What Others Need Now

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“Make yourself necessary to somebody.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

People watching / observing human interaction is a favorite pastime. I got to do this today, waiting (for quite a while) in a hospital pavilion. Behaviors abounded ranging from sheer joy to bewilderment, from rudeness to emotionally drained — with smiles, laughter, tears and ugliness interspersed. And I got to thinking…

There are a lot of people who are vain and arrogant, who see themselves as the center of the world. And I wondered… if the human species ceased to exist today, while the animals that we underrate lived on, would the world be changed for the better? Then I snapped out of it, reflecting instead on how our we favorably impact others.

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When I think about the people who made the biggest impact in my life, it has been those who showed a sincere belief in me; those who let me know through their words and actions that I mattered. And to me, mattering is a universal human need, one that each of us have an opportunity to satisfy.

With those people I observed today, the mere fact that they were born, that they exist, regardless of their circumstances, mood or looks — reminded me that each one of them is indispensable, necessary, and irreplaceable. They matter.

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Have we become superambitious and hyperproductive in order to create some semblance of outer control in place of no inner control? Are we that detached from our fellow-man? I think not. Rather, I think we sometimes forget that we can create a world in which each of us knows we matter, believing in ourselves and supporting one another. Actions you take today can make a difference in someone’s life tomorrow. And that ripple would carry into future generations. Just imagine…

If you are unsure about what to do when you encounter or interact with someone significant or yet-to-be significant in your life, here are three things to consider:

  1. Notice everyone. When you do, you recognize their value and importance. Go out of your way to acknowledge people. Make an effort to “see” them. I’m not going to suggest how; this is where you get to play.
  2. Ask meaningful questions. We show people how much they matter by the questions we ask. For example: How can I make your day? Do you know how smart you are? Are you aware of all you have accomplished today? People’s feelings can be significantly changed, simply by your thoughtful questions.
  3. Show hope. How you interact with people you meet could be the stimulant that provides them with encouragement for a better day. Enthusiastically, let others know you believe in them and their potential. The idiom Hope Springs Eternal does¬†infer promise. ūüôā

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A Trophic Cascade

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” ~ John Muir

Trophic cascades are powerful indirect interactions that can control entire ecosystems. This 270-second video beautifully describes and illuminates the favorable affect of a recent trophic cascade. I’m sharing the video because, in my mind, it parallels our responsibilities and human role in a chain or cycle.

In July I added this post which highlighted how we, individually and collectively, can create ripple effects with our intentional actions. While the above video addresses fascinating wilderness recovery efforts, from a human perspective I was drawn to the aspects of and potential in:

  • giving life to others
  • changing behaviors
  • regenerating significance
  • how, even in small numbers, we can effect change

3113259723_ccaa717ed1_mJust as wolves initiated this trophic cascade, there exist opportunities to teach ourselves about our positive and vital role in human interactions. This, I believe, we call humanitarianism.

If you are interested in or inclined to introduce a ‘humanitarian cascade’ you can consider these three practices:

  1. Acknowledge and reward constructive behavior. The key to behavioral change is understanding how motivation works in different environments. Observe how people are using their surroundings and resources to benefit others and to promote growth. Help them to see and appreciate the longer-term affects of their contributions.
  2. Lend your voice. Often the powerless, the homeless, the neglected in our world need someone to speak up for them, lest they become overwhelmed by their environments. You need not take the cause on by yourself, but join others in signing petitions, speaking up in a public forum, writing letters, and otherwise making a need heard.
  3. Be kind. Always. Scientific evidence has proven that kindness changes the brain, impacts the heart and immune system, and may even be an antidote to depression. We’re genetically wired to be kind. When we’re kind our bodies are healthiest. Love and kindness can make a damaged heart regenerate faster and when coupled with compassion, can alter the neural structures of our brains.

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Jumping Off the Bandwagon

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~ Albert Einstein

WARNING: This post is not about Robin Williams.

I may lose readers after having read this post and that’s fine. This blog has never been about the numbers game. It’s about stirring your soul… and encouraging you to look into yourself… to realize your potential… and to focus on what really matters — how you choose to use your gifts, live, and contribute to humanity.

Earlier today I scrolled through the WordPress Reader and recent posts on other social media sites. I knew I’d see them but was astounded at how many people jumped on the Robin Williams bandwagon. Then I intentionally paused to process what I’d seen and read.

