Lara Galinsky: Tuning In to Moments of Obligation as Life Purpose
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Oct 7, 2017
Alyssa: Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. My name is Alyssa and I'm excited to be your host for our global weekly Awakin call today. The purpose of these calls is to share stories from incredible change makers from around the globe. Our hope is that these conversations will plant seeds for a more compassionate and service-oriented society while serving to foster our own inner change. Behind each of these calls is an entire team of service-based volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this space. We’re thankful to them and to all of our listeners for helping co-create this call.
Today we are grateful to have a remarkable guest speaker with us, Lara Galinsky, whose personal journey is not only inspiring but had a tremendous impact on many people around the world. Thank you again for joining us for today's call let us go ahead and start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into this space.
Welcome again to our weekly Awakin call - today in conversation with Lara Galinsky. So here is how the call works. In a few minutes our moderator, Pavi Mehta, will engage in a deep dialogue with our speaker Lara. By the top of the hour we're going to roll into a Q. and A. session in a circle of sharing and that's the point where we will invite all of your reflections and questions. I've opened up the cue right now so if at any point you would like to be part of the circle of sharing and asking questions, you can hit *6 on your phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. Again, that question will happen at the top of the hour. You can also e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any of your questions and we will do our best to have everyone's questions answered.
So we have the great pleasure of having Pavi as our moderator today. For those of you who don't know, Pavi has had a lifetime of service. Pavi and her family created and served in the Aravind Eye hospitals and clinics in India, which have provided free vision care to tens of millions of people in India and saved countless from blindness. Pavi is also a key founder and leader of the ServiceSpace community and has pioneered such initiatives as Daily Good which has stories that have touched thousands of people around the globe.
So I'd like to go ahead and invite Pavi to introduce our moderator and today's call.
Pavi: Thanks so much, Alyssa. It's a pleasure to be moderating this call with you. I want to go ahead and introduce our guest, Lara, so we can launch into our conversation with no further ado.
Early on in her career Lara Galinsky was a national program director at ‘Do Something’ where she worked with 20,000 educators and 4 million young people to organize service learning and community service projects. She would go on to become senior vice president at Echoing Green, a thirty year old platform that has supported hundreds of young social change innovators from across the world, who then went on to launch projects like Teach for America, City Year, One acre fund, public allies and more. Lara is the co-author of two books, WORK ON PURPOSE and Be BOLD. She is currently involved in several initiatives among them serving as a coach for impact-driven leaders and in the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the start-up Future Laboratories, a social innovation incubator for new solutions to entrenched problems in America. She also serves as a business developer for the Women's Building, a groundbreaking new project led by the NoVo foundation to create a physical space for activism, community and reclamation by women and girls. In one of her most significant life roles, she is a single mom to a four year old boy named, Azaiah.
It is a joy to have her with us on the call today. Welcome, Lara.
Lara: Thank you so much for that introduction. I really appreciate it.
Pavi: Thank you for making the time to be with us today. I wanted to just dive right into our conversation. I was reading one of your posts on the ServiceSpace feed and in it you describe yourself as someone who was always intensely mission driven and your path and many accomplishments certainly illustrate that. I was wondering if you could take us back a bit and paint a picture for us of your formative years, your childhood and some of the influences, people, events, life moments that helped shaped you into this deeply-purposed person that we get to listen to today.
Lara: Thank you for that question. It's funny it reminds me of a post that I wrote a few years ago where I talked about when I was interviewing people. You know part of my role in the past was bringing a lot of people into my organization and one of my practices was asking people about their formative years. "You know, so tell me about yourself" and people would say, "Well, you know, I graduated college or I did this and my last job was this" and I would say, "No no no no go back" and they are like, "How far back? High school? and I'm like, "No no no no, let's go even further back" because I really do believe as many others with a lot more research acumen behind them know that those formative years and the families we grew up in, the communities that nurture us, the schools that we attend, those loving and mentoring relationships that we have, are the things that really become central forces in our lives and so to get to know someone you really do need to go back there.
For me...I grew up in New York and I came from a family where it was such a blessing and I realized at one point I think probably not until high school how unique this was -- I grew up in a family that believed that if you're blessed to be spending time on earth, you should be blessed to choose what that is that's most meaningful and go for it. That was not a privilege, it was really an obligation to yourself and to your community to be able to go through that journey to identify it and and that really came from my parents example.
My father was really a strong scientist, became a chemical engineer and was really sort of on the upward mobile career. But was deeply unhappy and this was before I was born. And the story goes that my mom got a job as a teacher and she had a tiny little raise and that was enough to take the bold move for him to quit completely from his engineering, sort of, you know making polymers job, and go become an artist which was a hobby that just captured him; so he, having very little experience, got his M.F.A., was one of the early classes of an M.F.A. program here at New York City at Columbia and has been an artist and a healer, a Qigong master for the last forty years, and that example of crafting your life around that which captures you, really came alive through that story.
And my mom...the way I describe her is as a pioneer. She taught me that life, work life or just life in general, can be a navigation of the questions that capture you the most and those questions are not ones that you can easily answer - the ones that you actually have to spend a lifetime or a decade really grappling with... And, the questions that really spoke to her early in my upbringing was really, why is there such a separation, a competition and a tension between work life and family life? And, what does it mean for more and more women to develop careers and what is the best and highest and most supportive environment for kids and how do kids learn? Those are some of the questions that she has created in her career running an organization called ‘Families and Work’, instituting and developing curriculum and models around the neuroscience of learning, of early learning called mind in the making, and that example really was all about sort of the inquiry process and discovery, and if you don't have answers, you can actually spend your career and your life navigating them. You might hear some New York city noises in the background from the sirens that will inevitably come into our presence.
