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MY IMAGINARY BEARD (Throwing Stress Out with the Bath Water)

As with any trend, it’s just a matter of time before the pendulum swings the other way. I read today that beards are now to be shaven off; the lumbersexual is yesterday’s news.

Simultaneously, several authors are publishing books about how great stress is and that we should stress more. Yes, you heard it right. You are probably like the rest of us, still absorbing all the dire information on the consequences of too much stress. How one neuroscientist after another scientific research experiment has proven that stress releases a dump of hormones in our system that literally kills us from the inside.

We all agree that stress is awesomely useful in life-threatening situations, but not in every-day life all the time. We know this because we are stressed out most of the time and we’re feeling far from great. Our minds are raising, we don’t feel present, we’re moody, we don’t sleep well and we certainly don’t feel like we are enjoying life. If you are like most of us, you feel like you are never really enough. Overwhelmed, in catch-up mode, rings a bell?

So, just as we are getting used to the idea that there may be some merit to the practice of calming our minds down at times; that we benefit from having tools that give our systems a change to recuperate; that life only is available in the present moment and that there are ways to train ourselves to live there; when employers start launching stress-reducing programs to help with our demanding work lives; when top-performing companies including the US Army offer meditation and mindfulness programs; that’s when these authors can’t help themselves – They announce with no uncertain sound bites that: Stress is good for us, and that can be scientifically proven!

Thanks. That’s just great. As in, that’s just great fuel in the fire of the less caring employers who have been on the fence about these high-cost taking-care-of-staff BS programs. Now they don’t have to! Hand out copies of books that show the upside of stress and why you should stress more, and we’re back to square one.

But wait. I’m wrong.

Company programs that teach stress-reducing techniques have been proven very profitable! Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses have been proven to increase the ability to handle stress with 59%. They have simultaneously been proven to increases workers efficiency with 65%, concentration with 26-88%, improved work place relationships with 76% while sleep difficulties decreased 35%. Not to mention the risk of getting the flu going down with as much as 67%. This is a cost-saving proposition – and we love us some great ROIs.

Phew! I thought I would have to shave off my imaginary beard.

It stays.

Along with my strong conviction that if there is anything this corporate world needs, is to know how to handle stress, know how to calm the mind and create space – for everyone – for some much-needed stillness.

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A Crash-Course In Miracles

On the morning of May 7th, 2015, already dressed in a stunning dress by Bibhu Mohapatra, I was sipping my tea at the breakfast table, running through the presentation one last time. As a keynote speaker at the Executive Womens Conference in Stockholm, I was only a few hours away from standing in front of three hundred power women, teaching them mind-skills and conducting mindfulness meditations.

My preparation with this presentation has been meticulous. Not only am I on a mission of teaching mind skills to leaders in the world, I also recognize the importance of having a professional presentation with compelling evidence, strong graphics and an entertaining flow. As a branding expert of many years, my presentation is made to perfection and my speakers notes carefully weighed.

I am pumped up, ready to give a top-shelf performance that will save these women from burn-out and unhappiness.

I get up from my chair to call a cab. As I do so, I jerk the teacup I am holding, making a splash of tea catapult on to my laptop. Whoops I thought, good thing it wasnt that much, as I wiped the liquid off the keyboard with my napkin. I look at the screen that has turned black. Thinking that it has gone in to sleep mode, I brush the touch pad with my fingertips. Nothing. Did it just run out of batteries? I know the answer already, but plug the cord in to keep the panic at bay. I have no backup of the presentation anywhere and am not willing to face the unacceptable consequences should the laptop be dead.

With the cord plugged in, I push the on-button. The familiar tone of an apple computer starting up has never been such sweet music to my ears. I am saved! I can still have the presentation and my panicked feelings that have seeped in to my physical and mental system are slowly subsiding. As soon as the computer is alive again, I focus on the number one priority: to copy my presentation to my Dropbox. I barely have time to think I cant believe I didnt do that last night! before the computer goes black again. This time, no matter how many times or ways I push the on-button, it shows no signs of life.

