8 Lessons From 2012 – Part One

In no particular order and with credit given whenever it can be.

You don’t have a lot of time” – Sean Sullivan. This lesson was given in 2011, almost as soon as I told him that my dad had a brain tumor. Sean lost his father to cancer and he witnessed the rapid decline associated with this disease. I didn’t know exactly what he meant when he said it, but I took his advice and did everything I could to make the best of the time that was remaining. The family ate, talked, and enjoyed each others company and spend little time spend dwelling on what was about to happen. I understand what “you don’t have a lot of time” means now and I understand that it doesn’t just apply to dying relatives, it applies to everything in life.

Life is meaningless and empty so you’re free to create whatever purpose you like” – LandMark Education – March 25, 2012. I find this very empowering because I spontaneously do right by most people. Given this, setting out to make life be about what I want is a lot easier and gratifying than searching for some universal meaning.

So, how is life going to be better than before?” – Heather Arthur – May 4, 2012. It was our first date and Heather was doing what Heather does, rattling things to see if they stand-up to the challenge. My answer, after a lot of squirming, was to say that I didn’t have a plan to make them better, but that I wouldn’t be repeating any of the same mistakes so life was going to be different, and that meant the possibility for better. I had never felt so vulnerable and alive.

Teaching is not like other jobs, teachers have a much bigger impact on the world than almost every other profession” – Des McKinney – December 18, 2012. We had been talking about the rotating teachers strikes in Ontario and I was struggling to understand the teachers position. Once Des laid this one on me I gave-up any notion that they have an unreasonable sense of entitlement. Let’s face it, teachers have shaped every single person I talk to each day and my ability to earn a living is the result of a lot of their intervention. Teachers are kind of important.

Language alters the context which impacts how we view the world – Heather Arthur – May 4, 2012. During our first date, we were talking about the fact that we were both single. I commented that all of my past relationships had failed. Heather gave me the sour face and said “change the context, try saying that you have had great experiences with some amazing people and now you are all growing forward with life.” So I said it and immediately felt my past unfold into something more palatable. I’ve done this with a bunch of other things and have used this technique with some of my clients with similar success.

Thoughts created feelings which create actions, change the thoughts and notice how the feelings and actions change” – Leigh Moore – February 20, 2012. After my dad died I was having some struggles piecing certain things together. Leigh gave me some therapy and focused on one thing that was going to change my state very quickly. She noticed that some of the things I was saying weren’t based on an objective reality and were based on an internal narrative that wasn’t working for me. Her coaching created the possibility that things were not how I thought they were and as soon as I introduced a different possibility I started to feel differently.

How you think you’ll feel about things in the future is different from how you will feel about them – Life – anytime in 2012. I knew my dad was going to die for 6 weeks before he actually passed. But when it happened, how I felt about it wasn’t anything like how I thought I would feel about it. I was sad, but there were moments of gratitude, joy, and nothing at all. The lesson I’m taking out of it is to just accept that things are going to happen and that I am going to feel something when they do, but not to spend much time thinking about what the feelings will be because I’m going to get it wrong.

How you feel right after something happens is not the same as how you will feel in 3 months, but how you feel about it in 3 months is usually how you will feel about it in a year” – Des McKinney January 30, 2012. The day after my dad died I asked Des how he felt. Instead of answering the question I asked he decided to change my life and reveal the answer to a more existential question. Right after something happens or as it happens we’ll feel very strongly about it. That probably won’t last.

This is part one. Last year presented me with some amazing growth opportunities that I dived into.

Getting Back To Leading

“What other people think about you is categorically irrelevant” is something that I recall one of the Landmark leaders saying to one of the participants. Intellectually I got it, it’s all meaningless and empty so peoples opinions are equally meaningless. Emotionally it isn’t as easy to grasp. As social creatures, we want to belong; heck, we need to belong. There has been an evolutionary imperative for us to be motivated to be part of a tribe given the certain and rapid death that a solitary individual would face.

This is not the case anymore. Sure, we need caregivers to raise us to adulthood, but the general cuteness of babies almost ensures that this will happen. But after we become adults and start paying taxes, our need to belong decreases, quickly diminishing and then eliminating the need to be liked.

