Threads of Central Purpose

Yesterday I had the good pleasure of formalizing two promotions, making a job offer to an intern and extending the internship of a promising student. Today we’re hiring three new associates for our shipping and manufacturing teams. With so much change afoot my greatest concerns are to maintain continuity, to preserve momentum and to keep the peace.

There are threads of central purpose which must be carried through any process of change. Identifying those threads is one of the most important steps in managing a process of change. These threads may relate to the core values of a company, the central purpose of a team or the primary goals of a project.

The failure to identify, protect and apply the threads of central purpose is one of the the most common reasons for failure. It is a primary cause of apathy, passivity and frenzy. Without a clear sense of central purpose, action, especially in times of change, we will most likely be misguided.

What are the threads of central purpose in your job, or more broadly, in your world?

My Best Teachers

If you treat an individual…as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

One of the greatest privileges in life is that of teaching, coaching, mentoring or leading others in any setting or of any age. To do so requires an unusual combination of skills, chief among them are the ability to radiate a certain quality of knowledge or even wisdom and the willingness to be at rest in yourself while occasionally making others feel uncomfortable by your radiant presence.

Looking back, my best teachers were those who made me feel the most uncomfortable, challenged and capable of reaching that which was beyond my reach at the time. Their very presence compelled my finest expression – in thought, word and action – no matter how I was feeling or they were feeling at the time. They were empathetic and understanding without being sympathetic and subject to my limitations, both real and perceived.

Another common denominator to this rare and distinguished group was (and is!) the ability to help me navigate from where I was to where they knew I could be. Just writing this makes me realize that they believed in me more than I believed in myself at certain critical points. This is the very essence of an effective teacher, mentor and leader.

You cannot give what you don’t have and the wonderful thing about teaching, mentoring and leading is that you find yourself face-to-face with yourself as you are presently configured. You realize very quickly what you have and can therefore deliver and what you don’t and must therefore develop in yourself if you are to continue to provide guidance in that area. Luckily those whom you are guiding are typically consumed with their own process to the point that they do not see you addressing your own deficiencies, especially if you do not draw unnecessary attention to your process.

A great teacher will humbly admit that he is continually learning from his students and from the process of teaching and sharing, without losing his authority. A great teacher is, in this sense, a great student first and a great teacher second. Put otherwise, the way a teacher relates to the learning process will tend to condition the way his students relate to the learning process.

It’s a beautiful process when you think about it. It’s not so much the circle of life, where facts and information are recycled from generation to generation, but the spiral of life, where the ongoing revelation of wisdom is encouraged. This is the catalyst that transforms the human experience from history repeating itself to moving from glory unto glory.

 

Where I grew up we didn’t…

You’ve no doubt heard conversations in which people define themselves, defend their positions and deride others with the statement “Where I grew up we didn’t…” What follows is usually some anecdote that serves to make a point which carries the weight of precedent and by extension, history.

While it is certainly true that you are defined in large measure by your childhood experiences, you needn’t let the days of your youth define the years of your adulthood. Every child has the opportunity to rise above the strictures of personal and familial precedent. The idea that you don’t, that is, that you have a station in life and that you are better off respecting the envelope of possibility you were born into is outdated, outmoded and utterly false.

Your life expression rightly emerges from the inside out and is radiant in nature. Just as you had your start in the confines of your mother’s womb, when you continue to cooperate with life rather than struggling against it you will go through successive periods of rebirth into a larger sphere of living and influence. Life’s inclination is to move upward and outward, not downward and inward.

Adolescence is one of those critical periods of rebirth. Teenagers, full of the spirit of life, are typically hellbent on defining themselves. The longing to know who they are and what they are here to do burns in their hearts and minds, but they typically lack the tools and discipline necessary to navigate the pressures of labor and birth present in this important phase of life. As such they need a doula or a team of advisors (typically other than their parents) to help keep them on the path to self-revelation.

