Saturday, October 17, 2020

What is “Help”?

I don’t really know who suggested I read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” when I was a teenager.  It might have been my Dad.  I do remember conversations with him about the book.  My sister Kitty was also a fan.

One of my key takeaways from Rand’s writing was the idea of “self-care” being branded as “selfish”.  That somehow, those who had pursued a creative vision and amassed a certain success owed something to those who had sat back, not pursued their best, or made excuses with all the reasons that they were hobbled or victimized and therefore unable to advance themselves.  The rejection of this notion is what led Galt and his compadres to Colorado to create a community of creatives who pulled back from allowing society to be vampires of their work, effort, and contribution.  It was an extreme story line with all kinds of gaps, frankly.  The underlying message though rings true for me today and contributes to my desire to take 100% responsibility for the circumstances of my life and my part in all relationships, as well as to enjoy a life of good self-care, and to pursue creativity and adventure. 

And, it leaves me with a question… “What responsibility do I choose to take for those in need?”

Pondering this has led me to think about the idea of help and “What is helpful?”  I realize now that I have stepped in to help many people and groups in my life.  And, many times, they had not asked me for help.  Or, they didn’t ask for the help that I perceived they needed.  A story from 2006 sticks with me.

I’m in a village about 25 miles from Tamale, Ghana, which was a three day drive from the capital City of Accra on the south-facing coast of Western Africa.  I had met up with a friend from Los Angeles who was visiting a Peace Corps volunteer and looking at possibly funding an eco-tourism project in the region.

We stayed in a small compound with three mud huts.  Electricity service was on about 50% of the time, however cell phone reception was perfect.  There was no running water, but each compound had a 55-gallon drum that was filled each morning from the village well by the youngest members of the household.  Life was simple, pleasant, clean.

One morning, I asked Rahim (the teenaged houseboy for the Peace Corps volunteer) if I could accompany him to the well.  While at first he was reluctant, I persisted, and he agreed to have me tag along to observe the daily ritual.

What I saw was beautiful.

The young people of the community each carried containers to the well and while there played a dance of roles and connection.  The youngest of the young manned the manual pumps.  The older ones flirted with one another.  Everyone contributed in the end, and disbanded after a time to carry their containers back to their respective families.

While we were walking back, I noticed a standard American-Style water spigot sticking out of the ground beside the road.  “Rahim,” I asked, “What is that about?”

“Oh, that’s been there for 20 or 30 years.  Someone from America put in a water line from Tamale.”

“Wow,” I said with a puzzled expression.  He could sense my confusion and went on to say, “Oh, it doesn’t work.  It hasn’t worked for years.  We really never needed it, so no one cared about fixing it.”

Later, I connected some of the dots of Rahim’s explanation with others in the village.  And, it shifted the story in my mind of what communities on the African continent are really about, what is really needed, and the Western story of “help” that I had been exposed to throughout my life.  I realized that my perception of “help” often comes from my perceived solution for someone else’s life.  And, when I step in to provide my version of help, I often rob the individual or group involved of the opportunity to take responsibility for their own circumstances.  And that is 180 degrees opposite the desire in my own life and the lives of others.  Yikes!

So, how then shall I live? 

My posture today is to pull back a bit from those who in my perception are not “all in” in their own lives.  By “all in”, I mean, taking responsibility for their lives and their current circumstances, pursuing their best, seeking and creating stability and peace, before stirring up chaos and confusion.  This posture may put me at odds with some of the systemic cultural issues of our time and the long-term victimization of certain groups.  It may also put me at odds with those who have accepted or become dependent on my “help”.

And, it’s a place to start.  “What are your thoughts on Help?”

Onward!

V

 

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Finding Joy

A good friend shared an article the other day on the absent imagery of our US President and his family at ease and at play.  The article reflected back on Ronald Reagan on his horse or chopping wood, the Kennedy's frolicking on the sea shore, W at his ranch, his Dad out fishing with the grandkids, and other scenes.  This is important imagery for all of us.  It shows balance.  Humanity.  Connection.  Joy.

To me, it highlighted the importance of play.  Especially when life sucks.  And more so when we're leading the charge.  Play unlocks the joy of simply being alive.  Even when we have very little, or are oppressed, depressed, or stressed, play works wonders.  Play draws us to our center.

A walk to nowhere in particular.  A morning coffee basking in the rising sun.  A hike to a high spot with a view.  A downhill mountain bike ride.  A paintbrush and a blank canvas.  Getting a sweat on not because you need a sculpted body but because you simply love getting a sweat on! Creating movement or art.  Finding the "yahoo!"