And so my upbringing centered around that example and I do feel very fortunate that that led me to finding an organization called ‘Do Something’ around the time I graduated from college. I learned about the organization's mission somehow, someway and it would seep into my dreams, I thought about it, it just captured me viscerally this idea that young people can change the world and this is sort of in the height of teenagers are dangerous and apathetic and are just a drain on society and cause violence, are lazy etc., etc. and this organization just was completely counter to all these norms that were put out in the media etc., and I just had to work there! And I think that's one of my major lessons is really understanding what captures you, figuring out how to get there or figuring out that how, even if you don't end up there, that part of the process is a journey that unfolds other opportunities.
Pavi: Thank you for the quick sketches of some of the influences in your life and what a remarkable story about your father and your mom, that they took that leap of faith together, and to think like how different his life could have turned out, had he not done that and followed his passion. I was wondering, like, especially given your mom's involvement with teaching and children like were there any special teachers in your life who kind of helped you?
Lara: Oh, so many, so many. I remember, you know when I was really young, I had a teacher Barbara Callister who was actually, it was very sad, but she was in the process of dying. She had cancer and I was too young to fully understand it. But it really stayed with me. It stayed with me my whole life. How beloved she was in the community and how the community sort of took on the challenge of an amazing woman, an amazing teacher and someone who is dying, sort of, all as one unit, one fluid evolved, amorphous unit.
Pavi: How did that come about...because that seems like a deep lesson, how did that manifest itself, the community?
Lara: Yeah, and I couldn't have been more than 4, which is my son’s age now.
Pavi: Oh wow!
Lara: So I think, she lasted, I mean four years she was in the hospital. I remember visiting her. I think it was really remarkable I think and I feel this tendency in my own parenting which is that do I protect, right? Is my son too early to absorb something or actually is this a beautiful demonstration of just the reality of the ups and downs of life? And my mom took me to the hospital to say good bye and I remember it. And I remember in the hospital -- what’s so interesting...at least my family, that up till that point I've have been asking my family for a dog and I wanted a dog. I knew what kind of dog and what I wanted to name the dog and I remember that Barbara said to my Mom, “Get Lara a dog.” And indeed, you know a woman who is dying, her words to my mom had extra weight to them and indeed, I was able to get a dog from there. She sort of enabled something that became really important to me.
Yeah, and one another teacher. I am really paying attention to this, again as a parent who is observing the types of relationships that my son is having with his teachers. And not all of them are, you know...I would say it becomes really special. And another teacher to thank was my three’s teacher and she took copious notes of all of her students, and this is handwritten notes, right? Back in the seventies, handwritten notes of all of her students about what she was noticing, and she had deep, long sessions with parents about what she was noticing. It was just very, very, very...I mean it was like, you know, pre-K now is even at 4 but at 3, this was sort of unusual back in the 70s! And I was blessed, and she was so child-led. She would really listen deeply to what children wanted and I remember one day I had to cross the bridge to get to school and there was a toll booth and we had a little ticket to go across the toll, and I remember that it was like I was fascinated by the toll booth people who would sit in the booth all day long taking tickets and I thought wow that is so powerful. They allowed entrance to the bridge, which allowed entrance to New York city and to me, I came to school that day, wanting to be a toll booth operator. And I remember that we created this whole play around building a bridge out of blocks, creating little toll booths and creating little tickets. You know this is a three-year-old memory, and we created toll booths. And I am blessed that we were able to stay in touch with her again and she was able to find those notes made when I was three. She had a system that organized it beautifully and many, many years later, at my baby shower, she read some of those notes to me, as a sort of a gift, and what was so remarkable, and I think it goes back to your first question about people's early influences and how poignant they are. What she described when I was 3 is me! It was really me, as a 3 year old. Of course, there are somethings that don't fully resonate, but I think ninety percent of it was like, yeah that sounds like me. And that was a big lesson around who we are and who we aren't. So much of life is around sort of unlearning the things that are calcifying or just creating things that lay on top of who we really are, that hides us and we have to chip away at that.
Pavi: Yeah! It also speaks to the power of having someone witness that, you know, someone who feels and pays attention and is really tuning in and not necessarily trying to force you down to the predetermined path but really seeing like what is this you know the seed of a child like, what is she, what does she hold inside her?
Lara: I was describing to someone yesterday actually what it means to hold space. It's a term that not everyone is familiar with and you just summed it up. In so many ways it is really about the presence, someone's presence that is just affirming, and how unbelievably powerful that can be in that process of self-discovery.
Pavi: Yeah, and it is interesting that even the first organization that you joined ‘Do Something’, that it assumes that we all are aware that we can do something. And not everyone I think lives into that potential fully or has early influences that remind you of your capacities.
Lara: Yeah, I mean I love that. I often play this game in my head which is the what-if game. It is like what if every single child, every single, every single child on earth was able to spend time and affirm their highest and best dream for themselves and the people around them? Like what would the world look like? How would it be different, if there is just the affirmation that's just normal or just a space to do that work.
Pavi: Yeah. It is a powerful question to hold, and it immediately leads to this question of like, how can I be that affirmation, you know, in those moments like, what are those micro-moments of opportunity?
Lara: Micro moments and also sort of this notion that it's not only what -- it's -- the power of your being is actually what influences other people.Your example and just people watching and absorbing and that kind of osmosis.
Pavi: Yeah, yeah. You know I want to talk a little bit about your book ‘Work on purpose’ and where we are right now in the conversation is kind of leading into it. In a description of the book, I saw these words which said, “Career choices is a destination, not a decision and having the right tools to navigate the right decision is essential” and I wanted to see if you could talk a little bit about career pathing as you call it. How do you see it? What does it mean to you to see your career as a destination and not a decision?
