Embrace your darkness

We all have our “demons”.  Those parts of our personality that might not be the very best side of us at times.  Society tells us we should shield and protect others from that part of us and we should actively suppress those thoughts and actions when we are with others. While I agree that we should not walk around being an asshole just because we feel like it and, I do not agree that we should try to remove that part of ourselves in its entirety.  I have another idea.  I believe we should tame our darkness and here are the reasons why.

Channel The Beast (use it as fuel) – Carl Jung possessed some serious badassery when it came to understanding the dark side of our nature as you can see when he said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”  This is much easier said than done and requires a great deal of focus and humility.  Humility may seem like a strange word in this context but you have to be able to recognize your own weakness because allowing the dark side of your nature to rule is just that.  Once you understand that you contain both light and darkness, you can begin to understand how being your complete self requires the fuel that your darkness often provides. Anger and fear can be powerful motivators so long as you do not let them lead.  Once you take away their power but harness the energy, you can tackle whatever lies ahead.  Again Jung provided some serious insight into just how difficult this can be when he observed, “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.”  It is my belief that not everyone has the desire to tackle their beast and that certainly is a choice each of us has to make.  As Jung said, may folks will blame fate for their actions and resulting outcomes. I think this stems from some inherent belief that certain parts of us are “bad”.  There is a paradox here because outside of ourselves we fight the fallacy of control and believe we can make people do things and make certain events happen by sheer force of will…which is lunacy (which is funny because this word means “from the moon” which is what we used to believe caused certain conditions like epilepsy and mental illness…again something external that was out of our control…but I digress).  Yet when it comes to our internal machinations, which are the only things we might exercise control over, we claim we are powerless?   I think the following little gem sums up my thoughts on that…


Project The Beast (use it as a mirror) – Jung nailed it again when he observed that, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for understanding the darkness in others.”  Imagine how many times you have been frustrated, angered, embarrassed, or hurt by the actions of another person.  We feel this way because we are emotional creatures and we have the unrealistic expectation that everyone will always like/need/want/desire/respect us so when these needs are not met, we experience internal conflict and our world crumbles.  Our first reaction is almost always to project out and blame others for their behavior and sometimes we never get past that and the experience is chalked up to mistakes of “the other”.  This is well researched by smart folks like Maslow and his thoughts on our needs for “Love & Belonging” and also McClelland and his theory on our need for “Affiliation”.  Whatever theory you want to ascribe to, the results are the same…we need to be loved and wanted (for a more comedic take click here and see what Silvio has to say about Seinfeld and his need for attention).

Once we not only understand but embrace our own darkness, we can begin to better understand what lurks inside of others…which makes it much easier to process their behaviors.  Since we know our own motivations, it would seem to reason that others share the same insecurities.  Jung also addressed this with the following, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”  Imagine the change this drives when we must now evaluate someone else’s actions in context of our own insecurities.  We can no longer view them as an antagonist who said or did something with malice aforethought but now they are just like us…insecure, emotional, and desperate for acceptance (again for a comedic take, check out when Coach Klein loses his irrational fear in “The Waterboy”).  I am not proposing you imagine a cute baby’s head on your arch nemesis…but merely accepting that everyone is wrestling with their own darkness just like you.

You have every right to think and/or believe (as those are two very different things and you should decide for yourself which you engaging in…head versus heart) that this is all psycho-babble but consider this parting thought from Jung, “I must have a dark side if I am to be whole.”

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Heroic Leader or humble gardener?

Serendipity…that is only way I can explain it. How else can you describe Joi Ito and General Stanley McChrystal both saying that being a leader in the 21st century is more like being a gardener?  I was finishing “Team of Teams – New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World” and starting “Whiplash – How to Survive our Faster Future” and the analogy of “leader as gardener” is prominent in both. I was not shocked to read it from Joi Ito as the Director of the MIT Media Lab but I was somewhat surprised to see that General McChrystal, a retired four-start general whose last assignment was commander of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan, embrace the idea.

