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At What Cost?

A while back I was hiking in one of my favorite cities in the world – San Francisco. My hike began in Muir Woods, home to some of the giant redwoods that towered over my head like skyscrapers as I walked beneath them. Their perspective here on earth dwarfed mine by hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

 

My hike continued up nearby Mt. Tamalpais. As I perched at the top of the mountain, I gazed back down at the once towering redwoods, noticing how they now looked like little more than tiny toothpicks dotting the landscaped. I turned to my right and saw the mighty Pacific Ocean, stretching as far as the eye could see out into the blue oblivion of the horizon. The only object to disrupt its smooth surface was an occasional ocean freighter, which appeared as little more than a spec of dust in its vastness.

 

My hike concluded that day with a walk across the majestic Golden Gate Bridge. As I admired the beauty of San Francisco flowing over the hills like its famous fog, a HUGE ocean freighter steamed beneath me. I was in awe of its size and mused over how tiny it once looked lost amid the blue of the Pacific Ocean. It was in that moment, awash in all these different perspectives, that I realized that if there are 7 billion people living on this planet, then there must be 7 billion different perspectives of reality, all coexisting in the same space at the same time based on each person’s experience in life.

 

This past weekend I heard about something Google was doing with its Google Maps. The company was actually trying to communicate all those different individual realities of the world based on a person’s unique perspective. For example, to a Russian, Google Maps communicated that Crimea was part of their country. To a Ukrainian, the map looked different. To a Palestinian, Jerusalem was their capital. To an Israeli, Jerusalem was theirs.

 

This is a problem, and I think we are moving in the wrong direction in our world.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I strongly support the perspective of the individual. In fact, my personal mission statement declares, “… for when each person can celebrate themselves for who they are and what they have to offer the universe…”. I believe it is vital that we understand and celebrate our individuality and bring our special gift into the world . . . but never at the cost of the greater good. You see, my mission statement goes to say, “… then we will be able to celebrate and honor all people and the natural environment of which we are a part.”

 

I am worried about the current direction our human perspective is going, especially here in the U.S, but I believe that same perspective is also taking root throughout the world. Between our divisiveness in world views, our lack of trust in anything, the disappearance of any real truth if it does not agree with our individual ones, and our lack of compassion and understanding while expressing our individuality, I believe we have lost our way and tethering to what the possibility of being human has to offer. We are putting self above the whole, and I do not believe this is a strategy toward peace, a greater good, or the magnificent achievements of which we are capable. This individuality turns us away from caring, collaboration and problem solving and pushes us toward selfishness and ego-centered myopic views.

 

We are better than this. I know we are. I have seen and witnessed our magnificence personally.

 

We must not let this selfishness grab hold of us and lead us. That is not the pathway to our future. Our future resides in the ability to celebrate the individual in the context of, and commitment to, a greater vision for the whole. Absent of this understanding, we will never be able to realize the stunning potential we humans have and are capable of here in the Universe.

 

And that is what we must strive for.

 

“We are all angels with but one wing and only when we embrace each other can we fly.”

  — Luciano de Crescenzo

 

The Internet is an amazing invention. In many ways it has brought the world together as one and connected people across distances that we never imagined could be crossed. And yet, the Internet has also facilitated an individuality, a loneliness, a separation into silos of people, cultures, and societies.

 

I have no desire to argue the value of one over the other. They both do, and can, coexist in the same place at the same time.

 

I merely want to highlight a hope that among all that separation we somehow find a way to connect and unite behind something much bigger than ourselves or the individual. We are losing the connective tissue of society’s body, and when that happens, the integrity of the body begins to break down.

 

We must all make an effort to find and commit to something bigger than ourselves. We must all seek out that thread that sews us together more so than crowing about that unique quality that makes us different.

 

The truth is, we are the same people we were 20 years ago, 50 years ago, 100 years ago. What has changed are the tools around us. We must use them to build our humanity and community, rather than tear it apart.

 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

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A few months ago my niece and nephew re-introduced me to jigsaw puzzles. Not the easy kind, either. The difficult 1,000-piece kind, with so many similar color schemes and uniquely shaped pieces that you want to pull all your hair out.
 