Lara: Right. It's funny, the way, the sort of standard way we career path in America at least feels very sort of practical and not about dreaming and not about sort of deep inquiry and unfolding and discovery, because the reality of having to make money in emerging adulthood is sort of the dominant pressure.
It's sort of just.... that little bird that was dropped from the nest and you just have to figure out how to fly. It's a necessity to fly as opposed to taking time and space for unfolding. There is no fundamental right answer. It's just one step in front of the other, one wing flap at a time. The way I think about it is that, career and life's a journey.
There's so much research on people and happiness at work and the disengagement at work. In my mind it's like a crisis. There is such vast potential! There's so much unhappiness and unrest around it. So there's something really fundamentally wrong. My process, my thought about it is -- what looks more right? What would feel better and where can people kind of unleash or unlock themselves morally? What are the conditions? I think taking some pressure off.... There are very few people in my experience who have a straight path, where there is no left or right turns off into the woods or swim in the pool or lake or whatever. Very few people just sort of know that they want to do this and then they just take the step to get there. And even some of those people who know that they want to be this role, get there and then feel dissatisfied and then there's this kind of crisis of identity. But more regularly, I see lots of people go through these ebbs and flows of knowing and unknowing, knowing and unknowing. Getting somewhere and then seeing lots of things that are dissatisfying to them around certain roles and jobs, and even just sort of figuring out the right place to be or how to best use one's skills. So the first thing that I think of is - it's a journey and there's no sort of right answer as much as the best thing to do right now.
The second is actually taking some pressure off and thinking about work as work in the world, as opposed to the work that you get paid for. And there are so many different ways to kind of fill up one's life with things that are significant and that doesn't always have to be lined up perfectly with the things that you get paid for. I think that taking kind of the wide lens on one’s life... so friendships could be part of your work in the world. Your services to other organizations that have volunteer capacity, board capacity. I love the notion of projects. I think there's something so beautiful about the idea of creating something and putting out in the world somehow, in some way that may or may not last. It really is about perpetuating its existence as much as being open to the fact that it has a moment in time, that can fold or unfold, depending on what happens. So there should be some lightness to projects in some ways and to thinking about career as a different project. So those are just some of the things that I've noticed. And I think the biggest one, the most important one is -- the element of aligning work with what is meaningful, and work in a world with what is meaningful is really the trick, I think.
Pavi: It's really quite.... your perspective on these things and word that comes up for me is really, freeing.
Pavi: I can imagine that for many people the conventional ways of thinking about work are very confining and heavy. And there is that beauty of knowing that it doesn't have to be that way, you know. A shift in perspective can change so much. I was also thinking about what you said about leaning into the not knowing, and kind of the ebbs and flows of knowing and not knowing and thinking about how we're so weighted towards knowing as a culture. Unknowing feels awkward, it feels inelegant, it's almost like you have to be apologetic for not knowing.
Lara: Yeah! You're stuck right? You're not your best self, when you're not knowing. And what if it was reframed around, "Oh! This is fun! I don't know what I want to do. How exciting that I get to come and try something!" To have the capability, those skills that we talked about -- to know when I do know, but be OK with not knowing as well. It really is about taking the pressure off, but taking action, right? It nourishes, in some ways, the enemy.
Pavi: And I almost feel like what you're indicating is that, there's a dignity in not knowing.
Lara: There's a dignity. It is literally an important part of the process. It’s like when you're working out; it's a break between the reps. It’s the space, the oxygen.
Pavi: Yeah! I feel like this is very naturally leading into another important cornerstone of your work. You have been talking about helping people find their moment of obligation.
Lara: Yes! Yes!
Pavi: The word obligation, I think, is heavy for some people and is loaded. It implies some unwelcome sense of duty, more from your head than from your heart. I was wondering what does that word mean to you, and do you have a moment where you found your obligation that can share with us?
Lara: Yes. Moment of obligation is in some ways, is moments of obligation. And obligation is actually to yourself. You are what you got and you are you. Your commitment to being your best you, is up to you, right? It's not anyone else's. No one else can do it like you, by any stretch of imagination. So, the obligation, it really is the reframe of the word obligation and there are moments, there are times, there are incidents, and there are experiences that we all have that reveal what's "true" for you, for ourselves. In other words what's significant, what's meaningful and what's purposeful.
And too many times I think, in particular the culture that I grew up in, you don't recognize those moments. We are not trained to listen to the messages of the heart or of the part of us that is deeply inspired or connected to something. And so part of the moment of obligation comes with the idea of training ourselves to stop and pause and recognize them. They come in many moments. They come in a range of emotions. So you can imagine being deeply inspired and not being able to forget.
As I talked about learning about ‘Do Something’s mission and thinking and feeling, "Oh my gosh!" I can't.. like I have to .... To me that was a very rare moment and it was so sticky, right? But it can also come in moments of rage or unhappiness about something in the world, where you're like,"This is not right." Some sort of justice piece is woken up. It can come in moments of love, deep, deep love and affection for a place, a person, a population, a culture. And for me, I've had many, many moments. And I think sometimes the big ones, significant ones that are sort of like a scream. Like, you can’t ignore me or maybe not a yell but something that has louder volume. But most of them are actually smaller moments that really gather strength and power, by being someone who can notice patterns, right?
Lara: One of the highest skills I think you can develop in your lifetime is being able to notice patterns. And noticing patterns in your moment of obligation is one of those highest, because it's revealing to you what is meaningful. And that is a mechanism that allows your destination, or even decisions around your life to come true. For me, one of my moments of obligation was around being captivated by the constructive purpose. For many years, for twelve years I worked for Echoing Green. It's such a beautiful mission.
