteen years old. That’s how old I was when I got diagnosed with diverticulitis. This is a health issue that usually occurs in older populations. According to this Cleveland Clinic article, “Diverticulosis is very common in Western populations and occurs in 10 percent of people over age 40 and in 50 percent of people over age 60. The rate of diverticulosis increases with age, and it affects almost everyone over age 80.”
That being said, it’s unusual for a 19 year old to be receiving this diagnosis. By the way, diverticulosis means pockets or bulges (diverticula) have formed in the colon. When undigested food gets caught in these, it can cause inflammation and/or infection, which is termed diverticulitis.
What led me down this path? In my opinion it was stress.
No, my unhealthy diet did not help, but there are PLENTY of people with unhealthy diets out there, including lots of teenagers, and most do not end up with diverticulosis. Science has shown that there are more neurons, specialized nerve cells, in the intestinal wall than there are in the spinal cord. It’s like our gut is our second brain and responds equally to neurotransmitters, including those that modulate stress reactions. The more uptight the mind, potentially the more uptight the gut. And here is where my diverticulosis came in.
So, this is what happened.
One day I was walking along and felt some lower back pain. Thinking I had pulled a muscle, I took some anti-inflammatories. This did nothing, so I went to my doctor. After several tests over a period of days, including being poked and prodded by male doctors in places I had never been poked and prodded before, the diagnosis was finally made. Diverticulitis.
The day I received my diagnosis, I left being told to eat a high fiber diet, and that if it got worse I might have to eliminate some foods I was eating, mostly seeds. Not a word about the fried, fatty, processed foods I was often consuming as a college teenager.
So many things are wrong with this picture, if you ask me.
Last week, Dusty Staub, best selling author ofThe 7 Acts of Courage, spoke with Dr. James L. Hudgins, President Emeritus of the South Carolina Community College System about developing the confidence and capacity of young leaders so that they can make a meaningful difference in our world.
This is their conversation…
Dusty: Thank you for speaking with me, Dr. Hudgins. Would you tell our readers a bit about you and your service in the world?
Dr. Hudgins: I am an educator and a leader who has now concluded more than fifty years of working within higher education, the last ten years at the University of South Carolina. My life’s work has been to lead an exemplary Christian life and to help everyone with whom I work to be his or her best self.
Over the past fifty years I have received recognition and many awards for my contribution. Yet my greatest contribution, since I had to choose one, and what has been most rewarding to me, is leading the South Carolina Leadership Academy for the Community College System. This program enrolls the top twenty-five high potential emerging leaders from South Carolina’s sixteen Community Colleges in an intense year-long emersion into leadership practices and system procedures. The program has become a virtual launching pad of future leaders in the community college system in South Carolina.
For example, thirty-five of the graduates have gone on to get their doctorate degrees, three have become presidents of colleges and more than thirty have become vice-presidents in the system.
Dusty: What has been the greatest accomplishment in your career and what is the legacy you will leave behind?
Dr. Hudgins: As word of my retirement this month has gone out, I have been receiving statements such as: “I knew you cared,” “You were a great friend,” “You were warm and approachable,” and “You made a big difference in my life.”
It is immensely rewarding to watch those I have mentored both succeed and grow not only in their careers, but also in their lives. To see people develop in their confidence and capacity to make a meaningful difference is the best legacy anyone could have.
Dusty: As a leader in Education and a Legacy Builder, where have you most needed courage in your life?
Dr. Hudgins: I wish I’d had your bookThe 7 Acts of Courageback in the 60’s and the 70’s. It is an outline of the lessons I have learned in the school of experience. I lacked self-confidence and didn’t believe in myself. For me, low self-esteem was the opposite of the courage described in your book. (Where were you 30 years ago?) I turned down two key job offers out of that lack of confidence. This was a very big issue for me.
Dusty: Thank you for speaking with me, David. Let’s start by telling our readers a bit about you and your service in the world.
