As we finish up another turn around the sun I feel, more than ever, the presence and strength of the people around me- those that are in my daily life but also those with whom I share interests or passions who live all over the world. When I think about what has made this year stand out for me, it is quite simply, community. Community is defined in Webster’s as, “A feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.” Community has taken me by surprise this year. It has lifted me higher when I was already high, made possible things that I could never have done alone, and given me the strength to move with grace through fear. I feel, more than ever, protected, grounded and encouraged within my community.
We live in a culture where generations within families live separately and we are taught, early on, to compete and to differentiate ourselves from our peers in order to survive. We learn to hide the places where we’re struggling or imperfect. We think people will like us more if they don’t see our flaws. Even in the horse world, where the most intimate interspecies partnerships are required, the same passion that draws people together can be the one that inspires a competitive culture and drives them apart.
I am an introvert who can exist quite satisfactorily playing real life solitaire. As I’m ticking off the years, however, I’m realizing that satisfactorily is not the way I’d like to describe how I’ve lived. I’m realizing that it’s other people and my connections with them that elevate my life beyond satisfactory. I want extraordinary. And I want that for all my peeps too.
HOW TO CULTIVATE COMMUNITY
These are some of my lessons from 2014.
- Show up. Showing up means you make plans. It means you look beyond your own perceived limitations or doubts and take action to get yourself past them. I’ve been training horses and doing dressage, in one form or another, for most of my life. At the end of 2013, I became acutely aware of a glass ceiling that I’d unwittingly secured for myself over the years. The ceiling existed between Fourth Level and Prix St. Georges. I’d trained multiple horses to third and fourth levels and, seemingly, something would always get in the way of my moving into the FEI ranks. I didn’t have the money, the talent, the right horse or the trainer to help me get there. These are the beliefs that I had accumulated over the years that had, layer by layer, chipped away at my confidence and paralyzed me in the face of that imaginary ceiling. So. Showing up, for me, meant making a goal that would crash through that glass ceiling. Here’s what that looked like:
“In 2014 I create a full-fledged FEI horse who is earnest and joyful in his work. I compete at PSG, earn my USDF silver medal, and qualify for the USEF Developing Horse Championships.” (See Making Great Goals)
Showing up also meant that I would tell other people about that goal no matter how nauseous it made me feel to do so. I sat down with a group of my friends and clients (aptly dubbed the Jen-n-Tonics) and told them my goal. I did not throw up but felt like I was going to. My protective Inner Critic was like, “What if you don’t accomplish it? If you don’t let anybody know what your goal is, then no one will know when you fail. People might think you’re lame for not having accomplished that already. Won’t it be better for everyone if you just keep it to yourself or not try at all?” Showing up is about putting your Inner Critic in her place. You can insert your own expletives here.
What I discovered about sharing goals with others is that it is totally liberating. My Inner Critic quieted down, as she was no longer the loudest voice in my head. My friends championed my cause, cheered me on and held me accountable. I learned that when you tell people what you’re up to, they become inspired to make their own goals and crash through their own glass ceilings. You give people the power to help you and you empower them to help themselves as well.
Next, showing up meant that I had to look at each of those beliefs I’d had for so many years and, one by one, choose to make them wrong and put new ones in their place. Here’s what that looked like:
“I don’t have the money.” turned into, “I prioritize what’s important and make it happen.”
“I don’t have the talent.” turned into, “I learn, change, and develop my riding to whatever level I choose.”
“I don’t have the horse.” turned into, “My horse is what I help him become.”
“I don’t have the trainer.” turned into, “I am my own trainer and I utilize all the resources available to me to make this happen.”
Changing these beliefs did not happen over night. It happened every day. It happened when I was inspired, exhausted, discouraged, excited, pissed off and sad. It’s not good enough to show up once and then go back into hiding. Changing your, often decades old, beliefs can be a whole lot of work. I needed my herd to help me do that.
