Who is your favorite performer?
Some of the most memorable performances I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy have been Springsteen concerts. The Boss. I’ve stood in the sold out stadiums before the show started along with thousands of other people waiting eagerly for the music – and the magic – to begin.
And Springsteen really does create magic. In a matter of minutes, he seems to effortlessly transform the entire building and everyone in it into a kind of portal that vibrates with possibility, energy, and spirit. Throughout the rest of the evening, he takes his audience right into the music with him and allows everyone to become a part of it.
I have never left a Springsteen concert feeling anything less than incredibly inspired and somehow renewed – as though some part of me I didn’t even know I had woke up while I was there and begged to be released into the world.
A Curious Thought…
The last time I saw Bruce in concert I was musing over the fact that he, like all of us, has at one time or another most likely ordered a hamburger at a fast food joint or stood in line at the grocery store. And I reveled over what it would be like to be standing there behind him – perhaps before he recognized his own inner genius and believed in it enough to write and record the music that would inspire others to give life to their own.
Would I Know That I Was Standing in the Presence of Greatness?
Could I somehow feel it? Or would I move through the rest of my day unaware of how close I’d come to magic? And then I began to wonder about the people I actually do stand in line behind in the grocery store these days. Who’s to say that one of them isn’t destined to touch the lives and transform the worlds of many as well with their own unique talents and passions?
Do You Know Greatness When You See It?
In December of 2007, the Washington Post persuaded Joshua Bell, one of the finest classical musicians in the world to be part of a social experiment. On a cold January morning, this internationally acclaimed virtuoso stood leaning against a wall next to a trash can in a Washington D.C. metro station with a baseball hat on his head playing some of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth over $3 million dollars.
Over the course of the forty-five minutes that he played, a total of 1,097 people passed by this musician who only two days prior played a sold out theater in Boston’s Symphony Hall where the seats averaged $100. Only seven people stopped and stayed – most of them only for a minute or two. Twenty seven gave money, mostly change, for a total of $32 and some cents. He ended each piece with no applause, no acknowledgement of his performance – or even his existence.
If people could be in the presence of someone like Joshua Bell while he was performing without stopping to appreciate and savor it for even a moment, perhaps it is also feasible that we are in the presence of greatness every day in some way – without even knowing.
It could be in the person who serves you your morning coffee, the guy in the cubicle next to you, one of your own children.
Maybe it could even be the person who stares back at you in the mirror.
Are you at your wits end in your job, career, relationship, life in general? Experiencing delays, frustration, confusion, and even a little fear? Well, you might be closer to achieving something amazing than you think.
This week’s video post continues the play by play in the life of a caterpillar that I started on last week’s post, only this time from the inside of the cocoon (or chrysalis, if you want to be technically correct). I hope you enjoy it!
What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.
– Richard Bach
Do you ever feel like you are in the middle of some kind of transformation, but not yet clear on exactly where you are going and what form things are going to take? Speaking from my own experience, it can be a bit unnerving when you are in the thick of it. You may feel as though you’ll never find your way through.
They say it helps to find inspiration from those who have gone before you. On that note, this week’s video post (which I filmed a few years ago when my daughter was still quite young), features a caterpillar.
I hope you enjoy it.
We have all experienced times of pressure, anxiety and sudden change.
When jobs are tenuous or organizations are restructuring, it might feel as though life itself is turning upside down. Frustration and turmoil is a common response to this kind of uncertainty and disorientation. It can lead to exhaustion and hopelessness. But consider this as you think about the things in your life and career that may feel as though they are spinning out of control…
What if the only thing standing in your way of perfect peace, true productivity and the satisfaction of living a life of purpose – was your thinking?
I know it may feel as though you are at the mercy of your circumstances. However, even in the worst of situations you have more control than you might realize. One of the key attributes embodied by extraordinary leaders in all walks of life is encapsulated in the word “responsibility” – not just in a moral or ethical sense of being accountable for our actions, but also – and perhaps just as essential in times of change and chaos – remembering that there is wisdom in recognizing that we have the ability to choose our response. And that the response we choose will have a resounding impact on ourselves and everyone around us.
Start with awareness.
The greatest change agents start by recognizing what they have to work with before they can create change that will be sustained. They assess their environment to determine what the best entry point for that change is before they make their move. They don’t waste their time worrying about things that are truly out of their control, like changing the weather. Instead, they focus their attention and energy on those things that they do have the ability to influence and start there.
Extraordinary leaders know that the most powerful and sustainable change must start from within themselves.
Watch your stories.
The thing that fascinates me about a seemingly chaotic state of affairs is not so much what is happening, but the stories we are telling ourselves about what it means — and the impact those stories are having on the way we are responding to it. When we react to things with fear, we end up amplifying that which we are afraid of and adding to the anxiety. Our fears drive us to act in ways that keep us from acting on our intuition and finding the answers that will truly serve us. Sometimes, we end up behaving in ways that make our fictional stories become real.
