Does Calling Forth Beauty Requires A Willingness To Be OK With Ugliness?


During the course of my life I have played many games and many games have played me. The game of fame no longer calls to me. The game of success / wealth no longer calls. The game of competition (beating others) no longer calls…

The game that calls me today is a two-sided game. One side of the game is for my existence to add to the beauty of this world in which I dwell. The other side of the game is to show up and travel as blessing to others. It occurs to me that when I play the game of being a blessing unto others I add to the beauty of this world. And that when I play the game of adding beauty to the world I am creating an opening for me to occur as blessing to folks.

Every game has a price.  When I played the game of going from being called a ‘Paki’ (being spat at and looked down upon..) to being somebody, the price was hard work – years of it. When I played the game of being a husband and father, the price was to put myself second always….. When I started playing the game of self-expression (like writing blogs) the price was a willingness to stand, be seen, be subject of criticism/ridicule…

So what is the price that comes along with playing the game that I have chosen to play – the game of adding to the beauty of the world and showing up as a blessing to others?  It occurs to me that the price is accepting even embracing the ugliness of the world. And not letting this ugliness to cause me to lose heart and thus give up on the game that calls to me.

What is it that I am getting at? Allow me to illustrate by sharing lived experiences.  On a recent assignment to a new place, new organisation, and new people, I found myself deliberately choosing to notice something noteworthy about folks and complimenting them on that which showed up as noteworthy for me.  For example;

  • On a cold day I came across a woman in her 40s dressed as if it was summer whilst I had suit, overcoat, scarf and gloves!  So I remarked on the difference and complimented her on her ability to deal with the cold so well. This brought a smile to her face and allowed her to share her optimistic take on life. This exchange took less than a minute or two.
  • Walking down the stairs I noticed a fellow glide down the stairs whilst I kind of hobbled. I called out to him and complimented him on his agility, his swiftness, his grace of movement. He laughed and told me that it was easier to go down swiftly (which was what he was doing) than go up swiftly (which is what I was doing). This exchange took less than a minute.
  • In the open plan office, I came across a young lady dressed well – really well. I thought I noticed a style: the French style. So I complimented her on her style. Said it reminded me of the French; told her I was married into the French. Then I asked if she had any French parents. She didn’t. But she did have a Czech mother. I wished a great day and carried on. The exchange took about a minute.
  • Watched what occurred to me as remarkable demonstration of the concept of integration/APIs/enterprise bus: the most abstract showcased in the most human / concrete of ways. I came across the guy who led that demonstration. I acknowledged the brilliance of his demonstration. He smiled. He opened up and shared something of his background like going to Cambridge University to do his PhD…
  • Came across a young man in his 20s. Noticed that he dressed differently to all the other folks in the area that we sat in. He was wearing a suit. So I acknowledged him for how good he looked in his suit. He smiled and we got talking – I learned he is Danish.. One day he came up to my desk (we sat at desks that were nearby) and asked me what I thought of his clothes. I told him that it was the most colourful shirt I had seen. That I loved it – it went well with his suit. And I’d only change one thing. The tie – I’d go for a plain blue tie rather than blue tie with colours…. We had a chat about that….

I could go on and on. I came across so many people and every time an opportunity for a genuine acknowledgement / compliment came up I took it. Why? For me there is a certain beauty that occurs in the world when the folks that I come across smile – genuinely smile. Further, it occurs to me that in England, and English culture, folks are starved of genuine compliments.

So where is the ugliness in this?  I initiated conversations which resulted in many folks smiling. I called forth conversation. I learned something about folks, they learned something about me. Some folks searched me out on LinkedIn and invited me into their network. Other folks I invited to connect up with me on LinkedIn and they accepted. A few of these folks, having worked with me, provided me with endorsements of my skills. All positive. So where is the ugliness in this?

After the assignment was over I had a post engagement review with my manager.  What was his feedback. Folks at the client were really happy with my work: clearly knew my subject area, worked hard, professional, helped them on their problems, and delivered on the scope of the Statement of Work. But one problem. One of the key people – a female manager – had made a complaint. What complaint?  A young lady had come to her and told her that I stopped her in a public area (open plan office) and made remarks about her dress style.  This made her uncomfortable.  Luckily for me, that was the extent of it. No formal complaint had been made of inappropriate behaviour.

