Tag Archives: Aspen Institute

Lead Through Art

Before my blogging break, I had the wondrous opportunity to attend the Aspen Institute’s Seminar on Leadership, Values and the Good Society. I found the experience a rewarding, albeit challenging one. It stretched me well beyond my introverted comfort zone. (Read my series about it here).

The seminar was geared toward leaders, and I found myself uneasy that I was not a leader in the traditional sense. There was one professional artist – a novelist – in attendance, and she admitted she felt the same. It was something I pondered throughout the experience.

I tend to take labels, categories and rules quite literally. And although I sometimes bend or break or mold things to suit me, other times I allow myself to feel confined and constrained. Quite often, the more constrained I feel, the more likely it is I’ve built the prison myself. In other words, I’m free to be or express myself, but I impose the limitations. It’s a lifelong struggle. In some moments I am able to break through, but others find me longing for true freedom.

I’m working on it.

CCI10142015In that setting, I gave up a lot of my freedom and power to external circumstances. I had a sense this gathering was important, that I was somehow lucky to be there and although smart enough to understand the content, not really “qualified” in the technical sense. Classic impostor syndrome: What if they find out I don’t belong?

I know and understand many models of leadership, especially those on an intimate scale. Leadership in a classroom. In a family. In a situation. Still, in this group, I felt as if that wasn’t enough. That maybe, I wasn’t enough.

These were my internal demons. Lies. And yet there I was, chipping away at the lies each moment of the Seminar. Each session found me reframing my internal dialogue, encouraging myself to participate. Reminding myself I belonged. I was leading myself to Truth.

In the closing session on March 8, 2015, we were to handwrite a letter to ourselves, responding to the following questions:

  1. What take-aways do you want to remember?
  2. What commitments will you make to yourself?
  3. What personal goals/changes do you want to make?

The seminar organizers promised to mail those letters six months later, and I received mine right around Labor Day this year. I won’t share all the details, but I will share my closing determination:

Lead through art!

Looking back on the experience, I feel more confident of my ability to contribute in the future. To be myself. To realize that in a room of leaders with highly regarded and diverse experiences, I belong.

On Mission

You will not find your mission by standing still. The only way to find it is by challenging yourself in something – I would almost say it does not matter what. Then by making consistent effort, the direction you should take will open up before you quite naturally, just as wide, new horizons open up before someone walking up a hill. Little by little you will come to understand your mission. That is why it is so important to have the courage to ask yourself what it is that you should really be doing right now, at this very moment.

It is likewise important to set your sights high. The greater the tasks you chose to take on – one step at a time – the more rewarding and joyful your life will be. A person with a strong sense of mission is a source of light. For such a person, there is no darkness in the world.

– A Sense of Purpose in A Piece of Mirror by Daisaku Ikeda

Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.
Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.

Two days after my 41st birthday, I ventured to Aspen, Colorado. I had never visited the state, nor participated in a Socratic seminar. Most of the texts we digested in preparation for the week-long session were “classics,” yet foreign to me for one reason or another. In more ways than one, the experience was an education.

Although I wrote primarily of the texts and our conversations around them, I also made heartfelt connections. Several of the women stand out, and two of them left me with words of encouragement related to mission. I spoke with them separately and about very different things, yet their guidance was quite similar. Although I “know” what they shared, it was a warm nudge and a great reminder to take action. Do the work, don’t just think about it, or wonder about it. Don’t just dream it. Live it.

If you discover an idea in a moment of inspiration, that’s your story to tell. Tell it! ~Stevie Kallos

Hermana, we are in this world together to create the opportunities that matter. ~Lisette Nieves

In short we all have something to contribute – something to do. Not only that, we don’t have to walk that road alone. Allies are nearby if we are open to them.

So it’s Monday, which is a great day for beginnings. It’s time to get moving. What is your work? How will you be productive this month, this week, this day?


Here’s the round up from the series:

  • The Aspen Seminar. Things get underway this evening and I plan to document my experiences while I’m here.
  • Opening. We just concluded the opening session of the seminar. We’ll be here another six days so there’s a lot in store.
  • First Full Day. Today’s session was on human nature. Our readings included Aristotle, Hobbs and Darwin.
  • Toklat. Today’s readings investigated individual rights and liberty.
  • Three Poisons. In Nichiren Buddhism, the three poisons are greed, anger and foolishness.
  • Over the Hump. Our morning focus was equality and social welfare. Notably today also featured poetry, fiction and writings from women.
  • Antigone. Perhaps the highlight of the day was our late afternoon performance of Antigone.
  • Leading from Within. Today was the closing session of the Aspen Seminar.

Leading from Within

The final walk.
The final walk.

Friday seemed quite a distance from Saturday afternoon, but here we are already.

Today was the closing session of the Aspen Seminar. We discussed our final round of readings, including my second favorite of the week, In our Postmodern World, a Search for Self-Transcendence by Vaclav Havel.

After our discussions, we wrote a letter to ourselves that we can expect to receive six months hence. We wrapped up with personal reflections and thank yous, and one last lunch together.

My thoughts during the week were enhanced by the many voices in the seminar. Ultimately, however, I came to believe that my initial thinking on many things is the right way to proceed:

  1. I believe in the inherent goodness of humans.
  2. I believe society is never fixed and final. Similarly, humans are dynamic. As leaders it’s important to reflect, evolve and grow with intention.
  3. It’s important for humans to resist urges toward greed and ego, and to remember the ways in which we are interconnected.
  4. All change and forward motion begins when you lead from within.
  5. I will lead through art.

I’m notoriously bad with goodbyes, and it was a bittersweet ending. I was in the company of brilliant minds, and even though it was an immense challenge, I’m proud I rose to the occasion and grateful for the opportunity.

Thanks, Ted.

Antigone

Today was the final full day of the Aspen Seminar on Leadership, Values and the Good Society. We have a short day tomorrow and then we depart.

The theme of the day was leadership, and our readings included pieces by Machiavelli, Confucius and Plato to name a few.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was our late afternoon performance of Antigone.

Apparently it’s a tradition that participants perform the play during each seminar. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to play it straight. In fact, you’re encouraged to interpret the themes and retell the story in a novel way.

I don’t mind saying that ours was a wonderfully creative, collaborative success. We set the play in the 21st century, narrated through the lens of Nancy Grace.  It was a funny, modern take. Our moderators and the seminar coordinator were our primary audience and a great time was had by all.

Afterward, we debriefed our choices and the key ideas from the original play. We wondered what Creon could have done differently. Was Antigone principled or simply hot-headed? What, if anything, could’ve altered the course of events? Have we ever been Creon? How did we deal with an Antigone in our respective organizations?

These questions can apply to use as business or education leaders, or as leaders in our own families and communities. I think the important thing for leaders always comes back to reflection and evolution. You may not make the right decision in a given moment, but how can you learn from your actions and take another step forward?


Read the last post in the Aspen Seminar series.