Play Big: Embrace The Truth of Human Existence


I have been reading the book Man for Himself by Erich Fromm.  There is one passage which resonates with me. And this is the passage I wish to share with you as it occurs to me that it gets to the heart of playing BIG in my/your living.

Man can react to historical contradictions by annulling them through his own action; but he cannot annual existential dichotomies, although he can react to them in different ways. He can appease his mind by soothing and harmonising ideologies. He can try to escape from his inner restlessness by ceaseless activity in pleasure or business. He can try to abrogate his freedom and turn himself into an instrument of powers outside of himself, submerging himself in them.  But he remains dissatisfied, anxious, and restless.

There is only one solution to his problem: to face the truth, to acknowledge is fundamental aloneness and solitude in a universe indifferent to his fate, to recognise that there is no power transcending him which can solve his problem for him.Man must accept the responsibility for himself and the fact that only by using his own powers can he give meaning to his life.  

But meaning does not imply certainty; indeed the quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning.  Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.

If he faces the truth without panic he will recognise that there is no meaning to life except the meaning  man gives his life by unfolding  of his powers, by living productively; and that only constant vigilance, activity, and effort can keep us from failing in the one task that matters – the full development of our powers within the limitations  set  by the laws of our existence.

Man will never cease to be perplexed, to wonder, to raise new questions. Only if he recognises the human situation, the dichotomies inherent in his existence and his capacity to unfold his powers, will he be able to succeed in his task: to be himself and for himself and to achieve happiness by the full realisation of those faculties which are peculiarly his – of reason, love, and productive work.

I invite you to grapple with the speaking of Erich Fromm. I invite you (and me) to take responsibility – right this moment – for our living and our lives.  It is a BIG ask which is why it is only for those up for playing BIG.

Until the next time….

Play BIG By Listening To And Heeding The Call


After fifty or so years of existence I am clear that there is a profound difference between living in resonance with a calling. And the experience of living without a calling.

What project calls you?  What possibility calls you?  What challenge calls you? What endeavour calls you? What opportunity calls you?  What is your calling?

Which person/s call you? Which place/s call you?  Which craft calls you? Which sport calls you?  which adventure calls you? Which vocation calls you? Which projects and/or possibilities call you?

How are you called to be?  How are you called to ‘show up and travel’ in this world?

Are you attuned to that which calls you?  Are you heeding the call?  Are you living the call?

It occurs to me that if you/i are attuned to and living the call, then you/i will experience our living as meaningful – full of meaning, aliveness, fulfilment, even joy.

It occurs to me that if you/i find ourselves experiencing a hollowness, a flatness, an emptiness, in our living then you/i are either not listening – attentively, deeply enough – to that which calls us. Or we have heard the call, and have not heeded the call.

So, it occurs to me that the first step in playing BIG is listening to that which calls you; listen deeply / often enough and you/i will find that which truly calls us. The second step is to heed the call – act; our access to making a contribution / impact is through action, our access to causing that which we find ourselves called to cause is through action.

I find that my deepest calling is to: bring nobility to human existence; to bring genuine humanity to a world obsessed with elevating technology and diminishing wo/man; to remind folks that ‘it is ALL made up’ and that which is made up an be unmade-remade by you/me/us; to be of help to those who find themselves less fortunate than me; and to be here for those who count on me to be here for them (children, wife, parents, siblings…).

When I find myself living in resonance with this calling I live powerfully and I am rewarded with a life of meaning, of fulfilment, of aliveness, of joy. I also find that whilst I do not wish for death, I do find myself ready for it.

What about you: what is your deepest calling?

Play BIG: Give Your Life Meaning By Inventing And Struggling For Your Ithaca


Have you read Homer’s The Odyssey? If you have you will know that the hero, Odysseus, undergoes ten years of struggle/hardship to return to Ithaca – his kingdom, his home, where his family awaits him.  His ten years are not years of ease, pleasure and happiness. The ten years are full of everything that life offers. Even in his darkest hours, Odysseus does not give up hope. Why?  He lives to return to Ithaca: to his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus.

In an age where most people, when they allow themselves to get present to it, find that their living (and the society they live in) lacks meaning, it occurs to me that it is up to you/i to create our own Ithaca.  And strive for it.  In the process turning a meaningless existence into one that is meaningful.  Does it matter what this Ithaca is?  No. You/i can choose and indeed have to choose.  Yes, it is great if it is an Ithaca that really calls to you/me. And yet, one invented for the sake of invention, can also provide meaning. What do I mean by that?  Allow me to give you an example – a real example from my own life.

