Tick Tock, Tick Tock

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There was a moment when I realized that the end of my life was getting closer. I’m not afraid of dying or that the time is shorter than I realized. It’s just sobering to know, with absolute certainty, the end of coming at full speed.

I look around and wonder, what would I be doing right now if say, I found out I have 3 months to live. Of course, I would be acting differently than I do today. I would make sure I said goodbye to my children and wife. I would seek out friends and teachers and thank them for all the gifts they shared.

Each morning would be a gift that I would appreciate for its preciousness. Each interaction would be treasured because it could be my last with that person.

An interesting question, I have is, “so what keeps me from having this experience of preciousness right now?” Is there some special signal I’m waiting for, like a doctor’s prognosis, before I treat my day as a gift?

The answer I have is hilarious. I’m afraid to change my status quo if I don’t have to. While I’m living without the fullness of being present in each moment, I’m choosing to be stuck until a stick of dynamite is lite and the fuse is burning quickly down.

I write this note because one of my great joys is writing. I love to write, as I am here, from my heart. Write because I feel alive when I do. Write, because it is who I am.

So without the death sentence being presented by someone else, I grasp this moment and write. Write for myself and if you find it valuable you as well. Write as if my life depends upon it, because a life of being present does.

I will continue to bring my heart and soul to these pages and share that with you.

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.

Writers and Entrepreneurs

imgresAs a writer, I know that the sign of engagement in this craft is the number of crumpled pages I find around me at the end of the day. Great writing doesn’t happen by sitting down and writing the perfect paper, short story or novel in the first draft. No matter how gifted you are the first draft is just a beginning.

In business the same is true. When someone conceives a new business the first step is often to write a plan of sorts. For some, it’s a complex treatise on the full ins and outs of what’s possible. For others, it can take the form of a dinner napkin with sparse words and a few drawings.

Whatever the beginning, the initial concept is version 1.0. No business has ever succeeded by sticking to this first version. Business, like writing, is a constant work in progress. Sometimes you find that only the first line (concept) works and the rest of the words (description of how things work) don’t.

As a writer, I often receive feedback from my spouse or friends or other authors. They can often see what’s hidden from my perceptions. In a business, potential investors and early customers let us know what we have right and what doesn’t work.

Writers and entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to start over or brutally edit what’s created. They are in a quest for excellence, however they conceive it. This drive forms the core of their passion and guides them to the experience of personal satisfaction.

Today, as you journey forth, look around you. How many crumpled pages do you see? Did you allow yourself the freedom to just begin without worry that the first draft wouldn’t be perfect? Remember – life is a journey not a destination

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.

What was I thinking?

Do you know what your job description is? I don’t mean the few paragraphs someone in the HR department put together to give you an outline of your job responsibilities. I’m thinking about the job description for your life. What is it that you are here for? Big question that often baffles us and whose answer evades many.

A while back, as I have written about here, I realized that I had the directive, “love yourself”, in my job description. I mean, who wouldn’t want that? For starters, it’s a lot easier to talk about than experience. Sure, I want to feel love. Most of my ideas about love are that it comes from someone else. Early on, it was from my parents and grandparents. Then, god crept into the picture. Although that was a bit confusing, since I was told “to love and serve god” and that he loved me, I did as I was told. I could really feel that love at the time.

As I moved into adolescence, love got to be more about relationships with women with sex thrown into the mix. Then there was marriage and children and the circle started over again, or so I thought.

What I didn’t understand was that love starts with me. If I don’t love myself (meaning that there is nothing about me that I don’t accept), I can’t fully love anyone else. So much good and bad literature and media brings us glimpses “into love”. These perspectives are primarily emotional and conditional. If I do what you want, or I don’t hurt you or something like that, then you love me. God bless grandmothers, who don’t have such conditions.

Anyway, I didn’t understand the absolute requirement to love myself, so I didn’t. I looked in all the wrong places for love and it eluded me. All the while, loving myself was part of my life’s job description. Can you imagine my frustration?

That’s not the worst of it. There’s a second part of my job description. I’m to live in integrity. If I thought I had a clue about that, I was sadly mistaken. I didn’t know anything. I have recognized that integrity requires loving myself, so at least my job descriptions are complementary. I had no idea what a challenge this can be. If it was about being truthful, as we commonly think of it, that would be challenging enough. I find that it’s far more than that. It’s about being aware of everything I do. It requires that every action, word, feeling and thought are in harmony. If you have ever felt confused, you know the challenge of having the internal orchestra work together.

