possibility

Random Acts of Progress and the Drunkard's Walk

We unfortunately seem to be unconsciously biased against those in society who come out on top or the bottom. When we assess the world, we tend to see what we expect to see. We can equate degree of success with degree of talent and reinforce our conclusions of causality by noting the correlation. The worst type of confirmation bias. The " I wish more people worked hard, as I have"--myopic self-deception. In reality there is often little difference in ability/talent between the "successful" and the "unsuccessful". The biggest difference is how randomness impacted the outcomes and opportunities. 

In Leonard Mlodinow's insightful book: The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, he asserts how things that appear linear, cause and effect, and intentional, all the way down to the molecular level are random.

Whoa, I can feel I pushed your doubt buttons! Fair enough. But let me explain and allow some randomness to influence your thinking oh reader of great certainty ;)

The random motion of molecules in a fluid can be viewed as a metaphor for our own paths through life, and so it is worthwhile to take a little time to give Einstein’s work a closer look. According to the atomic picture, the fundamental motion of water molecules is chaotic. The molecules fly first this way, then that, moving in a straight line only until deflected by an encounter with one of their sisters. This type of path—in which at various points the direction changes randomly—is often called a drunkard’s walk, for reasons obvious to anyone who has ever enjoyed a few too many martinis (more sober mathematicians and scientists sometimes call it a random walk). If particles that float in a liquid are, as atomic theory predicts, constantly and randomly bombarded by the molecules of the liquid, one might expect them to jiggle this way and that owing to the collisions.

So many things we do are impacted by things we don't do and that sets us on a course--or a walk if you will. Things are always colliding with our direction and ideas and once in a while we see them or pay attention to them. We can take credit for these momentary and intermittent flashes of awareness. Our brains want to simplify the timeline so that we can take or give credit or issue blame.

Phone-whale_3188738b

Your place of birth, your parents, your health, your general DNA allocation was random. Even if you think that there was divine intervention or a pre-conceived destiny, there was a huge component of randomness that derived your 23 chromosomes. And all of the "decisions" you made or were made for you. 

What if I didn't accept my mentor's advice that led to a new career? Talked to that stranger who I married and have three kids with? Made that turn, or went to that event, or went on that date, or said yes, instead of no, or wore the red tie, or had Mexican instead of Italian...... Do you really know what would have could have happened? What we pay attention to makes a difference. 

For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

What we do know is not everyone is born into the same randomness, contexts for chance, opportunities for choice. There is great inequity in the sets of randomness we inherit. We all know the story of the immigrant who overcomes obstacles to become a billionaire. Or a blind singer who becomes a record breaking star. And if we are not careful we believe that random opportunity is out there for every immigrant or disabled person. 

We know the randomness at Exeter is different than at East LA Community College. The different molecules that are bombarding off of you will create different drunkard's walks. 

I don't think you can be deliberate about shaping your course forward because you then end up somewhere completely stale and expected.  

I think a lot about this relationship between cynicism and hope. And critical thinking without hope is cynicism. But hope without critical thinking is naïveté. Maria Popova

So I try to reside between the two to try to build a bridge, because blaming others and feeling hopeless about changing our course generates a feeling of futility. Then cynicism rises up to provide a false sense of protection while our dreams evaporate. We can restore our hope and energy by moving forward even if we are stumbling and failing along the way. 

But on the other hand, believing blindly that everything will work out just fine also produces a kind of resignation because we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. And I think in order to survive, both as individuals and as a civilization, but especially in order to thrive, we need to bridge critical thinking with hope."

What appears random or "lucky" was usually right in front of you. You know when you think of something and then it appears everywhere--not talking about Google's algorithms :) Or the so-called Law of Attraction. But it is true when you think and discuss your needs your bucket list, your dream job, yes things "appear"

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Paolo Coelho

So two huge lessons I have learned. Help those with fewer choices and chances see the periphery, see the molecules around them, help them to allow life to happen and divert them from their unsatisfying pursuit of happiness.

Listen to your heart. Open your eyes. Let the paths that are there surround you and reveal themselves.

And for those with fewer chances and choices, those who are more bombarded by the molecules lower on Maslow's, help them have a better chance to see the molecules that are foreign and strange. Guide them to a space where they can see themselves. Where there is sufficiency of opportunity. Not a crutch but a helping hand to give them perspective.

Why? Because we need all of the talent we have to blossom. We desperately need more people to find what they want and to be less oppressed by what others expect. 

Randomness enables us to express things we did not know we had or wanted. Randomness awakens the genius in each of us. Randomness is the way of nature.

Not ignoring reality and responsibility, but being more aware of what interests us, taking chances, and eliminating regrets before they happen. 

The future is already here it just isn't evenly distributed. William Gibson

Life just appears before you. Choices, chances. Too often we try to take credit for what is and we forget how we got there. All of the advice, education, mistakes, mentoring, role models, and yes luck, should take a rear seat to our false and unfounded control over our destinies. 

Yes being focused helps immensely. Yes being planful is also very useful. But what are you missing while you plan? Is your plan and laser-like attention creating a myopia that ignores amazing opportunities or revelations.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. Emerson

Random acts of kindness and progress. Allowing the molecules of randomness push us on our own drunkard's walk and discover new people and places. 

Judy Rupp's excerpt from Old maps don't work

It is time for the pilgrim in me
to travel in the dark,
to learn to read the stars
that shine in my soul.
I will walk deeper
into the dark of my night.
I will wait for the stars.
trust their guidance.
and let their light be enough for me.

