A Case for Talking with the Universe this New Year
When I started my coaching practice, I heard Helen Reddy’s I am Woman playing as the soundtrack to my days. I’d made the leap, honored my value of independence, and, as the singer-songwriter preached, felt strong and invincible. Go me!
About six-months in, though, Roy Orbison kicked Reddy to the curb and Only the Lonely dominated my playlist. While I didn’t miss being part of a large organization that called for quarterly team retreats in the conference room of a windowless Memphis hotel, I did miss casual collaboration and the chance to disclose to a trusted colleague, ‘I’m exhausted.’ Working for myself, I felt anonymous in a way that unexpectedly unmoored me.
So, I did what any rigorous intellectual would do: I made a New Year’s resolution of ‘putting what I want out into the universe’ and trusted it would manifest.
On January 10, 2018 I crafted an email to Jennifer Garvey Berger whose books I’d read and online courses I’d taken. The subject line read: Course Follow up and an Aspiration. In the text I admitted to being a ‘devotee of her work and approach’ (reeks of fan girl or vulnerably endearing?), confessed a desire to move my family abroad as she had (this was a pre-pandemic dream when I craved more quality time with my kids. More recently a yearlong solo voyage anywhere holds greater appeal) and used the word ‘smitten’ to describe how I felt about the organization, Cultivating Leadership (CL), that she co-founded. Then, I named my aspiration: ‘How might I find myself in New Zealand in the coming years working with a team of coaches I’d be humbled to learn alongside?’
God damn that universe. Jennifer responded five hours later, and I joined Cultivating Leadership in the fall.
Being part of CL, while still leading my private practice, has elevated my coaching and deepened my humanity. I’ve been educated on the intricacies of complexity theory and adult development. I’ve laid on the grass of Great Barrier Island with fellow coaches in the pitch dark awed by the Milky Way. I’ve worked with creative and compassionate colleagues delivering programs to Google and Wikimedia. Lucky me.
While my conversation with the universe worked out great in 2018, talking with it still feels risky to me. It’s like jumping into a freezing lake: I often delay, negotiate, and dance in place because I know the submersion’s going to be jarring, disorienting, and initially unpleasant. But jumping in is ultimately exhilarating, even liberating, because I’m fully feeling. When I talk to the universe and really admit what I want out loud there’s the potential for all the feelings: pride, disappointment, delight, relief, surprise, and embarrassment. Experiencing everything from joy to terror reminds me I’m alive.
In pandemic times mitigating risk has been so omnipresent that I haven’t tended to the amplifying-life-giving-lake-jumping kind. The environment feels fragile with the risk of sickness, quarantine, a cancelled trip, or a return to distance learning so palpably imminent. It’s like I’m trying to get a colicky baby to sleep by gingerly laying it to rest, knowing it will wail once I’ve crossed the threshold of the room. It’s exhausting, not exhilarating, with my nervous system desperate for a reprieve.
For 2022, I want to hand off the colicky baby and take some polar plunges.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to eschew CDC guidance (convoluted as it is). It means that after two tiring years I want to let the baby cry it out while I turn my attention to the risk that fills my soul. I want to tell the universe, and anyone who’s reading this, what I really want professionally and trust that something will manifest.
So, here goes.
1. I want to coach more dyads. Working with other humans is hard. We get triggered, resentful, jealous, or disappointed and we pretend it’s all fine. But it’s not and we suffer. I want to guide professional pairs to give and receive feedback to each other while honestly naming their needs and wants. I’ll help them listen, really listen, change, and trade fear of retribution for a commitment to greater connection.
2. I want to teach groups of managers to be incredible coaches. Managers are generally great problem solvers. They have answers, expertise, and advice. Great. Many managers, though, miss the chance to develop the capacity and leadership of the humans they’re entrusted with. What a missed opportunity. (And, look what the universe just delivered to my inbox as if to reinforce the point).
3. I want to develop a course on leadership and mortality. We’re all going to die – but don’t we believe we’ll somehow outwit it? How might leaders lead with more humanity and purpose if they reckoned with their mortality vs. denied it? Imagine: writing your own eulogy, reading When Breath Becomes Air, visualizing your final days.
4. I want to publish at least two articles. Blogging helps me clarify thoughts and crystallize my perspective. And, it’s safe. There’s no defined criteria or editor as a barrier to entry. If I’m looking for the amplifying-life-giving-lake-jumping kind of risk, I want to expand my audience and invite heightened feelings of rejection, validation, insight, and exposure.
I worry as I reveal my wants. What if by February I’ve got a full client load and ‘developing a course’ feels like an albatross vs. a thrilling endeavor? What if readers (and my pesky inner critic) deem my wants too small-scale, banal, or unattainable? What if? What if? All these worries could be warranted. But, plunging into the waters of public disclosure could also fuel an aliveness to pursue what I most want – that risk seems worth it.
With 2022 upon us, I wonder if we could all use some quiet from the colicky baby to tune into what we most want for the year ahead. And in that quiet, can we be brave enough to own it – even with fear of judgment or embarrassment? Will you join me in writing it down, revealing it to a friend, sharing it with your boss, or yelling it to the universe? Will you take the plunge too and can we then collude to manifest what we all most want? If you’ve got unresolved tension with a co-founder, let’s talk about dyad coaching. If you’re willing to introduce me to an editor, amazing. And then, shamelessly let me know how I can respond in kind with support and generosity to make your leap into the frigid waters heart-racingly thrilling and totally worth it. You in?