8 Fearless Questions
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 0:10
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we uncover what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. Well, Marsha, I can't believe we're already into December. I feel like this year is just flying by and yet, I feel like my grandmother when I say that.
Marsha Clark 0:33
I know. Well, the older you get, the faster it all goes by. So it has been a whirlwind and in the best of ways, and a whirlwind nonetheless.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 0:41
Yes, and I love our plan for episodes this month. They're going to involve deep reflections and reviews in preparation for the new year.
Marsha Clark 0:51
Well, I do too, Wendi. And we purposely time this particular episode as people are going into wrapping up one year and thinking about what's true for the next year. And I think we've got some wonderful episodes planned, and certainly starting with today's contents. I have to say it highlights the work of one of my favorite authors, Meg Wheatley, or Margaret Wheatley. And, you know, I discovered her work in the early 90's. Her book entitled "Leadership and the New Science" was and is one of my favorite leadership books. And I read the first edition in the 90's. And I read her second edition, she had made enough changes, it was actually a part of my graduate school program and I gained an even greater appreciation of her research and her work. And because I was on her mailing list, I received notice that she had created a new DVD, if anybody remembers that old technology. And I ordered it, and I loved it. And I would have friends and colleagues over for movie night. And we had some great conversations, amazing conversations and insights. And, you know, at the first chance that I had, the next program that we started, I added it to the Power of Self curriculum. And that was in 2010. And, you know, even Meg's bio on the back of her, you know she wrote another book called "Who Do We Choose to Be", is a beautiful reflection of the kind of person that she is. It says and I quote this: "Margaret Wheatley began caring about the world's peoples in 1966 as a Peace Corps volunteer in postwar Korea. In many different roles, speaker, teacher, consultant, advisor, former leader, she has developed an unshakable confidence that leaders must invoke people's inherent generosity, creativity and need for community and as this world tears us apart, saying leadership on behalf of the human spirit is the only way forward. And she's written nine books, including the classic "Leadership and the New Science", and she has been honored for her groundbreaking work by many professional associations, universities and organizations."
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 3:07
Wow. So please read that part again about the role of leaders.
Marsha Clark 3:11
I know. I love it. We talk about chill factor, it gives me chills. So she has developed an unshakable confidence that leaders must invoke people's inherent generosity, creativity and need for community as the world tears us apart, saying leadership on behalf of the human spirit is the only way forward.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 3:35
Wow. I mean, what an incredible testament to a lifetime of inviting people to expand and push beyond their conventional thinking.
Marsha Clark 3:45
Well, it's one of the reasons I love introducing other people to her that aren't familiar with her, her work. And, you know, we incorporate these eight fearless questions in our programs and coaching as part of the process of having our program participants or clients create a compelling personal vision. It's very personal to sit with these questions over the period of a few days, and maybe even one question a day to help us dig deeper into our purpose and intentions. I love it. And I found that anyone I presented these questions to also find them highly provocative (you know that's one of my favorite) and poignant. And so for the purpose of our episodes today, we're going to lean heavily on Meg's own words and examples as she presented them in her DVD or her video that we use in the class.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 4:33
Yeah, and I'll admit that going through the Power of Self Program I had never heard of Meg Wheatley before we watched this video or talked about these eight fearless questions. But this is one of those reflective exercises that as you were just talking, I just put a note in my journal to to to walk through these questions again because I think this is really timely being in December. For those of you who start thinking about what is, what are my goals for next year, what is my new year gonna look like? I hate the word resolutions. But I like the word, how am I going to improve? How am I going to gain? And these questions are so awesome.
Marsha Clark 5:16
Well, you know, we often talk about powerful questions and these are. (Right). You can ask yourself 14 times and you can have 14 different answers. And to me that indicates the strength and the power of these questions, and though our answers may change over time I think that's an important part to do it annually or at some frequency.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 5:35
Okay, so here they are. Marsha is going to break down all eight questions. First, she's going to state them, state what the questions are, and then she's going to break down each one into more detail.
Marsha Clark 5:45
Yeah. So question one, does the world need me to be fearless? The second one is, who do I choose to be for this world? The third is how do I name myself? We'll have some fun with that one. The fourth is can I bear witness to what is, what is present, what is true? Can I work with what's available? Number six, can I give up needing to make a difference? (My most difficult.) Seven, how do I imprison myself? And eight, how do I offer my work?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 6:30
Okay, these are goosebump giving. So let's take them one by one and unpack what each question is trying to get us to explore.
Marsha Clark 6:39
All right, that's perfect. All right. So question number one is, does the world need (and I put emphasis on need) me to be fearless? And you know, Meg emphasizes that this question is really fundamentally about how we might dig deeper and look for opportunities to operate differently in a world that is really looking for us to step up and step out of our comfort zones, our protected spaces, our safe places, right. And when she says world, she is talking at both the micro and the macro level from your closest loved ones, to your organization, to your community, to the world at large. And she guides us to ask, quote, "Whether something more is required of you. The ability to remain peaceful, the ability to help others, the ability to be a calm place in a rather stormy and frequently insane world." End quote.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 7:36
So how long ago did she write these questions, because they seem like really relevant today.
