Simple Art of Living

Nellie McClung is regarded as one of Canada’s most prominent suffragists, helping to grant women the vote in Alberta and Manitoba in 1916.

In my library I have a book written by Ms. McClung, published in 1930, titled Be Good To Yourself, personally signed to my grandparents.

Here’s a quote from page four:
“We are clever people, efficient and high-powered, but in our zeal to get things done we are forgetting the simple art of living. Let us make a resolve – that we will begin today to relax, and loiter, and potter around, and be lazy if we feel like it once in a while, and take time to meditate, and watch the sun go down behind the hill.
Let us be good to ourselves.”

It appears that we have been struggling for some time with the challenge to s-l-o-w our lives down and remember the “simple art of living.” Being present in our busy lives to the experience of living is where life is actually lived.

I, for one, have spend much of my life setting goals and striving, while missing out on what life is actually all about.

While goals set the course for our life, it’s important to be mindful of what goals guide our lives. I think we all could all benefit from Ms. McClung’s advice and find fulfillment and meaning by being present to the experience of life.

Let’s make a resolve to bring more goodness to the world by remembering the simple art of living. Let us be good to ourselves.

We all have blind spots

Despite our sincere efforts to be a good leader, we all have blind spots – behaviors that are harmful to our leadership and we are unaware of. And because we don’t see them, we just keep managing the demands in front of us, with our blind spots leaving a destructive wake. Just as there is always a gap between what we espouse in our culture and the reality of our culture, there is always a gap between the self we think we present and the way others see us.

Unacknowledged blind spots will limit your impact and diminish your overall leadership capacity.

Five strategies for working with your blind spots:

  1. Make working with your blind spots a priority. Accept that you have them – we all do – and be committed to uncovering them. It’s not the blind spots per se, that are destructive. It’s our unwillingness to see them and work with them.
  2. Be curious. Carve out time for self-reflection. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have a sense of what our blind spots are. For me, one is when results aren’t immediate, and I’m stressed from not having the control of the outcomes. And when I’m stressed, I’m tense, and I question the impact I am having on my team. Other blind spot possibilities to consider include insensitivity to your people in a drive for results, over-valuing being right, a lack of strategic thinking, inflexibility, etc.
  3. Get regular feedback from people who know you and will tell you the truth. Feedback can come from a trusted confidant, a coach, or a support group. It can also come from your team – even if you start by making it anonymous.
  4. Acknowledge your blind spots and ask your team to elaborate. In my case, Marg, my VP of Client Care, elaborated on my blind spot when she explained that when results are down I have a tendency to disconnect from my vision, get stubborn and rigid, and resort to black-and-white thinking. This diminishes and disrespects the efforts of the team, while dis-inspiring people. Tension is contagious, and the team withdraws.
  5. Thank your team for their courage, recommit to make a change, and ask for their support. I find it useful, at this point, to craft an accountability agreement for how we will help each other grow.

Working with your blind spots is less about a destination and more about a method of travel.

Openly embracing your blind spots on a regular, ongoing basis restores your commitment to grow, keeps your vision fresh, and is a way for your team to continue to build courage, trust, and openness with each other.

CREATING A SATISFYING CAREER: How To Reclaim Your Mojo Through the Strength of Authenticity

When my daughters were planning their careers, I referred them to a quote from American philosopher and civil rights leader, Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask instead, what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is for you to come alive.”
There lies within every person a place where, when connected to it, we feel deeply and intensely alive. When we are in this place, there is a quiet voice inside that says, “This is the real me.” Where we lose all track of time. Where we don’t tire or need anyone to motivate us. In that place we are calm, creative, compassionate, committed, and capable. We’re accountable because we know that what we are doing matters and makes a difference. This is the place you find your mojo.
When we discover this place of authenticity in our work, it is called a vocation. When our life’s calling lies outside of our paid work, we call it an avocation. Both have validity and energy.
As leaders committed to creating authentic workplaces where people are engaged, loyal, committed, and accountable, we can help people discover their “real me.” Start by asking:
  • What makes you come alive?
  • What matters to you?
  • What is your own personal why, and how is this organization supporting you to realize that why?
  • How can we together create a place where you love to work?
  • What do we need from each other to take care of each other?
One of the primary barriers to finding our authentic voice is the reactive structuring of our lives. Allowing our to-do lists and the demands in our inbox to drive our activities ensures that the expectations of others will crowd out authentic discovery and expression. Combine this with the noise of a distracted world and you’ll eventually realize, in the light of time’s perspective, the vital task we’ve pushed aside – the task of leading a life aligned with our heart.
As we emerge from a summer of rest and fresh perspectives, there is an opportunity to reset the compass of our lives, develop a new structure for staying on track with our authenticity, and recreating a workplace aligned with our true nature.
Here are a few actions to consider:
  • Set aside time to ask the questions (outlined above) of yourself. You must be intentional and deliberate about discovering your authenticity. You can’t leave it to chance.
  • Shift from the list/reactive method to a boundaried focused approach to your work. While you may have parts of your day checking off your to-do list and responding to the expectations of others, block out time each day for uninterrupted focus on what truly is important to you and to those you love and serve.
  • Assess your mental fitness plan. Many of us have a physical fitness plan, but few have a strategy and accountability plan for strengthening our mental fitness.
  • Create a community of support and inspiration. Whether in the form of guides, coaches, confidants, or accountability partners, we all need to know we aren’t alone. Authenticity is a lonely journey, and it can’t be done alone.