David: I am a father, husband, philanthropist, real estate developer and a farmer. My service to the world at this point in my life is mostly as a philanthropist. I am a servant-leader who also functions as a coach, psychologist, mentor, motivator, supporter and one with whom to celebrate other’s successes.
I also work as a friendly life strategist/deal support person–offering guidance to help friends and, at times, random contacts in the creation of the life they want.
Being a farmer is really just a more organic version of being a real estate developer; both can do good or harm to the land and community around them. Either of these roles can, if stewardship is kept in mind, provide tremendous goodness and value. My focus now is on how to create greater value by doing what is right for the land as well as for people. After all, the blessing of being a philanthropist is God’s reward for sharing and spreading His blessings.
We all have within us the ability and opportunity to become philanthropists, and it is our responsibility to broadcast our respective gifts, like casting seed into the fertile soil of the world. The farmer and the developer roles provide a four-fold opportunity to do well by people, community, land and nature.
Dusty: Whose legacy has touched your life and inspired you?
David: There are more than fifty different philanthropists/mentors who have touched my life. One, who stands out as a catalyst for me, was someone who gave of his heart, soul, time and his immense emotional intelligence. Joe Ehrmann is his name.
Joe is a former professional football player. (Featured in a must-read about his life… Season of Life by Jeffery Marx). Joe had many opportunities to do incredible things with his great athletic ability, and economic success. What he chose to do was help mentor young women and men to be of service in the world.
Joe’s statement of purpose was so inspiring I borrowed it with his permission. It is, “I coach to help boys become men of empathy and integrity who will lead, be responsible and change the world for good.”
I have modified it slightly from helping young men, to helping people. It is a timeless statement of purpose and true value creation in this world.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke created a powerful legacy for all those who read his poems. He celebrated being alive and being connected to nature, and to life itself. His quote above, just one line of text, is a gift if you let it resonate deeply within you.
What would it be like if you were to pause just a little, every day, to ponder the deep intelligence of the earth and the steady rhythm of nature? If you surrendered more to the living moment you would experience being both “rooted” and connected to something greater, while also being able to “rise up” to feeling more alive and whole.
It is never too soon to be thinking about your legacy, your contributions to the world.
A great way to sharpen your thoughts is to consider the following questions: What will you leave behind you when you exit your life? What will your life have meant to the world around you? What will you have stood for and what will you have created of your one, special, unique life?
It may sound paradoxical but taking the time to think about your legacy and what you will leave behind you when you die is an excellent way to live more fully, completely and abundantly NOW. Most people avoid thinking about their death and many live as if they will never die. This is foolish and wasteful.
By acknowledging and facing the prospect of death, you can choose to make even better use of the limited time you have here on Earth, and to be more fully present with your experience of being alive. After all…
It is the content of your mind and how you direct your internal dialogue that determines how much peace you can generate, allowing your heart-centered presence to simultaneously gift others.
Heart opens to “what is,” thus experiencing the full range of what life has to offer.
There is no wasted effort or time. Sitting in traffic can be either a hellish experience or one of healing and enjoyment, depending upon how you set your mind. If you expect life to conform to your desires and expectations, then you will be disappointed many times and miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the living moment. You will create unnecessary pain and/or escape into fantasies of the future or ruminations of the past.
The key to creating a legacy worthy of the miracle of living is to be fully present and open to what is going on and what you are experiencing.
Take being stuck in traffic: If you resist it and judge the experience negatively, then you will feel frustration or anger or some form of disappointment. However, when you open to the experience and move from demand to preference, then you can in effect say…
In my capacity as a personal mastery and empowerment coach, conversations with my clients frequently revolve around relationships.
Romantic relationships seem to have the most life impact. Being in a healthy, authentic romantic relationship, in which partners fully accept each other, is one of the most rewarding experiences. Such a relationship is based on sharing, growing, and connecting from and with our deepest hearts.
Through pure unconditional love, it also offers an environment of freedom, courage and acceptance, and allows the growth of self-awareness. Both partners feel secure and safe to freely express themselves. They are deeply committed to each other and also to a sense of overall purpose.
