In the last number of weeks, I have been invited into conversations with professional women who are looking to examine their roles and contribution within our culture and within organizations. I welcome the opportunity to engage with women committed to lifelong learning; women committed to making a difference wherever they are.
That desire was evident in a weekend “Wise Women Retreat” with a dozen ageless women from diverse professions, talents and beliefs. I was restored in many ways, as we focused deeply on questions that matter. I was lifted up by their courageous stories, each woman eager to live a conscious, awake life.
I’ve had the privilege of offering presentations to groups of professional women who are eager to challenge our current notion of success, with an invitation to appreciate the challenges and opportunities that we have to live fully awake, with intention.
Frederick Franck, a favorite author and artist, wrote that “most people go through life sleepwalking.” Franck suggests that about half of those people wake up, and of that half, half of them go back to sleep. I suspect his number for people who are awake, aware and living conscious lives is high. The pace that we keep, the demands on our time and energy, and the myriad of responsibilities we hold make sleep walking more and more appealing.
And yet for some, the status quo is no longer acceptable.
What is success? What does success mean to you?
We are in the process of redefining success. There are many women and men who no longer want to be part of a corporate culture that treats women and minorities as second class citizens through discrepancy in pay and barriers to the highest offices within the corporation.
There are new voices in the conversation. Arianna Huffington, co-founder, president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group, one of the world’s most influential news sources, is one of them. In her newest book, “Thrive,” she begins with a story that was her wakeup call for personal change.
Arianna, like many corporate men and women, was driven to work harder, faster, longer…until she woke up in her home office in a pool of blood after collapsing from exhaustion, hitting her head on the corner of her desk, cutting her eye and breaking her cheekbone. Once she completed a battery of tests which indicated that there wasn’t any underlying medical condition that would cause her to fall, she realized there was “everything wrong” with how she was living her life. She needed to make changes in order to live fully awake!
She took stock of her life through a personal audit and invites us to do the same. Like Socrates, she now believes that “an unexamined life is not worth living.”
Success in our culture has been defined by money and power. Arianna suggests that women (and some enlightened men) have been looking to redefine success. They have been embarking on what she calls a third revolution. Arianna suggests that the first revolution for women was the right to vote.
The second was to have equal access to the same stage as white males – to be at the top of the world.
And now, she says, we want to change the world! We no longer want to be at the top of the world as it is. We no longer want to claim sleep deprivation as a badge of honor, risk the loss of significant relationships and compromise our health.
New formula for success
Arianna offers that if we are to thrive; if we are to live lives that matter, we must:
1. Take care of our well-being and health (adequate sleep, exercise, good nutrition).
2. Look to the wisdom of the ancient world (intellect and heart). We are encouraged to “awaken” and live mindfully (Yoga, meditation, journaling, reflection, laughter, etc.).
3. Pause to embrace the “wonder of life.”
“We don’t know what life may bring,” Huffington says. “So often we bury ourselves in our to-do lists, in our charts, in our plans … and we just pretend to actually live.”
Sometimes we need a wake up call like Arianna had to appreciate that we are sleepwalking on a treadmill that is rapidly picking up speed. We can choose to take another look…to re-assess the way we are living our lives. Her last recommendation for thriving in today’s world is:
4. Be generous. We must go beyond ourselves and step out of our comfort zone to help and serve others.
Arianna would echo the words of a Dawna Markova poem:
Living Wide Open: Landscapes of the Mind
I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me,
To make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance, to live so that which
Came to me as seed, goes to the next as blossom,
And that which came to me as blossom, goes on as fruit
May you live your best life: Awake. Fully Engaged. Fully Alive.
Karen Vernal is the president of Vernal Management Consultants LLC, a Milwaukee-based leadership and organizational firm dedicated to “igniting the spirit and skills of leaders.” The company is one of two firms in the nation to be certified in Emotional Intelligence through the Institute for Health and Human Potential. For more information, visit www.vernalmgmt.com.