“Although you can’t make your life more perfect, you can, without question, learn to live more skillfully.” Phillip Moffit, Emotional Chaos to Clarity: How to Live More Skillfully, Make Better Decisions, and Find Purpose in LifeIn the early days of my career, as an assistant manager with a large retail chain, I fondly remember a mentoring, veteran store manager telling me, “You know, you get better at this managing thing. You just gotta get comfortable in your own skin.” As is often the case when one is young, that whole statement flew right over my head. I honestly had no clue as to what he was talking about. Now, many years later, with hundreds of additional hours of work experience, I know exactly what he was referring to. He was basically talking about being comfortable with who you are in the role of management and in life.
In Emotional Chaos to Clarity: How to Live More Skillfully, Make Better Decisions, and Find Purpose in Life, Buddhist, Phillip Moffit says,
“Imagine abandoning your expectations about what your life should be like and awakening to a deeper, more meaningful and satisfying relationship to your life just as it is.”
What Moffit describes in that statement, is the ultimate state of “being comfortable in our own skins.” Further, he describes an end to our fighting to try to mold our lives into what we think it ought to be, and instead, being friends with our lives, accepting our lives and ourselves. But this is not a passive resignation to not ever trying to better ourselves; it is putting an end to our our constant reactivity and resistance to all that comes our way" and being friends with it all.
Below, I've taken the liberty of slightly modifying Moffit's list of nine benefits of skillful living and generated my own list of "9 Benefits of Living in Our Own Skins" advice to school leaders.
1. We know and act from our core values at all times. If we’re living skillfully, we are “comfortable in our own skins” and do not pretend to be someone we’re not. We don’t forget our inner core when we make decisions. We walk the talk because we authentically adhere to our most sacred values. There are no sacrifices of our most important values for personal and private gain.
2. We gain wisdom from both pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Life is our teacher. As leaders, every experience, whether it be difficult or not, is our instructor about life and about ourselves. Those we encounter that try our patience, that test our values, are our teachers too. When we live skillfully, we are open to the lessons that life and these people bring.
3. We can discern between thoughts, words, and actions that can cause harm and those that do not, and we act accordingly. Living skillfully and “being comfortable in our own skin” means we are in tune with what’s happening in our minds. We know clearly that what we say and what we do has the potential to cause harm, and we refrain from those. We speak and act only after examining our motives and intentions, and when we know no harm will come to others due to the choices we make.
4. We know our true nature, the essence of our character, and how to protect it. You can’t possibly be comfortable “in your own skin” if you really don’t know yourself. In essence, we are not our school leader roles. We are much more, and if we live skillfully, we are in tune with all. Taking time to know ourselves is important. Annual retreats and time for reflection each day are a must.
5. We accept gain and loss equally and derive insight from each. We don't always have to win. We also accept losing as well. There is much to learn from the wins and losses in life. Living skillfully means we face both of these and use them as opportunities to learn more about ourselves and life.
6. We realize that we have an inner life in which love can flourish, even if our outer life is filled with challenges. School leaders seldom speak of “love” because setting aside your feelings and sentimentality is often thought to be a sign of good leadership. In fact, authentic leaders realize the value of inner lives. It is through the cultivation of the inner life that makes possible the ability to withstand the challenges of our outer lives. When the worst happens, what's inside us is tested, and what comes out determines our authentic selves.
7. We learn to speak only what is true, and timely, even during moments anger and outrage. Living skillfully means not sugar-coating our feelings or what we see. Nor does it mean we let our words fly in anger no matter where they land. Sensitivity means we may speak the truth, but with finesse and concern about how our words affect others. We learn to say what we see and feel as the truth, but we do so when time and opportunity allow us to do so skillfully.
8. We are not controlled by our views and opinions, instead we have a “don’t know” mind that responds wisely to life’s encounters. Living skillfully as school leaders means our views and opinions don’t drive us. We know we don’t know what we think we know. This doesn't mean we plead ignorance, but it does mean we approach what we know with a tentativeness that says I know I don't always know what's the best. It's being open to the possibilities. With the attitude of “I don’t know mind” we approach our leadership with a humility that makes our decisions take on a new level of wisdom.
9. Finally, we have the ability to soothe ourselves when we feel disappointed and overwhelmed in life. We are skillfully living “in our own skins” when we take the time to apply medicine to ourselves when disappointments come. When the pressures of leadership overwhelm us, we acknowledge them and say to ourselves, “It is OK. You’ll be OK.” Soothing ourselves means we don't accept the wounds of leadership as inevitable. We put salve on our wounds and take care of ourselves.
As my mentor from long ago indicated, "We do get better at this leadership thing. But it only happens when get comfortable in our own skins." This only happens when we accept life as it is.We can learn to live skillfully each and every day of our lives. This is the process of “getting comfortable in our own skins” as leaders. Living skillfully is ultimately letting go of all those expectations about how we think things should be, and fostering a “meaningful and satisfying relationship with our lives.”