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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.

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.

Are You A Wall Maker or a Bridge Builder?

Our power went out this morning. Two seconds after I turned the light on in our kitchen everything went black – and quiet. It’s amazing how much noise caused by electricity there is in a house. We were in the dark for about four hours. In the big scheme of things, compared to hurricanes, fires, floods, and terrorism, losing your power for four hours is definitely a luxury problem.
It turns out that our entire neighborhood was affected by the outage. A transformer somewhere on our line blew out. The electric company had crews on site responding to the call within a half an hour at 6 AM. One of our neighbors, who called in the outage, ranted at the serviceman as if it was his fault for the power going out. When Val, my wife, met the repairman, she chose to be grateful that he got up early and arrived as soon as he could. She thanked him for his efforts, offered him a cup of coffee, and expressed a sincere appreciation for him coming out when he did. She built a bridge with him rather than created a wall. She helped to start his day – and her own as well – a little better. And we both, as neighbors, got our power back on at the same time.
My grandmother, in her old-fashioned wisdom, said this much more simply: “You catch for more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” While I’m not sure that anyone actually wants to catch flies, you really do make more friends and get more accomplished by being ready to lend a hand than by being rude. Bringing qualities of empathy, civility and respect to your life and the lives of others will always provide a better chance of getting the results you want than entitlement, bitterness, and antagonism. Being part of the solution will take you farther than adding to the problem.
Are you a wall maker or a bridge builder? Here are five ways to be a bridge builder:
1)    Decide to be an encourager. Everyone needs encouragement. Mark Twain said once that you can live two months on a sincere compliment. When you look for ways to encourage others, you will find your efforts will come back to you – in some form. Encouragement is about giving courage to those around you.
2)    Don’t blame your helpers. Don’t blame the repairman for your electricity going out. Don’t blame the airline agent for your luggage not making the flight. Don’t blame the waitress if the restaurant is short staffed. Don’t blame the health care worker for your injury. Decide, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time and your life will change forever. Help your helpers. Don’t blame them. Most of us really are doing the best we can.
3)    Give what you expect. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who help and those who hinder; those who lift and those who lean; those who contribute and those who consume. The more you look for ways to give, the more you will be given in return.
4)    Give what you expect. My parents used to say, “You don’t get what you expect. You get what you give.” If you want help, be helpful. If you want support, be supportive. If you want appreciation, get so busy appreciating others that you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. Watch how valuable it is to create value for others. It was Zig Ziglar who said, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”
5)    Practice gratitude. The antidote to entitlement is gratitude. What you focus on grows. What you appreciate appreciates. A friend told me this week how she tripped and fell off the curb crossing the street. As she picked herself up from the asphalt and was observing the scrapes on her knees and hands, she looked up and saw a car turning carelessly into the path where she would have been if she hadn’t fallen. Be thankful even for what appears as obstacles in your life. Gandhi said once: “Divine guidance often comes when the horizon is the blackest.”
Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin was at the University of Alberta last week to deliver the Department of Philosophy’s annual public lecture. The lecture was about the landmark moments in Canada’s 150-year constitutional history. In her speech, McLachlin delivered an implicit rebuttal to the spirit of nationalism, racism, and prejudice so prevalent in the world these days. Some nations, she told her audience, define themselves by exclusion – by borders, by walls. In contrast, she insisted, Canada defines itself not by walls but by bridges.
As you step back and observe your own history and your own life, how will you define yourself? Will you be a wall maker or a bridge builder?

Authentic Leadership Lessons From The Dead Poets Society – What will your verse be?

This past week I was in Ottawa visiting my daughter, Hayley, who is proudly starting her teaching career in a Montessori high school. She finished her dual degree in Education and Arts this past year and is a passionate, purpose-driven new teacher.

In our conversations I asked Hayley about her vision for herself as a new educator. She referred me to a scene in Peter Weir’s 1989 wonderful film, Dead Poets Society. Set in 1959 at the fictional elite conservative Vermont boarding school, Welton Academy, it tells the story of an English teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry. Hayley was inspired by the movie when we watched it many years ago. In one scene, John Keating (played by Robin Williams) teaches his pupils the reason for reading and writing poetry by quoting Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute,” explains the teacher. “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering; these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love; these are what we stay alive for.”

To paraphrase Whitman:

“O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring.

Of the endless trains of the faithless.

Of cities filled with the foolish…

What good amid these, O me! O life?

Answer: That you are here. That life exists and identity.

That the powerful play goes on, And you may contribute a verse.

That the powerful play goes on, And you may contribute a verse.”

The teacher then stopped and asked his students to reflect upon a life-changing question: “What will your verse be?”

The scene has applicability not only for high achieving high school students but also for those who are committed to live authentically. Authenticity asks us to look within our heart and soul, and to stop long enough to ask the tough questions:

  • What is it that you care most deeply about?
  • What in your life is calling you – beyond what others expect from you?
  • How aligned are you with the life you are meant to be living?
  • What’s the difference between living in the midst of the tyranny of the urgent, and living with a sense of purpose?
  • What do you most need to do in your life?
  • How are you supporting others to find their voice?

What will your verse be?

This I Believe

This past spring, in a year-long leadership program I help facilitate for the Department of Human Services in the State of Oklahoma, one of the participants introduced me to This I Believe, an international organization engaging people in writing and sharing essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives. Over 125,000 of these essays, written by people from all walks of life, have been archived on their website: www.thisibelieve.org – which is heard on public radio, chronicled through their books, and featured in weekly podcasts. The project is based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow.
Below is a list of my “This I Believe” principles that I hold to be important in navigating my own life and work. These are the underlying beliefs – my Personal Creed – that guide how I live and form a framework for the decisions I make. I found it to be a fascinating and inspiring exercise to reflect on what I believe – and I encourage you, as leaders, to do the same. As you read my list, take some to time to ask, “What would my personal creed be?”
  1. While I can influence and impact others, I believe that the only person I can change is me.
  2. I believe that maturity comes not with age but rather with acceptance of responsibility.
  3. I believe we are not just a product of our upbringing. We are also a product of our perceptions, our beliefs, and our choices.
  4. I believe that your life will change forever the day that you decide, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time.
  5. I believe in taking the time to clarify, live, and preserve a sense of purpose – a reason for being. When your why gets stronger, the way gets easier.
  6. I believe in the power of a dream. The purpose of having a dream is not necessarily to achieve it, but rather to inspire yourself to become the kind of person it takes to achieve it.
  7. I believe that one of the most encouraging facts of life is that our weakness can become our greatest strength.
  8. I believe that every experience is a potential learning opportunity. Within our wounds lay our greatest gifts and our greatest opportunity for contribution.
  9. I believe in four fundamental laws:
    • The Law of the Echo: Whatever we give will come back to us – ten fold.
    • The Law of Focus: What you focus on is what grows. Focus on the problems and they will grow. Focus on the solutions and they will grow.
    • The Law of Gratitude: A key to a good life is to always make your gratitude bigger than your circumstances.
    • The Law of the Lens: Who we are determines how we see others. We don’t see people as they are; we see people as we are.
  10.  I believe that the best present we can ever give anyone is to be present in the present. Life is lived now.
  11.  I believe that entitlement – believing you deserve something just because you want it  – never leads to happiness.
  12.  I believe that happiness is not a destination. Happiness is a method of travel. You are about as happy as you make up your mind to be.
  13.  I believe that good health is a precious companion. When you have your health you have a thousand wishes, and when you don’t, you have one.
  14.  I believe that the quality of an individual life has nothing to do with how long you live and everything to do with how you live.
  15.  I believe that success is not something you pursue. Success is something you attract – by the person you are becoming.
  16.  Like Scott Peck, I believe in taking the road less travelled – by choosing contribution over consumerism, service over self interest, and character over comfort.
  17.  I believe that leadership – the capacity to influence others toward a shared and worthy goal – cannot be reduced to technique or title. Great leadership comes from the identity and integrity of the leader.
  18.  I believe that caring is everything. Caring makes workplaces worth working in, schools worth learning in, and the world worth living in – now and in the future.
  19.  I believe in a God of my understanding of whom I continue to seek. At the end of my life I hope I can confidently declare that I have done my best to leave this world better than I found it.
  20.  I believe that the ability to positively impact others comes from being an integrated human being. I agree with Gandhi when he said. “A person cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.” Being a good leader means, first and foremost, being a good person.
 
If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.  – Mahatma Gandhi
The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to reflect their inner beliefs. – James Allen

LEADERSHIP AMIDST THE TYRANNY OF ADMINISTRATIVE MINUTIA

“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”   – Thomas A. Edison
A good friend and long-time client called me the other day and asked me how I am.
I responded with, “Busy,” which is my default response when I don’t have the where-with-all to be honest. But Vincent isn’t one to let me off the hook and wouldn’t let me get away with a lazy answer. That’s what I value about our friendship. It’s real. There’s an expectation of honesty. He has a low tolerance for superficiality.
So he responded, “Is it a good busy?”
The question made me stop and think. “How do you know if your ‘busy’ is ‘good’ or not?”
He elaborated, “What have you done today that has brought you joy? How is your energy? What drains you? What fulfills you? What tires you? What animates you?”
As an executive director at a university in South Central United States, Vincent started talking about the “administrative minutia” that comes with every leadership responsibility – the paper work, the proposals, the budgets, the demands, the fires you have to put out – the day-to-day grind that will wear you down and wear you out if you aren’t careful.
I came out of that conversation with Vincent with four things you have to attend to every day in order to survive and thrive in the midst of administrative minutia.
1. MAKE TIME TO THINK. You never want to be so busy doing that you don’t have time to think about what you are doing. Peter Drucker, the great management expert said it well: “There is nothing so useless as doing something efficiently that which should not be done at all.” The best leaders I know take time – if not daily, at least on a weekly basis,  – to think about what matters, what’s important, and what needs saying no to. Remember: every time you say yes to something that is unimportant, you so no to something that is important.
2. MAKE TIME TO GET ON THE BENCH. All hockey coaches know that the game is more than performance on the ice. It’s also about good bench management. Players simply can’t go full speed for much longer than about 45 seconds. While you have to stay focused and alert on the bench, you also have to take a good rest while you’re there. Human beings are not meant to go full out without periodic rest. While you don’t want to spend all day on the bench, what do you do every day to get away from the busyness and unplug from it all? What are you doing today to get on the bench? Whether it’s a good rest over the lunch hour or a five minute rest every hour or so, we all need to regularly get on the bench.
3. MAKE TIME FOR JOY. Yes, I know we need to stop complaining about the work we have to do at work. Work is called work for a reason. You don’t come to work to play. You get paid to work at work. And we could all use a little better attitude toward our work and find a little more gratitude and a little more joy in whatever we do. But you also spend a lot of your life at this thing called work, so you want to push aside that pile on your desk and make a little room for something that brings you joy. Joy is the intersection of passion and service to others. Find something you are passionate about and negotiate for ways that intersect your passion with an opportunity to make a difference. At minimum, find something that brings you joy away from work, something that you play at, so when you go to work you can be grateful that it provides opportunities for joy elsewhere.
4. MAKE TIME TO CARE. Caring produces energy. When you intentionally and consciously take the time to care – about the work you are doing, the project you are engaged in, the colleague down the hall who needs a little encouragement, or the difference you are making – notice how it breathes new life into your days. When you s-l-o-w d-o-w-n for even a brief moment to be kind to someone, listen to someone, to be present, and put extra care into the work you are doing, notice how “busyness” can turn into contentment. Mother Teresa said that, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” It’s simple caring that makes our workplace worth working in and our lives worth living.
These strategies don’t replace hard work, effort, or results. But when integrated into a busy life you come home at the end of the day a little more satisfied, a little more fulfilled, a little more focused on what’s important, and a little less depleted. We’re all busy, but is your busy a “good” busy?