 Thanks for reading. John

 


My Prayer for Us

Another story about networking and allowing life to happen. Late last year, I spoke to a non-profit group and afterwards a nice Asian American guy named Richard Cheung, told me he liked my speech. He asked if I could speak in Pasadena next year. I said what I always say, "Let's see if I am a fit and if we can work out the schedule." The Mayor of Pasadena Terry Tornek asked me to keynote the 44th annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast on May 4, 2017--on the national day of prayer. They wanted an ecumenical speaker on the the subject of compassion. I know why me? Not sure why either! Richard is a very generous person and he chairs an amazing organization called Friends In Deed, which helps the most vulnerable people including the homeless. What convinced me was the breakfast was a benefit for Friends In Deed. And I was transported into another world.....Anyway here are my remarks I prepared and delivered to the 600+ assembled. 

 

I’d like to thank Richard Cheung and Friends In Deed for the extraordinary work they do, and thanks to Mayor Tornek for the invitation to be here, for your leadership, and vision for a better Pasadena. And thank you—all of you—for coming here today and spending your valuable time to be together; and to express our unity, connection to one another.

I’m here to be a little bit of a catalyst, a little bit of verbal caffeine, a little bit of a wake-up call, about things you already know, things that are already inside of you—things that we need to stir. My job today is just to shift your perspective a little bit, to consider again, how do we build a better community.

Isn’t it nice to just to stop and pause from the speed of life. And take a breath.     Let's breathe.

Breathe in the mountain and breathe out flowers.

I think about my family and want them to know how grateful I am for their love and support. Sarah, Jenna, Malia, Bobby. In preparing these remarks, I thought of my grandparents when they came to this country with nothing but dreams of a better life, arrived on boats to work on the railroad and to work on the farms in the San Joaquin valley; to pursue the American Dream. I think about my parents, Rod and Tomi Kobara, who both passed away in the last two years, living very full lives achieving the American Dream. And 75 years ago, this week in northern California, they were rounded up by the government—because of Executive Order 9066 that declared all Japanese residents of the United States to be enemy aliens—and 120,000 other JA citizens were put into concentration camps. They were deprived of all their possessions, rights and opportunities for almost four years. Ironically, they emerged out of that process with a stronger desire to prove that they were Americans, to provide a better opportunity for me and my siblings. I’m inspired by my family every day, and the great sacrifices all our ancestors made for us to be here.

Proud of which the Japanese American community bonded with the American Muslim community, since 911, to prevent such a shameful part of our history from repeating itself. Today, more than ever, we ALL need to be part of this effort.

I think about Young Sook Kim, my mother-in-law, whom I never met, who escaped from North Korea to go to South Korea when she was a teenager yearning for freedom. She started doing the wash and feeding GIs during the Korean War, and ultimately married one of those GIs. She came to the United States and had to learn the language and culture and got her bachelors, masters and her PhD in anthropology and became a college professor—she embodies the American Dream. Her life inspires me. She died at the age of 48. Her legacy was to afford her two children, and her three grandchildren she never met, a better chance.

That’s all any of us are asking for, is a chance. An opportunity. A fair chance, and when that chance exists we have hope, but when that chance doesn’t exist, we lose hope. And when we lose hope, we lose everything.

We’re all losing hope. We are surrounded by an ocean of suffering and it is  overwhelming. Each time we say: There’s only so much we can do--We lose hope. And we can think we are just drops in that ocean. We get used to it. The more comfortable we get, we become numb and disconnected from our fellow humans and our sense of humanity.  An excerpt from a poem I wrote:

Comfortable?

Very

Too comfortable?

Perhaps

Why do you ask?

Comfort is nice

Good for you, but we need to talk

About what we should do

Now is a good time

Time

Got plenty of that

Choices

Got plenty of those

I know

I know what I want

But do I want what I know?

Why are we here?

Where are we going?

What difference can we make?

Endless unanswered questions

Does it matter?

Aren’t we comfortable?

Yes, very

But, we need to talk!

Talk?

That's what we’re doing

Again

So how do we comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable? How do we reinvigorate our sense of compassion? Because sympathy is arrogant, and empathy is always insufficient. How do we reinvigorate our compassion? For compassion comes from the root, passio or pati, which means “to suffer.” How do we suffer with others? That’s what compassion means. How do we suffer together? Mother Teresa says, “If we have no peace, it’s because we have forgotten we belong to one another.” And we have less peace, because we have forgotten a lot. We sit here politely and calmly, while the current state of our world is in crises, our communities are broken, people are suffering, the needs of others are out of control-we can feel helpless and hopeless. Even a generous and kind group like you, begin to think it is impossible to give and do more.

I am fascinated, energized, my optimism is renewed over our untapped potential, the possibilities within each one of us. Gandhi said, the difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve the world's problems.
Kierkegaard called it our Sealed Orders; epigenetics, the new  neuroscience, is studying our unexpressed DNA; Nikki Giovanni, the great poet says, “You know, we’re better than we think, but we’re not as good as we could be.” And Bonnie Ware, who studied the regrets of the dying, found the number one regret of people who were dying in hospice— I wish I had the courage to have lived a life that was true to me, and not a life that was the expectations of others.

A man named Dōgen came to Japan almost 800 years ago to teach Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism is about living the full life, the fully expressed life they call it the Supreme Meal. He wrote a book called, Instructions to the Cook. Literally the recipe for the Supreme Meal. The Supreme Meal is what we need to make every day, and every week and every month and every year, in our entire lives. The Supreme Meal is the best we can make with everything we have—and we have everything we need. We live in great abundance, and have every ingredient we need to make this Supreme Meal, and yet we fail to use all of our ingredients.

