Ah…here it comes again. Another Un-Seeing Exercise. There’s THAT question: Who am I to be so bold?
The story you tell yourself about what you “cannot” do can hurt you your entire life. This question, in particular, can tie you up in all kinds of knots and keep you stuck in suck.
WHY BOLD? WHAT IS BOLD?
“Lemme tell ya, cookie,” as an old, rasty rascal of a friend used to say, “it’s supposed to be bold. What are ya? Some kinda snail?”
Jan (Arny) Messersmith published that sky-diving image in the header of this post in his Flickr stream in 2010. He tells the backstory in a long rumination in his image notes. He also includes one of the best definitions of “bold” I’ve ever seen.
He says, “Boldness is the exercise of one’s beliefs accompanied by a certainty that positive and well-considered actions will produce desirable outcomes.” He continues, “Timidity and fear are not compatible with confidence and trust.” It’s a truth, that.
This INBOUND Bold Talk, “From Suit to Seal” was published on YouTube by HubSpot in 2015. It features Phil Black who hung up his suit as a Goldman-Sach minion to become, of all things, a Navy Seal.
“Be bold,” Black says at the end of his talk. Bold is the first step to following your dream.
TAKING THAT FIRST STEP
How do you get to bold? Some counterpoint questions might help. How about these?
When you are 80, are you going to regret that you did not take action and believe in yourself because you were scared?
What message will you give your kids and your grandkids? How are you going to authentically encourage them to follow their dreams when you stop yourself from following your own?
The saddest comment I have ever overheard was one from an elderly grandmother telling her grandson, “Go do your dream, bebe. Me, I too old for dream now. I can only wish.”
Another take on this is the advice in this spoken poem, “Everybody Dies But Not Everybody Lives” in this YouTube video by Richard Williams, better-known as American rapper and spoken word artist Prince Ea.
Prince Ea published the video in 2016. It was a collaboration between the artist, who calls himself a “Futurist,” and Neste, a Finnish oil refinery company that, besides producing and marketing petroleum products, also produces “renewable diesel” which is produced in a patented vegetable oil refining process. The upcycled vegetable oil works well as an alternative fuel in diesel engines.
PRETEND THERE IS NO COUNTDOWN
The Real is that being bold isn’t all that hard to do. Major tip: Forget the countdown. Never mind “a-one and a-two and a-three.” Just go.
Practice will help with that. It gets easier every time you do something that makes you scared and nervous.
FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS
Bold can also get easier if you can follow along the trails of adventurers and explorers who’ve gone on ahead of you.
Start a file folder today – either a physical paper one or one on your computer. Choose a few people who you admire for their bravery and bold actions. Research their stories.
Chances are your heroes started in situations that are no better than yours right now and they made it. Find out how they did it. Look at ways that maybe you can do it your own self in your own field.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all say it. We want to spend more time with the people we love. We want to spend time on the things that matter most to us – things that bring us joy, projects or activities that are fulfilling.
We want, we want, we want. Uh-huh.
THE GAP BETWEEN SAY AND DO
This short, made-on-the-fly YouTube video, published by Prosperity TV in 2015, “The Congruence Gap,” features Randy Gage, an internationally acknowledged expert on prosperity and success.
It has one big idea: Very often there is a gap between what we say we want and what we do.
It also has one big question: Is it time to check the evidence?
Gage’s bio reads like a novel. The millionaire started out as a high school drop-out and juvenile delinquent arrested for armed robbery at the age of 15. He made it past juvie jail time, assorted addictions, and getting shot, as well as the various risings and fallings of a dedicated hustler all the way to near-bankruptcy before he turned himself around and started moving on up.
In 1990, the guy began writing self-help books on the subject of prosperity and a year later formed a coaching and training business, Gage Research and Development Institute, Inc.
Gage has also spoken to more than two million people across more than 50 countries and is a member of the Speakers Hall of Fame, it says here. Whew!
CHECKING THE EVIDENCE
What Gage touches on in his little video is a thing developed by London Business School professor and business coach Richard Jolly. It has been used, adapted and expanded by others. The exercise is called the “Calendar Diagnostic.” It takes a bunch of time spent head- and heart-bending. It can be well worth the effort.
Here’s what you do:
First, you grab a piece of paper and ask yourself these burning questions:
What does success look like to me?
What’s my definition of a good job, a good career or a good life?
What values and priorities do I hold most dear and want to live?
What feeds me? What is inspiring and life-enriching for me?
What are my top three priorities in all of this? Decide what and who are the most important in your life.
Next, pull out your last year’s calendar or planner…whatever you use to stay on top of your to-do list. Ask yourself:
What were my three biggest commitments each week? Each month?
What did I spend my time doing?
What did I do on weekends?
Did I take any time off or any vacation time? What did I do then?
Write down your answers. Reflect on them.
Now, for each of your top three priorities, ask yourself this:
How much alignment is there between what I say I want (my priorities) and how I spend my time?
Am I saying “yes” to the most important things and people in my life?
If you are walking your talk, give yourself a round of applause and just keep walking that walk. Maybe throw in a couple of dance steps or cartwheels or something.
AFTER THE WAKE-UP CALL
However, maybe after working your way through this exercise, you get whacked upside the head with the hard evidence that somehow your walk is not matching your talk. Ouch!
The next step (after you stop bad-mouthing and scolding yourself yet again) is to grab up another piece of paper and start detailing alternative actions you could-might-(maybe) take.
