living intuitively

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Helping the H U R T
Images by Abbey Armstrong Photography  Color edited by me

Images by Abbey Armstrong Photography

Color edited by me

Hurt people hurt people. That’s how pain patterns get passed on, generation after generation. Break the chain today. Meet anger with sympathy, contempt with compassion, cruelty with kindness. Greet grimaces with smiles. Forgive and forget about finding fault. Love is the weapon of the future.

In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unrestrained. All work stops, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around this individual.

Next, each person in the tribe speaks to the individual, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his/her lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted.  All his/her positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and fully.  This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days.

At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration occurs, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.

HOW BEAUTIFUL IS THAT.

I’ll go ahead and answer my own question: phenomenally beautiful

We all know hurt people hurt people, right? If you didn’t realize that then, well, now you know. It’ll explain A LOT on why people do what they do.

If people are acting a fool and are being rude/unkind/inconsiderate/nasty/etc, it’s because they’re not right with themselves. They’re insecure/traumatized/etc. They’re so consumed by pain and negativity, they have little to no capacity for empathy and love. And since anger feels better than pain/shame, people lash out. Here are some examples of people masking their pain/insecurity with hatorade:

  • An employee vilifying their boss for not promoting them

  • A jealous person blaming the other woman/man for “seducing” their partner (“You homewrecker! You ruined my relationship!”)

  • A business owner demonizing a competitor

  • An individual reviling a provider of well-intentioned constructive feedback

We could go pretty deep here exploring the many elements to this, but suffice it to say: Hurt people hurt people.

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I’m grateful I realized this truth early on in my life. It’s softened the blow when I’ve had venom spit my way, or faced betrayal. Don’t get it twisted: it can still sting, but at least I understand the cause, and know not to take it personally. That’s crazy liberating. It’s like there’s an invisible bubble protecting your sense of self worth, deflecting the hate and doubt from permeating.

And just because you empathize with the causes of someone’s negative behavior doesn’t mean you condone it. That’s where boundaries come in. You can still love them while making it clear certain words/actions are unacceptable.

And also - and this can really bite the big one - be wise and humble enough to recognize the truth bombs in negative feedback. Sure, that person’s delivery could REALLY USE SOME FRIGGIN’ POLISHING, but try to remain open. Try not to shy away from reflection. View it as an opportunity to become even more of an allstar. If the feedback hit a nerve, that right there reveals an unhealed part of you. Lean into it. Figure out why.

And maybe the affected nerve is the one of caring too much of others’ opinions, and requiring external validation. The key to making it through the cleansing - but often brutal - fire of negativity-inspired self reflection is to operate on a solid foundation of self love. Knowing your shadows don’t define/control you, and neither do others’ opinions. Knowing you’re strong enough to brave the blows and use them to become even STRONGER and more self aware. Knowing you can directly face the negativity and extract what you need to evolve and get better, not bitter. This comes from loving yourself through ALL of your phases, even the ones where you feel beaten down or less than. You may not feel you’re quite there yet, but it is absolutely within your reach.

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The hardest thing in the entire world is to remain kind even when people aren’t. Remain honest even when you’re met with lies. Remain good even when things go terribly. And above all, understand the pain and heartbreak you feel isn’t a reflection of something you’ve done wrong or anything you lack. When people hurt you that means there is pain within them and something they lack that they haven’t figured out how to process or heal from. Hurt people hurt people. But don’t let them change you. Understand those are the people who need love the most.
— Kirsten Corley

So I was listening to a podcast with Marianne Williamson on Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations. Marianne introduced a novel perspective:

When people are physically injured, we typically react with compassion, and usually try to help. You’re bleeding, I’mma grab a bandage/tourniquet/etc. But if someone shows us (intentionally or - more often - unintentionally) their insecurities/traumas/etc, it’s easier for us to ignore/judge/dismiss. But they’re the people who need the most compassion!