I think what led them both to this concept was their understanding that we work and live in ecosystems and the very nature of an ecosystems makes the “command & control” theory of leadership obsolete. (If you are interested, you can read what Harvard Magazine, Forbes and Accenture all have to say about business ecosystems.)

Following is what General McChrystal wrote about the challenge inherent in addressing a new paradigm and I think it will resonate with many of us.

“Although I recognized its necessity, the mental transition from heroic leader to humble gardener was not a comfortable one.  From the first day at West Point I’d been trained to develop personal expectations and behaviors that reflected professional competence, decisiveness, and self-confidence.  If adequately informed, I expected myself to have the right answers and deliver them to my force with assurance.  Failure to do that would reflect weakness and invite doubts about my relevance.  I felt intense pressure to fulfill my role of chess master for which I had spent a lifetime preparing.”

I think Joi Ito’s transition was a bit smoother due to his background but here is how he described it.

“In fact, in many ways, the word leading probably invoked the wrong image, since we often think of our leaders as having a tremendous amount of control and direct power.  Leading the Media Lab is more like being a gardener than being a CEO – watering the plants, tending to the compost, trimming hedges, and getting out of the way so that the explosion of creativity and life of all of the plants and wildlife in the garden are allowed to flourish….We have to become comfortable with the idea that we are not in control, that we can’t anticipate or even know everything that is going on, but we can still be confident and courageous. This allows us to embrace a diversity in thinking, approach, and timescales, and not force everything to be over-synchronized.”

These thoughts on leadership are not a stretch for me because I have long believed that the act of leading is like farming (gardening on a larger scale I guess) for the following reasons:

  • Control and ownership – You don’t really “own” the land as much as you work symbiotically with it to produce a result.  The only one in control is nature as many of the variables are far outside of your control and you can only develop a plan and contingencies but what actually happens is well beyond your ability to control.  It is much more about stewardship that anything.  You are entrusted with resources and the goal is to care for it while you are there and leave it better than you found it upon your departure.
  • Preparation & perseverance are key – There is definitely a cycle you follow and you have to be ready when the weather breaks and then you work till the work is done.  Your timeline really does not matter because the crops are ready when they are ready and not when you have the time to take care of them.  Prepping the soil, planting, fertilizing, and harvesting happen when all of the conditions are right and not before or after regardless of what you might have going on.  Also, once the works starts there is no stopping until the task is done…that’s why there are headlights on tractors.
  • Nature & nurture – It is obvious early on that you need to be aware and understanding of the “signs” that nature gives you if you are to be successful.  If you are aware, you can develop an understanding of the natural process and also accept that it happens on its own schedule without regard for your needs and wants.  That does not mean you can abdicate your responsibilities.  It means that you sense when opportunities arise and you continue to nurture the crops in an effort to produce the best possible outcome.  Nurturing is delicate work because you must strike the balance between ignoring and smothering.
  • Doing all the right things but still failing – There is nothing more frustrating than knowing you have the right things on the list and checking them all off…and still failing!  This is the ultimate lesson because it is when the universe lets you know that there is a master plan and you are not the master planner.  This is also when you finally realize that you cannot “make” anything happen and sometimes the harder you try to worse it gets.

I could not agree more with General McChrystal and Mr. Ito.  The interconnectedness we experience today will only continue to increase so we have to develop the skills that will enable us to succeed in an ever widening ecosystem and these are not the industrial age management and leadership skills we still see employed today.  Ecosystem leadership skills will be:

  1. productively disrupting the system
  2. internalizing feedback
  3. reorienting and recalculating
  4. leveraging energy (generated from the disruption) to move ahead
  5. rinsing and repeating

Question:  Are you ready to transform from “heroic leader” to “humble gardener”?

Answer:  It doesn’t matter because the ecosystem is not waiting on you because you are not in control.



