Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XLVII

Start appreciating those that provided fruit. 

There was a young boy walking on the road. He looks off and sees a super old man planting a seed in the ground. The boy thought of the man’s foolishness in planting the tree. He understood  that the man would die before the tree grows to bear fruit. He calls out to the man, noting his foolishness. The old man turns towards him. He says “my whole life I have been eating the fruit off trees that people had planted before me.”

At the end of each Good Life Podcast the host Jonathan Fields asks each guest, “what does it mean to live a good life?” Trevor Hall told the above story,  as passed along from one of his teachers in India. At the close of telling the story, he continued to further shape his sense of a good life. He defined it as the point in life where you are able to step out of your own story. Freedom.

This story made the concept of service bigger than what I have shared in past posts. I do service because of the benefit that it gives me. The chance to step outside of my own life and get a different perspective. I rarely reflect on how much my life today is the result of others’ contributions to my life. Trevor Hall gave me that perspective.

So what does this look like in real life?

Late last month, my partner and I moved into a new home in the Oakland Hills. Every evening, interrupting the rhythm of making the home ours, we stop one another and say “what did we do?” This is our shorthand reminder, either of us says out loud, to remind us how grateful we are for our life.

Part of that gratitude is for my own hard work and grit. Another part is for the audacity to dream of a bold life.

In the packing process, I stumbled upon a vision exercise I did two years ago. Dozens of tiny post-it notes shoved into my office closet. The goal at the time was to be free with my dreams. I rapidly recorded ideas to ignore my conscious and limiting mind.

“House. Countless Windows. Nature. Patio. Private Office.”

It is all there, written on tiny bits of paper.

And now it is here.

And yet, that leaves out a large part of reality.

I thrive on connectedness. The belief that we are all fundamentally connected. In the words of the StrengthsFinder Assessment Tool, "Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger."

As I stare out on my tree surrounded patio, I find joy in recognizing others' contributions to my life. It confirms how I am connected to others. That I am not alone. All the people who stepped outside of their own story in service of me. The people who planted the trees that gave me the fruit I eat.

Conversations with girlfriends who pushed me to rethink my relationship with money. To see abundance over scarcity.

The excellence of my last coach in holding me accountable to the type of relationship that I wanted. Who championed me to saying no to everyone else.

The amount of sacrifice my dad took by immigrating from Iran.

Melinda Gates famously said, “If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.”

Spend 5 minutes today appreciating the people who planted the trees that sustain you.

Plant trees for others.

Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XLVI

If you want to thrive, invite in variety.

I am 5000 miles away from home, nestled on a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. San Miguel is full of hidden gems. The twists and turns of its roads offer limitless hikes, waterfalls, and viewpoints.  behind every twist and turn of the islands few roads. It is the perfect place to unplug from day to day life in Oakland and plug into nature. For me, nature is the space that I need to recharge.

Yesterday’s destination was a hike. The hike dipped below the cliffed edge of the land to two different ancient boat docks. Between the docks was a short climb back to the cliffs. Nestled halfway through terrain that my partner and I coined “the W,” was a gorgeous waterfall. Sitting on a rock no more than 500 feet from the ocean, the waterfall captured me. It’s flow was relentless. The spectrum of greenery drinking from it’s water caught my eye.

I turned to my partner, posing the kind of questions that seem to have space for debate when traveling. “How many different plants do you think are thriving from the water? Nestled below it?”

“1000 maybe. Give or take,” he joked at his ease in replying with such confidence.

“But those are only the ones that we can actually see from where we are sitting. What about all the smaller ones that we can’t see from here. The ones that live under the leaves of the bigger ones.” I got joy in imagining how much was out of our sight from down below.

We sat in silence longer.

I was holding my dismay from the previous day’s Supreme Court ruling in Trump v Hawaii. Alongside it was tremendous gratitude.  If the 70s were like today, my dad would not have immigrated here from Iran in search of an education. A “better life.” Today's America is different. It grants a legal gold stamp to “other” individuals beneath a veil of national security.

“What if our country could be like that waterfall?” I asked my partner. I was admiring the variety of plant species. Without the variety, there would be less to admire about the view that sat in front of us. The variety made the view worth our hour long pause across “the W.”

I imagined that the small ecosystem, nestled in the cove, had come to depend on the variety. Some of its beauty was likely introduced by birds or animals, coming from places further away. They had grown from non-native seeds. Some of those same plants were now likely thriving on other parts of the island. They had become part of the island’s existence. It may not have started that way. And yet it was here now, taking my breath away.

Variety is a window that allows us to see the same thing from different perspectives. It is fuel for change. It is the source of original ideas. It is the catalyst for movement into the future. Without it, we all fall down from suffocating stagnation.

Where can you invite variety into your life this week?

Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XLV

Every fire's flame needs space to be visible. Even you.