No matter our point of view, what side we sit on, we agree that the status quo is unacceptable. That the suffering around us is intolerable. We need a supreme meal of hope, equity, and opportunity. I am talking about using all of our ingredients: Our moral, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and financial resources. Putting our full reputations, our social networks, our minds and hearts into the changes that are necessary. This is an All-In MOMENT. A moment to use everything we have.

My mother was a great painter. She painted 1,430 original art pieces during her lifetime. She started painting when she was 48 and painted all the way until her final year of life.

I asked for an art lesson; I asked her to teach me how to paint, and she laughed. In a knowing way, she said, “Oh John, I love the fact that you want to learn to paint, but you’re so busy, and you’re so important, at least that’s what you’ve told me. And it takes time to see before you can paint; and if you can’t see, there’s no way you can paint! And you don’t have time to see.” She finally agreed to give me a "seeing" lesson. She told me it would take at least three hours to see. She started asking me questions about these apples. And I couldn’t see the apples, I tell you, it was hours. And I finally saw the apples, and she mis-quoted Cezanne, “A time is coming when apples, freshly observed, will trigger a revolution.” Actually, he said, “A time is coming when a carrot freshly observed will trigger a revolution.

And it did. I started to see things. I started to see myself and so much around me. We have so much more to see. We tend to focus on the path and where our feet are leading us, and the path becomes a path of dependency, of certainty. We don’t listen to our hearts. We miss the peripheral view, we miss what’s around us who’s around us, we miss what’s going on right now.

The challenge is in every moment and the time is always now.  James Baldwin

So, I have been trying to shift your perspective, to help us think about who we are, and why we are here, and where we’re going. We’re the only species on the planet that gets to ask the question, What do I want to do? Who am I? No other species gets to do that. We must take advantage of this opportunity. How do we unseal our orders, express our DNA, become better than we are? And have the courage to live a life that is true to ourselves and to others.

We can never forget our ancestors who sacrificed for all of us.

How do we comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

The giant ocean of needs breaks our hearts, but we need our hearts to be broken open!

Open to our interconnectedness, inter-dependency. Open to our abundant possibilities.

While we sometimes feel like drops in the ocean, we realize we’re the entire ocean in every drop. (Rumi)

I know that what I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand — and one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history in general, and American Negro history in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible. (James Baldwin)

So, we pause to breathe.           Breathe in the mountain and breathe our flowers.

Breathe in your power and breathe out your kindness

So we can have peace.      Because, Yes!  Yes! Yes!   We do belong to one another!

And once we can see, see this potential, it triggers a revolution. For we need, desperately need, your revolutions! We have every ingredient to make that Supreme Meal. That revolutionary meal. That meal of hope—together.

C’mon let’s join Mayor Tornek, Richard Cheung, Friends In Deed, so all of us can begin making and serving that Supreme Meal today!                      

Thank you.

 


Uncomfortable Comfort

Words mean a lot to me. Perhaps more as I age. I value the meaning of the words we choose and use. People who know me well understand that certain words set me off. My bans on "busy", "when I retire...", "stability" are well documented. 

I push myself, and others who will listen, to "play out of bounds" and to not compromise our dreams. Why are we not pursuing what is most important to us? What obstacles prevent us to live the life we want? Am I where I am supposed to be? Are our networks diverse or a bunch of people who are clones --eating, voting, entertaining, agreeing, liking, the same stuff? 

My goal is to disrupt the mindlessness of our lives. Where we accept and tolerate what we have and don't want. 

I was conducting a session with graduate students about career transitions and got this question: "How long should I be uncomfortable?" It was a great question. Because it was honest. It was a vulnerable question. It was a question about the searching and certainty. After all when you are grad school procrastinating your future :), you think a lot about the land of career clarity. If we are contemplating change in our lives, if we are paying attention to the world around us, we all are trying to get to this mystical land of clarity.

When we are open to what we don't know, when we are open to opportunities that we had not considered, when we become vulnerable to questions and conversations that change us----we get uncomfortable.

Get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-7

Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable. F. Peter Dunne

Perhaps my theme song! And definitely my favorite quote.

In other words, I am not where I want to be. I am not sure where I am going. I feel stuck or I crave more certainty about my path. I want more meaning, fulfillment and a greater sense of purpose. I need an answer to give me comfort.

So here's my answer:

You should never be comfortable. Never.

In terms of life and career development.

Yes, we should smell the roses, appreciate our milestones and yes let's have gratitude.

But before we get too caught up in our greatness, drunk with our achievements, and light headed with thankfulness--let's consider the infinite challenge of serving others. Let's pause and consider our ambitions for our families and ourselves. Let's truly understand that we are not satisfied with our inner or outer lives. So stability is a joke. Certainty is a unicorn.

How do you continuously pursue your own growth and that means your ability to help others?

You can join the growing NIMBY family or what I call the OIMBY tribe (Only In My Backyard)--where you take care of your immediate family and everyone else is on their own.

We have to be uncomfortable with our comfort.

We now face the danger, which in the past has been the most destructive to the humans: Success, plenty, comfort and ever-increasing leisure. No dynamic people has ever survived these dangers. 

John Steinbeck 

The status quo sucks! Am I right? The world is not quite right. We are still filling out the breadth of our potential. Our families are a work in progress. Our communities are in great need. The world is at the brink of challenge and change.

When we stop and think about what we can do, what we have to advance our lives and the lives of others, and consider the obscene abundance in which we reside----We can get uncomfortable. :)

Once you accept that our work is infinite. That our role is to advance the work and give the next gen a chance to continue the work. That can give you a modicum of comfort. But then you realize, as I do everyday, life is short. We don't know when our ticket will be punched. So what will I do today?