As an example, when you tell yourself a story about what is happening that leaves you feeling threatened, you may find yourself closing up and treating others with suspicion and mistrust. The way you are behaving toward people may well provoke a response in them that appears to validate your fearful story. However, in this scenario, it is very likely that their behavior is more of a reaction to the actions your story led you to take than anything else.
Our fearful stories are like the viruses we protect our computers from.
These nasty viruses are often embedded in emails that pique our curiosity or rouse our fear. When we unwittingly activate them, they spread often uncontrollably and we risk passing them to the computer of our friends, associates and countless others. The viruses corrupt our systems until they no longer function effectively. Like computer viruses, our stories have a way of spinning us out of control and interfering with our ability to rise up to our challenges to find the opportunity that is always there waiting for us to discover and leverage it.
Our rational minds want answers and security.
They need to figure everything out and almost automatically occupy themselves with trying to sort through data to arrive at conclusions. The problem is that our minds are plugging imaginary variables into the equation that end up further exacerbating the anxiety we are already experiencing. When they are done with one variable, they plug in another and the churning continues, leaving us with an uneasiness that keeps us on edge.
What’s the worst that can happen?
In the grip of this madness, sometimes the best thing you can do is indulge your mind with a variable that will allow it to do its thing. Go ahead and plug in the worst case scenario. If the worst possible thing happened, what would you do? Alloy yourself to sit with that question for awhile. Let the fear move through you and keep asking the question, what would I do that would allow everything to be OK? If you sit long enough with your question, you will arrive at some workable alternatives and reconnect with that part of yourself that is strong, resourceful and resilient.
Armed with the knowledge that you will be OK in the worst of scenarios, you can come back into the present and recognize your fearful thoughts for what they are – fearful thoughts. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, which I pass along frequently is don’t believe everything you think.
You have everything you need.
In the present moment, devoid of your stories about variables that are truly unknown, you are OK. And when new events begin to unfold, if you stay in the moment and access your inner wisdom, you will know exactly what you need to do – or not to do – to be OK then too. And as you go about your daily life in this way, your calm resolve will permeate your interactions with others and through your example, you will help others to rise up to their challenges in ways that unearth the greatness in themselves as well.
For more tips on navigating through change and uncertainty, check out my book, The Pinocchio Principle ~ Becoming a Real Leader, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Ever notice that just when you get comfortable, life has a way of shaking things up? Some people seem to enjoy change more than others. Most of us prefer to be the ones doing the changing – it brings newness along with a sense of control – we are at the helms, steadfastly steering our ships. But imagine if you will, that a massive wave summoned by a hurricane has ripped the captain’s wheel right off the ship and you are left clinging to something that no longer has any power. The tighter you grip it, the less energy you have to deal with your circumstances in a way that will truly serve you (and everyone around you as well).
At times like these, we often pray for the storm to pass – for things to revert back to the way they were – or for a specific course of events that we believe would be life’s perfect solution. These solutions are based on what we think we know – which is largely a product of what we have already seen and experienced. And relying upon the patterns and strategies that worked for us in the past is often inadequate for our present and emerging challenges.
The world is changing and so are we.
We tend to strive for comfort and familiarity, even when what’s comfortable isn’t necessarily effective or even satisfying anymore. We wish and pray that the chaos be removed and order be restored. But often life’s little disturbances are exactly what we need to reach our true potential and escape complacency. Perhaps as Eckhardt Tolle wrote in The Power of Now, “…what’s appears to be in the way IS the way.”
Stormy seas (and life’s sudden surprises) have a way of testing our resolve and our resiliency. Pressure brings out our extremes – for better or worse. And fear does funny things to people. At its worst, it produces panic – a physical state that literally disables the brain’s ability to think clearly. At one extreme a person is frozen by fear and at the other he will thrash about like a drowning victim who pulls his rescuers under the water with him. The key to surviving a seeming assault of this kind is learning to relax and stay calmly aware of our surroundings so that we can identify and creatively utilize the resources at our disposal.
One of the most critical resources in our control when all else seems beyond it is our perspective.
The way in which we view things determines the story we tell ourselves about what’s happening, which directly influences the responses we will have. If we believe we are helpless victims at the mercy of something that seeks to destroy us, we will become bitter, resentful and apathetic. In this state our true power remains dormant. We collude with our view of reality to create a condition that validates our doomsday stories and sink even deeper into the abyss. Those who try to rescue us from our self imposed paralysis risk being dragged beneath the current created by our own negativity.