- Share your story. I am not a person, generally, who thinks my life will be interesting to others. I am a listener. It does not come naturally to me to talk about myself. (Yes, this post is hard-wrought!) What I learned this year, however, is that part of cultivating community is trusting those around you enough to share. Whether it’s what happened on the way to the barn this morning or our deepest fears and desires, our willingness to be vulnerable is what makes us able to identify with one another. It is the places where we are imperfect and willing to show our flaws that we can connect the most easily. Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” (See Books I’ve Loved in 2014)
Long before I’d reached my goal this year, I shared some of the challenges I’ve faced over the last few years with another trainer at a show. She, in turn, shared my story with a friend of hers who sent me the most kind and supportive note while I was in Chicago about how much my story had inspired her. I received it at a moment of great insecurity and it helped me power through some crap and get the job done. I truly had no idea that my story was special or that it could inspire another person when I told it. Especially someone I don’t even know personally. It was a HUGE lesson for me. The fabric of community is made up of the stories we share and all the places we connect in perfect imperfection.
- Ask for help. I raised more than $10,000 in four days this summer. Gulp. Remember that belief I had? The one about not having enough money to achieve my goals? Well, I learned a powerful lesson about being willing to give others the opportunity to be a part of your dreams and about asking for help. When I received the invitation to take Antano to the USEF Developing Horse Championships my first reaction was, “Whoo hoo! We did it.” My second reaction was, “Too bad we can’t go.” My persistent and overbearing Inner Critic made sure I knew that we were only ranked 14th and not REALLY worthy of the invitation. She maintained that my horse and I were both too green at the level and that we wouldn’t have time to get ready. She said I couldn’t possibly afford it and that even if I could, there are starving children in the world and spending that kind of money to ship a horse to a competition would be downright immoral. Blah blah blah…. She went on and on. In the past, I would have listened quietly to that voice, sucked up my disappointment and gloated about how right I was. “See, I don’t have the talent, the money, the horse or the trainer for this kind of thing.”
Well, it turned out that I had done far too good a job cultivating community this year and my herd would hear none of HER nay saying. A local trainer offered to keep Antano going while I was on vacation, friends offered to help with fundraising and logistics, another rider wanted to partner up for the trip, a client offered to come along as a groom, people offered to take care of my other horses while I was gone, friends in Chicago offered me vehicles and places to stay, my family gave me their blessings and more. Someone showed up to solve each obstacle my all mighty Inner Critic put forth until I had no more excuses and I had to tell HER to shut up so I could step up.
One of the hardest things I have ever done was to set up a Go Fund Me Site and ask for money so that I could take Antano to Chicago. (My Inner Critic still claimed, from her time-out corner, that I should be independent and asked why anyone would want to help me.) Well, the hardest things are often the most rewarding. I have never felt so supported, loved and inspired, as I did those first few days when the notes and donations started trickling in. It turns out that people were just as excited to help me accomplish my goal, as I have been to help others; a novel concept, right? I think most people understand the benefits of helping others but what I’ve discovered this year is that asking for help and receiving it with grace are important as well. Turns out, my community gets s*** done and I got to go to Chicago!
- We are all the same. When I first started facilitating group coaching and training programs*, I was surprised by something. Many people said that one of the things they benefited from the most through participation is learning that, “We are all the same.” Huh? Don’t we all want to be unique, to be the best, to stand out from others? It turns out that even in our infinite specialness and uniqueness and our vastly varied experiences we do all share common challenges, experiences and roadblocks. We all suffer, we all experience joy and loneliness and grief and exhilaration. It’s just that, often, we think we’re alone in our experience because we don’t share it with the rest of the herd. It can be a relief and also empowering to understand that we are much more the same than we are different. I believe that it is this truth that keeps us tied closely to the best of what makes us human.
I was recently diagnosed with melanoma. My first instinct was to not tell anyone except my inner circle of family and friends. My Inner Critic definitely would have had me keep it a secret so no one would see me cry or feel sorry for me or watch me go through the roller coaster of fear, uncertainty, pain, relief, joy and whatever is next. But I’ve learned that courage trumps fear and that, even as a die-hard introvert, I needed to tell people. Predictably, it is the stories and support of others that have helped me get through this time gracefully. I know I am not alone in my fear and it is the company and stories of others that are helping me sleep peacefully at night.
Thank you for being a part of my herd this year! In 2015, show up, tell your story, ask for help and know that we are all the same.