Don't misunderstand me. Lack of comfort is not lack of peace. Inner peace comes with understanding one's role and opportunity. Inner peace comes with serving others. True peace is the product of an altruistic life of compassion. And compassion literally means to suffer with others. So we come full circle to an uncomfortable peace. 

Our truth stands in the doorways in front of us, doorways that excite, invite, and frighten us.

Have I afflicted you?

Here's to your uncomfortable peace. Thanks for reading. John

 

A poem I wrote inspired by these thoughts:

Comfortable Conversation
Comfortable?
Very
Too comfortable?
Perhaps
Why do you ask?
Comfort is nice
When
When is the right time to talk?
To talk
About what I want
Now
Is this the right time?
Time
Time is the enemy
Got plenty of that
What
What does this mean?
Life is defined
By indecision
I know
I know what I want
But
Do I want what I know?
How
How do I get there?
Where
Where I am going?
This never ends
With a decision
Do nothing
Why
Why am I here?
Need time to talk about this
Need
That's what I am doing
Again

Will this be the Year? For You?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver

Is this the year for your new life? The year you push yourself out and over the edge of your comfort zone.

Why can't this be the time? 

The challenge is in every moment and the time is always now. James Baldwin

This can be the time to make your dent in the universe. To go into our garages and build the new mousetrap. To build the new you. 
 
One that expresses who YOU are. Don't confuse this with your FB, Instagram postings, or even your resume, where you look more like wanna-bes than the real YOU. 

The recipe is pretty straight forward. You take you with all of the expectations of others removed, add a big heaping tablespoon of courage, add extra chutzpah and then a pinch of regrets to taste and voila you get the real you.

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.  Seneca 49 AD

I have shared the following with thousands of people to remind them in a few minutes how precious life is.

What surprises you most about human kind?

“That they get bored with childhood, they rush to grow up, and then long to be children again.”
“That they lose their health to make money… and then lose their money to restore their health.”
"That by thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present, such that they live in neither the present nor the future.”
“That they live as if they will never die… and die as though they had never lived.”

What are some of life’s lessons you want your children to learn?
“To learn they cannot make anyone love them. All they can do is let themselves be loved.”
“To learn that it only takes a few seconds to open profound wounds, and it can take many years to heal them.”
“To learn that a rich person is not who has the most, but is one who needs the least.”
“To learn that there are people who love them dearly, but simply do not yet know how to express or show their feelings.”
“To learn that two people can look at the same thing and see it differently.”
“To learn that it is not enough that they forgive one another, but they must also forgive themselves.”

(Excerpted from Interview with God.net)

How much time we waste. How our priorities are often upside down. How the most precious things we want get pushed into the attic and buried in our "hope chests". Hope Chest

We have to do the best with what we got and then do more!
  
I live completely in the present, released from the prison of the past with its haunting memories and vain regrets, released from the prison of the future with its tantalizing hopes and tormenting fears. All the enormous capacities formerly trapped in past and future flow to me here and now. Eknath Easwaran
 
Schedule little windows of time when you will develop your plans and yourself. Time to be focused and unfocused. Nothing will happen if you do not do this! What you need is inspiration. Which can come in a moment, any time, taking a shower, doing the dishes, taking a walk, meditating, reading. Fill your life with more stimulation, different voices, sources, points of view. Change it up. Shake it up. Find things that resonate with you that quicken your heart beat and put a lump in your throat. Then take notes and follow them.
 
You can work with the usual suspects, but find the new and different, that's connected to what we want, like or dream about. Meet with different people every week or month. Get disciplined about stretching your network. Use the existing connections to bridge to new tribes. Worlds that understand your unanswered questions, your "crazy" dreams and your insecurities and doubts. Tribes that will mentor you.
 
Still perplexed? Do you believe that every human is an infinite set of possibilities? Are you human?
My life experiences have shown me how people stop digging when they hit a few rocks. They stop peeling the onion when the tears start. They move away from the edge of the cliff when they see the rocks far below.
 
Get a jackhammer. Put on some goggles. Learn to para-glide.

Listen to what Alec Baldwin says:

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee "Alec Baldwin" 

I frequently worry that being productive is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity and busyness the greatest distraction from living, as we coast through our lives day after day, showing up for our obligations but being absent from our selves, mistaking the doing for the being. Maria Popova

What I want for you is the delight that comes from doing what you want. Becoming you. Not merely the achievement of the financial or employment goals or even familial expectations. Yes do them. But make small, medium and large spaces for you. For when your passion bucket overflows everyone around you will get some. Whether you like it or not you infect others with your smile of delight, your glow of goodness, and your engaging enthusiasm for life. 

And when you are not yourself, when you are not smiling, and your passion bucket is empty--you also impact others, just very differently. 

Ripples flow from your life force either way.

So is 2016 the year of becoming you? Let's go!

To be and not to be, that is the answer. D. E. Harding

Happy New Year! Thanks for reading. 