If, however, we view our predicaments as adventures and see them as opportunities to give things all we’ve got, we reach deeply within ourselves and tap reserves of courage, wisdom and ingenuity we never realized we had. In the proverbial belly of the whale we find our inner grit and creatively rise up to life’s challenges in ways that transform us and everyone around us as well. We become the heroes of our own stories.
Regardless of who you are and what you do, there will come a time when the plateau you have been walking upon takes a steep turn in one direction or the other and you will be required to do something that stretches you beyond your usual way of doing things.
Perhaps it will be in your career. The work that fulfilled you at one point in your life may no longer be enough. You might find yourself doing something very well but suddenly devoid of the gusto you once did it with. It could be the company you keep – people who at one time shared your interests and passions but who you suddenly find yourself no longer wanting to spend a lot of time with. Maybe it will be your lifestyle. The objects and material possessions you that once gave you joy could one day feel more like clutter or distractions. These things become like shells that the hermit crab has outgrown. The crab must release its previous home and step bravely and vulnerably into the unknown in order to find something more spacious.
The quest for a new shell and even the new shell itself may feel daunting, clumsy and overwhelming. But the act of letting go of the old to make room for the new allows us to evolve and realize our true potential. Anything less will ultimately become imprisoning. When we allow ourselves room to grow, life’s little and big disturbances are not so daunting. We know there is more to us than meets the eye and finally step into our own greatness. And as we do this for ourselves, we model the way for others to do the same.
For more tips on navigating through change and uncertainty, check out my book, The Pinocchio Principle ~ Becoming a Real Leader, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Maybe it became more pronounced the more you thought about a certain situation or person. Perhaps you were unable to trace it to anything in particular, but noticed that at certain times it seemed to grow stronger, while other times it may have faded or even gone away altogether. What do you tend to do when you experience heaviness or anxiety such as this? Do you tell yourself to suck it up and increase your intensity to weather through it? Do you become stifled and slow under its weight? Do you try to stuff it down with distractions such as food, alcohol or diversionary activities that allow you to become numb?
Now, think about the times when you have felt light, energetic and strong. Do they have anything in common? Certain people? Activities? Thoughts or associations? During times when you have felt this way, you may have wanted to continue with whatever you were doing for as long as you could – maybe even losing sense of time and space. And the longer you did, the more pleasurable the experience became.
What if these feelings and sensations actually served a purpose? And what if instead of trying to run from the unpleasant ones, you allowed them to bring you to a place of self knowledge and discovery?
The other day, I was playing a game with my kids. They had hidden something they wanted me to find. As I walked around the room, they shouted out the word “warm” as I was getting closer, and “hot” when I was in striking distance. When I was moving away from the object, they used the words “cool” and “cold”. The thought hit me that perhaps this simple navigational system is not all that different from the way our bodies communicate with us every day.
I can recall a time when I was offered a position within the company I worked for that I believed I would be crazy to turn down. Along with increased responsibility and pay came prestige and the opportunity to build relationships with people who I believed had the power to substantially elevate my career. However, the nature of the work I would do was quite a change. I tried to convince myself that it would be for the best -allowing me to grow and learn. And as the books and periodicals began to arrive that contained the knowledge I needed to become proficient in this new role, I felt my stomach turn. I wondered if it was my imagination that even a glance at these book covers almost produced a gag reflex.
I convinced myself that these were just the jittery feelings everyone experiences at the prospect of taking on something new that requires a journey out of the comfort zone. Each day, I hung in there going through the motions of transitioning into this new position. As I introduced myself to my new customers to let them know of the services I would be providing, I felt a slight sense of incongruence – almost as though I were wearing someone else’s clothes while ignoring the fact that they simply didn’t fit. As I heard the words coming out of my mouth pledging my commitment, I dismissed a feeling of dissonance that came back to haunt me in my quiet hours.
I was miserable. Over the next few weeks, I had trouble sleeping and felt irritable, impatient, and increasingly superficial as the emotion behind my smile was hardly genuine enough to keep the corners of my mouth turned up. Something had to give.
“Cold…. colder… icy cold.” If my kids were there, they would have nailed it. It took me longer than I would have liked to recognize what was right in front of me. I had sold myself a bill of goods whose cost was far too great. And I had numbed myself to that pain with a story that twisted the truth and had me believing that the only losing proposition was not to buy it.
I secretly dreamed of being free of it all, doing the work I loved again, and having the freedom to take that work to the next level. My fear of taking a leap into the unknown had been eclipsed by the pain of paralysis and self deception. Nothing could have been worse than what I was experiencing at the time. And as I allowed myself to believe in a new story – one that told me that if I invested even a portion of the energy I was demanding of myself into following my heart’s desire, I would be back on a path that would allow me to restore my sanity and experience congruence with my true purpose once again. The more I entertained these thoughts and ideas, the lighter and more energized I became.