For more than three weeks my back has been playing up. And I have been in pretty much constant pain. At the start I could not sit at my desk at all. Somewhere along week 2 I could sit for some 15 minutes. Now I can sit for as much as 30 minutes.  There were nights where I was in so much pain that I could not sleep.  Amidst this pain, I chose to create-invent an Ithaca: learn more about marketing automation and take/pass the exam to become a Certified Pardot Consultant.  So I found myself lying on back, MacBook open, watching videos. I found myself sitting at my desk for 15 minutes at a time, making notes. I found myself printing stuff off so that I could walk around read stuff. learn it, memorise it.  I found myself with a sense of mission, engaged, and in the process the bad back was merely an obstacle.  The first time I took the exam, I failed. Did I lose heart? No!

The mission was still intact – in fact stronger than before.  Now, I found myself wiser: I knew what I had not learned. So that very day, the day I failed the exam, I started studying again. A week later, still in pain, I drove to the test centre (despite my wife’s concern-protests) in pain, and sat the exam again: I passed, I attained my Ithaca.  Is it a big deal that I passed the exam and find myself a Certified Pardot Consultant. No, not really: it has not transformed my life. Yet, the journey over the three weeks did give me meaning. And allowed me to show up as an author of my life rather than the victim: the poor victim of incapacitating back pain. That is what matters to me – the experience of living whilst walking the path.

Why did I share that with you? To provide the context that will allow you to make sense of and hopefully resonate with the following poem:

Ithaca

As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.

Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbors new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire fine goods:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind;
to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.
But she has nothing left to give you any more.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean.

– C.P. Cavafy

Finally, I wish to acknowledge and thank my dear “old” friend: James Harvey.  James, I thank you for reaching out to me after my last conversation here. I have been working with my Chiropractor (Sandra) to get my back fit for a normal life. As Sandra and I have been working together for 5+years, she was able to make a big difference quickly. And I will treasure the care/love that I experienced as a result of you reaching out to me. I want you to know that I am truly grateful that you exist; i find this world to be a richer place as a result of your existence.

Play BIG: Listen To / Embrace The Wisdom Of Viktor Frankl (Part 1)


If you/i are to play BIG and experience ourselves living a vital-vibrant existence then I say you/i can help ourselves by listening to, embracing-embodying the wisdom of Viktor Frankl.  In today’s conversation I share some of this wisdom with you.  I urge you to make the time to watch and truly listen to the following.

Heed The Most Fundamental and Basic Concern of Man

“What is the most fundamental and basic concern of man? Neither pleasure nor happiness. Neither power nor prestige. But, originally, and basically, his wish, his desire to find and fulfil a meaning in his life, or for that matter, in each single life situation confronting him.

And if there is a meaning to fulfil, if he is aware, if he becomes cognizant of such a meaning then he is ready to suffer, he’s ready to offer sacrifices, he’s ready to undergo tension, stress and so forth without any harm being done to his health. But if there is no meaning available, no meaning in his visual field then he takes his life.

Meaning can be found everywhere, in the smallest hut, on the other you can find people who are millionaires .. and billionaires, they have no meaning, they kill themselves….”

Bypassing The Snare Of Self Actualisation, Embracing Self Transcendence

“.. what a individual, a human being needs, is … self-transcendence. That is to say, being concerned with one’s self or one’s one prestige or one’s own happiness is self defeating.….. I deem that ‘pursuit of happiness’ is a contradiction in terms. Because happiness can never really be pursued. Happiness must ensue. Happiness is a side effect, happiness is a byproduct and must remain a byproduct of meaning fulfilment. Of your dedication to a task, a cause greater than yourself, or a person other than yourself…..

The more you give yourself, the more you forget yourself, in love or in work, for the sake of a cause to serve or a person to love, to the very extent you will become happy precisely by not caring for happiness. Precisely by overlooking and forgetting you are happy or not.

It is the same as with the boomerang ….. I had the insight that this is the very symbol of human existence, and the self transcendent quality of the human reality. Because usually … we assume that it is the job of the boomerang to fulfil is to return to the hunter. “That’s not true” the Australian’s told me. Because only that boomerang returns to the hunter, that boomerang that in the first place had failed the target .. the prey. It is the same with man. Only the type of people so intent on themselves and so eager to contemplate to observe themselves, to actualise themselves, to interpret themselves, who in the first place had missed, not a target, but a mission in their life. Who had not found a meaning outward of them. Or a human being other than themselves.

This is self-transcendence. Not being primarily concerned with oneself but something other than oneself. Or, still better, someone other than oneself. Man becomes himself, man is actualising himself, man is human, precisely to the extent man is not concerned with himself or anything to do with himself. But living out his self-transcendence.”

Who Am I? Who Are You?


What Kind Of A Being Is A Human Being?

There are so many lenses through which you/i can look at this question and answer it:

– We can look at it through the Judeo-Christian lens: a human being is fashioned in the likeness of God and is here to create something like a paradise on earth.

