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Leaning Out

I was working with someone who was in the thick of a lot of responsibilities, to the point of overwhelm. Often leaders are encouraged to "lean into" the issue, roll up their sleeves and work through it. I suggested the leader "lean out" -- back up and gain a wider perspective on the issues facing him.


It was not something I had told anyone, but the more I considered it, the more I think more of us need to lean out. In our world we see laser-focus on everything from the person who won't let us merge in traffic, to the spouse who's "always wrong", to the policies and politics of guns, pandemics and "why can't I go to church?". "My issue," whatever it might be, is the most important thing happening in the world and "I'm angry with everyone who doesn't see it my way."


Does that sound extreme? Well consider the things we have all dealt with over the past 13 months: a worldwide pandemic, shelter in place and shutdowns for work, school, relationships, deaths, social unrest, and the inner gymnastics we all had to do to adjust to all of that. These things don't even include what you and your family went through outside world events.


This is a good time to pause and check in: Have you become so involved with an issue, position, event, person, or practice that you don't see much else as important? Are you finding it hard to focus on one thing at a time? Is it hard for you to connect from news items or politics? Are you angry, sad, or overwhelmed with your inability to affect the outcome of what is causing you distress?


I'm not a therapist, I'm a coach.


  1. Lean out by trusting that the wisdom you have shared will do its job, even if it seems to take a long time. Understand that no matter how much you may want someone to behave differently, you cannot control, nor are you responsible for another adult's behavior. While it may be painful to watch those you love experience the consequences of poor or uninformed choices, those choices are theirs to make. Decide now that if your advice isn't taken, you can still lovingly be there, boundaries in place, with those you care about.

  2. Lean out from inner and outer conflicts to assess what's going on "underneath". If you notice yourself eating without thinking, stop and ask yourself, "What am I feeding?" Consider that same thought in your dealings with others. Are you feeding a fear, an old resentment, or a perceived attack by staying on the defensive? Is there some unresolved conflict in your relationships or within yourself that you are not addressing honestly?

  3. Lean out from the external stimuli of hearing the news spoken and seeing the stories reenacted over and over. If you are accustomed to getting the news from television or internet, try getting the news from a newspaper for a while. You can even make this a less stressful experience by reading in your backyard with a cup of coffee, or at a coffee shop, if your city is open and you observe COVID practices. By getting the news this way you control the pace and impact the news has on your stress level.

  4. Lean out from the desire to get one up on people you don't even know. The next time you are in traffic and get angry because of another driver, ask yourself "What does it say about me if another driver cuts me off?" Hint: that driver might be late for work, or just a poor driver -- it has nothing to do with your worth as a human being.

  5. Lean out from judging others' motives. We are intelligent people who can judge right actions from wrong actions based on circumstances. We don't get have the ability to judge the motives of other people, however, because we lack the trait of omniscience. Evaluate your own attitude towards others to make sure you aren't judging people, and that you have correct information before assessing their actions.

As a nation, we all have experienced heavy doses of stress, loss, grief and more in the last year. Do yourself the kindness of leaning back and looking at what you're experiencing from a wider lens, a different perspective. Consider the following scripture which I believe speaks of the need to back up and gain a new viewpoint into what overwhelms us:

From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2



Michele Aikens is CEO and Lead Coach of Sepia Prime Communications & Coaching. You can connect with her on Twitter or Instagram @SepiaPrimeWoman. You can also e-mail her here:



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