treeMost people don’t think much of acorns, but are very impressed by oak trees. Thus, most people think of an acorn as nothing more than a means to an oak tree. The acorn itself is worthless. All that matters is the tree that comes out of it.

But then we may make the mistake of creating an environment that is ideal for a fully grown oak, not a young acorn.

Or we simply don’t appreciate the acorn, rushing it or failing to give it the care and cultivation it needs.

The result will be that the acorn never grows and you never get your oak tree.

The point of the story is that we can’t afford to diminish ourselves now, no matter how incapable we feel, in favor of focusing solely on the life we wish we had. The reason is that the life we  want and the person we want to be are the result of the life and person we are right now.

To deny this moment is to deny every moment that might grow out of it.

To diminish this person is to exile the person that we might grow into.

***

Sometimes, I get caught up in striving, constantly reaching for something better, something bigger. It’s gets so bad that just walking by nice apartment buildings sends me into a spiral of jealousy.

This mindset leaves me bitter and frustrated. I used to take out my frustrations on my current life, focusing on all the things I was missing, instead of all the things I had.

I get so focused on my oak tree that I can’t be the acorn.

To use a martial arts metaphor, it’s like being constantly off balance, reaching forward, with the result that you never really have your feet and you have a weak foundation from which to act or move.

Only by being solidly Where You Are do you have the resources and the presence to act with effectiveness.

So, when I learned this lesson, I tried be grateful for my acorn-ness. It contains within it all the makings of a great oak tree.

If we only let ourselves be who we are now, we can grow from a foundation of strength into what we could be.

Where in life are you striving, focusing on what you would rather have, do or be, instead of appreciating what is and how it could transform?

- (**

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karatekick

This is a reader story from Claire Higgins, a coach, yoga instructor, and martial artist who is sharing her story of returning to the core of her passion for training: Karate itself. It’s a great story illustrating how easy it can be to get pulled off track from doing the things we love in the name of supporting the things we love (like the classic case of a parent working so hard they don’t see their family, justifying it all by saying it’s for the family’s well-being, when in fact, all they want is to spend more time together).

***

I entered personal training to get fitter for Karate (it was CrossFit inspired). Soon, I was expected to work out several times a week on top of a demanding Karate schedule, dedicated yoga practice and teaching, and driving 4 hrs a day for my last (very stressful) job. So I built a home gym, complete with an olympic bar that I didn’t use often enough as I was so exhausted. My Karate performance improved a lot but I was so tired I felt miserable at training.

My personal trainer was fabulous but my aim was never to get better at lifting or scoring bigger numbers. It was to swing a faster punch, build more stamina, and develop more explosive speed so that I could get my 2nd dan. My Karate teacher smiled patiently at me, explaining that the heavier weights, hanging, and handstands wouldn’t help there. He recommended lighter weights, faster reps, and working out THROUGH Karate training, not FOR it. But for some reason, I couldn’t yet change my mindset. …Read More

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loner

I was recently offered what seemed on the surface like a great job opportunity. It would have solved all my money problems, set me up for a good four or five years, and been a great resume builder.

But I said no.

It was not an easy decision. There’s so much in our culture prioritizing money and career advancement. A solid, steady income often trumps all other concerns, and we usually excuse our friends and family for blowing off commitments because of work. It’s just the expectation that we will prioritize our income over anything else.

However, I don’t believe that is an authentic way to live. And so, when it came time to make my final decision, I asked myself if I really would be a good fit for this position, which was implementing a fitness program I didn’t believe in, in a very rigid environment.

And as much as I wanted to say, “Yes, I’m a good fit. Sign me up and send me that paycheck,” that would not have been at all authentic. I’ve been there before, and it drove me crazy, to say nothing of my employer’s experience. It would be like trying to get a round peg into a square hole.

So, as hard as it was, I explained this and turned down the offer.

***

What was really amazing was how good I felt afterwards. I expected to feel disappointed in myself, frustrated, or at least sad. But I felt true. I had acted with integrity and it felt amazing. I had a sense of possibility instead of a feeling of having lost an opportunity. I guess when you make a commitment to living up to your greatest self, and actually follow through, you can do things you never imagined.

I mean, sure I’m still struggling, my career prospects are foggy, and I’m drowning in debt, but I have the great honor of having been authentic with myself when it really counted and when the stakes were high.

And I say “honor” because that’s what it was all about: honoring my principles and values, what I’ve been calling my Greater Self. Not in a pushy or prideful way, but in the way you might honor your parents or a beloved teacher. You respect their ideas and their values. That’s what I was doing for myself.

I’m not sure if that’s a valuable trait in today’s economy, or any economy, but I wasn’t going to get very far with the alternative.

So, yeah, life is uncomfortable, but I get to be at peace with myself, which is not something everyone can say.

***

I’m not saying great jobs and great opportunities are bad, just that looking to them to rescue us from our problems is a dangerous mindset. Definitely work hard in pursuit of your golden opportunity, but realize whether it happens or not is up to you, and the effect it has on your life is totally up to you.