The clock was ticking and I had to call that cab now. I felt as if I was only semi-attached to my body and the current experience. I saw myself leaning towards having severe panic; stepping in to that, I would call in sick and focus on blaming myself for blowing this huge opportunity. I feel how it feels to be in that panic and self-blame. I cant think straight, and I cant even find my USB stick where there may be a copy of an early version of the presentation. I was pretty sure I had one, but now I cant find it and Im not sure that I ever did. Did I even bring it to Sweden? I cant find it and, even if I did, another computer would not have the right fonts. This is hopeless. 

I conclude that a path of panic is not the right direction for me now. Choose something else, I tell myself. Choose a new thought, one that feels better. I have never had so many of my own mind-training tools and meditative techniques flash through my mind and my being as I decide that the number one thing to do is to accept that this has happened. I focus all my attention on accepting that I will be on that stage for 20 minutes; no presentation, no video, no visual support that will keep flow and speed. Just me. Sharing what meditation and mind-skills have meant for me in my career, my former employees and my current clients. I am trying to go through the presentation in a speak-only format but the order of the slides keeps getting jumbled in my head. I snatch my meditation bells on my way out and put them in my bag with the dead laptop. The elevator is already waiting for me at the top floor and I choose to see it as a good sign.

In the cab ride over, I am focusing on my breathing, trying to actually NOT think about the order of the presentation. Besides, perhaps the laptop just needs to dry up a little and will work just fine in a while. That would make complete sense in my mind. I put my lipstick on and enter the impressive Bonnier building.

Im feeling a little dizzy, still struggling with my acceptance. If I knew the computer was gone forever, hopelessly dead, then I would have a better shot at accepting and adapting accordingly. I check in, still hopeful that the drying-up-strategy will work as I make my way straight to the technician's room. I have heard anecdotes from other presenters who claim that some of their best keynote experiences have been the times when they have had technical difficulties and have been forced to swing it. I compare these options. No. Having the presentation wins.

The technician is not rude about it, but basically lets me know in no uncertain terms that I can forget about this laptop. Thats the very moment when my real acceptance falls in to place. This is what life is offering me right now.

The first person that pops up in my mind is my dear friend Eva. She has been wanting to go to this event for a long time. Being that it is both cost-prohibitive and that there is a 100-person wait list, it was just not in the cards for her. I call her up and tell her that my computer died, disaster situation, can she please load my font on to her laptop, see if there is an old version of the presentation in my Dropbox and Ill have someone messenger it over.

Eva says Sure thing, but why dont we save the money and Ill just take my bike there. Just then, Jennie, the conference coordinator, walks by to ask how Im doing with the computer crash problem. I say that my friend Eva will come over and save the day but that I would want her to get a conference ticket for the whole day as a thank you. We get the big thumbs up from Jennie and Eva joins us in the mid-morning break.

I spend the next program session sitting in the technician's room, rebuilding my presentation, listening to the panel discussion from the stage and feeling such clarity, calm and gratitude. I remember everything I had changed in the presentation from so many iterations ago; all the images, the words, the order, the transitions. As I get to filling out the speakers notes I stop myself. I have already made friends with the idea that I will do this without a presentation. Now I have it. I dont need the notes. I will speak from the heart and feel the room. When it was my time to speak, thats exactly what I did.

Without notes, my speech became more of a personal connection than an exact performance; it left room for me to express the care that I really feel for other people, rather than trying to nail it.  Being nervous about delivering punches was overshadowed by my deep sense of service. I could feel so clearly what these women needed and longed for. I wanted to make sure that they walked out of there richer than when they walked in, armed with tools to feel better and having laughed enough to upgrade their bodily chemistry. In that non-scripted moment, I could connect dots I couldnt do in scripted notes; tying what the audience had learned from other speakers in to the teachings that I am so passionate about sharing. As we all meditated together, I had this awe-inspiring feeling of seeing everyone, even though our eyes were closed. The sound of three hundred women taking their high-heels off to meditate the air of joy, release, excitement and courage is a sensation I cherish as an all-time speaking high.

I am not the one to say that I never have given a better speech, but the response from these power women was overwhelming. And this I know for sure: What I learned as I responded to the disaster were real-life examples of what I teach and continue to explore. So what were those learnings?

1.              For starters, I learned that true acceptance of what has happened, regardless what has actually happened, is key. No labels or blame will help, just acceptance.

2.              With that, focusing with a clear mind on what the present moment gives me is where I will find answers. There are always solutions, even though they dont look like my own plan.