The second part of play (and equally as important!) for me is to reflect on how I've played.  To remember it.  To hold an image of what it means to play.  To feel joy.  Because, according to the neuroscience folks, simply remembering a playful or joyful time lets your brain chemistry re-live it again!*  Even listening (or viewing, in the case of our previous Presidents) to someone else's story of play gives us the same neuro transmitter boost.  We 

all feel better.

I've written about play before.  So, consider this is a gentle reminder in the midst of a remarkable year.

Yesterday, along with two buddies, I wrapped up "The Seven Summit County Summits in One Summer Season."  Of the 54 or so 14,000 foot high peaks in Colorado, seven of them are in my county and I got on top of them all this year.  I love the views connecting the dots between the different mountain ranges.  The lung pain and light headedness on the ascent.  The sore feet and knees on the descent.  I love it all.  I'm stiff today and I love that too.  I feel alive.  And, that's how I find joy.  How about you?

Onward!

V

(*Cue up Simon Sinek's "Leaders Eat Last")


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

What is Enough?

In the midst of world turmoil, uncertainty, and chaos, what is enough?  Enough love and belonging? Enough creativity?  Enough money?  Enough friends?  Enough fun? Enough challenge, difficulty, or struggle?  What is enough?

I find the question difficult to answer.  I've lived in a "more" culture.  More is almost always better.  I think about conversations with friends though in others cultures and parts of the world and realize that "more" is kind of a US thing.  Hmm.

I'm sitting at my home in Colorado looking out on the Blue River.  It's beautiful as it makes the 37 mile run to the Colorado River and then westward to California.  When I got here in June it was running at 1,000 CFS (cubic feet per second).  Now it's running at about 200.  Is that enough?  Was it beautiful at 1,000?  Yes.  Is it beautiful at 200?  Yes.  Is it fulfilling its "responsibility" to supply water to the western states when running at 200?  Ah.  That's a different question!  

When I think of "enough" it brings up the difference between "needs" and "wants".  I need air, and the millions of people in the west (including me!) need water.  Beyond that, it seems like an awful lot of wants begin to surface.  I need "shelter" but is that a tent or a single family residence?  Perhaps I need a functional car to reasonably live, but do I need a new car?  Is my 26" wheel mountain bike "enough" or do I need to upgrade to the 29" technology?

During this pandemic, and like most everyone else, my circle of friends has shrunk considerably in terms of the people I've actually seen, shared meals, or played with.  At the same time, I've connected virtually in meaningful ways with a whole host of folks around the world like I've never done before.  What is enough connection?  

Perhaps there is a values question buried beneath the "enough" question.  "What is it I value in life?"  I value connection.  I value freedom.  I value integrity and self-responsibility.  Can I value those in my current "enough" place?

What is enough for you?

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Where is Reverse?

"Chris, I'm stoked you want the Van at your house by the beach.  It makes a lot more sense than having it bake in the desert.  I'm going to miss it."

"Absolutely.  What all do I need to know about it?" he asked.

"Well, the rebuilt engine is perfect.  Everything works on the interior.  The A/C blows cold which is a treat with these old Vanagons.  But Chris, I have to tell you, there is no reverse."

"No reverse?  What do you mean?"

"Just that.  There is no reverse.  You can only go forward, so be careful where you park and think first before going anywhere that you might need to back up, because you can't.  There is no going back."

"Well, isn't that interesting..."

Is there a metaphor for life in there?  Can we ever go back?   I'm reminded of the quote that is attributed equally to Emerson, Holmes, and Einstein... "A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions."  How will your life move forward from this worldwide shared experience?

Onward!

V

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Can I Commit without Certainty?


Find me anyone who could have predicted this current reality four months ago.  Go ahead.  And yet, here we are. It matters not whether you are a front line worker, an executive, an urban dweller or a rural rancher. I defy you to find anyone who would have said this was the way 2020 was going to play.  Okay, so what can we learn?

The future is uncertain.  In fact, it is always uncertain.  There is no such thing as certainty when we are predicting a future.  And, at this stage of life, I tend to go the other direction when anyone comes at me with certainty.  After this year, even Annie singing "the sun will come up, tomorrow..." has a very small question mark built in!  So, how then shall we live?

In 2019, when I was writing "Waking Up:  8 Questions That Will Shift Your Life (Or Help You Do Nothing)" I was not contemplating the sort of plate scraping that was going to come this year.  If you've read the intro to the book, you'll know that much of what had driven my adult life came to a screeching halt in 2006.  What I thought was a fairly predictable trajectory became a minefield of confusion and uncertainty.  So, back in the day, I started asking myself some good questions, lived through all kinds of transitions, and took about 13 years to put pen to paper.  And then 2020 hit.  And my plate is scraped clean in a whole new way.

