Hello my friends. I had a series of podcasts and topics I’ve drafted for release this month, but it hasn’t felt right, and mainly because well, does the world seem like it’s burning right now to you?
I don’t like the feeling of focusing on the negative, and that is not what today’s episode is about – but I see a need to address what to do when you are feeling helpless and how to handle the passion and the caring and the concern you carry in your heart when you see things unfold in the world that hurts your heart.
So that’s what I’m offering to you today. I’ve heard from so many of my clients tell me that these tips and these ideas are helping them move forward with more of a leadership energy, versus feeling helpless.
For those of us who are working on ourselves and interested in improving ourselves and the world, as we’re trying to manage our heads and our hearts – I want to offer to you that you are a leader – do you think of yourself that way? You are - if you’ve chosen to be intentional with how you want to use your precious life energy, toward making the world a better place.
And watching the world unravel can be heartbreaking.
Seeing the work of twenty years fall apart in a matter of days is difficult to grapple with.
As someone who manages chronic anxiety, I am not new to having to deal with the emotions of feeling helpless, and what is going on in Afghanistan brings up this emotion in a fresh, disheartened way. But I think because I’ve had to learn emotional management at an early age, and I’ve had to practice it so much over the years, I think these ideas will be so helpful for you to hear.
I want to share with you some ideas of what empowered people think. You’ve probably heard about what people who are empowered do, to make the world better, what they do, but today I’m going to share with you the way they think.
And my hope is that you can take these ideas into other areas of your life as well. When you do your own thought work and emotional management – you can have a sense of grounded-ness and you’ll know what to do with your passion and your hurt and your caring. You’ll have a sense of confidence about all of it because you’re able to see yourself as an observer – not as a reactor – and you’ll bring that kind of perspective and leadership energy into the roles you fulfill, as a mom, as a woman in society, whatever role or part you play, you’ll have that purposeful, capable, confident, leadership energy.
By now, most of you know the main tool I teach here on the podcast, the self-coaching Model – I was trained extensively in using the Model at the Life Coach School, and it’s a brilliant framework for viewing life’s circumstances.
So when I started observing myself and my reaction to the news about Afghanistan, I was able to quickly start using the tool of the Model and coach myself through the feelings of helplessness and sadness and confusion I was experiencing.
And so I want to share with you how I do that, how I did it this past week, in hopes that it gives you some ideas.
The first thing I did, as I noticed the different news and media outlets relaying what was happening in Afghanistan – and for anyone who might not have heard – a quick recap – the U.S. military has withdrawn from Afghanistan and the Taliban has moved back in and is taking control of the government, seized a lot of military weaponry, released war criminals, and the U.S. has moved out of our embassy there in the country, our presence is no longer there, and the people of Afghanistan are in chaos, it’s been difficult to watch. So just a very brief recap.
But the first thing I did after hearing the news, is I put the facts on paper in such a way where there’s no room for opinion or characterizing the facts with emotion. So here’s what that looks like:
There is a centuries long civil war in Afghanistan.
The U.S. got involved after the 911, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The U.S. trained the Afghanistan military for 20 years.
The Taliban exists.
The U.S. left Afghanistan in August of 2021.
The Afghanistan military was defeated by the Taliban.
The Taliban is in power in Afghanistan.
And those are the facts of what has happened, without any opinion or characterization of the facts.
For many of us, just doing this exercise is very difficult.
Notice how when I stated those facts, there isn’t any mention of what I think about it all. And I have a LOT of thoughts. Especially about the Taliban and the ways they treat women.
I have a lot of thoughts about whether or not we should have been there in the first place, what I think about the politicians over the years, the policies, the people in power, and I’m sure you do too. Most of us, who’ve been watching or who’ve had loved ones who’ve served in Afghanistan, have a lot of thoughts about it.
And so just stating the facts in such a way where you separate out the facts from the thoughts about all of it is not easy.
This is not easy to do for most of us.
It is a skill that takes practice.
I’m still working on honing this skill and it’s just going to be something I will continue to work on my entire life.
But this step is so important to become really good at, because it gives you perspective.
It helps you take a step back and start to see all the different reactions.
There is a wide variety of differing opinions and feelings that apply to these same facts. Right?
Some news outlets are saying, “I can’t believe we left in such a way.”
And other news outlets are saying, “if not now, then when, there’s never a good time.”