3.              Last but not least, in any situation, I keep learning how joyful it is to dare to ask friends for help.

 It was as if the so-called disaster that went down was a perfect orchestration to help me get to the next level of reaching people with my life-saving (and business-saving) mind messages. I am in awe of the learnings. Which, I have to admit, now also include to stop drinking tea by the computer and to always make a back-up copy (or two, or three, or fourteen) of my keynote presentations.

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WHEN DEATH IS NOT ENOUGH (Please Stay)

There are some fundamental steps for you to take towards reducing stress and its immensely negative impact on your system. Make sure to:

  • Sleep long and well at night
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthy, unprocessed foods
  • Take care of yourself emotionally

What is your reaction when you read that list? If you are like many of us, you roll your eyes and go “Yeah, what’s new??”, “Like I didn’t know that already??” and “Easier said than done!!”

If I tell you now that The American Psychology Association has pointed out that more than 60% of human illness and disease is stress based, would you feel like applying the list to your life? My guess is you probably won’t.

Even reminding you that stress is the number one reason for death, it still won’t persuade you to make the list your new guiding star. As boring at it may sound, the deal is: if you don’t take care of yourself, you will live a shorter life where you barely endure yourself mentally and probably even less physically. But you already know this.

Death really should be a heavy negotiation chip, even a life less lived, but no. There is something so deceitful about stress, because the long-term consequences don’t send your brain in to alarm mode. You’ll deal with it another day.

Your brain is alarmed by stress often, but only in a way where it takes care of the symptoms of the immediate stress factors. Those stress factors don’t even have to be real, as your brain can’t tell real stress from perceived stress. Ironically, the long-term effects of tearing down your system do not register in the same way. So you read the list, you read what is likely to happen if you don’t adhere to the list but your system still kinda goes “Meeeh, I don’t think so”. No wonder, you wouldn’t choose to watch a movie called “Unclear and Vague Danger” either.

So let’s try another angle.

What may be news to you is that meditation can help you to effortlessly choose the life-saving wellness list on a more frequent basis. With meditation, as you practice present moment awareness, you will be more in tune with what you really need.

A meditation practice, as scientifically researched and proven, can significantly improve your nightly sleep. You get that for free, so to speak. Added to that, a meditative state heals your nervous system even deeper than sleep.

Imagine then, a more rested you and how much more energy you would have to move around, not just for the sake of exercising, but to feel alive. You’ll have too much fun to even count all the calories expended!

In the moments you feel present and aware, I can assure you, you don’t gobble down a bucket of fried chicken and a turquoise slushie.

Meditation rewires your brain, and can do so in a way where you open up to a state of aliveness and abundance. In that, you will feel worthy of the fullness that life has to offer you. Taking care of you will be a natural consequence of your open heart.

Then, and only then, can you start helping other people and be effective as a leader, mentor, influencer and world-changer. We need you for that.

Please stay.

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A Kingdom For a Meditation Practice

Meditation is our best known vehicle on the path to higher levels of awareness. By now, there is an overwhelming amount of scientific proof of the benefits of meditation: how it changes our brain, restores function, reduces stress, improves work capacity, increases creativity and lots more. We hear stories from business leaders, athletes, politicians and rock stars who all point to meditation as their saving grace for handling life and staying happy on the top. In concert with its increased popularity, meditation has grown from something incense-smelling super-weird to a very loose term for anything that entails relaxing or closing your eyes. Since meditation can be a life-changer for anyone, it’s worth spending a little time conversing about.

The way I see it, you are already an expression of consciousness. You were made from love, joy and peace. Not from your parents, but from spirit. By meditating, you simply take away the clutter that is in the way for your already natural relationship to your higher non-ego self and everyone else connected with divine intelligence. This is the space where you experience who you really are behind all the built up bullshit with which we have learned to identify. Meditation is not a magic practice that requires yoga pants and flying carpets. You don’t even have to buy a super-special meditation pillow. You only need yourself.

Since I have had a daily meditation practice for almost twenty years now, I have tried just about anything to cheat my way in to making it easier or even obsolete. I mean, who has time with this sitting still nonsense anyway? I have experimented with shorter meditations, observed the effects of skipping meditation, combined my meditation with other activities (don’t ask), tried relaxing sleep postures – and here’s what I have found. 

