The Journey – Poetry, Music and Imagery

Cavafy’s “Ithaca” remains one of my most beloved poems.

So, of course it came to mind last week while on a writer’s retreat when the discussion turned to poetry.

One of my favorite ways to experience the poem is by watching a stunning video that has a beautiful score by Vangelis. The poem is read by Sean Connery.

I invite you to experience it as well.

While there are many interpretations of this work, its essence is that the journey and the destination both matter.  The beliefs we take with us on the journey about our destination will determine much about the experience.  And the depth to which we experience the journey will only serve to help us better understand the real value of our destination once we arrive.

I have found success works like this.  We each define what success means to us and set out on our journey to reach it.  By the time we arrive, it will have changed because we will have changed from the journey and gained new understandings.

As Jim Rohn taught, more important than the goal itself is the person we must become to attain it. That is the essence and story of Ithaca for me. It’s a reminder to choose our destinations carefully and then travel well.

ITHACA [1910, 1911]

As you set out for Ithaca, hope that your journey is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery. Laestrygonians and Cyclops, angry Poseidon-don’t be afraid of them: you’ll never find things like that on your way as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, as long as a rare sensation touches your spirit and your body. Laestrygonians and Cyclops, wild Poseidon-you won’t encounter them unless you bring them along inside your soul; unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope that your journey is a long one. May there be many summer mornings when, with what pleasure, what joy, you come into harbors you’re seeing for the first time; may you stop at Phoenician trading stations to buy fine things, mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, sensual perfume of every kind- as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities to learn and learn again from those who know.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind. Arriving there is what you’re destined for. But don’t hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so that you’re old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way, not expecting Ithaca to make you rich. Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you would have not set out. She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you’ll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.

Have you considered the gifts of change?

The value of any disruptive change is whatever we choose it to be.

Does it in fact matter? How could it be helpful? Does it cause concern? Does it include joy?

In other words, are we happy about it? Sad? Angry? Afraid?

These are all natural and normal responses.

The key is recognizing they are also choices.

However, choice is not where our response begins.

Our attitude toward change shows up long before the choice is made and to some degree dictates the outcome.

In his book, Jumpstart Your Thinking, recognized leadership expert Dr. John C. Maxwell offers that our attitude acts like the “advance person” of our true selves. In other words, it shows up before we do, long before the main event. Over time it becomes almost instinctive. Because of that, every choice we make begins here.

It would seem then that this is an important concept to focus on when we consider where we want to grow. Do we have an attitude about change that is preempting its value?

If that is true, how do we change our attitude toward change? In the same writings, Dr. Maxwell offers this commentary about the role it plays: “It is the librarian of our past, the speaker of our present, and the prophet of our future.”  This statement holds the key. If our attitude is the speaker of our present, to change our attitude it would seem to mean we must first change how we speak about it.

Let’s start by considering what is on the other side of change – what gifts it brings and will leave in its wake.

#1- New People

Our lives expand based on the growth we allow in our inner circles. Every new relationship represents growth which is just another label for change. What are you encountering just now? What new connections are waiting there? Every best friend was once a stranger. Every business partner was once unknown to us. Change brings new ideas from new minds, new people.

#2- New Places

As a writer, place has been somewhat of a conundrum for me. We like the comfort of our “creative space” and can even begin to rely on its trappings. That was certainly the case for me. But when the creative flow stalls, quite often it is a change of place that allows it to begin streaming again. Once I realized that going to new places was a core fuel for inspiration, my attitude toward them shifted. But it’s not just about our craft. We need to experience new places to see life from a different lens.  Robin Sharma teaches that “The value of travel is not just the travel but what the travel makes of you.” Whether your travel is across town, across the country, or around the world – seek out a new lens on your life and work based on what you experience there.

#3- New Skills

Perhaps the most compelling gift of change is arguably this:  Change always brings something new to learn. That can be a daunting roadblock if we are afraid we may not be able to acquire that skill. As with people, recognizing that everything we know at some point was unknown to us can turn the dial of our attitude up. Everything we can do today, at some point we did not know how to do. And with new skills come new opportunities.

#4- New Ideas

Change is a wonderful stimulus. What we consider (or reject) changes based on new information. We find that we have greater agility for transferring knowledge and skill. We are able to cross-pollinate our understanding of how we work best. The words of Marcel Proust come to mind for this point: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Even what is familiar can take on new life, new breath when we allow change to adjust our lens and spark a new perspective.

#5- New Possibilities

This is my favorite because it’s the culmination of everything else. It’s the pinnacle of success when it comes to real change. When we integrate new people, places, skills, and ideas into our strategies, the possibilities exponentially grow.

We can change our relationship with change by changing our attitude toward it. We change our attitude by changing our perspective and how we view it, how we speak about it. What new people can I meet and serve? What new places can I experience? What new skills can I acquire and master? What new ideas can this generate? How does this expand the possibilities for my life and work?

In summary: What does this make possible? Once we embrace that question, we begin to master the power of true resiliency.

Live today like you want tomorrow to be. Live (change) well.