Marsha Clark 7:43
Yeah, yeah. So we've been using in the class for over a decade, so at least that long. And yes, that's again, the evidence of a powerful question because they're just as relevant today. And I find it a little unsettling at how prescient she was as she was asking these questions. And her approach is also just both inviting and convicting at the same time. And she, I would say, gently offers that each of us can come up with our own answer to this question. I can't give you your answer and you can't give me mine, the question of whether something more is required of me. And then she turns around in the same breath and encourages us to look around and notice whether new behaviors are called for on your part, whether more is required of you now just because the world is in such turbulence and because the people around us, more frequently than not, are really suffering more and dealing with greater issues than in the past. And just think about all the headlines around mental health. I mean, there it is.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 8:48
Right. So is more required of me now in response to our turbulent world and increased suffering of others. How does she say that, quote, "Look around and notice if new behaviors are needed on my part"? I mean, of course they're needed. Who wouldn't see that need? As you said, it's on the news almost every night. So.
Marsha Clark 9:12
Yeah, it is Wendi. And, you know, I have to admit, there are nights I can't turn on the news because it's so overwhelming. And you know, the news of the turbulence, the suffering, the chaos, you know, really what is happening in the world, and it's accessible to virtually everyone. Yet the power for me in Meg's question is does the world need me, me, Marsha Clark, to be fearless? Does the world need me to step out of my comfort zone and do the hard things to be fearless? So, in our video, Meg shares a quote from Rudolf Bahro, and I think it really drives this point home. Bahro said and this is a quote "When an old culture is dying, the new culture is born from a few people who are not afraid to be insecure." So when you think about, you know, when an old culture is dying, so just think about this from a generational perspective. I'm in the baby boomer generation. We were the largest generation on record, and we changed everything in this country and dare I say, considered around the world. And we're dying. (Yep.) And there's new people coming up. If you look at, for example, the percentage of generations in our Congress, compared to the generations in our general population, it's so distorted. (Right.) So the new culture is born from a few people who are not afraid to be insecure. I mean, that's a beautiful quote. And, you know, I think it's a direct challenge to our complacency. It tests our values. Am I someone who says I advocate for women and children from the safety of my computer keyboard or am I going to be someone who steps front and center, you know, into the circles that I influence, my network, and am I going to disrupt that quiet, comfortable, well manicured life with the reality of battered women or trafficked children? And, you know, Meg wraps up this question with what almost feels like a battle cry, you know, when I hear it. And she says we will never be in the majority. Fearless people, courageous people will never be in the majority. But that's not really how the world changes. It changes from the few of us who are willing to step forward with our doubts, with our lack of capacity, with feeling that we're not good enough to do this brave work. We're willing to do the work with that insecurity. We're not going to let our our insecurity stop us.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 11:46
Feeling that we're not good enough to do this brave work, but we're not willing to let our insecurity stop us. That, that's just, wow. I think that's really resonating in my head. I'm having some things that I'm working on outside of, you know, podcasting world and some days I wake up, and I do feel anxiety and scared. And but yet, I'm not willing to let those insecurities stop me. It's just another day, just another step forward. I mean, okay, that's just the first question, I'm already sweating. Alright, second question is, who do I choose to be for this world? And she really emphasizes the power of choice here in this question, that regardless of how we're currently living our life, whether it's a life of service or risk for others, or it's a life of retreat and comfort, I mean, it's all a choice.
Marsha Clark 12:44
That's right. You know, once again, she goes straight to the point. And she compels us to consider how we are choosing to live our lives. And she's primarily reminding us that our choices are in response to the world around us. And we can either stick with the status quo and not change or challenge anything, just business as usual, bau as I hear it these days, and we can look away from what's happening around us. We can stick our head in the sand, so to speak, and just pretend that everything's fine and, you know, at least placate ourselves by believing that it wouldn't make a difference if we got involved anyway.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 13:19
Right. I'm thinking about this as what I call bubble bath thinking, just trying to escape the problems of the world by soaking in a tub with a glass of wine, a few candles, and, you know, some nice Enya or whatever on the, on the stereo.