A meditation practice is not a relaxation exercise. A meditation practice is not going for a run. A meditation practice is not introspection. A meditation practice is not walking the dog, drawing with the kids or watching any kind of TV anything. And despite what some popular life coaches turned spiritual say, a meditation practice is not enjoying a cup of coffee while reading a book in a café, even if it “works for you”. 

I am not saying that life itself cannot be experienced in a meditative state, of course it can! Both in and out of coffee shops. And I for one love it. But to get there and to reach higher levels of awareness, to reap the deeper juice from meditation, we better accept that it takes practice and that learning meditation from proven methods is a wise choice. Going from a stressful life of waking up with the smart phone and going to bed with a head full of worries, to suddenly living life in full presence and peace is perhaps setting the bar a little too high. 

And it’s okay that meditation takes practice. Meditation will create space in your mind where you can see virtually everything you do with greater clarity. In meditation, you will rest in the peace that arises from non-thought. Meditation will heal your nervous system at a deeper level than while you sleep. Meditation will melt away your deepest-rooted fears that no intellectual therapy can ever reach. In meditation, you will experience an alert presence that connects you to love and the love of everyone and everything else. 

Are you ready to begin?

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BJORK BUSINESS™ offers Leadership programs that specifically expand leadership intelligence and strengthen the inner power of leaders, managers and teams. The programs combine MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), Success Coaching and a proprietary Leadership Awareness Matrix system. The next program open to the public is offered in NYC, March 31 - April 28, 2015, through The Academi of Life.

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Fake It 'Til You Make... (A Hole In Yourself)

We’ve all heard the catchy slogan “Fake it ’til you make it!”. It is even used in contexts of leadership coaching where dressing the part is a hot tip on the way to success. And on an inspirational level of purchasing some fun hot-pants to restart a springtime jogging routine, I’m sure it’s great. But if really worked, I would be a very accomplished yogi by now. 

I have what must be more than 20 pairs of yoga pants in my closet. But I still don’t do yoga. I drink red wine in yoga pants. I do business in yoga pants. I’m very comfortable in yoga pants. But did I manage to attain my little dream of being an awesomely fit yoga practitioner? No. Because I didn’t genuinely feel it. I am a yoga pants fake and it has taken me nowhere.

In a business context, I can see that dressing the part could possibly make sense. It makes other people see you as that part, since most of us still judge the hair of the camel’s back. It may even make sense to people to act assertive, to play a leader and to pretend to be confident — as a means to attain those very states. If we want to become authentically powerful as leaders, however, there is quite a huge problem with this idea. 

The simple truth is, when we fake it, we know we are faking it. We don’t want to be fooled, and, hard as we try, we won’t buy it. We know we’re faking it so we won’t make it. No wonder. We are not just made up of a facade with which we face the world; we are complex, layered, emotional, wonderful human beings. There is something inside us—our inner knowing, our true selves—that knows about the unique imprint we are meant to bring to the world. Faking it doesn’t fit that strategy.

If we are asking other people to view us as something that we are not, a gap forms between what they see and what we hold to be true about ourselves. So you take a few successful steps with this fake strategy and think that “this is easy as pie” — but you will inevitably be filled with fear that you will be busted. You know the truth and the gap widens. The more fear you feel of getting caught, albeit unconsciously, the more you have to cover up the true you that is hiding under that “dressing the part” facade. This will not only make you feel empty on the inside, it will render you ineffective as a powerful leader on a great mission.

I do not believe that we need to “choose a role or pick a part in this movie called life”. I am frankly shocked to hear how people in my vicinity talk about themselves with this fake idea taken to a pretty advanced level. I hear things like “Oh that was way back then, I played a different part then”. Wait what, a different what? “You know, a different part, I played a different role back then, but now I play a business woman, that’s my part I play nowadays”. None of these people are particularly successful in their leadership or business endeavors, and they wonder why.

The older I get in business, the happier I am to leave space for who I am as a unique individual with my own unique thinking and experience, my unique ability to connect the dots, and my unique (bad) sense of humor. I feel from the bottom of my core the gist of what I can contribute with. So I show up. As the real me. In yoga pants. How can I help?

