Self-Stewardship: The Practice of Cultivating Your Gifts and Living a Life of Meaning
My work is dedicated to spreading the view of organizations and communities as dynamic living systems. With this view, our role is to be stewards, creating the fertile conditions for life to thrive within and around them. But what does that mean for our own lives, as individuals? How would you steward yourself and your gifts if you believed wholeheartedly in the preciousness of your own aliveness? What if you were committed to the practice of your own thrivability?
These are not frivolous, self-indulgent questions. Our times call — with great urgency — for ALL of us to contribute our gifts with everything we’ve got, even when we have been raised and schooled to hide them away or offer them only partially, fearing them to be inadequate, fearing that the “market” won’t value them. In place of the market, we need to become a community, seeing and welcoming each other’s gifts and supporting the courage it takes to share and cultivate them in the public eye.
From my work with people in organizations and from my own experience cultivating my gifts and trying to live a life of meaning, these are the practices that seem to be at the heart of self-stewardship:
1. Be confident: This isn’t about being egotistical or boastful. The roots of the word “confident” are “with faith.” This is about harboring deep faith that you have gifts and potential to contribute to life. Anyone who has children can tell you that they “show up” with inexplicable inborn gifts. You, too, carry such gifts. And those gifts are yours to share with the rest of life. You are valuable. There is no denying that.
2. Be curious: Like seeds planted within you at birth, your gifts call out to be continuously cultivated. And the only way to cultivate them is to share them, in a spirit of gentle, compassionate curiosity. This is the satisfying, lifelong work of mastering your craft. To be alive is to be learning. As orchestra conductor Benjamin Zander says, there is no such thing as failure; only feedback. And the only appropriate response to any outcome is: “How fascinating!” Life’s journey is a search for ways to make your gift an ever more authentic expression of who you are.
3. Be competent: Life’s journey is equally a search for ways to make your gift ever more meaningful for those who willingly receive it. In all your curious learning, then, the constant goal is the highest level of competence. The word origin here is “to be fit, proper, suitable.” This calls for a continuous effort to bring new levels of thoughtfulness and care to your offering, as if for your beloved. It asks what role your gift plays in the unfolding story of the people and places it serves, including the larger context it exists within.
4. Be committed: To paraphrase Spiderman’s father: “With great gifts comes great responsibility.” It is up to you to do whatever it takes to make your gifts visible and available to the world. Get out there and shine! At the same time, needing others to accept the offering changes it from gift to gimmick. A truly generous gift comes from a place of expressing your joy, not seeking it from others.
5. Be courageous: All of this takes courage. The etymology here reminds us to listen to the wisdom of the heart, with its ability to sense what is truly needed. Find people, practices and places that renew and strengthen both your discernment and your determination. Whether it’s a spiritual practice, an expressive physical practice, a reflective community, or simply a walk in the woods, find sources of en-courage-ment.
As I wrote all this, I kept returning to a memory of my daughter at her preschool on her fourth birthday. She wore a special swirly dress for the occasion. Moving with uncommon care, she handed out cupcakes one at a time to her classmates, who sat along a low wall in the yard of the school, each eagerly waiting for her to bestow upon them a precious cupcake. To me, it looked like she felt a mix of pride, generosity and solemn responsibility.
As you deepen in your practice of self-stewardship and commit to contributing your gifts wholeheartedly, what I wish for you is that you always feel like you’re wearing your personal equivalent of a special swirly dress and that you have CUPCAKES to share! Who doesn’t love cupcakes? :-)