Leadership posts

Orienting: A Key Skill for an Intentional Life

Posted by Laurie J Cameron

Sunday morning, I was out in the crisp, winter woods with eight fourth grade kids. We wore compasses on blue cords hanging from our necks, and a we had a list of bearing points.  We were in an experiential learning activity to explore the themes of orienting and courage as part of a children’s spiritual education program.

Orienting in the woods involves navigating with a compass and a map, moving in usually unknown and diverse terrain.  The magnetic north provides a stable and constant grounding in the bigger context. It was an easy leap for me to explore the woods with the kids and see the connection with how we need an anchoring direction in navigating our own lives. Many of my coaching clients are in new territory.

Take Michelle. She is a talented leader moving in to new territory and expanding her impact. She is engaging, highly networked and  successful by most measures. She is writing a second book and launching a new publishing business, all while keeping her existing client base satisfied and growing. Her children are active in sports and doing well in high school.

We have been working together for three months and she now has an agent, new clients, and partners for her new business. She is focused and in action, and it has generated a wave of interest from others and a number of new opportunities. But success comes with its own challenges. Some of the new opportunities are distracting. She feels productive but overwhelmed – a condition that often leads to burnout, and she admitted that she her life is out of balance and she couldn’t sleep.

Michelle needed re-orienting. Orienting ourselves means knowing where we are in relation to something that we have chosen from a broader set of possibilities.  The world may have a different set of expectations of us than we do. We have a variety of stakeholders in our lives that all have their positions and interests. Many of the opportunities that came to Michelle have rewards that are seductive and enticing. Serving on boards, speaking, being highlighted in the press, volunteer service requests – they all can feed our needs for visibility, belonging, connection and validation.

So what do we do when we feel the familiar wave of overwhelm? If we get too far off course, we can self-correct. Self-observation, reflection and inquiry are tools that help us determine if the activities and commitments that fill our days are truly in line with our values, purpose and stated commitments.

If you want to be on a clear track and stay in balance, take a look at the work we did today:

1. Define Outcomes and Commitments.  Michelle worked on articulating the two primary commitments in her life right now that reflect her deepest values and align with her purpose. It was an iterative design process – designing, refining and clarifying. We knew when she was done when her body relaxed and she seemed to get  broader and taller at the table. She drew a deep breath and said she felt energized.

2. Set Up Sustaining Practices. Michelle has a clear orientation and it now must become embodied – not just in her head but an internal compass that steers from the body. We set up practices and new behaviors that keep her centered and focused on what is important.  She can strengthen her ability to make clear requests and to state clear boundaries. She has tools to use in her planning routines that reinforce what she is building in her profession.

3. Focus and Say No. With a focus on clear, grounded commitments, Michelle came up with natural conclusions about which of the invitations and opportunities she would decline. She is a bold and creative enterpreneur in the spotlight, and her developmental growth area is cultivating the ability to stay oriented to what is important and not being pulled off course, diluting her focus and sapping her energy.

4. Orienting With Intention. Michelle has done the groundwork for  leading an entrepreneurial, creative life with focus and intention. Each new day will bring challenges, disruptions, surprises, and new opportunities. She is holding a compass with a True North. She can move into action with courage knowing that she is equipped to skillfully navigate what comes up in her path. There are people that consume an enormous amount of time and energy and don’t get us closer to our outcomes. Michelle is now clearer on being able to choose the right projects and sidestep the people and pieces of work that pull her off course.

The pack of fourth graders found the ribbons they were searching for in the woods. We shared stories of courage, choices and intentionally orienting to what matters. When we move through each day oriented to our commitments, mindfully choosing our responses and taking effective action, we are leading a life of intention, and this makes us feel most fully alive.

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