– We can look at it through the enlightenment lens: man is the rational being who defines himself through his ability to exercise reason and act on the basis of reason as opposed to dogma/superstition.

– We can look at this question through the psychoanalytic lens: man is never ending interplay of dynamic forces arising from the ‘id’, the ‘superego’, and the ‘ego’.

– We can look at it through the sociological lens: man is a social being who always exist in a social context and whose way of showing up in the world is fashioned by the social context – particularly the culture in which he grew up.

For my part, I find myself drawn to the following way of defining a human being: Man is the being who cannot escape the question of being and as such necessarily takes a stand on his being. 

Who Am I? 

I can define-view myself in many ways. And if I look into this deeply I get there is no limit to the many ways that I can define myself. If there is a limit then it is the limit of my imagination.

Every tribe/society privileges certain definitions-categories above others. In the world in which I find myself, these definitions centre primarily on what one has-holds-occupies: wealth, social class, profession, status….

So who am I?  I am my stand. At any point in time, I am that which I am committed to. These commitments show up in the form of  possibilities that I invent, ‘projects’ that I take on and give myself to, and the way that I show up and travel in this world. 

Let’s make this concrete:

Many years ago I found myself confronted with a choice. Which choice? Career: doing that which it takes to move from Senior Manager to Director/Partner in a major consulting firm or doing that which it takes to be a good father. I chose the latter.

Some years ago I was confronted with the choice of doing that which the CEO asked-dictated and relating to myself as ‘thief-liar-cheat’ or risk losing my job. I found myself saying that I was not willing to do that which was being asked-dictated.

Every week I clean the toilets and bathrooms, voluntarily and willingly. Why? To ground myself, to experience humility, to lead by example: to do the kind of work that I ask of my family.

I do not accept presents. When Christmas or my birthday comes, I ask those who would give me presents to give me money instead. Why? So that I can give that money to those less fortunate than me.

Recently I invented the possibility of being a good cook and cooking curry for my parents as that is what they love to eat. I took on that which, by default, is hardest for me: asking for help. I asked my wife for help as she is a great cook. Now, some months later, I relate to myself as a cook. I have cooked for my parents – I did it a week ago. And, I insist on cooking Sunday lunch. This Sunday my family members told me that this was the best curry I had cooked.

I hope you get the idea.

Who are you?

I invite you to step outside of the existing categories-definitions. Instead take a good look, at who/what you give yourself to in terms of your time, your energy, your deepest self, your self-expression, your resources..

I invite you to notice the following:

– if you define yourself through the standard categories – your sex (male, female), nationality, occupation, social class etc – you find your room for manoeuvre limited.

– if you accept my invitation and define yourself through your stand, the possibilities you invent, the projects you take on, your room for manoeuvre is so much wider-bigger-spacious.

I leave you with this quote from Lynne Twist:

“Taking a stand is a way of living and being that draws on a place within yourself that is at the very heart of who you are. When you take a stand, you find your place in the universe, and you have the capacity to move the world.”

Death As Access to Zestful-Intelligent-Compassionate Living


Death has been with me, a companion, since the day that I came out of this world and into it – the day of my birth.  Since then many years have gone by and friend Death is getting closer – catching up with me. One day, perhaps even today, he will catch up with me, and embrace me.  No second chances, no re-runs, no repeats, no encores. Just this one life – this one opportunity to participate in the melody-play called Life.

Can Death Be An Ally in Mindful-Zestful Living?

Is death necessarily negative?  Or can you/i relate to Death as a friend/ally who can provide access to zestful-intelligent-compassionate-meaningful living?  Let’s listen to Don Juan’s wisdom as shared some time ago by Carlos Castenada:

Without the awareness of death everything is ordinary, trivial. It is only because death is stalking us that the world is an unfathomable mystery……

Death is a wise adviser that we have… One… has to ask death’s advice and drop the cursed pettiness that belongs to men that live their lives as if death will never tap them!

You have little time and no time for crap. A wonderful state! The best of us always comes out when we are against the wall, when we feel the sword dangling overhead. … I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

(The warrior) knows that death is stalking him or her and won’t give time to cling to anything… And thus with an awareness of death,… and with the power of own decisions, the warrior sets life in a strategic manner… and what the warrior chooses is always strategically the best; and thus the warrior performs everything with gusto and lusty efficiency!

What shows up, if i/you are not present to Death and thus do not live strategically? The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

I say it is worth listening to what Bronnie Ware says on the matter:

“For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die…….

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed.…….. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others…. they settled for a mediocre existence …….. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. 

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years……. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice.……Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

And Finally

Early Friday morning. I did not sleep well; tiredness is present. After sitting in the train for over an hour, the train arrives into London and I get off. It is another ten minutes to the office.  Outside. It is cold, it is blustery, it is darkish, it is raining. Yet I find at peace and joyous. How/why?  I leave you with this quote from Martin Heidegger:

If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life — and only then will I be free to become myself.

