THE SEASONS OF LIFE: The Art of The Long View

There was a man who had four sons. He wanted his sons to learn to live without judgement, so he sent them each on a quest to go and look at a pear tree that was a great distance away.The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in summer, and the youngest in the fall.After they had all gone and returned, he called them together to describe what they had seen.The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted.The second son said it was covered with green buds and full of promise.The third son disagreed. He said it was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen.The last son disagreed with all of them. He said it was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment. The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but one season in the tree’s life.

Inspired by my late mentor, Jim Rohn, below are five lessons I’ve learned about living and leading through the seasons of life.
Lesson #1. Don’t judge a person by a season. It is good practice to suspend the assumptions we hold of ourselves and others, and instead view life beyond a single season. You don’t want to judge a tree or a person or a life by only one time of year. The essence of who we are – and the pleasure, joy, and love that come from that life – can only be measured when all the seasons have been lived. Life and business are like the changing seasons. You can’t change the seasons, but you can change yourself.
Lesson #2. Learn how to handle the winters. After the fulfillment of the harvest, winter befalls us. Some winters are long, some are short, some are difficult, some are easy, but they always come. There are all kinds of winters – the winter of confusion, the winter of grief and loss, the winter of hibernation, the winter of failure. There are economic winters, social winters, and personal winters when your heart is broken. Winter can bring disappointment, and disappointment is common to all of us. Winter, whether it lasts for days or months, is a time for reflection, renewal, and learning.
You learn to face the demands of winter when you learn to handle difficulty. Problems always arise after opportunity. You must learn to handle recessions; they come right after expansions. That isn’t going to change. You can’t get rid of January simply by tearing it off the calendar. But what you can do is get stronger, get wiser, and get better. Make a note of that trio of words: strongerwiserbetter. The winters won’t change, but you can. Jim Rohn said that when things get difficult, don’t wish for things to be easy. Instead, wish you were better. Don’t wish for fewer problems; wish for more capacity. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom. If you give up when it’s winter, you will miss the promise of your spring, the beauty of your summer, and the fulfillment of your fall.
Lesson #3. Learn how to take advantage of the spring. As night follows day, winter will inevitably give way to spring. Spring is opportunity. Opportunity follows difficulty. Expansion follows recession. And you can count on it. However, the mere arrival of spring doesn’t mean that things are going to look good in the fall. According to Mr. Rohn, everyone has to get good at one of two things: planting in the spring or begging in the fall. So, learn how to take advantage of the spring, your opportunities. There aren’t many springs in life. Life is brief, even at its longest. Whatever you are going to do with your life, get at it. Don’t just let the seasons pass by.
Lesson #4. Be present to life. Summer teaches us not to be so busy building toward the future of the fall harvest that you miss being present to the beauty that surrounds you now. It is in the present where life is lived, not once we achieve some future goal that will propel us into yet another objective down the road. A gardener will tell you that as soon as you’ve planted, the busy bugs and noxious weeds are out to take things over. Planting in the spring is followed by preparing for the summer’s insects and drought or flood or even late frost if you live in Canada. Every garden must be tended all summer to realize the fall’s harvest. What’s important is to not miss the beauty and joy of the present moment, the only time when these can be realized.
Lesson #5. Learn how to reap in the fall with gratitude. Take full responsibility for what happens to you. One of the highest forms of human maturity is accepting full responsibility. Learn how to reap in the fall without apology if you have done well, and without complaint if you have not. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and the joy and fulfillment of your harvest. Be present to and grateful for the abundance that life brings through your efforts. I’m not saying it’s the easy way. I’m saying is it’s the better way.
The seasons don’t work for you or against you. They just are what they are. They are guaranteed to come every year, bringing both the challenges and the opportunities. Remember the five lessons in life, whether you cycle through the seasons in a matter of days or a matter of months. Prepare for them and make the most of everything that each season offers.

REFLECTIONS ON THE OTHER EVEREST RETREAT

“You are a leader second. First, you are a human being.”  – John Scherer

I know from my own research, and my more than thirty years of experience in the leadership development field, that now more than ever, the world is in need of leaders who are committed to substance over superficial, character over charisma, and service over self-interest. In short, we need leaders who are authentic – people whose inner compass guides their daily actions and who inspire trust by being honest and real. To come to this place of impact and influence requires slowing down, going inside, and developing a relationship with an interior self. It’s about finding one’s voice away from the voices of the world. To attain the capacity to influence in today’s changing, complex, and demanding world, to lead with the depth of a strong authentic presence, requires an inner journey, a journey to one’s heart, a journey to what I call the “Other Everest.”

