Considering the Unconventional

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“It is especially important to encourage unorthodox thinking when the situation is critical: At such moments every new word and fresh thought is more precious than gold. Indeed, people must not be deprived the right to think their own thoughts.” ~ Boris Yeltsin

Last week I attended a diverse professional group meeting. Being my first visit, I was invited to rise and tell a bit about myself to this relatively small (>40) group, some of whom I casually knew. I acknowledged that I am a practitioner of the unconventional; a fan, if you will, of unorthodox… defined by Dictionary.com as “not conforming to rules, traditions, or modes of conduct, as of doctrine, religion, or philosophy.”

I suggested they consider me not a rebel, but as someone who challenges stagnation in people and society by looking at areas in our lives most in need of repair or rejuvenation and then, deliberately, not doing what the conformist majority is doing. I am simply someone who encourages the use of information, imagination, and interpersonal skills to pursue life in creative ways — that defends choice yet, defies the herd.

Then there was silence. Followed by warm, welcoming applause. 🙂

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It has been said that the more often you do something the same way, the more difficult it is to think about doing it any other way. Roger von Oech says “We can break out of this ‘prison of familiarity’ by disrupting our habitual thought patterns. He suggests writing a love poem in the middle of the night. Eat ice cream for breakfast. Visit a junk yard. Take the slow way home. Such jolts to our routines will lead to new ideas.”

Learning happens in unconventional ways. Some of us prefer more traditional systems and methods, while others are open to exploring unorthodox ways in which to play, interact, learn, and grow. Rarely is there only one right or wrong way to do things — unless one is a staunch conformist.

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If you’re looking for unconventional ways of viewing what you’ve always been doing, simply use your imagination. Or you can consider any of these three ideas as starters:

  1. Work in the dark. If you’re feeling stifled, try working in a dimmer environment. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology has shown that darkness and dim illumination promote creativity. Other experiments discovered that you can gain insight by simply priming yourself with the idea of darkness – even just describing an experience of being in the dark.
  2. Generate provocative statements and then use them to build new ideas. This allows people to explore the nature of perception and how it limits creativity and possibilities. Provocation challenges limitations and can serve as an alternative to judgment. It allows us to develop a provocative idea into something viable and realistic.
  3. Re-educate. Our future can be seen in the quality of our youngest generation yet the current models of building quality people seem to be falling short. New modalities such as green schooling, homeschooling and even un-schooling children offer hope for something different. With access to unlimited educational resources via the Internet, almost anyone can educate themselves in myriad fields, and so the re-education of individuals is an act of considerable non-conformity.

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Work-Life Balance…Or?

“When you’re gone would you rather have your headstone say, ‘He never missed a meeting.’ Or one that said, ‘He was a great father.'” ~ Steve Blank

Cultures are often ripe with buzz words; expressions that are easily thrown into everyday discourse. In my work, one I hear frequently is work-life balance. It’s a noble (and I might add for some, necessary) pursuit, one which many people feel compelled to achieve. Yet what is that balance? Is it attainable? And is it important?

In an April 2013 TEDxPSU Talk, Speaker and Author Dan Thurmon advocates for an interesting alternative to work-life balance. I’ve inserted the video of his presentation below yet I thought it worthwhile to highlight some of the points he makes.

Mr. Thurmond believes it is okay to be “off balance.” In fact, he acknowledges that state of being as reality. Rather than striving for balance in our lives, he encourages functioning in an imbalanced world and instead, living “on purpose.” And by “on purpose” he means becoming more connected to what has meaning, learning new patterns, experimenting, exploring and experiencing. Thurmond believes we need to be “off balance” to learn and he gives some examples.

He further suggests we slow down and notice things. (Awareness!) He talks about the need to understand what matters most in our lives and what is personally purposeful to you.

Thurmond believes we never reach our full potential, that we are always growing. To continue learning and growing he challenges people to lean into their uncertainty (yes, that fear-filled space where many are hesitant to go). He believes people ought to do more to embrace opportunities and in the importance of being fully present.

He speaks a language I understand. I’d just not previously seen the merits of intentionally living “on purpose” as an alternative to expending energy trying to achieve and sustain (an elusive?) work-life balance. Besides, not everyone seeks the holy grail of work-life balance.

In my opinion, Thurmond’s perspectives are worthy of consideration. Following is his TEDxPSU Talk if you’re interested in learning more.

Wasting, Existing or Thriving

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Have you ever had this opening remark directed at you? It’s a stunning statement yet for some people, it may apply or have applied. It’s certainly not complimentary and it could be a life changer, if accurate and intended. But let’s shift from wasting time and life.