Rethink productivity: Balancing your list with your life

Hourglass time clock with sandEverything we have or do depends on one or more of these three resources:

Time – Money – Energy

It is easy to miscalculate their priority if we don’t understand one essential fact:

Only one of these resources is actually limited.

The other two can and are continuously replenished and remain available to us in far greater quantities than we can even imagine.

Only one resource is universally finite: Time.

Coming to terms with time being the most precious resource I will ever have caused me to re-evaluate and re-organize how I approach just about everything in my life. That understanding also created a marked change in my personal productivity. Those changes began to make time seem less finite because I was getting so much more accomplished! Where did all of that time come from?

Those results came down to five essential keys that have unlocked true productivity for me. They aren’t the usual suspects.  It’s not about “touching things once” or having a killer app on your phone or calendar reminder for “what’s next”.  Those can be important but they aren’t the essentials.  What I have learned and embraced is the importance of partnering with time as an ally. Seeing time as our most valuable resource and loving it for what it allows us to do creates a powerful partnership with it.  Perhaps these keys will open some life locks for you as well.   (These are written in first person, counting down in importance. Here’s a tip: Read this out loud. Say them and claim them for yourself!)

#5 – I don’t have to do everything.  WARNING: This point isn’t about delegation.  This is about choice.  I do not have to do everything.  Long to do lists do not create more meaning for my day. They only clutter the day with things that diminish what I can give to what really matters. It is far more satisfying to have 5 things finished than to have 10 things started.

#4 – Sometimes I serve others more effectively by NOT helping them (This was my hardest one to learn..) Allowing others to DO for themselves or even SERVE US is quite often a better choice.

#3 – Things sometimes take longer than I planned.  And that’s okay.  It’s important to be prepared to miss cutoffs or deadlines and to have a backup plan.  Delays are not failures.  They are just delays.  Accept them for what they are:  a change in the schedule, not a change in the plan.

#2 – New information needs to be factored into existing plans.  New knowledge can show up in many forms.  Our ability to remain fluid within change and discern when it is creating a “new” decision point is an important skill with managing our investment of time.

#1 – Being clear about what I want to accomplish is ultimately the most important factor in true productivity. Being clear means more than a general feeling or desire to achieve something. It means being really clear.  Less impressionistic – more photographic. Sharpen every pixel in the image.  This is what makes all of the decisions along the way productive in their outcome as we partner with time.

Five essential keys that have unlocked time as a partner in my life.  Perhaps they will for you, too.  Which of these would make the most productive difference for you? Start there.

Live today like you want tomorrow to be.

Live well.

 

 

 

Stop, Pause or Continue? Get the questions right for the answer

Has this ever happened to you? You had to take a break from something – fully intending to go back to it – but somehow never did. You did not mean to abandon the project, but in the end, that is what happened. If so, you are not alone.

Recently I had to make some decisions about things in my life and work and there were some that I was not ready to just stop. But other priorities had to take precedence so I had to make a choice. Even as I was putting some things on hold, in my heart I knew that for some it was a death knell. I would not be back. Because that is what happens, even perhaps should happen. The issue then might be how we go about the pause.

I have identified three questions to consider when you aren’t certain about the future of something. It could be a project, an investment, a relationship – it is just something that in the priority ranking needs to be temporarily (or permanently) culled out of your life. This dialog is what helps me make decisions with confidence.

#1 – Why am I doing this?

This is the first question to ask ourselves because our reason why we even started is always the critical barometer for our consideration. In some cases, the reason we started something doesn’t exist anymore.  That is the real reason it has drifted down the priority list even if we don’t recognize that at first glance. When that is the case, it’s definitely not a pause, it is a stop and we should treat it that way. End it gracefully and generously with compassion for ourselves and anyone else involved.

#2 – Why am I doing this now? Timing is the second factor. Context comes from timing. It is how we see the current importance of things. It may be that something else in our lives is stalled or on some kind of hiatus and it has affected this particular thing as well. When we understand what the relationship is of timing and dependencies, it makes it possible for us to make a decision about when (or if) we will re-visit our decision. It may be a pause for now until we can determine if a later timing changes our perspective and priority. A key distinction is that we actually choose a date (or other condition) to re-consider our choice.

#3 – How can I use this now? Leverage. This is where we have the opportunity to create good from whatever the decision may be. A transfer of value is always a good thing. And knowledge applied is knowledge valued. How much easier to consolidate than to cancel! Yes this was a good use of my time, money and energy and it’s brought me to the point that I now need to do something else. Now I will transfer my results of this and feel good about the investment. It really becomes a continuation vs. a cancel.

Three questions. A good place to begin testing our response to shifting priorities.

When we ask the right questions, the answers that come make the path forward clear. We’re able to make the choices we need to make to keep the right investments of our resources front and center. As we live today like we want tomorrow to be, it’s important to remind ourselves that what we want for tomorrow is also subject to change. Because everything changes as we change. It’s why the word today is so important in that statement. It’s about NOW. It’s about what we want for tomorrow right now so we can live it right now.

Live today like you want tomorrow to be.

Live well.

