‘I hate journaling,’ said one client to me recently. ‘It’s just never made sense to me to keep any kind of diary. Ew. How…adolescent.’ For weeks I just kept quiet about it. I knew journaling had been very helpful and important to me over the years. But I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why. So every time I told a client that they should keep a journal, I’d watch their eyes glaze over, ‘Ohhhh, yes, hmmmm, journal,’ they would repeat oddly like a stepford wife, ‘Yes, I should.’ And I knew they wouldn’t. And yet I could not tell them all of the amazing reasons why they should. I didn’t even attempt to suggest it to my male clients.

Yes, on the surface journaling does seem a little adolescent, conjuring images of a hot pink faux leather book, fur fringe and gold filigree, complete with a little locket and key. Within its pages might be my first name along with the last name of some school boy I had a crush on, signed over and over again, Mrs. Kelly Summers, Mrs. Kelly Summers, Mrs. Kelly Summers… Or perhaps a lot of j’s and i’s dotted with little circles.

But journaling is, without a doubt, one of the deepest, most profound, most powerful practices you can do — both personally and professionally.

I recently stumbled upon one of my journals from 2010. I spent some time re-reading it. It was at that moment I could understand the amazing power of keeping a journal. Before then, this practice was just too close for me to see. But this gave me a perspective, and now I’m going to share it with you.

Journaling works the soul. Over the arc of time, it has the potential to accompany you in a way that, while subtle or hard to see in the moment, somehow tethers you to essential and fundamental questions, commitments, and yearnings. It is this tethering to things deeply existential that is the secret to why it is so powerful. The best way I can say it, is that in journaling you are intentionally putting something ‘into form’ that springs from something more ethereal, mystical and wisdom-informed. And it happens without even realizing it. Your only job is to sit down, be open, write.

It’s not about how much you write, or what you write. It’s about sitting down each day, setting your intention to be open, and just being present to what wants to flow through your pen. It’s more about the ‘tethering’ than the actual content, or amount of content.

Here’s why it will help you, as an individual and as a leader (and we are all leaders in all kinds of ways):

1. Journaling forces you to stop, pause, and listen. This in itself is a necessary spiritual practice.

2. Journaling makes you accountable to yourself. People don’t know how to tell the truth anymore. Not because they are dishonest, but because society pressures them to be different that what they are. The first step to freedom, is to begin telling yourself the truth. And guess what? You don’t have to tell anyone else. Just yourself. Sometimes people resist being honest with themselves because they then think they are obliged to tell others, or to do something they are not ready to do. This is a trick of the mind. No…just tell yourself the truth. Do you really like that friend? Is your work really inspiring you? Are you really that into him?

3. Keeping a journal restores the sacred to your life. You can’t be an inspired leader without some sense of sacred calling, or service. You just can’t.

4. Journaling provokes outside of the box thinking. When you find yourself writing the same old thing, you are challenged to color outside of your own lines.

5. Journaling supports solitude. We need solitude like we need oxygen. And the more you serve, the more solitude you need.

6. Journaling evokes introspection.

7. Keeping a journal gives you a sense of sovereignty. It’s your private life. It’s your private world. And only you have dominion over it. This is especially important in the age of electronic 24/7 tyrannical access.

8. Journaling bestows dignity. You are the hero of your life. Only you can be the person you were meant to be. Only you can meet the challenges you were meant to meet, and give the gifts you were meant to give.

9. Journaling gives you perspective. There’s a higher ‘you’ waiting in its pages, just waiting to be with you.

10. Journaling gives you direction and clarity. When I read my 2010 journal last week, I gained a very essential piece of wisdom that is now assisting me with a challenge now.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you. Dang! I’ve even convinced myself! And the fun thing is, there are all kinds of ways to journal. You can write, make collages, draw, paint, glue images, make lists, write letters, or all of the above. I keep two journals. One I write in, the other I collage in. In fact, just to get your creative juices flowing, check out this link here to feast your eyes on all the amazing things you can do with journals.