A year ago I had a dream to create an authentic community of like-minded leaders – difference makers – who are committed to go deeper than what I was offering in my keynote and one day leadership programs. Last week I saw this dream come to fruition at the Banff Centre when thirty-one remarkable, authentic, caring leaders came together to create a pivotal moment in my career. Assisting me by integrating mindfulness training, creativity, accountability, self-awareness, and yoga into the experience of deepening one’s leadership presence, were two extraordinary human beings, Julianna Veldtman and Jeff Lichty.

During the three days we co-created an amazing space to pause, to go within, and to connect with our authentic selves. These leaders are committed to amplifying their impact through increased self-awareness and a stronger, clearer purpose and presence and created a community of support with other authentic leaders. Together we discovered a renewed perspective on leadership and immersed ourselves, in the words of one participant, in “an inspiring space of complete trust, kindness and support.” Another participant, a CEO from Edmonton, explained it this way a week after the experience, “It seems so surreal looking back at it now. How was it possible to bring those exact people together at that exact time to make the magic happen? I cannot fully describe the life-changing event that you set the stage for and made happen. Truly, truly amazing.”

Words cannot adequately describe my own profound gratitude for the honesty, courage, vulnerability, engagement, openness, and trust that these amazing leaders put into the experience. They actually left their devices and technology at the door for three full days and engaged themselves completely in the process. I left with a deep and sustaining knowing that leadership is truly not about position; it’s about presence. Leadership cannot be reduced to techniques or tools. True Leadership is about connecting to our authentic self and bringing that self wholeheartedly to the service of others.

My father used to say that, “only so far as a man is happily married to himself, is he fit for married life.” By embarking on a journey of integration and inner peace, one expands their capacity to fully reach and influence the world. It’s about being engaged in a perpetual process of becoming. The experience last week has made me a better person. It has confirmed my conviction that a person enlarges their ability to lead and impact others through a strong presence that is attained, in large part, through an inner journey.

Each of us has within us a calling. While the outside world pushes us, something within pulls us. Let your deepest desires lead you. If this sounds like a journey upon which you would like to embark, watch for details for the next retreat in December on my website. Also feel free to send us a note expressing an interest: http://www.davidirvine.ca/contact/.

I look forward to having you join us for the next one.

Lessons From a Restaurant Manager

The past few weeks I have noticed just how much caring there is in the world around us. Perhaps it is because I have written a book on caring and I believe that what you focus on is what grows. It’s the simple acts of kindness that have a powerful impact on the people around us. As Maya Angelou, the American poet, singer and activist reminds us, “People may not remember what you did, or what you said, but will always remember how you made them feel.”