Want to get healthy? How can you do that? Make a list, break it down. (Forget about slicing or chopping. Think dicing. Think mincing.)
Want to work on strengthening relationships with your heart-people? What tiny moves can you make to do that?
Want to learn something new, start a new exploration, develop a new skill or new mindset or expand one you already enjoy? What small actions can you make to get that started?
Think on the actions you can take that align with your most treasured values and goals. Make them tiny. Make them little. Don’t go all grandiose. Just do small.
And make lists – column A, column B, and column C — one column for each of your top priorities.
After you’ve made up one weensy, tiny step you could make for each of your top three priorities, sprinkle these steps throughout your days.
Pull out your current calendar or planner. Start adding at least one of the little alternative actions that align with what you say you want to do to your calendar. Do it for the next four weeks – just one month. Pick one from column A, one from Column B and one from column C and add each one to a specific day for each week. Choose a time – morning, afternoon, evening — when you’re going to do this one thing.
Then when you get to that calendar date, you know that on this day, besides all of the other stuff you’re going to do, you will also do the little step or action you’ve scheduled that aligns your walk with your talk.
After you get through one month of days, re-evaluate.
Are you ready for another step from each of the columns?
Or do you want to keep on doing the same one for a while?
Has there been some new development that requires some other step you haven’t listed or even thought of? (Add it to the list, add that one item to your calendar, if it’s appropriate, and go….)
Set up your next four weeks in the same way. Go.
If you keep doing that, over and over again, at the end of the next year when you do your calendar diagnostic again, you may be delighted at the way you’ve begun to bridge that congruence gap.
You may like the way your moves and actions are trending. And, maybe, you’ll have thought up more ideas for the journey you are making. Go, you!
One of my favorite quotes from Randy Gage is this one: “There is no random. Your life is the harvest of your thoughts…. And your results come from the thoughts you give precedence to. Instead of letting thoughts ‘happen,’ you must be mindful, becoming the thinker of the thought.”
Hands-on (often inept) fooling around with stuff has been called “tinkering.” The top definition for the word “tinkering” in the online collaborative Urban Dictionary is this: “to mess around with something and you don’t really have a clue what you are doing.” (The regular dictionary definitions are pretty boring.)
It’s to honor the Urban Dictionary spirit of tinkering that Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich, the co-directors of the San Francisco Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio put together the book, THE ART OF TINKERING.
In the introduction to this amazing collection of wonders by 150+ Makers who combine art, science and technology to put together incredibly diverse works, Wilkinson and Petrach tell us that tinkering is “more of a perspective than a vocation…. It’s thinking with your hands and learning through doing.”
The book grew out of the work being done by a group of artists, scientists, developers, educators and facilitators who play with many different sorts of tools, materials and technologies at the museum’s “Tinkering Studio” and at the PIE Institute.
JUST MESSING AROUND
This gathering of fun-loving Makers bent on giving us all a taste of the joy of tinkering was the result of a project called the PIE (Play-Invent-Explore) Network. This federally funded project began as a collaboration between the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group, the Exploratorium, and several other museums,
They started by experimenting with science and art activities that developed into innovative educational activities suitable for wonderment, playfulness and learning about the world around us.
Work by the Tinkering Studio guys often become either exhibits at the museum or hands-on activities that allow museum visitors to jump in and play in the museum’s Tinkering Studio space which is open to the public.
The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium has become an inspiration for tinkerers and other wanna-be Makers since it began in 2009.
This 2012 YouTube video published by core77inc gives a taste of what the sessions held in the Studio feels like:
The book has a slew of advice about how you, too, can play at tinkering.
Here are my favorites:
Create rather than consume.
Express ideas via construction. Use your hands to build the constructs living in your mind.
Embrace your tools. Learn how to use them the “right” way, then figure out other ways to use them that work for what you are trying to do. It’s been said that a master knows how to misuse tools at least three different ways to get other results.
Prototype rapidly. When you have an idea, don’t let it just sit in your brain. Get it out into the world as soon as possible. Sketch a design. Build a working model with stuff you have lying around. Once it’s out of your head you can work out your next steps and move on to Phase 2.
Make it strange. Use familiar materials in unfamiliar ways. Take a common object and put it to another new use.
Get stuck. It’s a good thing. Failure tells you what you don’t know. Frustration is for making sense of that failure in the moment. Taking action to work through the problem and playing with it ultimately lead to new understandings.
The best advice of all is this one: You need to balance autonomy with collaboration.
Autonomy – going solo – helps you get to your own kind of mastery. You learn how to work with tools and materials. You develop your own skill and knowledge. You grow your confidence.
Tinkering with other people can be a blast. Collaboration helps you clarify your ideas for solving a problem because you have to be able to explain them to your partners in a way they can understand. (Otherwise they won’t be able to help you get where you want to go.)
You and your partners will have different and various skills and ideas that can be brought to bear on the problem. Cross-pollination is likely to occur and that could lead to other wonders.
Best of all, everybody can be a part of something larger than themselves, and that, as any wise guy will tell you is a very good thing.
All of the pictures of the hand-made sailing rail-cars project above were taken by Gever Tulley, the founder of Tinkering School, an internationally known summer program. He also started SF Brightworks, an innovative K-12 school in San Francisco emphasizing experience-based, hands-on experiential learning.
Tulley is the also the author of the book FIFTY DANGEROUS THINGS (YOU SHOULD LET YOUR CHILDREN DO), among others. As he has noted, “I have made it my mission to reintroduce the world to children: the real world as revealed through unscripted, hands-on, meaningful learning experiences.”
