Self-love and self-understanding in my mind are lifelong walks. For me, most of my successes are also my same struggles and likely always will be. I am not sure they are either/or, nor am I certain they happen in isolation. My biggest lesson has simply been recognizing that I struggle with self-love, and self- understanding. I may always have this struggle, and this is okay: I am still worthy. I am still enough. In recognizing that we are flawed, sometimes this is enough to take away the power of the flaw itself.
As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Anne Hilb, MSOD. She is the Founder and Principal Community and Culture Architect at Graymake, LLC. Anne is an expert in conflict and connection. As an organizational effectiveness consultant, corporate trainer and engaging facilitator she is deeply passionate about belonging, opening space for difficult conversations, and learning more about groups and individuals. Anne believes that to know oneself is to be most effective; that people support what they help create and that there is nothing so practical as a good theory. She brings these beliefs to her consulting work where her goal is to always balance relationship-building and problem-solving in order to reach a concrete plan and achieve forward movement.Founded in 2017, with the intention of creating space for safe exploration, while also promoting direct communication, even when difficult, Graymake’s credo is avoiding avoidance by beginning with love.Running towards conversations others often steer clear of, founder Anne Hilb offers candid observations, her quick wit and genuine curiosity to all looking for a partner in their work.
Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
I have a theory there are two basic groups in every field: 1. those who seek out the work because it comes naturally to them, and 2. those who arrive at it because it is a way of exploring desperately needed self-work. Oftentimes the latter may even be a type of healing work.
For example, you might have the math teacher who absolutely loved numbers OR the one who suffered by them. Though motivations are complex, the natural mathematician had a gift for numbers. The struggling mathematician perhaps had a gift for perseverance or wanted to help others to struggle less than they had to.
For me, my career path is the work I need. My work is not something I am doing; it is something I’m being. So even if unemployed or disconnected from “title,” I am still an OD practitioner: a facilitator, a community and culture architect, a change consultant, a mediator and keeper of space.
The shorter answer: my own search for belonging.
My own value set — which has always placed a premium on inclusion and truth-telling, as well as personal (and collective) growth — has led me to discover that we have constructed these “ways of being” that do not and could not work for everyone.
It was in being exposed to difference my entire upbringing with three parents from incredibly different backgrounds — politically, socially, economically, religiously and more — that I knew from an early age how to reckon with tension.
Across time and even now, I sit with a difference and know that this feeling of discomfort is a primary ingredient for growth.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
There are several projects in the mix for me and for Graymake! Many are still ideas out on the horizon and others are taking shape.
Recently I attempted to launch a community circle program within the Baltimore area where I live. Baltimore is working towards becoming a “Restorative” City and is investing considerable resources in shifting the way the education system thinks about discipline practices. This is a dynamic, complex issue, and there are many overlapping systems at play.
As a systems thinker passionate about the school-to-prison pipeline and also about placing relationship at the nexus of change, I am convinced that in order for any paradigm shift to fully take place, we need to think both taller and wider.
The community circle process programs pilot idea has come out of a considerable amount of research I have done on how other cities have engaged adults in adapting restorative mindsets.
If young people can go home to adults that are exposed to and therefore modeling these values, we can all learn to live more relationally. What is so ironic about this is that Social Emotional Learning curricula now being taught in school systems so that we can have fully functional, more well-rounded adults one again, originally sprung from the work of Daniel Goleman who wrote about Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace. Things have a way of coming full-circle (no pun intended)!
Anyway, I believe that if corporate leaders, human resource professionals, and subsequently all other members of society, have the opportunity to experience this process where they un-learn and re-learn habits from kindergarten — like waiting for our turn to speak, caring about what each person has to say and how they feel as much as what they think — we could dynamically shift the world of business and the bottom line. This is particularly true in a sue-happy country like ours where, if we do not address this epidemic of loneliness, medical costs will continue increasing and costs associated with training due to high turnover rates will become even more unsustainable.
Other projects include continuing to target my ideal client: white men who may not be experiencing as much compassion in the current climate as they deserve. In this era of #MeToo and #BelieveAllWomen, there is a fine line between holding people accountable and shaming them. Change cannot happen if there is not first love. This is what makes strengths-based approaches so successful. All human beings have dignity and worth. Everyone deserves to be seen and feel heard.
