KNOW YOUR WHY

I was 24 when I first started working in West Africa, 25 when I moved to northern Uganda, and 26 when I took my first job in Darfur, Sudan. At the time, I got many comments from family and friends about my choice and decision to move so far away, to a war-torn country nonetheless. Some people found it idealistic, others thought it was “cute”, and then others called me a bleeding heart. I didn’t really take it personally at the time and never responded. The fact is that I didn’t have the words at that point to truly explain WHY I went into the humanitarian field. And, ever since then, I have bounced between altruistic responses about wanting to create a better world to savior-like ones that sound something like, “well, someone’s got to do it!”

It wasn’t until much later that something clicked. I have coached women in the humanitarian and development fields for almost 2 years now. In doing so, I have gotten to know myself better and also understand the real reasons WHY we do this work. It seems appropriate to share them here – it’s still the new year – the world is falling apart – and, everyone seems to be searching for their deep WHY.

It is also important for us, as women, to own our purpose and passion more fully and explicitly. Women tend to side-step, downplay, or stay small when we talk about ourselves. We don’t claim our biggest selves in the world. We don’t tell the world how badass we are. We don’t own our unique brilliance as we should.

So, I will do that here today. I will tell the world our WHY and our VISION for the universe as I see it. Through all of my work with women, it can be summed up in the following 6 ways:

We have a desire to serve:

We enjoy helping other people and contributing to their joy. Through our support to others, we are both affirmed and become content. Our love for humanity, the planet, and people in need leads us to give, nurture, and care for those around us. It is in our nature to “mother” but we also believe that life is a complex web of interdependence and interconnectedness with others.

We long for connection:

It can be hard to find intimacy when you are constantly moving, and traveling, and transitioning from one place to another, and then another. We want to trust others, to be held, to be supported, to be encouraged. We thrive off of being in relationship and in connection to others -- opening ourselves to new friends, colleagues, and strangers.

We want to exercise our voice:

This work is a way for us to be known and seen. We bear witness every day and through our voices can speak truth to power. We get to stand in our biggest and boldest selves as conduits of information, stories, and experiences. Our presence in the most difficult places gives us purpose and through showing up, we are also able to be seen for who we truly are.

We are in search of freedom:

Many people in the world are on a quest for safety, predictability, and security. Even those of us who are in the developed world often say that we desire to feel SAFE. In actuality, I think that we are searching for something much deeper, and that is freedom. We want to live in a world where we all have power and the space to do, feel, dream, and be whatever we want. We know that even beyond the confines of war or disaster, there is freedom.

We value growth and learning:

We are people who love to live. We enjoy the search, we enjoy growing, and we enjoy absorbing all that is around us. For us, doing the work is a constant learning experience and also an opportunity to get to know ourselves better. As we discover the world, we get to find our own authenticity and truth in the process.

We crave belonging and community:

Even though many of the women with whom I’ve worked grew up in the Western world where independence and individuality is cornerstone, we know that true beauty comes from being in community. We recognize that partnership is essential and companionship feels good. Even more, we know that belonging to someone, somewhere, or someplace (even if not our own and a million miles away from home) is a spiritual and divine experience.

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Ultimately, we believe in a world where everyone matters.

We believe in a world where everyone is enough.

 We believe in a world where everyone is worthy of love.

We believe in a world where all beings are equal.

We also enjoy creativity, adventure, spontaneity, play, and celebration.

Sure, we have a lot of healing and other things that drive our work and zest for the job.

But, in a nutshell, we are here because we LOVE the possible. We LOVE our people. We LOVE each other.

And, are fueled by service, voice, connection, freedom, growth, learning, belonging, and community.

If you are still getting clear on your deepest WHY, looking to bring your vision more fully into your daily life, or wanting to live with more intention in your work, I have developed a weekend retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Maryland where we will be meeting April 13-16th.

This retreat is for women who are cultivating their personal vision, refining their purpose in the world, and finding the words to explain WHY you do the work. I invite you to learn more about this retreat at http://www.healinginservice.com/womens-retreat/ or email me to set up a conversation at Leora@healinginservice.com

This is the time to know ourselves, understand what drives us, and use that to show up with more power, confidence, and balance in our work. Reach out if you want to live your vision more boldly and fully out in the world and to relentlessly live your passion every. single. day.