Parents who do not allow the lives of their children to expand do a tremendous disservice to the child. They create an artificially self-limiting environment that is deficient in critical nutrients as no parent or parents are so complete in and of themselves that they can provide everything their children need. Most parents who do this to their children feel well-justified, typically on the argument that they don’t want to miss the child’s youth, which, dear readers, is fundamentally selfish reasoning that is ignorant of the process by which individuality is nourished into being.

In an imperfect world it is highly unlikely that any child will have a perfect childhood. There will be deficiencies, mistakes made and imbalances that become more obvious as the child grows older. You are wise, then, to recognize that your childhood experiences should not limit or define those of your children. This is not to say that your children will be “better” than you, neither does it mean that their purpose is to beat your records. True individual expression is not relative, it is absolute.

Parents would be wise to provide the safe and controlled growing room by means of which their children can see beyond the blinders imposed by immediate family, relatives, societal norms and cultural mores. Individuality loses its unique and original character whenever life expression is stuffed into a preformed box.

As you can imagine, there are implications for parenting, education, business organizational theory and more to this notion of personal development. We, in all of our human brilliance, have elected the familiarity and comfort that dribbles from the status quo over the newness and richness that flow abundantly from a more dynamic, organic approach to living. Life is never static. Neither should we be.

Living in an Air Castle I

Living in an air-castle is about as profitable as owning a half-interest in a rainbow. It is no more nourishing than a dinner of twelve courses—eaten in a dream. Air-castles are built of golden moments of time, and their only value is in the raw material thus rendered valueless.

The atmosphere of air-castles is heavy and stupefying with the incense of vague hopes and phantom ideals. In the man lulls himself into dreaming inactivity with the songs of the mighty deeds he is going to do, the great influence he some day will have, the vast wealth that will be his, sometime, somehow, somewhere, in the rosy, sunlit days of the future. The architectural error about air-castles is that the owner builds them downward from their gilded turrets in the clouds, instead of upward from a solid, firm foundation of purpose and energy. This diet of mental lotus-leaves is a mental narcotic, not a stimulant.

Ambition, when wedded to tireless energy is a great thing and a good thing, but in itself it amounts to little. Man cannot raise himself to higher things by what he would like to accomplish but only by what he endeavors to accomplish. To be of value, ambition must ever be made manifest in zeal, in determination, in energy consecrated to an ideal. If it be thus reinforced, thus combined, the thin airy castle melts into nothingness, and the individual stands on a new strong foundation of solid rock, whereon, day by day and stone by stone, he can rear a mighty material structure of life-work to last through time and eternity. The air-castle ever represents the work of an architect without a builder; it means plans never put into execution. They tell us that man is the architect of his own fortunes. But if he be merely architect he will make only an air-castle of his life; he should be architect and builder too.” ~ William George Jordan

My company concluded its annual sales representative conference the other day and I was left with number of impressions, particularly in relation to those reps just starting their sales careers with us. For starters, I realized more clearly that working as an independent contractor and therefore as a small business owner provides a number of specific advantages. You are your own boss. You determine your level of success and the scope of your employment. You set your own hours. You have what many long for: independence.

On the other side of the coin, of course, you find that you are also responsible for your business 24/7. You cannot leave your business to another on nights and weekends. You tend to be much more invested in your work – physically, financially, emotionally – and the fate of your company, “You, Inc.,” rests squarely in you. You cannot hide behind a boss, a co-worker and you typically don’t have much of a cushion, especially early on, to absorb your inattention to the fundamentals. The privileges you gain, in short, come with a corresponding responsibility.

One of our senior reps noted that one of his most painful (and subsequently freeing) realizations was that there were no shortcuts to success. He recognized that he could not outsmart the system, skip over the fundamentals and build his business as Jordan described: “downward from [his] gilded turrets in the clouds.” Such an approach may give the appearance of working, particularly early in life if school comes easy, if there is natural talent in sports, music or the arts, but such endowments are rarely sufficient to fund the start-up of a new business, let alone the expansion of an existing one.

