Tag Archive for: leadership

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.

Building a Case For Working Less and Producing More

Cal Newport’s recent book, Slow Productivity, builds a great case for showing how working less can lead to greater productivity and accomplishment. However, it isn’t about just working less and or discarding your work ethic. It’s about working with greater focus and deliberate action. In short:

  1. Focus on fewer things at once. By reducing the number of current tasks and commitments, you can actually complete more meaningful work over time. This allows you to give full attention to important projects rather than constantly context-switching.
  2. Emphasize quality over quantity. Newport advocates for “obsessing over quality” rather than just getting things done. By slowing down and focusing on craft, you can produce higher quality work with more impact.
  3. Work at a more natural, sustainable pace. Newport critiques the “unsustainable pace of modern work expectations” and suggests varying your work intensity over time rather than constantly pushing yourself. This helps avoid burnout in the long run.
  4. Measure productivity over longer timescales. Instead of trying to be productive every day, Newport recommends looking at accomplishments over months or years. This allows for periods of deep focus as well as necessary downtime.
  5. Reduce “pseudo-productivity” activities. Much of what fills our workdays – constant emails, meetings, and digital distractions – isn’t meaningful or impactful work. Saying no or having clear boundaries allows you to work less and accomplish more.
  6. Create space for deep thinking and creativity. Historical figures like Isaac Newton and Marie Curie made groundbreaking discoveries during periods of reduced activity. Periods of rest can lead to major breakthroughs.
  7. Build a “craftsman” mindset. By caring about the quality and impact of your work, rather than just visible busyness, you can produce more meaningful results with less frantic activity.

Newport’s “slow productivity” philosophy suggests that strategically working less – by focusing on fewer, higher-quality tasks and allowing for a more natural work rhythm – can lead to greater long-term accomplishment, reduced burnout, and greater meaning and fulfillment. The key is to be intentional about where you direct your energy and to prioritize depth over shallow busyness.

Calgary Fire Department Pensioners Association

We had a great time at the Calgary Fire Department Pensioners Association golf tournament at Valley Ridge Golf Club.

Wayfinders Wellness Society is grateful to have worked together with the Calgary Fire Department peer support team in support of mental health and wellness in the critical work of fire fighting.

13th Annual World Religions Conference

I had the good fortune of moderating the panel at the 13th Annual World Religions Conference in Cochrane this week, where we discussed Truth and Faith: How do we Know What to Believe?

The evening was intended to “embrace the mosaic of world religions and philosophies… where faiths converge & understanding prevails…”

We indeed witnessed the vibrant fusion of knowledge, beliefs, and traditions, and celebrated the harmony and unity that binds us together.

Thank to you to Rev. John Snow Jr. who offered an Aboriginal perspective, Michael Sabet, who gave a Baha’i viewpoint, Dr. Scott MacDonald, a Christian perspective, Dr. Daniel Haas, a humanist view, and Imam Zahir Ahmed, an Islamic perspective.


What does it take to be a good listener?

When a friend asked if my ability to listen came naturally or I had to intentionally learn it, her question got me thinking.I certainly don’t see myself as a great listener all the time. I have to keep working at it.

I developed my skill of listening when I was an insecure kid. Riveted with fear and self-doubt, it was simply safer to listen than speak and risk looking like a fool. Listening became my way of hiding from the world.

To this day it’s easier to listen and empathize with others than articulate my thoughts and emotions, particularly in an unrehearsed one-on-one conversation.

It turns out this skill was developed through adversity. A liability can be transformed into an asset. It has obviously been a strength in the work I do, but I have to be careful when it exceeds its function and keeps me from risking fully in life.

How to practice walking the talk with your values

I believe values need to be aspirational, not descriptive. The best values inspire you to better actions, not just define your current state. This is true with organizational values as much as it is with personal values.

For example, I have, historically, had a problem with control, anxiety, and patience. When I don’t have control I get anxious. And when I get anxious I get impatient. And when I get impatient I’m prone to taking it out on people around me – in the form of pressure, frustration, and disrespect.

My number one value is contentment, which means being satisfied and at peace with the present moment. However, this value is not a description of myself. It is an aspiration.

After speaking at a conference in Whistler, B.C., I caught a shuttle to the Vancouver airport (about a three hour trip). Traffic wasn’t as bad as expected and we got there early enough that there was time to catch an earlier flight. I found out there were seats available on the earlier flight for a $150 change fee.

I immediately went to frustration. I allowed the guest service person to take away my contentment and peace of mind. Annoyed, and upon reflection, I wondered why I gave my serenity and personal power away to a person I didn’t even know. Then I sat and re-read my values and decided it was more important to be contented than it was to be right.

I used the 90 minutes to relax, make some calls to friends, and reflect on what really matters in my life.
When I walked on the originally booked flight, I was a lot more contented than I was at the guest service desk.

I am practicing walking the talk. And I’m making imperfect progress.

What is your aspirational value?