This sense of purpose allows for individual growth and growth as a couple. Such a union is a gift that helps each partner become more conscious and free from emotional slavery. The expansion in consciousness that is possible within an authentic relationship can then serve a higher purpose for society at large: happy couples inspire others to explore courageous emotional honesty, in public as well as personal life.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, so many people miss out on the gift of having a fulfilling, intimate relationship.
Most of these barriers to a healthy relationship can be overcome with the right dose of desire, courage and acceptance. I propose that the world needs as many people as possible to shift into relationships that are authentic and centered on acceptance, emotional freedom and purpose, also satisfying the individual’s inner desire for safety, security, and the experience of unconditional love.
The key is this: The first steps are self-acceptance, self-love, and self-care.
From there, positive relationships can blossom and the world is made better for it.
One reason that relationships so often fail to offer the highest level of satisfaction and fulfillment is that people enter the union solely to satisfy their own personal needs.
“Falling in love” with another person can certainly be a magical experience, supported by a cascade of endorphins that are released on cue, and which seem to touch the body, mind, and soul all at once.
When, however, the road of life starts getting bumpy, the new partner may be held responsible not only for personal happiness, but for personal unhappiness as well. A relationship that is based on the fulfillment of only one person’s needs leads quickly to co-dependence and resentment.
A second and related reason that relationships fail to be completely satisfying is that partners are too often held to an idealized view of how they should look and behave in the world.
People dream of meeting a soul mate; they look for that special person who will complete them and make them happy forever. As wonderful as this sounds, healthy and authentic relationships can just as well bring forth some of the most challenging and painful experiences humans are likely to face.
We grieve, after all, when we lose something, or someone, of value. The more we value someone, the greater the pain of loss.
As soon as a partner starts to behave in ways that don’t match up to an idealized view of how things should be, feelings of insecurity, anger and resentment can arise. Faced with life’s unexpected hardships and even day-to-day challenges, intimate partners that once seemed madly in love can project their unhappiness on the other.
One particular barrier to healthy relationships lies buried in our unconscious.
As Carl Yung quoted: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate”.
Humans are the most complex creatures in the animal kingdom by force of a unique “gift”, namely the ego mind. This allows people to compare and contrast experiences, and to drift into thinking about the past and the future, allowing these thoughts to color the only thing that is truly real, which is the present moment.
While human minds have the capacity to create wondrous things, they can equally conjure up false stories, lies and all manner of inventions that bring forth misery. Worst of all, much of that can happen in the subconscious mind. Past experiences, often long-forgotten, can bring forth learned behavior that is automatic but not at all in the interest of growing and thriving relationships.
I have seen and continue to see many people going through life focused on “not getting hurt” versus “going for the gold.”
Too often, defensive patterns meant to protect the self from harm become THE problem. From past experience as a marital and family therapist and decades of working to support people in their professional as well as personal lives, I see the pain created by old defensive patterns. These include cynicism, denial, pre-emptive rejection and insistence on being right, promiscuousness, isolation, withholding and withdrawal.
Such patterns of behavior always point to a lack of the courage to be vulnerable, to be open to life and to love. This robs people of intimacy, meaningful connection, and any real joy or deep satisfaction in their relationship(s). Instead, they are left with the experience of perpetual loss and a self-defeating pattern that just creates more of the same.
The poet Elizabeth Sewell, author of The Human Metaphor, described two fundamental ways to live life.
One is to live fully, openly and with gusto; the other is to live it just so as “not to lose.”
I remember the powerful metaphor she used when I heard her speak years ago at UNC-Chapel Hill. She described the second way of living –“not to lose” – as laying down in the grave, pulling the marble up to your chin, hoping not to get hurt while waiting for life to be over. That image has stayed with me now for more than four decades. Yet in my work with individuals, families, teams and organizations, I keep running into people who seem to be living “not to lose”, not to get hurt versus being their very best, of reaching for what they want.
