FINDING YOUR VOICE: A Story of Authenticity and The Birth of an Immortality Project

What in your life is calling you?
When all the noise is silenced,
the meetings adjourned,
the lists and agendas laid aside…
what still pulls on your soul?
In the silence between your heartbeats hides a summons.
Do you hear it?
Name it, if you must, or leave it forever nameless,
but why pretend that it is not there?

― Adapted from Mevlana Rumi

In 2017, days before my brother’s passing, I found myself in the familiar place of sitting at his bedside holding his hand. Hal’s breathing was labored, and his eyes were closed. I rubbed a moistened sponge gently along his chapped lips. My hand on his heart seemed to help relax the strained movement of his rising and falling chest. In those long moments with him, I learned that caring is more than simply being open to experiencing the anguish of another’s suffering. It is the willingness to live with knowing that we can do nothing to save another other from their pain. On this particular afternoon, in a feeble attempt to relieve my restlessness, a question arose within me with no expectation of a response.
“Well, Hal, what advice do you have for your younger brother before you die?”
His eyes opened and he squeezed my hand, surprising me with a response.
“Find your voice,” he said clearly.
“Find your voice? What do you mean?” I asked.
That was all he had. His hand relaxed; his eyes closed; and he drifted back into unconsciousness.
After months of disabling aphasia, these were the first words he was able to string together in as long as I could remember. And, as it turned out, they were the last words I ever heard him utter. I spent considerable time after Hal’s passing reflecting on his life and considering carefully the significance of his guidance to “find my voice.”
I wrestled with the meaning of Hal’s words and the meaning of my life. Amid the grief, I began to fear that my life was somehow being wasted. Was I making a difference? Having any impact? I needed to look this dragon in the eye. I needed to face honestly the haunting prospect of my own insignificance. As the Scottish hero William Wallace says in the movie Braveheart, “Every man dies; not every man lives.” Hal’s dying inspired me to live. And to live authentically.
Hal, as an extraordinary medical doctor and remarkable human being, left a legacy of generosity, love, and wisdom to his patients, his staff, his community, and his family. He had unknowingly created what anthropologist Ernest Becker called a symbolic “immortality project” – a noble cause of enduring value beyond one’s life. I have come to understand that an immortality project is an integral facet to authentic leadership. I’m not sure Hal ever fully understood his impact. Perhaps that is the reality of a true contributor.
In the midst of my grieving the loss of a brother, something was being born within me: an immortality project of my own – a cause that would outlive me and bring meaningful work and membership to a noble and ethical community of like-minded leaders. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote, “When a leader demonstrates that his purpose is noble and the work will enable people to connect with something larger – more permanent than their material existence – [then] people will give the best of themselves to the enterprise.”
Like so many leaders I work with and learn from, I struggle between having confidence 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, I can sacrifice the pursuit of what is in my heart. Hal’s dying became a gift to my living. It became clear that I needed to take action, gather my courage, and offer a public workshop for authentic leaders. Thus, The Other Everest Retreat was born.
I didn’t know how it would be received, but I needed to walk through my fears and listen to my voice. Regardless of how many people registered, it was vital that I kept walking on this journey. Thus far, we have filled four retreats as well as two Alumni sessions for those committed to go deeper. I have facilitated learning forums for participants who complete The Other Everest. I now have a partner who shares my passion and vision and will assist with future retreats. We are establishing a coaching program for participants to stay on track and further their leadership development. We are planning to offer more retreats and in more locations. We are also in the process of setting up a foundation, so finances are not a barrier to participation. My mother used to tell me to “shine a light on what you desire. Whenever you set a goal there is an unseen force, an energy, that moves you toward that goal.” Nowhere in my life have I come to know the truth of this statement more than from the response to The Other Everest retreats.
I hope you will join us and take this leap together to create authentic workspaces and authentic lives for those we lead and those we love. If you are interested in knowing more about this retreat or to register, please visit: www.davidirvine.com or contact us at info@davidirvine.com or 1-866-621-7008. I look forward to having you join us.
Are you ready for the journey?

