Suffering and Vitality at Work

To what degree can you include your suffering in your work?

If you can’t include it you are likely far less impactful than you could be.

In Buddhism, there is a deep understanding that suffering exists, period. There is no way around suffering there is only more skillful means of how to be with suffering and to serve others who suffer. Suffering has to do with the fact of being human and all that that brings.

In our work lives there is also suffering. And there is suffering in other areas of our lives that influences our work. When we fixate on overly positivistic paradigms of work and professional life we cut ourselves off, not only from our legitimate and inevitable suffering, but from the wealth of vitality and power that when appropriately shared and harnessed can have an immense impact on our work and those we work with.

One of the truths of suffering is that it’s not possible to maintain images and overly perfected or controlled projections of culture. Dissociation in any form naturally leads to suffering. I believe this is one of the biggest issues we have to deal with in our present day work culture which emphasizes personal brands, abstract concepts of impact, and hyper-individuality as a result of the expansive creative freedom technology has brought us.

Several months ago one of my best friends died. He held a significant place in my personal, communal and work life and I had to begin facing, metabolizing and integrating the loss of his presence in my life. Facing his death naturally lead me to listen on a deeper level to the fact of my own inevitable death and what this meant for living now and all that I am invested in. This loss also pushed me to include the perspective of death more in my day to day life and moment to moment interactions, especially at work.

When you are grieving professional contexts can feel like they are the last place you want to be with your grief and they often lack capacity to know what to do with someone’s grief. Grief is for the forest, the counselor’s office, or for the confines of your privacy at home.

At some point this year during my own grieving I began, when it felt appropriate, to talk more about my own grief. I included it in conversations, in presentations, and in my coaching work. What this did was actually energize aspects of my work more and it gave permission to colleagues to embody more emotional freedom as well. The grief itself became a creative engine that could impact relevant contexts and conversations when I simply refused to suffer alone and come out of the dark.

When we forget or deny that suffering exists we decide usually unconsciously and with a lot of collective support to not include quite alive aspects of our existence. Suffering is alive, very alive, and it’s usually what deepens us into our human path and purpose. So we go on pretending we are on the path especially in work contexts when we’re not even close.

Whether you are a coach, facilitator, or leader please don’t forget to include reality in your conversations, your cultures, and your missions. People are suffering around you and there are ways to include and harness this fact. Have check-ins at meetings, include your own vulnerability when timely and appropriate, and check-in with people that seem to have checked out. Invite the creative power of suffering to create change, to create more safety, to burn through unconscious individual and cultural habits, and to create new norms and possibilities.

Work is not always nice. It is not always glowing. But it is certainly purposeful. And purpose can only really be found having, sharing and creating from the aliveness of our human experience.

Right Action: Marrying Integrity & Success

One of the biggest challenges for most executives is locating, discerning, and actualizing right action amidst the complexity of their role, agreements, culture, and evolving context. Right action refers to coherent, clear, committed action. We all know when we are taking a right action and we all struggle to do it as well.

We struggle because in highly complex environments there are many power struggles, competing agendas, influences, unconscious agreements, and ultimately our livelihood security is on the line as well as our social currency. Our actions determine us and so regardless of what actions we take and who they please or don’t please, our so called brand is being made–for better or for worse.

But as executives we must challenge ourselves with the question: who and ultimately what do we serve? If we do not ask this question, we will be far more likely to be overwhelmed and compromised by the context we are in. We need a rudder, one stronger than even the potential temporal existence of our role and even organization. This purposefulness has the power to discern right action amidst complexity and even chaos.

In my decade of experience working with executives everyone struggles with this issue of right action and there is likely no end to it. Why? Because clearly our contexts are constantly evolving as are we.

If our path of action, and success, does not align to our deepest integrity we know on some level we have not actually “won”. Someone or something did, but not the thing we serve. To marry integrity and success is to embark on a never ending journey of actualization amidst complexity. And right action requires commitment, focus and attention. It requires practice.

Being Fully Present in a Complex World

A Conversation with David from Fully Integrated Leadership

In this episode, I am joined by William Walker, a coach and entrepreneur who works with individuals, teams, and organizations to develop sustainable practices that meet with their specific circumstances.  William’s coaching is integrally informed, developmental, and authenticity-driven and helps his clients constantly inquire into what is happening right now in their lives and what the best actions are to take based on that knowledge.

In the interview, William guides us in an “embodiment practice” that he uses in his own life and with his clients.  He then talks about how this practice, and other practices meant to cultivate presence, can help in practical ways in our life and leadership.  We spend quite a lot of time in the interview practicing and talking about presence.  I encourage you to actively participate in the practices as we walk through them in the interview.

Towards the end of the interview, William and I talk about co-hosting a follow up call for people interested in asking questions, sharing, and continuing the conversation.  If you are interested, please contact me on my website at


Some of the resources mentioned during the interview include:

Leading From Your Growing Edge

Leadership is a hot topic. Maybe too hot. Not because it’s not important, but because anything that becomes caught up in too many conversations about itself can lose its aliveness, its directness and self-implication.