As many spiritual masters have so astutely pointed out, the experience of pain and loss is inevitable in life. Nonetheless, we can deeply enjoy life and experience profound meaning and intimacy. For that, we need to bring compassion for ourselves and for others to bear, and we need to access the courage to use the pain to help us go deeper and to open ourselves more fully. Unfortunately, the lesson many learn and that our society teaches is, “Numb the pain,” “Medicate away the loss,” and “Avoid all BAD feelings.”
The deep insights of psychology, sociology and spiritual discipline all tell us that to label a feeling as “bad” is to limit aliveness.
As human beings we are shaped by the stories we are told as well as the stories that we tell. This is especially true about the stories that are passed down by family members important to us. The “story-lines” we are fed through our formative years – about people, events and circumstances, both close to home and across the world – shape our way of being in the world.
Particularly crucial stories involve other family members; these can impact how we feel and relate to our entire ancestral heritage. Since we humans, as relational beings, lay great stock in “belonging,” the impact of family myths can be great indeed. They can serve to bind us or to separate us, to uplift us or to bring us down.
Indeed, family stories often become the lens through which we see every other experience in our own life, and as such can shape our life experience dramatically.
Stories, then, help to shape our ways of thinking, perceiving and understanding our selves as well as our ways of relating and connecting with our world. This is true whether the stories are “good” ones or “bad” ones.
In December of last year, I shared about two powerfully “good” movies – A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. Both of these helped to shape my life, bringing me more joy in living and deeper compassion. Within the plot of each movie, we are shown how the path of a human life takes a bend toward a darker, lonelier, even hopeless future. It is the power of love that sheds light and allows the protagonists, Ebenezer Scrooge and George Bailey, to reset their course for the better.
A Pixar-animated Disney Production, Coco illustrates the pain that can be caused by a false family story, and the power of Courage and Love to rewrite the script in a way that impacts generations – past and future. The lyrics of the movie’s Oscar-winning theme song, Remember Me, capture the bittersweet process of remembering lost loved ones and the power of family heritage and connections.
Earlier this year, Acts of Courage Co-Founder Robert “Dusty” Staub gave the Keynote Address to more than 300 business leaders and others attending the Northern Nevada Business Weekly’s 2018 Book of Lists Launch & Awards Gala.
As the CEO and Lead Consultant of Staub Leadership International, Dusty has spent more than four decades helping liberate the passion and power of people and organizations. In this Keynote Address, Dusty dives deep into what it means to be a transformative, heart centered leader, leaving the audience with practical, actionable insights.
We invite you to watch the Keynote below, but here are just a few of the highlights…
“In the world we live in, shit does happen and we have to deal with it. That’s not what makes you a leader. What makes you a leader, is knowing how to transform “shit” into “shift” and make something meaningful. That’s what great leadership is all about and it requires transformation.”
“Everyone who works with you has the discretion to decide how much heart, commitment, thought, creativity and passion they are willing to put into your organization. Discretionary effort is discretionary and your leadership determines how much your people are willing to give.”
“The problem that keeps leaders from getting more engagement from their people is a failure of courage.”
“Transformation is the realm of love, meaning and significance. It’s about how deeply you’ve lived, how fully you’ve loved, and how completely have you learned to be present in this world. It’s from this place where we make shift happen.”
“The most effective people ask one primary question: Where can I offer the greatest value? If you’re doing a job that someone else could be doing, you’re not doing the thing that is your highest and best use of your time and talents.”
“Do you have the courage to dream of a better way? Do you have the courage to see your organization stepping up the game? Do you have the courage to see the current reality and be honest about what’s working and not working? Do you have the courage to confront and tell truth to power? Do you have the courage to be confronted? Do you have the courage to learn and grow and try new behavior? Do you have the courage to be vulnerable? Do you have the courage to let go of the old ways of thinking and acting that no longer serve you?”
“The source of courage is being connected to something greater than yourself – your big why.”
“When you shut down someone who is willing to confront you, you’re shutting down a conversation that’s been going on behind your back for a while.”
“Yours is a unique, special life. How are you spending it? Are you inviting the best from everyone around you? Are you sending the message to others that they matter and are important?”