I have nothing against Robin Williams. He was a creative and talented man. He brought laughter and thought into many people’s lives, in and out of character. He battled his own demons. And I began to wonder, why does it often require a celebrity, fame, or someone with name recognition, to call our attention to social issues, serious needs, and opportunities? Why do people frequently hold up and pay tribute to talented individuals, people with marquee names, upon their passing?

What about mankind’s masses who struggle and are similarly burdened but are not wealthy, famous and/or “successful?”

In the above video, Clark Little tells how he has chosen to pursue his passion. He didn’t do what everyone else was doing. He blazed his own trail. And he’s loving every minute of life. He’s focused on and using his personal gifts to fulfill his potential. He’s not a lemming; expending energy on simply doing what many others are doing.

Sure there are lessons to be learned from Robin Williams’s choice to end his life. He has, as have others before him, rekindled and created awareness about mental health and addiction. They are real problems and warrant attention. But does jumping on the viral bandwagon to share a few kind words about him change anything?

So you may be saying, what’s your point Eric? Well, it’s pretty simple. Each of us, however illuminated our names are in lights, has unlimited potential. We possess personal gifts and skills. We have enormous, untapped capacity to live our purpose.

The questions then: Are you? Are you acting in your own unique way to effect change? Change that you desire and value? Are your actions genuinely aligned with what really matters? If they are/you are not, what are you waiting for? Are you your own leader? Are you creating moments that are meaningful, even if there is no fame, fortune or popularity involved?

When young, ducklings follow the brace because it’s instinctive. Humans, too. But what makes our species special is that we don’t have to paddle or flock in formation. We can soar in any direction we want. And create amazing outcomes, singularly.

A Meaningful Life Trumps

“Life is not infinite, but its potential is. Embrace every second and you’ll triumph over compunction.” ~ Eric Tonningsen

It took years, but I finally figured it out. When you’re not happy, unfulfilled, or not living a meaningful life — you ought to (I really wanted to type must)¬†make a change. If you remain a slave to cultural expectations, and the trappings of money, power, status and/or perceived success, you’ve left a void in your life. I told myself, “If you’re truly unhappy with your job, move on.” “Find a way to pursue your passion and your mission in life.”

So I left a world in which I prostituted myself to shareholders, made good money, traveled the world and had whatever I wanted. What was missing was meaning and significance. And I knew this for some time.

I’m not saying quit your job; you may love your job. ¬†But are you happy? Essentially we are when we get what we want. But when our happiness outweighs the meaning in our lives, something’s disproportionate. I believe happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult affairs are avoided.

When I decided to step out of my comfort zone and into the unknown it was terrifying and exhilarating; surreal and at times, indescribable. Suddenly, I was accountable to myself. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t that highly confident being. Yet I knew I was heading in the right direction.

Days after I left the traditional workforce, I came across this Joseph Campbell quote. It has guided and inspired me since. “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” To which I have personally added, “…and what you can still be.”

If you are contemplating a major life shift; how you might contribute in more meaningful ways and; how living a life of greater significance might change you — here are three anchoring thoughts as you explore your potential and how realizing it could be beautifully fulfilling.

  1. Figure out what defines you. You’ve dreamed most of your life. You have a vision for ‘what could be.’ It/they can still be achieved. Personally, I have a lot of life left and plans to effect change. Sure, everything won’t work out just as I’ve planned. But I can focus on being ready for whatever opportunities (and challenges) come my way. Dreams and visions can define us, even if they don’t turn out exactly as we hoped.
  2. Question whose approval you are seeking. Like it or not, we’re all sometimes guilty of relying on others opinions to feed our feelings and self-worth. While approval and compliments from others can feel great, seeking them all the time can be unhealthy. They can turn into self-fulfilling cycles of negative feelings. When you start on a self-discovery journey and pursue what you want to do, you take ownership of your life and begin to realize that it matters what you think about you.
  3. You have a right to pursue your passions. Don’t ever let anyone convince you that pursuing your passion is impractical. Passion is what brings meaning and value to your life. The quality of your life experience is directly affected by the pursuit of your passion(s). Don’t allow your passions to drift into the “maybe someday” file. Life is too short to settle for anything less than passionate.

One Small Touch

“Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy

Some, perhaps many, of us have learned: We did not have to do something amazing to initiate growth. A small action can go a long way. It doesn’t take a boulder to create a ripple effect in the water. A finger is enough. As everything is interconnected in life, we only need be brave enough to take the first, maybe very small step. Before we know it, we may realize that we are a ripple effect.

A ripple effect is a situation where, like the ever-expanding ripples across the water when an object is dropped into it, an effect from the initial state can be followed outward incrementally. Applied to our lives, everything we do and think affects people in our lives and their reactions in turn affect others. The choices you make have far reaching consequences. Not surprisingly then, each of us carries within us the capacity to change the world in small ways for better or worse.