 


Your Lotus Flower

Sometimes you have to travel far away to understand oneself. We need the perspective, the less cluttered and noisy view of ourselves to see ourselves. Part of it is the true value of comparative evaluation. You know, sizing up what you have or want against others. There is one thing to see someone confined to a wheelchair, which is so different than imagining you are in that chair! Making that little switch triggers a different level of empathy and insight. In the end, how we view what we have, what has been given to us, the so-called hand we are dealt, and make the most out of it? Even the bad stuff. (Say more John I don't know what you mean) Trying to avoid the hackneyed lemonade bromide. Ooops there it is :)  Myanmar Schwe Dagon

I had the great fortune to visit the emerging third world democracy of Myanmar recently. (second most isolated country behind N Korea just a few years ago) One of the most beautiful and brutal places I have ever seen. Immersed in these stark contrasts from my life in Los Angeles, I was pulled into a different mindset. I think the overwhelming vistas of sacred edifices, wrapped in punishing poverty and surrounded by the grace of a welcoming people opened my mind. I know all of these elements exist everywhere, if I saw them, but parachuting into a new environment flips a perspective switch. At first I resisted these forces of self examination to stay on task with my trip. But I quickly surrendered to these flowing thoughts and tried to allow them to take me on a parallel journey.

I know that my first world guilt and privilege were drivers here. But I also know that the mind craves the space for thought and reflection. The incredible fusion of this mindset with the inputs from our trek through the Burmese landscape made this trip memorable and meaningful.

Way too much to say here but want to share several images and ideas that continue to energize me.

Myanmar smilesThe Myanmar smile: Everyone in Myanmar. I mean every single person we encountered was friendly, warm, and open to us. There was a avalanche of authenticity. People saying "minglabar" (hello/welcome in Burmese) with true sincerity. I know this sounds naive, and I know that perhaps some of the people were disingenuous. But I felt I was in their presence. It was hard work to try and reciprocate. Part of my detox from the world of being on guard, of the hard bubble of personal space and the root of distrusting others until proven innocent. In my mind, I try to be open to others, but my struggles to receive and return the emotional and spiritual generosity from Myanmar revealed my true potential. 

In a meditation session I attended in Myanmar, our leader asked us to sense everything about our bodies--but he cautioned "don't react to anything you sense, observe yourself from the outside--let the monkeys play!" Let the monkeys play. Let things happen and see them without judgment. Quiet the mind and let the monkeys play..... 

How can I be more trusting, more welcoming, more open to others? How can I initiate this trust this warmth and this openness? 

LotusThe Lotus Flower: I have always been drawn to the lotus flower. The beautiful bloom atop a glassy body of water. But like most things I knew nothing more about the lotus.

We spent many days on waterways, rivers and lakes and I was re-introduced to the lotus flower. Our guide Czarina made a comment that changed my view of this plant. She said, "The lotus  draws its strength from the dirtiest water, transforming it into a beautiful flower." (these waters were some of the most polluted I have ever seen) What an amazing metaphor for life. How do we convert the pools of negativity that surround our lives into beautiful blossoms by tapping into our inner reservoir of spirit and talent? We all sit in our own pools of impurities--self-made, God-given, environmental--and how do we we convert our circumstances into a thing of beauty? How do we truly embrace "our dirt" own it but also appreciate it to move us forward? For without our dirt we would not understand what we want. Without the dirt we would not have to struggle and suffer. And without suffering we can not live a meaningful life. 

I googled the lotus flower and learned that the lotus flower is associated with purity and beauty in Buddhism and Hinduism. The ancient Egyptians scholars observed that in the night-time the lotus closed its flowers and sank into the water, and was reborn the next day. In actual fact the lotus slowly emerges from a pond and then blooms in the morning until mid-afternoon. And the lotus does thrive in murky/dirty waters.

The lotus emerges from the pollution to be faithful to its beauty and purpose. To open to the sun gracing the world,  like a humble brag,  "Here's what I do!"

All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you. Octavia Butler

A smile, your smile. A lotus flower, your lotus flower. How do we take our great capacity to love one another and share it? How can we be more open to being changed? How do we let the monkeys play? How do we fully embrace our dirt to display our beauty? 

Minglabar!

Thanks for reading. John


Put this on the Top of Your Wish List

Wishing is one of the most powerful forms of articulating our needs. Seems like the holidays and the New Year bring out our wishes more than any other time.  We hear a wish and want it to happen. Think Make-A-Wish Foundation. The idea that something hard to get might be attainable is hopeful and inspiring. Everybody has wishes. What are yours? And what are the people around you, people you care deeply about , wishing for? Not what we want! Not gifts, stupid. Not the PS4, the iPhone6, or a Prada purse or other meaningless stuff. But a true wish for our lives and well being that comes from our hearts and souls. Wish dandelion_wish_2-t2

When we blow out a birthday candle or throw a penny into a wishing well, we all revert to a childlike state of hoping for a millisecond that something magical can come true. Just before our cynical, impulsive and over-bearing brains take over--we express a real secret thought that has real meaning. But that beautiful moment is trashed by horrific sounds and images of reality!

Reality is the leading cause of stress for those in touch with it. Jane Wagner

This is not about you! It rarely is. So dial back the WIIFM (What's In It For Me). Think about people around you, people you love. Do you know their wishes? Really? When is the last time you talked about such wishful thinking?

I have the chance to meet hundreds of people every year through my work, my volunteering, and my presentations. Almost always, I confront people with the Wish Obstacle-something I learned from Barbara Sher. "I always wanted to_______, but__________ ."I ask people to fill in the blanks and articulate their wish to a stranger in the audience--What their wish is and why they don't have it or even pursue it. It always triggers a robust discussion. The stranger can't help but offer assistance and advice and genuinely wants to help this random and accidental new friend. But the other thing that happens is people blurt out wishes that they have never said to anyone and reveal highly personal thoughts to an innocent bystander! I have learned that we all have these pent up wishes.