Act in accordance with your greater self, the one that isn’t afraid and cannot be coerced, bribed, or, perhaps, even reasoned with.

– (***

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unreasonabletree

What do people really mean when they say, “Be reasonable!”?

“Don’t do anything that will get you noticed. Play nice. Keep quiet. Stay normal, unobtrusive, inoffensive, and as safe and risk-free as possible.”

But unreasonable people, who just ask for what they want, who don’t tamp themselves down to fit in and avoid making waves…we are jealous of them. Why is that?

Because they break all the rules. Because they act freely. Because they are fully expressed.

Not always. Sometimes, unreasonable just means annoying and hard to handle, but sometimes, it means going outside the social bounds that keep us in line, the velvet ropes telling us, every so gently, where we can walk and how we can be: tidy, quiet, obedient.

The way life works, there are always reasons to back down.

  • It’s snowing.
  • Someone will be offended.
  • It’s probably not allowed.
  • You didn’t get enough sleep last night (which is a reason to be grouchy and unproductive)

But if you want to live a particular kind of awesome, that’s the only reason you can count on: your choice. Since it’s based on pure capricious whimsy, we call it unreasonable.

***

  • Unreasonable is sprinting down the street because your projects are that important.
  • Unreasonable is calling up your friends at 1am because you found something they need to get involved with right away.
  • Unreasonable is yelling at the top of your lungs across a crowded room, stalling a party, because you just met the girl of your dreams and she’s about to walk out before you could get her number.
  • Unreasonable isn’t always big and loud. It can be quiet as loving someone no matter what, at their best and their worst, even when they let you down.
  • Unreasonable can be as simple as running every morning at 5am, rain, snow, or sun.
  • Sometimes, unreasonable is nothing more than meditating for 30 minutes every day at exactly 6:30 in the morning, before anything else happens, even if you didn’t get to bed until 1 in the morning.

***

Sure you could give a reason for your choice, but then someone could come along and disprove that reason, or your reason might disappear on its own, or you might just be lying to yourself.

The conversation goes something like this:

“Honey, I love you.”
“Why?”
“Because you’re pretty, and smart.”
“I better stay smart and pretty then. What happens when I get old and wrinkly?”
“Well, I’ll still love you.”
“Either you’re lying or your reason isn’t that I’m pretty. So what is it?”

Can you see where this is going? Ultimately, if you want to do something grand and epic (like loving someone authentically) you have to stop being reasonable and become a Force to be Reckoned With, someone who doesn’t actually need reasons.

Unreasonable is simply the decision that you are the one who determines what you do, not social convention, pressures, expectations, peer pressure, politeness, or normalcy, and most definitely not random circumstance.

So, I correct what I said before: Unreasonable is always annoying and hard to handle, except to the people who see it’s real value.

Those people will see you being unreasonable and they will want to come along for the ride.

How can you be more unreasonable in life?

- (***

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listen

Hey! Listen! – Navi, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time

Do you ever find yourself doing this when you are listening to someone?

  • Oooh, that’s not really true. I had better correct them as soon as I can get a word in.
  • I don’t agree with that. I need to make that clear right now [SCOWLY FACE]
  • I have a brilliant response to that! They will get a kick out of it, so I’ll interrupt to share.
  • I don’t like what this person is saying. I will discourage them by frowning.
  • I do like what this person is saying. I will encourage them by nodding.

The inner dialogue boils down to:

  • Is this something I need to react to in order to assert me, myself, and I?

Most conversations have a whole peanut gallery’s worth of commentary going in the the heads of the “listeners!”

If we hear something that isn’t in the container we call “me” we may feel a need to deny its existence. I did this a lot. I thought I had to so people would see me as important.

Then, I realized something that changed everything about how I interacted with people.

In fact, it changed almost everything about how I deal with people in general. This one little realization helped me connect on a deeper level, to feel compassion for others, and to be more open to exploring new relationships and the experiences they offer.

I learned that everyone was just as desperate to express themselves as I was. They just wanted to be heard.

When they’re not heard, they respond by either closing up or by talking more in a desperate attempt to get their point across.

Clearly, this isn’t a recipe for fulfilling and engaging connections.

So, I decided to try listening really hard, to give them exactly what they wanted and see what they would offer as a result.

Here’s what I do:

  • Take a moment to set aside the thoughts I’ve been carrying around
  • Give the other person my fullest attention
  • Keep my opinions out of it and try to see things from their POV
  • Attend to body language and facial expressions
  • Attend to tone
  • Turn to face them
  • When judging thoughts come up, acknowledge them and let them go
  • Remind myself that it’s not my job to correct, educate, or advise (unless asked)

You don’t have to run through that checklist…simply allow yourself to get absorbed in what the other person is sharing (channel you on your first date with your dream person. You’d pay attention).

