THE BLOG
08/03/2015 04:28 pm ET | Updated Aug 03, 2016

Thriving at the Edge: A Conversation With Donna Stoneham

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The Thriver's Edge by Donna Stoneham, PhD offers seven key pieces of advice on how to identify your life's vision and how to make it a reality. Through personal experience and research, Stoneham's book offers a road map to moving from a mindset of struggle to one of thriving. I spoke with Stoneham about her inspirations for the book, how to use social media for your benefit, and what it takes to keep thriving.

First, let's begin with your inspirations. What led you to explore what it takes to move beyond just living to actually thriving?

Seventeen years ago, I was very ill and unable to work for more than two years. At the time, I was in graduate school, running two businesses, and consistently working eighty hour weeks driving my body like a long-haul truck. My sense of value and self-worth were based on how much money I made and what I produced. At the beginning of my illness, I suffered the loss of my mentor, Ellen, who had a pattern of working 24/7 and didn't' take care of herself, died suddenly at age 50 from a stroke. Two months after her death, she appeared one night in my dream riding on a bus cursing at the bus driver to let her off. He said, "Lady, this is your bus. It's too late to get off!" As the bus flew by, Ellen screamed this warning, "Donna, be careful which bus you get on!" Her advice in that dream was the catalyst that set me on the path to thriving, because I knew if I didn't heed her warning, I'd likely share her fate.

Tell me more about the concept of the Bright Shadow. Meditation led you to your Bright Shadow; how might others find theirs?

Simply stated, the dark shadow is the negative unconscious aspects of ourselves we project onto others. The bright shadow is the part of our psyche that holds our greatest potential that we unconsciously reject in ourselves. The best way to discover our own bright shadow is to stop believing we're not enough and constantly comparing ourselves to others. When we focus instead on living from a place of authenticity and creative expression that honors our most cherished values, our deepest longings, and the expression of our unique gifts, were able to manifest that potential. Discovering what's most essential to living a fulfilling life that brings you joy is the first place to start!

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What would you say to someone who never even considered their life's purpose before?

In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice asks the Cat, "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" The Cat responds, "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to." Alice chimes back, "I don't much care where," to which the Cat replies, "Then it doesn't matter which way you go." The moral to this story is that even though it's possible to go through life without living one's purpose, it comes with a cost. Life isn't very meaningful and everyone loses out. Just imagine if people like Picasso, Maya Angelou, or the person you most looked up to growing up hadn't been living their purpose? I would encourage people who haven't looked inward to do that, so the world isn't deprived of their gifts!

You spoke of your illness and the death of your mentor, client, and friend as signposts for change for you. What clues should people be aware of to help them see when they are veering from their paths?

Inspiration or desperation are the two motivation that drive people to change. One of the things I often advise my coaching clients (and myself) is to trust your gut, or what I call your inner compass. Does the step you are about to take "feel" right in your body, even if it seems like the logical thing to do? A sense of listlessness or inertia is also something to watch for as a sign you may be off track, as well as feeling fatigued, unmotivated, or depressed. Making sure you're moving towards changes that provide greater wholeness and health, rather than running away from things you want to avoid is another good strategy that helps people stay on the path. Checking in regularly with your inner compass is critical to making sure you're still on the right bus!

One of the big moments for me in your book came in the chapter on resilience where you mention the concept of garbage in, garbage out with regards to too much media consumption. I know from my own experience balancing social media consumption often proves to be challenging. What tips do you have for others that need to cultivate more nourishing stimulation in their daily lives and less mindless or negative chatter?

Three of the most powerful words in the English language are, "Turn it off!" Easier said than done in our media-frenzied world, but if we don't hit the reset button periodically, we won't be as effective, present, or engaged with what matters most. This is where setting boundaries and maintaining a regular centering practice really helps. We need to create space each day to clear the clutter in our minds, and set boundaries on how much media and negative news we're willing to consume and how often. Meditating for even five minutes each day, reading inspiring and uplifting books, taking a walk outside and observing the beauty around us, and having face-to-face conversations like we did in the old days makes us feel better about the world and also helps diffuse the negativity and chatter.

Surely, this is a life-long journey to be self-aware and not just a destination. What do you do to maintain this mindset?

Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do." Self-awareness is much the same. It's something we have to commit to attending to each day, because it's true that we become what we practice. There are two things you need to practice regularly to keep thriving: 1) Take care of yourself (eat well, sleep enough, exercise regularly, meditate every day, and cultivate a support network you can depend on). 2) Take care of others (count your blessings, focus on thriving back, and practice paying it forward). As I say in my book, the journey of living life more fully becomes the end goal for people who thrive. I invite you to take the thriver's quiz and see where you land.

This book speaks deeply about your experience in eye health camps in Nepal and about giving back. What causes do you work with now? What does it take to start giving back?

I am a long-time supporter of Seva Foundation and help sponsor eye camps in developing countries every year. I'm also donating 25% of all my book sales to not-for-profit organizations who help people thrive, as well giving talks to not-for-profit donors and volunteers. In the fall, I will also be offering a monthly complimentary webinar on thriving. My dream is be a catalyst that inspires people to thrive and give back.

To start giving back, the question shifts from "What can I get?" to "What can I give?" There are hundreds of opportunities to give back every day. It can be as simple as paying the toll for the guy behind you on the freeway or spending five extra minutes really being present for your child.

One of the best parts of your book is how you pull in other resources to demonstrate your points. If someone wants to go deeper with this subject, what books or thinkers do you recommend they explore further?

These are a few of the resources I recommend to my coaching clients who are committed to thriving: Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, The Gift of Awakening by Mark Nepo, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life by Dawna Markova, Success Principles by Jack Canfield, What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith, True Refuge by Tara Brach, Building the Bridge as You Walk on It by Robert Quinn, and Buddha's Brain by Rick Hanson. There's also a great Mindfulness mediation app that's easy to use and offers great meditations from wonderful teachers.