At first I was incredibly frustrated as my puzzle skills and the typical puzzle-building strategies didn’t work so well. After a while though, I didn’t mind. I started to notice that working on the puzzle was replacing something I hated but was addicted to – being online. I soon realized how joyous it was to disconnect from my computer and engage my brain with a puzzle.
 

Still, it was frustrating; especially in the beginning when 1,000 scattered puzzle pieces seemed to have no organization, rhyme or reason. I would often stare at the mess of pieces on the table, desperately trying to force together two pieces I thought should connect, but obviously didn’t.
 
 

Finally, tired of failure and my inability to see any patterns, I would walk away from the puzzle. Sometimes I would not return for a day or two.
 
That’s when the magic happened.
 

During that time away it was as if my subconscious took a snapshot of the puzzle and worked on it while I slept and did other things. Miraculously, when I returned to the puzzle, I could instantly fit numerous pieces in place that I previously stared at for hours.
 

This happened every single time I walked away from the puzzle. That’s when I realized the bigger message here.  At some point this year I will be confronted by a challenge that I just can’t see an answer to in the moment.
 
That’s when I should “walk away”.
 

When I bump into that unsolvable problem, that is when I should let the subconscious work on the problem and trust that it will come up with the answer I seek. Nine out of 10 times that time away will bring the clarity I so desperately want and will deliver the answer I desire. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, there is often magic in doing nothing.
 

“Take a walk outside – it will serve you far more than pacing around in your mind.”

— Rasheed Ogunlaru
 

American culture is a one that rewards and celebrates action and busy-ness. There is a lot to be said for that as our country has introduced innovation after innovation to the world. However, that culture has also created a society that favors action over thinking. And as such, we have lost our ability to think, let alone think critically.
 

I’m not sure we even know how to access our thinking anymore, for every second of our life is filled with noise, distraction and the latest technology or social media update.
 

So, here are some things you can do to quiet the mind, access your thinking – and more importantly – let the power of your subconscious effortlessly do the work.

  • Take a walk/Go for a bike ride/Exercise
  • Take a nap/Go to Sleep
  • Go out and have fun with friends.
  • Take a shower/bath.
  • Watch a movie.
  • Read a book.
  • Or, of course, you could build a jigsaw puzzle.

 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

 

Boundless Love?

The other day I was driving around town doing errands when an older, slightly beat up, gold-colored car suddenly pulled into the road in front of me. I had to brake hard to avoid hitting them and I audibly yelled, “What the f*!#!” as my heart rate rose with my anger. Even with braking, I practically crawled up their tailpipe.
 

I figured it was another damn distracted driver looking at their phone rather than paying attention to their driving. And I really hate drivers who do that. I look forward to the day they invent technology that disables phones while a car is moving.
 

Then I saw the driver’s gray hair on a head that barely peeked over the car seat.
 

My heart instantly melted. I smiled, waved at them, and gave them all the space they needed as if to say, “Sorry. I understand. I love you.”
 

Over the past few years, two of the biggest changes in my life are that I became an uncle to a wonderful niece and nephew, and my Dad became a nonagenarian – he is an amazing 94-year-old! Two fantastic experiences at the opposite ends of life’s spectrum. And as a result, I have noticed that the ends of my compassion have grown immensely.
 

I notice that whenever I see a small child, I cannot stop smiling and sharing in their wonder and exploration of the world, for in their eyes, I see my niece and nephew. And whenever I see their parents, I send them love because I understand more deeply what a difficult, challenging and important job they have. In their struggles, I see the struggles of my brother and sister-in-law.
 

And whenever I see one of our wise elders walking our planet, I cannot stop smiling and honoring their journey, for in their slow careful steps, I see my amazing Dad, and I want to reach out and hug them and let them know they are loved, honored and appreciated.
 

It is truly miraculous what a dose of understanding will do for your life.
 

These are gifts I never could have imagined receiving in my life. My love for all has expanded through my understanding and compassion for a few. It is as if my new understanding creates an umbrella of love for all those around me . . . and I never thought my heart could feel such love for complete strangers.
 

