The courage to take a stand

When I took place in one of the many sister marches going on around the country to demonstrate against a Trump presidency/cabinet, I reconnected to something that I hadn’t felt since before election day, 2016: maybe all hope was not lost. I connected to the courage to take a stand.

I’ve been angry with myself, since the election, for my inability to neither act nor even articulate how I felt. Marching yesterday, I realized that I’d felt so stuck because I’d been bouncing between hopelessness and fury, and that they are really one and the same, just expressed differently. Arms flailing, words failing.

If any of us are going to survive the next four years and the work that it will take to demonstrate against the policies that Trump is enacting, the first thing that we will need is not knowledge of how to flood political networks with calls or use words like “intersectionality” when we talk about feminism.

What we will need, first, is the ability to stop our own fear-based, parasitic thinking. If you, like me, have felt to varying degrees like you really wanted to do something to effect change, but you quickly grew overwhelmed or exhausted when you tried to engage, I’d bet that fear-based thinking is at the root of it.

A parasite dissolves its host. When we’re stuck in parasitic thinking, we’re stuck in that hopelessness and that fury. It churns and churns, exhausting you but never actually going anywhere. Every single oppressive system–patriarchy, classism, all of it–depends on people being stuck in that endless churning. Fear-based thinking is what oppressive systems teach. There is no way out, with fear-based thinking. You are always under its knuckle. It has power over you, while pretending that you’re the one making the choices (all so that you won’t question things, too much).

The parasitic thinking of hopelessness is How is this going to ever get better I can’t believe that this happened what more could I have done what’s going to happen to the people that I love? The parasitic thinking of fury is This is unacceptable they’d better not think they can get away with this I can’t believe they’re doing this why aren’t more people saying this is wrong I’m going to tell everyone on social media how fucked up things are.

Hopelessness breeds inaction (not good). Fury breeds action (good) but not the kind that is sustainable (not good). People flame out when fury takes the wheel.

Fear-Based Thinking

Parasitic thinking is fear-based—which is to say that it is rooted in our underlying fears.

Hopelessness is fear that causes you to check out, and fury is fear that causes you to lash out as a protection.

The first step in getting out of fear-based thinking is the simple awareness that it exists and that it’s happening. Good old Buddhist-based awareness practice: access your body, see what’s really happening.

In the fog immediately after the election, myself and most of the people I know were so shell-shocked and horrified that we ping-ponged back and forth between the hopelessness and the fury. We didn’t want to be neutral because then a sexist-racist-homophobic tyrant just gets away with all of his sexist racist homophobic tyrant behavior. Yet many of us quickly saw that the angrier we got, the more depleted—the less useful—we were to actually effecting change. So we’d go back over the net to a sort of neutral stasis, at which point we’d think, “I can’t let that sexist-racist-homophobic tyrant get away with things…”

The cycle rages on. It’s exhausting.

The Middle Way

I’ve known for a long time that accessing the body, listening without attachment, and reframing stories are critical courage practices. I’ve drilled myself in them so much that they’ve become courageous habits. Someone yells at me? I start accessing my body, listening without attachment to what they say or what I feel, and then reframing any limiting stories that would otherwise have me feeling shut down.

It’s only when you become aware of fear-based thinking that you have any capacity to step outside of it (and this is true, by the way, whether your fears are about the politics of the country or about your relationship or about money or about anything else).

You access the body. Accessing the body, by the way? An enormously important practice for anyone who has spent a lifetime with other people’s negative projections about their body (which is, frankly, most of us). When accessing the body, you notice whether you’re at the pole of hopeless or the pole of fury. “I’m feeling hopeless (and checked out)” or “I’m feeling furious (and ready to do some damage).”

You listen without attachment to all of the fears and the anger and the sadness and the despair. The “without attachment” part is critical, because if you listen—and then react based on what fear says to do—then your reaction is fear-based.