And now do this: go buy yourself a really beautiful journal – one that just invites you to open it’s pages. While you are at it, get yourself a nice pen. Actually, let’s go whole-hog here — imagine you were asked to be some kind of sacred scribe. Now, with all of that sense of honoring, devotion and veneration, take yourself to a beautiful stationery store. Browse the store with indulgence. Find the journal and pen and buy it.

Whenever people used to tell me not to take something personally, I would look at them quizzically, head tilted to one side like a dog hearing a strange note. ‘What, exactly, is that supposed to even mean?!’ I would exclaim in exasperation, arms flailing about dramatically. ‘They are saying mean things to me, wanting me to feel bad, attacking me, how can this not be about me?’ I would whine. ‘How can I not take this personally? It certainly feelspersonal! It is personal!’

So if you were just a wee bit annoyed in reading the title of this blog post, I don’t blame you. Or maybe you were hopeful. Or downright confused. Or maybe you are one of the lucky ones and wondered why the heck anyone would post about such an easy topic. But in my work, I encounter way more sensitive leaders than non-sensitive ones. And we sensitive’s tend to take things personally. Like really.

To me, the ability to not take things personally was something available only to sociopaths, wax figures, and Mr. Spock. So I resigned myself to the refuge of Rescue Remedy and, when things felt really personal, perhaps a glass of red or two. In my darker moments, I would just get downright revengeful (in my very colorful imagination). That is, until recently, really recently. Ok, I’m a slow learner.

Sometimes life hands you plenty of opportunities to learn very specific things, and lately life was giving me a crash course in The Art of Not Taking it Personally 101 at the University of CEO. For a while, I was flunking the course, but the other day I had a breakthrough. A client called me, upset about a series of events of which I was involved. She started by telling me things I had said (I hadn’t), and by insisting I should have done something that I didn’t (I shouldn’t have), and implied that I was obtuse (I’m not). Her tone was scolding and patronizing—a recipe for me to take things personally.

And during the call, the epiphany struck: In situations where one is being attacked or criticized it’s important to first and foremost be present with oneself, and check in with one’s own experience and what is true for oneself. Now, that may seem simple to some of you, but under stress my particular neurobiology—thanks to my family of origin—is wired to jump outside of myself and rescue others. Because of this, I have a pathologically heroic ability to throw myself under buses. I’ll either do it internally, by feeling really really bad. Or, I’ll just downright take the blame, regardless of what is true, because all I want is relief. Sound familiar?

So, during the call, I paused. What was true in my experience? Most of the things she was expressing simply did not resonate with me. So, I listened with respect, and understood where she was coming from, but not at the expense of my own self-respect and dignity. In the past, I was great at the listening, validating part. I could actually feel myself inside their experience (and still do), and be able to know what things were like in their world. My empathy was real. But I sucked at the self-advocacy part.

So by first pausing and checking in internally, I avoided throwing myself into some limbic reaction, and was able to remain in equanimity, for myself as much as for her. In the end, she felt heard, but we came to a better, and more truthful and honest, understanding. I hung up the phone, waiting for the post-evisceration fallout, where I feel icky and terrible. But it never happened. I just felt good. ‘Oh my gosh!’ I thought. ‘This is what it feels like to not take things personally!’ I was so excited I danced around my kitchen. It was not just a mental stance, but a visceral ‘non-stick’ experience.

I used to think that not taking things personally meant having some kind of tough wall around oneself, a thick reptilian skin that allowed other’s words and opinions just bounce right off you. I thought it meant I had to ‘take things like a man.’ Even my favorite gal in the world, Eve Ensler, takes issue with the idea that one should not take things personally, because, as she so rightly says, the whole world has been taught not to be a girl, ie, not to feel, not to take things in, not to feel vulnerable — all this of course at the expense of women and men and the planet. But I was wrong. It’s remaining porous and sensitive, and widening that sensitivity to include one’s own self and one’s own truth. Let your sensitivity reach deep down into you like a tap root to your soul. It’s my own job to be sensitive to me, and not anyone else’s.

