Play BIG by Showing Up & Travelling Regally


When I talk of playing BIG in life the tendency is to think that I am talk about  doing-achieving.  You know the kind of doing-achieving of say Steve Jobs or Elon Musk.  Put differently, playing BIG can be, often is, interpreted in terms of achievement.  Why?  Simply because this what matters in the Anglo-Saxon world.

There is an alternative way to think about playing BIG. What alternative?  Being-doing. What am I pointing at here?  I mean the way you/i show up and travel in life.  Is this still vague?  Sure it is as we are not used to thinking this way.  So I invite you to listen to the following:

To each, the dignity that befits him. Not everyone is a king, but your deeds should be worthy of one, within the limits of your class and condition. A regal way of doing things. Sublimity of action, a lofty mind. You should resemble a king in merit, if not in reality, for true sovereignty lies in integrity. You won’t envy greatness if you yourself can be a norm of greatness. Especially those who are near the throne should acquire something of true superiority. They should share the moral gifts of majesty rather than pomp, and aspire to things lofty and substantial rather than imperfect vanity.

— The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracián

I thank you for listening to my speaking. And invite you to play BIG in how you show up and travel in this life: resemble a king in merit, aspire to things lofty and substantial, be a norm of greatness in you way of being…

How To Play Big In Our Dealings With Our Fellows


Our automatic/default way of being with regards to our dealing with our fellows is one of being controlling is it not?  I have a view on who you are / what you are / how you should show up and travel and given my attachment to this view I seek/strive to control you: control you as my child, my spouse, my sibling, my colleague, my friend… Right?

What shows up when we relate to our fellows in this habitual way?  If we succeed in our efforts we do so by cutting limbs of the other to fit the Procrustean bed we have created for them.  If we do not succeed then we blame / criticise them. Either way there is something amiss in this way of relating to others.

Is there another way of relating to our fellows?  Is there a way of being-in-the-world that frees our fellows to be  – to simply be – without having to fit into a particular mould we have created for them?

I invite you and me to listen to these wise words:

Last summer I noticed a strange plant in our pasture. I did not know what it was, I had no picture in my mind of what flower or fruit it would bear, but I freed it. That is, I dug around it and opened the soil that the rain might fall on its roots, I cleared out the thistles with which it was entangled so that it might have room to spread, I cut down the undergrowth of small maples near so that it could get the sun. In other words, I simply freed it.  Every friendship which is not treated in this way will surely suffer; no human relation should serve an anticipatory purpose. Every relation should be a freeing relation with the ‘purpose’ evolving.”

– Mary Parker Follett, Creative Experience (1924)

This may be a BIG ask for you.  It is a HUGE ask for me.  Which is why it is game fit only for those of us committed to playing BIG in our dealings with others.

Finally, I invite you/me to play BIG in our dealings with ourselves. I’m inviting you and me to free ourselves in the way that Mary Parker Follett describes.

Now, I get what the folks at Landmark were saying when they counselled us to “Listen coming from nothing”- listen / relate to others without any preconceptions.  In the space of nothing, anything has the ‘space’ to show up.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….

Playing BIG With-Towards Imperfection


Imperfection, imperfection, imperfection!

I disappoint myself. Not always but certainly from time to time. I particularly disappoint myself when my relating with others is not working out as I want it to work out.  I am so imperfect!  It really takes something to be with this. Mostly, I am not being with it as I am so busy lashing at myself.

What happens when you disappoint me?  Your imperfections, where you fall short, are lit up and I see them – all of them.  How do I treat you? I lash out at  you – sometimes the lashing makes a sound, other times it is silent.

Thats the way to be if one is committed or merely resigned to playing small.  My default setting is to play small when it comes to imperfection. It may be yours.

What’s the starting point for playing BIG in relation to imperfection?

Lets start with an insight – perhaps the insight when it comes to human beings and human worlds:

…..We are all imperfect. 

Such a vision not only invites but requires Tolerance: active appreciation of the richness and variety of human beings on this earth, along with the understanding that we all struggle with the same demons, we all share the same fears and sorrows, we all do the best we can with what we have.

The Spirituality of Imperfection

Please get that imperfection is not a bug it is a feature.  Imperfection is a feature of human existence. Wherever you find a human being or human beings you will find yourself, sooner or later, face to face with imperfection. There is no escape from imperfection – it is intrinsic to human existence and pervasive.