Enter existing. Too often we go through life on autopilot, going through the motions and having each day pass like the one before. That’s okay, and comfortable for some (many?), until you’ve gone through another year without having done anything, without having really lived life. Existing can be synonymous with an endless status quo, idyllic, anchored, indifferent, stale, slogging away.

Simply existing is really kind of sad. Dodo kind of sad. While penguins and ostriches are flightless, penguins can swim and an ostrich can run fast. The dodo simply became extinct when a predator was introduced. While we cannot fly, most of us can do things that are exciting, invigorating, like swimming or running.

Have you watched your kids go off to college, only to realize you missed their childhoods? Time wasted? Sure we have jobs, chores and others things we don’t necessarily enjoy, but a large part of living is focusing on the enjoyable; actively engaging. It has been proven that if you focus on that which makes you miserable, you’re not going to live fully. And many will acknowledge that simply existing can be miserable. Still, if existing is to what you aspire, then who is anyone else to encourage you otherwise?

But if you want to truly live life, to thrive, to enjoy it to the fullest, instead of barely scraping by and only living a life of existence, then you need to find ways to break free from a mundane existence and embrace life. Truly living involves spending time doing things that inspire you. Even if you only sing briefly in the shower, if that’s what you truly love to do, enjoy yourself and live it. You don’t need a recording contract or groupies, simply enjoy the experience.

If you’d like a couple of reminders for how to thrive, here are four:

  1. Learn to be 100% responsible for your life. Admit/own your ‘mistakes’ (aka learning opportunities) and learn from them. Trust that something better will happen because of them and thus, allow you to live both more aware and at choice.
  2. Thriving is important because you are a person of great value. You are worthy of the best life has to offer.
  3. Take chances. We often live our lives too cautiously, concerned about what might go wrong. Be bold. Invite some risk. Quit your job and start your own business (plan it out first!). Ask out that person to whom you’ve been attracted to for some time. What have you got to lose?
  4. And this one might get me in trouble… Turn off the TV. How many hours do you waste (see, we’ve come full circle to waste) in front of that screen? Lessen your attraction (addiction?) to it and find other things to do, things that will stretch or challenge you. Consider actions that will nourish your thriving.

Bridging a Significant Gap

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh.” ~ Pema Chodron

There is a wealth of difference between knowing and doing. It’s what separates performance and success from wishful thinking. Generations have been surrounded with amazing knowledge and possibilities for personal growth. Whether it is time, focus, or not understanding, the application and use of knowledge and learning is one of the hardest parts of change. We read, listen (though often, not enough), and learn, but it doesn’t seem to make it into our reality. So all the knowledge and possibilities in the world are useless if we don’t cross the bridge from knowing to living.

To grow from where we are to where we want to be, we need to bridge these gaps. To do this and expand the possibilities of living better begins with awareness of what brings us satisfaction now and what would bring us more. Clarifying what is creating the gap between where we are and where we want to begins with crossing the bridge. And honest awareness makes this possible.

From expanded awareness we have to spend time and energy to explore the concepts, ideas, and strategies that can help us cross the bridge and close the gap. We need to reflect, consider, and imagine how new ideas or actions could change us. This is the new knowledge and if we can’t see the knowledge expressed in our reality, we’re likely to remain in the gap.

A personal experience: Over time I realized that I had accumulated considerable knowledge. I knew a lot. I was able to enlighten others to possibilities that could change their lives. But I wasn’t feeling that much better about my own life. I knew how I wanted to live, yet I wasn’t living it. Thus began a long process of attempting to integrate what I had come to know about how I wanted to live my life into actually ‘being’ that on a regular basis. There were changes I needed to make; tough decisions I had to face and; tension between who I was and who I knew I could and wanted to be. This process continues to this day as I try to live as my most authentic self.

With clarity and new knowledge, followed by exploring our possibilities, we can make choices. We only have to choose an action, a pattern, or an opportunity to make change. Keep repeating the new choice and the change gets easier. It won’t be long before the new knowledge is the old knowledge and more possibilities for growth are recognized and, voila, a new gap appears. Every day becomes a new adventure in expanding and discovering as bridges get crossed.