Learning To Work With Anxiety – Not Against It

As a person who has struggled with anxiety most of my life, I’ve come to learn a few things about working with it. I define it for myself as “the attempt to control an uncontrollable situation in order to feel safe.”

Getting worked up, nervously pacing, impatience, micro-managing team members, criticism, irritability, worrying, concentration difficulty, being quick to anger, unfocused busyness, putting needless pressure on others, sleepless nights are all signs of anxiety.

Three strategies you may find helpful when dealing with anxiety:

1. Recognize indicators of your anxiety. Stop and acknowledge that you’re anxious. I find it helpful to pause and simply say to myself, “I’m anxious right now. And I am committed to finding helpful ways to deal with it in this moment.” I know when we are activated it’s tough to see it. But to avoid hurting ourselves or others, we have to be deliberate and disciplined about the practice of recognition.

2. Recognize that anxiety is a part of life. It’s a coping strategy. While it may have served you in the past, it’s not likely to be helpful to you today. A certain degree of anxiety seems to come with being conscientious. It’s not anxiety that is harmful. It’s what we do with it. Take a deep breath, recalibrate, and be present and relaxed – even if you still feel anxious. Some patience and compassion is recommended. What you don’t want to do is get anxious about being anxious.

3. Ask yourself what you’re afraid of. Then ask what are you trying to control in order to alleviate that fear. Know that fear is always about something in the future. Practice staying present, take whatever action needed that’s in front of you at this moment that will help you let go of control and fear, and keep walking calmly through whatever you’re afraid of.

Volatility Does Not Earn Credibility

Years ago, I had a boss who was emotionally unstable. He was quick to anger and got annoyed easily. He would often get upset about the smallest details. He was prone to irritation and annoyance.

He was well educated, talented, and bright, and when he was in a good mood, you couldn’t meet a nicer person.

But you never knew which temperament he would bring to work.

For a while, most of the team could tolerate his erratic personality, and I was too immature and scared to talk to him about the impact he was having on me.

It came to a head in a financial crisis. When the non-profit’s funding was in jeopardy, he was so stressed that we lost all confidence in him and most quit.

A true test of character – one of the cornerstones of credibility – is composure: poise under pressure. A self-confident manner provides steadiness and stability to those around you.

Three suggested strategies for gaining composure:

1. Acknowledge that losing your temper is never appropriate. It is not impressive or tough. It’s a mistake. It’s weakness, not strength. If you lose your temper once, I’ll be uncertain when you’ll lose it next. Emotional volatility is not only inappropriate, it erodes credibility and trust.

2. Recognize volatility within you. This can be tricky because anxiety, instability, and a quickness to anger can be so familiar we don’t see its effect on others. Be sure to get regular feedback from the people in your life.

3. Get some coaching. Learning to develop composure without shutting off emotions requires a level of precision and skill that rarely can be done alone.

The Acclimatization Of Success

Climbers who have reached the top of Everest say acclimatization takes several weeks when you get over 3000 meters. The idea is to expose the body gradually to higher and higher altitudes, forcing it to adjust, and then returning to a lower elevation that the body is used to, to recuperate.

Without acclimatization, even if you’re in superb physical condition, altitude sickness results. Symptoms of altitude sickness range from a mild headache to incapacitation and death.

I wonder if we need some of the same rigor when we climb whatever you define as your personal “Everest.”

Here are a few guideposts to help you acclimatize:

  1. Define what success means to you. Be sure this is your mountain, not a mountain someone else expects you to climb.
  2. Know your values and stay connected to them. You don’t want to gain success but lose your soul. Be careful that you don’t reach the summit only to discover you’re on the wrong mountain.
  3. Understand the difference between primary success and secondary success. Steven Covey defined the difference where secondary success includes position, popularity, public image, and profit. Primary success is about the person you become on the journey. Don’t confuse the two.
  4. Sustain your character. When your wealth is lost, something is lost; when your health is lost, a great deal is lost; when your character is lost, everything is lost. In an age of secondary success, polls seem to matter more than moral conviction, and what’s on the outside has become more consequential than what’s on the inside.
  5. Festina lente. Festina lente is a classical adage and oxymoron meaning “make haste slowly”. It was adopted as a motto by the emperors Augustus and Titus, the Medicis and the Onslows. Climbing the summit of success too quickly – without deliberate, thoughtful planning and a sustained connection to your heart – can be dangerous, if not fatal.