But be the need to be liked by others is often a roadblock to making better choices and transforming breakdowns into breakthroughs and can be the reason why we fail to take action or make decisive decisions. It can keep us grounded in what we believe to be possible and is often the reason for not thinking differently and acting with vision in mind. Holding a need to be liked above everything else will prevent you from becoming a strong and trusted leader and will stop you from making a very real difference in the world.

This need to be liked actually has us act in very unlikable ways. Consider some of the lies that have be uttered to avoid the scorn of telling it like it is. We’ll save peoples feelings by lying to them about how their hair looks, their choice of clothing, the way they sing, about their work ethic, about their irresponsible actions, etc….

The need to be liked prevents us from saying it like it is for fear of alienating people. Instead, we indulge them in their delusions, further enabling their self-abuse and lack of accountability. We squander the opportunity to foster a relationship built on trust and let them get away with being average because we care too much about ourselves to actually try to make a difference in another persons life.

Leading has very little to do with being liked – that is to say that being likable is not a requirement for being a good leader.

Your ability to lead depends on your ability to create trusting relationships with people, your ability to inspire people to do the things they need to do and your ability to communicate a vision of a reality that does not yet exist but that others play a role in creating. These are easier if you are respected as a person and leader, which does not mean you need to be liked. In fact, getting people to believe in and do the impossible is about not letting them off the hook – something that can make people feel really uncomfortable. But expecting the best out of people and holding them to their highest standard is what leaders do.

Take a moment to consider the impact that your moments of not being completely honest have had on other people. Consider the possibilities of what could become reality if you had spoken your mind and called it as you saw it.

The Outcome Of An Upbringing Without Abundance

I had the good fortune of spending the first part of my life in Ireland where my dad worked and my mom stayed home to look after the house and the family. We lived in small villages and there were not a lot of option when it came to spending your money – there was a golf course, a pub and general store. And there wasn’t a lot of money. Abundance wasn’t something that had reached that part of Ireland or possibly that part of the world so people made do as they had always done when it came to food, drink and entertainment.

The plus side of things is that I never really developed a sweet tooth in the way that I notice is common now. I recall my dad sitting me and my brother down after we bought a bunch of candy one day and he explained what it would do to our teeth and how we would know why teeth were important until we were much older. This conversation turned me off of sugar and candy for a long time. I am a sugar junky, I know I have a tough time not eating more of it once I start, but I get this intellectually and emotionally. I FEEL the craving take over, I notice myself losing control when I eat it, so I just stay away from it 95% of the time. The drive to eat sugar wasn’t established in me when I was young so I have a better handle on it now.

Another plus to growing-up without an abundance is that I love moving around. Walked or rode my bike most places and didn’t count on my folks for a ride somewhere very often. As it stands now, this habit carries on – I park away from the doors because it’s easier to get a parking spot and people tend to drive more predictably as they move further from the entrance, I take hikes to get outside, I go to the gym to exercise and I teaching cycling classes because it feels good to move. It’s very easy for me to reestablish a workout routine after taking a few weeks off because I start to feel off when I don’t workout. This love of movement keeps me active and helps to lower stress.

The negatives are also pretty significant. I don’t really want very much and I expect very little. While initially these tendencies make my life more simple, they do take a toll on my drive and work ethic. For me, to date anyway, it has been more important to enjoy what I do than to gain financially from doing it. If a job sucks, I leave it and find something I enjoy doing. One of my mentors made the comment “you won’t let you work determine your life.” He was speaking from both sides of the issue – he understood that life is just a meaningless journey from beginning to end so you should be happy as much as possible, but he also understood that working hard to acquire things you don’t need can be equally rewarding in that adapting to the journey will force someone to grow personally and professionally.

His point is resonating with me more and more recently as I develop a growing sense of worth and value. Just because I never had something does not mean that I should never have it. For a very long time I lived without goals other than getting by. I can tell myself a story that I was acting this way because I never did anything other than just get by but that doesn’t mean that I should necessarily continue this way of being. Life can be different, and it should be different because I haven’t tried enough things out to know exactly what I want out of it.

The past does not have to become the future. The future can be different and it can be almost anything I want it to be. It can even be abundant.