I didn't know what I was doing there, in that room full of strangers.
Not just strangers, but people who had experienced some of life's greatest challenges. I felt like an outsider, as if I was somehow misplaced among these suffering people. What on earth was I doing there with all of them?
What I was doing with them, was attending a 12-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Interpersonal Neurobiology course.
The truth is, I've led and participated in dozens of executive workshops, but never one in which everyone chooses to be there because they're overwhelmed.
I later discovered a rather unusual criteria for those that got accepted into the program...you had to be struggling with life in some way. That was a new one on me...and yes, you guessed it... I was one of the lucky people who met the criteria.
Wait a minute!
As far as I was concerned, there was nothing wrong with me. Well except maybe that I was fighting cancer, but other than that, I saw myself as pretty much a normal human being.
Despite a good dose of cynicism, each week I'd show up to be with these people.
I had just finished chemo and some surgery. For a good portion of the program, I had no hair and a drainage tube sticking out of me (cleverly concealed so my fellow strangers wouldn't feel uncomfortable) and I sat there and learned about mindfulness and how to meditate.
For weeks, I mostly remained silent.
It completely defied my tenure as a senior business executive, with years of speaking experience. I was lost for words.
Week after week, I watched the others, bravely share the experience of their practice. Week after week, I became increasingly aware of my silence and cowardliness for not 'showing up'.
So finally, during one of the last sessions, I decided to speak up.
I allowed myself to be vulnerable by sharing a fear. Being affected by cancer, my biggest fear at the time, was death. I later realized I could use this fear to empower myself to live every moment as fully as possible. I'll write a separate blog about that soon.
After I let down my guard and shared my fear something totally unexpected happened.
An unmistakable shift in the group.
I couldn't help noticing a curious change of expression on people's faces. One person in particular caught my attention. He was sitting across from me.
I'd rarely seen him smile and he hadn't spoken much in the group. No doubt because he was deeply troubled and had all but given up on the world.
Yet there he was, quietly smiling at me.
When the workshop came to a close, he walked up to me, with the same smile on his face. He leaned over and softly said something that took me by complete surprise.
Then he thanked me and left.
Let me tell you what he shared with me.
He said, for the first time in a long time, he didn't feel like he was the only struggling person in the world and because of this, he didn't feel so alone anymore.
His words washed over me and began to sink in.
I've been praised on occasion for my business guidance and leadership but...
I'd never experienced the profound impact we can have on another human being when we let down our guard.
I knew instinctively, that something really important had happened.
That would become a jumping off point to a better place.
That would change lives for the better.
I've captured seven of the most compelling lessons I learned that day. These lessons have taught me the importance of letting down my guard.
Maybe they resonate with you.
#1 Speaking from the heart creates trust
We're far more accustomed to planning ahead of time, what needs to be said in presentations, groups or even in daily life. Yet when we speak from the heart and not our planning minds, we are more likely to inspire each other and build a deeper level of trust.
#2 Vulnerability builds powerful connection
Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with others sends out a message that we are all in this together. That we all have struggles we're dealing with. In being vulnerable together, we draw from each other's experiences and can learn and grow.
#3 Imperfection makes us authentic
We are all imperfect beings (and sometimes a little messed up). To know this and be able to accept this is transformational. Allowing someone to see our imperfections is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another human being.
#4 Courage is the ability to be who we really are
It takes confidence and a strong belief in our sense of self to be who we really are in front of others. Doing this requires us to let down our guard, to share our fears and let others see us for who we are.
#5 It's not about having an impact on a cast of thousands
Every interaction we have with another, is an opportunity to help make the world a better place. It's not about reaching the masses. It's about making a difference in just one person's life and watching them pay it forward.
#6 We are never alone
We all experience life crises from to time, there's no escaping this reality. When life presents a crisis, remember...it will probably feel dark and lonely, but you are NEVER alone.
#7 Show up, speak up
We have a tremendous opportunity each and every day to make a difference in the life of someone else. We don't have to wait for the perfect moment. But we do have to show up.
We have to speak up. We have to hold up our hand and we have to get involved.
My commitment to myself is to keep speaking up.
To be seen. To live fearlessly. To let down my guard.
What's your commitment to yourself?
(Image Copyright: iriksavrasik/Shutterstock)