You reframe limiting stories. For instance, if the story “They’re going to win with their hateful agenda” comes to you, you notice that you have no evidence that this is true and that whether or not someone else has a hateful agenda has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not you’ll decide to speak up, about it. This is not, also, “reframing” as in, “slap an affirmation on it until it no longer bothers me.” This is legit reframing, a true grounding in your own psychological resilience and efficacy.

Altogether, this becomes a sort of “middle way,” which is what Buddhism aims for (if Buddhism can be said to have aims).

Instead of the one extreme of shutting down, and the other extreme of fury, you step into the marvelous middle: a place where you are grounded in your integrity and in the next action that is called for.

The Courage To Take a Stand

If you want the courage to take a stand, it starts in remembering this: if you shut down either from hopelessness or after exhausting yourself with fury, then a discriminatory president and his cabinet will do more damage.

To save our sanity for the long-haul of social justice for everyone, and not just for the first few weeks of a presidency or even the next four years, I think that we do ourselves a service when we decide to walk a middle path. That looks something more like every day, clearly, straightforwardly and without reservation stating that you will not support this presidency.

No, you don’t abuse other people in your clear articulation of the problem (that would be going back over to that parasitic fury, again).

You just refuse to be silent about this fact: there is a real issue, here. Trump and his views are a real issue that will impact real people in real ways, and you will not be complicit. The complicity of the people who are making up his cabinet and who voted for him, are also part of the issue. The issue of someone coming to power who uses power to diminish the rights of others, is a real issue.

Most of us struggle with finding the courage to take a stand because we worry about doing it wrong, being rejected or criticized, the re-stimulation of old traumas as we encounter other people’s anger or shaming behaviors, outing ourselves as being part of a group that is discriminated against, and more.

When we decide to practice a middle way in our approach, neither shutting down out of despair nor lashing out and behaving just like the abusers we seek to put in check, we put ourselves in place to respond to the challenges that will come from a place of sanity.

When we’re grounded in our own courage, we find the courage to take a stand and bring courage beyond the walls of our own individual lives, and to the lives of others who have long needed it.

A few more resources for thought:

how to set goals


So, you want to set goals—but you’ve done that before, and it hasn’t gone so well? Lovely. I know this terrain, and I’ve got a few things to say about how to set goals that you actually follow through on, and that feel good. But first?

When it comes to goals, as it comes to everything else in life, there’s this: in pursuing them, you must walk that line between wildly unrestrained ambitions that serve your deepest purpose as a human being (read: no limits) and being accountable and focused (read: limits).

Translation? When asking yourself how to set goals you need to merge deep desires with deep practicality. Don’t hold yourself back in terms of how big your vision will be, and yet at the same time, recognize that goal-setting is just a tool, and it only works if you use it as part of a process for being accountable and focused. Also, as soon as you get attached to an outcome, it becomes a miserable process.

When I’m setting goals for the year, and I want that process to feel good, what I describe here is exactly what I do. I’m a fan of a large sheet of un-lined paper and Micron pens, but other people love the feeling of keys under fingers—however you work through this process, make sure that where and how you record what you record feels nothing less than delicious.

1. Go wild with what you want. In this stage, you’re letting it all hang out and you’re breaking the bounds of “reality.” When I’m goal-setting from this place, I’m writing down everything I desire without telling myself to “be realistic” (which is a real joy-killer). Do I want to wake up in a gorgeous apartment in Florence that’s outfitted with mid-century modern furniture, and my toddler is in a great mood and our family takes a walk to our favorite cafe for breakfast, and I’m fluent in Italian? Well, then—that’s what I’m writing down.

2. After you expand, contract. Start narrowing down what you’d like to do with your year by looking at what you could make happen in quarterly or six month increments. For one year, I typically stick to threes: three things you’d like to experience, three things you’d like to have, three things that you’d like to “achieve.” The things you’d like to experience would be the one-offs: dinner at Chez Panisse, go zip-lining in the redwoods. The things you’d like to have are possessions: a new pair of black boots or an easel. The things you’d like to “achieve” are the things you’d like to do, this year: train for the triathlon, have more coffee dates with friends, get involved in the activist community.