Given this insight what is it to play BIG in relation to this feature of human existence?

The following story provides a great answer to this question:

A man who took great pride in his lawn found himself with large and recurring crops of dandelions. Although he tried every method he knew to get rid of them, they continued to plague him. Finally, in desperation, he wrote the Extension Service of the Agriculture Department of the State University, enumerating all the things he had tried and concluding with the question: “What shall I do now?”

After a somewhat prolonged time even for such correspondence, the reply finally came: “We suggest you learn to love them.”

The Spirituality of Imperfection

Damn! I have been ‘on it ‘with several members of my family: My mother, brother, and uncle for selling my father’s land despite his express request to not sell the land; My wife; and my eldest son.  Playing BIG necessitates getting ‘off-it’. Am I ready to do that?  I suspect this conversation provides a pointer.

Now what is the stance I take toward myself?  Do I start lashing out at myself for getting ‘on-it’ and staying ‘on-it’ for most of this week?  That would be falling into the same trap – lashing out at myself for not being OK, for being imperfect.  So what is it to play BIG here with regards to myself and my inherent imperfection?

If you could really accept that you weren’t ok you could stop proving you were ok.

If you could stop proving that you were ok you could get that it was ok not to be ok.

If you could get that it was ok not to be ok you could get that you were ok the way you are.

You’re ok, get it?

-Werner Erhard

Yes, it’s ok to accept my imperfection – all the areas in which I fall short. Yes, it’s ok for you to accept your imperfection.

It would be too simple, too Western, to leave this conversation here. So let’s introduce paradox (through Zen) for life is paradoxical through and through:

Each of you is perfect the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.
―Shunryu Suzuki

Nothing we see or hear is perfect. But right there in the imperfection is perfect reality.
―Shunryu Suzuki

I thank you for your listening. And I ask you to play BIG even if you find that like me you are finding your playing BIG imperfect.

Abdul Sattar Edhi: An Inspiration For Those Who Are Up For Playing Big


You and I want our lives to matter. We want our lives to make a real difference — to be of genuine consequence in the world. We know that there is no satisfaction in merely going through the motions in life, even if those motions make us successful or even if we have arranged to make those motions pleasant. We want to know we have had some impact on the world. In fact, you and I want to contribute to the quality of life. We want to make the world work

-Werner Erhard

Yesterday I learnt that Abdul Sattar Edhi is no longer. You’ve probably not heard of him. Yet, in my eyes, he sit there alongside Gandhi as one of the world greatest examples of humanity: a peaceful warrior for the poor, the downtrodden, the outcasts…. A living example of what is possible when one makes one’s life a stand for something noble – something that calls to the deeply human in us, no matter how deeply it is buried.

Sadness. Tears, Sadness. Tears, Sadness. Tears….. A profound sense of loss. Yet, I have never met the man, merely donated money to the organisation he founded. So from where does this deep sense of grief arise?

What is it that i find my deepest self (that which is beyond my conscious control) mourns for?  The loss of a saint, the humanity he embodied, and the humanity he called forth in many people. I suspect that he left heft many of us feeling better about ourselves and the world that we find ourselves.

For as long as there is one Edhi there is hope. More, an Edhi is an opening, a clearing, for our humanity to show up and make difference: to contribute to the quality of life – for all.

 

People have become educated, but have yet to become human.

-Abdul Sattar Edhi

So this is my invitation to you, to me, to us: Let’s play BIG, starting right now, by putting our humanity, the kind of humanity that Abdul Sattar Edhi,  into action.

I thank you for you listening. And I ask that you show up and travel in manner that makes a positive difference to the quality of your life, our life, life itself.

Play Big: Embrace A Stranger The Nicula Way


I’ve been working in Belgium this year. Typically I take flight out to Brussels every Sunday night or Monday morning. And take the flight back to London late afternoon every Friday.

I work with a great bunch of people: Jeroen, Martijn, Patrick, Rupert, Arun, Prashanth, Alexandra……. They show up and travel in a manner that leaves me feeling welcome, respected, part of the team.

There is something special about Alexandra. She kind of ’embraced’ me without ever having met me. How by ringing me whilst I was recovering from back surgery.

