I spent my past week at the Ethical Leadership Assembly (ELA), the official kickoff event for my 2015-2016 Dalai Lama Fellowship. The week, unlike any other I’ve experienced, comprised of the widest spectrum events possible. From meditations and shamanic runs to design thinking and project workshops to talent shows and picnics, the ELA had it all. All week I was surrounded by people who inspired me and challenged me and have come away with it with lifelong friendships, an incredible support systems, and some important lessons learned which I will try to summarize in following list.
1. You are as important as the work you are trying to accomplish
While perhaps not relevant for every industry, this is a lesson that truly resonates within the social-change community. Many of those working for social justice or in the non-profit sector find themselves taxed well beyond their limits often close to burnout or breakdown. While the field demands individuals who are passionate and willing to put others on their priority list, it also needs individuals who are committed for the long-haul and for these individuals to be able to maintain their compassion and energy. The more taxed you are, the harder it is to maintain your empathy and drive and by extension the more of a struggle each day seems. Instead understand that you are at the center of your work.
2. Self-Care is a practice as difficult as hard work or education
Oftentimes we view focusing on self-care as a sign of weakness or selfishness. This is a costly misperception held by many in all industries. In fact sometimes it is harder to take care of yourself than it is to let yourself be driven by work. It’s an acknowledgement that you have needs and that you have limits which is always tough to admit. However, the sooner you can reach this realization the sooner you can understand that by taking time to care for your own needs the more effective you will be in all areas of your life and the happier you will be. Forcing yourself to sleep, eat healthy meals, nurture relationships, and take time to do what you love takes commitment and dedication but the end result is worth it.
3. Focus on One Thing At a Time
Have you ever experienced those moments when you have so many things to-do at the same time you can’t even fathom where to begin? It’s all to frequent among young passionate social change-makers or professionals. The rhetoric around multi-tasking goes back and forth with some arguing its benefits and others swearing by doing one thing at a time. Perhaps it is possible to do multiple things at once but not without giving up on both efficiency and quality. It is often said that the biggest loss of time occurs in shifting your mind from focusing on one thing to another. Now imagine if you were doing that constantly as so many of us do. While, it is easier said than done, one of the key takeaways from our sessions on self-mastery was the importance of truly taking on one task at time. It takes time and effort but there are some great tools like Kanban Boards to help you out.
4. Lasting Change Has to Come From the Community Itself
Our society is obsessed with the archetype of The Hero, especially in America. We love to root for the George Washington’s, the Harry Potters, and the Luke Skywalker’s as much as we love to imagine ourselves as being “The One”. There is something incredibly exhilarating as being the person with all the solutions especially in the social change community. As a result we often end up projecting our views and ideas on communities and individuals who we fail to truly understand. Rather than taking the time to understand the problems and dynamics at play we assume we know the answers and simply begin to act. This leads to solutions that fail to create tangible impact or at best create temporary impact, entirely contingent on a sole individual. Rather than sticking to the hero archetype if were able to understand that we do not have all the answers and instead engage communities in collaborating to find a solution that impact generated would be monumentally greater. By allowing communities to identify their own needs and work collectively to find a solution it creates a sense of ownership and understanding that leads to sustainable long-term solutions rather than temporary fixes
5. Be True to Yourself
It might seem obvious but so many people lose sight of it. The need to fit in or please others is ingrained in human nature. If there was one thing I learned over the course of the ELA it is that being yourself takes courage. Whether it be personally, professionally, or relationship-wise it is exceedingly important to be open with yourself about the path you are taking and whether it is what you truly want.
Some of these might seem intuitive or obvious to you but if you take a moment to think about them you’ll realize they are far less common than you’d expect. Although it is only the start of my Dalai Lama Fellowship and in the grander scheme my work with Transfernation and in the social impact sector I feel as though these are some of the most crucial lessons I will take away. I cannot begin to express my gratitude towards The Dalai Lama Fellows, LinkedIn, The Resolution Project, and all the incredible people I've met this past week for helping me continue to grow and develop. Many of these aren’t changes that can be made overnight but rather constant works in progress. Although I’m sure there will be setbacks and challenges I hope to continue working towards these values and lessons.