3. Don’t get attached to outcome. Both when I’m going wild with what I want, as well as when I’m starting to narrow in on some of the specifics that are time-bound for the year, I keep in mind that I’m not interested in the result/outcome, so much as I am in the process. Process is everything, folks. Because I might never get that apartment in Florence with a cheerful toddler where I’m speaking fluent Italian, but just thinking about that a.) lights me up, and b.) has me conjugating a few Italian verbs, which results in c.) my brain starts to whir. Maybe we could put our house on AirBnB…maybe there’s a family in Italy who would want to spend a summer at our place while we stay in their place…does the local community college offer an Italian class? Let me check…

4. Make goals that feel good. Which is why I’m always, of course, referring people to Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map process.

5. Work backwards from goals, and set up milestones. If I want to train for a triathlon, I’ll look at where I need to be, distance-wise, by race day. Then I’ll work backwards and think about what steps will lead up to that. What mileage will I need to have trained up to, by the time I’m halfway to race day? Same goes for things that I want to have—how much time or money will I need? When will I anticipate having that item, and what do I need to do on the way to getting there?

6. Get consistent support. That’s something that I hope to deliver through the weekly YCL e-letter, for instance–a little dose of courage, for your inbox. Some weeks I’m sending something out about how to meet a deeply pragmatic goal like work through the fear as you train for an endurance race, and other weeks I’m offering support for how to drop the hustle and just…be. (And, of course, I give you a bevy of fabulous free resources to create your courageous life).

These steps work for life, and for business. Let’s say that you start with step number one and write about the goal of making a billion dollars, money is no object, and hey, you’re also creating wild advances in social justice and humanity. Fantastic. You went big-vision with no limits, and that’s the best place to start.

Step two, you narrow things up—you get time-bound with what feels like a resonant goal for just the year, and you decide to make your first $50k or six figures.

Now, don’t get attached to outcome. If you enjoy the process of hitting $50k, you’re going to be far better off than if you’re rigidly attached to MUST HIT MY NUMBERS and make yourself miserable in pursuit of it. Make sure that the idea of hitting those numbers feels good, too.

Then, work backwards from your goals and set up milestones. What do you need to be doing, consistently, each quarter, to work towards that goal?

Last, how are you getting regular doses of support?

I suppose there’s one other step, which is trusting that you can handle however it all pans out. In other words? I’ve set plenty of goals that haven’t panned, out but because I don’t equate finishing the goal with my worth as a human being, I tend not to get too upset when things don’t go as I’ve planned.

All you can do is decide to put the work in, consistently, and the rest will unfold how it unfolds. If you decide that the process of how to set goals matters more to you than the final product—the goal itself—you’ll find that you do make recognizable shifts towards changing your life, and the entire process feels resonant and real, as something that supports your life without overtaking your life.

how to take the first step

I was talking with a friend who was trying to decide how to handle a situation with a passive-aggressive family member. She wanted to take that first step of saying, very simply, “We need to change this conflict between us,” but she (understandably) feared what would happen, next.

So often, we hesitate to take any action, because we can’t predict how the next steps are going to roll out. What if it doesn’t work out, despite our best intentions? What will we tell people? How will we explain ourselves? What if we fail? What if we’re laughed at? What if it’s all a colossal mistake?

I was talking with another friend, a colleague, about how hard it had been when we first started out as coaches. A decade ago, I took the first (very difficult) step that lead me to the career that I have, today. My fears:

What if I’m no good?
What am I going to tell people?
If I do this, does this mean I’ll quit my job?
How will I make money?
What if I fail?

To make it easier to take that step, I reminded myself that the first step is the hardest, and that I didn’t need to know, necessarily, how it was all going to unfold. I decided that I would just start by getting training–and not put pressure on myself to suddenly quit my existing job or figure out every other piece of the puzzle.