Fire – Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn
is the space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood….

Each Sunday, I spend 15 minutes planning the upcoming week. I assess "active" time spent coaching or facilitating workshops. Then I turn to the open space that exists outside of active time. I decide what to place in the space. The commitments I make to myself. I take on no more than 1 to 2 things per day, beyond the active time. I am intentional to make my goal possible. I want to feel accomplished. I walk away from my Sunday session with a solid understanding of the week ahead.
Until things change.

My schedule this week had two big fluctuations. I pushed a half day workshop out by several weeks due to unexpected absences at a client. I freed myself from my weekly drive to coach in Mountain View because of a change in client's schedules. Immediately I found myself struggling with what to “do” with the open space.

I felt guilty about having two half days suddenly available. So many of my clients and community struggle with “finding time,” and here I had time.

I told myself that I should finally “get ahead of my schedule.” I could review the workshops booked at the start of July and plan them now to create more space then – out in the future.

I feared that slowing down would mean the end to my business. That I would pay the price later for my laziness now.

I spent the first two hours of my morning finding ways to be busy and tie up loose ends. I replied to the not urgent and not very important emails in my inbox. I hung pictures on the wall that I had been meaning to do for months. I re-seasoned a new cast iron skillet. Anything to fill the space that existed before deciding what to actually do with the time.

I paced back and forth between every room in my apartment. I didn't notice my partner watching my discomfort. I was too distracted. As he left the house for work, he grabbed my arm to force me into a pause and poked at my dis-ease with unplanned space. “Maybe you could actually take the day off and enjoy the warm day in the sun,” he joked. I laughed knowing he was right.
I had an evening hike date with a friend who happened to be self-employed. I called her to make the case to move our date up by a few hours. She agreed with little hesitation, having just submitted a big deliverable. We broke our usual routine, venturing to a park we rarely explore. At each junction on the trail, we revisited if we wanted to go forward or turn around, each time pushing a bit further. We meandered for 9 miles. Arriving back at the car, I gave myself permission to resist checking email. I didn’t plug back in until I was home from our post-hike Taco Tuesday dinner at a nearby restaurant.
The 2 or 3 hours away from work felt like an entire day. I needed the space. Upon reflection, I realized it had been more than a month since I had even unplugged for an entire weekend. I love my work which makes it harder to allow the space.
My flame feels bigger today. I gave it oxygen to breathe. I decided not to put another log on the fire. I tended to the open space between the logs – just for a few hours.
We trick ourselves into believing that adding more logs to our fire will produce a larger fire. This is a lie. It does not. Logs without space will suffocate us. They will dim our fire.

This week’s invitation is to allow for space between the logs.

Trust that your flame needs the space.

Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XLIV

The greatest gift to receive is perspective

Twice a week I drive to the South Bay - a two to three hour round trip commute. I spend those hours with podcasts - squeezing in any opportunity to learn. Some podcasts help me strengthen my craft as a coach while others draw me in with their stories.  Ear Hustle is one of my newer favorites. It is a podcast designed to provide a glimpse into life at San Quentin. When I tune in, I broaden my perspective on humanity, find new ways to build empathy, and feel closer to my brother.

On my drive yesterday, I found myself shocked by the wisdom from men on death row. Most people's gut reaction to death row inmates is “what could I possibly have to learn from them?”

A lot.

“It is easy to be melancholy in a place like this. That is easy today. That is not hard to do. My sentence was sentenced to death. I wasn’t sentenced to be reformed. Any acts of redemption or self transformation that anyone makes on death row has to come from themselves. Who am I, why did I come here, and what is my purpose. And so if you can find out what your central purpose is in life, then that not only becomes your anchor but that becomes your alarm clock that inspires you each and every day to get up and want to do something to pursue that mission.”

Any acts of redemption must come from themselves. This is about finding and claiming your own sense of worth - separate from others. So many of my clients struggle to sense how they are doing without someone letting them know. We feel good when someone tells us we have done well. We feel bad when we are not rewarded in a way we deem appropriate by others. Or when someone expresses disappointment in us. Worse still is when people do acknowledge us, but we dismiss what they say because we don't see it in ourselves. These men have to see their own value to embody any sense of value. No one is going to give them recognition. Where might you give yourself recognition today? Where do you see your own growth?

“It starts in the morning. It is the most important decision each and every single one of us make that we take for granted. We chose to wake up happy or we choose to wake up sad. Make that decision. Hopefully, it’s happy. And then from that point on you know I just continue trying to figure it out. Why am I still alive? Why am I still breathing? Why do I still exist? And I think it is not a matter of knowing what that purpose is, it is about the journey and the discovery and understanding what that is. And it constantly changes.”