And each of us will gravitate toward the narrative that speaks most aligned with our emotions.
People will say, “well I know I’m right.”
And from their point of view, they are right.
But this is why the skill of separating the facts from the thoughts about the facts is so important; it helps you choose for yourself what to think and feel, versus being told what to think and feel, and then be at the effect of other people telling you what to think and feel.
Can you see why this is so important? It helps us get to the heart of things and feel empowered versus helpless.
In terms of being able to think for yourself, this is where your power lies. This is the heart of empowerment.
So the next question becomes, what do empowered people think? How do they think about circumstances that seem helpless?
That’s a question I’m deeply interested in. And I’ve come up with a few ideas, and I want to share them with you.
These ideas are just from my observation, they aren’t going to make it into a scientific journal, a research paper, but they are going to plant seeds in your brains of what you could do if you’re grappling with the feeling of ‘helpless’ and want to know how to feel more empowered. It starts with our thinking.
Number one: Empowered people tend to think that good wins in the end. That even though there are bad guys and bad players, and that those people have their moment in the sun, good wins in the end. I really do think along these lines. I do. I’ve seen it over and over again in my almost half a century years of life. Haha
I know there is a lot of talk about how nice guys finish last. And that the world will always be at the mercy of bad guys. And I don’t think that is wrong. There are as many cases of nice guys finishing last as there are of nice guys finishing first in the world. But I think that given a bigger perspective, a bigger picture of the human story, the good guy does win.
The earth is evolving. Humans are evolving too. Another way to think about evolving is to think of it as refining and keeping the good, getting rid of the things that don’t serve.
There’s a lot we are discovering about science and technology and our place in the world, in the universe, and as we discover it, the regimes and the dogmas that repress this pull to evolve, those regimes and dogmas will not survive. They will have their day in the sun. But they won’t last. The Taliban cannot exist in a global community, in a world conscious of its abuses, forever. Their ideas will someday be considered old-fashioned, oppressive, and they will be replaced with something better. Because good wins in the end.
These last twenty years, seeds were planted in the minds and the hearts of the Afghanistan people. We don’t know which seeds will blossom, which will lie dormant for a time, but the earth and humans it is our nature and our natural pull toward growth, toward expansion, and to evolve.
We can focus on all the evidence on how this might not be true, but I don’t think this is what empowered people do. I think they redirect their thinking toward possibility, towards bigger-picture thinking, and towards a widened perspective.
So my hope is that you will try to gather evidence in your thinking of how this could be equally true – good wins in the end. Think of all the times when it has in the past. And think of all the spiritual traditions that teach this principle.
There’s a reason we as humans keep telling the story of how the hero, the hero’s journey, the good guy wins in the end, no matter your culture or your religion, or your ethnicity, there is a hero story that has been passed down from generation to generation, and it has common themes, and one of the most apparent themes is: the good guy wins in the end.
Number Two: Another thought that empowered people tend to think is, “While I can’t do this, I CAN do that.” So in the context of Afghanistan, the thinking would sound like, “While I can’t go to Afghanistan right now, I can ‘fill in the blank.’ For me, this sentence alone opens up a lot of possibilities, versus shutting me down.
We could think, “well there’s nothing I can do, Afghanistan is far away, it’s a land locked country, and people with guns who oppress women are everywhere, and I can’t make a difference with all of that going on…” which is true.
But it’s not useful.
I’m always trying to get to more useful thinking. It takes a lot of practice. It takes more energy. But I’ve noticed that brains tend to light up with problem-solving magic when we ask ourselves better questions. So just the thought, “what CAN I do?” that is such a useful thought, such a good question, and here, I want to ask it because I want to know what to do when my heart is hurting, when I see people suffering.
When I lived in Seattle, I had the privilege of teaching yoga to some women from the middle east. Our kids were in musical theater together at the school, so sometimes all of us moms, instead of sitting in our cars while the kids rehearsed, we’d walk the circle around the track field, and I offered to teach yoga in the dance room while our kids rehearsed.
This group of moms from the middle east, they kept to themselves, they walked the track circle together, went to Starbucks together, and sat in a group in the lunchroom at the school together.
I hung flyers around the school one semester, I wanted to get a group of women together to do yoga with me, and I was surprised that this group of moms from the middle east, they wanted to do it. They were really excited about the yoga.