Self-Connection for Survival

How do we really know when we are whole? How do we know when we are healed?
 
I have been stewing on these questions for a while. And, when I look at them on the page, they seem silly. They seem like the embodiment of my privileged, Western upbringing… only questions that would come from being raised in a society that obsesses about success and encourages women to uphold an unrealistic notion of perfection. And, when I take a gentler and more loving look, I see hope. These are questions borne out of a desire and a longing for true happiness. When read without judgement, they are simply the innocent questions of an aching heart.
 
My curiosity about my own journey and why I became a humanitarian worker has haunted me for years. I never knew how to respond when asked, “Why did you choose this work?” I sometimes answered out of guilt, sometimes out of ego. Sometimes I would say that my grandparents were Holocaust survivors and it was my duty, or that my sister worked for UNHCR so she inspired me. But, my answer never felt authentic or honest. To be frank, I don’t think that I really knew the reason myself.
 
Over time, I started to be more inquisitive about my motivation and my intentions. This led me into years of self-exploration and growth. I learned about myself during this time in two very different ways.
 
One avenue was studying myself and finding answers through painful and challenging relationships. In my most difficult interactions with co-workers, friends, and family, I saw where I was wounded and needed to focus my attention. In conflict with those that were closest to me, I was triggered in the deepest of ways and awakened to my biggest flaws. In those moments, I realized that my torMENTORS were only a shadow of myself, showing me what I was unwilling to previously acknowledge. They presented to me, in the most direct way, my deepest trauma and hurt. They pushed me to understand myself and heal my wounds in order to survive.
 
The other path showed me answers through sweet connection and companionship. I asked those that I trusted and women in the same situation about where they were struggling and hurting inside. In these partnerships, I was given clarity by hearing their stories and recognizing my pain in their words. In those moments, my SISTERS were my allies offering me insight into my life that I had not yet understood. They invited me to nurture my truest self and love my imperfections. They became co-travelers alongside me where each of us supported the other to walk up steep hills, push our comfort zones, and do that over and over again.
 
Both paths have taught me a lot about why I went into humanitarian work, what it is that drives me to continue serving and coming back for more, where my passion originates, and how this work is intertwined with my values and my life’s purpose. And, in coaching and interviewing women over the last couple of years, I have learned even more about a unique species of women (of which I am a part) in the humanitarian field. I have learned about the collective pain that we hold and the similar wounds we bear, which we hope to address through our work and adventures. 

Specifically, this is what I have learned:

We don’t believe that we are already enough exactly how we are- A deep longing to be loved drives us to do and achieve more. Feelings of not mattering, not being worthy, and not being important inform how we show up in the world.
 
We don’t believe that people see us or our significance- We don’t take care of ourselves because we don’t truly love ourselves. We don’t speak our needs and desires because we don’t see them as important. Everything else comes first.
           
We don’t want to let people down or disappoint them- This is why we become the masters of people-pleasing. We are women who want to serve in the world. This leaves us always saying “yes” even when we want to say a big fat “no”.
 
We don’t trust ourselves, others, or the world- We want to be independent so we do everything ourselves. And then, one day we wake up and realize that we CAN’T release or let go. We have a difficult time allowing others to nurture and support us.
 
We have trouble prioritizing ourselves and our pleasure- So many people are dying and struggling in the world, which is why we keep ourselves from abundance. We have a belief deep down that there is not enough for everyone. We stay small and sacrifice for others.
 
We are used to giving our power away– It’s a habit that never serves us and we know how bad it is, yet we keep on doing it. From a place of disconnection, we make decisions that throw us even more and more off balance.
 
We overthink and make our own heads spin- The thoughts in our head are so strong and dominant that they make us feel overwhelmed and tired. We have a constant need for rest because our heads are consistently working overtime.
 
We feel alone and inadequate at work- We know we are good at our jobs, yet we regularly question ourselves and our abilities. We constantly strive for perfection until we are overextended and unable to make requests for support.