What would you do? Setting the right response in motion

A key lesson that I have learned over the past few years is that the easiest way to change how we respond to things or people we encounter is to have a system in place to help us. Frustration grows when it just seems like someone or something pushes our buttons every time. That trigger is going to continue to plague us until we change it. While it’s great when we can do that just by choosing to make that change, the reality is that it’s rarely that simple.

My experience has been that it really comes to down to sleuthing, solving the mystery, evaluating vs. judging. You see, that’s where I found the real issue. We can get so busy judging ourselves for our reaction, we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to understand it. When we understand it, we are equipped to change it in a meaningful and sustainable way.

What you give meaning to is what causes your emotion. Before you react know why you are giving something so much energy or fear. When you begin to understand why you give things meaning you can begin to change how you react and why you do what you do.  ~Shannon L. Alder

There are five key investigation tools to use that will help you master the art of reaction every time. Using the word REACT, let’s break them down.

R – Recognition

This is the first step. Simply recognizing it’s happening and taking responsibility for it. Just by asking ourselves if in fact we are reacting, we start a valuable chain reaction shift. We are taking responsibility for our side of the equation.

E – Emotion

Emotions are wonderful. They are such a part of what makes life such an exquisite experience. But they can also derail us when they are part of a triggered response. In my early training as an executive coach we broke this down into another acronym – FLAGS. We use that to identify the dominant emotion in our response. Fear, Love, Anger, Guilt or Sadness. FLAGS. Once we can pinpoint the emotion that’s involved we can begin to determine where the core response and put productive measures in place to handle it. If the trigger brings up guilt as an example, that’s very different from fear in terms of next steps. But in both cases, it is the initial recognition of the emotion that will lead us to the next right questions.

A – Attitude

What did you expect? Where are your sensitivities? Many years ago, when I was really struggling communicating with a fellow executive, I had a conversation with a trusted friend and mentor. He suggested that my sensitivities were high and that I was expecting a certain action and so that is what I saw.  My attitude was a conditioning agent. I had to first be open to a positive exchange before one could happen.  Being candid with ourselves about our expectations and attitude toward a person or situation is a critical part of our excavation to our solution.

C – Context

This was perhaps the most important element for me in a number of situations. Has someone ever asked you what a word meant and you weren’t certain or there were several possibilities? What do you normally ask them to do? I suspect it might be to ask them to use it in a sentence to help you better understand what it might mean. The context of anything is the ultimate lens for deciphering it’s meaning. What else is going on? Is it related? Not related? Is it influencing? One example might be that you’ve had a pretty long day and you’re physically exhausted. You’re tired. Does that seem to be a factor in some cases? Or perhaps there was an incident just prior that left some unresolved emotions that are spilling over.

T – Truth

What do you know to be true? This is an essential question because it allows us to get to the taproot of the situation quickly. When we take assumptions off the table or at least recognize them for what they are, we’re in fact clearing judgments and other potential mental or emotional clutter in reviewing our next steps.

R-E-A-C-T

RECOGNIZE what is happening;

Identify the dominant EMOTION;

Check your ATTITUDE coming into the situation;

Consider the CONTEXT of the situation; and,

Focus on what is TRUE.

That’s the process. That’s the system. Like anything regarding our personal framework, it’s also a skill. This can be your most effective system for productive personal change.

As a final note, remember that as we change ourselves, we are also creating the opportunity to change other people’s perspective of us as well. That’s especially true for those where we have influence but it’s also not limited there. When we employ this skill, we can inspire others to do the same. It creates a CHAIN REACTION that’s positive and constructive.

Live (react) today like you want tomorrow to be. Live (react) well.

 

When strangers shift our lives…

In her Sunday Paper this week, Maria Shriver talked about the fact that it is almost always a stranger that ends up shifting our lives. I had to think about that for a moment but in the end, I would agree.

The words of strangers can cut thru the fog of what is familiar. And when their words move us, we want to take the conversation deeper.

Certainly, the authors of books and poems that touch us fall into this place of meaning.

Maria’s words brought my thoughts from this past week together.

Have you ever visited somewhere you’ve never been, and immediately it felt like home? The photograph above is of the house where some fellow writers and I lived for a week on Cape Cod last year. It is a rambling old house, originally built in 1858.

It’s an author’s house dedicated to authors.  Each of the six bedrooms is dedicated to a notable writer from New England. Every morning we would gather around an old wooden table.  One of us would represent the author of our given room for the day. We would read, then agree on a writing prompt and do what we came to do – write.

One of those writers was the Pulitzer Prize winning American poet, Mary Oliver. The morning that we read her work was special. I already owned some of her writings but had never delved into them. That changed with that morning’s exercise. Since then her work has shown up frequently in my chosen daily readings.

When I learned this past week that Ms. Oliver had breathed her last breath here on earth it took me back to that time and place. She was extraordinary. Through her seemingly ancient and yet forever young eyes she could see, and then help us to see, the astounding world we live in.

We would all be well-served to follow her advice and instructions for living our own lives.

I’ll be returning this year to that old rambling house in Cape Cod. I’m hoping that this year, Mary Oliver’s room is mine.

In the meantime, I’ll be spending time with her voice in my ear hearing that most important question:

Tell me, just what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?