It’s the first thing they teach you in chef school: a system called mise-en-place, or literally, “put in place.” It’s a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking.
The mise evolved out of the rigid “brigade system” of culinary hierarchy codified in the 19th century by Chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier. This system emphasizes focus and self-discipline and a high level of organization and order.
Escoffier would probably have agreed with Ben Franklin who once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
In the high-stress world of the professional chefs, planning and preparation are paramount. How else could they prepare so many meals of exceptional quality, one after the other in a three-hour period, night after night after night?
Preparation is the essence of mise-en-place.
At its most basic, mise-en-place means to set out all of your ingredients before you start to cook. Measure out what you will need, chop the vegetables that will need to be chopped, and have everything ready on the counter or in small bowls on a tray.
If you talk to professional chefs, that part of the mise-en-place is just the tip of a very large iceberg. Some of them get downright Zen or Jedi about it. Everything has to be in place, including your stance and your mindset.
As Charnas says in an article he wrote for National Public Radio, “….most colleges and grad schools don’t teach basic organization. Culinary schools and professional kitchens do.”
This YouTube video, “The Ingredients of Work Clean,” published by Rodale Press shortly before the book came out, contains a brief explanation of what it is: a simple system that helps you focus your actions and accomplish your aims
Planning is prime. Be ruthlessly honest about time and timing. It’s the only way you can set it up right.
Arrange spaces so you can perfect moves. Place things so you can make your moves with just the flick of your fingers. Know how you move and place your dishes of prepared ingredients and your tools right where you will be able to reach them when it’s time to use them.
Clean as you go. Keep your tools and your station as organized as when you first started. This knife goes in this space. The chopped chives go right there. Everything that is no longer needed does not belong at your station. You’ll need it later so if you’ve got a breathing space, wash up the thing you’ve used and put it aside for when you’ll next need it.
Know what to start first. Start the longest process first. It will be done by the time you get to the shortest process and by the time you’re done, you’ll be at the end.
Do not wait to finish. It isn’t finished until it’s delivered. As soon as it’s ready, let it go.
Slow down to speed up. Don’t panic when things get hectic. Calm your body, calm your mind. Hurry opens the door to mistakes. Get it right, and fast will happen.
Open your eyes and ears. Balance your internal and external awareness. Remain focused and open. Be receptive. React as needed to the world around you but stay focused on what you are doing.
Call and call back. Streamline and confirm essential communications. Follow up, update your team and turn information into intel you all can use to work together well.
Inspect and correct. Excellence requires vigilance. Check your work.
Aim for total utilization. Avoid wasting time, space, motion, resources or persons. Figure out how to tap into the flow of using them all and making them move in the direction you want them to go. Look to create a synergy that you can step into.
The real is that mise-en-place is about being able to “work clean.” It’s not about “creating order,” as in, “Gee, wow, I’ve organized my desk and doesn’t it look clean and cool?”
What mise-en-place says is, “I’m committed to move through all of these many steps I need to do and get them done right. When I’ve finished with all the steps of this project I am on now, I’ll wrap it up and deliver it. Then I’ll resume my stance at my station, put myself in a position where everything is in place for me to work on the next project, and I’ll deliver that one.”
With mise-en-place you can repeat as needed for as long as necessary and it all gets done right every time. You think about the process of making something from start to finish, and then you set up a system so you can get it done.
The system you create and maintain will allow you to stay focused on the most important thing at each moment. What you need to do to accomplish something gets done faster and more proficiently because everything you need to do it is right there in front of you.
It’s cooking, planned and executed like a military campaign, and the moves are eminently transferable to other life-things as well.
A companion YouTube video, also published by Rodale Press, “The Daily Meeze“ is a short introduction to the 30-minute daily planning session that Charnas recommends as a way to take mise-en-place out of the kitchen and apply it to regular life.
You may be able to figure out your own way to make your “meeze” your own. Think about it.
The wise guys say Life is a balance. Physically that is a truth. You breathe in and you breathe out. Too much breathing in and you hyperventilate; too little and you turn blue. Eat too much and you gain weight; eat too little and you waste away.
Balance is fascinating. I remember that as kids, my friends and I used to try getting the teeter-totter plank to sit perfectly level on its fulcrum as we piled on. We never did get it quite right. We tried sitting in different positions on the see-saw board, adjusting the mix of thin and fat kids and throwing in assorted pets as part of the challenge. It was a heck of a lot of fun.
This YouTube video, “Defying Gravity With Korea’s Premier Balance Artist” was recently published by Great Big Story, the result of a collaboration with Korean Air. In it artist Rocky Byun, a “balance artist” based in Tancheon, South Korea demonstrates how he is able to find the balance point in anything – rocks, furniture…even bikes and motor scooters. His amazing sculptures appear to defy gravity.
In another, earlier video filmed at a shopping mall in Dubai and posted to YouTube by Pretty Pink in 2013, Byun is shown performing his art. He constructs sculptures that incorporate everything from a bunch of irregularly shaped rocks, a laptop, a motor scooter, and even a small refrigerator standing on one corner.
ORIGINS OF WORK-LIFE BALANCE
There is one balancing act that is even more difficult than what Byun and his fellow balance artists can do. That is the one that’s been dubbed “the work-life balance.”
Everybody is supposed to work at getting that one right. Somehow, some way, we are all supposed to aim for developing an optimal career AND have an optimal family or personal life as well. Ri-i-i-ght.