People from all around the world, thousands of people who have big, bold ideas to address a deeply, deeply entrenched problem: hunger, homelessness, inequities in education, healthcare, human rights. They come with really innovative, ground-breaking new ways, new approaches to solve those problems. I've been doing that for many, many years, helping to support these individuals. It's a competitive process. Only a few would receive a fellowship and they were the ones who were launching organizations around a solution. People loved ‘Echoing Green’s work. They were revered. People saw a little part of themselves in the fact that they were bold enough to take an idea and bring it to life. People often said: "Oh wow, these individuals can do anything, and they're choosing to spend their time doing this."
And then it hit me, one of my moments of obligation was actually recognizing that there are so many things that made Echoing Green fellows or people who launched new solutions, or construct a life around something powerful and solution-driven -- there are so many things that make them special. It hit me that actually, what really, fundamentally captured my own imagination was that they found purpose. And then that led me . . it was literally one of those 'a-ha moments' when I say, "Oh! These people found purpose and then made decisions based on that, and crafted a life based on that. And look at them, it's not that they don't have hardships or challenges, or failures. They have it all, just like all of us, or unhappiness.” But there is something fundamentally powerful and really extraordinary about purpose. And that led me, because I was trained enough and tuned enough to that frequency of noticing that I was in the moment of obligation that I had to understand purpose more. And that led me down another journey.
Pavi: That's so beautiful . . a beautiful story there. I'm just thinking of those twelve years when you were immersed in that world of young change-makers from all over, different countries, cultures, backgrounds, and what that must have been like. And I was struck by your phrase about the importance in noticing patterns as being one of the meaningful things you can do. Two parts to the question. The first is can you speak a little bit more about that. Why do you see that as such an important skill. And the other is, in that time, in the twelve years you spent working with some of the best and brightest social entrepreneurs of the world, what were some of the patterns that you noticed?
Lara: So why is pattern recognition so important, such an important skill? I think the highest part of our life's journey is around implementing and learning big things that we need to learn. Like really, really big things that have got in our way, that are unleashing or unlocking moments that have been there before. And sometimes it takes a lot for us to learn those learnings. And that the skill to be able to recognize patterns is actually what...because it will keep showing up. The lessons, the learnings will keep showing up in our lives, as a pattern. And our reaction becomes a pattern, often, for not learning it. And so to be able to say: "Oh gosh. I keep getting the same type of relationship dynamic with the same person. And even though they're so different, these people, I think, yet I'm now noticing that this dynamic shows up again in my life.” But that becomes a real big clue about what some of these big lessons or learnings and what one’s life is all about.
So that’s sort of why I think, the highest point, why I think pattern recognition is so vital. I think that around the patterns that I recognized in social entrepreneurs -- I think, one thing that was so remarkable about their example, was the ability to just take a risk and have a comfortable relationship with risk-taking. That's a pattern I saw in most social entrepreneurs. They just...they're like -- their calculus of even if I fail, it's worth it -- was super, super...you know, they went through that thought process and came out the other end with I just have to do it. Right? So that was one pattern that I saw. I think that another pattern I saw really in social entrepreneurs that were able to thrive, is the ability to really get out of the way -- know what they were good at and then surround themselves, and get a really critical collective around them, so that there was a community of people who are taking things on, and being their best selves. Right? It’s the notion of collective genius. That we don't do things alone -- we do things together and part of being a really strong leader is actually not -- it’s creating that collective and knowing how to, kind of, be an orchestra leader as opposed to the person with the loudest instrument.
Pavi: Yeah, those are great...I was wondering like, you know, to me, that field social entrepreneurship so strongly brings together that balance of head, heart and hand. And there's something that so captures the imagination, like at so many different levels. To see, you know, our human life to be used in that way. And I was wondering like...in the patterns that you saw, where there any common patterns of pitfalls, or certain slippery slopes that you noticed?
Lara: You mean social entrepreneurship in general?
Pavi: Yeah, social entrepreneurship as a field.
Lara: Yeah, for sure! I think those who are thinking about the entrepreneur as opposed to the collective, like I said earlier, I think they...it just doesn't work. Right? Creating the change that we desire, that we dream about, takes a lot of courses and it's not really an individual effort.
So those who don't recognize that and build leadership in all, will not get that far. I think that there's been a lot of sexiness around for-profit social change organizations. Without the...often, the really hard, rigorous diligence of what corporate form makes the most sense and why, and is there the capital that I need...I mean I think that there are so many for-profits die in a vine because they just weren't capitalized. It’s still early in the world of impact investment. I think things are still roiling and we’re still figuring things out. But it's a really important tool! So it is about figuring out the package and being flexible.
I think that no one wants to leave! Ooh -- that’s a big one. That is such a big one! Sometimes, it will be too early in the organization and the work isn't sustained. There isn't enough systems or strong theory of change or leadership bench to keep it going. And I think in other times, people stay too long! I often thought about that. Am I staying in my role too long and I think ultimately I did. And you know, it’s a big lesson for me. Knowing when to leave to provide room for others and often for your own self. I think that the amount of and I think we see this in social change, we see this in New York city, we see this all over, the real fundamental problem is burn out. People are dry inside. They can't have rigorous thinking. They are stuck in the minutiae or their over-packed schedule. They are working too hard and they just can't get out of that quagmire. I see lots of social entrepreneurs barely hit that point of I can't, I won't and I am not. And they just have to, for their own heart, their own health, their own life -- they have to leave. And that's a crisis too.
Pavi: And I know that in your own work, you have done a lot around coaching and you currently also play that role for impact-driven individuals. I was thinking about how in my own life, I am sure for many of our listeners it's the same, we have many of our mentors we can turn to as sort of sounding board or guide, and I am wondering in this work what do you see is the role of coaching? And normalizing it and be more accessible and part of the culture.