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Sure, as I mentioned, boundaries are key. You can empathize with people and not condone certain behavior, and it can be tricky distinguishing between empathizing and enabling. But no matter what, you can always offer love and kindness. Sometimes this must be from afar, but love is always the answer. We all get “hurt” and all need love. Some are better at healing themselves than others, but we all have healing power within us we can apply to both ourselves and others.


xx,

-w-

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F I E S T A like there's NO MANAÑA
Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Life should not only be lived, it should be celebrated.
— Osho

I love celebrating. Celebrating people. Events. Ideas. Progress. Being alive. Tacos.

To me, life is meant to be celebrated.

And as you can see from my examples, I’m an equal opportunity celebrator. Life itself is a celebratable moment. Celebrate the small and big wins

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Celebrate getting out of bed in the morning. Celebrate choosing water over soda. Celebrate your decision to choose love over judgment (toward yourself/others). Celebrate overcoming fear. Celebrate your promotion, your new commitment to a life of health + purpose. Celebrate a perfect record of overcoming everything life has thrown at you. Celebrate being ALIVE.

I truly feel this is one of the keys to a truly happy life.


The more you celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.
— Oprah Winfrey

And I believe people are meant to be celebrated. That’s why I love birthdays so much. Birthdays are an opportunity to celebrate that person’s existence, and their latest trip around the sun.

Celebrating is a way to show our gratitude for what we have. A way to express our appreciation for our blessings in life. A way to say thank you to yourself, to others, to the universe/higher power. And gratitude is ESSENTIAL in life.

Sure, it’s important to exercise discipline, and work hard. As with everything else in life, it’s about balance. But to achieve true balance, we should regularly acknowledge our wins. Not be so consumed by our ambitions that we fail to recognize our accomplishments, and what has gone well in our lives. It’s easy to be consumed by the daily minutiae, or our major objectives. Celebrate the steps you’ve taken, the hills you’ve climbed, the obstacles you’ve overcome on your way to that peak. Don’t wait until you’ve summited to high five yourself/others.

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Small celebrations sustain us along the way. Because guess what’s happening along the way? Life. Life is happening as we’re working toward our goal(s). And life is meant to be celebrated.

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Celebrations can take many forms. They don’t have to come in the form of huge bash with confetti (though those are fun too!). Here are some others ways you can celebrate:

  • Send your friend a thoughtful, appreciative note/text

  • Take a luxurious bubble bath

  • Eat your favorite meal

  • Treat yourself to a massage

  • Buy someone a thoughtful gift

  • Allow yourself extra alone time

  • Booking a photo shoot to show your progress

The options are endless!

Celebrate others. Celebrate life. Celebrate YOU.

xx,

-w-

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Eating vs. Getting Bread
Images by Abbey Armstrong Photography  Color edited by me

Images by Abbey Armstrong Photography

Color edited by me


Success is not counted by how high you have climbed, but by how many people you have brought with you.
— Dr. Will Rose

You know how drive + hustle are glorified? We’re told to strive for more: more money, more recognition, more ______.

I personally take issue with that. Why?

Because we are all different, with different dreams, different definitions of success, different ideas of happiness.


Success. There is no one definition. Everyone’s success is different. You can’t compare your success to someone else’s.

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For some, happiness means a simple, stable, routine life: working, hanging with family/friends, etc. Who are we to say that’s unacceptable? Who are we to define happiness for others?

Sure, it’s important to ensure you’re not merely seduced into complacency by your fear/comfort zone. And I don’t think a non-hustling life releases anyone from striving to be the best person they can be - that’s a human responsibility, independent of lifestyle choice.

But let’s live and let live! Happiness is different for everybody. Values vary.


It is not success if you’re unhappy.

What a CEO considers a successful life may not match a schoolteacher’s idea of such. To some, success means total financial independence with a sizable savings account. To others, success may mean freedom to travel the world and try new endeavors. To still others, success may be leaving a profound legacy of improvement and change.

