Be Your Own Hero

A few weeks ago, I had a job interview and one of the interview questions posed to me was “Who is your Hero?” What a great question, and one not often asked in the context of an interview.

My answer was and has always been my Dad.  However, what was different this time, was that it was the first time I had been asked or answered the question since my Dad died.  My eyes welled up in tears as I answered the question.

Those who know me, or who knew my Dad, know the profound impact he had on my life, and that his death has had on me over the past year.  I came across this communication that I sent to a friend on the day we buried my Dad:

How do I say goodbye to the most important man in my life?
I knew this day would come…I just didn’t think it would come so soon.
I’ve been able to fly as high as I have because I always knew my Dad would be there to catch me if I fell….and over the last few years I’ve done a lot of falling.  And in those moments when I didn’t think I could get back up again, it was my Dad who would remind me of my strength and called my forth so I could pick myself back up again.
Right now, life seems to have no meaning or purpose

As I read what I wrote, over a year and a half ago, I am present to how I felt when I wrote it. Lost. Hopeless. Uncertain. Afraid.  Deeply sorrowful.

In my second interview with the same company, the interviewer asked a question something along the lines of, “What have you learned about yourself?”

My answer was, “That I am resilient.” What I’ve learned over the last year and a half is to be my own hero.  Grief and loss can be incredible teachers if we let them.  Without having my Dad to call or talk to or rely upon, I’ve needed to call upon and rely on myself in new ways.  I’ve had to learn to catch myself, to build myself up, to see myself in the ways that my Dad has always seen me.

On November 9, I woke up,  like many other Americans feeling as though the world had changed, and like many, feeling it was not for the better.  After weeks of experiencing many of the same symptoms of grief, depression and anger that I felt in the months after my Dad’s death, I began to inquire into the “reason” for this and the opportunity.

The other night, I saw Hamilton.  Yes, it lives up to the hype.  It’s so much more than a hip-hop musical, or a way to get old white people to appreciate that style of music.  It is an evocative piece of art that is timeless and now, very timely. As I took in the show, and allowed the music and the message to wash over me, I couldn’t help but wonder what I might have felt, had the election outcome been different.

Hamilton evoked many emotions  inside me. The first was sadness.  As I watched the story of our forefathers and how they created our nation, what they stood for, and how our country began (by breaking away from a patriarchical ruler and fighting for freedom); I felt sad about how divided our nation seems now and the extremes of our differences.  I also felt sad that we now have a president-elect that I can not get behind, because I can not normalize something that simply isn’t “normal” and who certainly does not, in my opinion, represent the values and ideology that our country was founded upon.

After experiencing my sadness, what I saw next was the opportunity that this might present.  Just as our forefathers ushered in a new nation from a revolution…the people of our county perhaps might rise up and do the same.

We the American people can no longer rely on politicians, elected officials or even our President to look out for us or to be our heroes.  Just as I have needed to learn this lesson after losing my Dad, we the people, need to step up and be our own heroes now. We as a nation are resilient and it’s time to see ourselves in new ways and rise together.

Times of uncertainty and unrest can call forth creativity, innovation and pave the way for  new leadership, ideas, solutions.  Now is not the time for complacency or resignation. Perhaps it is time for another revolution.  But not a revolution of hatred, war, killing or bloodshed. A revolution of ideas, thinking and being that contribute to new solutions in business, in the economy, the environment, education, healthcare, in our communities, etc.

When you fight against the current narrative you give it power. We have never been here before, so  we need a new approach, which includes listening to understand.  And also thinking and feeling before speaking, which would lend itself to tapping more into our hearts and not so much from our minds, or what we already “know.”  From there, new ideas and solutions can arise and one can take action from this new place.

As the Schuyler sisters say in Hamilton,Look  around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now.”  We are in a position to create a new narrative. It’s the story that we all tell next that will create the future.

So what story are you going to tell?

 

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The Parable of the Trapeze

I’ve been in a transitional state for a while now.  I moved back to Chicago at the beginning of the year with high hopes of moving on after my Father’s death and creating something new.  What I discovered, was that first, I needed to take another journey.  A deep journey inward, and into the depths of my sorrow, my fears, my grief, tmy anger, the darkness of it all.  For 6 months, I went into the cocoon…allowing.  Allowing whatever wanted to emerge to emerge.  Allowing myself to be with it, with no judgement, with compassion, with love, with gratitude, with anger..whatever arose in the space. To be there.

I am emerging from the cocoon…having gone in a caterpillar and coming out a butterfly starting to flap her wings to break free, to expand, to fly.  As I emerge, I understand now the importance of going into the cocoon.  To give myself that time.  I emerge in a new space, with a new mindset… ready. Ready to serve, to live, to love.  And I find myself impatient to be in that vision fulfilled to be living the purpose of my being here, now (all the while not quite sure anymore if the vision is the same. And  I in the inquiry of what it might be).

