By Lisa Chandler, 15 November, 2022

I can tell my life story in a series of goals and how I’ve achieved them (or not), moved on from them, how I’ve come up with new goals, and started the pursuit again.  Like interesting music, in reaching my goals I’ve encountered unexpected twists necessitating that I insert pauses in between the notes. Often unwelcome ones. At times, I’ve had to let go of the original “score” and make space for new music to come in. 

  • Finding a meaningful career
  • Finding a loving, long-term relationship
  • Creating a successful business
  • Creating a conscious leadership practice for Island leaders
  • Trying to have a baby on my own

None of these have been textbook.  

None of them have been achieved in the timeframes I originally had in mind. 

None have come in the order I might have thought they would when I was 30.

Twelve years ago, I wrote a post called She Let Go based on a poem I love. The year previously, I’d had a miscarriage during fertility treatment; at the time I was writing the post I was 29 weeks pregnant with my daughter! The journey to motherhood at times crushed me. It humbled me. It took all my courage. And it took surrender. That there would be an outcome so wonderful was not a given.  

Much like in my fertility journey, I can look back and see that, in romantic relationships and in my professional life, it’s been sometimes only in the letting go that things could flow. Make no mistake: letting go without something else to leap to, to cling on to—a new love, a new job—and the resulting uncertainty, emptiness, has been frightening, destabilizing. 

But it’s only by entering that uncertainty that I’ve been able to find a new path: learning to surrender, to do small experiments, to sometimes be played by life instead of conducting it. It’s been messy as I learned to trust myself.  And while experience has shown me I’m trustworthy, I still have plenty of self-doubt each time I decide to leap.

I’m about to let go again: I’m taking a sabbatical starting in the new year. 

I am going to put down my business for a time and become a curious explorer.  I am very fortunate to be able to do so. I am in search of more creativity, deepening my connections and contribution, and some blank space. 

Will I find what I’m looking for? Is this really what I seek? My intuition tells me that I need to let go and find out.

I’m scared.

Who am I if I’m not coaching? Can I trust our financial planning?

I’m excited.

What if this turns out even better than I imagine? Who will I become?

How all this will unfold is anyone’s guess. I don’t know what I will find. 

I do know that when I have been able to trust life and let go, the music of my life has been a beautiful composition. 

By Lisa Chandler, 14 October, 2022

When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test of each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize.  The spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell.  – Pema Chödrön

In the wee hours of September 24, while Hurricane Fiona figuratively and literally took the ground out from under us.  Parts of our Island fell apart. Parts of me fell apart too. My outer and inner landscapes have been forever altered.

Until Fiona, I’d felt near death twice.

The first time was years ago in Northern Mexico. I stupidly went SCUBA diving without getting trained. I got into some trouble I didn’t know how to navigate out of.  From start to finish, my panic was only a few minutes, though the memory of feeling like I was drowning is forever etched on my brain. 

The second time was during childbirth. My doula Francine had warned me that I might feel like I was dying during the “ring of fire” stage of labour. She assured me that it was a good thing as it would mean that my baby’s head was crowning and that I’d give birth soon after. True to her word, I did feel near death at a certain point after a long, induced labour. I remember freaking out, and then digging deep, to push through. I credit her sage advice and birth coaching with getting me through that painful and scary stage.  Shortly after I was gifted with a beautiful baby girl. 

Enduring Fiona was different. 

My Fiona fear has a long half-life. Unlike the brief “near death” moments above, my fear over Fiona started in the days leading up to her arrival, and for many punishing hours during. Now I have weird dreams at night, when I can actually sleep, and I worry what will happen in future storms.  

Other than preparing, I had no control. We did what we could. Then I had to surrender. I spent the night believing we might die or be seriously injured. The contents of my stomach turned to liquid, but going to the bathroom seemed like a death-defying act. Each time I braved a trip, I’d watch in fear as our neighbours’ tree practically bent in two with every gust. It eventually did break across the roof of our garage. I was fortunate not to see it happen.