It can be so easy to see life as happening to us and impossible to see what role we play in our own life. This inmate challenges us to see that everything we do is an active choice. He reminds us that our lives are a series of active choices. Clarity comes from knowing what we are saying yes to and what we are saying no to with each choice. What are you choosing today?

"Being up there - what gives your life meaning?," the host asks. 

"I know the conditions aren’t the best, but it’s noticing the little things along the way that I am more in tune to seeing now than I was prior to getting here."

"Can you give me an example of something good that could happen during the day?," she inquires further.

"It could be something as small as walking outside and feeling the sun on my face. That is just one small little example that again people walk through each and every day without reflecting upon that one single instance that many just take for granted and I guess now because my life is just so slowed down, I can focus on those and it is those little things that make life beautiful."

Many clients see objectively that they have abundance in their life. After all, they are paying for coaching. Yet, day to day, it is hard to see that. It gets lost in the chaos of life. We naturally look to big milestones - a promotion, a relationship change, an upcoming vacation, shipping a product, signing a new client - and feel blank in the gaps between. We need big things to see our abundance. This inmate reminds us that it lives in really small things too. If we are willing to slow down to acknowledge them. Where do you have abundance today?

Similarly, I adopted a new perspective from Jack Kornfield last week. Jack is a renowned Buddhist teacher and practitioner. Tim Ferriss featured him on his podcast recently, giving me the gift of his wisdom.

At one point, Tim asks Jack, “what was the longest period of time that you spent in silence?” Jack’s response, without skipping a beat was. “I spent about 500 days. So less than a year and a half in silence.” Tim Ferris chuckled in the background. I did the same.

Efficiency runs our lives today. We fill the small, rarely available windows on our calendars with anything. 500 days is an unimagined luxury that feels long. Jack found it to be “less than a year and a half.” Imagine saying “I only spent 5 years building a company.” Or “I only spent 3 hours preparing for a presentation.” Or “I have only spent 10 years building my career.” Jack saw a lengthy investment as nominal. Where might an "only" perspective benefit you?

This week’s challenge invites you to find a new perspective. Who inspires you and what perspective might you borrow from them for the week?

Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XLIII

Everywhere you go, there you are. Until you are not.

“Transition always starts with an ending. To become something else, you have to stop being what you are now; to start doing things a new way, you have to end the way you are doing them now; and to develop a new attitude or outlook, you have to let go of the old.”  - William Bridges

The experience of travel is visceral. It is much more tangible than our day to day lives. When we are away from home, our senses - sights, sounds, smells, and tastes - become overwhelmed with novelty. The poignancy of travel memories make them the perfect entry point into larger reflections.

Travel becomes a milestone to evaluate the degree to which life has changed since the last trip. When I look back at my life, the years get clearer when I reflect on where I traveled each year. When I shine the light on a particular trip, the bigger circumstances of my life at that time is easier to grab.

I increase my degree of reflection when I look at different visits to the same destination. When I look at my visits to Minnesota, the place I grew up but have not lived in 15 years, the changes in my life are obvious.  When I look at the handful of times I have visited Paris, I can see who I was within each of the visits. I can see how the person I am existed even then. I can see what parts of me are no longer recognizable. If I drop myself back to the aimless walks I took across Paris, it is easy to recall the celebrations and challenges that met me on those walks.

Last week, I spent a couple of days in Colorado - a place I have lived twice and visited regularly. I have always held Colorado as my default place. The place I will eventually return to settle down. In 2013 when I last left Colorado, a friend said to me “You can take the woman out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of a woman.” I clung to that as my deepest truth.

Yet lately, I have had a developing sense that maybe Colorado will never be my home again. At first, the sense came in small droplets. I would be on a long drive in the Sierras - another mountain range closer to the Bay area - and feel home. I hike the same trail that is 15 minutes from my home in Oakland weekly and the earth beneath it is part of me. These are small invitations I thought would never rise to meet me outside of Colorado. And here they are.

Like most things that start out as a sense, my initial reaction was to deny their significance. I would lay out the facts. I would point to the span of seven months since my last visit to Colorado and know the reason things felt distant. Physically, they were. I would tell myself that when I next landed back in Boulder, my feelings of home would return again. Boulder's beauty would capture me, as it had on so many occasions.

And yet, when I was back last week, that didn't happen.

I felt lost. I was lost. On my second day in Colorado, I rose early to meet an old friend for a hike at one of my favorite trails. I navigated instinctively to Broadway, one of the main roads through Boulder, following a path I have driven thousands of times. After a few minutes of easeful driving, I found myself in a panic. I could not remember where to turn. I looked in my rearview mirror to try to get my bearings. I wanted to understand if I was too far South, having missed my turn, or if the road I needed was still ahead of me. The order of the streets was out of my memory. The forever familiar no longer made sense.

After a few minutes of discomfort, it became clear to me that I was no longer a Colorado woman. My identity had shifted. I couldn't see it from afar. I needed to be in it.