Upon my return to work/Brussels Alexandra made me feel welcome by seeking me out and taking me out to lunch.  Not just once but several times. Now and then when she takes a break and goes out for a cigarette she invites me along. Sometimes I take up her invitation.

This week Alexandra invited me to her home. I found myself both surprised and delighted. Why surprised? “She hardly knows me!”  Why delighted? She trusts me enough to invite me to her home; and she finds me sufficiently interesting to invite me to her home.

The result? I spent a lovely evening at her place. I met her son: a beautiful young fellow, alive, curious, playful and intelligent; he enjoys chocolates; and loves his mother. I got to learn a little about her partner.  Alexandra also shared some of her life with me. Being English I tend to be somewhat reserved yet I found myself telling Alexandra about some aspects of my life.

What is there between myself and Alexandra? Gratitude! Gratitude for what? For being the first and only Belgian person who has invited me into her home, her family, her life.  For  puncturing my sense of being a stranger in this land.

I invite you and I to play big by embracing a stranger the Nicula way!  Who can you invite into your life and by so doing touch his/her life for one lunchtime, for one evening, or for a lifetime?

And finally, I dedicate this conversation to Alexandra Nicula – a remarkable woman. And someone who now shows up for me as a friend.  Thank you Alexandra for your kindness, your generosity, and your way of being – which I find refreshing and inspiring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Does Ralph Waldo Emerson Say On Playing Big?


A little while ago I read Robyn Davidson’s book, Tracks. If you haven’t read it and enjoy reading about real people -about the human spirit and it’s thirst for something beyond the know and the accepted – then I encourage you to read it.  Please don’t play small and settle for watching the movie – the movie is such a shallow version of the book.

Today, I came across a passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson which is in line with the 1700 mile journey Robyn Davidson took across Australia – against all advice – just because the journey was calling her. I share this passage with you in the possibility that it will inspire you and me to play BIG (bolding mine):

“You will hear everyday the maxims of low prudence. You will hear that the first duty is to get land and money, place and name. “What is the Truth you seek? What is this Beauty?” men will ask, with derision. If, nevertheless, God has called any of you to explore truth and beauty, be bold, be firm, be true. When you shall say, “As others do, so will I. I renounce, I am sorry for it, my early visions; I must eat the good of the land, and let learning and romantic expectations go, until a more convenient season;” – then dies the man in you; then once more perish the buds of art, and poetry, and science, as they have died already in a thousand men”

-Emerson, 1838

I thank you for your listening. And I wish you the very best – I hope you will listen and respond to that which calls forth the best, the bigness, in you.  Until the next time..

Looking Back Over 2015: The Highs, The Lows, The Lessons

What I have experienced. And What I have learned over 2015.


If you subscribe to this blog then you may have noticed that I have shared little or nothing for most of this year.  What’s been going on? What game have I been playing?  What demands has life been making upon me?  What opportunities have presented themselves? What insights do I have to share with you?

We Like Life To Be Neat And Tidy

It is our tendency to put stuff into neat-tidy boxes. To distinguish, to classify, to categorise, to label stuff.  Once we have given something a label we feel safer, we can go about ‘investigating’ it, and then coming up with ways of dealing with stuff.  It is also our tendency to think in contrasts: long/short, good/bad, right/wrong, blessing/curse, success/failure, rich/poor, kind/mean, playing BIG/playing small… You get the idea. Yet life has a certain fullness, boundlessness, messiness, that means it cannot be easily categorised. And any / every categorisation is incomplete.

This Year Has Been An Interesting (Full) Year

It occurs this year has been like the seasons – especially the kind of seasons we have been experiencing lately in the Southern part of England – where multiple seasons present themselves in what should be a single season.

January. Everything was great: health, family, work… The future looked bright and I had plans – plans for playing BIG in life and inspiring others to play BIG in their lives. I even turned out an incredibly well paid (six figures) consulting role with a well known large consultancy. Why? Because, I was happy doing what I was doing.

February. I found that if I sat down I could not get up. I could not get up! I found that I could not put on my shorts, trousers, socks, shoes or take them off. I found that I could not turn from one side to another when in bed. Ordinary living came to a halt. And with this lack of power (self-sufficiency) the demons came out and played: feelings of helplessness, feeling of being a burden, feelings of fear… If you have lived you know what I am talking about.

