Disappointer in Chief

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In this aftermath of the 2014 elections, there is so much talk about the reasons for the outcome. I think it’s pretty simple.

In 2008, we elected Barak Obama. Those of us that supported his first campaign felt that finally someone was going to make a difference in the way that government works. Finally someone was going to lead the country into a time of greater pulling together. So many promises were made that would support this vision.

Starting with President Obama’s victory speech in Griffith Park in Chicago six years ago, the unraveling of this feeling began. He spoke of the difficult road ahead. He talked about how it was going to take us all to make the change happen. This was a new message that was never part of his campaign. We listened and still waited for him to take action to change things we didn’t like.

We can look at the severe problems in the economy or the challenges with wars across the globe as underlying factors that inhibited his success, but these issues were known as the 2008 campaign unfolded. Solutions to complex issues are neither easy nor quick. Campaign rhetoric is easy. Turning those promises into reality is hard.

Very few have been able to lead in a way that brings us together and allows the greatness within each of us to be called forth. President Obama had that opportunity and he blew it.

Which brings us to now. We are disappointed. We want more than we are getting. We are indeed disappointed with Congress and its leadership. That’s a group of people without a single individual for us to focus our frustration on. The President on the other hand, is someone we can focus our disappointment on in a very personal way. The Republican party made the best of this feeling and it propelled them to control of both houses of Congress and many state governorships.

Now that they are in power, what will the Republican members of Congress do that they didn’t do in the last six years? What will the President do that he hasn’t done in that same timeframe? The opportunity for doing the right thing is always with us. Let’s encourage our national political leaders to focus on doing something positive for us.

As I write this, I an not feeling very positive. This morning, one of the darlings of the Republican party, Rand Paul started his day with messages under the Twitter hashtag #hillaryslosers. I know this is politics, but we are tired of this. Remember Mr. Paul, the sentiment of the country can change quickly if you, too, disappoint those who believe in you.

Losing Perspective

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Have you ever gotten so busy that you felt the only thing you could do was to work harder or faster. Then you found, like I have, that the hole you found yourself in was only deeper. It is a rather maddening place to be.

Over the past few months, I’ve become more involved in the operational details of my business. To some extent, I love these details. They both make life more tangible and give me a false sense that I’m important if I’m so busy.

This is a trap! Busyness isn’t a virtue. Focusing on what’s important is a virtue. Deliberately choosing what to do next, that’s a virtue. Working more hours because I’m busy is a modern form of insanity.

So what can you (I) do when you find that you have more “on your plate” than you feel you have time for? Put less on your plate is the answer. How do you do that? You start by stopping everything. I don’t mean you go to the beach. I mean you stop for a short while (maybe an hour or a day) and observe the momentum of your life.

You will quickly see two types of work in your “in box”. Work that is something you feel you need to do so that someone who is important to you will be happy.  The other type of work, the work that really matters, is work that moves what’ s important to you forward.

Is it really that simple? Yes and No.  Yes, if you focus on what’s important to you, you will find fulfillment in your day, vast amounts of energy, and those you are working with will want to work with you more. No good comes from the fact that most of our training from early childhood on is that we are here to please others. This is a dead-end street that we spend so much of our life following.

It may seem counter-intuitive that you are doing what’s important to you. We believe that this will be selfish. Just the opposite is true. When I do something because I’m passionate about it and it serves what’s most important to me, it always creates value. I will gravitate to be around those who appreciate this value.

We are just afraid to try this out so we stay stuck in the old pattern of more hard work, rather than the work we love.

Sacrifice is Optional

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Stepping back into writing is sobering. It’s a bit like agreeing to grow up, once again. The adolescent part of Thomas wants to stay in its slumber of bad habits and endless excuses. I know the cost of this numbing behavior and yet, it’s so appealing to be unaccountable for what happens in my life.

Oh, that it would be so simple to fall back into the life of letting others carry the weight of the consequences of my decisions. For many reasons, that option is no longer available. There are moments, when this irritates me no end.

One of the impacts of knowing that I’m the one who’s really accountable for everything is that I know that I must look in the mirror if I’m looking for an answer to why something isn’t working out the way I want.

I was talking with my wife yesterday about how hard we are working. We seem to be following an age-old story that says, “you have to sacrifice today so that you can be rewarded tomorrow.” Sounds like a good path to follow.

