Two years before my horse Jasmine arrived and began teaching me more about my energy, I had an incredible experience to participate in a life-changing leadership development program. I 100% believe that it laid the foundation for me to have the awareness necessary to pick up on the signals that I was getting from Jasmine that eventually told me my energy (fear) was contributing to her nervousness.
As a side note, the leadership program was a 6-month cohort-based program that I personally designed after months of research into best practices and leadership development theories, as well as networking with my peers from other organizations. We were preparing for our initial program launch and finalizing our participant list (participants were nominated by our executive leadership team) when I found out that I had also been nominated to be part of the first cohort. It was both an honor and a challenge to be asked to be the program manager and an actual participant in the cohort, but I gladly accepted the invitation and learned so much from both sides of the experience.
While I felt confident that I had created a solid program, I truly had no idea how deep and life-changing the experience would be that I was about to embark upon. The program kicked off with an off-site week-long leadership retreat. The concepts that we explored and the reflection that we did to better understand ourselves and how we are wired was so insightful. As a matter of fact, what I learned that week influences the way I see and process things to this day. It created in me deep self-awareness, an ability to be resilient in the face of chaos and change and the ability to be fully present in my life.
One specific moment that I recall from the retreat is when we practiced a concept so simple yet profound; it was an exercise in practicing "PRESENCE." We were instructed to find a place inside or outside of the facility where we could be completely alone. Then we were to spend 3 minutes being completely present - without focusing on the rambling thoughts in our heads (and also without our cell phones so we weren't distracted) - just 3 minutes simply observing and listening to the world around us and taking everything in.
Let me pause here to say if you've never tried to do this before, it's incredibly difficult (especially the very first time you try it). Oh and if you haven't guessed it, 3 minutes felt like an ETERNITY!
It was in the gazebo pictured in this post that I began to learn how to be FULLY PRESENT. And I haven't looked at life the same since. In time, I learned what an incredible tool presence was, not only as a leader, but as an individual outside of work too. It creates:
Deeper connections with others (the more present you are with family, friends and direct reports at work, the better you listen and the better your relationships are);
A way to slow down life and really enjoy the simple moments, which for me is all about watching my horses graze in the pasture or taking a pictures of the sunset over my farm every evening (I'm sure I'll be sharing more of my photography soon);
And a great way to reduce stress!
Now think about something you've learned that has changed your life that you can't wait to tell others about and get them to try for themselves. That's what PRESENCE is for me. I believe in it so much and have seen what it's done for myself and others that I want more people to experience it. I've seen leaders near burnout learn to practice presence and ultimately find joy and balance in their lives again. They've also discovered how to have "quality time" with family and friends which is so critical to being able to recharge in the busy world that we live and work in.
Without an understanding of the concept of presence and developing an ability to be present, I would have totally missed the signals that my horse Jasmine was giving me to teach me an important lesson about my energy and about what I still needed to work on in myself. What an incredible mirror and teacher she has been.
I've always been greatly inspired by quotes about life and leadership, so to share my love of quotes through this post, I'll end with this:
"Wherever you are, be totally there." - Eckhart Tolle