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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What can we learn from the happiest man in the world and Jessie Rees?


A lot of pain has been present in my living over this last week.  So much physical pain that I have done little even though I had plans to do a lot.  Truthfully, I have been much less than I aspire to be.  I found myself distant from my family. I have found myself being snappy with one of my son’s.  I found myself just wanting to be left alone to deal with my pain. And when it got too hard I took the easy way out: I took muscle relaxants which eased the pain and knocked me out.

And in this very week, what shows up in my world?  Inspiration.  Heart touching-moving inspiration from two sources.  The first is from “the happiest man in the world”.  And the second is from 12 year old Jessie Joy Rees.

The happiest man in the world

I find myself watching this man, listening to him and being captivated. Captivated by what?  His stance in life. The way he shows up in life.  The way he counts his blessing.  His philosophy of life. His wisdom. I am clear that he gets it. And as such I am delighted that I have come across him.

Jessie Joy Rees and the Joy Jars

What can I say? I find myself watching this video and there are tears running down my cheeks. I am inspired to ask this question:

How can I help them?

 

I have a question for you: how can I help you?  Please think about it and let me know.

 

Being a source of contribution: is it as simple as listening?


What does it take to be a source of contribution? Does it take advising?  Does it take fixing?  Does it take doing?

It occurs to me that I can be a source of contribution by simply being present and listening to the other.  What kind of listening?  Non-judgemental listening. Listening without any fixing.  Listening without any telling.  Listening without bringing myself into it. Listening that keeps the light/attention on the person who is doing the speaking. Always on the person doing the speaking.

I just got off a call.  It is not an everyday kind of call.  It was an extraordinary call.  A call that showed up as a contribution in lives. And it is left me humbled.

The first person I spoke with was in pain.  Not as much pain as she was this morning. This morning she cried over the phone.  This evening she did not cry, she shared.  I listened. I listened to her story: of illness; of disappointments; of struggle; of her shame; and the actors that bring her this suffering and heap this shame.

All the time that I was being listening stuff showed up that needed to be dealt with. Whose stuff? What stuff?  The stuff was thoughts, urges, fixed ways of being/doing.  My thoughts, my urges, my fixed ways of being/doing. The temptation to advise was strong.  The temptation to fix was strong. The temptation to minimise her suffering was strong.  And I was in a clearing where I could see this stuff clearly, let it arise, grasp it not, and so let it fall away.

What showed up after this conversation?  I noticed that I had allowed myself to get enrolled in her story. Specifically, I noticed that I had hostile feelings toward a number of actors who behaving badly were the cause of her suffering, her tears.  The next conversation was with one of these actors.

I noticed that I entered into the next conversation reluctantly.  Truthfully, I did not want to speak to him. He showed up for me as ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ and thus ‘undeserving’ of my time, my listening, my love.  And I simply asked “How are you?” – letting go of the passion to give him a telling off.

He told his story and in the telling of his story he shared his pain and suffering. He burst into tears.  I found myself connected with him through his pain and suffering. I felt his pain, his suffering.  Again, the urge to fix the situation arose and tried to hook me. It fell away, I refused to grasp it.  I simply listened and in the listening got his pain, his suffering.  I just listened. And kept encouraging him to talk. Why was this necessary?

He did not want to take up my time. He did not want me to worry for him.  He did not want to cause me pain and suffering on his account. Ten or so minutes later, he was cried out.  He was no longer carrying his pain and his suffering had lessened. He told me that he loves me.  He told me that my existence matters to him. He told me that he wants to be near me – to get a hug. He told me that he never wants me to die.

A tear falls from my heart and my face.  What is the cause of this tear? I did nothing. I just listened.  I just let the other person tell his story and share his pain/suffering. I just said “I am sad to hear that you are in pain. I am sad that it hasn’t worked out the way you wanted it to work out. I wish I could fly over and give you big hug. I love you. And will it work for you if I ring you tomorrow and they day after?”

I am present to this: listening, pure listening, listening with compassion, shows up as huge source of contribution to the person who gets s/he has been listened to. And to me too.

Tears


The domain of experience: what is so

Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears.

The domain of mind/concept: the ‘story’ that shows up uninvited

This is so sad:he was so young, had so much to live for.

This is painful: I will miss him; and I will miss her.

Why do I feel so sad?

Why so many tears?

I am soft, I am sensitive …..

What will my wife and children think seeing me tearful?

Stop being such a woman, be a man!

Pull yourself together, don’t let your guests see you this way.

Tears are part of the human condition.

Tears are a sign that you care, that you are human, that you are not a robot.

What is the right thing to do by his family, her family?

Blah. Blah. Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.

Getting it!

It is resisting the experience.  It is taking flight into the domain of mind, of concept, of story!

What one resists, persists!

Being with what is so: the domain of experience

Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears.

How do you contribute to someone when you cannot ‘fix the situation’?


I was meditating this morning.  Whilst I was still sitting in the lotus position (after having completed the meditation) my daughter came into the lounge.  Just by looking at her I could tell that she was upset.  She asked for a hug and I invited her to come and sit on my lap. Once she sat on my lap I asked her what she was upset about.

She told me that she did not want to go to school.   She told me that she finds school boring.  She told me that the teachers spent too much time on the academic subjects (English, Maths..) and almost no time on the creative subjects that breathe life into her and give her wings: art, painting, dance….. She told me that the teacher his moved her best friend to another part of the classroom and so they are no longer sitting next to each other.  She cried. I felt her pain – really, I FELT her pain.  And I also got that I could not fix the situation.  Life is life.  Sometimes it throws up several flavours like Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry…. At other times life throws up Vanilla and when that is so you can choose Vanilla or you can ‘resist’ and you are still faced with Vanilla: there is no escaping Vanilla when all there is, is simply Vanilla.

I got that I could not fix it for her.  So how do I help my daughter given that I cannot fix the situation for her?  I held her tight (but not too tight) and I allowed her to cry – to express and share her pain without any judgement.  And after with what was so for about five minutes she got up and got ready to go to school.

Sometimes the most profound way that we help our fellow human beings is to a create a safe space where they can be who they really are.  A safe space where they can share what is really going on for them without fear of judgement.  A safe space where they know that we will not make any attempts to tell them what to do, to fix them.  A safe space where the communication in our being and relating simply says: “You are equal to the circumstances that you are facing.  And I am here for you.”