The problem is there is a flaw in this. I look around and find examples of people who are living as if this isn’t true. They have time for everything that’s important to them. How is this possible?

They know the difference between stories/ beliefs and truth. They know that perceptions create reality and if their perceptions are filled with limiting beliefs, they will experience feelings of insufficiency.

Does that mean that sacrifice is not required? Yep, at least in the way we think about it. Our common understanding of sacrifice is that I give up something important to me by choosing something else that I also feel is important. I began to see the problem with the notion of sacrifice.

I am making a choice. This choice opens doors and closes doors. By being guided by the belief that sacrifice is required, I’m immediately hooked into an emotional response rather than accepting an outcome. Yes, I’m make this new choice and the consequence is that something I am currently choosing may no longer be possible.

I like writing. In fact, I love writing. I made the choice to start a new business. I didn’t stop and consider the consequence of this choice. I certainly didn’t want to cut myself off from my family so I chose to put my attention and time on this new project and the time I spent in the past for writing “disappears”.

My old belief about sacrifice was activated. “Yep”, I said, “not being able to write is simply the way things are.” It’s something i must sacrifice so the project can get going.” Examining this belief, I see how unconscious it is. I rocked along accepting this outcome for months. Finally I “woke up” and realized I was just feeling the limitation of my beliefs.

I realized there were other areas of life that were no longer that important to me. So, I made an inventory of how important each of these “choices” was. That’s right, every moment I spend awake or sleeping comes from choosing how to spend my time. Many of these “choices” are not deliberate. Either I’m not aware of what I’m choosing or I don’t ask myself the question, “how important is what I’m doing right now?” I just mosey along in the rut of habit.

Through this process, I made some simple decisions and already, as you can see, I’m having different experiences. For one thing, I’m writing again.

I also realized that when I honestly look back at my life, I remember times when I wasn’t trapped in believing sacrifice was necessary. Life was a blast! I jumped out of bed in the morning. I zoomed through my day and I fell asleep tired, but not exhausted.

I invite you to join me in remembering the truth of choice and consequences.

Until later,

Thomas

To Conform or Not to Conform – The Story of the Big Orange Splot

Last night, I was reading to our young boys one of my favorite children’s stories, The Big Orange Splott by Daniel Pinkwater. In this story, Mr. Plumbean’s world is disturbed in a most unusual way when a seagull drops a can of orange paint on the roof of his perfect house. You see, his house is like all the others in his neighborhood. This unlikely event starts a change that I invite you find out more about by reading the book.

I was reflecting on Mr. Plumbean last night and he wandered into my dreams. Conformity is such a strong force in our lives. It used to be called “keeping up with the Jones”. How we can belong to our local tribe by being alike seems to compose our actions in ways that we don’t really understand. Marketers know this, and people like Malcolm Gladwell have talked about it. Conforming is as good a name as any to describe this phenomenon.

I have always fancied myself as a non-conformist. I tell myself that I don’t like “the conventional wisdom” – another way of saying I don’t like others telling me what to think. Yet, I see the many ways that I allow what other’s think to influence my thoughts and feelings and actions. I want to be liked, so I stop considering what I feel and let others shape my life.

The act of non-conformity is not so much an act of rebellion, but a declaration of independence. It’s not selfish, although maybe your mother told you it was so. It’s your right to choose what you feel is right. One of my favorite aspects of Buddhism is the following that has been ascribed to the Buddha: Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

We assimilate so much based upon what we are told. Look at our current political campaigns for president. Candidates feel that if they say something, even if it isn’t true, we will believe it because we don’t take the time to follow the Buddha’s wisdom. The compelling story teller can influence us because we have forgotten that we are the ones who decide what’s true for us.

We pride ourselves as Americans on our fierce independence of thought. That may have been so a few hundred years ago, but what about now? Without our return to discernment, we will miss the amazing adventure life offers outside the lines of conformity, and the opportunity to create a life filled with wonder will be left behind.

From Here to Simplicity

So you get caught up in your daily life’s stress. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and you have lost perspective about what’s important. How do you know this? You are gearing up to spend four or five more hours getting “things” done before your day is over.

In our culture, there is a rationalizing story that hard work is the way to success. I come from many years in Silicon Valley. Company leaders don’t feel you are pulling your weight if you aren’t putting in 55- 60 hours a week, and go home and continue reading and answering emails.

