RECONNECTING IN A DISTRACTED WORLD

“The key to living well in a high tech world is to spend much less time using technology.” 
Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism 
Christopher Robin is a delightful 2018 Marc Forster film, starring Ewan McGregor. The story follows an adult Christopher Robin who had, years earlier, left behind his childhood friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, and with them, his imagination and source of inspiration. Lost in the demands of his work, Christopher finds himself disconnected from his family and from what matters most in his life. Strained and alone, he finds himself strangely reunited with his old stuffed bear friend, Winnie-the-Pooh, who innocently reawakens his imagination, sense of wonder, and playfulness. It turns out that going back to the Hundred Acre Wood wasn’t just good for his soul and his loved ones as they reconnected with the new found essence of their father and husband. Reconnecting with his authentic self allowed him to bring his vast untapped creative forces to his work that eventually provided a great service to his company and the world. His companions from the Hundred Acre Wood opened the door to his destiny.
I identify with this story. Like Christopher Robin, I have had my own periods of growing apart from the life I’m meant to live. I know well what it’s like to drift from my sources of inspiration, lost in the demands of others. At such times I wrestle with self-doubt and denial of my capacity to make a real difference in the world, settling for what others expect from me rather than staying connected to a deeper, more sustaining voice from within.
Years ago, I came across a quote that has been a source of inspiration for me over the years. It’s from Demian, by Herman Hesse, and reads, “each man had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself… His task was to discover his own destiny  – not an arbitrary one – and to live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.” 
For those committed to living a life of “genuine vocation”, I offer five strategies.
  1. Give yourself permission. A participant from my upcoming “Other Everest” retreat wrote to me about why he decided to sign up. “I’m at a time and space in my life,” he said, “where I want to do an ‘authentic’ dive into who I am, what makes me tick, and how am I adding value to the world. It’s time for me to begin my transformational journey.”
  2. Rethink social media. I see more and more people becoming progressively distracted and exhausted by our attachment to the world of social media. I’m also finding increasingly validated research that is substantiating the neurological, psychological, and societal impact of social media as an addictive activity. While there is no doubt it holds some entertainment value, some convenience as a source of communicating information, and some increased market exposure value, I’m no longer so convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs. I am currently wrestling with this matter, questioning the use of social media in my work and my life, and considering quitting it all together.
  3. Resist Compliance. Carl Jung said that disobedience is the first step toward consciousness. We are not here to fear or please those in authority and should realize that there is meaning and value in our acts of disobedience – not disobedience for its own sake, but as a fuller expression of our own unique humanity and purpose in the service of the greater good. The fact that we are resisting conformity may be a sign that we have begun to live our own lives. It’s about giving yourself permission to choose adventure over safety.
  4. S-l-o-w d-o-w-n and pause. Choosing a deeper, more substantive side of ourselves over superficiality requires giving ourselves time and space to think independently and to value the inward journey. Learning to be comfortable with the pause and the silence opens the door to authentic change. It’s an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we’ve lost our way. On a regular basis I find it vital to stop and ask myself questions like: “What nourishes me?” “What fulfills me?” “Whose voices am I paying attention to?”
  5. Stay connected to what’s real. The challenge of authenticity is to sustain our humanity when everything around us is being automated. Authenticity values direct experience over electronic or virtual experience. It means staying connected to the natural world, to human beings, to the entire spectrum that life has to offer. While institutions are built for consistency, efficiency and certainty, authenticity relies on variability, vulnerability, and surprise. Focus on the things that really matter, including spending more undivided time without distractions and with friends and family, enjoying the good things in life.
What are your practices for staying close to your own “Hundred Acre Wood?” How do you ensure that you maintain contact with an inner guiding compass and create enough stillness and playfulness in your life that you can hear the voice of authenticity?