Cool, man! It takes all kinds to make (and balance!) a world. It would be too chaotic if we were all overachievers. Dare to live your truth, “motivational” quotes be damned. We all have roles to play, and contributions to make. We all have value to add.

So decide for YOU and ask yourself: What is my definition of success? What does happiness look like for me? By what standards will I measure myself?

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And don’t forget this important part: Be okay with and detached from others’ standards they may try to apply to you. Stand solid if they attempt to recruit you to their way of life. Smile if they try to nudge you in a certain direction. Realize we’re all on our own journey, trying to figure life out and orient ourselves in the world. Not everybody will accept you and get you, and THAT’S OK. It really is. It’s wildly liberating once you realize that.

People should determine their personal definition nof success and release others’ definitions of success.

Know you. Do you. Love you.

-w-

Try not to be a person of success, but a person of value.
— Albert Einstein















The O T H E R
Styling and Images by Whitney Richardson Photography  Model Lily Cuoio

Styling and Images by Whitney Richardson Photography

Model Lily Cuoio

“I’m here to challenge you.”

As soon as my warrior queen friend Julie told me this, I acknowledged its brilliance and added it to my phone’s Notes. We’re all here to learn from each other. The people in our lives are there for a reason, I truly believe this. Every interaction, no matter how seemingly minor, has a purpose. We’re all here to learn from each other, inspire each other, empower each other, LOVE each other.

Everyone you meet has something to teach you. EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. I’m willing to go out on a limb and posit you’re like me and haven’t mastered every single thing there is to master in the universe, and don’t know every thing there is to know. No matter how mature or advanced or enlightened or “woke” we are, there is ALWAYS something to learn. Maybe it’s a productivity hack. Maybe it’s a fitness pointer, or a financial tip, or a navigational shortcut. Maybe it’s a spiritual revelation. Maybe it’s even an example of what not to do.

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And technology has shrunk our world even more. More people from whom to learn and with whom to connect. So let’s all do each other a solid and keep (respectfully + lovingly) challenging each other.

And I challenge you to challenge yourself. Watch news from a different network, read a book outside your area of expertise/comfort, learn about a new religion, try something new - not to confirm pre-existing notions, but to question and expand your beliefs/outlook/assumptions/repertoire. Grow baby grow.

As Holocaust survivor/activist/author/professor Elie Wiesel advises, the more we are able to accept the many aspects of who we are, however contradictory those aspects are, the more easily we can accept others, with all their contradictions.

The extent to which we accept ourselves is the extent to which we accept others - ALL others, not just those aligned with our beliefs/lifestyle/etc.

So again, this requires:

  • Self awareness

  • Shadow work (face your demons, your repressed emotions, your fears, your S H A D O W S)

  • Self love


If you have issues with others, it’s a sure sign you have an issue with yourself. You’re projecting somehow. Our perceptions of others are reflections of ourselves. If we see a trait in others we don’t like, it’s because it’s triggering something within us, a shadow part of us. It’s triggering a fear/hurt/etc. It’s the ego at play, trying to protect us: protect our mental/physical/emotional health. Trying to preserve our dignity/sense of self. Our learned identity.

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It is the otherness of the other that fascinates me... What can I learn from him? What does he see that I do not, cannot?
— Elie Wiesel


We each have blind spots, just as every candle casts its own shadow. Only when you place a second candle next to the first do the shadows disappear, illuminated by the other’s light.

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A beautiful aspect of diversity is we EACH have our own way of perceiving the world, mixed with our unique set of background/chemical makeup/experience/etc. Even identical twins don’t share exactly the same outlook. We’re all like snowflakes, and we ALL have something distinctive and special to contribute.

That’s why:

  1. It doesn’t matter how saturated an industry is: We all have our individual eye/voice/view. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a photographer amid 25,000 other photographers in your city. No one has your same eye, your same touch.

  2. It’s crucial you nurture and celebrate and promote your individuality! Your quirks and eccentricities. They’re what SET YOU APART and make you SPECIAL. They constitute your superpower!