Lara: Thank you so much for that question. I believe in every part of my being that everyone on earth can benefit from a coaching relationship. It does not have to be formal. It does not have to be paid, but having someone or something that allows someone to feel heard, to be affirmed and at the same time, asking hard questions that reveals what's already inside someone. The benefit of coaching is that it creates a relationship that is incredibly empowering and puts you in the driver's seat of your life, but it's also, is not easy. It is designed to be challenging, it is designed for you to have some hard conversations with yourself.
And life can pacify without us asking those hard questions, they show up in other ways, for sure, at crisis moments, the burnout, the emptiness that people feel often. But I do think that coaching allows for that, in one place in a way, that also creates the capabilities and tools for people to do it to themselves. So I have gone in and out of coaching relationships, where I have had a coach for a period of time, I haven't had a coach, but even when I don't have a coach, I have a coach inside of me. And I have been a coach professionally with clients and I have done it informally with friends. Even as a mom it just shows up because it is just a way of being. And in the inherent notion of coaching that I love so much, which is, you are whole and you have the answers inside of you, and it really is about the kind of opening up and discovery process, and sometimes it takes someone else to really enable that, but it is not always needed.
Pavi: That's so interesting and it makes me wonder, what are the qualities and the practices that you try to bring to your notion of coaching?
Lara: Deep listening, deep deep deep listening. In coaching, we talk about third level listening. Which not just what people are saying, it is also about what people are not saying. It is watching body and voice. It's also observing things around us. Everything...the sirens, the neighbours, the sound of birds and cars all mixed. And that kind of listening allows for deeper insights, for hunches to emerge more clearly.
I think that one of the things I have noticed in coaching, which is one of the wise pills which is so applicable to just about anything is the arts and science of asking questions. I realized that for coaching, although I was proud of myself for being a good question-asker, I really wasn't as strong a question-asker as I wanted to be. I hadn’t learned it, it’s puzzling, but maybe I was caught in method or maybe...it wasn't something that I had really absorbed, and a lot of questions were actually masked opinions!
Pavi: Sounds a great way of putting it.
Lara: And I think a lot of questions are also...we don't listen to the answers, because we have already formulated a point of view. So we are just looking for confirmation. So I think, so much of the question asking is around being open and honest. Those are the two qualities a good question embed in them. I think that is another piece of coaching. So it is really about listening.
Another piece which is really powerful is frameworks. Coaching is frameworks. It borrows from so many different modalities and methods. There is an element of positive psychology, there is an element of it's, certainly not therapy, but it does have sort of a therapeutic air to it. The elements of Buddhism in meditative practices which is a part of a coaching relationship. And so I think that there is being able to think through some frameworks that are really effective and deeply reaching people. And I think that, that becomes the pot that you are stirring, that becomes the food that nourishes you when you are kind of on your own or in a coaching relationship. If you are coaching yourself as an individual or if you are actually in a formal coaching relationship.
Pavi: That is such a rich answer to that. And I feel like it connects directly in a way to parenting too. And I imagine that just your experience and your perspective on coaching weave their way into your way of being a parent.
Lara: Yeah.. I try.. Parenting has been a... "How is your day? Tell me about your day? When did you...Tell me when you laughed the hardest?" "How was your day?" -- "Fine, good..." You know?! The questions just don't land but when you are asking more rich and nuanced questions, more things come up and then stories emerge from it.
You know, a lot of coaching and there is just a perfect alignment with parenting, is letting go. I think a lot about leadership is letting go. Know when not to let go and know when to let go is leadership too and so much of parenting is like... all these constructs about everything come up when you have this little mirror in front of you. Oh, I am a really relaxed parent.. I will let you be who you are and then you are like...Ah, but then! But you know that means you have to read by a certain age, and then you are like, wait a second, who cares... so in my mind there is this constant inner dialogue about what I care about and what I don't care about and not go on automatic. When you go on automatic, it's like the lowest common denominator. So, it's disrupting pattern to be able to let go of those things that are just truly not important to you and really have that deep sense of knowing and a pathway to elevate those that are really important to you. And for me what's really important to me in my parenting relationship is creating a condition in a coaching relationship, like a leadership relationship, for someone to be who they are and want to be, from day 1.
Pavi: I’m wondering what your perspective is on the relationship between coaching and parenting and empathy?
Lara: Yeah - Empathy is an interesting word. I struggle with the word empathy and maybe it’s just language right? I like the word perspective-taking, it’s a little less emotional, and believe me, those who know me, know I like the emotions, but, there is something around -- there is a practice around when you’re stopping yourself and trying to understand where they are coming from, that is an unbelievably powerful tool. It’s like literally getting on the floor and seeing what they see -- that practice, and understanding the fears, and the struggle between being independent and dependent. I love you, get away from me. I love you, I want to be on my own. That struggle and just understanding what’s going on with them.
You know for so long, the norm is oh -- they are little babies nothing is going on, all they do is sleep and eat and cry, And actually when you realize how much is going on behind those eyes, and the amount of work and brain development, that perspective-taking is an incredibly powerful tool.
One of the other things I’ve learned as a parent and that is so applicable is patience. Another element is not solving things, letting things happen and helping when there’s a challenge.
Helping my son in particular figure out a solution that works for him -- that’s coaching as well right, so it's like the difference between asking questions and giving advice. Not to make advice be the dirty word, but in some ways I think it is. Because it doesn’t really absorb, it’s your perspective about what you think and sometimes people really want to hear that, but it's actually just checking in and making sure that you're not solving things and that you're helping people kind of unearth things that they want to do themselves, then it’s going to just land so much better in that way.