My daughter, Chandra, is a supervisor at Moxie’s restaurant in Market Mall in Calgary. She works long hours to pay for her education at the University of Calgary. While she is getting an excellent education at the U of C, her schooling these days goes beyond what she’s learning in the classroom.
Recently, when three women came into the restaurant, Aaron, her general manager, checked on the table, only to discover that these three ladies came from the Foothills hospital, where one of them had just lost her husband. Aaron took the time to listen through their tears. He bought them a bottle of champagne. At the end of the evening he brought them their bill – with a zero balance. And with the paid meal came a $100 gift card for a future dinner at the restaurant.
Chandra has had some remarkable mentoring from this general manager. When we talked about the experience she explained how she learned that the motive behind caring isn’t because it’s good for business. You care because it’s good for life. And if you do what’s good for life, it will be good for business.
Here are three lessons about caring from Aaron the restaurant manager:
  1. S-l-o-w d-o-w-n. Caring isn’t a program. It’s not a technique or a strategy or a ploy. Caring is who we are. Caring, like beauty, is all around us. But we have to pause long enough to see it, to let it come through us, to bring it out to the world around us. On my bookshelf is a book I inherited from my mother at the time of her death. It is book written in 1930 by Nellie L. McClung, and signed personally to her family when mom was nine years old. Nellie became an inspiration to Joyce all her life. Within the pages, Ms. McClung makes a most profound statement: “We are clever people, efficient and high-powered, but in our zeal to get things done we are forgetting the simple art of living.” The simple art of living requires us to slow down enough to observe what is around us.
  2. Everyone has value. Years ago, in a university class taught by the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey, we were given a mid-term exam with a question, “What’s the name of the person who keeps this building clean?” While we all failed the test that day, I didn’t fail to get the lesson. People are what matter. Caring transforms the “bank teller,” the “restaurant server,” the “janitor,” or the “customer,” from an object into someone with a name and a story, with needs and wants, goals and aspirations, and a desire to belong and to feel good about their contribution. At Moxie’s that night, it wasn’t about the free meal or the champagne or the gift card. It was about someone taking the time to acknowledge another’s pain, even in the midst of a busy shift. It was about taking a few brief moments to listen and thus nourish the human spirit. It was about the value of human goodness. It was about taking the time to care.
  3. It’s about passion and purpose. Last week I had the good fortune to speak to a group of school teachers in an elementary school in my community. Before my presentation, Greg Woitas, the principal, took me around his school and shared the love that his teachers put into their work and their students. I was struck, as I am by so many leaders in education, by his passion and sense of purpose. He beamed when he introduced me to his staff and spoke so highly of their efforts and their deep love for children. It was an old building, but on the inside it shone brightly with the power of caring.
A sequoia can live two thousand years. A domestic cat does very well if it makes it to twenty. A mayfly: born at sunrise, gone by nightfall. Each life is complete in itself. The quality of an individual life has nothing to do with how long it lasts, and everything to do with how it is lived. Sometimes people come into our lives for a moment, a day, or a lifetime. It matters not the time we spend with them, but how our lives are impacted during that time.

THE OTHER EVEREST – Navigating The Pathway to Authentic Leadership

As I design and deliver leadership development programs for organizations across the continent, one word that forms a common thread amid every person I meet today is the word
busy. Everyone is busy. When I ask,” How are you today?” the reply is always, “I’m busy!” Busy has become a badge of honour. If, for some reason, you aren’t “busy,” it implies that somehow you are less than capable. You aren’t in demand. There is something wrong with you.
My response is, “So… is it a good busy?”
Then comes a pause. We intuitively know there is a difference between good busy and bad busy, but without time to stop and reflect on the question, it’s not possible to answer it. It’s an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.
Peter Drucker, the esteemed management guru, said once “… There is nothing so useless as doing something efficiently that should not be done at all.” Amid the tyranny of the urgency of the demands of the world, how do we know if we are doing something efficiently that “should not be done at all?”
I see conscious leaders today struggling between having confidence in their capacity to live a life of purpose, and yielding to the daily demands of others. By too easily yielding to what is pressing, practical and popular, we have sacrificed the pursuit of what is in our hearts.
I know from my own research, and my more than thirty years of experience in the leadership development field, that the world is in need of leaders who are committed to substance over superficialcharacter over charisma, and service over self-interest. In short, we need leaders who are authentic – people whose inner compass guides their daily actions and who inspire trust by being honest and real.
To come to this place of impact and influence requires slowing down, going inside, and developing a relationship with an interior self. It’s about finding one’s voice – away from the voices of the world. To attain the capacity to influence in today’s changing and demanding world, along with the depth to lead with a strong authentic presence requires an innerjourney, a journey to one’s heart, a journey to what I call the “Other Everest.”
It is my intention to create authentic communities of like-minded leaders – difference makers who are committed to making a positive impact. To accomplish this, I’m facilitating a three-day retreat on Authentic Leadership from April 24-27 at the Banff Centre. I am inviting you to join me…
In this public workshop we will create a space to pause, go inside, and connect with your authentic self. If you are committed to be a better leader through increased self-awareness and a stronger, clearer purpose and presence, and could benefit from a community of support with other authentic leaders, join me for a renewed perspective on leadership and a life-changing experience.
Each of us has within us a calling. While the outside world pushes us, something within pulls us. Let your deepest desires lead you. If this sounds like a journey you would like to embark upon, join me April 24 – 27 in Banff.
And Remember: whenever you are in doubt, resist the natural human tendency to go faster, and instead, choose to go deeper.