How to take this? Allow me to be straight with you: I did not take this well. I found myself in shock. I kind of felt betrayed by my fellow wo/man. I felt like saying “I quit. F**k them. Let the English be a bunch of miserable b*****ds.”  I found myself asking myself what kind of world am I living in. How does it make sense that in an open plan office I can compliment Stefan (the young Danish) guy on his dress sense and build up a ‘buddy’ type relating. And in the same open plan office compliment a young lady (same age range as Stefan) and find myself faced with a complaint. “How the f**k does this world make sense?”

Once I stopped playing the game of victim I a few things hit me:

  • If the game that I am playing was an easy one in the English culture then most folks would be playing it and the English would not be the English.
  • That every game has a price. And the price of the game I am playing (calling forth, adding to the beauty of this world) involves being OK with the ugliness of the world – including the ugliness of folks not being able to take compliments or misinterpreting them.
  • That I have a say in the matter of how I am going to show up and travel given the way that it is and the way it is not.  I can choose to focus on the one complaint or I can focus on the tens of smiles and conversations that I generated over the course of four weeks.
  • That I can choose to ignore this complaint. Or I can learn from it and be more sharply attuned to the person I am acknowledging / complimenting – maybe some folks are simply not ready to be with that which comes with being complimented. Maybe some folks prefer compliments / acknowledgements in a private setting. That I can use that which occurred to be wiser.

I found myself ‘comforted’ by these words of wisdom:

 

stone tiger man y gasset quote

Is there anything more to say? Yes, I continue to play the game of adding to / calling forth the beauty of this world including my fellow wo/man. And I get in the process all kinds of obstacles will show up. That it is up to me as to how to face them. Further, at any time, I can choose to play this game differently. Or choose to play an entirely different game.

I thank you for your listening. I wish you great living. Live beautifully and as the French say “a la procaine”.

 

 

Play BIG By Granting Yourself Permission To Be Fractured/Broken


My parents were great at beating me up. How so? By pointing out where I failed to match their expectations. My school teachers were great at beating me up. How so? My pointing out where I failed to meet their standards? In the business world, my managers have been great at beating me up. How so? By pointing out my deficiencies / weaknesses during the appraisal process.

It worked. Over the course of time I became a master of beating myself. Never content to be and to enjoy that which I have. Always striving to do (more, different), become (more, better, different) and look like I have it all together (for myself, for others).

One day I got it. I gave myself permission to be, including the permission to be broken, imperfect.  Someone told me that I lacked ambition. I found myself saying “I give myself permission to be not-ambitious”. Someone told me that some work project had not turned out to her satisfaction. I found myself saying “I take full responsibility”. Someone charged me being selfish. I found myself saying “I give myself permission to be selfish”.  Someone told me that which I write at The Customer & Leadership Blog has typos. I found myself saying “I give myself permission to make mistakes including typos.” The response was something like “But you will taint your personal brand!”. I found myself saying “I give myself permission to be ok with a tainted personal brand.”

I give myself permission to be. It occurs to me that giving oneself the permission to be is the access to freedom. It is liberation from the tyranny of the “should”: I should be this, not that. This is not popular with the many who seek to shape me to their image of who I should be through their “should”.  Yet, I notice that when I grant myself permission to be, I grant myself peace.

I leave you with words of wisdom:

“It’s a naked thing to show we are fractured, the we do not have it all together. Broken all the way through to the bottom. What freedom that is, to be what we are in the moment, even if it’s unacceptable…..

Think about it. We are always doing a dance – I’m good,  I’m this, I’m that. Rather than the truth – I don’t know who I am. Instead, we scurry to figure it out. We write another book, buy another blouse, exhaust ourselves. Imagine the freedom to let it be, this not-knowing. How vulnerable. This is why I love the attendant. He said who he was – a broken man …. When his teacher asked for more, the monk didn’t do a jig to win him over. There was no more. Usually, we will do anything to cover up a reality so naked.”