Pavi: Is it something that comes naturally to you now? It must take a lot of discipline to not jump in and try and fix things, especially in relationships where you care so much.
Lara: So much of my early parenting, I was exhausted. I was deeply tired and I just wanted to see things to be easy, and so there are many moments where I went the easy route. And as I'm gaining a little bit more energy and a lot more perspective-taking, now it's so much easier to stop myself, so I don’t get into that pattern of going the easier route, making things going away or solving the problem. So it's becoming much more natural to me, it’s become our pattern, our dynamic, to the point now where my son is like, “I know my mom is going to ask me what my plan is to solve the problem”, even before I ask the question. Or when I pick him up, he’s ready to answer the question -- when did he laugh or what was joyous about today. To the point now where another pattern of ours is before we eat, we give thanks. Sometimes I’ll forget and he’ll grab my hands and he’ll say, “Mom!” So it’s seeped into our relationship and into my son’s consciousness in a way that makes me infinitely happy.
Pavi: Thank you so much and this is a great place to hand over to Alyssa since we’re at the top of the hour.
Alyssa: Thank you so much. Both of you, thank you, this is been such a rich discussion. I’ve been in awe of the conversation there's so many gems there and I really appreciate the insight into your formative years Lara and your perspective on career-pathing and social entrepreneurship and coaching and parenting. And when you talked about question asking, it actually kind of reminded me of a quote from Krista Tippett where she said something to the effect of the strength of a question is measured by the honesty and eloquence it elicits, and when you were talking it kind of reminded me of that. There is so much there, and I had a question for you -- I was really moved by the story you told of the teacher who took such copious notes of you at a young age and was able to relate some of those notes to you later and you mentioned that you got to hear things that reminded you, like, “Yeah that's me! That’s who I was, that's who I am.” It made you realize that a lot of our life is about unlearning habits that we develop as we grow older and that sort of layering that happens as you grow up and you kind of forget your early and true self. On a kind of personal level, were there any habits that you felt you had to kind of unlearn in order to return to that early self?
Lara: Such a beautiful question! Thank you for asking that. I grew up in New York City in a pretty fast paced competitive environment and even though I had the parents I described, who never told me to do my homework, and I didn’t even have grades till I hit high school, and it was a shock to me. I was like, “Grades? What? This is so silly!” All these questions came into my mind about education and how it’s structured and all that. But I think that I still struggled with and continue to struggle with what is success? And the small and meaningful versus the big and bold and I think a lot of social entrepreneurs actually get into this pattern around scaling their organization. There’s so much pressure. “Okay you did a great job in making a difference in this one block; now get to 20 blocks, get the whole city or the whole East Coast. What’s your scale proposition? Of course you want to impact so many people.” And so few organizations come even close. So few NGOs are able to kind of get to the place where they're putting a significant dent into the problem for so many reasons, and at the same time what is success? What does it mean to have an impact? And in my competitive environment that I grew up in it was big, it was well known, it was a megaphone, it was single leader, a great man you know, and I’ve really had to unlearn that and that’s still a work in progress.
Alyssa: Well it's interesting that you say that actually, because we got a question that really dovetails very nicely with what you just said. We've got a question from someone who said there are those who think that the only way to make social change is if you do something big and flashy, that it's not enough to just touch one life or one community, and what would you just say to those people?”
So it's very interesting that you touched on that, given that question. And I know you kind of alluded to that in your response to my question. But if there is anything else I guess you would like to add to that.
Lara: Yeah, I think it’s deeper. So my personal opinion is small is beautiful People go at the pace that makes sense. You know what good are you if you work yourself to death. And yes, we need to figure out a system that affects more people and we need to figure out why and how our systems are perpetuating the gaps between those who have lives that are thriving and those who really struggle and we know a lot of them. Right? But at the same time I think that..It reminds me of the beauty of walking. And when you're at a walking pace, you notice things you wouldn't notice. You get to see the bug beneath your feet, you get to observe the eagle flying above your head. In a way that you might miss if you're, kind of, your eye is on something really massive. And I think the small things really really really matter and that's a shift. I think a lot of the social entrepreneurship field is around the flashy.
And we need to figure out how to craft better partnerships, better alliances between the different sectors. To be able to get to affect more people in a way that is significant, but most organizations are not designed to scale. They're just not. And I think there's nothing but beauty in affecting people deeply and I think it also has to do; just like my definition about impact is evolving and I see it more as -- it goes back to what I was just saying before -- which is really about who you are and your being naturally affects other people, and I think that -- that to me is in some ways the highest purpose. Who you are and that impact on others emanates in incredible ripples that actually start to have scale. But it's not about control action taking.
Alyssa: Right and yeah, I mean you mentioned that earlier; you said a lot of it comes down to the power of your being and the example you said in terms of how that influences people and you know there's a balance between cultivating your being in the sort of inner work, and and the outer work and doing, and so I guess with that in mind, in terms of your coaching, like how do you encourage social entrepreneurs and other people to kind of make sure that they're still attuned to that inner work and that they are cultivating their being
Lara: I found that a lot of social entrepreneurs are craving it so significantly. And yet feel the weight of the imperatives of their mission and in a hunch, and it's sometimes just too much for them, and for that, get...they kind of fall under the pressure of just doing doing doing, being being being, build an organization, doing everything.
And that when given the permission, just all the stuff comes out and it almost becomes an awakening. I can't tell you how many social entrepreneurs I know who have built a really strong spiritual meditative practices, that have been a game changer in terms of how they run organizations. And how that kind of influences their whole lives.
