This year, rather than setting a goal, creating a vision board, or making a New Years resolution, consider choosing a single word to serve as a guidepost for the year. Jason Fox calls it a fuzzy contextual beacon. I call it my touchstone – a lodestar set by a wiser, better, future version of me that can guide my wanderings and growth this year.
Last year I was a Ranger. I was a dash of Indiana Jones blended with Aragorn from Lord of the Rings wearing my jaunty Indiana Jones hat. I was a hidden king, a guide through the wilderness, a healer, ever present and mindful (as opposed to frantic and overwhelmed), a wanderer, a defender of science and history against dark forces, a fighter with a hint of magic.
How did it go?
On the whole, amazingly well I think! We wandered far and wide through ten national parks over the spring and summer, then across Europe this fall. My healing powers were honed through training and certification with the Center for Mind Body Medicine. While I still have lots of room to grow, I am ever so much more practiced at adopting a hunter’s mindset – living as fully as possible in the moment like a hunter, attuned to my senses, emotion, and intuition. I gathered powerful, life-sustaining allies and built enriching communities. Most importantly in these uncertain pandemic times, I was able to let go of my well formulated, meticulously planned, goal-directed mindset and take the wandering path of the explorer when navigating uncertainty and risk. My husband hardly recognizes that part of me.
2022 shall be the year of the Bard.
The Bardic Backstory
A bard is a storyteller. The origins of the word are found in the Old Celtic languages: 'bardo' or 'bard' meaning a 'poet-singer,' which introduced the word into English as a 'strolling minstrel'. My favorite definition of bard of course comes from Dungeons and Dragons which describes a bard as “a master of song, speech, and the magic they contain… Every adventure is an opportunity to learn, practice a variety of skills, enter long-forgotten tombs, discover lost words of magic, decipher old tomes, travel to strange places, or encounter exotic creatures.”
This year, I shall take inspiration from William Shakespeare’s word wizardry, Lin Manuel Miranda’s creative power, Amanda Gorman’s charismatic eloquence, and Audrey Hepburn’s vulnerable grace. There’s inner music within me that feels like it’s meant to burst forth into the world.
My life and experiences have been wide and varied. Here’s a list of five words that characterize the major facets of my identity, each earned in different chapters of my life history:
Neuroscientist - earned in my PhD program at UC San Francisco
Human - earned as a wife, mom, dancer, paddle boarder, traveler, and member of the human race trying to survive this 21st century world
Teacher - earned through my work as a middle school teacher and college professor in my early career
Facilitator (aka community builder) - earned as a peer counselor, resident assistant, and ropes course leader throughout high school and graduate school
Leader - earned as a Department Chair, Nonprofit Leader, Principal / Superintendent, and now Leadership Coach in my later career
Yet each of these identities has always been dissociated and walled off from the others, as if each was separate garment to wear at different times. In my own Mr. Roger’s way, when I went into the lab as a neuroscientist, I’d take off the dirty but well loved sweatshirt that I had worn on a ropes course over the weekend and don a crisp, clean lab coat instead. When I came home at the end of a long day as a principal, I traded my sleek, boardroom-appropriate suit jacket for a soft, fuzzy bathrobe. It wasn’t until the Center for Mind Body Medicine entered my life that I was able to unite these separate identities into a single, integrated, authentic, whole.
There, I began to see relationships between my different identities. My neuroscientific knowledge had once seemed like a completely separate construct from meditation. Mindful breathing, body scan, imagery, safe place, wise guide, etc. were all just meditations I’d tried with no context or framework to hold them together. Putting meditation and neuroscience together has given the meditations a framework on which to hang, kind of like removing all the random kitchen tools from a messy drawer and organizing them for the first time by form and function. I now know which mindfulness tool is best for my brain and body at any time. When I’m acutely stressed, soft belly breathing is the best because that directly activates the parasympathetic nervous system to bring me back to baseline. When I’m filled with self-doubt, then safe place/wise guide quiets the limbic system and brings my cortex back online so that I can move forward with clarity and purpose. The fabric of my neuroscientist lab coat and my human bathrobe were quilted together into a single cloth that better represented my different identities and allowed me to use meditation so much more effectively.
As I began leading mind-body medicine groups of my own, even more of the fabric of my identity was quilted in, specifically, who I am as a teacher, facilitator, and leader. I never even noticed what I had been missing before, but now that I’ve discovered a space within which I can be whole, authentic, and expressive of all of me in a single space, I feel like I can’t get enough of it. I am now extending that wholeness of being into my work as a thought leader, as a leadership coach, and as a human moving through the world.
Brene Brown and actor/director/producer/activist America Ferrera discussed the importance of integration on the Dare to Lead Podcast. America said: “I feel like my journey has been one of trying to escape those categories, trying to escape any of those labels. Because what it feels like is fracturing myself, fracturing my being into, ‘This is the part of me that’s an actress and a performer and a storyteller, and this is the part of me that is an activist and fights and cares about the world.’ And that is not, that’s just false… I stopped seeing these things as contradictions, because other people saw them as contradictions, because other people saw my work as a storyteller, my work as someone outspoken about the issues I care about as being in separate lanes. So I just had accepted that for too long, knowing in my bones that that was not my experience. My experience was that I am a human being, first and foremost, who is passionate about the world and what is the world if not the stories we tell, the stories we believe about ourselves, about each other that dictate how we are in the world and who we are to one another.”