Our V.P. of Sales reminded the participants over and over again that you must do the work if you expect to succeed. You must pay attention to the fundamentals your entire career, in fact, there is no point at which the fundamentals lose their value in the present and influence over the future.

According to the science of tree physiology, there are four phases of tree growth: 1) newly germinated seedling, 2) young seedling/primary growth, 3) year-old seedling/secondary growth and 4) two year-old seedling/bark and wood development. An interesting website on the subject notes that:

As trees and other plants mature over time, new structures appear. Developments may be obvious, as when flowers or other reproductive structures first appear, or more subtle, like the maturing of the xylem or phloem.

BUT – this does not necessarily mean that earlier structures disappear. Instead, they often spread up and out with the branches or down further into the ground with the roots…The structures that appear when the tree is a tiny seedling are still present in a huge tree – at the very tips of the branches and roots.

So it is in business development, except that you, not the forces of nature beyond you, are the builder of your dreams. As you parlay the time and energy you might typically expend articulating what you would “like to accomplish” into specific action steps, where attention to the fundamentals is paid each and every day that you work, you begin the building process. You begin your journey of personal and professional development, an adventure that leads consistently onward, upward and outward.

Flexibility and Control

My Pilates instructor shared an interesting video with me after attending the recent Atlanta MANIA fitness tradeshow. The video featured Chuck Wolf, M.S., an exercise physiologist who developed an interesting fitness training modality called “Flexibility Highways,” who expanded on the basic point that: “Mobilizing muscles and joints without incorporating a stabilizing movement pattern can actually increase the client’s risk of injury.” Take a moment to reread the last sentence. It’s an important point!

Increasing flexibility without increasing control is risky business.

This principle works well in this setting, but does it hold true in other phases of life? I believe so. Yesterday we considered what it takes to “step it up a notch” in your personal expression. I have found that stepping up my game requires that I first relax more deeply in relation to some point around which I have held unnecessary tension. That relaxation – physically, mentally or emotionally – allows the life force to course more freely through body, mind and heart, providing a natural source of strength and inspiration to overcome previous limitations.

New capability without new control is dangerous.

Think of this in relation to children who are allowed to go on the internet for the first time. At first the control must be provided externally, by a parent or limited access restrictions on the search engine, but it makes sense to ease those external controls over time as the internal control builds in the maturing child. If you were to give a child free access to the internet without such controls, the results could be disastrous.

Whenever you mobilize new capability, pay attention to the corresponding stabilizing movement. There will always be one.

In business terms, this would relate to the corresponding strengthening of infrastructure that must accompany a growth in sales. Many wonderful companies with excellent products or services go out of business because of a failure on this point. Their growth outpaces their infrastructure and the company implodes or the infrastructural development outpaces the growth and the company starves to death. Either is an ugly and inglorious ending. Both are generally avoidable if care is taken to add a dash of stabilization whenever a pinch of expansion is experienced.

Principles such as these abound in life and the nice thing is that one principle properly understood can be applied in millions of different ways. What you learn, experience and know in one area of your life can be tremendously useful in other areas of your life when you learn to connect the dots. It’s not that hard, really.

Go ahead, give it a try!

Facing the Mistakes of Life VII

We cannot relive our old mistakes, but we can make them the means of future immunity from the folly that caused them. If we were impatient yesterday, it should inspire us to be patient today. Yesterday’s anger may be the seed of today’s sweetness. Today’s kindness should be the form assumed by our regret at yesterday’s cruelty. Our unfairness to one may open our eyes to the possibility of greater fairness to hundreds. Injustice to one that may seem to have cost us much may really have cost us little if it makes us more kind, tender and thoughtful for long years.” William George Jordan

I’ve known some people who used the idea that mistakes provide lessons for our tomorrows as an excuse for not giving their highest and finest now. “There’s always tomorrow,” they say, believing that so saying gives them permission to slip up with impunity. Thank goodness that the phoenix can rise form the ashes, but that should only be the approach of last resort and never Plan A!