RECONNECTING IN A DISTRACTED WORLD

“The key to living well in a high tech world is to spend much less time using technology.” 
Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism 
Christopher Robin is a delightful 2018 Marc Forster film, starring Ewan McGregor. The story follows an adult Christopher Robin who had, years earlier, left behind his childhood friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, and with them, his imagination and source of inspiration. Lost in the demands of his work, Christopher finds himself disconnected from his family and from what matters most in his life. Strained and alone, he finds himself strangely reunited with his old stuffed bear friend, Winnie-the-Pooh, who innocently reawakens his imagination, sense of wonder, and playfulness. It turns out that going back to the Hundred Acre Wood wasn’t just good for his soul and his loved ones as they reconnected with the new found essence of their father and husband. Reconnecting with his authentic self allowed him to bring his vast untapped creative forces to his work that eventually provided a great service to his company and the world. His companions from the Hundred Acre Wood opened the door to his destiny.
I identify with this story. Like Christopher Robin, I have had my own periods of growing apart from the life I’m meant to live. I know well what it’s like to drift from my sources of inspiration, lost in the demands of others. At such times I wrestle with self-doubt and denial of my capacity to make a real difference in the world, settling for what others expect from me rather than staying connected to a deeper, more sustaining voice from within.
Years ago, I came across a quote that has been a source of inspiration for me over the years. It’s from Demian, by Herman Hesse, and reads, “each man had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself… His task was to discover his own destiny  – not an arbitrary one – and to live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.” 
For those committed to living a life of “genuine vocation”, I offer five strategies.
  1. Give yourself permission. A participant from my upcoming “Other Everest” retreat wrote to me about why he decided to sign up. “I’m at a time and space in my life,” he said, “where I want to do an ‘authentic’ dive into who I am, what makes me tick, and how am I adding value to the world. It’s time for me to begin my transformational journey.”
  2. Rethink social media. I see more and more people becoming progressively distracted and exhausted by our attachment to the world of social media. I’m also finding increasingly validated research that is substantiating the neurological, psychological, and societal impact of social media as an addictive activity. While there is no doubt it holds some entertainment value, some convenience as a source of communicating information, and some increased market exposure value, I’m no longer so convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs. I am currently wrestling with this matter, questioning the use of social media in my work and my life, and considering quitting it all together.
  3. Resist Compliance. Carl Jung said that disobedience is the first step toward consciousness. We are not here to fear or please those in authority and should realize that there is meaning and value in our acts of disobedience – not disobedience for its own sake, but as a fuller expression of our own unique humanity and purpose in the service of the greater good. The fact that we are resisting conformity may be a sign that we have begun to live our own lives. It’s about giving yourself permission to choose adventure over safety.
  4. S-l-o-w d-o-w-n and pause. Choosing a deeper, more substantive side of ourselves over superficiality requires giving ourselves time and space to think independently and to value the inward journey. Learning to be comfortable with the pause and the silence opens the door to authentic change. It’s an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we’ve lost our way. On a regular basis I find it vital to stop and ask myself questions like: “What nourishes me?” “What fulfills me?” “Whose voices am I paying attention to?”
  5. Stay connected to what’s real. The challenge of authenticity is to sustain our humanity when everything around us is being automated. Authenticity values direct experience over electronic or virtual experience. It means staying connected to the natural world, to human beings, to the entire spectrum that life has to offer. While institutions are built for consistency, efficiency and certainty, authenticity relies on variability, vulnerability, and surprise. Focus on the things that really matter, including spending more undivided time without distractions and with friends and family, enjoying the good things in life.
What are your practices for staying close to your own “Hundred Acre Wood?” How do you ensure that you maintain contact with an inner guiding compass and create enough stillness and playfulness in your life that you can hear the voice of authenticity?

