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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.

AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP The Strength of Your Presence Means Being Present to Life

A participant who attended one of my leadership programs earlier in the spring has been traveling with her daughter in Europe and sent me an email with a line that has not left me: “…while traveling I’ve had time to not think at all, just wonder and be amazed…”
This put me into a reflective mode and I contemplated how, in a world filled with so many demands and expectations, we don’t have time even to think, much less “just wonder and be amazed.”
  • When was the last time you slowed down long enough to watch the sun go down?
  • When have you taken time recently to meditate, notice your breathing, and fully relax?
We are clever people, efficient and high-powered, but in our zeal to get things done we are forgetting the simple art of living. And I might add, the art of leading.
Since my schedule has tapered off for the summer, I am reminded how important stillness is in life; time to get away from the demands of the world and simply be. There is wisdom that can surface when we stop thinking, stop planning, stop doing, and make room for even a few minutes of stillness and attention to breathing. Whenever an answer, a solution, or a creative idea is needed, stop thinking for a moment by focusing your attention on what is going on inside of you. Momentarily get away from the burden of “thinking,” and become aware of the stillness. This may only take a minute or two, or it may require a walk outdoors. When you resume thinking, it will be fresh and creative. In any thought activity, make it a habit to go back and forth every few minutes between thinking and an inner kind of listening, an inner stillness.
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life,” wrote Socrates over twenty-four hundred years ago. While an overbooked schedule is exhausting, I wonder if he was also referring to the nature of the active mind, the human tendency toward busyness inside our heads. Whether it’s an over-extended timetable or a harried mind or a combination of both, be sure to take time, not just over the summer but in your daily living, to pause and be present to life. It not only improves your leadership; it makes life worth living.
If we don’t make time to befriend the present moment, to connect ourselves with the world around us and with the people who matter most to us, what is the purpose for doing anything else?

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.

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.

Caring Isn’t Done In a Day; Caring Is Done Daily

It is the time of year when we pause and count our blessings and we count all of you readers among them. By far, the best part of my work is the remarkable leaders I meet, learn from, and am enriched by. We consider ourselves so very fortunate to have connected with you over the years – you are all so special in so many ways. May you experience peace, joy and magic over the coming holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Rohatsu, Kwanzaa, Omisoka, or even Festivus, we hope your time with family and friends will be joyous, peaceful, and full of love. Remember to make time to slow down, be present, and stay grateful.     – David, Val, and Marg
This week I visited my dear mother-in-law who now resides in a care facility in Edmonton. With her dementia, she has become, sadly, irritable, depressed, and apathetic about her life. As I sat with her at lunch, she spit out her food and complained profusely about the most cheerful and loving aide that sat beside her feeding another resident. I reminded Mom to make an effort to be grateful for the dedicated caregivers that surround her. She looked away in disgust, and continued to complain about the staff. I smiled at Jennifer, the caring caregiver across the table. “Some people have a bad day,” she said softly and graciously. “And some people have a bad day more often than others.”
Charles Dickens said, “I have always thought of Christmas as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time. It’s the only time in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of people around them as fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
 
While it’s undoubtedly noble to stop this time of year, to reach into our pockets and give of our time and money, the real caregivers are those who care all year long, day in and day out, including those who care for the elderly, for the sick, and for the troubled, who work tirelessly and humbly behind the scenes day after day. Here are three things I learned from caregivers who care for Mary and other residents with daily diligence and relentless attention. May these ideas inspire us all to care more – not just this time of year, but all year long. Caring, after all, is not done in a day. Caring is done daily.
1) S-l-o-w D-o-w-n. Speed is not conducive to caring. Jennifer and her colleagues move slowly with the seniors and they care slowly. Like good artists, good caregivers see the world more slowly. The pace of our lives does indeed impact the quality of our lives. Everywhere I go people are insanely busy all year long, spending hours looking down at phones and devices, driven by the incessant tyranny of the urgency, struggling to keep up with it all. Even the holiday season has become another frenetic whirlwind of parties and shopping and trying desperately to meet ever-increasing demands. I find it very interesting that in the midst of climate change, disruption and global warming, the philosopher Piero Ferrucci says we are simultaneously in the midst of a “global cooling.” Human relationships are becoming colder. Interactions with others are becoming more rushed and impersonal. Values such as commercialism and efficiency are taking on greater importance at the expense of caring and simple presence. Have you ever tried to be efficient and “hurried” with a person in need? How does continual “hurriedness” affect your kindness, your connections, and your ability to influence and care about others?
2) Be Present. It’s been said that the best present we can ever give anyone is to be present in the present. There are countless opportunities to be present to those around us – whether at the grocery store, in the hallway in our office building, or around the kitchen table. Being presentto life brings quality to life. How often have you been stressed, simply because you’re not where you want to be right now? Most of us are creatures of movement and noise, agonizing about the past or worrying about the future. All spiritual teachers remind us that the present moment is the only moment where life is lived and can be enjoyed. If we live in the past or the future, we will miss the very experience of life. There is no stress in the moment. Stress comes when we start thinking about the future or tormenting about the past. The only way to thoroughly and enjoyably appreciate life is to become truly and deeply present.
 3) Stay grateful. We would all do well to take Dickens’ advice to slow down and attend to the people and the beauty and the life that surrounds us. We enrich our lives when we appreciate what makes it possible for us to have what we have, to be where we are, to appreciate what surrounds us. Open your eyes to the caring around you, not just this time of year, but all year long, and you will discover that caring is who we are at our very core. We simply have to pause long enough to notice it and be a part of it. Be thankful and filled with awe and appreciation, even if what you desire hasn’t arrived yet. Whatever holiday you celebrate this month, what we all share is the need for light in the darkest time of year. Gratitude brings light wherever you go. What we appreciate appreciates.
 You don’t get in life what you want; you get in life what you give. Or, said another way: be careful what you fill because what you fill will one day spill.
I found the following quote, written by an English writer, Elizabeth Bibesco, on a Christmas card hand-delivered to me by a good friend last week: Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.”

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?