“I have learned that it’s up to me. That I am the captain of my ship. I am stepping up to the helm. It’s time to stop letting others steer my life.”

“I have realized that I am responsible for my work / life balance. Nobody is going to do it for me. My health, my stress, my needs – all mine to own.”

“No longer will I delegate any aspect of my career to others. My growth is mine to lead and manage. I can no longer blame others for a lack of growth opportunities. I’m taking charge of the plan and the path that will get me there.”

“It’s fruitless to expect others to know what my goals are, what I need, or what motivates me, without me telling them. I’m ready to let my support community and leaders know what I’m trying to do. I am going to frame excellent ‘I need’ questions. I’m taking responsibility for getting my needs for support and direction met.”

I’m reflecting on these closing comments I got from participants who were completing a self-leadership workshop. I had asked the question: “what one thing did you learn over the past two days that you never want to forget?” This has become one of my favourite and most insightful forms of bringing honourable closure. It’s also been a wake-up call for being fully present – it’s where you hear the things people pick up on. I once had someone feedback that their life changing lesson came from a comment I made whilst introducing myself!

I’m often amazed at the changes people can go through in such a short space of time. Resistance replaced with engagement. Passivity with action. Disinterest with inquiry. Suspicion with trust. Nothing-new-to-learn with I wish I had known this earlier in my life. Multitasking with focus. Negativity with hope. Drifting with direction. Being stuck with new possibilities. Oh, that all changes and growth could be this quick! Most significant growth I see is a process. An example is the area of self-love and acceptance. I wonder just how many people get stuck in self-loathing, self-depreciation, perceptions of unimportance, and a lack of love & compassion for self. There is NO shortcut to personally nurtured overflowing love.

And yet I encounter facets of this in every group. Behind the victim mindset. Behind the self-sacrifice. Behind the “I don’t matter.” Behind being the least. Behind the shame. Behind them all is a deep seated lack of self-love. Brené Brown says she is convinced that it is impossible to love others more than we love ourselves. I struggled with that concept for years. Deep down I knew I ranged somewhere between not liking myself much and self-loathing – with occasional glimpses of my impact making me temporarily ok. If Brené is right, how was it then possible for me to do so much for others? Then one day I owned up to the damage I also did. Ouch. Maybe on balance I didn’t have that much more for others. Maybe I was doing things for others to try to fill my own love vacuum!

I’ll never forget some of the “aha” moments in this journey. One was a realization that you can’t love yourself too much – as in love yourself so much that you become completely self-absorbed. Why? Because that wouldn’t be love! Love isn’t selfish. Another fairly dramatic turning point was when I realized love doesn’t at its core have a direction. It is something you nurture and grow in yourself and both you and others benefit from the overflow. In some ways it flows like water. You cannot give what you do not have. It has to be nurtured in self to have an abundance for others. So what does this have to do with self-leadership?

Everything! Before I learned to nurture love I was pretty scared of the very concept of self-leadership. And as a student of inspirational leadership, I just avoided the self part – all with a nagging certainty that I was missing out. That it was my kryptonite. I thought it meant self-control. Which was something I simply sucked at. Therefore I stood no chance at self-leading. Then it dawned on me. I don’t teach that great leadership is about control, so why would self-leadership be about self-control? I truly believe great leadership is about love. More about that elsewhere. But if that were true, then surely great self-leadership is an act of love?

So what is this journey? It is a journey from judgement to compassion. From secrecy to courage in telling our stories. From silence to connection. From shame to wholeheartedness. From pretending to authenticity and vulnerability. And there is more good news. Compassion for self grows compassion for others. Courage in vulnerability frees others too. Authenticity in connection builds communities, circles within circles, next to circles, overlapping circles. Our brains are wired to connect. We cannot reach our full potential in isolation. It’s all very imperfect though. I think that is the beauty of it. It means the work isn’t done. The journey isn’t over.

We live in a world of blame and excuses. A world of the victim mindset. A world of its all someone else’s fault. Cycles of blame and revenge. A mindset of dehumanizing and objectifying the other. I can’t help wondering if it hasn’t started with us dehumanizing and objectifying ourselves. What would happen if we loved ourselves first? Nurtured love that could overflow. Loved ourselves to life. Took responsibility for ourselves and our part first. Grew compassion. Cut the BS. Owned up to our own stuff. Called others out on their stuff – not in judgement but as a call to life. Lived courageous community. Maybe that would build a new wave of leadership. Self-leaders who could cut through the crap and take their rightful place of courage and compassion. Love is not soft. Love speaks the truth. Love confronts. But it all starts with self. Self-love that looks in mirrors. Self-love that changes everything. Great self-leadership is authentic love. So maybe the best leadership too is love…