Reflections on Being of Service: Leadership Summit 2017

Thunderbird Leadership held its 11th Leadership Summit on Friday, November 10th. When the planning team convened, they discussed its proximity to Veterans Day and we were all taken by the notion of service. What does service mean? How do we serve? Who benefits? The day evolved into exploring notions of service, mercy and compassion…recognizing potential avenues to impact others as well as the need to care for ourselves so we have the genuine capacity to serve.

Dr. Gladys McGarey was the keynote speaker. She will be celebrating her 97th birthday this month and shared the story of her life in decades starting with her early childhood in northern India where her parents were medical missionaries. Clearly, she was born to service. Her story depicted a life of courage, seeking truth, and finding ways to bring healthful living to people throughout the world. We were struck by her challenge to change the medical model from “a war against disease,” to one that seeks life and balance – moving from fear to love. Her story was spellbinding and the consensus was that we could have listened to her all day!

How often do we take time to truly listen to others’ stories? Each of us has a tale to tell of how we arrived at this moment in time.

Our next speakers were Dr. Gladys’ extended family – who spoke about well-being. Julie Wechsler, a certified executive and well-being coach, shared factors that matter for overall well-being in our lives and differentiated surviving and thriving. She integrated how service was a critical part of thriving and introduced her daughter-in-law, Ashley, to share what service has meant to her. Ashley told her heartfelt story of being a “Big” for Big Brothers, Big Sisters and how it has profoundly changed her life. Ashley has been a Big Sister to the same girl for seven years…their families now entwine even more with connections, love and honor with Ashley’s Little Sister’s brother and sister.

The message was loud and clear – when we give, we receive.

Dr. Carla Rotering talked about mercy and forgiveness. Her gentle, thoughtful and deep remarks challenged us to “radical mercy,” to have compassion for ourselves and others without evaluating who “deserves” it. How do we navigate the world if we believe people are doing the best that they can? How do we treat ourselves if we believe that about ourselves? What is the impact on the world? Dr. Rotering completed her presentation with a poem she wrote, “The Reckoning,” that left us speechless – a journey from doubt and pain, to compassion and self-acceptance.

And the tenderness of your true heart rises up to meet you
At the higher place to which you have come
And the shroud that has bound the secrets to your spirit for so long
Simply falls away.”
Carla Rotering, 2002

So, here we are at a Leadership Summit about service and we are being asked to take care of ourselves – recognizing that we cannot genuinely serve others if our own self is untended, uncared for. I am reminded of a concept from Dr. Brene Brown who stated that the people who are the most compassionate have the best boundaries. They know themselves, care for themselves and act from the heart, from love and “radical mercy,” not from obligation.

And the truth is, we can all feel that difference, can’t we?

In the afternoon, we heard from Katie Owens and her story of resilience, depicting how we can move from disappointment and rejection to new opportunities and possibilities. Once again, the message is about inner strength making space for genuine service.

Out beyond stories of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field, I’ll meet you there…”  Rumi

And finally, Mary Lockhart, Noushin Bayat and I finished the day looking at how the messages we tell ourselves impact our ability to act, to serve. Back to stories once again! We challenged ourselves and our participants to differentiate fact from fiction, observation from interpretation. We asked participants to “turn to wonder” when things get difficult, turning away from, “I don’t,” “I can’t,” “I never,” and opening possibilities for new stories and new perspectives, concluding with a quote from Viktor Frankl,

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

And then, the day was over. Our heads were filled with messages of care, compassion and passion for ourselves and for others…to see the world in a new way and to find our place of impact, not to wait for the right time, but to make today the right time.

P.S. – There were so many fabulous contributors to the day that enhanced the experience of the Summit for everyone. Check our photo gallery to see the support of our sponsors, imagine the day graced by harpist Joyce Beukers, massage therapist Heather Paslay and graphic documentarian Stephanie Levine. A Silent Auction inspired generous giving which netted well over $2000. Every participant had a chance to submit “their” charity of choice for the Silent Auction proceeds, and this year, the Humane Society was the lucky recipient. We hope you will be able to join us next year!