Simple Living in a Complex World: Transitions, Aristotle, and Coming Home

Selling a house can be an emotional undertaking, a journey of self-discovery. It is a bittersweet experience as we downsize to simplify our lives.

Our peaceful home and the soothing nature reserve alongside it has been a haven to me and our family for almost two decades. It’s a place where I connected with my soul on walks in the forest, where I have meditated in the stillness and beauty of the valley, where our family appreciated the beauty of nature.

However, I’m coming to realize that a large part of my motivation to acquire this property was my need to prove myself and it has consumed much of my energy. That my worth has been tied to this place came, in part, from my early upbringing, driven by the voice of my mother who lived through poverty in the depression and who defined herself by her belongings as a result. This drive for status acquired from material possessions became part of my personal identity and has been a weight on my shoulders.

Like all patterns we create, this pattern has both a good side and a destructive one. I still love an aesthetic home that feeds my soul and am proud that we created that space for myself and loved ones. However, I know that the source of the drive to sustain it was not good for my wellbeing. In the words of the Quaker theorist of the simple life, John Woodman, I “necessitated to labour too hard.”

This struggle brings to mind Aristotle’s challenge to an external-oriented life which is as relevant today as it was twenty-three hundred years ago. He identified “external goods” as wealth, property, power, and reputation. These still create the standard vision of success in our modern times. Aristotle contrasted these external goods with elements of character or the “good of the soul”: fortitude, temperance, justice, and wisdom. When we consider what we truly want for ourselves and our children, are we overly concerned about being wealthy and successful? Or is success a means to the higher goal of being a good human being?

This transition to downsizing has inspired me to reconnect with my deepest self. Letting go is agonizing, yet it is leading me to a deeper homecoming to my authenticity.

I am looking forward to living more simply in this complex world, with less pressure and more focus on work that matters to me and the activities in life that I truly value. It’s never too late to start anew. And a huge reminder of this is that my new granddaughter, Juno, has just arrived! I look forward to spending more time with her.

Here are three lessons from my experience that I hope will be useful on your path to a simpler life:

  1. Practice making decisions based on sustainable values, not emotions. Decisions motivated by appearances, impressions, and impulses most often lead to a financial burden that you don’t need to carry.
  2. The good life is not one of consumption or size or external appearance, but of the flourishing of our deepest selves. It’s ultimately about the expression of love, giving of ourselves, and developing strong character.
  3. True belonging and worth ultimately don’t come from a physical place. They come from within.

MoverOne Group

This week I had the privilege of spending two days in Mississauga with an amazing group of leaders at MoverOne Group from across the country. This incredible team, whose brands include United Van lines and Mayflower, take care to a whole new level.

MoverOne Group’s focus and commitment to care truly unites them. Although I was there to teach them about leadership, they truly inspired me.

Fostering Well-Being in Times of Mental Fatigue – The Authentic Way

Brenda is a project manager at a large financial services company. For the past year, she has been leading a team tasked with developing a new product line on a tight deadline. She’s been working 60-70 hours/week, constantly juggling demands from her team, executive, and her clients. She has had to make numerous high-stake decisions under immense pressure. And she is a parent of three school age children.

She now feels completely drained, both mentally and physically. She’s having trouble concentrating and remembering key details. Simple tasks that were once easy now seem overwhelming. She’s getting cynical and detached from her work. She’s getting irritable with both her team and her family and lashes out at them over minor issues. Her sleep has been almost non-existent, and she relies on caffeine and energy drinks to get her through the day. And she’s on prescription muscle relaxants and pain medication for her headaches.

She’s starting to dread going into the office each morning and has considered quitting her job entirely, despite having worked so hard on this project. While this is likely an extreme case of chronic overwork, I hear versions of this story from many people these days.

What’s going on, and what can we do about it?

With fatigue and burnout, we see symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, impaired judgement and decision-making, increased forgetfulness, irritability, decreased motivation, increased mistakes, headaches, cynicism, changes in sleep patterns (e.g. insomnia), and increased absenteeism. I suggest five strategies for dealing with it:

  1.  Recognize. It takes courage to step up and be accountable. However, don’t confuse courage with the temptation of martyrdom. It takes humility – a true evaluation of conditions as they are – to truly be strong. Honestly acknowledge if you have gone from a healthy sense of tiredness that you recover from on the weekend, to real exhaustion. There’s no shame in recognizing that you are burned out. It can happen to anyone who is conscientious and loses touch with their values. Remember: self-centered, lazy sloths don’t get exhausted.
  2. Reach Out. Carrying other’s responsibilities often comes with accountable people. However, it’s not sustainable. The lone-warrior model of leadership is, in the words of Ronald Heifetz, heroic suicide. Each of us have blind spots that require the vision of others. Reach out for help from a guide.
  3. Relate. This may sound strange, but you can make friends with your exhaustion. It’s not your enemy. It’s here to teach you. If you stop long enough to get your bearings – away from the demands of the world – you can befriend your exhaustion and ask it, like you would a friend, what advice it would give you. Write down the guidance you get. It’s possible to create a relationship with, and learn from, your exhaustion.
  4. Reflect. Exhaustion means you have lost connection with your values by allowing yourself to be suffocated by the expectations of others. Getting your bearings includes reconnecting with your values. Make a list of things that are important to you. Now arrange the items in descending order of their importance. Notice where you’ve placed inner peace, well-being, or whatever you want to call it. How important is this to you? What comes before it on the list? Many responsible people don’t make themselves a priority. The way you see yourself is reflected in how you treat yourself.
  5. Renew. You don’t have to change yourself. Living authentically means simply coming home to yourself. It’s that simple and it’s that complex. The healing journey isn’t an overnight venture, but it does start with a single step. Ask yourself, “What do I need to STOP, START, and CONTINUE doing to live a life that is aligned with what truly matters to me?” “What one small decision would make all the difference?” Reflect on how you can make yourself a priority – so that your caring and commitment to others comes from overflow, not emptiness. What agreements will you make? What actions are needed? What support do you require?

