I used to be a goals gal.
I loved setting a goal with just the right amount of stretch to be challenging, but realistic enough to be motivating. I would get excited by designing the action steps that moved me in the direction of the primary objective. I lived for that hit of adrenaline that happened when I crossed things off and inched closer to the ultimate objective. Goals made me feel focused, productive, and accomplished. Goals made me feel safe. They gave me a sense of control in an otherwise chaotic world.
In fact, there was a period of time after I had my first son when I craved more structure and needed a little extra motivational nudge that I felt compelled to set monthly goals. For example, one month I set out to make three new recipes, try three different exercise classes, and do three things to advance my career (in addition to goals, I have a thing for threes, it seems). I immediately scoured the internet to find dishes that were simple and didn’t require me to buy ingredients that we didn’t already have in the house. I booked trial classes at a kettlebell gym, a boot camp program, and a pole dancing studio (which could probably be a whole blog in and of itself). I updated my resume, I set up a networking coffee, and I researched requirements for submitting a proposal for an upcoming professional conference. Check. Check. Check.
The thing is that I would get a temporary rush of satisfaction from crossing items off of the list and then go right back to feeling what I had been feeling: melancholy, disconnected, and lost. I realized that the intense focus on these external goals was a distraction from dealing with what I really needed to address internally. I went to therapy to get support for my anxiety and post-partum depression, and put goals on the shelf for a while.
Around the time that the fog had lifted from my second pregnancy a few years later, I started hearing about the power of intention: the bigger picture belief that precedes your actions. I think I first heard Oprah talk about it on a podcast or in a magazine article (don’t all good things somehow relate back to Oprah?). I then attended a workshop that highlighted setting intentions to activate personal growth. It seemed like everywhere I turned, the universe was telling me something so I gave it a try. In 2019, I set the intention to “make a change.”
The thing about intentions when compared to goals is that you don’t have to know how or when or what you are going to do. There are no concrete action steps or timelines. You simply use the intention as a guiding principle to influence decision-making and point you in the general direction you want to go. Although at first this felt disorienting and too abstract, I decided to give it a try and found it refreshingly liberating.
I applied this new practice to self-care and committed to getting regular massages as a 40th birthday gift to myself. I practiced dropping the gender-conditioned “sorry” from my vocabulary and instead replaced it with phrases like, “thank you for your patience.” I applied for an immersive professional development program in coaching to gain new management skills and up-level my confidence as a supervisor. I started taking occasional personal days from work “just because” and used the downtime to lean into activities that brought me joy (which, most often included taking a nap).
It worked. The needle had moved. Oprah was right, of course. Not only had I made changes in multiple areas of my life, but they were sticking because they felt more meaningful and, well, intentional.
By the middle of 2020, I was ready for a new intention. The pandemic had thrown everything off-kilter and magnified the fact that I was feeling out of whack. Some parts of me had shifted and evolved in accordance with my “make a change” intention, but other parts needed more attention. My new intention: alignment.
After George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of police, I recognized that my efforts at being a racial justice ally were admirable, but largely hollow. I committed to being an accomplice, which to me meant doubling down on my efforts to speak truth in the face of injustice even – or especially – if there was a risk to my privilege, position, or pocketbook. I educated myself on the origins of systemic racism in this country and how that legacy is still alive and well today. I signed up for workshops called “Whiteness at Work” by The Adaway Group, “Doing the Hard Work: Engaging in Conversations about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” by Dr. Liza Talusan, and “Dear White Bosses,” a lively panel discussion hosted by ACCEPT: Admissions Community Cultivating Equity and Peace Today. I signed up to be a group facilitator for a pilot program organized by ChoicePoints Learning called “Pivot: Study & Action Groups on Race Equity in America.” I joined the Equity Team at my son’s elementary school. I started following more diverse voices on social media and made a deliberate effort to expose my children to the same in the books we selected from the library or were gifted by family members. The more I learned, the more enraged and engaged I felt across all dimensions of my mind, body, and spirit. Alignment.
I recognized that in order to practice alignment, I needed to explore my emerging passion for coaching individuals, leaders, and teams, which meant leaving my job and the place where I had worked for more than a decade because it no longer felt aligned with who I wanted to be in the world. Not only would tapping into this burgeoning interest enable me to share my gifts with others in a way that felt meaningful, but it would allow me to create and operate a business built on my personal values. Alignment.
Since the start of One Eleven Leadership in January 2021, I have used alignment to support me in making decisions, both big and small. For example, it was alignment that nudged me to start writing a blog, much to my surprise, and share my authentic voice with others. It was alignment that has led me to take on pro bono clients to honor my commitment to increase access to opportunities for all. It was alignment that made clear that I needed to say no to a potential business opportunity that didn’t feel quite right even though the money was enticing. It was alignment that led me to pledge a portion of my fees to the Equal Justice Initiative before I even had any income to commit.
Although the intention of alignment was doing a good job of helping me to navigate this new professional chapter, I kept getting signs that maybe I needed to do a little more work on the personal front. Over the past few months, I finally pursued physical therapy for my hips and pelvic floor, post-partum gifts that I largely ignored for the past four years until the intense pain sidelined me from exercise and led to excessive weight gain. I also had to make an emergency appointment with my dentist because apparently one of my jaw joints slipped off its disk and landed on a nerve causing searing pain and limited function. While lying in the dentist’s chair staring at that bright overhead light, it dawned on me that maybe there was a bigger takeaway here: my mind and spirit may be comfortable working in tandem, but my body was, literally and figuratively, out of alignment.
So, this is where I find myself as I turn the page to 2022. Although the old me used to get a cheap thrill from setting a New Year’s Resolution and designing concrete actions steps that would neatly lay out my next steps, the current me knows that it’s much messier and more nuanced than that. It may be a new year according to the calendar on my wall, but it will still be the same intention guiding my actions and orienting my awareness until I can eventually learn the lessons that will allow me to fully and finally experience alignment.
If you (or someone you know) could benefit from working with a certified coach and trained facilitator who will provide customized, holistic, and tireless support as you or your team identify and take action towards your goals, please reach out to One Eleven Leadership to set up a complimentary consultation.