I thank these women for sharing with me their pain and their journeys. In the process, I have learned about myself and where my own healing is still required. They have helped me to put words to abstract thoughts and concepts, and to understand my deepest yearning and struggle. They have helped me to pinpoint WHY I have gone into "humanitarian” work, what I am trying to achieve, and why it is so critical to my soul. They have helped me to understand what it feels like to serve from a place of love and openness. I hope that writing and sharing this post will help other women to find their healing path. I hope it will bind us and connect us in deeper ways. I hope it will allow us to see the beauty of our fight and our internal complexity.
 
Does it resonate? Does it ring true? Does it offer hope for a new future? 

If so, contact me and let me know. If not, contact me and let me know. And, if you are a “helper” that is ready to step out of feeling exhausted and overcommitted, I invite you to learn how to re-energize yourself through an exciting new program called Self-Connection for Survival. It is possible to give to others while also feeling good in your mind and body. This program balances personal coaching with peer support, through an approach that emphasizes self-care–in recognition that we are better caretakers, activists, and change makers when we are good to ourselves and our bodies. 

I have seen so many women change their reality, step out of old patterns, and live an even bigger life. If that’s you, we celebrate you as a role model for women and girls everywhere. If that is not you, welcome to our tribe of women trying to become whole again and doing it in the most daring and courageous ways possible. Learn more about me and my new program at Healing in Service (Workshops) or http://www.healinginservice.com/new-events/.

On Leaving My Job

As I leave my current job, after six years, it feels as if a phase of my life is closing. A circle is about to be completed, and I am left wondering what I should take away. What am I supposed to harvest from this season of my work in the humanitarian field?

This question has been cycling through my mind over the last few weeks. As I have written about it in my journal, talked about it with friends, and even listened to similar stories from other women in the social justice field, I have come up with three things that seem to continue to show up (for me and others) in our community.

FEELINGS OF OVERWHELM AND ISOLATION

Many of us feel overwhelmed by the scope and scale of need in the world, and the long-term vision required to fully achieve social justice. These feelings (and the associated grief) leave us discouraged, overworked, and isolated. The emotions can be so intense that we consistently feel like we are falling over and maybe flat onto our face. We also typically don’t have the networks or support we need to keep us healthy, grounded, and balanced in the face of transition, instability, and conflict. This is when we are prompted to uncover those resources within ourselves and locate sources of support in our environment, which can help us to anchor our feet back on the ground and into a more secure place.

LIVING APART FROM OUR NEEDS AND VALUES

Most of us are passionate about what we do and have a strong commitment to social justice. We are living our values in terms of our choice to give up daily conveniences, leave home, and physically distance ourselves from friends and family (if working internationally). However, we also disconnect from our daily and immediate needs in order to serve and be there for others. This leaves us tired, exhausted, and fragile as we spend most of our time and energy taking care of the people around us and being consumed by our work. We forget to check-in with our bodies, to remember what’s important, and to prioritize ourselves. We don’t meet our own needs or live our values fully because we quickly become out of touch with our deepest desires and aspirations. 

BEING WITHOUT CHOICE AND POWER

Many of us tend to judge ourselves about a lot of things, but mostly for not doing enough, not doing the right thing, or not being good enough. These are beliefs we hold internally but also impact the way we show up in the world. This negative self-talk affects how we align our heart, work, and lifestyle in that we hold back and keep ourselves small in order to stay “safe”. Without having effective strategies to nurture, love, and be good to ourselves, we burn out and are unable to serve ourselves in equal measure to others (if not more). We need to learn how to sustain ourselves and make more decisions from a place of power, choice, calm, and confidence.

What other themes have you identified in our community? What challenges exist in your work as a woman in this field? What wisdom have you gained from your own experiences (at home or abroad)?

I have been left with a deep sense of responsibility and longing to address these issues, even more than the ones that we face around programming or services in the field. It is for this reason, I lead a women's weekend retreat (in April) in which a group of women joined me to break through the feelings of overwhelm and isolation in service to themselves but also to the larger community. If you want to make internal shifts like these other women, I invite you to schedule a complimentary, one-on-one discovery session. 

I am committed to building a community in which we are not falling over when things get tough, but instead supporting each other to be strongly rooted and anchored in our lives so that we can show up for ourselves and others during key decisions and in hard moments. Please email me at Leora@healinginservice.com to share your thoughts or visit www.healinginservice.com to learn more about my offerings.