Ask a child you will see over the holidays (under 10 years old)--what they are wishing for. After they give you a long list of material things, tell them not a gift and then be quiet-let them think. More often than not the child, oh to have the authenticity of a child, he/she will say something that will blow your mind. Here is a sampling of what I have heard: "I wish mommy and daddy would stop fighting." "I am scared to go in the bathroom at school. I wish they would clean it up." "I wish people would stop hurting each other." Be prepared to talk about their wish and not dismiss their moment of truth. Kids say the darndest things and are we listening?!

If we knew what people were truly wishing for to make them whole, to give them more fulfillment, even meaning in their lives, then we could help them pursue it--and that would be the greatest gift.

So what are your friends and family wishing for?

Mom santa fe
My mom and sister in Santa Fe

So a number of years ago I called my Mom and asked her the Wish/Obstacle. She gave me the classic mom answer, "Oh you know I don't need anything." As we all know it is impossible to buy gifts for your mother! But I pushed and told her not a gift, something she wanted. And immediately she said, "I always wanted to go to Santa Fe, but don't think I will ever get there." I had never heard this before and asked why she didn't go to Santa Fe. She said, "Your dad doesn't travel anymore and I probably won't see Santa Fe." That sent me into motion on a mission. I called my brother and sisters and we put together a trip. My sister Tomi went with my mom and they did Santa Fe! A wish fulfilled. Do we know what people are wishing for?!

Now I am going to ratchet it up a notch or three. Now think about the person who you care about but with whom you have a broken relationship. The one that hurts you in your heart. We all have them. We have to repair this relationship for ourselves. We have to avoid the bigger regrets that just will grow over time. As I have said so many times, "Regrets become tumors!" Reach out to this person during the holidays. Why now? Because it is NOW and because the holidays open doors, windows and little cracks of light. So reach out and tell them your wish. "I wish we had a better relationship, but I need your help to make this happen." Don't apologize, don't bring up the past, don't waffle wiggle and wander. Just state your wish. The truth in this wish might re-kindle something, hopefully not more negativity. But you stepped up and out to meet your challenge. This is not a magical gimmick that repairs relationships. It is a starting point for you to take the next step. It is a way for you to say something good to somebody you care about. You need each other.

Wishing does not make anything happen. Helping people get their wishes is a mission. 

I wish for all of you to connect to the people you love. To connect to the people who you have lost touch with. To reduce your regrets by helping others and yourself. 

Making other people's wishes come true will restore your faith, your childlike faith, in the magic of possibility and the glory of the relationships which matter most.

Thanks for reading. John


How Do I Know If I Am In Love?

Like when you are in the Maserati dealership, if you have to ask you are in the wrong place!
 
Had the great fortune of hearing this question from numerous younger people. Am I in love? How do you know? Love
 
I recently talked to a young man who asked me these questions. He then blurted out that he spent the last five years with this woman and he was going to marry her because he doesn't think he has another five years in him to meet someone else. Yikes
 
And I hear this same sentiment pertaining to career choices. 
 
Years ago, I was asked to address 500 PhDs at a career conference who no longer want to work in their fields of research.
 
I conducted a workshop called "Running from the Law" for 350 lawyers.
 
I think the analogies between love and life, dating and working are closely related. We seek companionship, trust, belonging, meaning, and mutuality in our lives. In everything. Not just for a soul mate or life partner but in our careers.We want our work to feed our insatiable desire for connection, emotional connection connection that matters and give us a deep sense of pride, security, confidence and meaning. We are lying to ourselves if we deny this.
 
Virtually none of us remember being in the sandbox as a toddler telling our friends and parents that we would be doing what we are doing now. Because life is a crazy journey of twists and turns, some say fate, others know its more about choices and chances. But I digress. 
 
Our jobs and internships, are our forays into our work /love life. We are "courting careers", we are scouring the match.coms of jobs, we are asking friends to set us up, we are constantly comparing our unrealistic list of needs/wants and even demands to our "dates". Is this what I want? Is this where I am supposed to be? Is this all there is? Is this how I am supposed to feel? 
 
We want to be in love and to be loved. 
 
In the hundreds of conversations I have had, it is the lover not the object of love who is the most challenged. We don't know what we want and therefore  our search is always one more of questioning than satisfying. We fall into things. We settle. We rationalize. Most of all we defer and wait.  Not sure for what.
 
Last week I talked to a newish non-profit leader who is questioning his career "date". Are you passionate about your work?, I queried. "No but I am working hard.", she said. Wonderful answer avoidance! Read: Not in a serious relationship yet.
 
Dating is not serious if there is not the possibility of marriage.
 
Met an executive in business and I asked him to tell me about his work. He looks at his shoes and says, "Just run a PR firm." Whoa, pride alert! Then he added, "I am not able to do good things like you." Major guilt exposed! Why not? Why does he think he is stuck in this bad relationship? Why does he accept not being in love?
 

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. Lao Tzu

We need strength and courage in our professional lives. We get it from our engagement intellectually and emotionally from what we do--paid and unpaid. 

But John, do you know how hard it is to find what you are talking about? Yeah I do. So when did you give up on things that were hard or even impossible? When did you push the auto-pilot button to give the controls of your life to "whatever"?

Some wake up and make changes. They are no longer in love and they get a divorce from their jobs. Some get dumped. because they waited too long. Still others stay in toxic, abusive relationships. 
  
Do we seek practical love? Or convenient love? Or do we pursue head over heels in love? Do we want love we rationalize or love we can brag about?

Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love. - Rumi

Time is not slowing down. Time is ticking. Like the maternal biological clock--When will you give birth to your dreams?
 
I am not saying to quit, divorce or bail, I am saying investing in the opportunity to make it work. A great and enduring relationship takes work. It doesn't just glide on the energy of puppy love. 
 