Marsha Clark 13:36
I mean, and that is to Meg's point. It's a choice. Who do I choose to be for this world? Now you know, if my choice is to serve and step forward in support of something bigger than myself, something for the greater good, then I might actually need an occasional bubble bath to rejuvenate, replenish, you know, reenergize and so on to ground or center myself in preparation for that serving. So I don't want our listeners to hear that don't take care of yourself. But you also said, Wendi, that this is perpetual. I never leave my protective bubble. (Right.) And that too, is a choice. And, you know, this is a clarion call for honesty and clarity. Meg is really clear here when she reminds us all that who we choose to be for this world is a very essential question and that we do make a choice here. And she also reinforces that it's important to be conscious of the choice that we may have already made. And if you find yourself withdrawn, then you can choose again. What's my message? There's no such thing as a last choice because there's always a next choice. And if you find you're already stepping out to serve in different ways and now you're exhausted and overwhelmed, it's important to reconsider that choice as well. But just be firm in knowing that we do have a choice.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 14:59
This conversation is reminding me of your first book with Dottie Gandy "Choose: The Role That Choice Plays in Shaping Women's Lives". And the idea again, as you just said, that there never is a last choice. There's, there's just the next choice. We have the ability to choose again, and how empowering and yet terrifying at the same time that is. (Sweaty palms.) Right.
Marsha Clark 15:23
Well, thank you for, you know, reminding our listeners of that book. And I just want to say, even though we have a choice, it may be hard. It may be uncomfortable. It may require me to admit I'm wrong or swallow my pride. And yet, there's always that next choice.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 15:41
Yes. So this third Eight Fearless Questions question is so intriguing to me. How do I name myself? That sounded so odd to me the first time I heard you say that question out loud. And but then after I thought about it in terms of identity and personal branding, it clicked for me as a marketing person, and made sense. So I think this is huge for women, especially to consider how we want to intentionally and mindfully name ourselves.
Marsha Clark 16:14
And Wendi, I agree on all counts, everything that you said. It does sound odd at first, and you know, what do you mean, how do I name myself? I already have a name. You know, and I may even have, already have a title or two or three. And I'm Marsha, I'm an author. I'm a coach. I'm a facilitator. I'm a leader. I'm a mom, I'm a Mimi, I'm a friend. I'm a partner.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 16:30
I mean, and a podcaster.
Marsha Clark 16:32
That's right. Yes, that's right. And what Meg is calling us to consider with this question is how our names for ourselves, these titles, are reflections of our identity, our story of who we are. So does author tell my whole story? No. Does coach? No. Does podcaster? No. So what name or title is really adequate to represent all the things that I am? And what would it look like or sound like to have a name or a title that's more representative of my whole self? And, you know, she shares a story in her video about one of her colleagues who was emphatic that we need to be careful about how we name ourselves. And his opinion is that we often choose a name that is too small to contain a whole life.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 17:24
Yeah, this gets me every time I think about it, the idea that even our names for ourselves create or perpetuate limits or self limiting beliefs.
Marsha Clark 17:34
And this question is generally one that generates a whole lot of discussion around it for that for the very reason that you're describing. And what would it look like to choose a name for ourselves that sheds those limits, and that really opens up possibilities. And Meg takes it a step further here and suggests that in the context of fearlessness, we need to find a name for ourselves that summons us to be fearless. She challenges us to look critically at our typical titles, whatever they are, coach, teacher, author, podcaster, and so on. And then she asks, Are these names big enough to actually summon us to be fearless?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 18:14
So Marsha, may I ask a personal question? (Yes.) What's your name for yourself?
Marsha Clark 18:18
My name is that I am a social justice warrior for women and girls.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 18:23
Look at that. And that summons someone to be fearless. I love that, love that.
Marsha Clark 18:30
You know, Meg shares in the DVD that she did, that she has worked with many people who call themselves, you know what she describes as noble names like spiritual warriors. That's where in fact you know, this social justice warrior came to me, or warriors of the heart. And she goes on to explain that the word warrior might be off putting to some because of the violence associated with being a warrior. But then she offers a different perspective on what it means to be a warrior in maybe some other cultures or traditions. And she offers that in the Buddhist tradition and in many other traditions, the concept of a warrior like a samurai warrior, is one who protects the culture, one who protects the essence of being human. That is the part that of course appeals to me. Or the Tibetan word for warrior is one who is brave.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 19:22
Yeah, I love that. I have warrior involved in my name also.
Marsha Clark 19:26
So tell us what yours is. Come on, now.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 19:28
Okay, so mine is warrior water witch. And it's warrior in that I fight for what I believe in and I'm willing to step into a conflict if it's so required. Water is because water shows up and is shaped by its environment and it's flexible. So if it's cold, it's ice. If it's hot, it's steam. If it's normal, it's running. It's still, it can run over terrain, it can adapt, it has adaptability. And then witch because witches create their own magic and create the world that they want to be. So that is my little mantra of warrior water witch. Trying to decide whether or not to get a tattoo about that one, but then that's a whole other podcast.
Marsha Clark 20:24
Yes, yes, yes. And let's just be real, it's not an insignificant task to, to name ourselves. (Right.) And, you know, to consider a name that as Meg puts it really calls you forth into the world. (Yes.) I can't sit on my couch and watch TV and commiserate all day. It demands something more of us and it calls forth our courage and our fearlessness. It's deeply personal and substantial. So it's an assignment that I acknowledge for our leaders, that we're not taking, we're not taking lightly.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 20:56
Yes, exactly. So Okay, question number four. Can I bear witness to what is? This one hurt me. Like I, when I read that, can I bear witness to what is, my brain goes to all the suffering in the world.