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Relentless, Passionate, & Heretical

Late last fall I began what I thought was a branding exercise with Ryan Magada at Brave Little Beast.  Now, nearly six months later, my existential crisis is in full bloom.  Let me be very clear that not only am I embracing this journey but believe that everyone hits it at some point…only the many never put a name on it nor do they meet it head on. Not only am I still working on my “brand” but I am now also engaged with Jim Vaive  who is guiding me along a journey to identify my “noble goal”.  This effort is framed by investigating, assessing, and discussing (at great lengths) my emotional intelligence…which is not for the faint of heart by the way.

I did not realize when I engaged in these 2 very different efforts that the paths would not only cross but actually merge into the same series of questions (…these all stem from the aforementioned existential crisis):

  • Why am I here?
  • What do I believe?
  • What am I willing to do about it?

It became apparent that in order to answer any of the questions, I had to answer all of them and ensure that there was alignment.  The other challenge was that I mistakenly imagined that at least one of the journeys was strictly intellectual and I would do my best to keep the other as much in my head as I could (insert evil laugh here).  Well….that did not work.  I could not reason my way through either one so that left me with but one choice…I would have to…”gulp”… feel my way through.

I have now confirmed the adage that states, “The longest journey you will take is the one from your head to your heart.”  That said, I can also attest that it is a trip worth taking – if you are into that type of thing…don’t attempt it if you are not.  I offer this caveat with all sincerity because it is challenging work that is certainly not easy but it is simple.  Always remember, clarity has a cost.

Interestingly enough, I  also realized (in retrospect) that all of the books I have read over the past 18 months were variations on the same theme.  Some of them even referenced each other – which was a bit spooky.  Here is list if you are interested.

  • Ego Is The Enemy (Ryan Holiday)
  • The One Thing (Gary Keller)
  • Triggers (Marshall Goldsmith)
  • Nonsense (Jamie Holmes)
  • Essentialism (Greg McKeown)
  • Humble Inquiry (Edgar Schein)
  • A More Beautiful Question (Warren Berger)
  • The Power Of The Other (Dr. Henry Cloud)
  • Deep Work (Cal Newport)
  • Start With Why (Simon Sinek)
  • Rapt (Winnifred Gallagher)
  • Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned (Kenneth Stanley & Joel Lehman)

So what about relentless, passionate, and heretical?  These are the 3 core traits that speak to me as a person and that help me to more succinctly communicate to others what I believe and what they can expect.  In all honesty, they are there to help me “get to no” more quickly.  I want people to be able to determine immediately if they even want to engage in a conversation with me about my noble goal.  I am fully aware that these words might turn some people off but the flip side of that is that they will “speak” to people who believe what I believe…and those are people I yearn to connect with.

We all have something very special to offer the world but…

  • do we clearly understand and embrace what it is?
  • are we willing to sacrifice the trivial many to focus on the vital few?

I will leave you with the following that Greg McKeown shared in Essentialism:

  • Once an Australian nurse named Bonnie Ware, who cared for people in the last twelve weeks of their lives, recorded their most often discussed regrets.  At the top of the list:  “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
  • “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

I am relentless, passionate and heretical…what about you?

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Filed under Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

Malcontents unite!


Would you embrace the label of “malcontent”?  Maybe you would be prefer “rebel” or “disrupter” or “contrarian”?  I prefer malcontent because of the definition (you can read the entire definition for yourself by clicking here).  “One who is in active opposition to an established order” resonates with me because it defines my stance for better or worse.  For years  I have actively sought “peace” in my life.  I thought I wanted to be “content” but what I have recently realized is the dissonance I was feeling was the subconscious effort to “fit in” and be what I thought I was supposed to be.  I was trying to extinguish my natural inclination of being discontent with the status quo and just be normal…by generally accepted societal standards.

What I have come to realize is simply this…that is not who I am and now I am at peace.  As Popeye was fond of saying, “I yam what I yam”.  The real value in malcontentedness (I just made this word up by the way) is that by its nature it seeks out other malcontents and other types of malcontentedness.  There is no right or wrong way to be a malcontent!  There is even research that indicates the seeking out new people and ideas is the foundation of learning and growth.  Amazingly enough, it has been proven in several studies that people learn better in heterogeneous groups and there is also research that indicates heterogeneous networks are stronger than homogeneous ones.  What this means is “different” is a good thing.  We need different…we need change…we need less sameness.