There must be sufficient momentum to sustain progress individually and collectively. If you, for instance, go through a day where your thoughts, words and deeds only hit the mark in 10 percent of the cases, the resultant drag will likely grind your life’s momentum to a halt if you’re not careful in the days to come. If, on the other hand, you maintain your crown of individuality and as a result, your integrity, dignity and poise, you are more likely to hit the mark, say, 75-95 percent of the time. This has the dual effect of reducing drag and increasing thrust.

Navigating the world we’ve created for ourselves, which is essentially the culmination of eons of free choice and other lesser-known causal factors, is akin to flying. If your airship is well-built, has structural integrity and is free of maintenance squawks, you’ll likely do well, regardless of the occasional turbulence. If, however, you’ve put off the maintenance, disregarded the growing rust on your wing spars and failed to make the adjustments necessary to keep your craft in top shape, the slightest bobble in the air will be sufficient to produce knots in your stomach.

There is mercy in the fact that – up to a certain point – we can learn from our mistakes and move on. Let that not be an excuse for subpar function, in fact, don’t just shoot for average. Go for the gold! The more refined your function, the more aligned your body, mind and heart, the less corrections you will need to make and what’s more, the slight adjustments you’ll need to make to your course will become almost imperceptible to others!

It is true in sports, it is the case in relationships and this principle works out in every other department of life. Just watch those who excel and you will see it in action. Learn to cooperate with it and I can assure you that your life will be a thousand times easier, more productive and less stressful!

The Antidote to Premature Aging

 

Photo Credit: Lisa DeJong

A friend of mine told me that she was inspired by the example of others recently to start a new hobby. The hobby she chose, rowing, met several criteria for her as it was outdoors, involved opportunities for solitude as well as social time and provided exercise without physical exertion being the central focus. I wish I had a camera so that I could share with you the light that was in her eyes when she described her new-found passion.

 

Hobbies provide avenues for self-expression, personal development and  change in rhythm. My college soccer coach, who was a marathoner himself, taught me that varying the rhythm in distance running can provide for better performance and greater mental alertness over the long haul. The same could be said for your daily rhythms. If you are stuck in a “it’s time to make the donuts” repetitive rhythm, you might want to consider shaking it up a bit.

It is so easy to get into repetitive patterns that turn lightly-worn paths into ruts over time. I once heard someone say that the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth and I feel strongly that everyone should find ways to have variety in life, to fill out flat spots in development and to express themselves more fully throughout life.

Consider this: no matter how old you are right now, dear reader, you are as young as you will ever be for the rest of your life. It’s never too late to start! Take up that hobby or activity that you’ve always thought would be interesting. What do you have to lose?

An active body and an active mind are an effective antidote to premature aging. Likewise, a balanced oscillation between activity and rest makes for better sleep, greater productivity when awake and a progressively more influential life. I find it strange that many people seem to give up on the idea that they can live generative, influential lives right up to their last living breath.

One of my readers, “FlyingGma” (Flying Grandma), is a grandmother who took up flying very recently in her life. I loved to hear her story and continue to enjoy reading her posts on her travels. Life needn’t be a bell curve, where you return to inactivity and impotence in your latter years. In fact, life can be and should be an ascending spiral, where its actors soar ever upward like a hawk in a thermal.

If you find something that lights your fire, that pushes you to perform closer to the edges of your present envelope and that calls for something new from deep inside of you, I will assure you that the rest of your world will benefit. Passion is contagious! Even the dullest aspects of your life will receive a breath of fresh air if you allow yourself to open up in new ways.

Gird up your loins, as they used to say, and enjoy a new challenge. The nature of the activity doesn’t matter; it could be physical, intellectual, esoteric, practical, serious or outrageous. The fact that you dive right in and let your mind and heart be caught up in a new field of creative expression is what truly matters, for flow begets flow.

I imagine that some of you have taken up new hobbies recently while others are contemplating them. Please share your stories! I’d love to hear them and how they affected your worlds.