Yet in the midst of this I sought to turn lemons into lemonade. So I studied often lying down or standing up. By the end of the month I became a Salesforce certified Pardot Consultant.  Wasn’t easy but brought me both distraction and great satisfaction.

March. By the middle of March I was well enough to get back to normal living. And just as I had gotten off my knees, I found myself floored. My source of income dried up – no more work. Folks whom I considered colleagues even friends treated me in ways that left me confused, puzzled, and deeply hurt.  Illness happens, I can deal with that and in fact have been dealing with it since I was a child. The kind of stuff that I experienced by friends and colleagues – that I had not experienced. And struggled to find my ground, my footing. I was in a kind of a daze for some weeks.

April, May, June. Busy, busy, busy. Busy looking for opportunities for consulting work, for Salesforce work, for project and programme management work. Plenty of conversations with all kinds of people. Even got three verbal offers of employment. None of them worked out.

Also experienced what occurred to me as the second largest (most important) betrayal of my life. That is too personal to go into. But I can tell you it hurt – really hurt.  It brought forth genuine sorrow – of the deepest kind.  The first person who showed up as betraying me was my mother when I was a child. That had a deep impact on me – I made it a rule never to trust what people say for I had seen the dramatic difference between words and deeds. It took some being to accept and deal with this betrayal.  Yet, it was easier to deal with because this time around I was an adult able to step into the shoes of the other, rather than a child of six or seven. Time does make a difference.

At the same time, I learnt to code in HTML and CSS. I even learnt to write some Javascript.  Some wondered why a strategy guy like me was doing this deep tech stuff. I was clear: in troubled times it is necessary to give myself challenges – so that misery and self-pity has no space to show up. Further, one of the ‘dark arts’ of digital was no longer dark. And, I enjoyed the achievement of building a replica of the BBC home page. Further, it became clear that whilst I could do this work, it was not work for me. I need work that provides interaction with people.  With ideas. With helping folks effect change with a view to causing a better world in some dimension.

July and August. I was busy with various ‘projects’. Some of these projects were great in that they allowed me to do what I do well: help folks think through and grapple with challenges.  Other projects were not great: dealing with difficult folks- folks who lacked knowledge/expertise, folks who talked big but did not keep their promises. These were also months of uncertainty as the work wasn’t generating the kind of income that I needed to generate. And I was keenly aware that I was burning through the family’s safety net.

Whilst the family was holidaying in various parts of France, I was busy studying for a Salesforce certification. When I got my Salesforce Sales Cloud certification – well it is day I remember well. I had taken that same exam a year ago and failed. It was the first exam I had failed in my life. But this time around I learned from the past, did the work (over and over), and I passed!  Further, I used up some of the time to dive deeper into the whole User Experience Design thing. I found that I enjoyed learning about it. And that I already knew quite a bit – but by no means all of it or anywhere near.  Further, I learned that I enjoyed the UX design thing given that it is a useful tool for creating better digital interactions and interfaces.

Oh and I made my decision. I Gave up freelance project management type of work that I had been doing (because it was so easy to do). And accepted an offer of employment with a large consultancy / systems integrator.

September. I found myself back to the kind of lifestyle that I had chosen to leave behind five or so years ago.  Why go back?  Despite the ‘new age’ stuff my life has not always worked out the way I have wanted it to work out. It has just worked out the way it worked out.  And given my experiences between March and September – including working with folks that showed up as ‘idiots’ – I was grateful to be back to proper consulting work with folks that had showed up as pleasant, helpful, interesting during the interview process.

Yet, this month was a kind of shock to the system. New organisation, new people, new ways of doing things, regular travel, waking up at four in the morning, catching the 6:30 aeroplane to a foreign country, working away from home – from several days at a time, to the whole week. Yet, amidst that I got to re-experience Copenhagen – a city that I had lived in for three months some 10+years ago. The city still showed up as beautiful. And the Danish people seemed to be the same kind of people. Only this time, I realised how fortunate I had been 10+years ago. The last time I stayed-worked in Copenhagen I had stayed in one of the very best (most expensive, beautiful) parts of the city. Sometimes you can only appreciate what you had long after you had it.

October and November. I find myself in the hell I had experienced back in February. I felt my back go on a return flight from Copenhagen to London. This time I did not behave as foolishly as I did back in February. I learnt from that experience and started taking measures immediately – like standing up to work, like taking medicines, like going for walks….  Yet, that did not make it easy. My lower back and legs were in constant pain. I got through the days with the maximum dose of painkillers.