Marsha Clark 21:14
You know, I so get that because I struggle here as well. And yet, the more I thought about it, and the more I lived in it, lived in the question, it makes sense to me. So Meg breaks this question down into two different aspects. The first is my ability and our willingness to truly stay aware and engaged with reality even when the messages of the world swirling all around me are quite harsh. And I like how she puts it, to look reality in the eye and practice non denial, not to defend, rationalize, justify, diminish, or any of that. She asks a few reality check questions that I find helpful to stay present and bear witness. And the first one is, are we willing to take in things that we don't want to know about?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 22:09
Ah, yes, you know, that's where that pain comes for me.
Marsha Clark 22:13
It is. And you know, then she presses on with when someone presents us with information that is disturbing or discomforting that really challenges some idea that we've had or some view of a person we've had or some sense of what's really going on, what do we do with that information? Do we push it away? Do we ignore it? Do we say no, that's not true. Or do we just bear witness to it and say, Hmm, maybe I need to let this in.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 22:40
You know, Marsha, I'll be honest with this. This is really, again, pain, fatiguing, trying to stay open to people or information that's either contrary to beliefs or values or are just heartbreaking in their contrarian nature to my beliefs and values. It's just easier to what did she say, just push them away or ignore them. Yes, please. I'll take ignore them for $500.
Marsha Clark 23:11
Right. And I get it. I really do. I mean, what did I say just a moment ago, I don't watch the news sometimes because I have to get away from it. (Right.) I have to take a day and just, you know, not be wallowing in that. And it can be exhausting, you know, to juggle protecting our own boundaries and avoiding toxic situations, and along with the idea of remaining open to what is real. And that's part of what makes the question fearless is holding the question with curiosity and asking what else could be true, you know, one of our favorite leadership questions, and it's an invitation to consider things in a different way.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 23:48
Yes, well, and I like that idea of considering things in a different way maybe that doesn't require me to be the one to fix it. I think that's where my pain comes from is that I'm trying to think of, okay, how can I fix this? And then that becomes a big undertaking.
Marsha Clark 24:09
I get that too. If you're a problem solver and have a sense of responsibility, I think that feeling goes exponentially higher. Now, I also want to remind you and our listeners that, you know, Meg has a second perspective on this particular fearless question of can I bear witness to what is.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 24:27
Yeah, that's right. And and I'm still processing the first one.
Marsha Clark 24:32
This is probably an episode you'll want to listen to multiple. (Yes, yeah.) We never said this was going to be easy. I just want to remind everyone of that. So the second definition of bearing witness that Meg shares is asking if we are willing to stand with people who are in distress, or who are suffering, or who are having a hard time. We don't stand with them to fix them. We don't try to solve their problems for them. But we're simply willing to be there with them.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 25:06
Yes. Okay. So that makes all this a little bit easier for me. I used to try to, as I said earlier, solve or my brain is going to solving or fixing, but now I can just sit and be with other people in their "stuff", stuff in quotation marks, without trying to make it my stuff.
Marsha Clark 25:24
Right, taking it on. I'm glad that that eases yours and I hope it does the same for our listeners. And it's not easy for everyone to get there. And, you know, Meg cautions that even professionals like consultants and coaches and therapists, they can get caught up in that helpfulness trap and thinking that we are responsible for helping the other person, you know. She's adamant that bearing witness is not about being helpful. It's about being willing to just be with people with great trust and with great support. And this is a nugget, knowing that their own healing is theirs to discover. And I often add, you know, maybe an embellished sentiment, it's about, am I willing to allow others to do the work that is theirs to do? I can't do it for them. (Right.) And this includes self awareness, emotional, and even psychological work that needs to be done.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 26:26
Right. I love that and just being with people, supporting them and trusting that they're on their own journey of discovering for healing. Okay, so the fifth question seems like a practical one at face value. It's, can I work with what's available? But of course, to be a fearless question, there's more than just, you know, logistics planning here. There has to be more to this.