I personally studied leadership theories (and still do) for years professionally and academically, listened to mentors’ and colleagues conceptions of leadership and influence, watched their influence, tested my own influence, took on my own leadership challenges, and watched all the theories go out the door.

Many theoretical contributions of leadership have been and are useful. I’m not going to review any of them here. Leadership theories can if engaged sincerely speak to and awaken the specific quality or capacity that is asking us to lean into it, become it, or act for it whether that is a character trait, behaviour/outcome, relational skill, or more intimacy with the present moment. Depending where we are at or where we are stuck a particular theory may bring us right where we need to be to integrate more of ourselves in service of our specific leadership mission. This is the best case scenario.

On the other hand, certain theories simply reinforce the very patterns that our emergent leadership is longing to break. Theories are alluring and can be very rich depending on the complexity within them because they typically hold heroes at the helm, host a community of followers, and may draw more on our followership than our authorship. They can also attract the weaker parts of us that are looking for safe havens and excuses to not further develop. In other words, these theories reinforce our blind spots, pull us away from our present state of being, dramatise trendy or naive expressions of heroism (i.e. versions where the self always wins), and remove us from our inherent self knowing and self generating aliveness within. The result of unhealthy fixation on any theoretical construct is self and other dissociation and this can obviously lead to bad decisions, unbalanced view points, avoidance in taking our own true stances, or justification of ethical blind spots.

In place of, or alongside a relevant theory that meets you where you are, I recommend seeking sufficient feedback, mirroring, and attuned presencing of your particular leadership issues by skilled coaches, consultants or colleagues. It may not be a theory you need at all, or at least not a dead one, and you may find yourself living into your own living theory, rather than the safe ground of those that just may not be asking enough of you.

3 Coaching Traps That May Stifle Your Practice

This short article is for beginning and seasoned coaches who may feel burnt out, listless or in doubt over their practice. I have practiced coaching for several years and have noticed three themes that have surfaced from time to time in my own and other coaches’ work. To be aware of these potential patterns can help keep your practice liberated and maturing. Here are the three traps and potential ways to navigate them:

1. Depersonalization.

By depersonalization I am not necessarily referring to extreme forms of detachment that would be categorized as dissociative personality disorder. Here I am referring to more subtle and coaching contextual habits of detachment of oneself and one’s personalness out of a belief that this is of service to the client. These are the moments when we check out or take an overly disengaged observer or witnessing role out of unconscious habit. Or, we don’t speak up. A part of us is there but we are not ‘wholly’ there. After a session where we have depersonalized we might feel depleted, left out, or even rejected. In such cases this has to do with how we are holding ourselves in relation to the client. We need to do both as coaches–be a participant in holding space as well as present and engaged (i.e. fully with ourselves).

If you notice this happening to yourself in a coaching session I recommend making conscious inner contact with yourself again such as feeling your feet and arms, your bones, nervous system, etc. In other words, presence yourself and re-engage.

2. Not Prioritizing your Needs.

There are many kinds of coaching, containers for coaching and optimal conditions for the kind of work you do. In this time of technological accessibility it is easy to do coaching online but it is not best for everyone and especially not initially. When I started coaching I did a lot of work with people outdoors and I still do sometimes. I also engaged the body quite a bit through movement. This isn’t as much of a need for me today as it was then but sometimes I am called to do it. Trust what you need to get coaching and to unfold your coaching. In addition to context, timing is important. Respect your limits. And finally, your process is your process and you may, depending on your work and your client’s work, need to entrain your clients into your process. For instance, you may need to pause to take something in, to really get your client. Tell them and take the space you need. In this you are also modeling leadership in taking care of your needs. Likewise, if you intuit your client needs a particular movement to integrate something invite them to do so.

Not taking care of your legitimate needs in the coaching space won’t help your practice grow, it will disengage you and you may feel dis-empowered. Know and learn about your needs as you coach and act on them.

3. Let your personal unfoldment have a place in your practice.

What is going on in our personal evolution may sometimes seem like an impediment to our practice or to our clients but this belief is worth challenging. First of all, you are always likely going to be unfolding new meaning and complexity personally so we can forget about thinking we need to have arrived somewhere as a coach. Mastery does not mean completion. Secondly, it is possible that this personal edge or major transformation you are going through is of potential benefit to your client as well as an entirely new demographic you could open to work with. Coaching is not only about skills it is about you, what experiences you have integrated, what territory you have lived and know that others would feel safe with you guiding them through it. To clarify this is not about us taking over the coaching session though you have to trust your style and attune to what is happening in the coaching space. Sometimes the raw experience I share that I initially felt I needed to hide opens the client’s connection to their authentic voice and it creates more efficiency in the coaching space.

Be willing to bring yourself in in ways you intuit as appropriate. This will leave you feeling like you made a deeper impact then simply demonstrating your listening skills. Further, this is also what differentiates you. 

Finally, let your practice breath. Sometimes you might need a break, a different experience or two, or new projects to engage which, when you come back to your coaching practice, will make it even stronger.

I hope this helps, beginners and masters alike. If you want to talk about your coaching practice in more detail feel free to send me a message.