Another one of my favorite gals, Byron Katie, says this, ‘No one will ever understand you—not once, not ever. Even at our most understanding, we can only understand our own story of who you are.’ I find that liberating. It allows me to hold others and their opinions a whole lot lighter. When I no longer hold myself responsible for making you understand me, then I have a lot more energy and productivity for the rest of my life, and all the things I want to do and create. It helps me to love and respect myself more. And when I do that, I just naturally love and respect others more. That’s how it works.

So next time someone wants to sit down and ‘share some feedback’, or ‘just needs to get something off their chest’, or decides to vent their liver via email, try this trick—pause, breathe, forget all the chatter your mind is saying about ‘not taking it personally’ (your mind can really be ridiculously unhelpful). Take a moment to be really truly sensitive to your self. And ask yourself: is what they are saying true for you in your experience? If not, then deeply trust yourself. If parts of what they are saying resonate, then accept those parts and learn from them.

I used to worry that if I didn’t take things personally, then I would end up like one of those arrogant jerks who never self-reflected. And I’d be the last to know what a jerk I was. But that worry made a martyr out of me. And the joke was on me because, of course, jerks don’t worry about being a jerk. So now I’m in the free fall of the ultimate self reflection: what’s true for me? It confronts me with my own existential aloneness. But it unites me with exceptional courage and clarity.

So, go ahead, take a risk, I dare you—don’t take it personally.

Many people who work with me want to gain more confidence in themselves. Especially if they’re facing a transition in their life, and what they used to know, no longer serves them. “I’m excellent in the boardroom when it comes to crunching the numbers,” despaired one client who was changing her profession, “but when it comes to consulting people, I feel out of my depth.”

The trouble is, we’ve been told a lie about confidence. We’re told that confidence is when we see ourselves mastering skills and achieving goals that matter in those skill areas. When we think of confidence, or confident people, we think Superman, or Wonder Woman. We think bold. We think brazen. We think strong. We think capes and gold wristbands.

What a trap. It’s a trap because it makes confidence conditional—conditional on education, on mastery and on achievement. So what the heck do you do when you aren’t feelin’ that superpower feeling? What do you do when you’re starting something new? Or presented with a completely foreign situation? When faced with kryptonite?

I often see clients hit this vicious cycle of losing confidence, especially when they are growing and changing. They strike out into unknown territory, then without the usual props of knowledge, skill or external validation, they begin to falter and either lean back into the ‘known’, or berate themselves for being so stupid. All of this reinforces playing it safe, or the usual self-criticism—hardly the stuff of transformation.

Or I’ll see the opposite, where clients might lean into what they think confidence looks like or feels like. They rely on their head instead of their heart and body, and push themselves to live inside the realm of constant achievement and intellectual understanding.

Either way, it perpetuates unnecessary suffering, stress, and blocks access to real wisdom.

Maggie is a highly respected GP. Recently she encountered a new patient who presented with some serious symptoms. After running tests, Maggie told the patient to come back in at the earliest available appointment the following week. The patient never returned. When the results came in, Maggie knew she needed to find the patient urgently—her diagnosis was serious and needed immediate attention. It was over six weeks before the patient finally returned Maggie’s calls, and came back in to the office. By then her situation had progressed severely.

“It ruined me,” Maggie shared later. “I second-guessed myself with everything at work. And I flogged myself endlessly for not doing better with this patient. I should have emphasized to her how important it was to come immediately back, but I didn’t. I should have been more clear. I should have…”

Maggie lost confidence.

And her mind found endless reasons to justify her loss of confidence. If she had been allowed to continue down this self-destructive road, there’s no telling what some of the consequences may have been for her. Fortunately she had a wise (and very cool) group of professional women around her to stop the train, and reflect something more accurate.