Before the Industrial Revolution, there wasn’t much talk about trying to balance work and the rest of life. Most people lived in the middle of their work. Farmers, for example, lived on their farms and the whole family pitched in to help grow and harvest crops as well as take care of all the other things necessary for living.
Work and the rest of life were not separate things. Work was just part of living. With the developments of automation, factories, and corporate offices came the Big Divide. It became normal for “work” to happen “someplace else.”
“Work” became a “job” or a “career” and got compartmentalized away from the other lifestyle things like family, health, leisure, pleasure, community-building and spiritual development. The priorities of the work-place and the job or the career were often very different from the kinds of priorities one needs to set for personal development or for the growing of relationships and families.
It all takes time and effort, no matter whether you want to get good at your job, advance in your career, develop as an individual, or participate in group or community activities. It can get terribly complicated.
The expression “work-life balance” was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970’s to describe the balance between an individual’s work and his or her personal life. In the United States, the phrase was first used in 1986.
DEALING WITH THE SEPARATION OF WORK AND LIFE
By 2010 there were all kinds of studies about work-life balances and imbalances and the effect that work has on the rest of a person’s life. It’s a given, they say: When the work-life balance is out-of-whack, you get out of whack.
Theories abound about how one goes about finding a “proper” balance. Everybody weighs in with their own prescriptions and solutions to the dilemma as technology makes it easier and easier to stay connected with your work-world regardless of where you happen to be.
It’s sort of ironic, that. Now “work” happens at home again and still we separate it from the rest of life.
It would not be so distressing if there wasn’t such a lot of guilt attached to our failure to get the balance “right” and real. You want to be a success at your work. You want to have a grand family life and lots of friends and so on.
Everybody tells you that you can do it all, have it all. (And the sub-text is: What are ya? Lazy or something?)
BALANCE OR BUST
The problem, of course, is that you’re trying to make all the differently weighted and shaped things in your life form a structure that defies gravity….flies, even. You’re trying to be an amateur balance artist and your structures don’t come out looking elegant and awesome like Byun’s work. Trying to get the balance right is not nearly half as much fun as the game my friends and I used to play with the see-saws.
One way to make it all work is to run yourself ragged trying to get it all done. That one often ends up with you all twisted into a stressed-out pretzel. Not good.
Another way to find the right “balance” for you is to decide what your purpose is in life, what brings meaning and mana to it…not somebody else’s pronouncements about what is right and good and real. Just your own thoughts.
Here’s a YouTube video, “Work/Life Balance Is a Myth” by award-winning American photographer Chase Jarvis. In it, he points out that not everyone is cut out for the mad dash of doing-doing-doing that can lead to $ucce$$ big-time…and the real is, they don’t actually have to be.
It is possible, after all, to have a meaningful ordinary life. It just depends on what you want and where you put your head.
Jarvis helped to co-found an online education platform, creativeLIVE in 2010. The group puts together free on-line classes and works to help Creatives market their work. The tools they provide can help other Creatives realize their own dreams. A good thing.
FINAL THOUGHT – ANOTHER IPS
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that you are the framework of your own life. [You’re the only one who can balance the elements of your life to create a synergy that supports you as you dance to your own heartsong.]
I had a friend who won my admiration because his constant go-to request was always this: “Can I ask a stupid question?” Then he’d ask a question that was A-B-C simple about something I thought I knew.
I’d answer the question (out of my own great wisdom, of course). It made me feel so good to be able to be…uh-hem…The Expert.
My friend Les listened carefully. He’d think on what I said. Then he’d ask more “stupid” questions, helping me explore where my thoughts might lead. One thought would lead to the next and then the next. He’d interject his own insights, showing me that he was listening and appreciating what I had to say. In the discussion that would inevitably follow, with me expounding and him asking more and more questions, a light would start to dawn. Often, I’d reach the limits of my understanding fairly quickly, and still he had more questions.
That’s when the real fun began. Because he brought a little-kid wonder to the exchange and he’d jump in with his own thoughts on the thing, new ideas would start popping up. Often they were things I’d never considered. Les would start grinning wide and bring up another question. He’d get all sparkly and go with the flow of the conversation, interjecting “yes-and” thoughts, building on the mind-construct I would make.
Les had a lot of fun running with ideas. (I guess nobody ever told him that ideas are like scissors and it can be dangerous to run with them. Nobody told him that the ideas can cut you if you’re not careful.)
Our discussions got quite lively. They really were a lot of fun. At the end of all our talk-story, we’d hug each other, hugely satisfied by our game, and go along on our merry ways. And my take-away, always, was another way of seeing the world and more ideas for explorations and moves to try.
I don’t know what he got out of these talks we had, but it sure was a lot of fun.
A MASTER IS ALWAYS AN AMATEUR IN DISGUISE
We are always being told that being a “master” is the pinnacle of our journeys toward Achievement and $ucce$$. It’s the end-all, be-all of the whole thing, they say. Be a Master, Rule the World. R-i-i-ight.
In this YouTube video, “Sarah Lewis: Be a Deliberate Amateur,” which was published by the National Association of Independent Schools in 2015, art historian Sarah Lewis tells us that part of the process of developing Mastery is knowing how to fall back into an I-Don’t-Know state of mind and ask “stupid questions.”
Her book explores the question of how new ideas happen and is a lively and interesting read that has won widespread praise. It mashes history, biography and psychological research together and explores the value of what the wise guys call “Beginner-Mind”. In it, Lewis points out the value of retaining that natural sense of wonder you carried around as a child.