Are you in love with what you are doing, who you are becoming? Are you in love with the potential, the chance to grow?
 
Yes? Then, you understand. Keep working at it. If No, then you need to take control of the helm and get your little boat pointed in the right direction. Your compass is your heart.
 
Only you have formed the rules and boundaries of the current world. Only you can change it up and make it what you want.
 
Use your network of mentors and advisors to help you evaluate your choices. 
 
Last week I met a woman about her career. She said, " I am so overwhelmed. I am almost drowning. But it has been a long time since I felt this challenged, so connected to my work, forcing me to use my brain and everything I have. I am so grateful to be here!
 
It's a beautiful thing when people are in love.
 
You know if you are love. Only you do.
 
Thanks for reading. John 

What is Your Realm?

A close colleague of mine was discussing the future of an unemployed at-risk youth we had just met, "We can not just dress up these young men and teach them how to get jobs at fast food restaurants. We must help them understand their place in the realm of their world. Their role in society. Then and only then will they help themselves and their communities."

Realm: Noun. Meaning: domain, activity, sphere, knowledge, interest

Aren't we all "at-risk" of not knowing our role, our realm? 

Each of us has a "realm".  A place which inspires us. An environment that brings out the best in us. Work that is meaningful to us. Our realm nurtures our sense of duty and commitment to what we do.

What is your realm? Your realm of possibility and responsibility?

I am often in debates and discussions about being a king or a kingmaker. But why aren't we talking about the kingdom and its needs. The kingdom is the community--your realm. 

If our realm is only about ourselves, tis a small and selfish realm indeed. 

Big hat no cattle.  Big Hat

Becoming a better person, a more educated person, a more mature person, a more successful person--always starts with the realm---How that person contributes to things beyond themselves. So a realm is unique and specific idea, cause, skillset, space that you embrace, protect, invest in and stand for.

We now face the danger, which in the past has been the most destructive to the humans: Success, plenty, comfort and ever-increasing leisure. No dynamic people has ever survived these dangers. John Steinbeck  1962

Our own comfort and happiness can limit our realm. Jim Collins, business guru, called it the "undisciplined pursuit of more". More for what? Most of us need little, we want a lot! Yet we know others who need what we have.

It is human nature to start with oneself but where is the humanity in this?

What should I be? vs How can I be useful?

Who I am vs What I do?

I am good vs Good I do

People tell me everday they want to be entreprenuers, or start non-profits, they rarely say what they want to do for the world and how they will change it. I never hear "I want to cure cancer", or "Mentor at risk youth" or "Increase the quality of STEM education" or "Alleviate the suffering of the homeless"

I hear selfish, often innocuous and mostly meaningless general thoughts about their futures.

  • "I want to make a difference." Huh?
  • "I want to do something I believe in." What?
  • "I want to make money." Become a counterfeiter!
  • "I am going to retire soon to rest." Another act of procrastination.
  • "I don't want to make other people rich." Yikes!
  • "I want to help people."  OMG!
  • "I want to grow." Who doesn't?!

Remember the emperor with no clothes? That's what we sound and look like when we say these things. When we care more about what others think and have no realm. If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything! Or wear anything! Or say or do anything or nothing at all.

Without a realm it is near impossible to network and be mentored. 

But John I have no realm, but want one. What do I do?

  1. Self awareness is the first step and now your eyes are open
  2. Listen to your heart and take notes. 
  3. Explore what seriously interests you and drives you. Use your network.
  4. Your realm is not just your job. You can have multiple realms. Start small and grow.
  5. Do not wait. This is the best time to start.

#1 myth in Greg McKeown's terrific 12 myths that lead to a busy and unfulfilling life:

"I'm too busy living to think about life." This is a huge blamethrower. It's not my fault everyone else expects so much of me. 

I always wanted to be somebody, but I realized I should have been more specific. Lily Tomlin

Been mentoring a young man for years. Tried to get him to focus on life instead of his ambition. His goal was a title not a mission. He talked of promotions not deeds. Tried to engage him in the work vs his own welfare. He is just emerging from that super selfish time that I have blogged about between 24-30 years old. Finally he has emerged from the fog of self absorption and saw his realm. I had to wait this one out. Not entirely his fault he was a Me Myself and I kinda guy. Recently the fog cleared and he can see past his own shoes and the path has emerged from the darkness. He thinks I made the fog disappear. He doesn't realize that when you are looking at yourself you can't see anything or anyone else. And he is now pursuing his usefulness in his realm.

Refine your sense of how you will do something about what you care about, what angers you, what vision you have for your communty what gives you joy and how you can help others. Before you refine your resume and interview skills! 

A focus on just building yourself without context is a form of naricissim that can lead to a life of disappointment and unfulfilled potential. This is the leading cause of a life of regret. 

Call it maturity. Call it fate. Call it career development. Self awareness leads to enlightenment if you let it. 

Your realm is waiting. You are the king or queen but how is your kingdom doing? We are at risk of being too busy to think about life. So find your realm.

GOT realm? For the good of your realm!

Thanks for reading. John  


Your Future--Nothing or Everything

When I was younger and even more sarcastic (How could that be John?), I was in an interview and was asked my least favorite question: "What is your 10 year plan?" Even back in the pre-hisoric times of my youth, this was a stupid question. I know what the interviewer wanted. "Where are you going and how does this job fit into your plans?" But most interviewers ask clever robotic questions that are part of a list and do not think about the question's intent but more about disrupting the poise of the interviewee----but I digress. Crystal-ball

So, as I am prone to do, I turned the tables on my interviewer. "Great question. I think it is impossible to predict the future. If you tell me what the next 10 years will be like then I will tell you what my plan is?" As you can imagine, this did not go well. I did not get an answer nor the job! But, as we know better today than ever before, the world is evolving and shifting faster than we can plan for it. Favorite quote: "If it works it is obsolete."

