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.

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?

A New Year’s Message from David

I’ve been wondering what it is about New Years and the desire to make resolutions. Sure there is the tradition and the date on the calendar that gives us a perception of starting anew. But there is something else going on, a desire inside of us to keep getting better, to evolve, to give more. And the start of a new year seems to be a good place to start.

This Year Will Be The Best Year Of My Life

This year will be the best year of my life.

It will be a return to enjoying the simple things like family & friends.

It will be the year of less complaining & more appreciating.

This year I will dance more, laugh more & love more.

And be healthier than ever because of it.

I will live more consciously, deliberately, joyfully.

(Excerpted from the poem “This Year” by Steward St. John)

Kier Barker cited this poem when we spoke together at a conference a few years ago. Kier was born with spina bifida. His parents were told that there was no point in taking him home as he would live less than a week. Kier is now in his 60’s and doing well. He has faced and conquered immense challenges in his life and he is an inspiration to all who know him. A note on Kier’s website says: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

The year 2016 brought me a few storms. My brother, Hal, continues his third year on his journey with brain cancer. Diagnosed in November, 2013, he was expected to live about eighteen months. He is still at home, being cared for by his amazing wife and dedicated caregivers. I still value my weekly visits with Hal and his courage and grace continue to inspire me.

My sister, Kate, was also diagnosed with a brain tumor last year, but thankfully, hers was operable. In December she underwent a successful surgery and had it removed. Turns out it was a Grade I Meningioma, so the prognosis is good compared to Hal’s Grade III Astrocytoma. (I’ve learned a lot about brain tumors in the past three years!) Spending time with Kate over the holidays, we reflected on how precious and brief this “candle in the wind” of life is and were reminded of how to make this the best year you have ever had:

1)   Live well today. While it’s vital to have a compelling vision and focus for the future, we are made so that we can only carry the burden of twenty-four hours; no more. If you weigh yourself down with years behind you or the days ahead of you, your shoulders will bend and your back will break. The quality of your life is determined by your relationship with the present. The way to have a good year is to decide, every day, one day at a time, to have a good day. That good day will turn into a good year and that good year will turn into a good life.

2)    Change your habits, change your life. Once you decide to live well today, it’s good to realize that all life is a series of habits. If you want good health, find out the habits of healthy people and practice emulating them, one habit at a time. If you want to build a successful business, find out the habits of successful business entrepreneurs and change your habits. If you want a good relationship, learn and practice good relationship habits. A good life is a life of good habits. Good habits can include:

  • Walk everyday in nature. The sun and the air are good medicine for tired bodies and weary souls.
  • Watch less tv and read more. Spend one hour a day reading something that stretches your mind and makes you think more deeply.
  • Get more rest. Get to bed earlier. Learn to let go of all the stuff you can’t control, and relax. Breathe.
  • Take the most important person in your life on a date once a week.
  • Start the day s-l-o-w-l-y, and create pauses during the day to stop, appreciate, and go within. If you don’t go within, you will go without.
  • Bring an attitude of gratitude to everything you do. Look for ways to be grateful during the day and ways you can help lift the life of another.
  • Make it a habit of changing the habits in your life that aren’t producing the results you desire.

3) Decide to have a good year. It isn’t what happens in a given year that makes it good or bad. It is the response we choose to what happens that makes a year good or bad. Fortunately, we have the ability to choose our attitude and our response. One of the great revelations of our time is the awareness that changing the inner attitudes of our mind can change the outer aspects of our lives. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

Today I challenge you to choose to make 2017 the best year of your life so far. Some will think it is possible. Some may say that you don’t know what will happen in 2017 so how can you think it will be your best year ever? My reply is that my attitude and response will make it the best year no matter what happens. It is my choice.

2017 will be the best year of my life so far, and 2018 will be even better. How do I know this? Because I choose it to be.