A Guide to Reimagining

Jan 4, 2021 | All Blogs, Bias, Limiting Beliefs, Pandemic, Radical Imagination

“Our radical imagination is a tool for decolonization, for reclaiming our right to shape our lived reality.”
Adrienne Maree Brown, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

As the pandemic upends our travel and many other traditions, our ability to adapt remains crucial to getting through these trying times. But adapting isn’t the only thing we can do. We can also create something entirely new, making space for and building the reality we truly want and need.

Today, we want to share some other areas of life that can benefit from the work of reimagination. And yes, it’s work. Sometimes heavy, heartbreaking work of deciding what we need to let go of, listening to our deepest desires, and sometimes grieving our losses.

Reimagining the Center of Gravity

Recently, Jennifer did some personal reimagining. After years of spending hours in her car every day—shuttling between appointments, practices, board meetings, school events—the pandemic brought her driving to a standstill. Without all the commuting and waiting, she began to ask herself some questions.  “First of all, why was I doing all that driving?” she wondered.

With her schedule shaken up in 2020, Jennifer began thinking about her time and what made sense when structuring her day. For instance, when would she fit in exercise? “I like to exercise near the end of the day, around 4 o’clock. This has always been the best time for me,” she explains. “But it’s also the worst time because of family obligations that fall then—school pick up, making dinner, homework. But then, I started reimagining my place in my family’s universe. My belief, which was very limiting, was that I needed to orbit them and all of their needs, fitting myself into their lives.”

Reimagining often starts with a change and then some important questions like, why am I doing it this way?

Sometimes the answer sounds like a fact: Because my family needs me. But a follow-up question is vital here: Whose thought is this, and is it possible that it’s not true?

For Jennifer, her reason wasn’t a fact.

It was a belief that constrained her time and her capacity for self-care. So, she started exercising when it felt best and allowed the rest to fall into place around her reimagined importance as a member of her family.

What Else Can We Reimagine?

The following is just the beginning of what we hope will be an ongoing reimagining project in all areas of our personal and professional lives. In the list below are commonplaces we urge you to question, especially in the context of DEI work.

Our limiting beliefs about emotions: they are frightening; they need to be gotten over; we need to find ways to cope with and ease them.

Whose thoughts are these and is it possible they are not true?

What if we think of emotions as messengers trying to get our attention? What if we embrace them as a normal part of the human experience, to be acknowledged, named, accepted, and managed in healthy ways?

Anger tells us something is unfair.

Fear tells us we need to make ourselves safe.

Emotions are telling us we need to pause, listen, and act. Not with old coping mechanisms, but with a reimagined sense of what is possible. Should I address an inequality? Should I find allies to build a safer environment for myself?

What are your emotions? What are they telling you to reimagine?

Limiting Beliefs

Our limiting beliefs about diversity

It’s a one-time achievement; it’s the solution to all our conflict; it will prevent future discomfort or disagreement.

Whose thoughts are these? What if they aren’t true?

We say often at Leverage to Lead that diversity is a fact and equity and inclusion are values we practice and hone. Diversity is just a state of coexisting with differences. It’s equity and inclusion that require being capable of managing and leveraging our differences.

DEI does not promise harmony. In fact, diversity, equity, and inclusion are the ways we get to more conflict—more productive, more meaningful, more educational, more authentic human interaction.

Our limiting beliefs about connection

Being connected means being friends; it means never having conflict; it means all interactions will be peaceful, friendly, and pleasing.

Whose thoughts are these?

It’s time to reimagine human connection, which is messy, emotional, ever-changing, and in need of difference. Like diversity, connection is not a state of being but a capacity. Being connected asks us to do hard work for each other and for the relationship so that we can move through differences with emotional maturity.

Our limiting beliefs about conflict

It’s the opposite of connection; it’s isolating and harmful; it’s something we should strive to prevent or eliminate.

Whose thoughts are these and is it possible they are not true?

Conflict isn’t disconnection. Conflict requires relationship—vulnerability, empathy, and engagement—and can actually be a path to building intimacy when it’s a healthy conflict. Healthy conflict requires safety, compassion, honesty, and listening.

So often we avoid conflict because it’s sustained and toxic—yelling, shaming, dominating, attacking. It’s unproductive, harmful, and simply meant to incite further conflict. We have to be willing to move through conflict and not sustain it so that we can use conflict to build trust and thereby connection.

Our limiting beliefs about deep listening

It’s only for intimates; it’s all about personal sharing; it’s not for people in authority, who should be doing the talking.

Whose thoughts are these? What if they aren’t true?

When we work with whole organizations, our first exercise in deep listening is encouraging. People are surprised and pleased with how much they learn about each other, how good it feels to connect with their colleagues, and how gratifying it can be to share and be heard.

But then, we apply deep listening to hard disagreements, to conflicting worldviews and values. We ask people to build connection by sitting with the discomfort and vulnerability of hearing someone out fully. And we emphasize that deep listening is mandatory for all members of an organization, top to bottom.

Reimagining Requires Safety

The work of examining your resistance, assumptions, values, and unconscious biases makes you vulnerable, and it can’t happen when you don’t feel safe.

We saw this firsthand with a mid-sized university we worked with recently.

Over the course of many conversations, the chancellor and his upper administration team developed a tolerance for risk—the kind that comes with showing up fully and not shying away from disagreement. They talked about diversifying their faculty and student body, but their conversations stalled.

The chancellor was never able to fully commit to a diversity plan; he hesitated, questioned, or shot down initiative ideas while his team continued gathering research and resources, never backing down from their commitment to DEI work. Then, the chancellor finally said it, what was holding him back from committing to this plan: he didn’t think they could keep their donors if they changed the makeup of the school.

His unstated belief was that wealthy benefactors were all white and needed to see faces like their own in order to give financial support.

It might sound like a moment of terrible conflict, but in reality, it was evidence that he felt safe enough to allow his thoughts to be confronted by his team. Which they did, because they felt safe enough to disagree respectfully. They showed him donor data and research that demonstrated his “fact” had only been a belief. That day, his limiting belief began to change, but the work had really taken months.

As you find areas of your life that deserve reimagining, give yourself space and self-compassion.

The work may be long and it will certainly be challenging. It may cause losses you will need to grieve. It may take the help of a friend, mentor, coach, or therapist. But our hope is that you will be able to imagine and then create something new, something that will offer you ease, authenticity, and fulfillment.

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