Marsha Clark 26:52
Of course, of course. In fact, Meg actually says in her video that there is something deeper in this question, so you picked up on it right away. She challenges us to consider that what ever resources are currently available to us, are these resources in fact, sufficient to get started with whatever we think we need to do? She goes so far as to make what she calls a bold assertion that our world is rich in resources no matter if it is filled with problems, filled with lost opportunities. It always provides enough for us to get started. And she offers a few examples of how easy it is to fall into this deficit mentality. And this is where regardless of how much we say we believe in this cause or that we convince ourselves that we don't have the time or the energy or the resources to take anything else on, that's a part of where that deficit comes in. And I learned something from my dear friend, LeeAnn Mallory. And she used to do this exercise. And she would take a chair like a kitchen chair, and she would tie her leg to the chair. And she would say, imagine that this chair was bolted to the floor. And I would think I am stuck, I cannot move, right. And so I do a visual imagery of this. And the leg that's tied to the chair doesn't move, but I move my other leg and I move both my arms and I wave my hands and I nod my head and I bend over at the waist and all of those things because I may not be able to move my left leg that's tied to that chair, but look at all the other places where I can move. And that, to me, is where I want to push back on that deficit mentality. You know, with the question, can I work with what's available? How can I use what is available with the time I do have, or the energy or the resources to address whatever situation is? And it's a sobering question that forces us to really examine not only our true motives, but our excuses as well.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 28:56
Right. So moving on to question number six, can I give up the needing to make a difference? And this one is a little difficult for me. Can I give up needing to make a difference. The examples she gives in the video for this are really powerful so I hope you can share a few of them if not all of them, because I wouldn't know which one to delete.
Marsha Clark 29:21
Well, I think we can include all three and I agree they're very powerful illustrations of this fearless question. So she starts answering this question by sharing her own personal experience, and one that most of us may have in common with her. And it's this deep seated desire to make a difference with our work. And in fact, she often uses a variation on the question to ask, can I give up needing to save the world? You know, because that's really taken to its extreme and it's a slippery slope when our egos get involved and start feeding our need to be a hero or a heroine to rush in and save the day and you know, Meg asks some pretty pointed questions here to help us check ourselves. And she starts with the basic question, do we need our work to make a difference? And then she gets down to the heart of the question. Do we do what we do because we want applause, because we want fame, because we want the deep satisfaction of helping another person. Do we do our work because we really do want to make a difference? Do we want, at the end of our lives, to be able to look back and say, I really accomplished something, my life meant something to other people. Look what I did. I helped this group of people or whatever.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 30:38
Okay, this is a reality check. I mean, most of us would say, yes, we want our work to be meaningful, we want to make a difference in life, we want to leave a legacy, we want to have made an impact. And I think that's becoming more and more important to people, especially now,
Marsha Clark 30:57
I agree. And you're really also touching on a cultural trait when you think about the Western world. And Meg describes it as being deep within us because we have grown up being told we need to make a difference and make a contribution. And we need to feel that our work needs to be valued by others and that it needs to create value in the world, especially true for people like you and myself who do the type of work that we do. We're trying to help and support people. But that expectation or assumption that our work has to make a difference, it has to have lasting positive impact, and that we have to see the results of our efforts for ourselves, is a bit problematic.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 31:38
Okay. Why is that, because it comes from an intention or a desire of goodness.
Marsha Clark 31:45
But it's because it's not that linear or that tidy, and it sets us up for disappointment when it doesn't work out as we expected. So it's kind of like she has a phrase in the video, and it says, when we invite praise into our life, we also have to be willing to receive criticism. Yeah? So one of the stories that, you know, you alluded to earlier as being a powerful example of this is a group of Meg's colleagues were working with the Dalai Lama. And they were lamenting over the state of the world, which again, even though she said it many years ago, could be just as true today as it was then. But they were sharing their concerns and frustrations. And the Dalai Lama said to them, Oh, don't despair. Your work will bear fruit in about 700 years.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 32:35
Okay, 700 years? I mean, can you imagine being told you can expect the results of all of the work of your life won't show up for hundreds of years? I think this story blew me away the first time I heard it. And I remember thinking no, I don't really I mean, everyone, no one will even know my name. No, no, it will be beyond caring. And who has that kind of patience?
Marsha Clark 33:00
Yeah, not many. And I think your thoughts, my thoughts, and many of our listeners today will find that to be not unacceptable. I mean, a part of it is because we've grown up in a call it a consumer, no delayed gratification culture. I want it, I want it now. What have you done? What have you done for me lately? (Right.) You know, I think those are the places from where our discomfort is born.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 33:24
Yeah. And this is starting to sound really personal.
Marsha Clark 33:28
I know. I'm with you on that. And you know, for me, the impatience was more about wanting the results for other people, for my clients, my clients today, not some civilization 700 years in the future. (Right.) But that's when I had to slow down and listen, and even re-listen to what Meg was saying. I appreciated that she shared how freeing it was for her to hear the Dalai Lama's response. For her, she said, maybe it's a function of getting older to realize that things won't work out as well as we intended when we were in our 20's or 30's. And that still, there is a great sense of peace that comes with realizing that at some point, our work will make a difference, that we're planting seeds, and we're starting the ripples.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 34:14
Planting seeds, starting ripples. Okay, sitting with the idea that someday our work will may make a difference, I mean, this is definitely talking about the long game. And I'm just gonna have to admit I'm a work in progress on this one.