THE YEAR AHEAD: Lessons From Selma the Sheep

At the end of each year I reflect on my progress and blessings from the previous year and clarify some of my intentions for the coming twelve months. In the midst of this musing I like to read the children’s book Selma, by Jutta Bauer. Selma is a humble little book about a humble little sheep that poses a big question, “What is happiness?”
Selma is a sheep who is happy when she eats a little grass, plays with her children, exercises, chats with a friend, and falls fast asleep. When asked what she would do if she had more time or money, Selma replies simply that she would do exactly the same thing: eat a little grass, play with her children, exercise, chat with a friend, and fall fast asleep.
As I look to the year ahead, three lessons from Selma come to mind.
#1. Bring an attitude of gratitude into each and every day. Selma is a great book with a beautifully delivered reminder that happiness comes from appreciating what you have. A consumer culture is very good at making us want more and more, implying that more is always better. Until we know deeply within ourselves what enoughactually feels like, we will continue to be seduced by the pursuit of more. When I emerge from the holiday season after spending time with people who matter most in my life, catching up on some good reading and simply being, I have a deep appreciation for these everyday blessings and I feel a profound sense of gratitude.
#2. Define success on your own terms. Selma is not admonishing us to sit around and do nothing. A ship is safe in the harbor, the saying goes, but that is not what ships are for. It’s important to spend time in personal reflection,  away from the voices of the world to discover your sense of purpose. Dream big. And then get to work to become the kind of person it takes to get there. A fulfilled life is not void of focus and disciplined effort, but Selma teaches us not to allow the world or the opinions of others define our success. Success must come from within. Happiness does not come from “getting” or “having;” it comes from self-respect earned through contribution, service, and dedicated labor devoted to a cause. Stephen Covey wrote, “If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you at your funeral, you will find your definition of success.”
#3. Live each day fully. Remember that life is lived not yesterday or tomorrow but today. In Salutation To The Dawn, The Sanskrit writer, Kālidāsa, reminds us that a life well lived is a life lived fully in the coming twenty-four hours.
Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth;
The glory of action;
The splendor of achievement;
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday
a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Live well, therefore, each day.
In this coming year may we discover within ourselves what matters most. And may we have the courage to live in alignment with our heart’s desire.

JEKA AND THE POWER OF ONE: How Ordinary People Can Make An Extraordinary Difference

Not all of us can do great things. What we can do is small things with great love.                                                     – Mother Teresa
For more than twenty years, Jeka was my ticket agent at the Air Canada check-in desk at the Calgary International Airport. An ordinary job, you might say: greeting and checking in passengers, arranging flights, assigning seats, tagging baggage. But Jeka was no ordinary ticket agent. She was passionate about her job. She cared. Jeka would be at work by 4:00 AM, thirty minutes before her assigned shift. In the half hour before her colleagues arrived, Jeka would print out the names of every passenger who was due to check in that morning. She took the time to acquaint herself with the regulars, and would greet us by name and a cheerful “Good morning” when we hauled our tired bodies to the check-in desk for an early flight.
Jeka was forever jolly, and her ever-animated upbeat demeanor would always help start my travels a little lighter, a little more positive, and a little more willing to pass on her enthusiasm to others after our encounter. Our brief connection stood out as a highlight in the sea of transactions in the day of a business traveler.
Every Christmas I would get a personal card from Jeka, with a cheerful note of thanks for my loyalty to Air Canada and a message of appreciation for helping to brighten up her day in my travels.
I once asked Jeka what inspired her to be so friendly and ever so positive.
“It’s pretty simple. Air Canada has been good to me, but I’ve always been determined about one thing. I will never let a bureaucracyturn me into a bureaucrat. I just want to brighten up the day for every person that comes my way. Every time I brighten up another person’s day, it makes my day better. Whatever you give out, comes back to you.”
Last month I was passing by Jeka’s check-in counter and I made my usual stop to say hello and get my “Jeka hug.” I knew that retirement was around the corner for her, but I did not realize it was coming so soon.
“Tomorrow afternoon!” she exclaimed enthusiastically and tearfully. “After 40 and a half years with Air Canada, I’m going to be sitting on that big chair in the check-in area with balloons and a cake and I’m going to say good-bye to all the great customers and colleagues who have been so good to me all these years.”
As we hugged, I apologized for not being able to join her in the celebration and I asked if I could take her picture. As I walked away, I looked back briefly for one last impression of my good friend and bright spot at the Calgary airport.
“Don’t you go putting that picture up on Facebook now and making a big deal of all this!” she winked as she waved one final good-bye.
We really do make a difference. Mother Teresa was right. Not all of us can do great things. What we can do is small things with great love. In this one wild and precious life, each of us will leave a legacy. The question is, what will be yours?