BEGINNER-MIND ON THE RISE
The following YouTube video is a part of a series published by Mindfulnessgruppen, a Stockholm-based company offering courses and trainings based on mindfulness. It features mindfulness researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn exploring the benefits of Beginner Mind, one of what he calls “the nine attitudes of mindfulness.”
Kabat-Zinn’s life-work has been explorations of the mind-body connection and how mindfulness helps promote health and well-being. He’s been credited with bringing the once-obscure concept of Mindfulness into mainstream thought, it says here. After Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness was no longer just the province of wrinkled, half-naked, bearded old men sitting in caves all blissed-out.
The man has written numerous ground-breaking books in the field, and is Professor of Medicine Emeritus and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. As a result of his studies, testing and developing assorted practical applications for his discoveries, Kabat-Zinn figured out a way for people to use mindfulness to help reduce stress. He and his crew teach other people how to do his MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction).
The whole thing is a further iteration of old wisdom that’s been made new and relevant to our own world now.
THE WONDER OF IT ALL
In order to explore ideas to their fullest extent (or at least as far as your own mind can take them), it’s clear that you need to get back to Beginner-Mind. That is the start of it all, it seems.
The very best thing about the Beginner-Mind mindset is the sense of wonder that is a part of our birthright as humans. We can wonder. We can think. We can dream.
This extraordinarily beautiful YouTube video, The Wonder of Life, was published by RedFrost Motivation in 2015. In it, Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, some of the best of our scientific thinkers, give us things to ponder while the guys who put together the video blow up our minds big and bigger with out-of-this-world images and heart-expanding music.
My own thought on all of this is that it gets really hard to think small when you figure out that you’re made up of the same stuff as stars and rainbows and butterflies.
Very often the stories you tell yourself keep you stuck in suck.
TOO MANY PEOPLE GOT THERE FIRST
Here’s one that’s likely to stop you in your tracks: “There are too many people doing __________ (fill in the blank) already.” You tell yourself this and then make up a story about how you’ll get lost in the vast crowds of people doing the same __________ (fill in the blank) that you want to do.
Maybe you tell yourself, “Nothing I can do will really make me stand out in this crowd,” and then, after surveying all the competition, maybe you allow yourself to be intimidated. Maybe you ask yourself, “Why even try?”
THE VOICES IN YOUR HEAD
Remember the Good Mom Litany? Do this, don’t do that….”If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump, too?” If you’re running the “too-many-people-are-already-doing-it” story in your head, it could be you took that Litany to heart a little too much.
In this funny YouTube video published by joeschoi, comedienne Anita Renfroe condenses what a good Mom says in 24 hours into 2 minutes and 55 seconds in “The Mom Song,” sung to the William Tell Overture.
That litany, like all the other Mom (and Big Person) admonitions, was supposed to get you to stop and think before you did something irrevocably damaging – physically, mentally or socially — to your little self.
It was supposed to keep you safe and unhurt when she or some other Big Person couldn’t be around to watch over you and protect you. Maybe you heard it so much that now it just pops up all on its own every time you want to try something new or do something different.
In order to get your head turned around when the Litany is running through your head, you will probably need to do another Un-Seeing Exercise….
CHANNEL YOUR INNER IMMORTAL
The best way to turn this situation around is to channel your Inner 12-Year-Old.
Remember when you still thought you were Immortal?
Remember when you thought you could do anything?
Remember when you wanted to try something just because you wanted to see what happens next?
Remember when you were too dumb to know what the Smart Thing was?
Here are some counterpoint thoughts you might want to roll around in your head that will encourage that 12-Year Old to step on out:
Just because somebody else…or even many somebody elses are doing it does not mean that you can’t too.
Nobody is you. You will bring your own gifts, your own skills, your own sensibilities to this thing you do. (Just make sure you do the thing the best way you know how.)
This YouTube video, “Too Many People Already Do What I Do” was published by Sean McCabe, a young entrepreneur who is the founder of seanwes, a brand that mashes together making art (in this case, hand-lettering) and creating a successful, audience-driven business.
In the video, Sean deconstructs and refutes the too-many-people story. He points out that in this vast interconnected world of ours, we are exposed to the best of the best on a daily basis. We often populate our daily feeds with all the minds we appreciate.
He also points out that it’s quite likely that when you are checking out all of the makers you admire and against whom you measure yourself, you are probably only seeing a tiny fraction of the 7 billion-plus humans on the planet.
The tiny fraction of the world’s population that is grabbing your attention are the ones who are doing things and making awesomeness. If you’re looking to become one of that number, then you’re going to be one of the relatively few.
Most of the rest of the people on the planet are more likely to be spectators, audience, or customers….people who are waiting for you to share your own gift. That is a very cool thought, huh?
Imbue what you do with your own meaning and start building and sharing your __________ (fill in the blank) your own way. Listen and respond to the feedback from your audience and persist in sharing what you do.
REMEMBER TO KEEP YOUR MESSAGE SIMPLE
Steve Jobs once said, “This is a very complicated world. It is a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us…And so, we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”
Keep your message about your __________ (fill in the blank) focused. Keep your message simple. There is incredible power and freedom in simplicity.
Think. What’s the ONE thing you want people to know about you?
If you can distill your message down to one simple phrase that’s aligned to your values then that one phrase will help you maintain your conviction. With that one phrase you can carry on through the whole obstacle course you may encounter and finish what you start.
