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.


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