The details at this point are less important to me than recognizing the difference between what I can do today versus what I cannot do.  There is a lot I can do.  And there is much that I cannot do.  This is true for most of us.  So, while my commitment to Good Self-Care remains, I'm not doing yoga classes at the gym or swimming laps at the pool.  I'm walking (a lot!) and getting on my mountain bike.  I tried video yoga classes but soon realized that a big draw to yoga for me was the social interaction with the familiar faces that go to my gym.  So, my commitment remains, but the actions change.  And, that's the beauty of commitments!  When I commit to a path, or a way of living, or a certain strategy, I don't need to know exactly how the action steps are going to line up.  I can trust that the answers will arrive as I stay true to the commitment.

Do Good Work is a commitment that falls under "Good Self Care" in my life.  Instead of creating flashy websites, podcasts, or selling products in my field, I've chosen to follow the path of good work.  Show up.  Do the gig.  Give clients the best I've got.  Move on.   I've believed that when I do good work, more work shows up.  And it's worked.  And then, the world paused.  All of my work went virtual.  I'm living in front of a Zoom screen supporting folks I've worked with over the past four decades.  Paid gigs have come to a virtual halt.  While not the ideal for me, it's not bad, and I'm giving it the best I've got.

One of the questions I've been asking a lot lately is, "What is the decision to be made today?"  Because, for many of us, there are precious few decisions that can be made in this moment.  We're on pause.  We've "eddied out" to use a rafting term.  We're in a Neutral Zone, to use William Bridge's "Managing Transitions" language.

The idle time might be a perfect time to become curious about my commitments.  New information (a worldwide pandemic!) has shown up.  How might my commitments change?  What commitments remain?  It's an opportunity to update the picture of myself and try out some new things without making big sweeping long-term decisions.  The world will evolve forward.  It always does.  There is no "Reverse".

So, even in this time of uncertainty, I am finding that I remain committed to be a man of curiosity, with a spirit of adventure and creativity.  I remain committed to a life of good self care and authentic connection with myself and others.  I don't need to know how it will all play out (But, damn, I wish I did sometimes!) and I do know that I will continue to choose my next steps in alignment with those commitments.  How about you?

Onward!

V

Friday, April 17, 2020

Are We People First?

My good friend Dave Gilbert asked if we could talk about maximizing the way we meet in virtual space, so he turned on the camera and this is what you get!  A Big Idea right now is to remember that we are all in a shit show.  And, importantly, we are people first and then leaders, parents, or whatever.  We're human.  When I'm wanting to react to someone in a critical or judgmental way, I can stop and ask myself, "What would a more generous response be?" 

Another Big Idea that flows from a "People First" commitment is to shift my focus to not just the content of what we're working on, but the context, or how we're working on it.  Let's be kind.

Onward!  V

(This was my first ever podcast and I've since improved my lighting and camera angles. 😀 )

Friday, March 13, 2020

Is it time to go virtual?

Did my first virtual offsite yesterday with everyone on screen in their own homes . Everyone gave a quick visual walk around their space and I drew a circle with everyone's names on a sheet and held it up to my screen so they could "see" who was on their left and right. Did a breakout session in pairs and was in jammies the whole time. 

I’ve done plenty of virtual meetings but this was unique because it was focused on the connecting conversations as opposed to business content.  It's one thing to talk about spreadsheets and strategies, but another thing to create a safe space to clear the air, get to know one another as people first, and share courageous truths.  I'm very open to hearing thoughts, ideas, and stories about how you are maximizing virtual space.  Here are some thoughts compiled from friends and colleagues who work in this area:  Ten Tips for Awesome Virtual Meetings

Not ready to call it the new normal but it just might be that for a while.

Onward!

V


Saturday, February 15, 2020

How are You Showing up Right Now?

My goal as a facilitator is to meet the group where they are at and create a space for them to get what they want. Simple. And, I like simple.

There is a subtle complexity though which is interesting and challenging. How much structure should I bring? Should I bring a “hard edge” style or a softer, more welcoming and accepting edge? I can do the hard edge… short abbreviated sentences, clear instructions, little story or emotion, just the facts. And, I can do the soft edge… let the stories unfold a bit, embrace emotion, lead from a step behind yet still lead, keep a light grip on what is coming up and where the group wants to go.

I am noticing that many groups today are desiring the softer edge. In a rapidly changing and unsettled world environment, the soft edge seems to provide a refuge, a place of comfort, a sense of support. Not a free-for-all touchy feely love fest, yet a space that says “come inside for a time… it’s pretty tough out there right now.”

It makes me wonder about how this might translate to leadership in the workplace. Is it time for the kick-ass hard edge… or is it time to take a breath and recognize that we are people first and we all have fears about what’s lurking just over the horizon?

How are you showing up with your people right now? What would support look like… for them? Have you asked recently?