– Natalie Goldberg, The Best Buddhist Writing 2008

It occurs to me that when I granted myself permission to be, I did not just grant myself peace, I also granted myself power.  That is another conversation, for another day.

How To Open Yourself Up To The Experience Of Joy


Why bother with all the effort-risk-vulnerability that goes with showing up as a creator – one who creates, cause, authors?  Why not simply continue to go along with our conditioning and the default way of ‘showing up and travelling through life’ – that of a consumer who at best only gets to choose that which others have created?

Look at your lived experience and ask yourself how many people you have experienced as joyous – today, this week, this month?  Have you experienced joy?  Joy, not happiness.

When you/i show up and travel through life as creators (not merely consumers) we open ourselves up to experiencing joy.  When you/i show up as consumers we restrict our experience to moments of happiness and pleasure.

…. man does not grow automatically like a tree, but fulfils his potentialities only as he in his own consciousness plans and chooses…..

….. if a man does not fulfil his potentialities, as a person, he becomes to that extent constricted and ill…. “Energy is Eternal Delight,” said William Blake; “He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.”…..

…. to the extent that we do fulfill our potentialities as persons, we experience the profoundest joy to which the human being is heir.

When a little child is learning to walk up steps or lift a box, he will try again and again, getting up when he falls down and starting over again. And finally when he does success, he laughs with gratification, his expression of joy in the use of his powers.

But this is nothing in comparison to the quiet joy of when the adolescent can use his newly emerged power for the first time to gain a friend, or the adult’s joy when he can love, plan and create.

Joy is the affect which comes when we use our powers. Joy, rather than happiness, is the goal of life, for joy is the emotion which accompanies our fulfilling our natures as human beings. It is based on the experience of one’s identity as a being of worth and dignity, who is able to affirm his being, if need be, against all other beings and the whole inorganic world….

– Rollo May, Man’s Search For Himself

I find that I look forward to Sunday mornings. Why? I experience joy in the process of cooking (Sunday lunch) and feeding my loved ones. How did this come about? I give up my beliefs-concerns-fears around cooking. How? By inventing the possibility of showing up as an adept-capable cook. And then I got busy cooking with the help and supervision of my wife.

When Sunday lunch comes around the people around the table experience happiness-pleasure that comes with eating that which has been served to them.  I experience the joy that comes with relating to myself as a creator: the creator of the food and the source of happiness-pleasure occurring around the table.

It occurs to me that there is profound truth in that which Rollo May speaks. Are you up for putting Rollo May’s speaking to the test: trying it out for yourself?

Put Aside ‘Story’, Be Present To The Phenomenon


In our default way of being something occurs in the world and instantly we find ourselves in the domain of explanation; we are almost never present to the phenomenon itself: that which occurred.  Does this matter?  Let’s explore through an example.

Yesterday evening, wife was talking to sons and one in particular. She floated the idea of him putting his brother on his insurance policy, driving his new (to be) car. Instantly, I intervened, dominated the conversation, and made my wife wrong about bringing up the subject.  She was not at all happy. How did I respond to the situation?  Not well: I did not listen to her objections instead I made her wrong for objecting to my insistence on having the conversation go my way.  Where was I whilst this ‘conversation’ was occurring?

I was in the land of ‘story’: explanation, reasoning and excuse.  What kind of ‘story’?  This one: “The boys don’t get along at the best times. What is my wife thinking? Has she forgotten the animosity between the boys?  Is she deliberately stirring up conflict?  Surely she can’t be that stupid! I have to put an end to this right here, before this plan gets any wind behind it. It is the right thing to do.”

What was the ‘story’ that I found myself entangled in when my wife objected to my attempted domination of the conversation?  This one: “Is she stupid?  Doesn’t she get that I am doing what I am doing for the benefit of all?  That my way is the best way: it will avoid conflict further down the road. If this thing gets ‘wind in the sails’  we (wife and I) will find ourselves involved in sorting things out. And whatever we do we will end up disappointing one of the boys!. No, I have to stick to my guns and stop this stupid idea!”