The Art Of Authentic Window Cleaning

The Art Of Authentic Window Cleaning

Two things that inspire me are people who have found their passion in life and people who use that passion to become masters of their craft.

Sandy Hutcheson, who founded Cochrane Window Cleaners thirty years ago, inspires me.

He just spent the weekend washing our windows. A true gentlemen with an uncompromising work ethic, a meticulous attention to detail, and an unyielding commitment to excellence, Sandy makes window cleaning an art.

More than a mere service provider, he is an artist whose passion extends beyond the physical act of cleaning. It encompasses a deep respect for someone’s home and a genuine desire to enhance their surroundings.

He wasn’t here to wash windows. He was here to help us see the world more clearly.

The Workplace as a Classroom for Self-Development

Work harder on yourself than you do on your job. It was a phrase that changed Jim Rohn’s life. As the legendary personal development speaker and author famously said, “If you work on your job, you’ll make a living. If you work on yourself, you’ll make a fortune.”

The best leaders are committed to life-long learning. They understand that the greatest gift they bring to relationships is a stronger, wiser, more self-aware person. As people grow and improve their capabilities, they amplify their impact.

Where do you go to learn? We’re conditioned to learn by going somewhere: to school, to university or technical college, to the internet, to articles, to books.

While these are all great sources of information and learning, what if we could also make life itself a classroom, and our experiences the curriculum? This mindset could revolutionize how we perceive the challenges we face. Every “problem” we encounter would be seen as an opportunity for personal growth. Every setback a chance to learn. Everything that happens to us could be viewed as happening for us.

What if all those things we find ourselves complaining about are presenting themselves as lessons? What if all those people we gossip about are there to teach us something?

Have you ever noticed that if you don’t get the lesson, you keep repeating the class with the same experiences? It’s like Bill Murray in the classic movie Groundhog Day. The events kept repeating themselves until he understood the lesson he was meant to get.

Here are three strategies for turning your workplace into a classroom for self-development:

  1. Assess Your Situation. Take a close look at your work environment to discover the potential for growth it holds. Take an inventory of your frustrations, stuff you complain about, and the things you dislike about your job. List the people that irritate you and those you gossip about. What stresses you? What overwhelms you? What activates your fear response in your work environment? (You can take a similar inventory in your personal life.)
  2. Renew Your Perspective. Start embracing challenges by seeing problems as stepping stones rather than roadblocks along your path to success. Ask, “What lessons am I meant to get from this problem?” “What is this difficult, insensitive boss here to teach me?” “How can I respond differently to those putting all these demands on me?” “What lesson is to be learned from not being appreciated?” Maybe you are meant to learn to be more clear or brave or kind. Maybe what’s required is more commitment or self-care or compassion. Instead of hiding by complaining or gossiping, start facing reality rather than running from it.
  3. Take Action. Decide how you will apply the lesson you have learned. Knowing that growth lies outside your comfort zone, what risks will you take? What actions are required? Who will support you? How will you hold yourself accountable? Apply the lesson and contribute to a healthier, more vibrant workplace culture. If you think it’s time to exit, be sure you’re not escaping from a difficult learning opportunity. Be sure you get the lesson before you leave. Otherwise, you’ll meet the same experience in your next job (or relationship). Regardless, if you’re committed, you’ll find a way. If you aren’t, you’ll find an excuse.

How Does A Leader Demonstrate Authenticity?

One of the best parts of my work is the incredible people I connect with and learn from, one of whom is Geoff Topping, Chief People Officer at Challenger Motor Freight. Amazing guy. Totally authentic.

In one exchange, Geoff mentioned that he created a list of how authenticity can be demonstrated in the workplace. It so inspired me, that I want to pass it on:

Ways Of Demonstrating Authenticity As A Leader:

  1. Admit when you need help, advice, or just an ear. This is a strength, not a weakness.
  2. If you learn something, read something, try something, and it works for you, share it. Don’t take credit for the idea. Share who taught you.
  3. Have mentors, coaches, or confidants; we all have times when we need these people.
  4. If you can and are qualified, be a mentor, coach, or confidant.
  5. Admit that you are a person. We all make mistakes, get sick, and sometimes have personal situations to deal with.
  6. Care about people. Really care. If it’s going to be acting, leadership is not for you; management might be, but not leadership and that is okay.
  7. Think “People First,” which means ensuring people have the opportunity, training, and tools to succeed.
  8. Take personal inventory, and when you’re wrong, admit it.
  9. Always take time in your day or week to reflect on what you need to do better, what you are doing well, and how you can improve.
  10. Take care of your health. Your body and mind are your tools.
  11. We all get Situationally Overwhelmed at times. This is normal and different from being truly overwhelmed. Sometimes, we need to step back and look at our to-do list, tasks, problems, etc., through different glasses.
  12. Find a work-life balance or blend that works for you, but remember that yours will not work for everyone on your team; help your people find one that works for them and the organization.

Thank you, sincerely, Geoff, for inspiring me with your authentic presence.

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