Marsha Clark 34:30
Well, and I am too. Yeah, so that's fair enough. And I will say that the other two examples that Meg uses in the video really helped me appreciate this fearlessness question of can I give up needing to make a difference even more so. In her second example, she told the story of Thomas Merton and he is a theologian who was writing to a friend and fellow theologian who was in despair, this many, many years ago. Merton wrote, "Do not depend on the hope of results. When you're doing the sort of work you have taken on, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless, and even achieve no results at all. If not, perhaps results opposite to what you expect." Now I'm gonna reread this letter, because I'm sure our listeners are thinking they misheard what Merton wrote. So here it is, again. Do not depend on the hope of results. When you're doing the sort of work you have taken on, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all. If not, perhaps results opposite to what you expect.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 35:44
Wow. I'm feeling motivated now!
Marsha Clark 35:47
Well, (not) Yeah, I don't think Merton was exactly Zig Ziglar at all. And you know, that's what Meg points out in her her video. Your work will be apparently worthless, no one will see its value. And it possibly won't achieve any result at all. Or even worse, it might create results opposite of what you want. It seems so so harsh and pessimistic. But this, you know, Meg brings it to the front with a breakthrough idea. She shared, you know, we know this is true. That's her words. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more, this is where the real nuggets are, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness and the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through as you gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow and it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything. And there's one last thing that Meg adds about what she appreciates from Merton's perspective, how when you stop worrying about the results, and focus more and more on the rightness of the work, the work feels clear and appropriate. And you know, maybe the most ironic thing she shared here was that in her own studies of the work of great activists, all of them abandoned hope of results and just got clearer and clearer about the work that was theirs to do.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 37:29
Wow. Okay. So it's really a lesson in letting go, isn't it? I mean, the so the more I can let go of my expectations of certain results, I can actually just relax into the work itself to focus on the rightness of the work. And I love that part.
Marsha Clark 37:48
I do too. And that's a part of where it began to really make better sense to me. And this brings us to the last story that Meg shares related to this sixth fearless question. She tells a story from Bernice Johnson Reagon. And she was a civil rights activist working directly with Martin Luther King. And a little fun fact about Ms. Reagon is that she's also a singer with a group that's entitled Sweet Honey on the Rock, which is wonderful. I love their music. And I was introduced to it by a Power of Self program participant years ago. I digress, but I wanted to offer that up. So Ms. Reagon shared what life was like for the protesters. They would organize, march, protest and then she said someone would get shot and killed and everyone would go back to their homes. Meg continued the story explaining that according to Bernice, the protesters would mourn and grieve, go to the funeral, and then they'd go back out onto the streets and do it all over again, literally, risking their lives. And that's when Bernice, reflected Ms. Reagon, I look back on it now and think what were we thinking? We were crazy to do that. And this is a line that just stops me in my tracks. But you know, when you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, it's somebody else's job to kill you.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 39:16
Oh my gosh. Okay, let's say that one again because that's not a throwaway line.
Marsha Clark 39:20
When you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, it's somebody else's job to kill you. Now, I mean, that stops me in my tracks for all of the obvious reason. And then I began to say so what am I supposed to do with this, right? And the way I think about it in what I would describe as every day practical terms, think about this as it's somebody's job to kill your idea, to kill your spirit, to damage your reputation, to reduce your team or your budget, and that's how I can make sense of this in the world that I live in every day. And then it is. It's not literally kill me and yet it's killing me slowly.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 40:01
Yeah, I've got goosebumps over this. And it's also reminding me of a line. And I can't remember who said it or where I read it. But it's, you know you've got to be doing something when they're shooting 'atcha.
Marsha Clark 40:13
Yeah, yeah, that's right. That's right.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 40:16
And it's inspiring.
Marsha Clark 40:17
It is. And you know, and after Meg relays this story, she adds up her own summation. When I raise this question of, can I give up needing to make a difference, what I'm really directing your attention towards is this place of liberation, clarity, knowing what work is ours to do and feeling liberated to do it because no matter what we're gonna stay engaged with the issue. And this is what I've discovered gives people the ability to persevere long term. You find your reward in the work itself and the relationships that you form. And yes, it would be lovely if we're changing the world. But even if we're not, we know we're doing the work that feels right and appropriate for us. And we're doing it paying attention to all the people we care about, to whom hopefully, we're extending our love and compassion as we do this work.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 41:09
Yeah, I know, I'm not supposed to have a favorite question but this one has just moved up towards the top of the eight for me, just by having this conversation. So speaking of eight, we are one away. This is question number seven, which is, how do we imprison ourselves?