Showing up is what counts. Doing what you do the best way you know how is what counts. Maintaining your effort tenaciously (McCabe suggests showing up every day for at least two years) until you’ve made your dream real is what counts.
“Meaningful Work” is the new Grail, it seems. Every time you turn around there’s somebody or other admonishing and exhorting you to get out there and “find” the work that gives meaning to your life. It’s the key to happiness, joy and self-fulfillment, they say.
WHAT MAKES WORK MEANINGFUL?
Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky, in his book THE QUARTER-LIFE BREAKTHROUGH, has a clear and succinct description of the shape this “work with meaning” is supposed to take. He says this sort of work has these four qualities:
It reflects who you are and what your interests are.
It allows you to show your gifts to help others.
It provides a community of believers that will support your dream.
It is financially viable, given your desired lifestyle.
This is the kind of work that has all the bennies and the good stuff that you like, so I suppose it does makes sense that if you actually had a job like that it’s likely you would be blissed.
Lifestyle and career coaches and fire-starters all seem to agree: If nobody will hand over that Meaningful Work treasure to you, then, by golly, you can just get out there and make your own bread for your own self! (Go, you!)
“MEANINGFUL” CAN BE HARD TO FIND…OR IS IT?
In the real world, it seems to me, a majority of the people who must work for a living often have a limited number of options. For one thing, they do have to accept whatever available jobs there are that they are qualified to get. (They hope these jobs will pay enough to support them and their families.)
If not, they may choose to take on a couple more similar gigs or invent side-gigs that take up the slack. Often they may work really hard on acquiring or expanding skill-sets that will make them more attractive to assorted employers.
Some of them may even make the effort to develop skills that will allow them to build a framework for work that is uniquely their own.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in a press release issued in March, 2015, tells us that the four most common occupations in America at the time were retail salesperson, cashier, food preparer and server, and office clerk.
All of these jobs are basically low-paying positions that are mostly done by rote. If you tried to fit them into the “meaningful-work” template the life-coaches tout, these jobs probably would flunk a bunch of “meaningful-work” tests.
The thing is, these jobs are still a necessary part of keeping the world around us functioning smoothly and well. If you take away all the salespeople and cashiers, all the food service people and all of the assorted office minions and functionaries, would we be able to live life as we know it?
WHERE DID ALL THE MEANING GO?
In this YouTube video featuring a TEDx talk given at Azusa Pacific University, Ryan T. Hartwig explores how Meaning went Missing-In-Action from the still-useful post-modern jobs we do.
Hartwig’s point in the video is this: “There is no meaningful job unless someone brings meaning to it.”
It’s not a new idea. For what was perhaps his best-known book, WORKING, which was published in 1997, American journalist and radio broadcaster Louis “Studs” Terkel talked to over 100 people – from gravediggers to movie studio heads — about their jobs and how they felt about them.
He came away with the thought that “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread.”
In the first story, John F. Kennedy ran into a janitor at NASA in 1962. When the president asked the cleaner what he was doing, the janitor said he was “helping put a man on the moon.”
The second story is about a road-worker directing the flow of traffic near a repair site on a stretch of Colorado highway. The guy stood in the hot sun and periodically he would turn a sign that read “Stop” on one side and “Slow” on the other. He kept doing that diligently, over and over again.
A driver in the line of cars waiting for their turn to get past the repair site asked the road-worker how he could stand such boring work. The road-worker replied, “I keep people safe. I care about these guys behind me and I keep them safe. I also keep you safe, and everyone else in all those cars behind you.”
As Smith points out, “The ability to find purpose in the day-to-day tasks of living and working goes a long way to building meaning.”
THE SERVICE AGE
Wharton School of Business professor Adam Grant did a survey of two million individuals across over 50 jobs. Those who reported finding the most meaning in their careers included clergy, English teachers, surgeons, directors of activities at religious organizations, elementary and secondary school administrators, radiation therapists, chiropractors and psychologists.
These people all felt that the world was a better place and other people were better off because they were there doing their work. Grant found it telling that every one of these satisfied workers provided needed services to other people.
In the United States, nearly three out of every ten employees are knowledge workers, Grant says in the article. They are outnumbered by the service workers who represent eight out of every ten American employees.
Not only that, but it was estimated that in 2016 almost two-thirds of the world’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was produced in the service industries.
In this YouTube video of a 2012 “Capture Your Flag” interview, author and public speaker Simon Sinek answers the question, “What makes your work meaningful?”
“Capture Your Flag” is executive producer Erik Michielsen’s educational media company which has been creating online video content and helping to develop material for online and educational publishers since 2009.
In the series of videos Michielsen continues to produce, he interviews what he calls “rising leaders” and “near peers” (people a step or two ahead of the viewers of the video) who have faced and resolved familiar business and career situations and problems.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND A TAKE-AWAY
If the only meaning in work is what you, the worker, brings to it, then it seems to me that it would be a good thing to think on the counterintuitive advice Professor Hartwig gives at the end of his TEDx talk:
Focus on the good you do in your work. How you help others and the value of the work you do are important building blocks for finding meaning in your work.
See and act beyond the bottom line. Profit is an important thing, but it is not the only thing of value for your bottom line. Building relationships, connections and community transcends and adds to your bottom line.
Never say, “I’m just a ________” (Fill in the blank) You are more than just a job title. Remember that.