Here are three possible ways in which to cross from wanting and knowing something to living it:

  1. Plan for tomorrow but live for today. All positive actions are undertaken in the present moment. Little steps each day give us a slight edge and before you know it your goals are in sight, the achieved, then surpassed. Before you realize, people will say you’ve changed and you’ll know how you did and why.
  2. Develop an endless curiosity about our world. Become an explorer and view the world as your jungle. Stop and observe all the little things as unique events. Try new things. Get out of your comfort zone and experience as many different environments and sensations as possible. Why not?
  3. Rise. Sometimes you don’t achieve. Sometimes things don’t turn out as planned. Sometimes you just don’t feel like continuing on anymore. So what do you do? Rise. There’s a lesson to be learned in everything and sometimes that lesson is to cross another bridge and engage in a beautiful comeback.

Being Flexible With Change

“In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.” ~ Warren Buffett

The noun transition, defined: “movement, passage, or change from one position, state, subject, concept, etc., to another change.” Transitions can be periods of considerable personal and psychological growth. They can be exciting, creative, and freeing. They can also be confusing or frightening. Whatever the case, they are necessary and natural stages of our personal development.

Sometimes transitions quietly emerge, almost stealth-like. Other times you see or sense them coming. Still others strike out of the clear blue. They can be random and they can be predictable. And they happen to us at every life stage. Here are a few…

  • betrayal by someone you trust
  • puberty
  • a shocking event (fire, theft, natural disaster, etc.)
  • lifestyle choices
  • an affair
  • spiritual growth
  • a serious illness
  • midlife
  • job loss
  • empty-nesting

We all need to manage a host of events during our lives. And we need to look at how change impacts our roles, routines, and relationships to understand how a transition is affecting your life and the lives of those around you. Moving through transitions often requires focused effort to address, understand, cope with, and embrace the change.

Whether you are 30, 50, or 70, there are ways to smooth the transitions you experience. Here are five to consider:

  1. When a change feels most stressful, relief can often be found in finding the good that it brings. An illness, financial loss, or a broken relationship can seem like the end of the world (and yes, I’ve experienced all three), yet they also can be blessings in disguise.
  2. Remember that all change involves a degree of learning. If you find change particularly stressful, try to keep in mind that after this period of transformation has passed, you will be a wiser person for it.
  3. Remember that upheaval and confusion are not often natural parts of change. While we can anticipate certain elements that a change might bring, it is impossible to know everything that will happen in advance. Be prepared for unexpected surprises.
  4. Don’t feel like you have to cope with changing circumstances or the stress of making a change on your own. Talk about what’s going on for you with a friend. Sharing your feelings can give you a sense of relief while helping you find the strength to carry on.
  5. No matter how large or difficult a change is, you will eventually adapt to these new circumstances. Remember that regardless of how great the change, all the new that it brings will eventually weave itself into the right places in your life.

It doesn’t always need to look or feel like this. 🙂

You Have Your Permission

“When you have a good idea and you’ve tried it and know it’s going to work, go ahead and do it – because it is much easier to apologize later than to get permission.” ~ Grace Hopper

“Mother may I…?” “Simon says…” Do either of these expressions ring a bell? Perhaps from childhood games? Are you waiting for someone, anyone, to give you permission to succeed? While you may not think you are waiting for permission, when you need the approval or validation of another person to take a risk or allow your capabilities to be used, you are waiting for external permission.

Unfortunately, society often teaches that other people, especially authority figures, are always a better judge of what we are doing, have done, and can do. We don’t trust ourselves, especially the skills, abilities, and experiences making up our capabilities. If we trusted ourselves more we would know that as individuals we are the best judge of our capabilities and we are the only ones who can give ourselves permission to risk and succeed.

I don’t know about you but I’m not too thrilled about letting someone else determine my success and surely don’t want them to determine my failures. The key to self-belief and consistent success is always the point at which and the amount of internal permission we give ourselves. This permission to make mistakes and even fail, frees us to find the limits of our learning and experience. The permission to fail is the permission to succeed.

Regarding your permission:

  1. You have a right to assert yourself, even if it may inconvenience others.
  2. You are under no obligation to say yes, simply because you are asked.
  3. You deserve to succeed. You deserve to live your dream. You deserve to be recognized for what your abilities are able to produce. Three words: Just get started! On your terms.

Humility Helps

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it’s my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.”

~ Helen Keller

I used to think I was important. And I struggled with believing that I was worthy. For each of us, the notion of humility as a virtue brings numerous images to mind. We tend to envision those rare individuals who humbly bear life’s struggles while downplaying their own strengths. Yet humility is also associated with people whose insecurities compel them to judge themselves unfavorably. The true definition of humility, however, does not correspond with precisely either of these images.

Humility is not passivity. Rather, it is an utter lack of importance. Individuals who embody the concept of humility appreciate that each human being occupies a unique place within the sphere of development. Though they can take pride in their own accomplishments, they also understand that the people they interact with each day are as valuable and have as much to offer the world as they themselves do.

