“What do you do when you wake up and feel overwhelmed?” was a question I got when I was talking with Capacity Zurich’s start-up entrepreneurs in April 2019. They were starting to turn the seeds of their ideas into self-sustaining businesses and we were exploring resilience for their ‘entrepreneur’s journey’.
My response went something along these lines, but shorter as time was pressing, so bear with me, as this is something of a love letter to them because they are such an amazing community.
Some days just start like this. And so, what to do to get past that feeling of overwhelm?
For a few moments, reconnect with the fact that you are unprecedented.
Admittedly the enormity of contemplating that there has only ever been a you, right here and now, not before and not coming after…does mess with your perception, a bit like a Max Escher staircase.
But I know of nothing simpler, gentler and more powerful a starting point than this, as a way to be present, let go, change direction, trust yourself to take a leap of faith and do things differently. You are a point of light in an unfolding cosmos, on this pale blue dot. A fractal of energy, rising and falling and rearranging.
It takes a nanosecond to practice, acting like a love-bomb filling you with colour and courage. The more you practice it, the more choices you get back, the more resilient you are – having the capacity to adapt in a constantly changing environment – softening into trust.
It gives you a different kind of courage because it’s not about ego (please note, feeling loved by feeling credible will frequently keep you trapped and get in the way of your best problem-solving). The best leaders and problem-solvers I’ve ever worked with and met, have been the humblest of people; and (from experience) the intra- and entrepreneur’s journey will take your ego and jump up and down on it, until you give in, let go, ask for help and keep on asking.
Reflecting on being unprecedented, is an invitation to think about how and where you want to show-up, to take the risk on allowing yourself the time to be deeply connected to others, to slow down long enough to be authentically you, which will fuel your unique engine of imagination and creativity.
Not only are you unprecedented in this bend of time and space, but so is the person next to you, the blade of grass, this year’s Spring flowers, the butterfly, the baby just born in a warzone, the families risking everything in the hope of something better. Once you pause to see it like this, you realise how precious the unique web of life is and how knitted into it you are. You start to own your story. Make like Gerald in Giraffes Can't Dance.
Tell someone else today too, especially a kid and watch their reaction. This kind of Love is disruptive innovation, cutting through overwhelm to what is most important to focus on; and what is needed when we take action for people and planet.
Martha Graham in her letter to Agnes De Mille wrote, “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.”
The tipping points we are at in climate chaos are calling on us to do things differently; to embrace being fully human.
As changemakers, if we are exhausted then we can’t arrive in each day with our problem-solving creativity to challenge the status quo of zero-sum economics. It is harder to show-up with fresh insights, innovative ideas and the capacity to take real climate action.
Thus, the burn-out of leaders, entrepreneurs, impact investors, educators - concerns me greatly. I've been part of this tribe for 25 years, so I know how many of you have experienced, or are, experiencing it.
It bothers me when you’re lonely, tired, heart-broken, lost, jaded, fearful. And, most especially when you settle for a half-way house in your “one, wild and precious life” as Mary Oliver calls it in her poem, The Summer Day.
We are being invited to be braver than ever, not by pushing harder but by walking back into ourselves to design solutions around flourishing, to create a different, better type of nudge.
And what of flourishing personally? It is in noticing and creating the profoundly loving and positive connections that go deep and broad in the micro-moments of our everyday lives. Practice it so that you can build it.
David M Carter, describes how cultivating these positive emotions inspires environmentally responsible behaviours, so actually there is an even higher, useful purpose to you doing this:
“First, positive emotions expand and deepen our awareness that we are each a connected part of a much larger living system; the Earth. With greater awareness of this interdependence, our values, intentions, and actions become transformed. Second, positive emotions broaden our vision, resourcefulness, and capacity to creatively and effectively address environmental problems. And third, positive emotions help us to authentically connect with the things in life that are most precious. This authentic connection leads to greater happiness and well-being, and reveals indubitably that consumption levels in excess of what we need serve no purpose toward our overall life satisfaction.” (Carter, D.M., (2009) Cultivated Positive Emotions Inspire Environmentally Responsible Behaviours. University of Pennsylvania.)
The planet needs you to do things differently. Greta and a whole host of other advocates made a stand this week.
And it needs us to do differently so that we generate this connection to the ecosystems that sustain us. Whatever tidy plans you might have, with your back to back busy, I can guarantee that the Universe will send a messenger first, who will invite you to slip headlong into flourishing (the Arhuaco tribe have spoken); and when you don’t listen, she will unravel you to make sure you do, as described beautifully by Brene Brown.
As changemakers, we are on this path of ‘wrestling with angels’, as Stephen Jenkinson calls it...
“If you wrestle an angel, you will grow muscle. There’s no doubt of that. You will also hurt in places that you didn’t know you had. There’s no doubt of that either. And you will lose, by the normal calculus of trying to engineer the life that you’re sure you deserve. It will not come out as you planned, wrestling angels. Your plans are usually the first casualty of the match. But here is that great secret of it: you will be able to boast of your defeat. You will be able to stand in the wreckage of what used to be your certainty, your creed, your way of doing life’s business, and you can tell wild, true stories about how it all came to ruin. Whatever is left standing - and there is always something left standing when you wrestle angels - is the thing that was true about you and your life all along, as faithful a companion as the Earth that will one day cradle you again.”
To take this path is to commit to the revolutionary act of loving, to live those positive emotions that David M Carter refers to; as a way of opening up your deepest creativity and contribution for the planet, to decrease the suffering of others. This is what is left standing after you have wrestled with angels. The sum total of light in the world that you, being unprecedented, contributed.
I’m also one of those messengers extending the invitation.
So, I’m asking, what if you did things differently? What if you broke the routines of a lifetime that have made you content with safe discomfort? What if you chose ‘more’…given it’s in the interests of saving the planet? What if you designed everything around flourishing?
Inspiration for opening up your unique blend of creativity to take action for people and planet