And that, perhaps, is the greatest gift one could ever hope to receive in life.
 

“It is with true love and compassion that we can begin to mend what is broken in the world.”

— Steve Maraboli
 

We are once again entering the holiday season. One of my favorite times of year because collectively, we humans pause, even if but for a moment, and we think of others. It is hard to fully express the power of compassion. I imagine that is because she is a sister to love, another emotion people find hard to express in words. But I think that is OK, for perhaps it is better to express both of those emotions through actions.
 

This holiday season, why not test the bounds of your compassion and show someone how much you love them.
 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

 
 

Image Source/Credit: Nanou Monso

Stand for Yourself!

While studying India as a college student, I was so inspired by the principles by which Gandhi lived his life that I decided to emulate them as much as possible. So much so, that many months prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq I called one of my best friends and asked, “If I don a white robe, walk down to Washington DC, and sit in front of the White House in protest, will you join me?” The long, hesitating pause was all I needed to know. And it was soul-crushing.
 

Something tells me that prior to taking a stand against British colonialism, Gandhi did not call his best friend.
 

Needless to say, I tried to live my life with a humility I believe Gandhi possessed. I never wanted the spotlight, or to be the #1 guy, or the CEO, or the leader. In fact, I often say, “I don’t want to be the leader, but I will make the best damn #2 guy you will ever have.”
 

Then, about 7 years ago, I joined Toastmasters. (Toastmasters is a phenomenal organization that develops your public speaking and leadership.)
 

True to form, at first I simply listened and admired the amazing speakers in my club. Then I started taking roles to support the group and be in service to them. Then, when asked, I took on leadership roles in the organization – but never the role of president. Over the course of time, I also began speaking.
 

At each meeting, the club would vote for best speaker. I won best speaker awards and best impromptu speaker many, many times. Apparently, I was good at this.
 

However, I never voted for myself when the club voted for best speaker. Keeping with what I thought were Gandhi-like principles, I would always vote for someone else, even if I spoke during that particular meeting.
 

Then it dawned on me.
 

If I don’t vote for myself, if I don’t believe in myself, why should anyone else? It was a HUGE shift and lesson. It was very hard for me to do, but I did finally vote for myself. That act turned out to be an extremely important piece of my personal growth and confidence.
 

A few weeks ago I returned to Toastmasters after a 2-year hiatus. At that particular meeting I was asked to speak on an impromptu topic, which I happily did. I truly enjoy speaking and inspiring others when I can. There were 3 other people that spoke on impromptu topics that night. Falling back into my old ways, I voted for someone else rather than myself.
 

In an unusual twist of fate, as if the Universe wanted to hammer home the message, I was asked to help count the votes to see who the club thought was the best speaker that night.
 
 
 

I lost by one vote.
 

Message heard loud and clear.
 
 
 
If I am not for myself, who will be for me.

– Hillel
 

We each hold a magnificence and inspiration inside ourselves. All too often though, we allow it to die on the vine of doubt, approval or humility. But this is absurd! Who we are, and what we have to say, is divinely inspired. Our souls are gifts meant to be shared with the world. As unusual as this might sound, each time we withhold what is inside we are actually being selfish.
 

Interestingly, the rest of Hillel’s wisdom states –
 

If I am not for myself, who will be for me. But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?
 

I cannot think of better words to encourage belief in yourself . . . sprinkled with the humility of Gandhi. Perhaps this was the wisdom Gandhi listened to when he donned his white robe and began his walk.
 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

 

The other day I was riding my bicycle through the neighboring town of Denville. One of the many hazards of riding on the roads here in NJ is that the pavement must endure the freezing temperatures of winter and the blistering heat of summer. And that means many roads are in disrepair.
 
One particular intersection I confronted on my ride that day was ravaged by the cruelty of those seasonal extremes. Within a 10 yard stretch of pavement there were numerous potholes, divots in the pavement, grooves, and loose gravel was strewn everywhere. On top of that, I was immersed in morning commuter traffic. In a nutshell, it was treacherous terrain for a biker that easily spelled disaster.
 