The distance between us is necessary, not something to turn away from.
— Elie Wiesel

When encountering someone with differing beliefs, listen to them. Listen to find their strength, not their weakness. Listen to enhance your own understanding, to enrich your own perspective; not to find holes on which to pounce, or incompetencies on which to judge.

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And respect the distinctions among us. If we believe we’re all the same, we might be tempted to prescribe identical solutions to all. In other words, we might think others are feeling the same feelings we are, and require the same remedy we do. Sure, it’s important to recognize our commonalities and collectiveness, but let’s not forget to acknowledge and celebrate our differences!

We need each other precisely for our differences and our diverse experiences. Those differences can cause conflict, and that conflict can be destructive or constructive, depending on our approach and mindset. Sometimes conflict can be good, to challenge the status quo, or our way of thinking/believing. If we never had challengers, we’d never have innovation. We wouldn’t have scientific breakthroughs, or technological advances, or humanitarian improvements.




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Entertaining different opinions and outlooks fortifies our understanding and stimulates our thinking. Even if we end up keeping our perspective, it can strengthen our grasp of the matter at hand. Staying in our echo chamber, shunning opposition and diversity, only weakens us, in ever way.

So let’s do our part to open our hearts and our minds to the “other.”

xx,

w




Following T H E Leader
Images by Trey Staff/ @treyshotz

Images by Trey Staff/ @treyshotz

Like many people, I’ve read multiple books on leadership. I’ve held and hold leadership positions.

I’ve pondered what makes a truly great, effective leader. Why some are effective and others aren’t.

One of my earliest and lasting impressions has been that not all leaders and situations are the same. What works for one leader may not work for another. What yields success in one circumstance may cause catastrophe in another.

I seemed to be the only one thinking this, as book after book I read offered checklists/attributes/traits/steps/formulas/characteristics/formulas/steps exhibited/adopted by all “true” and “great” and “effective” leaders.

Until I found General Stanley McChrystal’s new book he wrote with Jeff Eggers and Jason Mangone titled, Leaders: Myth and Reality.

FINALLY.


Note: If you’re not familiar with Stan McChrystal and don’t know why the hell you should take advice from him, TRUST ME - bro knows his stuff. He served for 34 years in the US Army, rising through the ranks to ultimately command all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan as a four-star general. Those four stars aren’t the gold stars they give out for just participating. He’s a leader through and through, and I highly HIGHLY recommend the book. He profiles 13 famous leaders from a wide range of eras and fields (Walt Disney, Coco Chanel, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, etc) to explore how leadership actually works in practice, and to challenge the myths complicating and clouding our thinking on this key topic. It’s actually a fun, interesting, and engaging read and is brilliantly and clearly written.


First of all, let’s talk about timing.

It’s often overlooked. What we call “leadership“ is often some combination of the leader’s actions, along with serendipity or other contextual factors that make for a positive result.

Leaders are separated not only by time and place, but also by what kind of leadership style would make them effective in their specific roles and place in time, moment, and framework. Yet too often we revert to vague assessments of “strong“ or “moral“ leaders, as though those things consist of formulas to be replicated in diverse contexts.

Spoiler alert: THERE IS NO FORMULA, y’all. Context matters!

This totally echoes my thoughts and observations over the years that never seemed supported by literature and guidance on the topic.

Moreover…

Leadership is never about the capacity and impact of a single person. We typically attribute far too much to an individual, the figurehead, the one with visibility, whom we can see and idolize, and ignore/dismiss/overlook the system as a whole and its contributing parts. (And as Stan the Man acknowledges, there are multiple reasons for the idolizing.) Yes, there are some phenomenal people out there, but none so amazing they singlehandedly drive a movement/achieve results/make it all happen. Turns out Coach was right: teamwork makes the dream work. There are many contributing factors to any event/movement/force/etc.