So…it was quite auspicious to discover this parable today, as I was perusing through one of my journals. I can not take credit for writing it, but I’m glad someone did.  I don’t know who the author is to give credit to them, but I thank them.

The Parable of the Trapeze

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings.  I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar or swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between bars.  Most of the time, I spend my life, hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment.  It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m not in control of my life.  I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers.  But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look ahead of me.  It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name in it.  It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me.  In my heart of hearts, I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present, well-know bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hop (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab the new one.  But in my knowing place, I know that i must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time, I must hurdle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.  each time I filled with terror.  It doesn’t matter that in all  my previous hurdles across the void of unknowing, I have always made it.  Each time I’m afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars.  But I do it anyway.  Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience.  No guarantee, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives.  And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.”  Its called transition.  I have com to belive that it is the only place that real change occurs.  I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get pushed.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as “nothing”, a no-place between places.  Sure the old trapeze-bar was real and that new coming towards me, I hope, that’s real too.  But the void in between?  That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting, “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible.  What a waste!  I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bard are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us.  Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones of our lives are incredibly rich places.  They should be honored, even savored.  Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that can (but necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives. 

And so transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to hang out” in the transition between the trapeze bars.  Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens.  It can be terrifying.  It can be enlightening, in the true sense of the word.  Hurling though the void, we just may learn how to fly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hero or Heroine’s Journey

You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.” Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey

I’ve shared quite publicly about the journey I’ve been on over the last few years.  While I’ve not  yet read A Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell, I will say that the above quote struck a chord.

At the age of four, I remember wanting everyone to feel included and accepted.  There was a little boy in my nursery school class, I don’t remember his name, but he was from Puerto Rico and he didn’t speak English.  My Mom said that I learned to communicate with him in Spanish from the Spanish I was learning from watching Sesame Street.  I also remember as early as age seven, arguing with my Dad at the dinner table about people of different religions and races not being any different then we were….This coming from someone who wasn’t exposed to many people, or experiences that were outside of the homogenous community and upbringing I found myself in.

Even as a little girl, I was convicted about certain things…things that I felt in my heart were true…at least for me.  But my environment and the external messages I was receiving were telling me other wise.  For a lot of my life, I fought against the current to stay true to those things…and some…I listened to those external messages over my own….but yet there was still a fight in side of me…something wanting to emerge.

Growing up I wanted to be a musical theater actress, but somehow that desire evolved into wanting to be a newscaster and that evolved into studying business, marketing and communications.  I remember at one point even thinking that I wanted to be a therapist, as I was fascinated by what made people tick and I wanted to help people.

I went to college, and each summer took some job in communications, marketing or advertising to learn my craft.  I moved to Washington, DC after college because there weren’t many jobs in Pittsburgh that were of interest, and I was ready to experience new things.  I had many friends from college living in DC, so I took a leap of faith and moved there.  I was excited at the thought of changing the world, and DC seemed like a great place to do that. I left three years later, disillusioned and moved to Chicago.  I landed an amazing position with a company creating their corporate volunteer program from idea into a successful award-winning program in two years.  It was exciting to create something from nothing and have other people become as excited to participate.  I didn’t realize at the time…but I had started my first movement.

I then  jumped on board with someone else’s movement to transform the types of teachers that were recruited into the Chicago Public School system and their recruitment process.  My boss was a fellow change agent and I always remember him saying “You have to be willing to get fired for what you are out to change.”

While being part of the cause was exciting in some ways…it was exhausting in others.  I learned that I didn’t so much like the constraints of working in a large government entity,  and I started to take improv classes at Second City because I needed a creative outlet.  It reawakened a passion in me and I found that I enjoyed the three+ hours a week I was spending in class and with my fellow improv classmates more than the 60+ hours a week I was spending in a government organization.  Eventually, I got off that path to pursue acting and singing for a while.

I still needed to pay the bills, so I took a part-time position at a health insurance company and helped them to be more strategic about how they utilized their website  to communicate to their audiences.  Who knew the benefits would come in so handy when I broke my arm a year later doing my first (and to date only) triathlon and needed to have surgery and also two years later when I needed a total replacement of the top of my arm bone.  This position eventually led to full-time and, while I wasn’t really excited at the thought of working there full-time, the economy had taken a down turn and I stayed out of fear.

I eventually left and started doing independent consulting work with a management consulting company as a marketing contractor and continued the acting  and cabaret singing thing for a while and also got into theater and film producing.  I eventually stopped acting all together, as I realized that I loved performing, but I hated auditioning.  I could never create anything empowering around it.  And I’m glad that I tried it, as I forever stopped “wondering” and made peace with my choice at the time to jump back into focusing on the corporate world.  Which looking back, I did because it was familiar.