Just when it looked like things could not get worse they did. My neck, shoulders and left arm started playing up – might have had something to do with the fall that I took on the stairs due to being drugged up!  Despite expensive visits to the Chiropractor, the neck, shoulders, and arm did not improve. It got worse. I had constant pain in my left arm, I lost fine motor control (could not button up my shirt or insert cufflinks into my shirt sleeves), and I lost power in that arm. Due to all this I didn’t sleep much – an hour here, two hours there. Yet, despite all of this I kept working full or pretty full days.

I worked from home. I worked at a client site. One day I was walking just outside the client site in November, my right lower leg lost power, and I found myself flat on the pavement.  Luckily my hands broke the fall.  Because my left arm/hand was inoperative (could not type for example, or hold a flip-chart market), I ended up doing almost all of my writing up on flip charts.  I illustrated, I explained, I recorded decisions, next steps, strategies… on the flipchart. And then gave these charts to helpful folks at the client to write-up.

December. Finally got round to seeing the neurosurgeon. My chiropractor and the emergency doctor (that I had to see at the weekend after a very difficult Friday) brought home to me the serious of the situation toward the middle to end of November.  After that it took a while to get the necessary appointments: my predicament occurred as urgent to me, the world of insurance companies, secretaries, consultants, and hospitals was rather indifferent to the needs of one single being.  Life kind of works like that: we want so much to be given special treatment, all seven billion of us….

This week, finally got the MRI scans done. One shows that I have a pretty impressive bulging disc pressing into my spinal cord in my lower back. Hence the sore lower back, inability to sit for long, pain down my legs, loss of power in my right lower leg. The other MRI scans show I have a bulging disc in my lower neck which is also pressing against my spinal cord. Hence the loss of function in my left arm…

What to do?  Do I take the surgery knowing that there is two out of hundred people who have that surgery end up paralysed: two out of 100 for the back, two out of hundred for the neck.  Or do, I cling to the possibility that my body will heal itself (enough to live a normal life) given time and the right type of activity?  The neurosurgeon advised the latter and I find myself in agreement with him.  Surgery as a last resort.

So What Is It That I Have Taken Away From This Year And All That Has Come With It?

It occurs to me that sometimes playing BIG is simply handling life as best as one can. There have been periods in this year that I was in so much pain that when I noticed I was about to go to sleep, a part of my wished that I would never wake up. Yet, I did wake up, and with that waking up life made its demands on me.  Further, when I did wake up I felt bad that I wished the night before that I would not wake up. Why? Because of my wife and children – they count on me in so many ways.  They want me around – for a long time. To leave them just to avoid some physical pain (even a lot of physical pain) occurs as selfish.  As weak.

If I have played BIG this year then what I acknowledge myself for is modelling the way I hope that my children will deal with the demands (unexpected surprises, difficulties) that life will throw at them:

  • My children have seen/heard me cry, shout with pain, walk across the kitchen in the middle of the night – night after night, drugged out at the end of the day, fallen-helpless-bleeding at the bottom of the stairs yet unbeaten, ask for help in putting on my socks and shoes….
  • They have seen me work every day – every day as best as I can, as creatively as I can, to meet my obligations to my clients, my colleagues, my employer, and my family.
  • They have seen me accept the pain, accept the demands of life, and deal with them with stoicism. Sometimes even with laughter.
  • Most of all, I hope that I have shown my wife and children how important they are to me, and how much I love them.

And finally, the blessing amidst all the difficulties? I know that I will die. And yet the most important part of me (that which I value, how I aspire to conduct myself) lives in my children. I experienced the most amazing kindness, generosity, love, helpfulness, encouragement emerge from my children.  They have left me feeling loved in a way that is beyond words.  And I have witnessed and experienced the same from my wife.  

How extraordinarily fortunate I have been this year!  How often does one get to really experience the beauty of ordinary everyday living?  How often does one get to experience how much one matters in the lives of others? How often does one get to feel so grateful, so proud of one’s children, of one’s partner/wife?  How often does one get to experience the triumph of the human will over the difficulties and surprises that come intrinsically with life and living?  I got to experience ALL of it!