Makes All the Difference

“Real courage is risking something that might force you to rethink your thoughts and suffer change and stretch consciousness. Real courage is risking one’s clichés.”
― Tom Robbins

There’s this thing that happens at least once during a bootcamps where Jerry asks someone to stand up feet rooted hip distance apart, arms open, palms open facing outward at waist level. We call it the warrior stance; a place to feel your rootedness and strength supporting you through the ground and at the same time feeling your vulnerable front body. It’s quite the contrary stance that most entrepreneurs find themselves in, especially when they’d much rather curl up in fetal position and hide under a piano.

In the warrior stance, you can feel your front and back holding you upright and together. In an integrated way, these two parts of you are mutually supporting each other, saying “I got you,” to yourself.

The strong back, open heart stance is the essence of leadership, especially for businesses. A strong back means support, integrity, sustainability, and fiscal responsibility. Open heart means leading authentically, moving from purpose, being vulnerable, and feeling our way through the creative edges. In building a sustainable company you need both sides. Good leaders embody paradoxical elements daily. As Jerry notes in this week’s conversation with Matt Munson, CEO of Twenty20, having values and driving for profit are not in conflict.

(I’ve worked with many creatives who have open hearts, and who fear the support structure that would keep them doing the work they love. It was as if thinking about marketing and making money made their entire spirits wither and freeze. Yet, fiscal responsibility and authenticity are two inherent pieces of the success pie.)

What does this warrior stance look like in action?

It looks like the moment when you move beyond the fears looming large in the theater of your own mind. It looks like saying what you need to say, even though you’re convinced that once you say those words you will be left alone, unloved and banished from the tribe (or, they’ll know you’re an imposter, they’ll take your funding away, and all your employees will leave). It looks like breaking through the veil of functional atheism – thinking that, as leaders at the top of chain of command, we have all the answers – and admitting that we need help with issues big and small that we don’t have the answers to. It means taking off our game face and letting someone know how we really feel and what’s really up.

The times we shift from pre-warrior to warrior are moments when in our minds we take a risk to voice our truth against all of our fears telling us not to. We risk in those moments what feels like an impending surefire failure, and what happens instead is quite the opposite. Instead, we find ourselves in a defining moment in which we discover a new way forward, subsequently unlocking our real potential as leaders.

John O’Donohue writes about how the courage to move beyond what stops us brings new possibility:

“In our day to day lives, we often show courage without realizing it. However, it is only when we are afraid that courage becomes a question. Courage is amazing because it can tap into the heart of fear, taking that frightened energy and turning it towards initiative, creativity, action and hope. When courage comes alive, imprisoning walls become frontiers of new possibility, difficulty becomes invitation and the heart comes into a new rhythm of trust and sureness. There are secret sources of courage inside every human heart; yet courage needs to be awakened in us. Courage is the spark that can become the flame of hope, lighting new and exciting pathways in what seemed to be dead, dark landscapes.”

Over the past few months I’ve harnessed this courage with my partner. As I stepped from pre-warrior to warrior stance, I thought I was going to say something that would certainly end our relationship. But I stayed with the words that had been brewing in my heart for the past few years and ushered them forth, clearly and articulately (and, let’s be honest, through tears). My partner listened and heard me, even though it wasn’t easy to hear. Now months later, our relationship is stronger and we credit those conversations as the moments that took our relationship to another level.

Warrior moments break the ice that held us trapped, and let new life and experience flow in. The warrior stance is a way to hold yourself in life. I’ve often found that the places and conversations that scare me usually end up happening through some kismet. In those moments, I’m often surprised and relieved at what transpires. All along, though the opportunity presented itself, it was me stepping fully into my authentic truth and connecting deep with my inner knowing, no matter how shaky it felt to usher it forth, that made all the difference.

Jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker used to say: “If it ain’t in your heart, it ain’t in your horn.” In other words, if you’re not playing from your heart, no matter what’s in there, your work and creative output won’t sound that great.

Putting your heart into it can mean meeting some scary places. Though, when you show up with your heart and all of it’s contents (worries, fears, wishes, needs), and your fear centers may be on red alert and predicting infinite doom and failure, more wounds and scars, something else happens.

Holding the warrior stance as a stance in life does more than move you beyond your fears. It allows you to come forth and be met by life. By doing so and being open to failure, you take responsibility for the direction of your life, and choose to not be reined in by fears and survival strategies from childhood. Only then can you ever succeed. When you dance with life from that place, without armor, you are as the poet David Whyte says, “able to be, quite fearlessly, what you are.”

In a journal entry dated October 2, 1958, Thomas Merton wrote, “Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself, and if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself.”

Being able to be quite fearlessly yourself is what it means to be a warrior, and that makes all the difference.