AMPLIFY YOUR LEADERSHIP IMPACT

As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
The greatest challenge we face today, and upon which our very survival as a species depends, is the task of learning to live in harmony with ourselves, with each other, and with the environment. Responding to this challenge begins with taking an inner journey, 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 in the world. To accomplish this, I’m facilitating a three-day retreat on Authentic Leadership from December 4-7 at the Banff Centre and I invite 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 by being a better person – through increased self-awareness and a stronger, clearer purpose and presence, and could benefit from a community of support with other authentic leaders, come for a renewed perspective on leadership and a life-changing experience. 
Highlights of this retreat:
  • Create a space to shut off the noise of the world to achieve a fresh outlook on your life and your leadership.
  • Take the time to reset your internal compass with a clarity of values and sense of purpose as a leader.
  • Learn how to earn the trust and respect of those you serve through authentic relationships.
  • Understand the quality of presence and how it creates more productive and engaged employees and relationships.
  • Value and model accountability and self- discipline as a trust builder.
  • Find clarity about what matters most in your life while living and leading with greater focus and alignment with your highest values.
  • Learn how mindfulness, meditation, body integration, and yoga can help you amplify your impact on others.
  • Transform the darker side of your nature into your greatest gifts.
  • Leave with your own personal leadership development plan.
I am pleased to let you know that there are still a few seats available and as a preferred client, we are extending the early bird deadline (a savings of $200) until the end of October.
Click here for further information or details about registration.
I hope you will join me in Banff!

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.

Words Matter

A participant in one of my leadership development programs in Oklahoma wrote me this week giving tribute to his late mother and the impact she had on his life. It has obvious application for parents and for all of us who are committed to having a positive impact on those we serve and love. Whether a relationship with a family member, an employee, or an interaction with the cashier at the supermarket, remember, words matter. 

 

WORDS MATTER
A Tribute To Mom
(with permission)
 
Through my work in social services and as a college professor, I am in a unique position to observe human behaviors, and I often have opportunity to be a compassionate, listening ear for a younger generation.  I see the long-term impact a parent’s negative words can have on individual self-worth.  I share my story this year in hopes that parents realize the tremendous, long-term power their words can have.
Twenty-two years ago tonight the trajectory of my life changed. I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was the night my mother passed from this life into the next. I am fortunate I had the opportunity to spend the last few hours with my mom, visiting and enjoying time together. I still remember the last words she spoke to me, “I love you, and I’m so very proud of you”. Her words are a cherished memory that continues to sweeten as time moves forward.
Each year on the anniversary of her death I find myself in a very introspective frame of mind, seeking to identify the areas of growth I have experienced in the previous twelve months. Through the years, I have come to recognize that the emotional turbulence brought about by my mom’s death, while deeply painful, has become the catalyst for personal growth. The turbulence I once feared has transmuted and emerged as a powerful wind providing lift that has enabled me to soar to new heights and allowing me to become the person I am.
This year the anniversary has been no different; it has been a time of remembrance and evaluation. As I consider the lessons learned, the personal growth I have achieved, and new concepts revealed, I realize that the greatest gift I ever received from my mom is not found in tangible things that can be held in the hand; instead, it is in the last words she spoke to me, “I love you, and I’m so very proud of you.”
I did not know it at the time, but her words would have a profound impact on my life and personal development, so much so that it has taken twenty-two years for me to become fully aware to what extent. In her last words she provided love, acceptance, and validation. Her words fostered a new personal freedom enabling me to continue to grow and evolve into the person I have always been meant to be. My mom was a very skilled wordsmith, always choosing her words carefully. I believe her last words to me were purposeful and deliberately selected, all the while knowing the long-term impact they would have.
What a powerful, extraordinary gift I received that night; one that continues to impact my life twenty-two years later. WORDS HAVE POWER! One lesson to share with others is this, parents have the ability to influence and shape their child’s life even in the parent’s absence. Parents, your words will do one of two things, they will provide empowerment or inflict rejection and pain. Choose your words carefully as they will influence the life of your child for many years to come.
I feel so very blessed to have had a parent who always tried to empower, even in her absence. Thank you for that gift mom, I miss you!

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.