Even though I had a corporate job, I was always seeking new outlets and avenues of expressions…transformational work, coaching, spiritual pursuits, guitar lessons, yoga teacher training.   I had this pattern of earning a paycheck doing what I knew in a corporate setting and finding passion and fulfillment outside of how I earned my money.  Except I had this longing to have how I earned a living be aligned with my passions, with what made me happy, with my heart, to be purposeful instead of something that I did on the side.

In December of 2013, my 18-month consulting project at yet another larger corporation was coming to an end and I was full of fear.  I didn’t have that next thing lined up, knew how much money was in my bank account, and in my heart of hearts did not want to keep doing the same thing, but didn’t quite know what that next thing was.

As I looked at my resume and job experiences, I have done some impressive things, but I started to see some interesting patterns.  I took several positions because they sounded like cool opportunities (and they were), early in my career, I was taking positions that were more aligned with giving back, making a difference, building a movement.  In all of my roles, I was the first one and set the stage for building something…the visionary in me loved that.  The companies kept getting larger and larger and more slow to navigate around inside of.  Some of the companies were conservative and slower to change and I was often the visionary change agent banging the drum, and that got tiring and unfulfilling after a while.  I  also found it hard sometimes to fully adapt to the cultures and felt like I had to check a side of myself at the door to “make it.”

These were all interesting discoveries. That I took into months of self exploration and experimenting with the kind of work that I wanted to do and didn’t want to do.  I started the year off by spending quite a bit of time doing some transformational work and getting more aligned with my vision and the experiences I wanted to have and where I add value.

I’ve been on a spiritual path (a heroine’s journey if you will) for quite a while now and there has been a calling forth of having my outsides and insides meet.  Meaning that I’ve gone deep and have been discovering the core essence of myself beyond the ego. And the more that my authentic self has emerged, the more having an outer life that reflects that authentic self has been called forth.  Relationships have ended, jobs have ended, and new people and opportunities are coming into my life.

Lately what’s been calling itself forth is the need to reinvent myself in the business realm to match the kinds of companies that I’m seeking to partner and align with.  It’s been humbling to discover that good and bad news.  The 21st century way of doing business is different from what we’ve known.  And again, I’m discovering that it’s in inside job.  To first be clear on who am I and where I add value and  then look at who are my customers and that are their  needs.  I’ve literally had to rebrand myself to reflect all of this.  The funny thing is that I have done that for years for my clients…it’s been a new discovery to see that I have also needed to become conscious  my “personal brand” and refresh it.

And I don’t think that I’m alone in what I’m discovering.  The challenges that larger corporations are facing with reorganizations and layoffs will not be changing any time soon….they need to reinvent themselves to stay relevant and compete in the market place.  At the same time, there are people longing for more meaningful work to serve a higher purpose and their security at their companies is no longer a foregone conclusion.  People have been downsized, and they are starting to explore what might be next.

I share all of this, as taking the journey back through my career and looking at what had me make the choices I made, what made me happy, what was fulfilling, what wasn’t so fulfilling, where do I add value etc.  Have all been a journey in and of itself to be able to actively create what I choose to do next vs taking something out of fear.  It’s not been easy, there have been many challenges along the way and much uncertainty.   But there has also been something empowering about all of it too.  I’m seeing that I’m a source of what I create next.  And it’s taken constantly letting go of my ego and my past accomplishments, being willing to be a constant student and learn new things and learning to trust other people.

What I have learned along  my heroine’s journey is that the desire that I had for people to feel included, accepted and known is still with me and the belief that at the end of the day, we are all connected and one, no matter how “different” we might look is still a belief that I have am passionate about.   And I still have the desire to either start a movement or join in on someone else’s to bang the drum and have others come along. What all of this  has made available, is to stand in this moment to see what I can create as a career path from this place.

It’s been a big leap and I still have moments of fearing that I will free fall and go splat on the pavement, but I am trusting that it is leading me somewhere and that my journey will inspire others to go on their own hero or heroine’s journey.

I encourage those on the path to look at your career past and find the patterns…it will free you up to start to dwell in that you might actually want to create.  Then ask yourself these simple questions.  What do I want now?  What makes me happy?  Where do I add value?  How can I serve?  Dwell in the questions, listen to your heart and see what answers start to emerge and what opportunities might start presenting themselves.

Leave me a comment below or drop me a line at nina@ninaoneil.com.  I’d love to hear what you are discovering on your own journey.

The ego is as you think of yourself. You in relation to all the commitments of your life, as you understand them. The self is the whole range of possibilities that you’ve never even thought of. And you’re stuck with your past when you’re stuck with the ego. Because if all you know about yourself is what you found out about yourself, well, that already happened. The self is a whole field of potentialities to come through.”  – Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey