Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Tipping Point

I'm borrowing the title for this post from the wonderful book by Malcolm Gladwell because it's the first concept that comes to mind to describe what I'm mulling over this week.

I'm very curious about that point at which people realize they have the personal POWER (Purpose, Open-Mindedness, Wisdom, Energy, Responsibility - that POWER) to do something about their own lives.

As a life purpose and career coach, I'm always intrigued to find out more about the point in their lives at which people will begin to work with me. There are many stages to this process for people. They're curious, they call, ask for paperwork, and, for some, that's where the process ends. They say they see an opportunity, but not enough of one to actually DO something for themselves. Others will see the opportunity and jump on it. If people stick with the process regularly for 90 days, in my experience, every single one of my clients has seen measurable results for themselves and their lives.

So, this brings up a couple of questions in my mind. What is it that compels some people to make the leap and take control of their own lives? And, on the other hand, what is it that keeps people from making that choice?

And it doesn't have to be coming to coaching - it can be any situation in their lives where they see opportunity and don't act on it.

I have any number of my own ideas about this tipping point - this awakening - this kick in the pants. For some I know it takes a tragedy ... someone dying, becoming very ill, an accident. Why is it that despite the fact they SHOULD put cross arms at a railroad crossing, they don't actually DO it until someone is hit by a train? We KNOW it, but we just don't DO it. WHY?

I used to think that people only changed to avoid pain. They would finally change something when the pain of changing became less than the pain of staying the same. People prefer the comfortable. But I think the universe is shifting around us, and it's becoming more and more uncomfortable for people to stay the same. But we're choosing uncomfortable familiarity over the unknown which, in my experience, almost always provides a situation that is more comfortable than the previous state, but involves doing something differently.

Maybe that's the rub ... doing something DIFFERENTLY means you have to look at the way you've been doing it and make alterations. It's become almost rote to do things the way we've always done them, from work processes to the way we talk to our kids. We just do it that way because it's the way we've always done it. To have to look at that and 1) admit it's not working anymore and 2) do something different in the process may be too much to expect of ourselves and each other.

What really happens, I think, is that it's not the processes and rote reactions that are difficult to change - it's deeper than that. It comes down to realizing that maybe we aren't the best judge of our own behavior as it relates to relationships in our lives. Sometimes it takes something outside ourselves to remind us of what's really important in the big picture.

I'm watching a documentary right now on the National Geographic channel about a fighter pilot who ejected from his plane during a training mission and suffered life-threatening injuries including badly fractured legs and left arm. It was predicted that he would never walk again, but after years of rehab and work, he is now back at work as a fighter pilot. He says this event caused him to think about everything differently in his life. He mentioned in the story that he learned that all his planning and dreaming about what he was going to do with his life ended in an instant. It changed his perspective about his purpose.

We all know stories like this one where situations or circumstances outside ourselves caused us to rethink the way we are living our lives. But does it always have to take a tragedy to remind us that we can shift our focus, let down our guard, and gain a deeper meaning for our lives?

In the current issue of Worthwhile magazine, there is an article by Danah Zohar called "The Latest Q" which asks the question: "How much of a role does spiritual intelligence, or SQ, play in our lives and our work?"

In the article Zohar defines Spiritual Intelligence as "the way people use meaning, vision and values in how we think and the decisions we make. It is the intelligence that makes us whole and gives us our integrity."

In the article she uses Alcoholics Anonymous as a good example of how people can achieve a higher SQ. People with terrible addictions need to be motivated (italics are mine - I would use inspired) by the spiritual.

Of course it would stand to reason that as I took a break from writing this post to sit on my deck in the sunshine, I would get to the chapter in the book "Presence" which fits right in. I highly recommend this book, by the way, if you want to delve deeper into the world of purpose and how we as individuals can join together to make a difference in the world. And it's not just an individual difference - although all change that lasts must start with self. The authors interview several businesspeople from all levels of organizations to see how these conversations can transform Corporate America.

I loved this thought (among many others) from "Presence": "Only when people begin to see from within the forces that shape their reality and to see their part in how those forces might evolve does vision become powerful. Everything else is just a vague hope." (p. 136)

So I'll just keep creating my workshops and speaking about change, transformation, accountability, responsibility and communication and co-create a vision with my clients that we can collectively hold each other to, in order to get beyond the vague hope. If our businesses are to get over the scandals of Enron, et. al., we're going to have to delve deeper. And it starts with the conversation - it starts with me.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Constant State of Fix

It's early Monday morning and I just spent a glorious weekend reading. I finished three books this weekend: "The Dance of the Dissident Daughter" by Sue Monk Kidd, "The Tao of Pooh" by Benjamin Hoff, and "Be," by A.C. Ping. I made significant progress in "Conversations With God - Book 3" by Neale Donald Walsh, "Do," also by Ping, "A Whole New Mind: Moving From the Information Age to the Conceptual Age," by Dan Pink, and "Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future" by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers.

All of these books are calling me to some sort of action, even if that action is stillness, which for me may be the most significant.

I recognize that throughout my entire life, my most familiar state is a state of fix. I remember always striving, striving, striving to be better, to do more, to learn more, to achieve impossible goals and then never be satisfied with the results. But that is what the constant state of fix demands. By its very definition - like perfection - it is unachievable.

This state has become familiar, although it is no longer comfortable. When it was both familiar and comfortable, it would allow me to long for someone else to show me the way, someone else to guide me toward the awakening I knew was there, but didn't see how I could achieve by myself.

Even as recently as earlier this morning, I found myself, while reading "Presence," with its profoundly moving accounts of the authors' journeys to knowing themselves and their connections with others and with nature, automatically shifting my thoughts to that familiar "well sure, they can do that. They've got money, fame, power, experience, (insert appropriate word for what they have and I haven't)."

I've found myself noticing when I start dwelling more on what I don't have than what I do have, which is a definite step beyond that old familiar state of fix. The noticing is great - but it will be the going beyond noticing to the action that I'll be striving for.

My dichotomy is where the doing and the being become blurred. As I've been so focused on mere doing, I know I must become more mindful of the being as well. So my dilemma is where one stops and the other takes over. Perhaps the difference will be in "mere doing" and "pure doing"; deciding and noticing when the doing is driven and when it is compelled.

Life is a journey, not an event, so how will I know when I've gotten "there"? Perhaps that is why it is a constant state of fix. The process is in the becoming, and maybe the goal is to be present in the becoming. It's not for me to decide when I'm "there." As Richard Bach said in Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah: "Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you're alive, it isn't."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Revisiting Simplicity and Complexity

"I wouldn't give a nickel for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity." -Einstein

Thinking more about this quote recently has caused me to begin thinking about that point at which we can measure the other side of complexity. Picture it as a triangle where the point of the triangle is the point of complexity, and the left side of the triangle is "the simplicity on this side of complexity" and the right side is "the other side of complexity." What might we do in our own lives to get to "the other side"?

Does it start to get simpler on the other side? Does noticing the peak of complexity allow us a different vantage point from which to determine which simplicity we're in? Does it get more difficult before it gets more simple, like climbing up the side of the triangle in order to come down the other side?

In the current issue of "Worthwhile" magazine, editor Anita Sharpe mentions an old Chinese saying: "The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed." Another way to say it is: "It's always darkest before the dawn."

So if we can just trust that the path we're on is going to get us to that level of simplicity, we can become more mindful. We can start to enjoy our days instead of filling them with busyness so we can drown out that persistent voice in our heads that keeps telling us there's something more out there.

The voice of status quo seems to be louder on this side of complexity - it wants us to remain in ignorance. After all, ignorance is bliss, isn't it? When we begin to actually listen to the voice that is our true self - and even perhaps the voice of our higher self - we can't go back to status quo.

What is that tipping point that causes us to recognize the path? Does it have to be a tragedy or a crisis to cause us to realign our values with our lives?

I'm curious to hear from people who have begun to listen and are recognizing the complexity triangle. Which side do you find yourself on? How do you know when you've reached the other side? What does simplicity feel like on each side? Can you even tell until you've reach the complexity?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

It Takes Courage To Be Creative

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." - Mark Twain

Getting beyond what others think is a huge victory, at least it was for me. And even the belief that those "others" might be out there judging new endeavors is often enough to keep us in status quo behavior even when we know it's not the best solution.

This seems to be especially true when it comes to creativity. I didn't realize how difficult it really is to define creativity until I started to think more about it. My own definition would be something like: the ability to create; inventing something new; or coming up with fresh ideas. I used to think that people were either born creative or they weren't, and that creative people were those people who could draw, or paint, or act, or write.

Even the dictionary doesn't do a very good job of defining it - at least not much better than I did. says: n. The ability to create.

I believe now that the level of my own creativity was in direct proportion to my level of courage. I spent so much of my youth as a perfectionist that I had very little space to be creative. Being creative means being willing to step outside the traditional into the unknown. It means being willing to make a mistake - to take a risk - to get beyond worrying about what others think and following your heart and soul and intuition.

As I've started listening to my life speak, I find that my true self is, as some have called me, a boat rocker - a limb sitter - a trailblazer. I've found it to be much easier to follow my heart than to feel pressured to justify my existence in a work environment that doesn't know what to do with me.

I believe that everyone has the ability to be creative. But in order for people to connect with their inate creativity, there has to be some semblance of courage present as well, because many of us don't have enough experience out on the limb or outside the status quo to even know how to support someone who's venturing out there. It might seem to be lonely out on the limb, but it's much less lonely when you find others in the same place than it is to be struggling alone amid other closet creatives, none of whom is yet ready or willing to venture into the unknown.

Living creatively = living courageously.