HOLIDAY GREETINGS: LESSONS LEARNED FROM OUR CANINE FRIENDS

Having completed another “Other Everest” retreat for developing authentic leadership capacity last week, I have been relishing the experience. The group consisted of a remarkable collection of leaders from a variety of walks of life, committed to making a difference by being more authentic.
A central theme of the time we had together was slowing down and being present to what life presents. So, when my daughter shared a story that speaks well to what we learned last week in Banff, I thought it would be appropriate to share it in the spirit of caring and the upcoming holiday season.
The blog comes from VetWest Animal Clinics in Australia.
Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.
I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.
As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.
The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.
The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that dogs’ lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try to live.
He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The six-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay for as long as we do.”
Live simply.
Love generously.
Care deeply.
Speak kindly.
Whether or not you are drawn to dogs, here are some lessons we can learn from these canine critters:
* When your loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
* Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
* Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
* Take naps.
* Stretch before rising.
* Run, romp, and play daily.
* Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
* Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
* On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
* On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
* When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
* Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
* Be faithful.
* Never pretend to be something you’re not.
* If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
* When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.
That’s the secret of a good life that we can learn from a good dog.
Have a well-deserved restful and peaceful holiday season everyone.

THE YEAR AHEAD: Lessons From Selma the Sheep

At the end of each year I reflect on my progress and blessings from the previous year and clarify some of my intentions for the coming twelve months. In the midst of this musing I like to read the children’s book Selma, by Jutta Bauer. Selma is a humble little book about a humble little sheep that poses a big question, “What is happiness?”
Selma is a sheep who is happy when she eats a little grass, plays with her children, exercises, chats with a friend, and falls fast asleep. When asked what she would do if she had more time or money, Selma replies simply that she would do exactly the same thing: eat a little grass, play with her children, exercise, chat with a friend, and fall fast asleep.
As I look to the year ahead, three lessons from Selma come to mind.
#1. Bring an attitude of gratitude into each and every day. Selma is a great book with a beautifully delivered reminder that happiness comes from appreciating what you have. A consumer culture is very good at making us want more and more, implying that more is always better. Until we know deeply within ourselves what enoughactually feels like, we will continue to be seduced by the pursuit of more. When I emerge from the holiday season after spending time with people who matter most in my life, catching up on some good reading and simply being, I have a deep appreciation for these everyday blessings and I feel a profound sense of gratitude.
#2. Define success on your own terms. Selma is not admonishing us to sit around and do nothing. A ship is safe in the harbor, the saying goes, but that is not what ships are for. It’s important to spend time in personal reflection,  away from the voices of the world to discover your sense of purpose. Dream big. And then get to work to become the kind of person it takes to get there. A fulfilled life is not void of focus and disciplined effort, but Selma teaches us not to allow the world or the opinions of others define our success. Success must come from within. Happiness does not come from “getting” or “having;” it comes from self-respect earned through contribution, service, and dedicated labor devoted to a cause. Stephen Covey wrote, “If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you at your funeral, you will find your definition of success.”
#3. Live each day fully. Remember that life is lived not yesterday or tomorrow but today. In Salutation To The Dawn, The Sanskrit writer, Kālidāsa, reminds us that a life well lived is a life lived fully in the coming twenty-four hours.
Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth;
The glory of action;
The splendor of achievement;
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday
a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Live well, therefore, each day.
In this coming year may we discover within ourselves what matters most. And may we have the courage to live in alignment with our heart’s desire.

