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.

JEKA AND THE POWER OF ONE: How Ordinary People Can Make An Extraordinary Difference

Not all of us can do great things. What we can do is small things with great love.                                                     – Mother Teresa
For more than twenty years, Jeka was my ticket agent at the Air Canada check-in desk at the Calgary International Airport. An ordinary job, you might say: greeting and checking in passengers, arranging flights, assigning seats, tagging baggage. But Jeka was no ordinary ticket agent. She was passionate about her job. She cared. Jeka would be at work by 4:00 AM, thirty minutes before her assigned shift. In the half hour before her colleagues arrived, Jeka would print out the names of every passenger who was due to check in that morning. She took the time to acquaint herself with the regulars, and would greet us by name and a cheerful “Good morning” when we hauled our tired bodies to the check-in desk for an early flight.
Jeka was forever jolly, and her ever-animated upbeat demeanor would always help start my travels a little lighter, a little more positive, and a little more willing to pass on her enthusiasm to others after our encounter. Our brief connection stood out as a highlight in the sea of transactions in the day of a business traveler.
Every Christmas I would get a personal card from Jeka, with a cheerful note of thanks for my loyalty to Air Canada and a message of appreciation for helping to brighten up her day in my travels.
I once asked Jeka what inspired her to be so friendly and ever so positive.
“It’s pretty simple. Air Canada has been good to me, but I’ve always been determined about one thing. I will never let a bureaucracyturn me into a bureaucrat. I just want to brighten up the day for every person that comes my way. Every time I brighten up another person’s day, it makes my day better. Whatever you give out, comes back to you.”
Last month I was passing by Jeka’s check-in counter and I made my usual stop to say hello and get my “Jeka hug.” I knew that retirement was around the corner for her, but I did not realize it was coming so soon.
“Tomorrow afternoon!” she exclaimed enthusiastically and tearfully. “After 40 and a half years with Air Canada, I’m going to be sitting on that big chair in the check-in area with balloons and a cake and I’m going to say good-bye to all the great customers and colleagues who have been so good to me all these years.”
As we hugged, I apologized for not being able to join her in the celebration and I asked if I could take her picture. As I walked away, I looked back briefly for one last impression of my good friend and bright spot at the Calgary airport.
“Don’t you go putting that picture up on Facebook now and making a big deal of all this!” she winked as she waved one final good-bye.
We really do make a difference. Mother Teresa was right. Not all of us can do great things. What we can do is small things with great love. In this one wild and precious life, each of us will leave a legacy. The question is, what will be yours?

Creating A Better World 5 Decisions That Will Change Your Life

I rarely fill in surveys for hotels or airlines when I travel. But yesterday, I took five minutes to respond to an online survey from Air Canada. They wanted to know how my Regina to Calgary flight was last week.
I had a great experience on this flight, and I told them so. But taking the survey made me think about a much bigger issue. What actually makes a great experience possible – whether on an airline, in a hotel, restaurant, workplace, or even a marriage? I have had some bad experiences with all of the above in the past. What is the common denominator? When I am honest with myself, I can see that every time I’ve had a lousy experience it’s because I’ve been in a lousy mood.
Quantum physics has discovered something that many mystics have long since known: that our perception of the universe actually invokes the very universe that we observe. If you change the way you view the environment around you, the environment around you changes. The world isn’t as it is. The world is the way we see it.
Don’t get me wrong. Bosses make a difference to the experience of an employee. Customer service people make a difference. Waitresses make a difference. And it is important to get feedback on how we are doing. We are all co-creating the world that we live in. We institutionally deny the fact that each of us – through our perceptions and our choices – is actually creating the culture – in our airlines, hotels, restaurants, workplaces, and marriages – that we so enjoy complaining about.
Deciding that I am creating the world around me – and therefore I am the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. A simple decision can change your life. Here are five decisions that will make your workplace a better place to work and your world a better place to live:
1) Decide to take 100% responsibility for your experience. When you decide, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time, your life will change forever. I learned years ago that I attract, even in some small way, what is happening in my life. Operating from this assumption empowers you. If you are unhappy, look at how you are contributing to the problem. If you can’t figure out your part, take time to ask people around you. They will help you out.
2) Decide to give to others whatever you expect from others. My parents taught me to “be careful what you give, for it will be what you get.” If you want good service, serve the customer service agent – with kindness, patience, and grace. Treat others with the same care as you expect from others.
3) Decide to be a contributor rather than a consumer. Consumer means to “destroy, squander, use up,” whereas to contribute means to “build, serve, make better.” It’s interesting that we now call this a “consumer” society. Decide to be a giver rather than a taker. Look for ways that you can make life a little better for every person you meet today. A smile, a word of encouragement, a little patience. These simple acts of caring go a long way.
4) Decide to care. Caring makes workplaces worth working in, schools worth learning in, relationships worth being in, and lives worth living. Caring is everything, and caring starts with a decision. Caring isn’t a feeling. Caring is a choice. Make a decision to care – about your job, about your co-workers, about your employees, and watch how your world starts to change. The power of caring was evident this past month by those who so generously have been reaching out in response to the Fort McMurray evacuees. (See my blog on the Fort McMurray fire.) Caring makes all the difference.
5) Decide to be grateful. You can always find reasons to be grateful. Gratitude is the antidote to entitlement (the attitude that you have a right to something just because you want it). Gratitude makes you healthier and the world around you healthier. The real power of gratitude comes when you are having difficulty finding anything to be grateful for. Gandhi reminded us, “Divine guidance often comes when the horizon is the blackest.”