THE NEED TO TAKE OUR OWN MEDICINE
Dr Stephen Covey in his world renowned book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about the 7 specific behaviours we must all commit to if we are to live and lead sustainably and authentically.
It’s a book I often refer to when facilitating leadership workshops and coaching clients, and I have often recommended the adherence to these seven habits to many colleagues, family and friends who have at times struggled with motivation or producing desired outcomes in their life and work.
So why is it I recently found myself failing to adhere to one of these important habits? The need, as Dr Covey puts it, to sharpen the saw. In other words, the need to make time for physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual self-renewal. Why did I fail to follow my own advice?
A couple of weeks ago I suddenly became quite ill. My symptoms were varied, acute and worrying. I ended up in a Hospital Emergency Department on more than one occasion and then a longer stay in hospital while consultants and registrars conducted extensive medical tests to try and arrive at a diagnosis. What was happening to me? What was wrong with me? How was it caused?
The short version of this story is that after many tests the results all came back inconclusive. There were several theories, and the big nasties (meningitis, lymphoma etc) were ruled out, but the truth of the matter was that no one knew exactly what I was suffering from or why it had come on so “quickly” and in such an acute way.
I have been out of hospital for two weeks now. Whilst I am slowly recovering, I have been forced to face my current limitations as well as reduced physical capacity. I have also done a lot of reflecting that has led me to a number of realizations.
I suspect the truths I became aware of are shared by many of us. I am sharing my learnings with you in the hope of perhaps leading you to a greater awareness than I had at the time. In sharing my experience I hope to prevent you from having to suffer in the way that I have.
The realisations about myself are still quite raw, so please excuse the emotion and directness in my words. For many years I have occupied the place in my community of colleagues, friends and family where I have been regarded as the ‘strong’ and organised one. I have been seen as the one always in control, on top of things and who has everything worked out. People have come to me for advice, for inspiration and support. More recently, since becoming a professional speaker and delivering hundreds of inspirational and motivational presentations around the world, many have put me on a pedestal. Those who do this see the inspirational, strong, courageous Rabia. They see an example of female power, of resilience and of wisdom. The perception is of someone who appears to have it all figured out and who has committed to living an aligned life.
I realize that I have not only embraced and assumed this identity, but have also fed off it. I have done this to the point where I felt I could not show weakness or real vulnerability and uncertainty – even to my closest friends. I wouldn’t seek the help or comfort of family or friends when wrestling with a momentous personal decision, preferring rather to confide only in a professional.
I now understand that my inability to nurture and respect the friendships I am blessed with came from a misguided attempt to not appear weak, to maintain the facade I wrongly believed people needed me to uphold.
What I was actually doing was keeping people – friends, family and those closest to me – at arms length. This didn’t hurt anyone other than myself. But, by refusing to be raw, to show vulnerability, uncertainty and admit I was struggling, I added to my feelings of isolation, depression and stress.
I was so busy throwing myself into my work, taking care of my family and serving others that I ignored the need to serve myself – to sharpen my saw! I did such a number on myself that it took my body to scream out at me and shut down before I took notice of the stress and emotional overwhelm affecting me.
I often talk about how we need to confront our realities in life – the beautiful and the ugly, and how we need to have faith that growth and wisdom can arise from and require a period of discomfort.
Well, this last month, and the months leading up to my recent health scare was a lesson in the uncomfortable for me, and the need to confront my realities – the good and the bad.
I am truly blessed. We are all truly blessed. Most of us have love in our life, food on the table and enjoy relative good health and safety.
With that said it doesn’t mean we are immune from stress and anxiety, from emotional or mental overwhelm, or from illness. We are all just fallible human beings. Who was I to believe I didn’t fit into this category?
Life is a like a beautiful novel – an ever evolving story. We are constantly learning, growing and changing. My recent uncomfortable experience was a gift. I now have a deeper appreciation that no one is or should be an island. Meaningful human connections must be nurtured and they require honesty and courage.
Through the discomfort, pain and the emotion I have learned we all need to take our own medicine, and I am now taking mine. As leaders and human beings we all need to take the time to stop, reflect and ask ourselves whether our behaviour and habits are still serving us well. We must also remember, as social researcher Dr Brene Brown says, that the way back to each other, the people we care about, is to be vulnerable.
I have arrived at a new level of truth, I am once again living my life with alignment, having re-calibrated the compass and have committed to nurturing and respecting my close relationships and sharpening my saw!
I hope sharing this with you will serve to help, encourage and support you to do the same.