When I began my professional life, I set out with a clear purpose—to be a successful executive. In my 20s I finished my business communications degree, landed a corporate job, and worked hard.
The next two decades were a blur. I got promoted, broke six figures, and by age twenty-eight made vice president of corporate communications for a publicly traded company.
Marriage and motherhood followed, while I started a consulting firm, mentored other independent business owners, and took on both paid and volunteer leadership roles. My phone rang off the hook with the constant demands of my career and life.
I was proud of my success. And mind-numbingly deprived of rest, constantly multi-tasking, and stressed out about 99 percent of the time.
I also believed I was doing what successful people did.
It wasn’t until I received a call in my early 40s that I would realize I wasn’t leading my life as much as being lead by it. That phone call would challenge my beliefs to the core, and reshape my definition of leadership.
I still remember when the phone rang and my doctor said the words that stopped my heart. “You. Have. Breast cancer.” It was Valentines Day. I remember thinking this might be the cruelest joke ever. I’m supposed to hear “you have flowers today” not “you have c-a-n-c-e-r.”
Terrible thoughts and fears flooded my mind.
Oh dear God, what am I going to tell my kids? How could this have happened to me? Am I going to die?
Being a conscious leader is about being a better version of yourself, and it begins with an inner choice to become more self-aware, more intentional.
While answers came slowly on that dark journey, they did come.
What I learned about deep personal leadership, the core of where all leadership begins, was revelatory. Who knew that beyond all the external success, how I was doing in my inner life was being largely ignored?
When I woke up enough to really look at my life, I could see I felt overwhelmed and busy all the time. No matter how hard I worked, I rarefly felt successful. Time management strategies didn’t seem to last for long. The same issues and problems persisted year after year. I desperately hoped life would just calm down, I even believed it despite that never being the case. I desperately hoped other people in my life would help resolve my exhaustion as I ran around trying to balance all the responsibilities. When they didn’t, I felt isolated and alone.
Eventually, the hectic pace led me to feelings of anger and resentment. I told myself that things would be different on the other side of this or that project, but the truth is I had unconsciously created a life with little time for reflection or vision. It was busy, busy, busy, busy, busy, busy, busy, busy, die.
How can you really lead in any area of your life from that place?
By late 2013, I was declared cancer free. Along the treatment path of chemotherapy, radiation, and a double mastectomy, I developed an insatiable curiosity about how we shift from an amateur version of leading in our lives to a pro approach—an intentional, conscious life abundant with financial reward and the ability to enjoy it.
Study in advanced psychology, neuroscience, and spirituality brought me to deep levels of self-reflection. I meditated. I journaled. I contemplated from a place of radical responsibility for every aspect of my life.
My thinking slowly shifted. My beliefs and habits changed. I began to feel free from the inside out. And I loved it. What I was experiencing inspired me to build community and help others.
A new career in learning and development began after becoming certified through the ICF as a professional coach. How could I help other executives and entrepreneurs turn pro? What if we all let go of self-defeating behaviors and self-destructive habits? What would life be like if we all learned how to shift the inner conversation from inner critic to the Inner Coach? What if everyone began experiencing 200 percent of life–100 percent successful inner life and 100 percent success on the outside?
An Inside Job
What I came to know is that when you are clear inside yourself about how you intend to consciously lead in your life (is it really chronically jumping from one thing to the next with zero time for inspiration?), your world gets better. Infinitely better.
How are you leading today? What needs to shift? Listen to your inner wisdom and make a list of what you want to do more of, less of, or differently in the new year. What are you willing to do to make that happen?
The more awareness you bring to yourself in any situation, the more potential you have to improve things for the better.