In this vein, one project I am offering in March is dialogues for men during the week of International Women’s Day.
The intention of these dialogues is to offer men a space to discuss topics relating to what is currently feels like to navigate being a man in the workplace (and potentially beyond) without judgment. To ensure the dialogue runs smoothly, participants will collectively create agreements for how they might like to engage in conversation together, what confidentiality looks like, and what values they each hold. This is a first step in practicing being heard, listening and engaging in what is considered by many a difficult topic.
If this is something your company wants to be a part of, or you have ideas for someone who might, please let us know so we can reach out to them or set a call with you!
Most recently, through a partnership with the American Camp Association, we began presenting on the topic of “Creating a Relational, Restorative Culture at Camp,” and am excited by the many possibilities of shifting culture for large groups of campers, counselors, staff, and parents through consultation, facilitation and coaching.
Quarterly corporate retreats are also on the horizon.
In general, each body of work I host — from training that lasts a few hours to a facilitated circle, to a series, retreat or full-scale implementation over months of consultation work — allows deeper self-understanding and enhances a greater sense of well-being. I operate under a philosophy of Use of Self, which means that you must learn all about the way you operate before you can perform or engage. This includes your own biases, perceptions, subconscious, political beliefs, memories, harms, and more.
When you partner with Graymake, you are well aware of our values at all times. One such value is wholeness. We work to integrate this into our work with others, the processes we use as well as the way we model showing up as individuals.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?
Self-love and self-understanding in my mind are lifelong walks.
For me, most of my successes are also my same struggles and likely always will be. I am not sure they are either/or, nor am I certain they happen in isolation.
My biggest lesson has simply been recognizing that I struggle with self-love, and self- understanding. I may always have this struggle, and this is okay: I am still worthy. I am still enough. In recognizing that we are flawed, sometimes this is enough to take away the power of the flaw itself.
A few specific examples of the struggles I have faced:
My weight has been a lifelong battle for many reasons. I have size 4 through 3X, and my weight has yo-yoed from as low as 140 to as high as 220 pounds. Though this is mostly due to changes in drugs for mental health, and the battles that come with these swings, my relationship with food is complex.
What I realize is that I am most successful and most healthy when I:
– Buy really nice clothes — no matter what size I am.
– Eat what I want — fattening food, especially, rather than diet. For me, a program like Weight Watchers, for example, does not work because I have OCD and it has me think about food in extremes or just too much in general despite the freedom it offers.
– Accept my imperfections and the idea that my weight fluctuates. Embrace this; be real with myself.
– Work out in ways that are joyful and consider the benefits outside of weight loss. For example, on a hike, I taught myself to “be” in nature because it is healing, as opposed to “doing” in nature because I have a certain number of calories to burn. Similarly, I can also go for a walk with my dog or head to a class at the gym. I try to get my heart rate up just 20 minutes a day — not because of beauty standards but because it feels good and it is great for my mental health. More is wonderful but an attainable goal means I am less likely to beat myself up if not met.
– Block out the noise. Listen to my inner voice and know that what works for me may not work for others and vice versa. Trust my own inner wisdom and trust the same in others.
2) MY FATHER DYING
I am very much still healing from this 2+ years later. My dad was my rock and greatest source of unconditional love. This was a huge shift for me and perhaps a tipping point of sorts.
Here are some coping mechanisms I’ve developed:
– Accept that grief is on my own timeline.
– Show up for myself more, and allow myself the same grace my dad would have extended me.
– Cut myself slack, and recognize that I am STILL not in a place to support others or feel like my “old” self. I don’t send cards or keep up with birthdays. My desk is a mess most days; I have left dirty dishes in the sink overnight. This may sound like it isn’t so unusual, but for me it is extreme. Recognizing that I am enough and have done enough before bed each night is HUGE and also recognizing that my “old self” may have also died when my father did. Instead of wishing things would return to the way they were, I recognize and work to make peace with what is.
There are so very many stops and starts along the route to self-understanding. What these have in common is that they happened every day. They made me feel out of control. Not loving myself only added to the misery.
Pain is generally passive. It is important but passive.
When I was ready to do something — to be active in my own life — I needed to learn to love and it had to start with me.