We are, however, challenged by our very nature.  Humans seek homeostasis because it enables us to conserve energy (both mentally and physically).  It is all too easy to settle in and switch on auto-pilot.  We also have to be wary of success because that is yet another trap we can fall into.  We begin to think we know more than we do and end up with an overdeveloped sense of control.  Remember what John Wooded said, “Success is never final…”

Would you identify yourself as a malcontent? Why?  Why not?  I believe we should all be who we are and that means if you are a malcontent, then revel in your malcontentedness just as someone who is content should embrace contentedness.  There are also degrees of malcontentedness so sometimes malcontents are difficult to spot…one might even say subversive.  Just remember that what might be normal for you might be outrageous for your neighbor.  I think the best gift we can gift people is the permission to be who they are.  Understanding that do have a basic social contract  so there are some norms we should abide by if we expect to be welcome by people as a whole.  That said, there is plenty of grey area to be exploited as the social contract can (and should be) broadly interpreted.

The easiest way to determine if you are a malcontent is to ask yourself why you do certain things and then evaluate the repercussions if you choose a different course of action.  These are all very personal decisions and must rest solely with the individual and there can be no judgement.  Each person determines their path with their own compass.


head-heart-signI think it is an old Native American saying that goes something like this…”The longest journey you will ever take is the one from your head to your heart”.  We all travel the same road but some might be invigorated by heading south of the neck more frequently.


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My number is 10,950…what’s yours?


In about a month, I turn 50.  That is not the precipitating event for my thoughts here but it did provide me with the foundation for the calculation that led the “number” mentioned in the title of this post.  The precipitating events that led me to the conclusions I will share were my efforts at determining what 2017 holds for me and those important to me.  I had been seeking out some help with developing my personal brand, pursuing some coaching in my own emotional intelligence, and had also recently revisited some personal insights from the Predictive Index.  All of these combined nicely in support of my focus on what was to be in 2017 & beyond.

I have determined that given me family history and current age, on February 17, 2017 I will have about 10,950 days (365 days/year x 30 years) left on this earth (or you could say 262,800 hours or 15,768,000 minutes).  Some folks might think this is morbid but I have found it to be both freeing and anxiety-inducing.  These are connected because it gives me anxiety to think that I know have a finite amount of time left and freeing because it provides me with a clear justification for actions I must take.

I am committing myself to spending each day adding value to the lives of those I care about and doing the most good I can with each action I take.  The key will be developing my ability to say “NO” more frequently than I say “YES” because I believe this is something none of us do enough of.  I think our main problem is we try to be nice and are afraid of hurting people’s feeling.  I also believe it is because we are afraid to commit to a course of action and stick with it.  We want to do everything which actually leads us to doing nothing (of any importance).

More than anything, this type of thought process has given me tremendous clarity.  I know now that there are a finite number of “tomorrows”.  It has also given me a very deliberate sense of urgency to hold myself accountable for focusing on the only thing I can and that is my daily activities.  I am striving for 100% alignment in what I do and who I am.  I have committed to being who I am because I believe that gives others permissions to do the same.  I will live each day being true to my values and I will not compromise because the clock is ticking.

I also want to empower others to get to “NO” quicker as well.  I want to be clear and unambiguous about what I stand for in every conversation I have.  I believe we should all do this so that we can create, nurture, and maintain as many meaningful relationships as we can in the time we are here.  It is these relationships that define us and not the stuff we accumulate or achievements we strive for.  Legacies are what we leave in the memories of others:  nothing more, nothing less.

We can’t wait until some imaginary point in the future to live the life we want because, as Cervantes said, “The journey is the inn”.  My goal is to create a life I don’t want to retire from.  I would aspire to be a “master in the art of living” as defined by Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand.