And often comes out of a crisis moment of exhaustion or an H.R. challenge that they weren't observing or watching, that just like that can bring an organization down to its knees, and so I do think that that inner work -- more and more people I know, the more and more they do it, they realize that wow! there's multiple benefits. Not only am I feeling better and it feels good to invest in myself, in my own health, but also the organization is better. Right? So we are just so blind. There are so many moments in my time as a leader where I just couldn't see what I needed to see because I wasn't pausing enough.
Alyssa: Right, yeah - you know that's that's really beautiful because you know - I'm glad that there's an opportunity that you're seeing, that opportunities among social entrepreneurs to kind of pause and really reflect and be able to kind of notice that you know sometimes the success of an organization isn't about some of those specific action-taking items, but you know part of it's about the kind of interior condition of the -- you know of the social entrepreneur, in that you know the people that are working in that capacity.
Lara: I just want to, just completely amplify what you said, it could not be a more important point. It is in fact one of the most important learnings that I've had from my work with social entrepreneurs and in my work with myself, which is the health of the leader, in the self awareness and the work that - you can tell when an organization is run by individuals who are doing work to ensure that they're self aware, that they're reflective , that they're listening and that they are being as healthy as they possibly can be. You can tell the organization is different from those that aren't. So in my mind -- I only want to work for organizations where the leader has some practice around their interior life.
Because I know how that, that is just going to have such an incredible impact on the culture of the organization. In a way that I think most organizational cultures have so many good elements and then they often take on the pluses and minuses of its leaders. And knowing that and therefore working on yourself is actually a gift. For the impact that you want to have.
Alyssa: Right, I like that you emphasized that -- I think sometimes maybe the personal practices - they can be treated as like you know something like ancillary to the mission or you know but what you're saying is - No, it's a core part of doing well.
Lara: It is just as important in some ways as raising money. You know the tolerance that we have of leaders who are putting out a mission in one way and then completely taking action that are in opposition of that mission or lacking integrity. Our intolerance is just becoming more and more -- we want our leader to be people who line up...and I don't think, and I think that's only a good thing, I think it really is a shift around expectations of leadership.
Alyssa: That's so beautiful and I'm like, I'm glad that you're that you're emphasising that because you know it maybe it doesn't sometimes, I feel like maybe that doesn't get enough attention.
Lara: Yeah, and yeah; I was just going to say, in my mind, one of the practices that I've taken on into my work is coaching of individuals and their direct reports. So that they can have the powerful relationship and the powerful conversation that doesn't leave things to fester and of course it comes down to like knowing what you want to say and knowing what you don't want to say -- but so much is not said, because people are afraid or they don't want to hurt with what is not appropriate, and therefore relationships are affected. And who can do the best work when you're not having the conversation or you lessen the impact of that till you may get to a point where it's just like it's too far gone? I have seen that so many times. So much, I think relationship building within an organisation -- it's like an unbelievable powerful strategy to achieve your mission. But again it's not something that people spend time or money on enough - in my mind.
Alyssa: And that's why it can be really helpful to have some of those both formal and informal coaching relationships to help people to stay attuned to those things.
We have a question that stems from the Awakin questionnaire that you filled out. It says that two things on your bucket list are matchmaking and dulaing, in other words, supporting the creation of more love into our world.
Can you share a little bit more about where that aspiration comes from for you and what that means for you?
Lara: Yeah. Thank you for asking that. So I named my own company "Love Ventures." It is so funny because people ask, "Oh, are you a matchmaking or are you an escort service?" Literally, people don't know what to do with it.
When I really think about purpose in the domain of virtues and essence and higher level ways of being, for me that comes down to love. It's like the mama of all qualities in the world. It is the thing that you can often find in other qualities. It is like the root of the tree. And other qualities such as compassion or trust, they come from love. In my mind, what better ways to demonstrate love than by helping someone in the birthing process. Literally, having a child for many people is the act of...it often comes from a place of love between a couple. Or an act of wanting to develop a family between an individual and his or her purpose of wanting to be a parent.
Being with someone during their birthing process is such a raw animalistic moment, and having support during that where your life is often changing so significantly through that act, to me is such a hallowed part of someone's life. I don't know, birth and perhaps union, some sort of relationship union, and birth and death, those are the big moments. Being able to walk besides someone and support them during those moments -- huge demonstration of love.
Matchmaking with apps now. I guess it is an old art form. So many people don't use it, but I have a secret ambition of just connecting people to their love partners. I try it every so often. Yesterday, I sort of texted a friend of mine. I said, "Are you still single?" Because I just thought of someone that I thought she would connect with nicely who is also single. So it is really a hobby now. It is a very complex hobby, because if you do a poor job, it can comeback and bite you.
But in many ways, it is like you are helping to facilitate people falling in love with one another. That is the biggest give you can give. So I'm just trying to think of what are the other big gifts that are just pure demonstrations of love and that create more love.
Alyssa: Right. That is beautiful. Sometimes a lot of people will acknowledge that love is an important part of life, but we spend a lot of our time not being super attuned to it and only thinking about it at certain moments.
Actually, our own Pavi said at one point, we live in a time where we have mastered the art of liking each other on Facebook, but have forgotten the art of loving each other in real life.
Lara: Yeah, we always have a high bar for love. Can we have a lower bar of just feeling love? What if we actually started with loving everyone. It is like opting out. People have realized the best method is having people to choose, to take out and just assuming something. What if we actually just assumed that you love everyone in this world. And maybe some people you love a little bit less over time. But the baseline. It is such a reversal of how you might walk through the world. It is fun to challenge yourself to think I'm going to demonstrate my love for everyone around me today.
So when you are smashed up against someone in the subway and it is hot and people are really cranky, what if you actually take that from the perspective of love? And you smile at someone. And then that smile, instead of you feeling cranky and grumpy, it changes everything. It is definitely a way of being that I am aspiring to bring into my life more fully.