Most seconds- not moments or hours- but seconds, I have to work myself through this idea of loving myself. Often, I surrender to the part of me that feels less than. Still, on the odd occasion my stronger, loving half wins out. And when she does, I am Athenian.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
I am honestly surprised these numbers are even this high for the percentage satisfied and would love to hear more about what kind of culture that reporting satisfaction with their appearance grew up in or perhaps the culture of their guardians.
My immediate thinking is the media as a cause and how they choose to portray beauty in US culture. Having lived outside of the US, I know it is drastically different elsewhere in many cases.
The consequences are massive. I am not an expert on this topic in particular, so I can only speak for myself, what I have experienced and observed.
As a young person, my weight affected the way I engaged with others, immediately leading me to believe I was “less than.” It kept me from wanting to participate fully in sports or other group activities because I not only feared to keep up but how I would look doing certain activities. The way I was spoken to was often unkind — from kids poking fun on the playground to adults monitoring my food intake when I was in their home.
When I see photos of myself, there are periods when I was a healthy weight. However, constant monitoring and discussion of food and body image led to a horrible relationship with both for a long time, causing me to have shame about food instead of being able to enjoy it in small doses and maintain my healthy weight. I also felt undesired by boys and this manifested into me seeing myself as undesirable. This was particularly awful when I began to dance competitively to support my acting work. Though I had no interest in dancing professionally and having a different body type actually benefited me in my acting work, I was no less than harassed in the dance studio.
Experiences like these translate into self-esteem issues that stem far beyond physical appearance.
Other causes are intergenerational messaging. My mother and her mother before she received many direct and indirect messages about women, beauty, weight, and worth. This absolutely played a role in all of these dynamics and these external harms absolutely manifest internally and perpetually.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
My work is about belonging. At its core, I believe that belonging begins with belonging to ourselves. Certainly, this means we must love ourselves. I know this to be a basic human need.
If we want to belong to others, we must work to belong to ourselves.
An eternal question for many remains: How do we know when we are ready to fully open up to another in all our their broken imperfections if not completely whole and self- actualized ourselves?
The answer I have come to know is that we heal and are healed, and also become more whole, in a relationship and in community. If we had to be perfect before opening ourselves up to others, we would all need to live in bubbles fully detached from one another.
We love ourselves — flaws included — so that we can love others and all of their flaws. When we do not love ourselves, we only see the ugliness in others: We question their motivations, we lack trust, and we end up — often unintentionally — remaining isolated from the very people we so desperately wish to be in communion with.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
There are likely many reasons.
From my lens as a conflict coach, I would say that many people are conflict-avoidant and even sometimes avoiding the work that comes with being in relationships worth working for.
Speaking from the lens of belonging and taking self-love into account, I’d hypothesize that many have the desire to be in some relationship rather than the “right” relationship.
As a change practitioner, I can also attest to the fact that change is hard work!
Advice I might offer would be to get clear on your worth by getting clear on your values. Gain perspective on what it is you have to offer the world in the form of your unique gifts and discover what you are passionate about. Build your community intentionally.
Assess how you want to spend your energy and other resources.
Notice how often you feel inspired.
For anyone looking to discuss this further, get in touch at [email protected] I have personally spent a great deal of time developing tools to determine how I want to spend my energy and who I want to spend it on.
When we talk about self-love and understanding we don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times, self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but for our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
When my parents were both terminally ill, I was in school, working and of course with them, so my time was quite limited. Then again when I lost my dad, my work life changed. I finished school, and life changed again. I am now in the next phase. There have been many ebbs and flows like this throughout my life.
When these times happen, I reassess by first asking myself: Who are the core ten (or less) people in my life I can put my full energy into?
There was a study done (Dunbar’s Number) that began this trend of looking at the number of relationships we can successfully manage. Dunbar’s Number is 150. I think of this as the “wedding number.” Who would you absolutely want at your wedding and for what reasons (political, familial, other obligation) or just because they are important in your life? (I ask of people even if they are already married, p.s., things change).
There are some people you put energy into because you are keeping the peace or showing love by proxy. For example, some of my dearest friends have gotten married and I now love their significant others because I love them. When I am managing my energy though, I think about how much I have to give and don’t necessarily include spouses when I am being honest.