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his pplay; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation.  He hardly knows which is which.  He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing.  To himself, he is always appears to be doing both.”

Do you know your number?  More importantly…will it matter if you do?

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Filed under Looking in the mirror, Real Life, The Human Condition

Goals are bulls#*@


According to Inc. and Forbes, about 92% of people DO NOT ACHIEVE their GOALS.  This leads to copious amounts of tools, articles, and apps that you can buy, read, or download that will supposedly put you in the 8% of successful people who theoretically achieve their goals.  With that in mind, I have a few questions:

  • Are the 8% happier, more successful, or more fulfilled simply because they achieved their goals?
  • Were their goals meaningful?
  • How were they able to achieve their goals?

They certainly did not achieve their goals because they were more focused, passionate, or dedicated. This is what we like to believe because we like the “superman” theory of performance.  We are drawn to believe that if we only “try harder” or “want it more” then it will happen and that is absolutely false.  Sadly we not only tell ourselves this self defeating bulls*&# but we also share it with our peers and, worse yet, our kids.

What really drives results are systems or processes that assist us in overcoming our inherent weakness and lack of self-discipline.  Ever heard these aphorisms:

  • 80% of success is showing up
  • One of the things young people always ask me about is what is the secret to success. The secret is there is no secret. It’s the basics. Blocking and tackling.
  • There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.
  • The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.

Goals are like opinions, everyone has them.  We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world so our goals can and will change during the course of a year. What shouldn’t change is the system we develop to ensure we are doing the right things each and every day.  To make progress, we need a process.  We need to manage our activities and focus on only those that are essential and aligned with who we are and what we wish to accomplish.  Show me a person who holds themselves accountable for doing the right things each and every day, and I will show you a person who is making progress towards their “goals”.

If you don’t believe me, check out this insightful piece of writing from Scott Adams or this one from James Clear


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Often duplicated, never replicated


A few weeks ago I was watching an episode of “Parts Unknown” (Anthony Bourdain’s travel and food show on CNN) where he was visiting Japan with Chef Masa Takayama and I was introduced to the concept of “ichi-go ichi-e” that describes a cultural concept of treasuring meetings with people. The term is often translated as “for this time only,” “never again,” or “one chance in a lifetime.” As I read more about this, I was struck by the implications of this in our lives.

Admittedly, I am probably more interested and/or attuned to this as a Vistage Chair because my entire professional life is based upon meetings with both groups and individuals. Then, it occurred to me that everyone’s lives are really an ongoing series of both professional and personal interactions regardless of your chosen profession. It is at that point the concept truly takes on weight & raises the following questions:

  • Don’t we have to admit that each interaction we have with another human being is absolutely and truly unique because, although you might meet with them again in the future, you will both only be the people you are at that moment so that meeting can never happen the same way again?
  • Don’t we have the responsibility to uncover and discuss the state of mind (if only briefly) of all attendees at these meetings and determine if there are meaningful conversations that could happen that would benefit some or all of the attendees?
  • Isn’t there an inherent opportunity to then abolish “small talk” because we don’t want to waste time “talking around things that don’t matter” because we could then focus on “talking about things that matter”?
  • How will this impact both the number of meetings you are willing to have as well as the time you set aside for each meeting you schedule? If each meeting truly was an opportunity to intentionally engage at a meaningful level, what would your criteria be? How would you communicate that to others? How would you prepare?

I will conclude with a few more open-ended questions that are actually not rhetorical in nature because I would like for your to answer them for yourself. If your answers are positive in nature, then would you be willing to give it a try?

  • Would this be meaningful to you?
  • Would it meaningful to others?
  • Would these meetings build up or tear down walls & barriers?
  • Would you walk away energized or drained?

About 2,500 years ago Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its the not the same river and he is not the same man.” We cannot slow time down nor do I believe we should try. We can, however, embrace the opportunities that the passage of time presents to us and that is the ability to learn & change. The real challenge becomes providing others with the space and safety to do the same.

I believe Mother Teresa summed it up best with the following, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

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