As a natural reaction to the danger, my body tensed and became rigid. My hands gripped the brakes a little tighter preparing for the worse, my arms tensed and pulled closer into my body, my legs stopped peddling, my thighs tensed, and I held my breath. All of my energy and focus shifted to my eyes as I tried to plot a path to navigate through the mine field.
 
After a few intense seconds of jerking my front tire right and left to dodge the many booby traps in the road, I made it through. And although I was safe, my first thought and observation was how “out of control” I felt. I was so tense and rigid that if I needed to react to disaster, I would not have had the ability.
 
As weird as this might sound, I then thought of drunk drivers. I have read that when drunk drivers get into car accidents they often escape from the accident unscathed. One reason for this is that due to the alcohol, their body is relaxed and offers no resistance as it is jostled around during an accident. Essentially, their body goes with the flow of the energy and is taken where it might go.
 

I immediately wondered where else in my life was I living “tensed” and rigid, trying to control the outcomes as opposed to relaxing, trusting and letting life flow in, around and through me. I could see from this experience that traveling through life tense and rigid was not always the best approach to the bumps and potholes I encounter in life. In certain circumstances, I needed to let go.
 
And then a popular 1980’s song by 38 Special popped into my mind —

Just hold on loosely,
But don’t let go
If you cling to tightly
You’re gonna lose control.
 
Amazing how those 17 words captured the moment so perfectly.
 
Regardless of what the life situation is, be it a relationship, work, family, your kids . . . whatever, these seem to be sage words of advice.

 

Assuming we are not all really going to go through life drunk, the secret to living a peaceful, less-stressed life is to trust.
 
Trust in yourself, in your god, in your loved ones, in life itself. Trust that all will be OK and is unfolding as intended. Trust that whatever is before you, holds a gift.   Trust that the timing is perfect. Trust that the answer you received is perfect. Trust that life is nudging you in a direction.  And rather than resisting, stop, take a breath, and look for the message the Universe wishes to whisper to you.
 
One of my all-time favorite books captures this concept of trusting and letting go perfectly —
 
“Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth.
 
But one creature said at last, ‘I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.’
 
The other creatures laughed and said ‘Fool! Let go and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom!’
 
But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.
 
Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.
 
And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, ‘See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!
 
And the one carried in the current said, ‘I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare to let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.”
                                                                             — Illusions, Richard Bach

 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

 

In his 1989 book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey made an important distinction about our culture. After studying over 200 years of success literature dating back to 1776, he determined that around 1920 a significant shift occurred in the United States. Covey observed that we went from a culture founded on a character ethic, to one based on a personality ethic.
 

Covey defined the character ethic as one focused on “integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty and the Golden Rule.” He then noted that the personality ethic was more about “personality, public image, attitudes, behaviors, skills and techniques that lubricate and manipulate the process of human interaction.”
 

It is easy to see the effect this shift had on society when we consider the rise to prominence of our movie stars, athletes and political leaders. These big personalities now dominate our culture. We all strive to be famous, act like they do, and make our mark on the world.
 
 

Our culture has continued to evolve . . . or perhaps devolve . . . since Covey made this distinction 30 years ago.
 

In 2004, I believe another dramatic shift occurred that has set us further adrift in America. We have become untethered from the character ethic and knowing who we are at our core and are perhaps one step closer to losing our way.
 

This latest shift ushered in a new era – the persona ethic, a culture based mainly on an image we try to portray and maintain on our social media sites as well as in real life. Sadly, we are no longer grounded in ourselves. Instead we strive to live our lives based on how we want to be perceived by others.
 

This new era was likely triggered by two key events – the start of Facebook in 2004, and the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. With those two inventions, selfie madness was born and being self-absorbed became an art form. Suddenly, life became about living from the outside in, rather than the inside out. We became more concerned about how the world perceives and judges us, than about who we are or want to be.
 

This is most evident in the meteoric rise of reality TV, YouTube stars, Instagram likes, our desire to go viral, our addiction to Facebook and our never-ending primping and posing for the next selfie.
 