Our garage, post-Fiona, with the neighbours' tree laying across its roof.

I felt very alone. I got through the night by texting my partner Peter. With autism and contagious emotions among our kids, we’d known we had to avoid potential storms inside the house by being separate. It was hard. In the days leading up to the hurricane, I was even angry about it. The night of the storm, breathing, hugging (a thankfully sleeping) daughter tight, and mentally wishing others well, is what got me through. 

It was all punishment and no reward. There was no beautiful baby girl to hold. Of course, being alive and uninjured is not a small thing. That no one on the Island died directly from Fiona’s impact seems a miracle still. What there was, and still is, is devastation, a lot of which I have not seen directly yet.

This was my favourite downtown tree:

My favourite tree, before Fiona.

My partner Peter had my artist friend, Tomoyo Suzuki,  sketch it for me for my birthday this past summer:

My favourite tree. Sketch by Tomoyo Suzuki.

When I went to see it after Fiona, I ended up crying with another woman who was mourning its loss too.

My favourite tree, after Fiona.

As many of you know, we’ve been fortunate to bring many leaders to the Hughes Jones Centre for leadership work with horses. 

The arena, pre-Fiona, at Hughes Jones Centre.

 Ellen Jones’ arena was destroyed during Fiona. Fortunately her herd of horses made it through the storm:

The arena after Fiona.

For years, I have been given privileged access to your hearts, your minds and your humanness.  While I don’t know what you endured during Fiona, I imagine you have harrowing stories to tell. And I also imagine many of you have many feelings you have not felt. And that you, like me, might be grasping for how you can control things to avoid this suffering again?

As I opened, I will close.  

Pema reminds us that life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Staying with the shakiness—the broken heart, the rumbling stomach, the feeling of hopelessness—is the path to waking up.  Learning to relax in chaos, to not panic, to gently and compassionately catch ourselves when things get edgy and practice peace with ourselves and others… it seems like that might be one of Fiona’s only gifts. 

By Lisa Chandler, 13 September, 2022

I was recently wandering through the stacks at our new downtown library trying to convince my daughter to check out some books when Big Magic (by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame) practically leapt off the shelf into my hands.

I’d read it many years ago in Montréal; yet there it was, seemingly insisting I read it again.

Who was I to say no?

I love the idea of creative living without fear. As the book’s subtitle, it sounds like a promise.

Why would I not want that?

The re-read validated again that big fear comes up for me when I consider doing bold things, or really anything different at all. Gilbert offers myriad reasons one might be scared to live a more creative life; while I could find common cause with them all, I’ve bolded the ones that feel like bigger fears for me.

I’m afraid I have no talent.

I’m afraid I’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored.

I’m afraid there’s no market for my creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it.

I’m afraid someone else already did it better.

I’m afraid everybody else already did it better.

I’m afraid somebody will steal my ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark.

I’m afraid I won’t be taken seriously.

I’m afraid my work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life.

I’m afraid my dreams are embarrassing.

I’m afraid that someday I’ll look back at my creative endeavours as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money.

I’m afraid I don’t have the right kind of discipline.

I’m afraid I don’t have the right kind of workspace, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration.

I’m afraid I don’t have the right kind of training or degree.

I’m afraid I’m too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.)

I’m afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist.

I’m afraid of upsetting my family with what I may reveal.

I’m afraid of what my peers and coworkers will say if I express my personal truth out loud.

I’m afraid of unleashing my innermost demons, and I really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons.

I’m afraid my best work is behind me.

I’m afraid I never had any best work to begin with.

I’m afraid I neglected my creativity for so long that now I can never get it back.

I’m afraid I’m too old to start.

I’m afraid I’m too young to start.

I’m afraid because something went well in my life once, so obviously nothing will ever go well again.

I’m afraid because nothing has ever gone well in my life, so why bother trying?

I’m afraid of being a one-hit wonder.

I’m afraid of being a no-hit wonder.

What do you fear most? What else would you add to the list?