Marsha Clark 41:27
And when Meg introduces this question in her video, she has an image on the screen from Robben Island, where she explains Nelson Mandela and other future leaders of South Africa were imprisoned for dozens of decades of years. And then she poses the question, how do we imprison ourselves? And she goes on to clarify that while we're not technically in a prison or locked away, we are, she proposes, locked up for various reasons. She offers some great reflection questions to help us break out of that self induced prison, you know, that self talk. And these questions are designed to actually unlock the gates of our prison. How do I limit myself? Isn't that a huge one? I mean, how many times do I hear, well, I'm the only one. I'm the one that said I couldn't speak up. I'm the one who said I couldn't ask for help. I'm the one. And how do I keep myself from stepping forward? And what is it that troubles me so much about the world or myself that it prevents me from acting?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 42:29
How do I limit myself? How do I keep myself from stepping forward? And what was that third question?
Marsha Clark 42:36
What is it that troubles me so much about the world or myself that it prevents me from acting?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 42:45
Yeah, those are three, those are three more that I think need to be, you know, they're kind of sub questions within the eight. Yeah. I've really like that last one.
Marsha Clark 42:56
And you know, one of my favorite parts about Meg's response to this question is when she shares one of her favorite definitions of fearlessness. And the definition comes from Chogyam Trungpa, a Buddhist teacher who suggests that and this is a quote, "Fearlessness is not being afraid of who you are." And I want to say that again. Fearlessness is not being afraid of who you are. And, you know, then Meg asked another powerful reflection question which is, how much fear do we have of ourselves and how much does that limit us? She challenges us to think about ways in which we've already been fearless and we can go through our lives and track those.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 43:44
Right. And I think the questions that she offers here to explore this idea of our own fearlessness are really helpful, because she asked when have you stood up for something? When have you spoken out? When have you defended someone who needed defending? When have you said, enough of this. I'm going to take action.
Marsha Clark 44:05
And those are great prompts to help every one of us do a deeper exploration of both our own fearlessness and our ability to release those chains of self imprisonment.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 44:17
Okay, we made it to fearless question number eight. How do I offer my work?
Marsha Clark 44:23
And Meg describes this almost as the capstone or the summary question that pulls all of the others together. So how do I offer my work? Do I offer my work as a gift or do I offer my work needing to get something from it? Am I looking for approval to be liked or valued for all my hard work? And one of the things I enjoy the most with Meg's work is her holistic approach to bringing in philosophy, spirituality, contemporary role model leaders. So in her remarks about this final fearless question, she invokes the Buddha again, with a quote attributed to him. And I have said this to people and it just, again, you kind of go, oh. So his quote is "One third of the people will like you, one third of the people will hate you, and one third of the people don't even notice that you're on the planet." Does that give you some perspective?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 45:14
Okay, that's really humbling. I think the people that annoy me the most are the third that don't even notice. Like, I want people to either like me or hate me. But if they don't even notice me, that gives me a little irk.
Marsha Clark 45:27
I know. Yeah, makes you feel invisible, which does really. (Right.) So and I'm sure that's part of why Meg likes it and included it in the video. In fact, she shared that the quote that was personally helpful as a means of overcoming (and I want to emphasize this) and not taking very personally all the criticism that was just out there because I also wanted all the praise that was out there. And as I said a moment ago, when I invite praise, I'm also inviting criticism. When I invite hope, I'm also inviting fear, because those go hand in hand, right. And she goes on to add that in the Buddhist teaching on fearlessness, fearlessness is a great act of generosity. I think even that is an amazing statement. When they are talking about ways we can be generous with one another, offering the gift of fearlessness is one of the penultimate gifts. What does it mean to offer one's work as a gift? Well, here are some aspects of gift giving. If it's truly a gift, you give it with no strings attached. You don't need to be thanked, you don't need to be visible, you don't need to be honored and you don't need to know whether people appreciate the gift that you just gave them.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 46:38
Okay, this one does not seem realistic to me. I mean, most people just don't go around expecting gushing signs of appreciation, but at least they want to know that the other person liked the gift.
Marsha Clark 46:52
Yeah, I know, because we've spent so much time picking out just the right one. And that's why Meg refers to this as tough stuff. But it's not how we normally give gifts, you know. She acknowledges that there are always strings attached. Then she adds that, you know, this is true especially when it is our work. And she says we've spent so many years training, becoming professionals, really seeking to develop some subject matter expertise. So of course, we want people to notice that we're good at this or, you know, that we just encourage them to do is, what we just encourage them to do is really helpful and serve them well. So we really want feedback, right?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 47:30
Um hmm. Of course we want feedback, and we want positive feedback!