As you can imagine the situation did not turn out well. My wife and I ended up going to sleep upset with one another.  What showed up when I slept on the matter? In sleeping on the matter, I focussed on the phenomenon itself: that which occurred and not my interpretation-explanation (‘story’) of that which occurred.  And this is what showed up for me:

When my wife brought up the idea of one son putting the other son on his car insurance for his new car, I became alarmed. My body sat upright as if an alarm bell had gone off. What was the cause of this alarm? I saw in my minds eye, tension-conflict-fighting between the boys over who did what. And I saw myself being sucked into the situation – at the very minimum listening to, seeing, experiencing this conflict.  I hate conflict!

How might the evening have turned out if I had been present to the phenomena – that which was occurring for me – as it was occurring?

1. I would have realised one of my ‘hot’ buttons had just been pressed. That I was alarmed, I was fearful, I saw myself being sucked into a pit that would be hard to climb out of.

2. I would have said to wife: “Listening to your suggestion, I find myself fearful. I am afraid that this idea will not turn out well. The boys will argue-fight. You and I will be blamed for coming up with his idea – even forcing this idea on to our eldest son. And whilst you can tolerate conflict between the boys and see it as a learning opportunity for them, I find in unbearable. Finding it unbearable I will find myself sucked into sorting it out. And that will be a thankless task. So I finding myself vulnerable, alarmed, fearful about what you are suggesting to our eldest son. What can you do to help me out here?”

3. Wife, I, and the boys would have been given an opening to a honest conversation. It is even possible that the boys would have found an opening to share how the situation showed up for them and how they were feeling about my wife’s suggestion.

4. Wife and I might have gone to sleep within the context of mutual understanding and affection.  We might even have gone to sleep understanding each other better  – at a more intimate-deeper level.

So next time, you find yourself enmeshed in story feeling what you are feeling, telling yourself what you are telling yourself, put aside the ‘story that you are spinning and which is spinning you’ and get present to the phenomena. Being with the phenomena, without the ‘story’, may just give you the opening that you need to take an alternative (more effective) course of action.

What did I do? Having gotten present to the phenomena during the night, I apologised to my wife for my conduct the previous evening, and shared the phenomena (that which I had experienced). I am confident that this allowed her to forgive me, and put the previous evening behind us.

Daring Greatly: Moving From The Stands And Into The Arena


Having stepped out of, perhaps only a little, the dungeon of fear I find that I am that much more sensitive to the fear that grips so many of us.  For example, this week I came face to face with the fear of speaking truth: of saying what there was to be said, of accurately describing the situation.

Why was the fear present?  I do not know for sure as I was not the one experiencing the fear. My educated guess is that those advocating the politically correct course of action were gripped by the fear of looking foolish, being criticised/ridiculed, of being ‘punished’.  And I notice that I am not immune: in writing this I notice that the fear of offending is present and so it is taking something to write these words.

If there is purpose behind this blog it is this: to inspire me and you to play BIG. What does that mean?

– It means giving up playing small and in so doing relinquishing the roles that we are most comfortable with and which we occupy naturally and by default. What roles? The roles of victim and spectator; and

– Live a life of self-expression, express that which calls to be expressed.  This requires moving from the safety and smallness of the stands (can you be any smaller than being one in a crowd of thousands of spectators) onto the arena and thus the spotlight.

Why should I bother? Why should you bother?  Why should we put ourselves into the game of life, play full out, express that which lies in us calling to be expressed?  Why should we face the hard work, the struggle, the pain that goes with being in the arena?  Because, aliveness (true aliveness) is only present when I am in the arena! And I am human like you, so it occurs to me that the same is true for you: you are truly alive when you are in the arena playing from and for a possibility that truly matters to you, calls you, touches-moves-inspires-uplifts you. 

Perhaps my answer is not satisfying, not eloquent, maybe not that clear.  So allow me to share with you a passage from a speech that is eloquent and which states all that needs to be stated:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

If you find that this quote speaks to you then I invite you to watch the recent (Dec 2013) talk by Brene Brown – she is the knack of conveying what it takes to give up the comfort-anonymity-smallness of the stands and moving into the sometimes harsh glare of the arena:

Listening As A Source of Radical Kindness and Access to Great Joy


It is some two weeks since I created the possibility of being a source of and clearing for kindness-gentleness-harmony-aliveness.  What is it that which I have become present to over the last two weeks?  I have become present to the power of listening.  And I have noticed that I do not listen – not listening, really listening, is my default way of showing up in the world.  