Last year, I wrote about William Bridges, a man who gave me a renewed perspective on transitions. Transitions are more than a change in circumstances. In his book, he says “Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work, because it doesn’t take.”

Moving across state lines is rearranging the furniture. Until I could shift my identity away from Colorado, I was still in transition. Though it has been more than 5 years since I moved back to California from Colorado, I had not let Colorado go, yet. Part of my identity still lived three states over. Everywhere I went, there I was.

Clients hire coaches in times of change - those that are already in progress and those that are just beginning. They want to rearrange the furniture. Others want to find their place in a world rearranged by someone else.

With coaching, come to realize that rearranging things does not create change that sticks. Change requires courage to see the identity of who they are shift. To transition away and towards at the same time.

For those of you navigating change, ask yourself:

  • What do I have to be willing to see about myself to transition to where I am going?
  • What do you I have to be willing to let go of holding to create the space for what is next for me?
  • How do you want to see yourself on the other side of your circumstances? Slow down enough to see the droplets of that version of yourself now.

Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XLII

There will never be more time.

“Time is a created thing. To say I don't have time, is like saying, I don't want to.”
Lao Tzu 

“I haven’t had time to write a letter,” my brother says forcefully. He was expecting me to understand his priorities.

“Time?” I say in disbelief, leaning towards him. “How do you not have time in here? That is all you have is time?”

I sit facing my brother, a tiny plastic table separating us. We are in the visiting room in the institution in which he resides - Sandstone Federal Prison. Families surround us - some drove days to spend their Sunday with incarcerated loved ones. Murals cover the walls. In the 3 years I’ve been visiting him, not one single mural has changed. Time stands still here.

I have mixed emotions about my brother's incarceration. Those feelings have visited in waves since he first entered the system in 2013. The emotion that most surprised me was envy. Envy for the large expanses of time he has had to be with himself. He has spent that time reading hundreds of fictions books for the first time in his life. He has studied new disciplines. He finally became fluent in Spanish. He wrote endless pages about his experience which he mailed to me for safekeeping. My envy was stronger earlier when I worked a high-stress job for a technology company. Then, time was the last thing I felt like I had. I craved the kind of space he seemed to have. One that seemed to include no real responsibilities. The abundant life I had on the outside seemed too full much of the time.

Fast forward 5 years and he no longer has time. On that Sunday visit, earlier this month, he explained his problem with time. There is never enough. His words resembled a conundrum explained by many of my clients. The same problem I come up against every single day as an entrepreneur.

There is never enough time. The actual, real limitation of 24 hours in a day, makes it impossible to do all the things we want or need to do. 

But, what struck me most about my conversation with my brother, is what came next.

“If I write a letter, it will take me all night, since I have to do it by hand,” he explained. We talk like this sometimes - my painting him a picture of life with technology and he doing the reverse. He continued, "I have something every night that the guys rely on me to show up for. I play bridge twice a week and I am on a team of four. My team needs me. Not that many people know the intricacies of bridge and we want to keep our team in good standing. Or we have to decide before lunch if we want to play pool because one of us has to skip lunch to reserve the table. I can't ask someone to do that and then decide, nah I don't want to play pool anymore. That would piss people off."

What emerged with his added detail is a different reality. Time is not the issue. Planning and prioritization are the real problems. It is never about time.

How should he prioritize his time? Does he focus on himself, the relationships he has on the "inside" or those that support him from the outside? What response will he get from his community if he lets them down by stepping away from bridge for a night? If he doesn’t show up one night, will they find a player to replace him? Is there quiet time outside of the evenings he can identify to write a letter? Will the friends and family expecting his calls be angry if he adjusts phone time to put pen to paper? What if he misses a critical conversation over bridge?

He is putting off the hard thing - writing a letter about something important and personal. He is putting off the thing that he wants for himself, but that no one else is expecting from him. He is saying yes to the things that others want of him to preserve the relationships that are important to him. He is saying yes to the opportunities immediately in front of him. He is saying no to investing in the future because it is quite literally very far away. Life on the outside that is becoming less familiar as the years' pass.

A funny thing reveals itself every time I visit my brother. Time passes so fast. One would think that 5 hours with one individual - no technology and no distractions - would feel like a lifetime. The reality is quite the opposite. I center my visits back to Minnesota, where I am from, around the trip to see my brother. I make it my priority.

We will never have more time. We will always have more opportunities to slot into the most precious limited resource - time.

Our relationship to time must be active. The commitment of our time must be a conscious decision. 

Try to sit in the driver’s seat and see your time allocation as an exercise in prioritization. Understand the reasons why you commit to the things taking up your calendar. Do you feel comfortable with those reasons? If you were to continue making decisions with that same reasoning for the next 10 years - What would be possible? What will you have left behind?