Dear leaders,

In 1997, Donella Meadows, systems thinking pioneer and environmental activist, wrote a paper laying out twelve leverage points that create systemic change. 

After exploring all of the ways that people typically try to change systems (regulations, taxes, laws, etc.), near the end of the paper, she finally lays out what she identifies as the most effective ways to change systems: 

  • Changing the paradigm or mindset that a system arises from, and
  • Developing the ability to transcend paradigms in the first place. 

In other words, when we shift paradigms, we change the world. 

In the paper, Meadows writes: 

“It is in this space of mastery over paradigms that people throw off addictions, live in constant joy, bring down empires, get locked up or burned at the stake or crucified or shot, and have impacts that last for millennia.” 

This is the first reason why I do my work.

1. The world needs you to share your message. 

Throughout your life, you’ve worked hard. You’ve studied hard. You’ve listened closely to the struggles and longings of your community. You’ve gathered wisdom about your own little niche in the ecosystem that is our world. You dream about sharing your message with the world in a much bigger way. 

But, you have your doubts. Maybe you fear that the risk is too big. Or that your message isn’t important. You don’t want to add to all the noise that’s already out there on the internets. Or you see thought-leaders you admire and wonder if space is already taken. You ask yourself: Is it really worth the risk to stick my neck out there? And how would I do that anyway? Quit my job? How would I support myself? The cacophony of questions drowns out the more important truth underneath:

Your message is a gift that your community needs to hear. Your message is a medicine that will bring healing to your community. 

Yes, it’s true that you are one of many. It is true that you cannot change the world with your own two hands. It’s true that there are risks involved in being a pioneer. And, no, you don’t want to just add to the noise. There are things you must learn in order to share your message and meet your own needs at the same time. But you have learned a lot throughout your life, and you can learn this, too.

Of course, paradigm change is not something that you can do on your own, and it’s work that might not be completed in your lifetime. As Rabbi Tarfon wrote in the Ethics of the Fathers, Avot 2:21: “It is not incumbent on you to complete the work. But neither are you at liberty to desist from it.” 

The desperate times we’re living in are a mandate for each of us to discover our own unique ways of singing our own unique songs to the mountaintops of the world. This is why I do my work. This is why I am passionate about helping aspiring, progressive thought-leaders to share their messages with the world. But just sharing the message is not enough, it’s crucial to share it in a way that feels nourishing.

Which brings us to the second reason why I do my work:

2. The world needs you sustaining your passion.

Before they come to me, my clients often feel like they’re in a double bind: they have to choose between caring for the world and caring for themselves. They think they might be able to have either one or the other, but not both. 

I get why it is hard to believe that you can care for yourself and have work that makes a real impact. There aren’t a lot of good role models out there of folks who are doing paradigm-changing work while also enjoying their lives outside of work, too. But I also know that it is absolutely possible to feel fully alive and joyful while sharing your message in a big way.

Your joy matters. 

I believe that one reason why our movements aren’t as effective as we want them to be is that so many social change leaders are burnt out. This can look lots of ways: impatience, resentment, curmudgeonliness, lack of delegation, lack of outreach, territorialism, broken connections, exhaustion, and in the end, dropping out altogether. Folks who consider getting involved see how hard it looks, and they opt-out. All of our overworking, overgiving, and overdoing is part of why our movements are weak. It’s one reason why we are at a point of imminent global self-destruction. We could be so much stronger. Our planet and our children cannot afford to have us continue to lead in this way.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming individual leaders for why it is so hard to do the work of change-making. The economic, societal, historical, environmental, structural roots of why it is so hard for us to care for ourselves and for our communities are so much bigger than any of us. We didn’t create this situation. We inherited it. It is not our fault. But it is our responsibility to choose how we respond and which norms of engagement we’ll pass on to the next generation of changemakers.

Our communities need leaders who are sustaining their passion, juiced up with joy, in love with life. 

We need leaders to learn a new way of doing their work, to be modeling self-care and creating cultures in which we have the strength and support to dance in the both-and: both caring for ourselves and caring for others. Let’s create the revolution that Emma Goldman dreamed of: “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”

The good news is, over the years of coaching my clients, I’ve discovered that the same exact practices that make us more effective also bring us joy: Organizing your weeks so you have time and space for what’s most important. Learning to trust your inner guidance. Understanding your core needs and desires. Navigating challenging conversations with ease and grace. Moving beyond doubt to choose your next steps. Letting go of assumptions and patterns that no longer serve you. Becoming more fully yourself. The list goes on.