It used to be that cameras always faced outward, taking a picture of the world or something we appreciated “out there.” Now all the cameras face inward, the world relegated to little more than a backdrop, with the camera lens centered upon us as we star of our own movie.
 

It is very hard to stop the advance of technology . . . or evolution . . . so there is little sense in trying or fighting against the current. But here is what I would advise – be ever more conscious and vigilant about your use of, and interaction with, technology. Technology is an amazing thing, and is very likely to be the thing that saves our species from extinction. Yet, I also believe it is the very thing that will ultimately steal from us the essence that makes us human. The more conscious we are about that, the more likely we are to maintain our humanness.
 

“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.”

– Henry David Thoreau
 

We will never see or experience the true beauty of the world around us by looking down at our smartphone or plugging our head with earbuds. That only leads to isolation, the very thing everyone is trying to escape as they seek a “like” on their chosen social media platform.
 

We are all starved for connection and intimacy, and rather than picking our heads up, making eye contact and saying hello, we go on an endless search for recognition and validation on the Internet. And regardless of how many “likes” we garner, they will never fill that hole in our soul. The chase will only leave us feeling hollow and wanting more, hungry to take another hit on the “like” crack pipe.
 

So here is a truly radical idea about how to obtain what we all truly seek.
 

Try having a conversation. You know, actually stop and talk to someone. As in face to face with words coming out of your mouth. I have read that vocalization is the new, hottest technology. In fact, scientists aren’t yet sure how our voice is actually produced. They say it is a very complicated process involving no less than 25 major parts of our body. Some are even calling it a miracle. 🙂
 

Why not give it a try and see what happens.
 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

 

I got the call one beautiful spring afternoon. Perhaps the most successful friend I know was in his back yard gardening. And that was a problem. One, it was the middle of the workday. Two, he doesn’t garden.

 

He called me because he was upset about a project he was working on. He felt as though he had made a mistake that put the project, and his team, at risk of failing. He called me to talk about what he should do and how to handle it. After years and years of tremendous success, he was finally facing his first failure. I was not sure whether to be flattered by his call, or upset that he thought of me when he thought of failure.

 

But the truth is, I had failed several times. Rather than take the normal course in life after leaving college, I took several measured risks. And yes, by my own standards, I failed at all of them. But in that failure, I was given a tremendous gift — I was now free. I was no longer afraid of making mistakes or failing.

 

One of the people I admire most is a woman who led an incredibly carefree life. She did what she wanted, she said what she wanted and she believed what she wanted. Talking with her, being in her presence, and hearing her stories of life was incredibly invigorating! Whenever I was with her, I always yearned for the life she had. Well, not all of it.

 

You see, the freedom she felt is not something you are born with. It is something you earn through your experiences. Prior to living the liberating, magnificent life she was living, she was a drug addict living in abandoned buildings and eating out of trash cans. It was not an easy or fun life. Yet, a life like that “holds a gift for you in its hands.” In her own words, “once you hit rock bottom and are looking for dinner in a trash can, you have nothing left to lose.” And that is when life opens up for you. In that moment, you are completely free of the fear of failing or worrying about what others may think of you.

 

In many ways I envied my friend and desired the freedom she felt. I wanted to live life as she was living it. Yet, every single time I felt that way, I also felt my fear and asked God to gift me the that kind of freedom, without having to experience rock bottom.

 

Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the way it works. True freedom is only gifted to those willing to risk it all . . . and who are not afraid to lose it.

 

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All of life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.”
 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson
 

Spring is the season that reminds us that all is born again. Without fail, life is renewed and green shoots of grass, budding flowers and new leaves re-appear. Each year, the earth declares a do-over and gives us a new chance at life and growth. Every. Single. Year.

 

Why not take a hint from earth and try something new this Spring. It is the perfect time to take a risk, make a mistake and tempt failure.

 

I have always said that unless someone dies or get hurts, it is not a mistake. Too many of us are afraid to make a mistake and it paralyzes us. We stay stuck and our lives get stale. Let this spring be the opportunity when you take the risk you have always wanted and say yes to life!

 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.