A less evolved version of myself might have felt guilty about this. Now I just feel joy at being able to let this go.
What are my top values (10 or less) and how am I truly practicing them?
Along with the values exercise, I apply this to dimensions of wellness to ensure I am feeding myself in a balanced way, also in accordance with these values. For example, am I ensuring my social life is intact along with my spiritual life, my intellectual life and so forth? If something is devoid of efforts, I take a look at what can be done or if that deficit is logical for this season of life.
This question might be: How am I balancing the dimensions of wellness in my life?
Who do I trust for feedback about my blind spots and how am I seeking out this feedback?
So many don’t really know how to be alone or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
Being alone metaphorically is far more important in my mind.
Though I find both to be helpful and enjoyable, I know that finding quiet time for reflection in this fast-paced, ego-driven world is key to non-attachment and real development. If one does not have a spiritual practice of some kind, they are missing out on all that life has offered them.
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
We cannot fully love or understand others until we work to do this for ourselves. It also makes our blind spots larger and closes us off to meaningful feedback.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
Individuals should all experience the power of coming to trust their own inner wisdom. Quakers have a practice called a “clearness committee.” This is when others in the community refrain from offering advice but instead simply offer open, honest questions they could not possibly know the answer to. This allows an individual to get out of the pattern of cycling in their own thoughts and lean on others while still making decisions for themselves.
I believe, as a society, we need to ask one another more questions without telling one another answers we perceive to be the way.
I also think cultivating silence is important: Time in nature, meditation, running, gardening, prayer … whatever offers peace and contemplation.
Accepting others is also a path to self-acceptance. For me, this means reforming our current legal system and destigmatizing shame as well, especially as it relates to welcoming back those who have caused harm into each segment of society.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
- Mantras: I will sometimes choose affirming sentences to repeat to myself at times I need them. I am worthy of being loved, I am enough, etc. When I get in bed at night and feel anxious that I have more to do I will often think or say to myself, “I have done more than enough for today. I am more than enough.”
- Loving-Kindness Meditation: I will allow my own suffering to count as much as anyone else’s. This is especially hard when I can still hear the echos of my mom’s voice saying, “there are starving children in India,” as I am sure others can relate. I have found comparing suffering to be unproductive, though common. In loving-kindness meditation, the idea is that one breathes in suffering and breathes out peace. There are many variations.
- Flowers: I buy myself flowers on occasion. Flowers have no purpose but to make me happy! When I engage in an act like this — to intentionally practice relinquishing guilt in favor of joy — I am radically daring to choose love.
- Circle Practice: My decision to practice gathering in a circle with others seeking to practice self-love is a form of self-care. When I leave my ego at the door and open myself to being seen fully, more and more, I learn to love myself with others.
- Nature and Prayer: Nature allows me to connect with myself and with my creator.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
One of my very favorite books is called The Way of Transition by William Bridges.
This book talks about Bridges’ struggle with the loss of his wife. Having been a change practitioner most of his life, he struggles with impostor syndrome wondering if what he has been teaching others is all false. He is living through a theory of transition he has used to help others for decades and it is just so beautiful the way he talks about letting go.
Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron
Teachings on cultivating fearlessness and compassion- I love the short, daily reminders for every day that support me in staying present and grounded.
Triple Impact Coaching by Beverly Patwell and Edith Whitfield Seashore
This book offers practical exercises to coach folks on implementing Use of Self teachings at the individual, team and organizational level and I appreciate the intersection of the three, as well as how behavioral in nature it happens to be.
Belong- Find Your People, Create Community & Live a More Connected Life
This is more a workbook with interactive activities to explore. It is incredibly visual and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys this topic.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
I believe at the center of each system issue in this country is the stigma around mental health and the options for addressing it. I would start there with building relationships of trust through dialogue and explore reintegrative shame, which separates out “the doer from the deed.” This means that a person is not defined by things they have done but instead by their character.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
“If you can’t find time to do it right, how will you find time to do it again?”
As someone with learning differences and mental health issues, I was always looking for ways to finish on time, robbing myself of a lot of important learning. I got by on intellect but suffered in other ways. Even now, I am still playing catch-up.
I wonder how you might find a way to define your own version of “right,” and when you will make the choice to instead do it again?
The beautiful and exhausting part is the choice itself.