I believe that by doing my part to help my clients learn how to live and work in a way that brings them joy, I do my part to pass on a culture of joy and wholeness to the next generation.

Now, the third and final reason why I do my work:

3. The world needs you awake and alive.

There are too many people who are sleepwalking through life. Yes, they might look like they have it all together, doing work that matters, contributing to their communities, caring for their families. But deep down, they’re disconnected from themselves and from what life is asking of them. Deep down, they know they’re disengaged, playing within a box that’s too tight, limiting themselves, staying within the borders of what’s expected of them, living on auto-pilot.

I believe that this world needs each of us to wake up and access the courage to follow the path that spirit dictates. 

Now, frankly, that’s not something that’s easy for me to say. My beliefs about “spirit” are pretty paradoxical: On the one hand, I’m fervently agnostic. I believe that anything is possible and that it is impossible for me to know where we came from or where we’re going after we die. So I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. 

On the other hand, I believe that life force energy is coursing through our veins, animating each cell of our bodies, and that, deep down, we are not only the “Katherine” or “Veronica” or “Jason” that we identify as. Deep down, I believe that we are life force energy, and when we listen closely, we can hear the voice of life asking us to wake up and take certain steps forward. I believe that this life force energy is the voice of our callings. Of course, I cannot prove this with reason or some grand explanation. It is just something that I know in my body. Since waking up to this experience of life over a decade ago, I’ve followed it, allowing it to guide my steps all the way to writing this to you today.

I believe that part of why humankind and our planet are in such dire straits is that we’ve fallen asleep to the fact that we’re all connected and that this life force energy is animating all of us. Most of us are living in ways so far removed from those of our ancestors, back before colonization and the inquisition, back when we lived in the right relationship with the land, back when we knew that life was sacred. It’s as though we’re wearing blinders that read “separation” and “scarcity,” unaware of the potential that courses through the veins of our bodies and our planet. 

It hurts my heart to wonder if it will take mass destruction to wake us up, to bring humanity back into the right relationship with the land, with life, with ourselves and each other. I believe it is time for each of us to wake the f*** up to what life is asking of each of us. To stop sleep-walking through life. To choose our actions consciously and courageously.

This planet needs our heart’s work.

This planet needs us to be awake. Contributing. Connecting. Tap into potential. Listening to Life. Caring for each other and for ourselves. Engaged. Courageous. In a flow of reciprocity. Learning. Co-creating change. In integrity. Joyful. Whole. Loving. Fully alive. Needs met. Doing the work we’re called to do.  

All this is possible.

This moment is the fork in the road. Choose wisely.

With so much love for who you are and gratitude for all that you already do,

 

P.S. If I leave you with one message, it’s this: Let life live through you

Perhaps this poem by Roger Keyes will help the message to land in you. I know it did that for me when one of my teachers, the late Doug Silisbee, shared it with me many years ago:

Hokusai Says, by Roger Keyes

Hokusai says look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says keep looking, stay curious.

He says there is no end to seeing.

He says look forward to getting old.

He says keep changing,

you just get more who you really are.

He says get stuck, accept it, repeat

yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,

every one of us is ancient

every one of us has a body.

He says every one of us is frightened.

He says every one of us has to find

a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive —

shells, buildings, people, fish,

mountains, trees, wood is alive.

Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,

or write books. It doesn’t matter

if you saw wood, or catch fish.

It doesn’t matter if you sit at home

and stare at the ants on your veranda

or the shadows of the trees

and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength

is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

— Roger S. Keyes

This poem is the property of the copyright holder (most likely the author). I scoured the internet for information about Roger Keyes and how to contact him to request permission to reprint his poem, but I came up short. All I found is that he is a scholar of Japanese art and his latest book, Ebon: The Artist and the Book in Japan, was published in 2006 by Washington University Press.

This poem appears to be a cross-media interpretation of the work of Hokusai (1760-1849) an ukiyo-e painter and woodblock printmaker of the Edo period in Japanese art. 

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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