In 20 years of helping people find fulfillment and training coaches to do the same, I've noticed that we human beings expend an inordinate amount of time and energy protecting our hearts from shattering. The cost? We become armored and narrow and stop evolving. In fact, the only way we can evolve is when our sense of what we know and trust is destroyed. As soon as we think we've got it all figured out and try to keep things the same, we die. Staying static doesn't work because everything is always evolving and changing around us. If we attempt to avoid going with the flow, we meet with resistance or begin to fold into ourselves. We're either expanding or contracting, living in the flow in an affirming life or stuck in a diminishing life.
Fortunately, the human heart can be shattered over and over and still recover. The heart is the most amazing construct in the universe. It's an ever-expanding, infinitely healable and resilient learning instrument. Yet we tend to protect it like it's a fragile, shriveled thing. It needs to break -- it's the only way it grows. Experience helps too, but heartbreak has really taught me the most.
We all must make an important decision: Will our heart be shriveled and closed, or open and bruised? I remember the moment I made that decision. I was 19. I'd had my heart shattered after choosing the wrong guys. "Don't wear your heart on your sleeve, Karen!" I'd scold myself every time. I seriously considered just closing myself down to relationships permanently. But when I looked around at the adults in my life, I saw a lot of dead faces. I realized that was the alternative to staying open -- to be closed was to be dead. To be open, and thus vulnerable, was to be alive.
And so worth it. I know this to be true because I've seen it with my own eyes a thousand times in the leadership programs I lead. I recently had a very successful, high-level saleswoman in my program who was all resistance at first. She found the program too touchy-feely and lacking scientific data. She tried to drop out but I wouldn't let her. Of course she was free to leave at anytime, but I told her, "I'm ready to fight for you." After a great deal of support and convincing her the program would change her life, she agreed to stay in.
During the second of four retreats that occur over a ten-month period, she was texting during most breaks, wasn't present and looked bored most of the time. I wondered if I had made a big mistake. But I went after her, demanding connection over and over again. Later, she expressed anger about the retreat, and I just let her know that I loved her and that my heart broke for her. I told her that I saw her. I made myself completely vulnerable. I thought I noticed a small tremor in her.
Three months later, at the next retreat, she stood before all her leadership cohorts and told a story about a woman who had become so hardened and so calculating that she couldn't let anyone inside. She talked about how hard it had been to make it in a man's world, about how she had learned never to let her underbelly show or to let them see her sweat. She started to shake, then cry, then wail. Her heart was breaking because she realized the worldview she'd concocted for survival had cost her more than it was worth... and it was now shattered. One at time, we each went up to her and touched her gently to let her know we were there. She cried for a long time... years, maybe decades, of armor melted off of her. Finally, she said, "Somebody get me a damn Kleenex," and we all had a laugh.
Between the last two retreats, she struggled with how to function in the world in this new,
vulnerable way. Her cohorts loved her through it all. She sailed through the last retreat and treasured every minute of it.
And, like for most people, the best part happened after the program. She emailed me recently to say that she'd been promoted to corporate headquarters and was relocating. Better yet, she was happy loving a new way of working and living. "I didn't even know I was dead until I came alive," she said.
People are afraid of heartbreak because they think pain is bigger than they are. Everybody on the other side of heartbreak will tell you how important it was to have had their heart broken, even though they did battle to avoid it. Heartbreak is a huge opening to the next phase of our development and it takes courage -- what I call "rage of the heart" (coeur is "heart" in French). There is a saying about courage that I adore: "If you throw your heart over the fence, the horse will follow."
Throw your heart out in the name of your life purpose, even when you don't know what will happen. Sometimes it will break, and then there is growth.
Karen Kimsey-House, MFA, CPCC, MCC, is the Co-founder and CEO of The Coaches Training Institute (CTI), the oldest and largest in-person coach training school in the world, and the co-author of the best-selling Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives. Karen was one of four pioneers of the profession, and in honor of its 20th birthday this year, she is sharing her insights about human transformation in a ten-part series, Disrupt Your Life in a Good Way.