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BJORK BUSINESS™ offers Leadership programs that specifically expand leadership intelligence and strengthen the inner power of leaders, managers and teams. The programs combine MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), Success Coaching and a proprietary Leadership Awareness Matrix system. The next program open to the public is offered in NYC, March 31 - April 28, 2015, through The Academi of Life.

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3 Obstacles to Real Happiness

(or “The Shit We Put in Our Own Ways for Our Birth-Given Right to Experience Joy”)

The Number One secret to happiness is to figure out what makes us happy and do more of it. Makes perfect sense and sounds easy enough, right? So… with that easy recipe, why aren’t we all just, you know, happy? 

In grappling with the happiness question for the past decade, both personally and in my leadership role, I have done my fair share of research and experimentation. In doing this, I have found three major obstacles that seem to constantly get in the way for embracing this seemingly easy happiness notion. 

The annoying news is that, all this time, it turns out that we put these obstacles in our own way, both in thought and in doing. Silly, really. But after the first wave of “bummer, I’ve wasted a lot of unnecessary unhappy times and I only have myself to blame,” you can appreciate your newly found position of power: It’s yours to change! 

Because what I have found, in the midst of being a CEO, enduring the pressures of deadlines and insurmountable stress, going through the seemingly impossible and often unfair trials and tribulations of life, everything piled up (you know how it goes), is that there really are easy ways to be happier. 

The Three Biggest Happiness-Obstacles and How To Obliterate Them: 

Mistake No 1: Searching for Happiness
Finding: As long as you look for happiness outside yourself, you will not find it.
How To Correct Mistake: A Mind-U-Turn

The U-turn in the mind has to do with truly realizing that we already are the happiness that we seek. Sounds airy-fairy perhaps, but think about it: How would experiencing happiness outside yourself even be possible? The way I see it, it just takes a little negotiation with our logic to see this one for the simple truth it carries.

Take yourself as an example. How many times have you had a “I will be happy when XYZ happens”, only to find that, once XYZ has happened, you’re kind of back to your familiar misery level? Or do you find that people driving fancy cars seem outlandishly happy and courteous to you? Ever heard of depressed millionaires? Fighting couples? Yes? Even so, you may still think that “Oh but I will be happy when I make a shitload of money, that’s a given! Surely things from the outside can make me happy!” As a car enthusiast myself, I say “Yeah but only temporarily”. So, ultimately; No.

Either way you slice the dice, happiness is not an outside job. As per Jim Carrey: "I hope everybody could get rich and famous and will have everything they ever dreamed of, so they will know that its not the answer." 

Mistake No 2: Forgetting to Notice Joy (making life a Pity-party)
Finding: Being happy about something has everything to do with your attitude (and very little to do with the something).
How To Correct Mistake: An Attitude Waker-Upper

At times I find myself reminding my daughter to choose a better attitude. Just like that. Apparently, in instructing her, I think it’s the easiest thing in the world. “Choose a better attitude Honey, and you’ll have a much more fun!” So… uhm… in my hours of being, well, not happy, I sort of have to saddle up and eat my own medicine. Turns out, if I step aside from my ego, it actually isn’t that hard to choose a better attitude.

It comes down to our intentions of how we see whatever we have in front of us. Do you think of going to an amusement park as something that will be a fun memory for life, or do you already envision the unbearably long lines to each attraction? Do you think it's fun to get from your house to the office or have you done what most of us have; decided that we are not there to have fun. We are just transporting ourselves to a job we probably wished we didn't have to go to. We don't even notice that in a day of business in Manhattan, the elevators we get to ride in high-rises are just as belly-tickling as most tivoli rides. Not to mention riding in the front of the 2 or 3 express train. It’s a thrill ride! 

Translating this to your own life: what happens when your default setting becomes a happier attitude? I mean, really, if this is one big hurdle to happiness that could be out of the way, why not just go ahead? Of course you would have to turn in your Pity-Party membership card, which can be a painful farewell.

Imagine then, to meet most situations in life with joy and compassion. Or as Voltaire so swiftly put it; “The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood”. So, what will it be?

Mistake No 3: Making the Doing a Noun
Finding: The trick to doing something is just a step beyond “Just do it”.
How To Correct Mistake: A Doing Trick

Although action can be closely linked with many happy experiences, Nike’s forever-running slogan “Just do it” is actually not quite enough. We need to take this action-notion a little further. Most importantly, finagle it as it relates to happiness and our culture of success and visible achievement.