Now here I am, a few days into 2022. I have a glimmer that the story I have inside me, my inner music, is a story that somehow integrates all the different facets of who I am: neuroscientist, human teacher, facilitator, leader, dancer, mom, writer, speaker, and so much more.
I should add that being a bard scares the crap out of me. That voice in my head is screaming, “Shakespeare? Lin Manuel Miranda? Audrey Hepburn? Seriously? You, the shy Asian, geek girl are going to be a storyteller? Give me a break. Your sister is the writer. Stick to science.”
What I’m saying back is, “Of course, I’m not going to get any MacArthur Genius Grants or Pulitzer Prizes or Tony Awards. But the work of integrating is powerful. Telling stories, my story, can change lives. It’s essential work towards accomplishing my mission of encouraging the light in others to shine brighter. No light grows brighter if I keep my inner music to myself.”
I also love that bards of fantasy lore are known to wander from town to town telling stories. That fits right into my gap year of travel. This spring includes Hawaii, Portugal, and Egypt (we hope). As I travel, may the flavor and feel of the diverse stories of the world infiltrate my music.
“I encourage fellow Questers to identify three Principles to adopt for a year… If your Word serves as a kind of ‘North Star’, your Principles are like the constellations clustered around it. Your Principles are what you turn to when at a loss as to what to decide or do. Life dishes up plenty of perplexity, ambiguity, paradox and doubt in any given year… Your Principles ought be simple statements that evoke a certain quality of guidance, which in turn might influence the kinds of decisions you make in the year ahead.”
-- Dr. Jason Fox
My three principles this year are:
Integration. Brene Brown said: “Our power comes from our wholeness. Integration, the Latin root word ‘integrare,’ to make whole, rather than orphaning these parts of ourselves that we’re like, either think don’t belong in a certain moment or won’t get us to where we’re going.” That, I believe, is where I will begin. By integrating. I love this especially because integration is so resonant with my favorite word of all time: Synergy.
Bardic Inspiration. This is the signature feature of the bard class in Dungeons and Dragons. Bards inspire others through stirring words or music. I shall challenge myself to experiment with as many ways as possible to share my inner music – my blog, Facebook, online courses, videos, public speaking, conferences, presentations, workshops. My voice might be awkward and inarticulate at first. Bear with me. I'm a learned in the bard circle. And please give me feedback so I can learn from my audience.
Vulnerability. Magic comes from the heart and soul I use to channel my inner music. I’ve been told that sometimes it feels as if my story has a glossy Instagram sheen where it’s just a little too shiny, polished, positive, and optimistic. You’re right. I suppress the sad, the angry, the hard, the scary. Not this year. I’m going to let myself feel all the feels – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and promise to share those facets in my storytelling.
Irene the Bard has packed her bags. Her backpack is laden with supplies. A ukelele is in her hands (or perhaps a saxophone?). A drift of music trails her like a mist as she wanders down the road. Stories approach with her coming. Come… gather near her campfire and see if your light might shine a little brighter from the music you hear.
Give credit where credit is due… nobody teaches how to choose your one word touchstone better than Jason Fox. He offers a brilliant, beautiful online course to follow. Or just check out the free videos. The bard me looks to Jason Fox with wonder and inspiration.
Amanda Gorman’s poem “New Day’s Lyric” to welcome 2022 is breathtaking. Listen to a master bard at her craft.
If choosing one word feels too woo woo, here’s a different exercise to help you craft an intention for the New Year. Imagine yourself twelve months from now writing to you, as you are today. Write yourself a letter. Seal it, and then read it again at the close of 2022.
Opening: Dear Present Me,
Tell yourself about how it feels to be you in the future. What old habits and patterns did you let go of? What were the most important lessons and insights you gained? What challenges did you accept, and which did you pass by? What, if anything, feels different about living in your skin?
Signature: With love, Future Me
May I offer Five New Years Invitations from yours truly:
Group or individual leadership coaching - I work with extraordinary change makers who want a guide at their side to achieve their dearest dreams, overcome their biggest challenges, and stay true to their touchstones. I have room for only two new one-on-one clients this spring. I am actively enrolling for the next cohort of the Synergy mastermind group. And I’ve begun offering half-day visioning sessions on a quarterly basis for leaders that want a periodic course adjustment without regular coaching. Reach out today to begin the adventure.
Leadership Boot Camp Course - If you are looking for research-backed strategies to avoid burnout, create healthy balance, build stress resilience, increase productivity, and grow skills in conflict resolution and difficult workplace conversations, then join my new online course, Leadership Boot Camp! The course will be offered via short 20 minute videos delivered to your inbox every Monday from January to June 2022. There’ll be a live monthly hand-on practice session, discussion forums, and other support. Best of all, the first two months of foundational leadership skills will be completely FREE!
Heroine’s Journey Women’s Leadership Retreat - I’m super excited to announce that Tutti Taygerly (my best friend and fellow executive coach) and I will be returning to the redwoods and sea caves of Mendocino this Memorial Day for a new and improved women’s leadership retreat. The Heroine’s Journey offers three interwoven strands for female leaders – leadership development, adventure, and deep connection with other visionary leaders.
Inquiring Minds Book Club - I got so many new books for the holidays and can't wait to read them all. If you are looking for a nonfiction book club with other mid-career professionals from around the world, consider joining mine. Our book for January and February is The Comfort Book by Matt Haig (author of the Midnight Library). We meet (usually) on the last Thursday of every month at 4 pm Pacific Time via Zoom. Sign up on Eventbrite.
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