Personal and Professional Development vs. Self-Acceptance: Who wins here?

I am told this is my “intense” look. I guess I was a little intense on my wedding day.

I can get a bit intense, or so I’m told.  A cherished colleague of mine recently said to me, “Dang, girl, what are you trying to prove and to whom!?”  Whatever could she be referring to?

I am a fervent believer in personal and professional development.  To define terms here, I will be considering them as one in the same.  When it comes to EKL, what you see is what you get – at both the board room table and the kitchen table.  Personal/professional development is identifying development areas, targeting actions to increase knowledge or experience in those areas – basically, planning your awesomeness.  Raise your hand if you have a 5-year plan!  Raise it again if you also have a personal marketing plan, short and long-term action plans, complete with key performance indicators!  Oh, that’s just me?  Yeah, I guess I am a bit intense.  What am I trying to prove?

My same dear colleague suggested that I accept myself for who I am, where I am in life, and let things happen naturally.  The Self-Acceptance Hippie inside me heaved a huge sigh of relief, while the Self-Improvement Junkie got all indignant.  The Hippie was thinking, phew!  I can just be myself and that’s okay?  The Junkie hollered, no!  That’s not okay!  You must strive for perfection!

Striking a balance between Self-Improvement and Self-Acceptance – that’s a humdinger for us gen-yers!

I am a product of our times, so what do I do?  I decide that 90 minutes of hot yoga in a 40°C room with the uber-tough prof was just the place to explore this notion.

Dripping with sweat and looking like the literal definition of a hot mess, I revel in pushing my limits, while at the same time observing them without judgement.  One of my favourite postures is Natarajasana (dancing shiva pose).  Taking root into the ground on one leg, you equally reach to the sky with your hand and stretch upwards with the opposite leg.  Opening, lengthening, balancing, grounding and floating, this pose builds determination and focus.  I observe, this is where I am today.  I stretch, the good kind that lengthens and builds, not injures.  I am present.

Young women, learn to practice your career the way you practice yoga.

You may think this sounds like the Hippie talking, but hear me out.  The women who blazed trails before us left us with a resounding message: You have to work harder to get less.  I am not saying whether this is right or wrong, but it was definitely a notion that I internalized at a very young age.  Be not just ultra-educated, but have top grades.  In fact, be the best at everything – the world is your oyster and if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.  And my generation dreams larger than life.

Stretching without injury

With your eyes on the prize, it is hard to remember to take stock of everything that has to happen between point A and point B.  Keep your eyes on the prize, but develop strategies to get there that include bite-sized action plans.  Set intermediate, short and even super short mini-term goals (this really helps satisfy our instant-gratification nature – try it, you’ll love it!).  One of the major advantages as well is being able to refine your strategies and objectives in mid-climb!  But above all, don’t barrel headlong towards your long-term goals with tunnel-vision…that’s just asking for a burn-out by the time you hit 30!

Observing without judgement

Know yourself.  Be present enough to be able to do a personal inventory, but be kind and generous enough to do it without judgement or accusation.  Think of this exercise as measuring your potential!  There are lots of skills you may not have yet, but you are brilliant and capable and motivated – you will have them one day with your bite-sized action plan.  No need to beat yourself up for not knowing something that you haven’t gone out and learned yet!

Take root with energy equal to that with which you reach for the sky

‘Nuff said.  Namaste!

This is not me. Let’s just say this is not where I am at yet…one day!

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MissRep Review: An Unanticipated Reaction

The documentary Miss Representation, by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and aired on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. The film explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.

Ok, let’s be honest, this is not actually a review.  Rather, it’s an anecdote of this girl’s response to watching the documentary for the first time – one that took me wholeheartedly by surprise.

I have the best husband there ever was, that ever will be.  It’s Saturday night, I’ve been working all day (yes, on a Saturday), and I come home about 2 hours later than originally planned.  The woodsy odor of toasted almonds greets me as I open the door – Sole amandine, my favourite.  He tells me that we’re having a movie night.  Perfect.  What’s on the schedule?  First up, Miss Representation.  I melt.  I have managed to marry the most feminist man on the planet.  (Second up is Dédé à travers les brumes, another great choice, btw).

One of the reasons I was so psyched to be seeing MissRep right then was because I am planning on attending a screening and panel discussion on the documentary for International Women’s Day (March 8th).  I thought it would behoove me to see it for myself first, reflect, and then have intelligent things to say or questions to ask. I’m not that good on the spot.

Plus, I’ve been dying to see it since watching the trailer.  The trailer was sent to me by a fellow Girl Guide back in October.  Her commentary was short and sweet: This is why girls need Guides.  Watching it back then was like getting punched in the stomach.  Alone in my office, eyes wide, it made me feel sick, physically nauseated.  Powerful.

So, my husband and I sat down with our dinner and away we go.  What was I expecting?  I thought I would be shocked, outraged, called to arms, indignant.  Yes, I felt that.  What I didn’t expect was guilt, affliction, grief.  3 minutes into the film I burst into tears, and they continued to flow for the duration.

I cried my heart out for the entire 90 minutes of Miss Representation.  I cried for myself, I cried for every woman I had met and those I hadn’t, I cried for men, for children, for America.  I even cried for Sarah Palin.

In my drama and despair, I told my partner that I could not bear the risk of bringing a child into this world.  I realized that the world that I believe in and dream of is generations away from reality, that my children will be victims the way that we are victims, without any way of knowing if it will get better.  I told him I felt like I was wasting my time with non-profits empowering women and girls – that my passion would be better utilized in the corporate world or in politics.

He stopped the film.  He’s not used to seeing me feeling hopeless, and I can see that I’ve got him worried.  He knows that I want to have children with all of my heart.  He knows that I believe that the struggle is not just necessary, it is essential to work to improve the lives of future generations.  He knows it.  I know it.  But for 90 intense minutes, the dark side caught up with me.

It is important to look at the dark side.  But it is also important to bring as much light with you as possible!

The light that you bring with you when you examine and explore the most painful parts of humanity is the love that you have for humanity.  You bring your friends, you bring your partner, you bring your family and even that jerk that cut you off on your way in to work.  You bring every ounce of forgiveness you can muster.

Saturday night I held on to my darling husband and counted my lucky stars.  I will keep up the fight and generating light.  Roland Barthes asks: Is it better to last or to burn?  I say you gotta do both – you need to just keep adding fuel.

*** TRIGGER WARNING ***

Miss Representation Trailer: It’s 8 minutes and 52 seconds that are worth your time.  Watch it.