On a basic level, we can do things with many different emotions—some highly unwelcome in connecting with happiness. It is easy to recognize, therefore, that action alone will not suffice. So let us turn to doing “the things we love”. Because here is where there is a built-in trap: We tend to lose our joy in doing when we make it a noun. Joyous doing, on the other hand, is in the verb.

In my mind, it kinda goes like this: I get joy out of writing, so I write. (That's the verb...). The minute I label myself a writer (noun), performance anxiety creeps up on me and chases that writing-joy right out of my system. So if you love to sing, just sing. Start there. Make that a place of joy within you. You may have a promising career as a singer, or you may not. So before you get tangled up in your image and promotions and your social media platform and rejections, don't forget to come back to that place where you just sing. Be in the verb. 

To simply be in the doing without expecting a result or needing a label is surely a happiness hinder that you can jump over with joy. You don’t have to be a jumper. Just jump.

What all of these obstacles have in common is that they point to how easily we forget to live our lives in presence and in kindness to ourselves. In the present moment (actually not dreading the past or worrying about the future) there is a vast space for happiness and other pleasantries. For a deeper look at how you can make these methods a reality—in your leadership and your organization—join the BJORK BUSINESS™ meditation and mind training programs. 

BJORK BUSINESS™ offers Leadership programs that specifically expand leadership intelligence and strengthen the inner power of leaders, managers and teams. The programs combine MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), Success Coaching and a proprietary Leadership Awareness Matrix system. 

 

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The BIGGER Big Picture

As leaders, we often pride ourselves in our excellent ability to see the big picture. Let's face it, that's why we're in charge! What we leaders refer to with the big picture,” however, is all too often a very narrow picture. Most leaders make "big picture" decisions every day with little or no awareness of how everything we do is a reflection of who we are. The big picture we have grown accustomed to is a one-way street in its From the Top Down structure and Because I told you so attitude. 

On our one-way street, we think we are "rising above" when all it really means is that we have lost touch with what is real and what is truly important. We can’t remember the last time we felt relaxed but have no plans of slowing down or stop making stressful decisions for ourselves and others. We see the "hard decisions" as necessary evil but forget to invite our hearts.

For some reason, we have accepted the idea that the money-hunt matters the most, that as leaders we have no right to be happy at work and that, instead, we must work really really hard and sacrifice things that bring us joy. Because that’s what it takes to “make it”. 

Sometimes we can get flashes of wanting to do things that truly matter and feel the desire to make genuine changes. But then we remember that other people are for the most part idiots and the world such an unfair place that there is no use to get started. 

We have even diluted ourselves into thinking that we actually need to be frustrated and angry to get people to do what they should be doing.  Intimidation tactics have given seemingly immediate results in many office setting. Being afraid of your boss and the quarterly report results is good, right, because how else will we perform our best? We are set to believe that somehow we should be equally miserable to the size of our compensation package.

We are convinced that providing for our families discounts spending time with them. Then we go on and teach our children that hard work and competition is the way of life and the sooner they buckle up to the harsh realities "out there," the better they'll do. Just like us! 

But look at us! We’re not happy. We’re not healthy. We’re not as loving as we could be and would like to be. We don’t enjoy enough time with our families and friends, all the while most of us are not even close to the so-called “financial freedom” that we so desperately seek. There seems to be no end to the sacrificing and unhappiness - and no destination within reach. 

So what on earth happened to us leaders? I thought we were the smart ones?

At some point we just have to stop and ask ourselves: Really? Is this really the way we want to continue shaping our lives and the world? How "big picture" are we thinking if we can't be a representative of the world we would like to leave for our children? How grand are our actions if people who work for us feel like shit?

I believe the point at which to stop is right now. That is why I share leadership methods from a BIGGER big picture: A perspective that sees farther, reaches deeper and feels way better. Where the inside of you resonates with what you accomplish in the world. This is an invitation to a bigger awareness, a greater attitude and a higher altitude – a BIGGER big picture that recognizes that the very essence of life and business is a two-way street where you are happy to know and lead yourself as the passenger on your own beautiful journey called life.

One place to start is right here, with a daily practice of mindfulness meditation for leaders

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