The results if this approach have been shocking:

  • I’m invited to speak more, because I actually understand people’s problems. When I do speak, I’m listened to
  • People respect me more, because I exude the calm, quiet confidence of a man who doesn’t need to fill the air with the sound of his own voice to remind himself he still exists (I try to channel Daniel Craig). Aka, I have Presence (by being present. Funny how that works).

Give it a try. See if you can rise to the (significant) challenge of letting go of the need to be right or provide advice.

Instead, be a great opportunity for the other person to express themselves to another human being.

- (***

PS: Kokiri companion faeries are no exception. Just hit UP C and hear her out.

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Holding on to Burnout

October 16, 2014

Geoffrey Fairchild on Flickr

Don’t you just hate running around all day, schedule packed to the brim, phone buzzing every five minutes? It’s crazy! No human should have to live like that, constantly frazzled.

If you live like that, you probably promise yourself to slow down one day, but you haven’t yet. You actually do choose that life. As my Landmark Forum coach would’ve said, “You love it!”

I know I have uttered the words, “I’m just so busy,” with a bit of pride. What I’m really saying is, “Aren’t I important?” I used to tell myself that one day I’d slow down, but I never did, because the busy-ness, while exhausting, was a cozy validation of my ego. It’s a great excuse not to deal with important relationship problems or personal values issues.

***

It’s a big problem in the startup and corporate world. Burnout is intrinsically tied to the identity of an entrepreneur or a rising executive. If you’re in that world, you know your peers expect it of you and you expect it of yourself.

Many people, it turns out, tie in this frantic, exhausted, coffee-addicted lifestyle to being an entrepreneur. It’s a classic story:

Rising from the streets, John Smith worked two jobs until 10pm, then went home to his studio apartment to work on his budding startup, living on ramen and pizza to save money and time, went to bed at 2am every night only to rise at 6am to get in a quick jog before heading into work again. He spent his free time hustling, making connections, and rehearsing his investor pitch. Sure it was exhausting, but he was high on the exhilaration, driven by the promise of a better life.

This American classic is a staple of our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mythos. The stories abound. The Pursuit of Happyness is a great example. But in that story, Chris Gardner really was up against insane odds. He wasn’t playing a part. He was just getting things done.

A friend invited me to join his startup, which I agreed to. But when he heard my nonchalant response, he grew skeptical. He said to me, “Khaled, you can’t be so chill about this. It’s gonna take pulling all-nighters. You have to be 150% in — no, 200% — or it’s just not going to work. I need people I can rely on.”

He was really hung up on this unhealthy definition of an entrepreneur, more concerned with looking the part than actually getting the idea off the ground.

Nobody enjoys burnout, but can come to define us. We get as attached to it for self-definition as we are to our choking neckties and cramping high heels.

***

The reality is that the exhaustion is not a necessary part of the identity. Startup founders, executives, nonprofit leaders, and social entrepreneurs are ultimately judged by what they create, not how busy they are.

You may be thinking that these jobs tackle such huge problems with so few resources that there is no other choice, and it’s definitely true that success in these fields requires you to work hard and long.

But there is a difference between worrying about a thing and actually getting it done.

  • You can be mindful of your spending without worrying about money all the time
  • You can get a job done without becoming emotionally dependent on its outcome
  • You can recognize the magnitude of a task without making a thing of it

The doing and how we feel about it are totally different. We might think we have to be emotionally invested to put in our best effort. But that’s not true. Using our work to validate our egos is actually very limiting, because as soon as it stops serving us, we will no longer be committed to it.

You shouldn’t do something because you are proud of doing it. You should do it because it is good work.

If your practice is good, you may become proud of it. What you do is good, but something more is added to it. Pride is extra. Right effort is to get rid of something extra. – Shunryu Suzuki-roshi (1905 – 1971)

The essential skill here is separating our emotional attachment from the circumstance. We do a job, but it doesn’t define us. We attend to our finances but we don’t fret over them. We appreciate our children without setting them up as validation for our parenting.

It’s hard to let go of those emotional attachments, but you’ll notice that all the attachments mentioned above exist to protect and assert a person’s identity. They have nothing to do with actually doing good work in the world.

The small self is concerned with asserting its own importance. The large self can let go of that in order to actually get stuff done.

What’s one area where your small self is getting more attention than it needs to?

Thanks in advance for your comments, and if you found this post useful (or agitating in a positive way…) please share it with your friends.

(***

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Big Problems, and A Promise

October 8, 2014
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There will always be problems in life. Whether you grow or shrink as a person depends on the kinds of problems you focus on.

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Good Bye

June 30, 2014
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I’m scaling Warrior Spirit down as my life undergoes some big changes. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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The Art of Life and Love

June 25, 2014
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Life is meaningless in the same way art is meaningless: if you’re even bothering with meaning, you’re missing the point entirely.

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The Question that Will Set You Free

June 17, 2014
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Simply by asking yourself a question, you can turn a compulsion into a choice and reclaim your power.

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