Written by Dasha Dare
For the last two years I’ve been observing how the pandemic experience has affected us.
In August 2020, I created an art project titled “All Is One” based on interviews I conducted with 15 volunteers about their pandemic year. This year, I feel like the next stage of my pandemic investigation is through the prism of executive life coaching.
While the general direction of my life coaching sessions has stayed within the traditional realm of the practice, guided by my clients’ desire to gain more clarity in various aspects of their lives, when it comes to my work with executives I feel that it’s particularly important to highlight the desire to master inner leadership.
More and more often I find myself receiving requests from clients who are seeking to gain clarity around prioritizing what matters the most, such as being more present, dealing with emotions and feeling more alive.
The influence of the pandemic
The upside to the pandemic is that it has shone a much-needed light on the importance of our collective mental health. Many of us, including people in leadership positions, have experienced life in a way we didn’t know was possible before — working from home without the need to commute, spending extra time with kids and loved ones, and being more creative and flexible. Despite the stress caused by the pandemic, some of us have found certain elements of this new way of life to be liberating. Those who had this experience during the pandemic often feel conflicted about returning to the old ways of being and working.
The reluctance to “return to normal” stems from a longstanding inner conflict that has finally surfaced; more people are now asking themselves whether the pre-pandemic work/life balance prioritized work at the expense of missing out on what really matters in life. This desire for a more sustainable work/life balance has created a new challenge for businesses. How do we retain employees and ensure that they are happy and thriving? How do we retain people in leadership roles now that many are unwilling to have imbalanced lives for the sake of their work? How do we create more sustainable ways of working while continuing to create impact and inspire others to live a more fulfilled life?
All of these questions have increased the sense of urgency around working on inner balance and inner experiences, rather than focusing solely on outward actions and appearances.
A need to expand on the old
Traditional corporate leadership training has mainly focused on developing the skills and competencies needed to deal with the external world; leaders must be equipped to navigate difficult conversations, lead a team, manage expectations, cultivate client relationships, make challenging decisions, act as a role model, and strive to inspire others, in addition to handling many other responsibilities.
The downside of this leadership approach, however, is that it tends to neglect our internal state — our thoughts and emotions. Being mindful of our thoughts and feelings is not something we are typically taught at school or work, despite the increasing popularity and necessity of this practice due to its connection to our mental health. If anything, we were taught to do the opposite by suppressing any uncomfortable and unfamiliar feelings.
As society becomes increasingly conscious and awakens, more people are beginning to turn their attention towards their inner selves. They are recognizing that it’s their inner conflicts and bottled emotions that are standing in the way of life flowing through them, and this often results in growing resentment and an inability to perform at the highest level.
So where do we begin? Self-regulation 101. Feeling the feelings
The quality of your inner experience affects all of your outer experiences in life. Therefore, committing to working on your relationship with yourself might be the first step in the right direction. As you learn to observe yourself, notice your habitual way of dealing with stress during those moments when you feel most conflicted. This will allow you to recognize when you shift into survival mode — flight/freeze/fight.
Questions to ask yourself — what do I feel? Where do I feel it in my body? What are the stories I am telling myself? What are my thoughts?
Begin to unpack your relationship with uncomfortable experiences. Do you avoid the feelings that come up in stressful situations? Do you try to hide how these feelings affect you? Do you not permit yourself to truly feel them?
Most of us weren’t taught to confront our feelings while growing up; sadly, many of us were taught to be ashamed of expressing emotions. It’s not a surprise, then, that so many people have inner conflicts that remain unresolved for years.
Some of the key outcomes of executive life coaching is the establishment of a relationship with the self, so that what you feel and experience has a place to be. Ultimately, these inner experiences help guide the decision-making process. Perceiving your feelings becomes a source of useful information guiding you toward making the choices that lead to the best outcomes. By cultivating this practice, you will become more resilient, flexible, grounded and intuitive all at the same time. The more in touch you are with your feelings, the easier it will be for you to create, innovate and be authentic.
Let us imagine what can change for us collectively if those with the most power and influence begin to integrate their feelings, cultivate their relationships with themselves, and inspire all of us to do the same.
Dasha Dare is a NYC-based executive life coach, photographer and artist, working with impact-driven conscious leaders seeking to achieve mind/body alignment and master self-regulation.
She is the author of “Time to Dare,” an experiential coaching program and workshop composed of three pillars: mindfulness, embodiment and creativity.
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