Hartwig also encourages managers and administrators to develop a work environment that will help to foster this way of thinking by allowing and encouraging workers to make their work more meaningful and allowing them to use all of their human qualities to do it.
Here is a poem I wrote about what being a property manager means to me and the lessons it has taught me. [Kuleana is Hawaiian for “responsibility.”]
THE GATEKEEPER SPEAKS
Ya know, I’ve been thinkin’,
I get to walk through Other People’s worlds –
All of them valid, all of them real.
The people living in these worlds
Are who they are,
Are what they are,
And they have to be Real with me.
Because I am the gatekeeper –
The foo-dog holding the key that
Unlocks the theater back door.
In order to use that stage that is my kuleana,
These people must get by me,
So I become a tourist in their lives.
They show me its shape –
All the good parts, polished up and spiffy-nice.
(It’s only later that I get to see
The darknesses and broken crockery.)
This all helps me understand a fundamental thing:
These others walk wrapped in a bubble-world
Of particular hopes and dreams.
They come to me lugging a load
Of issues, the consequences of past mistakes.
It has nothing to do with me
When some dream blows up in their faces,
Or some hope dies a lingering, agonizing death.
It has nothing to do with me.
Their moves then are predicated on
The prevailing climate in their own world-bubbles.
Sometimes I get caught in the crossfire of conflicting other-people needs.
Sometimes I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time –
The time frames you set to realize your goals can influence whether you achieve your vision of success. This is the foundation for another exercise in Un-Seeing.
We seem to have been brain-washed into believing that if we don’t weight ourselves down with a lot of pressure to get things done and done and done, then we’re going to just sit there like lumps on a log. That’s often the rationale behind all this deadline-making fetish we’ve all fallen into.
Put enough pressure on yourself and you’ll squirt ahead of the crowd. Oh yeah. Uh-huh. Ri-i-i-ght.
More often, it seems, putting all that pressure on yourself makes it very hard to move with grace and is likely to break something – either in you or in your relationships and in your world.
SOME THINGS TAKE TIME…A LOT OF TIME
Baking a cake takes an hour or so. Slow-roasting a side of beef takes a lot longer. If you turn up the heat and try to cook that hunk of meat in an hour like a cake, all you will get is a charred piece of raw meat and an over-heated kitchen. It doesn’t work.
Setting your time frame is like deciding whether the race you are running is a fifty-yard dash or a marathon. Different strategies are required, depending on the race you choose to run. You have to pace yourself — allocate your time and your energy differently. You have to train differently.
This YouTube video “Eight Stages of Marathon Running,” published in 2013 by BuzzFeed Video is a giggle-inducing depiction of the emotions experienced by a first-time marathon runner over the course of a 26.2 mile run.
It’s hard to imagine any short-race runner going through all of that.
Hawaiians have a most interesting concept about time. They know that time is a mind-construct. It doesn’t really exist in the Real, they say. Because time is a human-made thing, it stands to reason that humans can play with time.
When the pressure mounts and they are feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that have to be done, Hawaiians remind each other to “ho’omanawanui.”
In modern times this phrase is translated as “don’t worry.” However, a wise old Hawaiian shaman once told me, the literal meaning of this phrase can be broken down as follows:
“Ho’o” = “make”
“Manawa” = time
“Nui” = big
When you put it all together “ho’omanawanui” becomes “make time big.”
The shaman was gently pointing out to me that I was trying to solve a very big chronic problem in a very short time frame. It was driving me crazy. It seemed like every move I made compounded the chaos and it all got overwhelming.
The shaman listened to my tale of woe and advised me to give myself more time and more room in which to make my moves. Letting go of an artificially set deadline, he said, would give me more time to allow the big mass of chaos I was facing to settle down so I could see how I could use my available resources – my time, my energy, my attention and my money – to better effect.
The moves I could choose to make became clearer when I did not feel the looming pressure of the deadline I had set for myself pressing on me. Giving myself more time to resolve the situation was a simple matter of telling myself that I had all the time I needed to turn it all around.
This let me take a breath and slow down. The situation no longer felt like a life-and-death emergency run, with lights flashing and sirens blaring.
I could slow down. Slowing down helped me see the opportunities that were already there and I was able to use them to help mitigate and correct a truly intolerable situation.
That one worked. So have all the other times I’ve tried to use the Ho’omanawanui strategy.
THE FALSE “EITHER/OR”
A wide time horizon can help you avoid false “either/or” decisions. It’s useful for challenging the assumptions you are carrying whenever you’re facing some choice.
Here’s an example. Should I spend the summer with my kids making a memory? Should I spend the summer building my client base so we’ll be able to continue living in the style to which we’ve grown accustomed?
If you start thinking on this in March and you’re looking at the upcoming summer, it’s likely that you’ll end up turning the choice into an “either/or” thing: EITHER I spend the time with my kids OR I build my business.
If, however,you choose to spend next summer off at the beach with your kids, then you can use the year in between to save money, take on additional clients to generate more revenue, and give advance notice to your existing clients that you’re going to be taking off next summer.
You can even get the kids into planning what they want to do and see and making their own plans for the trip as well. Together you can work on making the whole experience more meaningful and fun.
The decision becomes an “and”: I am building my business AND I’m building a special memory with my kids.
GETTING TO “AND”
An even bigger one is the one where you consider doing what you love and doing what makes you more money. A wider time horizon can allow you to turn the thing into an AND decision, rather than making it an EITHER/OR proposition.