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And to be judged fairly, leadership styles must be viewed not just at a specific time but also in a particular framework. The context of an enabling institution is often necessary to substantiate leadership.

The culture, the environment, the location, etc must all be examined. Consider the presence/degree of such factors as hostility, resistance, acceptance, apathy, sympathy, motivation, momentum, etc. The quality and quantity of resources.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of hero worship. It’s fun and energizing and helpful to cheer for a hero. Having someone to look up to and aspire to emulate.

We intentionally live with the gap between myth and reality [in part] because we like to do so.

Really think about that. Think about why we do that, and how it could benefit us.

The truth is that when we look closely, we see leadership as much in what our leaders symbolize as in what they actually accomplish.

A hero’s particular actions take on broader significance because the results they achieve resonate with group values.

It’s less about the tangible results they achieve and more about the expectations they defy and symbolism they uphold.

It’s for what they stand for, not just for what they do. Some leaders ride waves more than they cause them.

It is simpler and more satisfying to see the power contained within a single person. Do you relate to this, that it’s easier and more satisfying to have just one person represent all you strive for and admire and respect?

Rather than ask “ How do/did they lead” ask: “Why did they emerge as a leader?” and more specifically, “What was it about the situation that made this style of leadership effective?” These are questions I constantly ponder when studying leaders and their impact.

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Beyond a taste for narrative and belief in our own causality (basically meaning we love a good story, and we love knowing we can have an effect on our lives), we also have a preference for simplicity. Boiling things down to distinct actions by a specific cast of prime actors is more relatable, and makes attributing success and blame easier. And most people prefer easier, right?

Reductionist explanations are somehow more satisfying than the complex, estranging, but usually more accurate accounts. Reality is complicated and even boring, and the mundane messiness can be unsatisfying. It can leave us craving the feel-good feeling. Life is more interesting and pleasing either when it is simplified or, in the other direction, sensational. And we’ll sooner accept the simple or sensational explanation over the accurate one.


Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.
— Seth Godin


Leaders are made powerful not so much by what they do, or even by, what they say, but by what their followers perceive they have to gain either individually or collectively by buying into what their leader is asking.



Great leaders believe they work for their team. Average leaders believe their team works for them.
— Alexander den Heijer

Those who emerge as successful leaders are not necessarily those with the best values, or the most comprehensive record of results, but those who align with sources of human motivation (political leaders are great examples of this!). If a leader can tap into fear or any of its derivatives, GAME OVER. Just add a “villian” and it’s a done deal. That leader instantly has devotees.


A boss has the title. A leader has the people.
— Simon Sinek

Fear is powerful and overrides reason/values/empathy/etc and activates people’s primal survival instincts. Just ask Hitler. He targeted people’s fear of marginalization/poverty/survival and vilified Jews, offering a group to blame. So just as the first line of the previous paragraph asserts, it’s all about connecting with human motivation. Did Hitler have the best values? I’mma go with NO. But he undoubtedly aligned with human motivation: Germans’ desire to survive and prosper.

Same with Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Even upon losing battles, his homies still rolled with him. Not because he had the best values (slavery is NOT COOL) or the best record (he lost key battles and eventually the war) but because he was tapped into the southerners’ motivation to maintain their way of live, human slaves and all.

This explains why followers might turn their attention to the hollow optimistic leader, or people dig the leader who talks a big game but who holds a weak record. Just as we look to heroes as a symbol of what could be, we look to leaders more generally because we hold out hope for an alternative future, or because we fear a coming threat, and the leader becomes the repository of that hope or the guardian against that fear. This is compelling, and even necessary, since hope and fear are both essential to pulling human society forward.

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Leaders should understand leadership as a system, see themselves as the enablers of that system, and learn how to adjust their approach based on the needs of that system. It is the function of leadership to improve the overall progress of humanity. We should see our leaders as part of us, and ourselves as part of the solution. As I’ve said many times before, we’re all in this together.

xx,

-w-

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