Like a skeet shooter or a NASA engineer who is planning the landing of Curiosity--you got to think about the trajectory, and aim where there is nothing now. So if you can not predict the next 10 years, how do you plan? How does it feel when you aim at nothing? It is far better to aim at nothingness with an idea than to accept the nothingness that is on its way to you. Of course, experience is a great teacher. It gives you a sense of where you are going. But where are you going?

I am in a constant process with people who seek my time to predict the future and their futures. This is a process that is fraught with great dangers. I listen and tell them what I hear and sometimes my willing and volunteer victims see the future--their futures. The futures that have hidden within themselves. 

How are you trending? In other words, where is your trajectory and momentum? Are you getting better, in what, how? And what is your next milestone? And where are you slipping? When you plot these coordinates you will be able to see your trajectory--not your aspirations--but where you are heading. Still confused?

Your ascendancy has to be tangible it can't be just a dream. You can't rely on luck or some divine intervention. You have to push ahead driven by your heart and your curiosity. Yes your next career might find you but you have to recognize it. 

Many people tell me they will run a non-profit in their future, but are taking no steps to scaffold that possibility. Many people will have better lives in the future. Many people tell me they will give back later, volunteer more later, get involved down the road. Why not engage now in what you care about? Busy? Too busy? To think about your future or aim at the nothingness where you want to be. Listen carefully and you can hear a the magma of a volcanic regret heating up. A regret that will pour lava all over your your beautiful green grass dreams.

Your future is coming up the path and it passes you everyday. Then a new offramp appears and disappears. It never stops.

The next 10 years are going to be your best ones, if you think about your trajectory. If you fill in the nothingness of your story with the steps you are taking to explore your future.

The future is already here, it just isn't evenly distributed.  William Gibson

I just talked to a 25 year veteran of a dying industry and he knows he waited too long to shift but he is ready now. I talked to a 26 year old who is having a "pre-mid-life" crises. I talked to new divorcee who sees this change as her opportunity. I am coaching multiple college aspirants about their educational plans. And talked to a dear friend who is recovering from a terminal illness that "surprised" him. 

All of them are focused on their futures differently. You don't want tragedy to get you focused. But we use what we have. You want to take control of your future and begin to trot out your future narrative--your story. Where is the protagonist going? And test it with mentors and your network.

How are you trending? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Where are you going? What do you want?

One thing is certain, absolutely certain--don't wait. Don't procrastinate! Don't every say you will deal with the future later. Because the future will have come and gone.

You have everything or nothing ahead of you--which will it be?

Thanks for reading. John

 


Re-awaken Your Possibilities

In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.   Ben Zander Zander

We invent so many reasons why we can't do things. Some of them are the familiar demons of our habitual laziness, our busy-ness, or our fear of failure. We can see the world as a narrowing set of choices, options and opportunities. Yes, I know we are getting older and we need to act accordingly. I get it. But we also have to make the most out of the time and chances we have left. No matter if you are 25 or 65, you can't make decisions soley based on risk management or let the practical be the enemy of the possible. 

I engage hundreds of people every year in the exercise that Barbara Sher developed--The Wish Obstacle

I always wanted to ________, but__________.

When you fill in the blanks you will be surprised at what you say and why you have not done it. Usually what stands between you and the possible---your wish--- is YOU. Not much else.

I had the great honor of meeting and hearing 74 year old Ben Zander--the mercurial and magical maestro for the Boston Philharmonic. But to think of him as just a conductor is like saying the Beatles are just a rock band. He is an extraordinary teacher, author and motivational speaker. He lives in the world of possibilities and pushes anyone in his path to awaken their possibilities. 

Here are some of the nuggets I got from him: 

On leadership: The conductor does not make a sound he depends on the orchestra to perform.
On negative thinking: You can make everything in your life seem like a downward spiral. It is up to you to see the possibility.
Evaluating others: Give everyone an A. Start with the possibilities and give everybody a chance to be their best. 
On doubt: Don't let that nagging voice in your head eliminate your possibilities--your potential.
On vision: A true vision includes everyone. It is not a win lose proposition.
On failure: Raise your hands and say "How fascinating!"
On the language of possibilities: What if? What's next? 
On reality: Everything is invented. All of the goals, standards, and metrics in our lives are self imposed. They limit what is possible. 
A rule for life: Don't take yourself so seriously!


There is no time like the present to consider and stand in the possibilities. That nothing but our attitudes egged on by the voices of doubt in our heads stand in our way. Otherwise we are trapped in a prison we built. Walls and bars that we invented block  the way of our freedom to do what we want. 

Possibilities are sleeping inside each of us. They are the beautiful sculptures trapped in the marble of our minds. They are dormant, latent, and restless seeds that yearn for a moment in the sun to sprout and grow. Let's set them free! Let's re-awaken these possibilities within us and in others. 

The neglected passions, interests and ideas that turn sour and fester will burden us with the weight of regret. Do you want regrets or possibilities? 

Need I regale you with the countless people who on a daily basis overcome their physical, financial, mental challenges that dwarf yours, and excel? If we consider ourselves lucky, then let's see what's possible.

I really got a dose of energy and motivation from Ben---to be more positive, to live more in the land of possibilities, and to help others awaken these great attributes in others. Did it work a little for you? 

Thanks for reading. John