As you consider your own humility, keep in mind that to be humble is to accept that while there will always be people more and less advanced than yourself, each individual can provide you with insights that further your own personal growth. Recognizing this is a matter of opening yourself to the fact that not only do others think differently than you, but their life experiences have shaped them in a very different way than yours have shaped you.

This means that while you may have a greater understanding is some areas, others will always be able to teach you something. When you cultivate a genuine yearning to know what skills and talents those you encounter have been blessed with, you cannot help but learn humility. You instinctively understand that emotions like envy breed resistance that prevents you from growing, and that being flexible in your interactions with others will help you connect with unexpected mentors.

Think about when you talk to your older relatives. It can be time-consuming, repetitive, and at times, underwhelming. But it is important to acknowledge that they often spent their lives contributing to raising you (whether directly or indirectly). When you practice humility, you want to become as accomplished and evolved as you can possibly be, yet you are willing to submit to the expertise of others to do so. You understand the scope of your attitudes yet you choose to dismiss arrogance from your attitude, and you can distinguish the value you possess as an individual while still acting in the interests of others.

Humility, simply put, is a form of balance in which you can celebrate your own worth while believing that every other person is just as worthy as you.

If you’re looking for ways in which to be more humble in your life, consider these tips:

  • As a human being you need to be aware of your faults and misgivings. You need to know that you are not unsurpassed. It’s okay to not be perfect and accept your weaknesses. A better self-awareness will help you be more humble in life.
  • Learn to say “I don’t know.” It’s hard, for whatever reason, to answer someone “I don’t know.” Probably because all of the world’s information is at our fingertips, not knowing something seems like an excuse or not a legitimate answer. Life’s full of questions we simply don’t have answers to. Say “I don’t know,” listen, then learn.
  • Serve someone. We instinctively resist serving because we believe there is a direct relationship between being served and being important. Bring someone a cup of coffee, run an errand for a friend, give away some money.

Most of us still have some learning and practicing to do. Yes/no?

Right Now

“We are always getting ready to live but never living.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

In life, our navigation system is consciousness. It sees the whole picture. Think about it, in any situation you find yourself, you can go one of two ways — you can follow what the mind tells you (with fears, desires and phobias all rooted in the past) or consciousness (no fears, no desires, no phobias) which is engaged in the present moment.

It’s not a new age clichĂ©. We are living in the present moment. When else would we be living? Surprisingly though, many of us live ‘everywhen’ except the present moment. Most spend their time lodged in the past or concerned about the future.

The average person is someone who thinks that the past and the future are more important than the present. Anxiety, risk-aversion, absent-mindedness, and nearly all other forms of self-created misery are possible only when you allow your thoughts and actions to be influenced by something outside of the precious, present moment. When you focus on your needs right now, intended actions unfold.

How and why this happens is debatable for some and understood by others. But it’s clear you know this when you experience it.

Being present is a time frame in which you choose to focus. Only when you become aware of the thoughts you are having, will you notice which time frame you are in at any given moment. It is here – where you will notice how often your thoughts and feelings are focused on the past or the future. Research shows that people spend less than one percent (< 1%!) of their time living in the present. So, are we really living?

The authentic you only exists in the present moment. It’s when your feelings are calm. Your reflexes are fast. You are decisive. You know what’s right for you. You perform your best! You know you’re not perfect. This lets you be real.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote the famous line,” To be or not to be – that is the question.” The act of being is a choice to stay connected to the moment. Living in the now empowers you to trust your intuition and use your life GPS to help you flow through present time. It is here – and now – that you make your best choices, choices that are always there.

There are benefits to your being in the moment. Here are six:

  • Better performance under pressure. (You’re focused.)
  • More honest and open communication. (You have nothing to hide.)
  • Improved listening and memory skills. (You’re “present-minded,” not “absent-minded.”)
  • Confidence and conviction in leading others. (You can handle their criticisms.)
  • Wiser, clearer decision. (You don’t react out of habit.)
  • More laughter and a playful outlook. (You’re at peace, so life is more joyful.)

It doesn’t make sense to worry about the future, as we don’t ever live in the future. Most of the things we fear don’t happen, anyway. Enjoy the now! Grab every moment you have. It’s about learning from your past and present so that you can experience your full potential.

All we really have is this present moment. When it’s gone, we’ll never get it back. What’s important in your life? Is that where you’re channeling your time and energy? Are you being or are you parked somewhere in your mind?