They were so eager to do yoga and so open to learning about it. They wore their full burqas in class, I never saw them without wearing their head coverings. Their sons ran around in shorts and t-shirts, but not the moms or their daughters. I thought it to be so strange. Especially on hot days.
I finally mustered the courage one day after a yoga session, I asked one of the women why she couldn’t remove the burqa even if there weren’t any men in class with us. I asked her if I should modify some of the class to accommodate wearing the burqa. She didn’t go into a lengthy explanation, but she pointed to the small window on the door of the dance room and said it was possible a man could look in during class and she wouldn’t know, and she didn’t want to disrespect her husband or her religion. The only people who could see their hair were their immediate family. It was a sign of sacredness and respect. Her conviction was beautiful honestly, I respected her and I told her that I respected that.
She then asked me something that maybe she had wondered for a long time, and felt safe to ask an American, white woman. She said, kind of timidly, “why do you think it is strange that we cover our hair? To us it is sacred. We only show certain parts of ourselves to our men. It is respectful. Is that so hard to understand?”
She didn’t ask me in a confrontational way. She genuinely wanted to know.
I said that I had never thought of it that way. And that the way she explained it made sense, but it felt strange to me because it’s just hair, and it’s hot and it seemed so impractical. I was just honest with her. And our exchange was brief. But I realized that my willingness to ask created space for understanding.
She said that made sense, but her culture doesn’t see it that way.
Neither of us are right or wrong. It was one of those rare moments I’ve had with someone who believes so different than me, where I understood where she was coming from and felt a lot of love for her, but didn’t agree. It’s a little strange to describe.
But it planted a seed in me to want to understand the people of the middle east.
I can’t go to Afghanistan, but I CAN – try to understand more of where they are coming from as a culture, as a people.
Even the terrorist mindset – how does a person become willing to fly an airplane into a building? What are those men’s mothers teaching them in the home when those men were little boys? How did their fathers raise them?
I read the Koran while I was in Seattle, the seven pillars of Islam, I just wanted to know more about these women who would come to yoga.
The seven pillars are interesting in that they have so much similarity with my own faith.
Belief in Allah, or God.
Belief in angels.
Belief in revealed books
Belief in messengers
Belief in a day of judgment
Belief in preordainment (both good and bad), that one leaves a lot of room for interpretation. . . the way I understood it was a sort of destiny for their people.
Belief in life after death.
I can’t go to Afghanistan, but I CAN . . . what? try to understand their culture, their people more, that’s a start, lay a foundation for some future opportunity, . . . what? teach my own boys how to treat women, about respect. . . what? Smile at someone who is wearing a burqa? What?
Can you even ask this question and leave out the part where your brain wants to say it’s too hard, it’s too big? Does it really have to be big? It doesn’t at all.
You can just ask yourself, “what CAN I do?” and keep asking until the ideas start to come. And empowered people do this on purpose.
Empowered people think this way because they know it will help them find ways to help. They know it doesn’t have to be something big, that it will start small, but lead to the larger, little by little.
The third and final thing I want to have you consider is a version of everything is figure-outable, this is temporary.
This includes world events, the media and the news.
Just as important as it is to take care of our bodies and safeguard our health, it’s also important to take care of our minds and safeguard our ability to problem solve, and to practice critical thinking now during this time, then we’ll be able to make the world a better place as more and more of us get really good at this.
This is leadership.
Most of my listeners are women, to you as leaders and mothers, who are shaping the next generation of thinkers, it’s important to know that this is not the time to throw our hands up in the air.
I think it’s the opposite.
My children know, and my clients know, “listen, we need to be really good at seeing the truth of things versus error. I don’t want any of us to add to the chaos and the confusion right now. The world is dealing with enough of that. We need to be aligned and grounded in true principles and cut through the confusion.
True principles guide us to growth and light.
When we’re feeling helpless and hopeless and disempowered, it’s never because of what is going on the world outside of us. It’s always because of what we’re thinking on the inside.
The feeling of ‘helpless’ or ‘hopeless’ comes from thoughts like:
These thoughts take us away from the true principle that small and simple things can bring about big changes, that everything is figure-outable, and that chaos and suffering is temporary.
When we stop believing in true principles, we create problems for ourselves.
It isn’t true that it was all for nothing.
The truth is, we don’t know, and we may never know what good we did while we were there, maybe not in our lifetime, I don’t know.
Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t see in his lifetime the good he did. But it’s there.
It isn’t true that there’s nothing you can do to help.
The truth is, there’s always something. Even if it’s lifting someone up where you stand, pray, hope, love, and serve quietly.
It isn’t true that it won’t make a difference.
Every time one more person contributes even a little bit to a good cause, the more who do a little can make a big difference.
And our world needs that small difference right now.
It isn’t true that things will never change. This one is especially tricky, because if there’s one thing we can count on for sure, it’s that change is inevitable. And so why NOT believe that change will work in our favor, and for good, eventually?
And lastly – it isn’t true that there isn’t a solution to this. What is true is that we haven’t found it – yet.
We haven’t found the solution yet. Dang it.
There’s more work to do.
We thought we were getting there.
We were wrong.
There’s going to be more work to do to find the solution.
Working through our challenges requires taking accountability for showing up in whatever ways we can.
Your brain will offer up the idea that it won’t be enough, but don’t believe that. Empowered thinking does not underestimate the power of small and simple things and how they plant seeds for greatness down the road.
When it all seems like too much and too big, and too far away, this is where it’s important to remember that who we decide to be today, in our small moments, where we stand, that’s what matters.
When you are the kind of person who wants to love and ease someone’s suffering, and fix and right the wrongs, with all of that, it would be so easy to get lost in the helplessness of it all.
The feelings of helplessness and hopelessness come from underestimating our personal power to make a difference in our immediate surroundings, one word, one moment, one thought, one interaction at a time.
What is happening in Afghanistan is sad.
And I want to be sad.
This isn’t about happy thought-ing my way to feeling better so I don’t have to be sad.
It’s more about doing something useful with my sadness, looking at what I CAN control and what I can’t, and then empowering myself to do what I can, where I can.
I really do believe that moms CAN fix war, poverty, hunger, racism, disease, human trafficking, and Afghanistan, little by little, by doing what they can. So many moms are already doing it.
True leadership happens behind the scenes, in the little things.
It happens when we see we have some money, and we share it.
It happens when we see we could carve out some time, and we give it.
It happens when we listen to our passion, and we create something with it.
Leadership knows that if we don’t have anything, that’s okay too. We can still smile, give a compliment, show some kindness, be more patient, seek to understand people who are different than us, be a friend, and maybe most important of all, ask for grace in all of it.
I’m telling you, the world is full of empowered thinkers. Look for them. Study them. Try to figure out the way they think about things. You’ll be amazed at what you find.
I’ve been listening to Steve Job’s biography recently, my husband and I listened in the car on our road trip and he was an empowered thinker. He had his faults, as every human does, but I appreciate the way he said, “think differently.” And look what that created for the world. iPods! iPhones! Some people might argue this was a very bad thing, but I personally loved my iPod when they first came out. 1000 songs in my pocket! So amazing.
So I’ll end with this.
Afghanistan is far away. And yet, it hits close to home for so many of us.
It’s easy to feel hopeless. And it’s okay if you do.
The feeling of hopelessness is an invitation though.
It is inviting us to dig deeper.
We don’t have to pursue empowered thinking. There’s no pressure. This podcast is called Dare Greatly because there’s a lot of things we can do instead that is available to us that doesn’t ask a whole lot of us. But I want to invite you to consider the benefits, the upside of pursuing empowered thinking. And I want to invite you to consider that It’s worth it.
Feeling helpless and hopeless and disempowered is part of being human, but it isn’t ‘just the way it is’ if you want to make a difference, and be a leader and help create a better world. Those emotions don’t have to run the show. They don’t lead to problem solving.
And so if you have a spark inside of you that wants to try on even one of the ideas I just gave you and allow yourself to cultivate empowered thinking, then fan that spark. Okay? I’m inviting you to do it with me.
Dare Greatly and consider the possibility that:
Ok. That’s a good place to start my friends. I sure love you. Thanks for being here with me today. I’ll see you next time. Take good care of each other out there.
In this mini course, I'll take you through the Emotion Coaching framework that is a gamechanger for cultivating more peace. Plus you'll discover how to shift the 'frustration habit' and parent from a place of trusting yourself more.
In this free mini course, I'll take you through the Emotion Coaching framework I've taught hundreds of moms and dads for cultivating more peace. Plus you'll discover how to shift the 'frustration habit' and parent from a place of trusting yourself more.