* * *

Here’s what I understand, today: the more choices you make, the more courageous your life is.

And really, no one is waiting for us to have it all mapped out.

We want that kind of a safety net, but if we had the safety net, then whatever the big dream is probably wouldn’t matter as much, anyway.

We don’t really need to have it all figured out.

We just need to be willing to take one step. (And then another, and then another).

* * *

In the weeks since the election, I’ve been asking myself how to take that first step towards more activism and using my voice for something other than exclusively telling people to follow their dreams. While I’ve never made it a secret that I’m a liberal-leaning intersectional feminist who believes that #BlackLivesMatter and who supports the LGBTQ community, the discussions of courage that I’ve brought to have always centered around the personal, rather than the political.

If I am honest, then I will say this: I think my wheelhouse in this lifetime is the personal. How women in particular, suffer in their private lives, because they don’t believe that they are enough and because they fear taking steps in the direction of their dreams? That’s where my compass has always been pointed.

I have been that woman. I feel for those women. The individual who suffers is where I’m drawn, just as much as someone else is drawn to community organizing.

I don’t think that having a particular interest in helping individuals with individual problems is absolutely counter to helping the collective. As I share in this piece, when I was (individually) depressed, I was of no use to anyone.

But here is also what I reconcile: In immersing myself in raising up individual women, so that they’d feel more courageous and resilient in their lives, I stopped talking as much (and thinking as much) about the collective. Yes, I continued to volunteer and donate to causes I believe in. Yes, I dutifully read the BBC online to be as conscious as possible about what was happening in the world.

But I stopped being as vocal. I told myself I’d do more, later–when I had time, when my health improved, when I didn’t feel so weighted down from being a new mother. Later.

* * *

So here is what I’m asking of myself, and of my colleagues, and of anyone else who is willing to be courageous enough to care:

Let’s ask ourselves how we got complacent. Ask yourself where you tune out. Ask yourself where presence is needed.

Let’s ask ourselves how we can contribute to the collective. Don’t assume that money and time are the only ways, though these are needed. You can contribute to the collective by speaking up when you hear someone invoking stereotypes, by staying informed, by taking some small action, by actively seeking to befriend people who occupy different social circles and to understand their experiences.

When you talk to anyone, see the entire person, and ask yourself about the intersections of the different roles and groups in their lives–of being a woman or man, of her class or ethnic background, of sexual orientation or gender identification, of the micro-aggressions she might confront in any given day.

Let’s notice those moments where it’s easy to assume that someone has the problems that they have, because they just haven’t tried hard enough. Women don’t complain about the patriarchy, just for kicks. People living at the poverty line aren’t doing that, because hey, why not, it’s fun! Black people aren’t protesting being shot during routine traffic stops, because it’s just no big deal. Migrant workers aren’t asking to be paid fairly and treated humanely because they’re “lazy” after hours spent doing backbreaking labor so that all of us can eat. This just isn’t how people, or social causes, operate.

“Call a thing, a thing!” — Iyanla VanZant. By this, I mean: let’s call things what they are. Trump is not just a politician. It’s not that simple. The way he treats women, minorities, people with disabilities, people of different religions…the disasters he’s created within his own businesses…his failure to pay taxes…these collective facts add up to a character so decidedly un-presidential that it’s appalling. (Yes, yes, I know. Hillary used the wrong email server. Noted. Bush’s White House lost 22 million emails.) My point is this: every politician might be crooked, and every politician might make mistakes, but not every politican is a racist-sexist-homophobe-Islamaphobe-tax-evader who runs businesses into the ground and then profits off of that. Let’s call things what they are.

Let’s use our privilege to help, but let’s start by asking how those who don’t have the same privilege would like us to use that privilege, rather than assuming that we know. We’ve got to start with how we listen. Let the people who have been at the forefront of trying to enact social change inform us as to how we can help them to fill in the gaps, rather than crusading in with assumptions that we know what’s best and what should happen next.