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!

malcontent-banner-color-padded-2015-01

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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Filed under Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

My number is 10,950…what’s yours?

timeflies

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#*@

nogoals

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

sitting-on-rocks-talking

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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Answering what & why

WARNING:  There are no “answers” in this post and my only goal in sharing these thoughts was to cause you to ask yourself meaningful questions.  If you would prefer not to do that, then do not read any further.

I believe that when we enter into the “2nd half” of our lives, we entertain different questions because time becomes real and there is a sense of mortality we cannot escape. We begin to think more deeply about legacy because we want our lives to have meant something and would like to believe we did something meaningful that will live on when we are gone.

This leads to a change in how we perceive the world around us and our reticular activating system provides us with the means to accomplish this…”When you set your intent, you are marrying your subconscious mind with your conscious will to make something happen. It is like you are sending your Reticular Activating System a message that you are “expecting” the event to happen, and there is absolutely no room for uncertainty.” Essentially, we begin to see/experience what we look for and/or expect.  This works in all seasons of our lives but now it is especially poignant because we’re looking for meaning and meaning we will find.  We begin to question “why” much more often and have an urge to understand people and their actions…which is not a peaceful practice.

Since others will often frustrate or confuse us, we then turn inward and ask ourselves these challenging questions.  We want to better understand ourselves because that might help us understand others?  I recently began working with a coach (Jim Vaive) in the realm of emotional intelligence and one my homework assignments was the creation of my “noble goal”.  I have to admit that I really liked the sound of that but it has not been easy to write down.  When I visited 6seconds, I found this snippet of insight which really crystallized it for me…“Live as if your choices send ripples beyond your lifetime.”  Full disclosure, this resonated with me because it sounds like the great scene from “The Gladiator”, where Maximus tells his troops that “What we do in life, echoes in eternity.”  Think of the impact this might have on our actions each day if we truly lived in this manner.  Imagine the impact it would have on others.  Imagine how hard it is to capture this in one sentence!

As a recovering philosophy student (27 years in the real world and counting) this also took be right back to Immanuel Kant and his thoughts on the categorical imperative…which is not a fun place to go.  Kantian philosophy would tell us that we should “act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”  I was fond of torturing my kids with this and can’t tell how many times I lectured them with no thought of Matthew 7:3…“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?”  Actually, there might be quite the circular argument with that entire discussion because in lecturing them on the categorical imperative I was actually exemplifying a poor example to be repeated “in perpetuum” but that is a thought for another day.

I would like to provide you with 3 “resources” if you are interested and they are…

I would suggest you start with Sean Rowe because he will stir the most visceral reaction in you and reach you in your heart and soul instead of your head as you can see by the following lyrics…

“My friends I believe we are at the wrong fight
And I cannot read what I did not write
I’ve been to His house, but the master is gone
But I’d like to leave something behind

There is a beast who has taken my brain
You can put me to bed but you can’t feel my pain
When the machine has taken the soul from the man
It’s time to leave something behind”

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition, Thinking about thinking

Act like a child…please!

I was reading The Power of  a Good Question (a great post by Leo Bottary) today and it serves as the jumping off point for what follows.  Leo provided great practical insight as to the “how” of this process as well as an example of what can come from it.  I am going to take a more personal approach and share what I believe we have to embrace in order for our default to be asking questions instead of giving answers.

How many times have you told your kids (or been told yourself) to “grow up”?  Well, when it comes to being a great questioner, the reality is that we need to maintain some of that childlike wonderment about the world around us.  In “A More Beautiful Question”,  Warren Berger points out that a typical preschooler asks about 300 questions each day but once they reach middle-school age, they ask very few.

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This is referred to a neoteny (the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal)  and you can read “Today we can’t afford to become adults” by Joichi Ito if you would like to find out why it matters.

If we were to maintain this childlike ability maybe we could also avoid what Robert Burton describes as the “certainty epidemic”.  This is also known as the certainty bias which finds its roots in our genetics as we are hardwired to avoid uncertainty because it triggers a “threat response” in our limbic system which causes us to feel something akin to pain.  Being certain is almost like an addiction so when we “meet” the goal of avoiding uncertainty, we feel rewarded…even when it is not in our best interest.

Questioning is also more aligned with divergent thinking rather than convergent thinking because it focuses on the “why” more than the “how”.  In general terms, divergent is more creative and convergent is more efficient.  I think there is less uncertainty in convergent thinking so this means our brain will reward us for taking the convergent path and making the world certain…even if its not.  If you would like to read more, here is “Divergent Thinking versus Convergent Thinking” from Phil Charron.

Finally, there is this gem from Shunryu Suzuki which really stands on its on merits and needs no explanation.  “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

I realize the we live in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world (VUCA) which means that trying to remain open to multiple scenarios and withholding judgment is biologically challenging.  We crave certainty because we want to avoid the psychological and emotional “pain” that comes with not knowing but, oftentimes, “knowing” is a false certainty.  We make connections that are not there and draw faulty conclusions because are addicted and need that “certainty fix”.

I believe we all need to continually extend our “threshold of uncertainty” and embrace the opportunity to play the “holy fool” from time to time. Richard Cecil  provides a great closing comment for us on this topic…“The first step towards knowledge is to know that we are ignorant.”

 

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Filed under Adaptation, Complexity, Decision Making, The Human Condition, Thinking about thinking