What’s the cost? Everything that’s vital to our life is the cost. As I’m burning the midnight oil working on a project, I start transferring greater and greater importance to my work. Every day, I inch my way further and further away from the people I care most about, I deny my health, or I ignore the need in my soul for quiet.

All this to feed the beast of success. Success, so I can have more stuff. More stuff, that for the most part, isn’t essential to my life, and requires gobs of non-renewable resources to build or use.

This pattern is played out every day all over this country. If that’s not bad enough, we seem to be infecting the rest of the world. As consumer spending grows here and in Europe, it fuels manufacturing in Asia. The growing population of factory workers and supporting business employees want their taste of the fruits of consumerism.

Where does this end? It ends in a mess. Right now, we are consuming more resources than the planet can replenish. The problem is there is a tipping point and the stuff we all want will rise dramatically in price until it’s only available to the elite. We hard workers will have less and less reward.

Now many feel that the solution is some government intervention, or a restructuring of large businesses. I don’t think that’s going to happen right away. Are we doomed? Not necessarily. A movement called Transition Town is emerging in more parts of the world. It’s doing some wonderful things that help bring us back into harmony with the earth and each other. This is good, yet insufficient.

What’s called for, is a real change of perspective. We are called to reframe our material needs. Move from working and living so we can have stuff to only having what we truly needs. This will mean a lot less for most of us. For those who are practicing this radical simplicity, the reports are encouraging.

They report that they feel freer. They spend significantly less time working at jobs. They are healthier, and their relationships are the richest they’ve been in years.

Even with these appealing outcomes, the change to living a simpler life appears daunting. Does it mean that I have to give all my stuff away. Nope! It means that you start getting deliberate and honest. You have anything that you require to have a safe, healthy, harmonious life. These three criteria are at the root of four questions you can ask about anything you have, or are considering having.

What are these four questions? OK, I’ll share.

  1. Is this possession required for my personal or family safety?
  2. Does this possession promote my well-being or health?
  3. Do I agree with the practices employed to create this possession?
  4. If I don’t have this possession, will my quality of life be truly diminished?

Remember that real honesty is required. Questions like number 3 require us to consider something that we mostly overlook. How was this manufactured? Was the labor employed in a way I would agree with ? Is it done with the most ecologically sound approach? Is the building of this the best use of the natural resources required?

Now here’s the key for the four question exercise. If your answer is no to any of these questions, it’s probably a good idea to pass along the possession if you already have it or not acquire it if you do.

Whew, you may say. That’s a lot. Yep. If you don’t want to drop over the cliff as a consequence of our continuing mindset of more, you are offered this opportunity. It won’t hurt. It will just be a bit uncomfortable for a short while, and then the real benefits will kick in.

I’m writing this not just for you. I was here at my desk until midnight last night. This was very familiar. I could rationalize the situation and say that I don’t normally fall into this type of behavior. I know how easy it is to fall into the old habit, and I’d be off to the races.

The consequences would be more severe this time. I know better. I’ve tasted life without this stress. Good, I say to myself, I can pull back now. Yes, and its this practice of reflection and writing that is bringing me back.

What do you do to maintain your sanity? How do you remember where you have fallen off the path of a balanced life and bring yourself back? Perhaps this is something worthwhile to munch on over the weekend.

More about the cup half empty, half full

We have all heard the adage, the cup is either half empty or half full. If you are like me, you say, “Sure I understand what that means.” What I notice is that the more I study something like this phrase, the more I get out of it. In our modern world, we have a tendency to read something once, hopefully in an abbreviated form, and believe we have extracted the essence of the message or lesson.

This is inconsistent with how we learn. We learn through repetition. If you are learning a new physical activity, I have heard it said that competence is attained at 1000 repetitions and mastery begins with 10,000 repetitions. If you talk with professional or Olympic athletes, and ask about their training regimen, you will see the validity of this. Even the greats, like basketball’s Michael Jordan, are the first to arrive on the practice court and the last to leave.

Today, Twitter has become a very popular means to communicate, albeit in 140 characters or less. Recent surveys reveal the popularity of texting versus email among teens and young adults. I’m not saying any of these innovations in communications are bad. I am suggesting that they not be the exclusive realm of our communication, or the mindset of brevity will exclusively become our way of life.

There is so much richness that can’t be revealed in a single observation, reading, viewing or conversation. One of my favorite books is The Alchemist. I have read this book over fifty times. Each time, I find something new that I would swear wasn’t there the past times I’ve read it. Rather than moving on to the next thing, I am finding it valuable to deepen my understandings with what’s already in my life.