Giving yourself a wide time horizon allows you to consider working during the day and following your passion during the non-work hours. Or, you might choose doing what you’re passionate about as your primary activity and getting side gigs that make you money. Or, you might be able to figure out a way to make money doing your passion.
If you don’t load a lot of time constraints and have-to’s onto yourself, you can figure out how to get to where you’re going gracefully. A bit of graciousness can creep in.
One of my favorite quotes about time is this one by Michael Altshuler: “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”
Altshuler should know. He is a sales coach whose personal track record shows over $65 million in personal and managed sales and he speaks before corporate audiences about peak performance. For a while he did a stint on the t.v. hit show, American Gladiators.
Here’s a YouTube video produced by eSpeakers in 2016 that shows Altshuler in action. His message in this thing is a good one….
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that basically us humans are clueless when it comes to answering the Big Questions. [Life-Its-Own-Self is a big Mystery. Wonder and awe are appropriate responses.]
THE QUESTION-BOX KID
I confess: I was that Question-Box Kid who kept asking adults the stumper “why” questions all the time. It is not a good survival trait in a culture where young ones are supposed to watch and listen and learn.
I don’t think I was built for all that big-eyed, bated-breath wonderment stuff – the one where you go, “Oh, wow, Big Person, tell me what I need to know.”
I thought the Big Guys were keeping me from figuring out the all-of-everything. It was all a conspiracy, I figured. I was going to hammer the Big Stuff really fast so I could just go out there and DO stuff, just like them….maybe better than them. Ha-ha!
I was, I think, an annoying piece of work. I survived my childhood mostly because I was surrounded by people who were too slow on their feet to catch and strangle me.
THE BIG SIX – WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, HOW, AND WHY
Later on, I finally did figure out that the WHY questions have no pat answers. You can ask WHAT, WHO, WHERE, WHEN and HOW questions from sunrise to sunset and get some pretty solid answers from other people.
The answers you get to those kinds of questions are productive. You can do stuff with them and make things happen.
WHY questions, on the other hand, are always….debatable. They lead to arguments and dissension and lots of disagreements between people. Wars have been started over differing WHY-question answers.
FROM ONE TRUTH TO ANOTHER
The thing is, the answers to WHY questions are not necessarily “right” or “wrong.” Like the answers to the other questions, the answers to WHY questions either work or they don’t work. The problem is the answers to the WHY questions only work for some people and not for others.
The answers to the WHY questions are always one Truth or another. But, each person sees Truth in their own way and sometimes one person’s Truth will absolutely contradict another person’s Truth.
Finding the WHY-question answers that work for you are a lot of work. The deal is, though, those answers are the absolute bottom-rock foundation for adding meaning and mana to your life.
The wise guys say that all the answers to the WHY questions are already inside of you. For some reason, they’re obscured by assorted issues and assumptions and other-people stuff.
It’s the price of admission for coming into this world, that. That’s what you get for coming into the world as this helpless little being that has to depend on all these other people to keep you alive.
(To avoid all that, the wiser guys point out, you would have to come into the world as a fully-realized being, already self-sufficient and smart enough not to say much. That comes with a different set of problems that might end up with you getting burned at the stake or crucified or something. REALLY not a good thing.)
Things being the way they are, it means that you have to develop “creative discovery skills.” Since nobody else actually knows the answers that are going to work for you, you have to go find them your own self. It requires you to ask the right questions.
Here’s a TEDx Tokyo talk by James Curleigh about “Asking the Right Questions.” (At the time the video was made, Curleigh was the president and CEO of Keen Footwear. He has since become Levi’s brand president.) It really sounds like the guy asks a lot of questions too….
CREATIVE DISCOVERY SKILLS
Creative discovery skills are actually just a matter of asking questions that look past previous assumptions. The more forethought you put into the questions you ask, the better answers you get and the more options you uncover.
It’s kind of like turning over rocks and leaves and overturned boxes and such and finding out what’s under them, then taking all the stuff under them (plus maybe some of the stuff you overturned as well) to make a whopping cool new thing.
This is pretty much the definition for how scientists and inventors and artists and craftsmen and business innovators came up with all these fantastic new ideas and products that surround us today.
PLAYING WITH OTHERS
It’s a lot more fun when you can share these skills with other people. To do that, you mostly have to just ask their permission to play in this new way and then invite them to join in.
When you encounter stuck-in-the-mud resistance, the best response is usually asking another question.
Keep asking questions until the other person starts thinking too…even if they’re only thinking of ways to block you.
Remember that they are doing you a favor when they try to block you. You get to think about their objections and propositions and see whether you can find ways around them. Their objections help you refine your own way of dancing and point out your mistakes or missteps.
Eventually, if you both stick with this way of playing, you may find some common place where you can stand together and start making something together.
There is a very useful communication skills article (as well as a very good video by Yashwant Schinde) on the Mind Tools Club website that you might want to check out. You can click HERE to do that.
Mind Tools is an online educational/business training organization that was established in 1996. It works with top global corporations as well as individual entrepreneurs and careerists to help them increase productivity, improve management and leadership skills and all that good stuff.
If you like what you see, you can even join the club for a not-unreasonable price. (The standard membership is $19/month after the first month for $1.) You can also subscribe to their free newsletter.
You do have to watch out and make sure you’re not being a pest when you play this game, but sometimes even being a pest will get the other person off their duff.
If you get really good at it, their getting off their duff is not going to be because they are so mad at you they want to beat you into the dirt. (You know you’re good when you can take off your running shoes and not bother with them any more.)