Written by Founder and CEO, Sara Potler LaHayne
After six long weeks of self-reflection, spiritual exploration, and nurturing my passions, I am back and ready to lead MTW with a newfound energy. It was hard to be away from my great team and this organization, but the time helped me to dust off creative cobwebs, re-center myself, and energize my soul (even though Buddhists don’t believe in them). Join me as I reflect on some of my most striking realizations from the past 6 weeks.
1. Surrender. And keep surrendering.
I didn’t know what to expect for my sabbatical. I had not committed myself to produce a body of work by the end of the 6 weeks. Nor did I intend to come back with some revamped strategic plan. I let go of any assumptions around what this was supposed to be and allowed myself to be open to receiving and experiencing whatever came my way. Now that I’m back in my usual day-to-day routine, I’m continuing to seek out new ways to surrender in order to be open to new possibilities and opportunities and to inspire spontaneity and creativity every day.
2. Go beyond the quiet to find awareness.
During my sabbatical I had the opportunity to live in a meditation center, spending 15 hours a day in an Indian Gompa exercising pure silence. During this time I felt acute awareness over my thoughts and my body. When I was dancing with fellow performers and choreographers in Italy, I felt tuned into my creative spirit. So what happens when I am on the train, running from event to event, back in New York? When I am traveling to a meeting and simultaneously reading emails? By not bringing awareness into the most minute of moments throughout my day to day, I miss the potential sources of inspiration all around me. As I examine and digest what’s happening wherever I am, I move beyond study to contemplation.
3. Ask everyday, “How can I be of service?”
Part of living in a meditation center means fulfilling various “karma jobs.” Mine was washing dishes for the 125 people who were living in the center at the time. After a few days on the job I noticed one of my dishwashing counterparts kept finding ways to offload her responsibilities to others, yet another fellow student was always there to help me lift the heavy buckets of suds and scrape peanut butter off of the plates each night. I found myself drawn towards those who embodied the spirit of resourcefulness. Wherever we are and whomever we’re with, how can we ensure we’re the first one willing and ready to lift the heavy buckets?
4. Emotions are not faults.
I have always been a very emotional person and for years I thought the key to being an effective leader was to push those emotions aside and use logic & rationality to guide all decisions. As a 25-year old starting my own company, the formidable years of Move This World were a confusing time on a personal level. I have always considered myself an easy-going, fun-loving adventurist and my new job required me to hold the fate of an entire organization on my shoulders. Needless to say, I was freaking out a little. I began to compartmentalize my emotions instead of managing them and making them work for me – not against me. It’s important to remember that our emotions serve a purpose. These past six weeks, tears flowed during meditations brought on by thoughts of my family, death, and life moments I will never forget. I had chills climbing up to Himalayan peaks at sunrise. My eyes watered dancing beautiful choreography next to the talented performers in my dance intensive. Yes, I am a CEO. And six years later, I am still emotional, but I learned early on that the key to being an effective leader isn’t to stifle my emotions, but to embrace them.
5. Clearing your internal “cache” is crucial to finding your flow.
In New York, or in San Francisco, or in the Philippines, morning workouts are my mental sanctuary. They are one of the few times when no one can contact me, and they are the birthplace of some of my best ideas. Spending six weeks out of my routine, I found my morning ”cache” clearing took on a new form- not always the embodied meditation of exercise in NYC, but through a writing ritual that allowed me to excavate thoughts that clouded my creative focus. Whatever form they take, clearing my “cache” daily ritualizes a process of finding my flow. Says Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, “By emptying our lives of distraction, we’re filling the well.” In order to fill my well each day, I must rid the muck each morning.
6. Our potential is limitless, but our time is not.
I could easily sit back, having built an organization that’s impacted hundreds of thousands of lives, and with a capable team driving the work forward, and coast. While I am supremely proud of our product and its impact, and am deeply grateful to the team by my side, I am not content. And I will not allow myself to be. We can all develop infinitely, but we only have a short while to do so. I must continue to take personal responsibility for my own life and ensure I’m working to realize my and Move This World’s full potential.
7. To embody resilience, you must embrace suffering.
Despite a pre-existing meditation practice and the fact that this was not my first silent retreat rodeo, the long days of sitting in India were physically very painful. By day five, I was unsure if I would make it to the end. I kept sitting. I embraced the physical pain. I knew that the pain would pass. I welcomed the internal knots and the desire to stand, to walk out, to leave the meditation center. When we use difficult situations to transform the mind, we strengthen our inner warrior, and the next challenge feels less daunting.
8. We’re all searching for a method.
We are all seeking the solution for head and heart clarity. We are all looking for tools that we can take refuge in and be comfortable using. I met many people from different walks of life during my silent retreat in India; all searching for an answer.
The Indian father who had been attempting to enroll for four years, but could never get approval from his company for 10 offline, inaccessible days. The 22-year old Swiss girl who was backpacking through Asia for the year. The burnt out Deloitte consultant from Australia who quit his job and came straight to India. We were of diverse experiences and perspectives, but we all shared a desire to be nourished.
9. We all have the capacity to be inspired.
I had been feeling personally stagnant in my work this past year. Obviously Move This World and I both faced huge challenges, but these challenges were not awakening in me the same curiosity or creativity that I experienced in the first five years of building MTW. We are all born creative. We can listen to it and embrace it, or not. When I gave myself the gift of time and space to reflect, to dance, to write, to meditate, I reconnected with what gets me up every morning and keeps me awake at night.
10. You’ve still got it.
I was pretty terrified to attend the dance intensive with 17 year olds at performing arts high schools, college students studying dance at conservatories across the country, and professionals who all actually get paid to dance. The choreographers created beautiful work, all with a high standard of excellence. I was certainly the old lady of the group, the one who had undergone ACL surgery and was not paid to do this for a living. Though my body took a beating, I thrived. I persevered. And when the time finally came to perform in our Italian castle atop a mountain peak, I danced my heart out. I’ve still got it.