What it really means to “follow your heart”

Can you think of a more common piece of inspirational life advice than “follow your heart”? So many of us heard this growing up, and perhaps we’ve even passed it onto our young people, but just how much do we trust it? Is it trite or true? I’m going to cut to the chase and stand in the conviction that it is always wise to follow our hearts. But there is a disclaimer here, and it is a big one: We have to be very attuned to how we define “heart,” and also what truth is for each of us in every moment.  (more…)

Getting beyond #purpose

There is something especially touching about the earnestness of a young person’s search for purpose. I have the great fortune of knowing young adults in their early twenties who hunger with every fiber of their being to express their unique essence and be of service to some particular corner of Read more…

The Self Care Shakedown


This past Sunday Minds On Fire hosted its first Self Care Shakedown for youth development professionals. By all measures, the event was a success! We were at capacity, and all attendees brought their best selves to an afternoon of challenging internal work. The premise behind the Shakedown is that getting further along in our self care is not a matter of “doing more.” We won’t really be taking better care of ourselves if all we aspire to is to be able to go to the gym more often, meditate for longer, or get more massages. No: The self care journey is about transformation. It’s about figuring out and committing to a new way of being in the world. That’s why it’s a shakedown: We aren’t messing around here! (more…)

How does love inform your work?

I’ve been staring a lot of sacred cows in the eye lately, and it’s been a very productive exercise. In my last post I wrote about empowerment; today I feel like taking on the subject of love. No matter how tough our actual job situations get, youth service professionals firmly maintain our love for the work and the people we serve: “I love working with youth!” “I love my young people.” What do we actually mean by the word ‘love’? More precisely, I should ask, what do you mean when you say the word ‘love’?

There’s been a lot written around the languages of love, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. While it’s interesting to figure out whether you express love through words, action, etc., I’m trying to get at something deeper still: your very definition of ‘Iove.’ In other words, when you tell someone “I love you,” or you prepare a meal for your loved one, or you give someone a hug, what is your intention? (And please don’t say, “To show love,” because that would be circular reasoning.)

If you can’t answer this question, I suggest you take some time to put together your own personal definition of love because this is too important a term to throw around lightly. My interest in love is not born of intellectual curiosity. This has to do with practice. Knowing what you actually mean when you claim to bring love to your work has several very concrete advantages. (more…)

Measuring subtle successes

Old readers will know that I’ve spent a great deal of time working with my Emerging Leaders on establishing self care practices in their lives. We adopted the habit of opening our meetings up with a guided meditation, which everyone really loved. But I wasn’t sure how easy it would be for my young people to take these practices home with them, so to speak, because let’s face it: it’s not easy for anyone to transform their lives. At the start of my own efforts toward mindfulness and wellness, I would begin doing something like yoga or meditation with a lot of enthusiasm, but if something urgent came up, such as a big work project, all that would go to the wayside. Eventually, I found my way into my own rhythm of integrating yoga, meditation, cardio, and strength training into my life, but it’s taken years to get here. For me, it wasn’t so much finding the time for it all, but accepting the fact that I am probably never going to be someone who will have an established routine for all this. I do what I have the energy for in whatever combination I find appealing on any given day.

Since I’ve been approaching my youth work with a very light touch this year, I haven’t pointedly been asking my young people if they’ve been practicing self care. I don’t want to hound them about anything, because at the end of the day, I trust that whatever is meant to stick with them from all the things that have come out our time together, will take root. We like to celebrate the big victories, of course: graduations, college scholarships, first jobs, etc. But I count the subtler shifts in my young people’s lives as triumphs that are just as significant as external milestones, because what goes on under the hood lays the foundation for everything else. How I love to see these sprouts break ground. Such a moment happened just this morning.



Project and people management

This summer has been one long learning opportunity for the Emerging Leaders and me. With everyone’s schedules shifting over the summer, it’s been challenging getting regular meetings together, so it’s taken an extra toll on me to keep everyone abreast. The ridiculousness of the situation really stands out as I type that last sentence. Why is it my job always to be herding cats?

The obvious answer that it took me months to arrive at is: It isn’t. This year has been a crash course in management, which is very distinct from leadership (last year’s lesson). Just because a process appears plain and simple to me does not mean it will be readily adopted by my young people.

Something as simple as group communication is a cumbersome process. In my twenties email was—and continues for me today—to be the easiest way to communicate, both socially and professionally. To be honest, we are still trying to determine what platform works best for group communication. For a long while the temporary solution was redundancy: I would send out a group email, a group text, and then follow up with individual texts and phone calls.

This eventually became unsustainable on all sorts of levels for me. The upside of me going virtually insane from all this coordination work is that it forced me to take to heart certain management lessons (with many, many thanks to my husband—my acting CTO and executive coach): (more…)