I was lucky enough to be a part of that conversation where we explored confidence, and here are some of the highlights:

Part of understanding true confidence, is recognizing our dominion. What I mean by that is knowing what, exactly, is our sphere of influence and responsibility. As Wayne says often, we can do the right thing, but we cannot make the right thing happen. Maggie’s patient’s willingness to take care of her health is completely outside of Maggie’s dominion. If Maggie loses sense of this, and tries to over-reach into territory that does not belong to her, she’ll set her self up for losing confidence.

Dominion is not a black and white understanding. What-is-mine is not so much a mental understanding as it is a visceral one. I notice that my anxiety levels build when I am reaching outside my dominion. Like, for example, when leading a workshop: my facilitation is my dominion; what people do with it, is not.

But when I forget that, and take responsibility for people’s experience in the workshop, I get anxious. Anxiety has become my friend. It tells me when I’m overstepping my boundaries (or having them stepped over).

Like, for another example, when running this company: my drive to learn how to do it well, is my dominion; whether it survives or not, is not. Make its survival entirely my domain, and I’m a wreck. Wrecks can’t run companies.

So, what’s the ‘secret’ of real confidence?

Vulnerability.

Confidence, real confidence, is vulnerable. It’s standing in the firm presence of the unknown, and knowing you must stand there. Accepting what I cannot control, feels vulnerable. Maggie watching her patient make bad choices in spite of her warnings, is vulnerable. Letting this company have its own destiny, but running it anyway, feels excruciatingly vulnerable. Knowing nothing about consulting people because you used to be an accountant, and doing it anyway, is vulnerable.

Vulnerability scares people. They parade around with mock confidence to mask how terrified it makes them feel. We’re not allowed to be vulnerable. We’re meant to have it all together. We’re meant to have all the answers. We’re meant to control all the outcomes. We’re meant to leap over buildings in a single bound.

But this is humanly impossible. So if we accept that we only have limited dominion over what is really and truly ‘ours’, then vulnerability is a very honest response inside true confidence.

Here’s another secret to confidence. Being open, and being willing to make mistakes (and a lot of them). It’s being receptive, and being curious. Which brings us back to being vulnerable.

And here’s the last secret to confidence. Faith. Confidence comes from the Latin root confidere—‘with faith’ or ‘with trust’. Notice that it does not mean trust ‘in something’ as in ‘trust in your capacities’, or ‘faith in your hot looks’, or ‘trust in your brain power’. Just plain old ‘with faith’, and nothing else added. No cape, no gold wristbands. Just you, standing there, with trust.

I have a dear friend and mentor who has been successfully consulting Fortune 500 companies for decades. I asked him how he does his work, and how he manages to feel so confident in such unpredictable high stakes circumstances. A bigger than life Italian from Boston, his Catholic roots support him. “Before every workshop, or before any big meeting, I say a prayer.” he replied. “I ask only that I be of service to the greater good. And when I’ve done that, I know everything will work out just as it is supposed to.” Looking at me with a sparkle in his eye, he finished, “I just trust.”

Confidence is a way of being invites you to tap into a much more feminine sense of power, one that leans into the unknown. It’s more about presence than about prowess. And it’s more about befriending the free-fall, not having a net.

In fact, if you take just a moment right now you can even get a visceral sense of confidence. Just be present, still and quiet. Imagine you standing inside your domain, or your dominion. Just imagine it circling around you like a sense of all that you are. Then, lean into some sense of trust…and let go. That feeling you get in your body when you do all that…is confidence.

My father was quite a famous academic and public speaker. I asked him many years ago how he became so confident up there at the podium.

“I’m not confident,” he exclaimed, “I’m terrified! I never know what I’m going to say, or even if it will come out right.”

“But,” said I, “You don’t look terrified; you give terrific talks. How do you do that?”

“I just know,” he said, after a long quiet pause, “ that for reasons I’ll never understand, I’m supposed to be up there.”

That’s confidence.