It doesn’t stop there. Not only does my job description include loving myself and living in integrity, it calls for me to teach others love and integrity. At times, this feels too much. I know when I fall down and don’t live up to what I know integrity is. There are plenty of moments when I don’t love myself. So how can I possibly teach others?

The good news is that I can do it because it’s easier to see love and integrity in others than myself. The gift of this job description is that I have the privilege of learning from my wife and children and all those I work with. As I teach about love and integrity I can see where they struggle and find my struggles. I offer them love and see it reflected from my remembering.

In the end rather than wonder, “What was I thinking, when I took on this life’s job description”, I find wonder and gratitude for having the perfect job. Good to remember, at moments when all I can see I believe to be my defects.

So what about you? What is your job description? Not sure? Send me an email (find it in the “about” section of this blog) and I will send you a tool that might help.

Why would I do something that’s less than great?

I love being behind the microphone. In 2003, I hosted a radio program in Cincinnati. From the first broadcast, it felt like home. I eventually walked away from this program, when I couldn’t produce it the way that I felt would be the best program we could create.

I moved from Cincinnati to the Chicago suburbs, and knew at the right time I’d be back on the radio. I loved listening to This American Life. I felt their storytelling was the best on radio. As I listened to an episode, a vision of how I would come back to radio emerged. I knew that the most powerful force on the planet wasn’t government or religion, it was business. Businesses were setting the agenda for our communities, countries, in fact, the planet. This agenda was often narrowly focused on maximizing profit at any cost. This cost was producing significant challenges that weren’t always obvious. Traditional media, including public radio, was ignoring the real behind the scenes stories of the good, bad and ugly of business. I knew it was important to get these stories out.

As this idea percolated, I could feel the qualities of the new program. I wanted each episode to be a masterpiece. Everything about it enhanced the story telling, and this attention to quality would enable it to be a widely listened to program. For me to stay focused on this dream required deadlines, which in the radio business meant having a regular time and date for the program to be broadcast.

I started looking for a radio station to be our home. I discovered a local AM radio station that offered about half its air time to paid programming. I contacted the station and we quickly struck a deal. OK, now I have a start time, but how am I going to find a team to produce this program so it matches the dream I’m have.

My previous experience was with live radio. I felt that this format wouldn’t support the quality I wanted. I also didn’t know anything about the production stuff. I advertised on Craig’s list, and after several false starts found someone who could produce the programming I was envisioning.

We were off to the races, and Business Matters was birthed. Our first program was not half bad and it gave us a good reference point to improve from. I was having a great time and the quality improved from week to week. We added a producer, who helped with finding guests and promoting the program. The only problem was that no one was listening. At least, that’s what I thought.

How could I find out if my hunch was right? I decided to run a promotion on the program. The first ten people who called our toll-free number, would receive $50. That’s right, free money. We received NO CALLS. What could I do? Our producer heard that there was a potential change in the programming lineup at WLUW, the station owned by Loyola University in Chicago. We met with the station manager and boom, we were on the air in Chicago within four weeks.

The program team changed over time. For the first year and a half,we consistently produced programs that were good. Then I took my eye off the ball. From time to time, we would create programs that rocked, but we also broadcast mediocre programming. I had a great rationalizing story, “the program may not be great, but it’s good enough.”

When I see this sentiment, I cringe. How have I let this happen? I lost touch with the dream. I’ve allowed perceived limitations to justify inferior content. I’m not saying this from the perspective of comparing our program to something else. I’m saying this because the program doesn’t feel like the dream.

I would like to say that I realized this from some moment of personal insight. That’s not the case. I was recently inspired to find collaborators for the program, who feel the dream, and can help bring that dream to the radio. One of these people wrote me a note yesterday about a recent program. He was blunt, which I’m very grateful for. He said the program was disappointing compared to some of our earlier work. I knew in an instant he was right. I also knew I needed to either renew my commitment to the dream or stop production.

I recognized all the times in my life where I have drifted away from the dreams I have been inspired by. Each time, the underlying dynamics were the same. I compromised. I allowed myself to believe in some perceived limitation rather than remembering that if the dream is right I will be able to find everything needed for its continued creation.

Today, I am both energized and humbled. I’m looking through my life to see where I may be compromising, and if I am stopping.

How about you? What are your dreams? Do you follow them or allow yourself be distracted? There’s no day like today to come alive again.