The seed flowers into a plant when the soil and climate provides a suitable listening for the speaking of that particular seed. It occurs to me that is exactly so for the relating that shows up between myself and my fellows when I create a listening for their speaking. 

Over the last two weeks there have been moments where I have chosen to listen. To truly listen. To be a source of listening for whatever is being spoken or is awaiting a suitable listen in order to speak.  Those, in many ways, show up as the most meaningful-uplifting-gratifying moments of my existence.  It occurs to me that real listening is a small yet radical act of kindness.  Why?

“All humans want to be narrators, but many have difficulties finding listeners.”

– Jalees Rehman

What is it that a human being wishes to narrate?  My experience is that as human beings you/i  wish to narrate (tell the story of) our existence: our hopes and dreams; how the projects that matter to us are going; our joys and sorrows; our ambitions; our triumphs and struggles; our confusion-pain-suffering; and sometimes  just our day as it unfolded for us.  Let’s listen some more to Jalees Rehman:

“Illness is often a time of vulnerability and loneliness. Narrating stories during this time of vulnerability is a way to connect to fellow human beings, which helps overcome the loneliness. The listeners can be family members, friends or even strangers. Unfortunately, many people who are ill do not have access to family members or friends who are willing to listen.”

It occurs to me that illness is not the only time that many of us feel vulnerable and experience loneliness. I say that the existential condition of the ordinary person (that I encounter) is that of vulnerability and loneliness.

I feel vulnerable, you feel vulnerable, we feel vulnerable. And we hide it as best as we can, putting on a brave front and dealing with what needs to be dealt with as best as we can.  Even amidst many I experience loneliness. My experience suggest that many of my fellows experience loneliness when they allow themselves to be present to it.

Our existence does not need to be experienced this way.  I can make a difference. You can make a difference. We can make a difference.  I can choose to be a listening for you. You can choose to be a listening for me.  We can choose to be a listening for one another and all.  I leave you to with the wisdom of Jalees’ grandfather:

“He told me that the opportunity to listen to others was a mutual blessing, both for the narrator as well as the listener.” 

If you wish to read the full story of Jalees and his grandfather then you can do so here.

The Art of Asking: asking in a way that creates a wonderful world


When you and I are first given our part on the stage of life, life shows up as wondrous.  We live in possibility. More accurately, we are infinite possibility.  Nothing occurs as unreasonable, unrealistic, naive, silly.  We are not present to criticism. Nor have we suffering rejection. Slowly and surely possibility is driven out of us and its place is taken up with right/wrong, good/wrong, appropriate/not appropriate, success/failure. And our house of being is filled with shame, guilt, duty, obligation..

Today, I’d like to get each and every one of us present to possibility once more.  What is possible in the music business if you allow yourself to be vulnerable and simply ask?  That is the answer that Amanda Palmer shares in this fabulous TED talk. I challenge you not to be touched-moved-inspired-uplifted.

This talk gets me present to that which is much neglected: asking/receiving can be a source of contribution when our asking shows up as giving.  The kind of giving that generates possibility – a possibility that enables connection and mutual contribution – and enables a transformation in our experience of living.

Is it possible that the defining act of leadership is generating possibilities that call to our fellow human beings, engender connection, and create an opening for people to join together and co-create a world that works for us all, none excluded?

Am I willing, are you willing, to put in that which is required to play the game of possibility, transformation & leadership?  What am I pointing at?  The courage to connect with our deepest call, the courage to respond to this call, the courage to be vulnerable – to share that which calls us and ask for our fellow human beings to contribute.

Put differently, are you and I willing to generate the courage to ‘play BIG’ and give up ‘playing small’? To choose to be ‘extraordinary’ and risk criticism, even abuse, rather than stay comfortable (and dead) in the ordinary?