Marsha Clark 47:34
Yes, that's right. Again, you know, with praise comes criticism. So where her question, how do I offer my work, becomes a fearless question lies in there. Because if we're willing to offer our work as a gift (which doesn't mean we don't get paid for it because I've had men say, literally, I'm not going to work for nothing but that's think bigger, think more philosophically) it means we do offer our work with the hope that it will serve another person or an issue or a cause, and then letting it go, not even looking for praise or thanks, or looking for whether they appreciate it. And that's why it's the tough stuff. And, you know, here's the way I talk to my clients about this. You know, there's this guilt of I didn't do enough, I fell short. And I often bring this question up, did you do the very best that you could do? But there's another part to it, given everything else that you had to do? Because you know what, Wendi, if all of us everyday got up and we only had one thing to do in a day, we'd give it a 10,000% and it'd be awesome! But it's just the flip of that. I've got 10,000 things to do and only one day to do it. And so if you did the best you could do given everything you had to do, give yourself some grace.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 48:57
Yeah. Yeah. I love that you've put that caveat on there. And I love this episode that we've dug into these eight fearless questions, and I feel like we just completed a master's course in fearlessness. And I know that Meg Wheatley includes some final thoughts about going out into the world in a fearless way. And that might be a great way for us to wrap up today's episode. What do you think, Marsha?
Marsha Clark 49:22
I do. I agree with both about the opportunity to do the deeper dive in the questions and also about I want to pull Meg's closing thoughts because I think it's a great way to wrap up today. So rather than me try to paraphrase it, I'm going to read what she says directly: As we think about our own path into fearlessness, it's important to notice whether the future is speaking through you. Do you see things that other people are ignoring? Do you notice something going on that just doesn't feel right but everyone else is looking at that same thing and not noticing that anything is wrong? So many activists that I've spoken with, great, great world workers really, have said they knew they were right to take on this issue or this cause. But their neighbors and their family members kept saying, Oh, don't bother, why are you wasting your time? Why are you spending so much time? Why are you working so hard? Get a life! So many whistleblowers as well as activists have been told this. Just don't worry about this, no one else is worrying about it. And yet there are people through whom the future is speaking. And when the future speaks to you about better relationships, it speaks to you about more justice in the world, more equality. It speaks to you about things that you care about that could be improved, then this is the ruthless call of the future. The future is speaking ruthlessly, and I hope that it generates our fearlessness. But there's one last thing to say. When we are stepping out into the world and working on these different issues, when we're taking a stand, when we're acting with courage and bravery, we can't do this alone. The idea of the lone hero who charges the wall of the castle and saves the damsel in distress, that's just garbage. Activists of any kind work together. People who are exploring new regions work together. So paying attention to our relationships is foremost. And as the Thomas Merton letter said, in the end, it is the relationships with a few people that make one's life feel significant. There is a quote that I'd like to see on my tombstone, actually. "We were together. I forget the rest." And what that means to me, speaking as Meg Wheatley, is that at the end of my life, I want it to be clear that our relationships were all that mattered. That no matter what happens in the external world, whatever crisis we're about to face, if we could approach them with strong relationships, and with generosity, and compassion, and fearlessness, then the rest won't matter. The rest will just be details because the essence of life is in these relationships.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 52:22
The future is speaking ruthlessly and I hope that it generates our fearlessness. (Yes.) That is just goosebump worthy, unbelievable. And the tombstone quote, I actually got, I am actually tearing up. We were together. I forget the rest. I mean, wow.
Marsha Clark 52:43
You know, I get speechless at these moments and not knowing if there are the right words or enough words are big enough meaning words that to really capture this. But, you know, to be in relationship as an integral part of our fearless journey is for me, you know, what makes it all worth it. It's who I choose to hang out with. It's who I choose to be with. It's who I choose to do life with. And, you know, I mean, this seems appropriate to say right this minute, thank you for being my partner and such an important part of this fearlessness journey that you're on, that I'm on, and that I hope our listeners will sign on to.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 53:22
Yes, we were together. I forget the rest. Oh, my God. Oh, my goodness. Okay, everyone, you've got to go back and listen to this again, and share it. So thank you, listeners, for joining us today on this journey of authentic powerful leadership. Please download, subscribe and share this podcast. There's so much power in these episodes. Marsha has just got so much, so much to share here. Please visit her website at marshaclarkandassociates.com, get her book, subscribe to her email, get the links to all the tools and resources that we talked about today. There will be something on the site about Meg Wheatley and the eight fearless questions. Please go back and listen to this again, write them down, spend some time over the holidays reflecting on these and crafting, you know, how you want to show up in 2023.
Marsha Clark 54:18
Well, I think not only crafting what we want to be in 2023 (and beyond) and beyond and even to get through the holidays. I mean, what's important? Yeah, we were together. Right? I mean, even thinking about it in near term, mid term, long term timeframes, I think it can give us pause to get clearer. And that's my wish for our listeners coming out of today, that it is the, you know, peeling back the pieces and parts that we've been conditioned to be or expected to be or should be, all those things that I encourage us to shed and be who we were meant to be, being our most fearless self, our possibilities are unlimited selves and not playing small in the world. And anybody who wants to come be another social justice warrior for women and girls, bring it on.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 55:09
We have t shirts.
Marsha Clark 55:12
If not, we will get t shirts! And I, again, I think this is a beautiful part of us being together. I forget the rest. And that is what I close with every single time which is here's to women supporting women!