The challenge that remains is to keep this existence. This challenge is made easier every time I look in the mirror and see the face that faces me: the long thick jet black hair is surrendering to the continued advance of the grey.

Possibility is the access to extraordinary living: meet JDB


Is this HELL?

Imagine that you are 43 years old and on top of the world.  You have two homes (one in the city, one in the country), you have a wife and children, you drive an expensive sports car, you have a mistress, you have a great job, plenty of money, status……Then whilst you are out driving with one of your children you suffer a stroke.  20 days later you come out of a coma.  Coming out of that coma you simply think it was bad dream and you will shortly get up and resume your life.

Slowly you learn that you will never return to your normal life.  Your mind is just as it was before the stroke.  You can see, you can hear, you can smell, you can feel – all of your senses work.  Only one issue – your body does not work.  You are in hell.  You are aware of everything but you are locked inside your body.  You cannot move your head, your arms, your legs, you cannot swallow….  Everything has to be done for you: you exist because the feed you via a drip, you pee via a catheter…….. You are in the middle of watching a football match, you are really into it, it is half-time and someone comes and switches it off.  The machine that is monitoring is beeping loudly, you are going insane with the noise, you catheter has fallen off, you are totally soaked, you are in misery.  You cannot call out.  You have to wait and bear what is so until someone comes and does something.  Your life is at the mercy of other people – totally.

What is your experience of life?  Would you be tempted to end it all?  Would you feel like a victim, cry and grieve for your lost life?  I suspect many of us would do that.

Introducing Jean-Dominique Bauby

What did Jean-Dominique Bauby  (“JDB”) do?  JDB noticed that he could do something – he could blink his left eyelid.  With the help and inspiration of an amazing speech therapist he learned to communicate using an optimised alphabet.  This required commitment, dedication, patience on the part of JDB and the people around him – with that in place he was able to communicate with many people.  Yet, JDB did not stop there he went further.

JDB invented a Possibility for himself and his life that enabled him to transcend his circumstances, to leave a legacy to his children and all of us.  A legacy that we can use to be grateful for all the simple things (like being able to swallow, turn our head, wash ourselves) that we can do often without thinking about it.  And a legacy that calls our attention to the power of Possibility as an access to extraordinary living – a life lived with meaning, with purpose, with fulfilment.

What Possibility did JDB inventthat inspired him to live a meaningful, purpose life where he was the author of his life, up to meeting the challenges of his circumstances?  JDB invented the Possibility of writing a book (something he had dreamed of and never done) and leaving a legacy to his children.  He also wanted to show some former friends, colleagues and associates that contrary to what they thought he was not a vegetable – a word that they used to describe.  This Possibility kept JDB going for about two years.

With the help of an extraordinary young women (Mendibil) he got his book dictated and then published.  The book is called the The Diving Bell And The Butterfly it was published on 7th March 1997.  To get it to that stage JDB did the following according to the Independent:

  • He would spend most of the night editing his thoughts and composing sentences, which he memorised so that when Mendibil arrived in the morning he could dictate the latest instalment to her in a succession of blinks.
  • He was able to write his book, using only his ability to blink at the most frequently used letters of the alphabet – E, S, A, R, I, N, T and so on, while Mendibil pointed to them on a screen: one blink for “yes”, two blinks for “no”.

So JDB suffered his stroke on 8th December 1995 (age 43).  His book (The Diving Bell and The Butterfly) was published in France on 7th March 1997 – 15 months later.  And JDB died 2 days later.  Is it too much to argue that it is this Possibility that JDB invented that helped him to endure, to transcend his circumstances and live long enough to see his Possibility delivers the fruits of its existence?

The life lesson for us all

By inventing and living into a Possibility that inspired JDB and gave meaning to his life JDB transcended his circumstances and left behind a book that is described by the Financial Times as ‘One of the great books of the century’ and Edmund White says ‘Read this book and fall in love with life.’

So what is the example, the life lesson that JDB has left for us if we want to listen?  I assert that the life lesson is simply this: no matter what our circumstances we can choose to invent a Possibility for ourselves and our lives that leaves us being powerful in the face of these circumstances, allow us to transcend these circumstances, gives our living meaning turning ordinary living into extraordinary living.  And by doing that we can leave a legacy behind: inspire our friends, our children, our fellow human beings.

The question is this:  Will I take this path?  Will you take this path?  Will I, you, we invent Possibility(And live from Possibility) that leave us as authors of our lives, people who are up to the circumstances at hand, people who make an impact/contribution to ourselves and others?  Or will be simply act as ‘victims’ and ‘blame circumstances’ for pissing our lives down the toilet.