Alyssa: That is a very beautiful way of looking at it. Part of it sounds like just an attitude shift in seeing those moments as opportunities. We have another question that is about those moments where people lose site of love and experience trauma. So the question is how can our traumatic experiences be skillfully engaged with on our road to purpose?
Lara: Yeah. So much of purpose comes out of hardship. So the definition of purpose is beyond the self. Purpose is academically perceived as something that is bigger than one's self. So often we notice things. So I just want to go through the definition. Dr. Damon from Stanford University who directs the Stanford School on Adolescence is like the grandparent of the academic world of purpose. His definition is "the stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self."
So "consequential for the world beyond the self" often comes from seeing the dissonance between from what the world could be and what the world is and wanting to correct that. Often those things happen to ourselves. Most social entrepreneurs that I think are unbelievably powerful, their narrative, their story that lead them to do the work, it comes from there. But if they haven't worked with what is often experienced as trauma, then they will get in their own way.
And for myself included, I have brought in different methods into my own life to work through some of the trauma because I knew that I wouldn't be able to be of the best service. And that is just real. That means that we can't always be at our highest point if we are not addressing the things that have shut our body down where we have been very violated. I'm a big believer that trauma often gets stuck in the body.
So that one of the elements that supports working with trauma is doing body work. And I've personally benefited quite a bit from those types of modalities. It is a wonderful question. Thank you so much for asking it.
Alyssa: I'm curious. I think that is a beautiful response. I'm intrigued when you said that you think a lot of trauma is located and ends up residing in the body. I think you had mentioned at one point that your father became a qigong teacher. Did you learn some of that from him? Was that imbued from your early experiences?
Lara: Funnily enough, none of us, myself, my mom, my brother, we did not know qigong, at all. Yet, my dad practices it every single day. My son is often in my dad's study watching his beautiful, fluid movements. I've had friends who have studied with my dad. He often works in hospitals. And I've had friends who were dying who elected to work with my dad around energy. And yet, it was almost too close.
Actually, no, my practice has been more yoga, as sort of a central practice. More recently, I've been working with EMDR, which is an incredibly powerful..it has been incredibly powerful for me, knowing that everything is personal. That people have different experiences around different modalities, methods, and practices.
Alyssa: That's wonderful. I I would second that too, as someone who does both yoga and EMDR. I think that those are both great.
Lara: Oh, really?!
Alyssa: Yeah, so I am very happy you said that. Well, I had heard you know and I don't want to put you on the spot but I'd heard that you maybe had a Howard Thurman quote that you thought might be apropos. And I did want to make sure you have the opportunity to share that, if you'd like. Otherwise, I do have one more…
Lara: Oh yeah, I'll share it, it really speaks to me and it talks a lot about...in many ways, the quote really sums up a lot of a different threads that we addressed today, that Pavi so beautifully surfaced in your question. Pavi -- thank you! So those of you who don't know -- Thurman, he died in 1981 but he was a really influential author, African-American author, theologian, educator, he was a civil rights leader and we should have learned about him as one of the people that most deeply influenced Martin Luther King. And during that, he was invited to give the baccalaureate address a year before he died, at Spelman College, talking to the 1980 graduates of Spelman College and he named his speech ‘The sound of the genuine’. So I'm just going to read three very short paragraphs from ‘The sound of the genuine’ -- it really, deeply spoke to me when I read it.
“There is something in every one of you that waits, listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself, and if you cannot hear it, you will never find whatever it is, for which you are searching. And if you hear it and then do not follow it, it was better that you had never been born. You were the only you that has ever lived. Your idiom is the only idiom of its kind of all existence. And if you cannot hear the sound of a genuine in you, you will, all of your life, spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else holds.
There is in you something that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. And sometimes there is so much traffic going on in your mind, so much different kinds of signals, so many vast impulses floating through your organism that go back thousands of generations, long before you were even a thought in the mind of creation, and you are buffeted by these. And in the midst of all of this, you have got to find out what your name is. Who are you? How does the sound of the genuine come through to you?”
Alyssa: Wow, that's incredibly powerful. Thank you so much for sharing that, and you know, I may have to now look that up and will have to share that with the rest of the community ,because, you know that, that resonated deeply with me. I know and I'm sure it resonated with others. I’m really glad -- thank you for that.
Well, we just have one final question and then after that, we'll do a minute of silence and express our gratitude for you. The final question I have is how can we as the larger ServiceSpace community support your work?
Lara: Thank you! What a beautiful last question. I think that the way, the best way to support, I’ll call it this work, as opposed to my work, is by each and every one of us doing the work to identify what's meaningful and crafting our life and our destination and our decisions around that. I think that purpose finding is the most beautiful way that we each can be the most powerful beings.
Alyssa: Thank you! Thank you for your response; you know, I think you took what could have been maybe an outward question and you turned it inward on all of us. And you know and it kind of you know I appreciate that, in that you helpfully re-framed the term obligation as something that is really just a, really looking inward and that kind of process of self discovery. It's not, not external, how can I help or save someone else. You just have to, as you've mentioned throughout the call, you know, look at, look inward and discover your purpose and hear the sound of the genuine.
Lara: Well, put.
Alyssa: So, thank you so much; we're just going to...I'd like to invite everyone to hold a collective minute of silence and then we will collectively express our gratitude
Well, I just want to thank both Lara and Pavi for having this wonderful conversation and for the questions that we had from everyone, and I think we would all like to really express our gratitude to you Lara, for your time and for your insight -- thank you so much.
Lara: Of course, thank you.
Alyssa: On the count of three, if we can just say -- Thank you Lara. One, two, three.
Thank you, Lara (all speak)!
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