This I Believe

This past spring, in a year-long leadership program I help facilitate for the Department of Human Services in the State of Oklahoma, one of the participants introduced me to This I Believe, an international organization engaging people in writing and sharing essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives. Over 125,000 of these essays, written by people from all walks of life, have been archived on their website: www.thisibelieve.org – which is heard on public radio, chronicled through their books, and featured in weekly podcasts. The project is based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow.
Below is a list of my “This I Believe” principles that I hold to be important in navigating my own life and work. These are the underlying beliefs – my Personal Creed – that guide how I live and form a framework for the decisions I make. I found it to be a fascinating and inspiring exercise to reflect on what I believe – and I encourage you, as leaders, to do the same. As you read my list, take some to time to ask, “What would my personal creed be?”
  1. While I can influence and impact others, I believe that the only person I can change is me.
  2. I believe that maturity comes not with age but rather with acceptance of responsibility.
  3. I believe we are not just a product of our upbringing. We are also a product of our perceptions, our beliefs, and our choices.
  4. I believe that your life will change forever the day that you decide, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time.
  5. I believe in taking the time to clarify, live, and preserve a sense of purpose – a reason for being. When your why gets stronger, the way gets easier.
  6. I believe in the power of a dream. The purpose of having a dream is not necessarily to achieve it, but rather to inspire yourself to become the kind of person it takes to achieve it.
  7. I believe that one of the most encouraging facts of life is that our weakness can become our greatest strength.
  8. I believe that every experience is a potential learning opportunity. Within our wounds lay our greatest gifts and our greatest opportunity for contribution.
  9. I believe in four fundamental laws:
    • The Law of the Echo: Whatever we give will come back to us – ten fold.
    • The Law of Focus: What you focus on is what grows. Focus on the problems and they will grow. Focus on the solutions and they will grow.
    • The Law of Gratitude: A key to a good life is to always make your gratitude bigger than your circumstances.
    • The Law of the Lens: Who we are determines how we see others. We don’t see people as they are; we see people as we are.
  10.  I believe that the best present we can ever give anyone is to be present in the present. Life is lived now.
  11.  I believe that entitlement – believing you deserve something just because you want it  – never leads to happiness.
  12.  I believe that happiness is not a destination. Happiness is a method of travel. You are about as happy as you make up your mind to be.
  13.  I believe that good health is a precious companion. When you have your health you have a thousand wishes, and when you don’t, you have one.
  14.  I believe that the quality of an individual life has nothing to do with how long you live and everything to do with how you live.
  15.  I believe that success is not something you pursue. Success is something you attract – by the person you are becoming.
  16.  Like Scott Peck, I believe in taking the road less travelled – by choosing contribution over consumerism, service over self interest, and character over comfort.
  17.  I believe that leadership – the capacity to influence others toward a shared and worthy goal – cannot be reduced to technique or title. Great leadership comes from the identity and integrity of the leader.
  18.  I believe that caring is everything. Caring makes workplaces worth working in, schools worth learning in, and the world worth living in – now and in the future.
  19.  I believe in a God of my understanding of whom I continue to seek. At the end of my life I hope I can confidently declare that I have done my best to leave this world better than I found it.
  20.  I believe that the ability to positively impact others comes from being an integrated human being. I agree with Gandhi when he said. “A person cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.” Being a good leader means, first and foremost, being a good person.
 
If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.  – Mahatma Gandhi
The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to reflect their inner beliefs. – James Allen

A RESPECTFUL WORKPLACE – Holding Each Other Accountable To Create One

Just about every organization will have respect, in one form or another, as one of their espoused values. We are told that a respectful workplace is one where all employees are treated fairly, diversity is acknowledged and valued, communication is open and civil, conflict is addressed early, and there is a culture of empowerment and cooperation. This all sounds wonderful, but there still remains far too much bullying, intimidation, and incivility in workplaces where people spend much of their lives.

So what is your process of ensuring that the value of respect is actually manifested in your culture? Respect is one of those platitudes that receive a great deal of attention, but are you ensuring that it is actually lived – both at work and in your family?

I have a passion for accountability and below is a suggested process for holding yourself and others accountable for living any value that you wish to instill in your organization. I’ll use respect as an example.

Step 1. State your intent. When I open a workshop I make it very clear that respect is a value that I hold to be vitally important in my work. I then state that if anyone perceives in any way that I am not respectful of any person within the group, they can call me out on it – either personally or publicly. As a positional leader, you have to lead the way to make your intention clear. You set the tone. You must model the way.

Step 2. Turn values into behaviors. Unless you can clearly measure a value, you can’t hope to hold anyone accountable for living it. And a way you make a value measurable is to describe in precise terms, the exact behaviors that demonstrate the value, along with the results that the behaviors should bring about. In my workshop example, I tell participants that, “all my behaviors need to leave you feeling 1) safe – free to be who you are, and 2) better about yourself. If you don’t feel safe, and if your confidence is not enhanced by our time together, then I am not living the value of respect. And if this is the case, I invite you to bring it to my attention at any time, either privately or publically. I promise no repercussions for having the courage to do so.”