Which brings me back to the cup being half empty or half full. As I was gazing over our back yard this morning, I had the thought that in the midst of this saying is a universal truth that is more profound than I realized. If I take the perspective that the cup is half empty, everything I look at is insufficient – my relationships, my home, my job, my income, my life.

This feeling of insufficiency is the root cause of resentment that can envelop everything. I remember feeling dissatisfied in a personal relationship. As my angst grew, I spent time enrolling others (including a therapist) in why my life sucked, and it was all the fault of the woman. I am particularly persuasive, so I had a number of believers in my story. Now, this support is short-lived, because it’s based upon a false belief. That belief is that you, or someone or something else, are the cause of why my cup is half-full.

Seeing the world as insufficient leads me to the conclusion that I’m ultimately powerless. After all, there are so many factors that are out of my control, how could I possible create anything. I just do the best I can. Feel the despair in that!

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the lessons of the cup is half full.

The New Normal!

Two snippets by great writers stirred me this morning. Robert Bly wrote, “How much sadness we feel because we have given up expecting truth. Every moment of our live we exchange comfort or discomfort for statements we know are lies, or mostly lies, in gatherings with our parents, or at speeches, or watching a movie. How abandoned our truth receiver is: a bag-man, who spends the day without hope.”

As I read his words, I felt a sadness I’ve been unwilling to honor rise. I listen to our political process and know that we have all abandoned any hope that truth will be present. The role of a political campaign, with its abundant rhetoric, is to distort our perceptions so that the speaker can persuade us to accept their agenda, which is never truthfully revealed.

Our ability to discern truth withers from disuse and despair. There are candidates who speak what they believe is true. Ron Paul continues to stir a small segment of the population. Ralph Nader has done the same in the past. This truth-telling isn’t what we want. Rather, we follow someone who encourages us to HOPE. Hope they have the key to a better life.

We know what they are saying doesn’t feel right, and we override our perfect gift of discernment to feed the needs of our emotional nature. Only to once again feel deluded. We express cries of anger at being misled, never wondering, even for a moment, if perhaps the anger is misplaced.

So accustomed are we to look without to find the cause of our pain that we overlook a common thread that is easily revealed if we allow the truth to penetrate the fortress of our false reality. William Gass wrote, “we are accustomed to the slum our consciousness has become.” We take no accountability for this predicament and are in constant search of a villain.

I have bad news. The culprit is much closer at hand than we realize. In fact, we saw them just his morning as we looked into the bathroom mirror. I don’t like this fact much of the time. It sure seems that it would be great to blame someone else for what I don’t like about the world.

Blaming others is the new normal. I remember talking with my grandparents about the great depression. They certainly witnessed the dire consequences of this bleak economic time. Rather than have despair about this experience, they were determined. Determined that they would not experience this again. They knew the responsibility for their lives working out was their own.

Over time, we have slipped into a belief that others are responsible for how we feel, whether we have a job, the weather or the national debt. Nope… that’s not true. No matter how many believe it.

I was listening to a report on NPR yesterday from Dubai. The skyline of Abu Dhabi has been filled with construction cranes and the streets filled with the usual busyness of new building. Once again, the enthusiasm of the local government that their prosperity would go on indefinitely met the truth of economics (or life for that matter), nothing is permanent except change.

The new normal is that the good times will continue unabated. Throughout most of the 90s, we believed that they technology revolution, particularly the part fueled by the Internet, would continue as far into the future as we could see. Everyone wanted a piece of this explosion. Yet in 2000, this enthusiasm came tumbling down.

This same myopia transfixed most of us when we considered housing values. We traded up to the new and bigger house because we could. We were encouraged to buy more house than we could afford today because it would increase in value so quickly, we would soon profit from our risk.

The new normal is to ignore what is true, so that it doesn’t interfere with what I want. Want has driven so much of my life that it drowns out need. I have been examining what I need and find that my wants can be traced to inner insecurities rather than what is necessary to live a full, rich life.

The cost of the new normal can result in a shock that has the experience of the recession that went into full swing in 2008 look insignificant. I encourage you to re-establish your relationship with your intuition. It’s a powerful “truth receiver”, if we allow it to be heard. The more I listen, the less complicated life becomes, and the more the unnecessary falls away. What’s left is more than I could have dreamed.