Most of us fear failing and finding ourselves alone and unloved. Some of us equally fear succeeding (and finding ourselves alone and unloved!).

To be human is to be fearful. Not all the time. Not about everything. But about some things. Rational or not.

Gilbert writes:

You are on this road trip of life. You are the driver, and fear is that loud baby in the back seat. It's going to bother you and it might get in your head. Butyou have to accept that your fear will be there with you during this ride. And even though you accept that the baby is going to be with you in this journey, you obviously do not let the baby drive.

I want to be bold. To create. To push limits—others’ and my own—and so the only choice I really have is where fear will sit.

Of late, it’s been driving a lot.

I’d like to get back in the driver’s seat with creativity as my co-pilot. Fear will be joining us of course but I’d like it to stay in the backseat. I’ll likely need to give it an iPad and many good snacks!

By Lisa Chandler, 31 August, 2022

I got trapped in my own bathroom the other day. The old glass knobs, as charming as they are, don’t work well. Try as I might, I could not get the door open.  After a moment of claustrophobic panic, I sat on the closed toilet seat to contemplate my options. 

No one else was at home and I had left my phone on the patio. Hmmm.

Clipboard with probing questions, on the bathroom wall.

There, facing me on the bathroom wall, was a fresh set of probing questions I had hung there the day before, almost as if I knew I would be stuck there soon to contemplate them. 

I read the questions. 

And reflected on them. 

For about sixty seconds. 

Then I started plotting my escape.

There I was, with nothing but time to ponder, the kind of time I regularly bemoan I don’t have enough of; instead I was the poster child for Pema Chödrön’s saying: “Never underestimate the urge to bolt”.

I’m a seasoned conscious leadership coach; you might expect me to be good at sitting still by now. Or maybe that’s just what I expect of me.  

At any rate, I found myself below the line, judging myself harshly for not being willing to just stay put.

Instead, I got myself the heck out. 

Despite that I was stuck on the first floor, it took a surprising amount of courage (and more attempts than I care to describe here) to get out of that small window. It even hurt a bit. 

But the actual escape is not the triumph I want to celebrate. Being able to see myself for all my tendencies, helpful and not, and being willing to accept and forgive myself after the fact for wanting to bolt—this is a much greater victory. 

By Lisa Chandler, 27 May, 2022

I was very candid last week to a local executive group.  I don’t mind what happens.

I said no to a large leadership project (and the revenue potential). I don’t mind what happens.

I’m putting a pause on the Conscious Leader Forum despite its success. I don’t mind what happens.

I don’t mind what happens comes from Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks (short overview here).

It’s important not to mind what happens because I am a limited amount of time. In this finite life, even the best life I could possibly imagine, I’ll need to ceaselessly say goodbye to possibilities.

I don’t have time. It has me.

At best, I have 2000+ weeks left on this planet.

In leadership, I might want to throw in the towel soon or do something leaderly for 1000+ of my weeks (I anticipate the later). Let’s say I settle on the short side and work/lead for 250 more weeks like some leaders I know who have this timeline in mind.  

That’s 250 more Monday mornings. 250 more Sunday morning coffees contemplating life and the week ahead. 250 more weekly team meetings (I riffed off @TimAdamsWrites to make this very real).

Armed with this constraint, you might imagine I feel despair. This is precious little time, you might say.

But I don’t feel despair at all.

I feel more accepting that I will never accomplish all I want to—that there is no magical moment in the future when I will feel I have “arrived”.

I realize that I will need to say no to lots of things that I genuinely want to do. In practice, I am still resisting this notion quite strenuously at times.  I still say yes sometimes when inside I want to say no. Learning to say a whole body YES! and a clear NO are what conscious leaders practice. I am practicing. It is uncomfortable.

Ironically, as I learn to let go of certain “obligations” and beliefs about what I “should” do, I feel free!

I’m invigorated by my finitude.

I am so curious to find out what I will do with my finite weeks.

I don’t mind what happens.

I am a limited amount of time. So are you.