Step 3. Turn behaviors into agreements. Accountability is the ability to be counted on. By making an agreement that you will act with respect in the behaviors you described, you create a condition for success. What you agree to must be perceived by everyone as acting in alignment with your espoused values (in this case, respect). This is why every agreement must be accompanied by a support requirement. The support you require is that people bring it to your attention if there is a perceived incongruence. To cultivate accountability, you have to make it safe for people to have conversations.

Step 4. Continually reinforce your intent. If you are serious about creating a respectful workplace, then shine a light on respectful actions whenever you have the opportunity. Catch people being respectful. Describe what you saw in their behavior that was respectful and how it aligns with what you are committed to build. Before you start your next meeting, take five minutes to hear a story about how someone on your team acted respectfully. You, as a leader, will need to model the way by wandering around and identifying and tracking respectful behavior. Lead by telling the story first, until others have the trust and confidence to start sharing what they observe.

Step 5. Follow through. There is a difference between value statements and values. With no consequences, there can be no accountability. With no accountability, all you have are empty value statements, but no real values. Recently I was helping an executive team write their value statements. Respect was on the top of the list. We then clarified exactly what respect would look like on this team, what we all agreed to do to act respectfully, and what the organization could expect – and require – in terms of respectful behaviors. We then started to talk about one of the senior sales people who out sells everyone but is the most disrespectful person in the organization. After considerable discussion, I explained, “You don’t have to fire him, but if he continues to behave disrespectfully, and you keep him on as a sales person because of his sales competence, I suggest you cross off the value of respect and replace it with profit, because that is what you are telling your organization you ultimately value.”

Everyone wants a respectful workplace. Using these five steps can get you there. It’s imperative to remember that a respectful culture begins with self-respect. Anyone who abuses others doesn’t value himself or herself, and people who respect themselves have no tolerance for disrespect.

Most importantly, leadership means making it safe to have the conversations while ensuring there are no repercussions. Being respectful isn’t about being perfect or pretending to be flawless. Instead, it’s about acknowledging mistakes and being willing to talk about perceived incongruences. Respect means supporting each other to grow and develop in an environment that fosters mutual learning. Remember, we all have bad days or moments when we need the occasional reminder to stay vigilant.

Thank You For The Successful Book Launches

Friends have I with the world before me,

Sun above and the wind behind me,

Life and laughter, double-blessed am I.               – Brooks Tower

Thank you everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to come out and support me in launching my newest book, Caring Is Everything: Getting To The Heart Of Humanity, Leadership, and Life (Published by Gondolier). I have such amazing, authentic clients, friends, supports, and of course, family!

All the people who were at these events reminded me of what Albert Schweitzer, the theologian, philosopher, and physician once wrote: “In everybody’s life at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

Thanks to you all who rekindle my own inner spirit.

I very much hope you will read this book. For me personally, this is the most important book I’ve written. My connections at the book launches reinforced the messages from the book: how caring enriches every facet of our lives. It renders workplaces worth working in, schools worth learning in, our relationships worth being in, and the world worth living in. Caring helps heal those in need of healing. It inspires us to tend to our planet. It makes us better people. Caring guides us toward our authentic selves, to the lives we are meant to live. Caring truly is everything.

Taking on what I have come to call my “Caring Project” the past three years has awakened a dream to begin a global conversation about caring. My desire is to shine a light on the far too undervalued quality of human goodness. As you find time to wade through this book and the stories that I shared, I hope you will be inspired with your own acts of caring. And I would love to hear your thoughts on the book. And feedback that you care to share would be most appreciated. You are welcome to review it on Amazon:   https://www.amazon.ca/Caring-Everything-Getting-Humanity-Leadership/dp/1988440009/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479835978&sr=8-1&keywords=caring+is+everything

If any of you would like to help support my vision to make the world a more caring, authentic, human place to work and live, write to me: http://www.davidirvine.ca/contact. I would l love hear what you might contribute to this project. I have come to discover in the past few weeks that the book is a tool to create a much larger vision for a new kind of world that seems, at the time, to be out of balance.