Sure, I dreaded the conversation that came next with someone who would be stunned that I would want to leave a position others coveted. It could have been career suicide – at least that’s what the weaker part of me would have had me believe. But career suicide was better than a slow death of a thousand cuts, so I decided the discomfort of this conversation couldn’t possibly compare to the misery I had allowed myself to endure. I set my intention on allowing everything to work out for the greatest good – in a way that would let the company and myself win. And as I sat in that chair looking into eyes that stared curiously back at me, I found the words I needed to reclaim my freedom and allow the organization to benefit as well. We were able to identify an alternative that allowed me to apply my true talents within the company and give someone whose strengths and interests were more aligned for the position I moved out of the opportunity to come into it and flourish.
Exercising the courage to take that leap was one of many steps I have taken since that moment that has led me to where I am now – in a business that I love, working with clients I am blessed to be associated with, in a continual process of exploration of the wonders of leadership and life. It seemed to set a series of events in motion that continued to challenge my fortitude, faith and commitment to putting into practice that which I believe. A new client of mine asked the other day – “Do you love every single day? It is really all wonderful?” “Of course not!” I replied. I have my ups and downs just like everyone else. But I have learned to stay in touch with my own personal navigation system and when I notice I am down for longer than what seems reasonable, I practice inquiry to find out what the emotions and physical cues have to tell me.
I have seen many others follow their own internal guidance to make changes that better aligned their talent and passions to organizational opportunities that they may not have previously known existed, or to those they created themselves. When we stop feeding ourselves lines about what we should be doing and instead do what we know in our hearts to be our true work, we reach a level of freedom, satisfaction and performance we didn’t realize we were capable of. The blinders that kept us from recognizing what was right in front of us fall away, and we can step into new, exhilarating worlds of unending possibilities. In the process, we show others how to rise too.
I think we are all in some stage of finding ourselves. We discover the path and lose it again, sometimes to learn just as much about ourselves through the diversions as the recoveries. The navigational tools we have at our disposal are often instruments we didn’t know we had. There are no instructional manuals, no diagrams, no customer care centers to call and get all the answers from. We learn how to use these tools through simple trial and error. How familiar are you with yours? What are they telling you now? Are you listening?
Over the history of time, there have been among us people who dared to dream big and ended up creating something magnificent as a result. What they had in common was not their station in life, their family inheritance or even necessarily a solid education. Many rose up despite odds that would suggest their lives would be quite ordinary, or insignificant, perhaps growing up amidst gangs and violence and poverty to become leaders whose life stories would inspire millions of others from all backgrounds and circumstances.
What is it that differentiates these people from the rest? And what can we all learn from them?
People who do amazing things in the world often have a dream that they lovingly nurture and protect. From somewhere in the depths of their being, they know they are capable of greatness – not because they were born into it or are particularly more gifted than everyone else, but simply because it is their birthright – as it is for all of us.
Each one of us has the ability to create something extraordinary. We all have different talents and strengths, diverse styles and passions – along with a unique combination of experiences (for better or worse) that allows us to discover and apply them to create something bigger than ourselves. We may not know exactly what form it will take, but if we pay attention to the whispers and yearnings of our hearts, we begin to make out the shape of something that beckons to us.
As children, most of us received mixed messages. We may have been encouraged to follow our hearts and give life to our dreams, in addition to being conditioned to be practical, hedge our bets and take the safest route. Over time, many of us have allowed the roar of public opinion – that often tells us our dreams are frivolous, selfish and unlikely to come to fruition – to silence that small still voice within. But those among us who have risen against their odds have learned to reverse that process and believe in themselves and their dreams despite the overwhelming evidence around them that would suggest that success is improbable.
The beginning of each year brings with it the question of what we will focus our time, energy and resources into accomplishing. It is an optimal time to reacquaint ourselves with our dreams and visions, our purpose and values, and the question of how we can become living examples of that which we most admire. You may be quite sure of what it is you would like to create, do, have or become. Or perhaps you have only small pieces of a bigger puzzle that has not yet come together.
The power of your dream will be bolstered by the degree to which your vision expands beyond your own interests to those of others around you. Spend some time contemplating where you feel most drawn and why. When you land on something that will allow your gifts to align with those of others to accomplish complementary goals, you will join forces with something much greater than yourself. It will lift you up when your energy is low and sustain you through moments of doubt and fear.
Perhaps the whispers of our heart and the calls to greatness that we feel within our souls are essential components of a larger, collective plan that we each play a vital part in. As we rise up to play these parts fully and wholeheartedly, we can revel in the beauty of its mysterious unfolding. In the process, we will discover ourselves to be greater than we thought we were and use each moment of our lives to create something extraordinary for ourselves and others.