Examples of ripple effect can be found in economics, social interactions, charitable activities, financial markets, political influence, compassionate action and so on. The concept helps to explain how individual and grassroots efforts can yield significant change.

Case in point: A Harvard University study was conducted on a large, real world social network. It used modern statistical methods to analyze data from the Framingham Heart Study. It found that if a friend of a person became happy, the person’s chance of becoming happy increased by about 15%. If a friend of a friend became happy it increased by about 10% and a friend of a friend of a friend by almost 6%. This event occurred even if the person had never met many of the people involved.

If we can synchronize our intentions and actions toward common goals, our independent waves will continue to add to each other as they travel out through energetic fields. The result will be much greater than we can manifest independently.

Here are three ways in which you can initiate ripple effect:

  1. I’m not promoting this; it’s simply an example: For just US$4 you can provide a child with clean water. Consider joining the Ripple Effect movement and invest US$4 every month to save and improve lives. You’ll contribute to a wave of positive change and watch as the waves get bigger and bigger, bringing clean water, better health, and new opportunities to countless in great need.
  2. Move forward so that you are in your best place possible including relationships, health, career, and spirituality. To effectively help others, you often have to have gone through difficult experiences in order to relate to others. But you also have to know how to grow from those experiences and to use them to benefit yourself and others. If you succeed and “walk your walk,” others can and will be more open to your insight and ways.
  3. Your influence and ability to effect change will grow as your ripples flow outward. Consider smiling at someone you don’t know, acting instead of just thinking, initiating a thoughtful gesture, or alleviating a stranger’s pain. Do good things. Small things. Humbly. For others.

How Easy is Change?

“It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You kind of shake it up and we start all over again.” ~ Eric Fehrnstrom

Such a cool childhood toy. An unsung predecessor to the iPad. Reflecting on the Etch-A-Sketch, I found it an apt metaphor for transformation, for change, for rebirthing (in a non-psychotherapy context).

With an Etch-A-Sketch you simply created a drawing by turning the two knobs simultaneously. What you created on the screen could be emblematic of anything: your potential, your beliefs, your attitude or your best stick-figure persona. As you created, you evaluated your results. (Okay, maybe as a child you weren’t evaluating but you get the point). ūüôā And if you didn’t like the results, you just turned the screen upside down, gave it a shake, and started anew.

Looking at our lives, we want:

  • To feel
  • To learn
  • To grow
  • To stretch
  • To shift
  • To move through
  • To overcome
  • To embrace and trust our ability to transform, your self, your family, your community, perhaps, the world.

And you can. Often, it’s as easy as reviewing what you have created in your life. If you aren’t jazzed with what you’re facing, turn it upside down, shake things up a little, and move forward. Clean and fresh.

So how can you effect change, easily? Here are three starters for your consideration:

  1. Be honest with yourself. Most people around you won’t be honest with you. Human nature steers us away from conflict and hurting others feelings so it’s important to be able to identify your abilities and limitations and understand how others perceive you. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you adapt.
  2. Focus on what you can do. People fail because they immediately attach their attention to the negative. They do (though some of you may find this surprising)! Change your thinking and work the part of your plan you can. Do everything you can.
  3. Share yourself. Too often, we miss the value of sharing our feelings. We don’t want to be vulnerable so we hold back. In doing so, we deprive others of our experience, our learning and our humanity. When you share from your own experiences, you increase your empathy, you’re more approachable and you increase your relatability to others.

The moon changes effortlessly. Any reason you can’t too?

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.

Transitions

“Look at every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.” ~ Tom Stoppard

We all go through transitions. Some we initiate and others present as they are intended. They can be pronounced or they can be subtle. Transitions, however, are as constant as change because every major change includes a transition period with transitional experiences. Often we resist this transitional period and accompanying experiences just as we resist change. We want to be at the new spot, the changed behavior, or the result we sought to attain. While we want the change we desire, could we be missing the most valuable part of the experience, the transition?

There are times, for some, when¬†changes take¬†place simultaneously. This scenario can be stressful. Even one¬†change can be significant. Think about events is which you were measurably involved. Were they exciting? Were they draining? How much stress did you feel? I worked with a client who was building a new home, launching a new business, having a new website developed, involved in¬†a child’s wedding,¬†and shifting into pre-retirement mode (as traditionally defined by age). He had a lot on his plate!

These events were overlapping and very time, energy and space intensive. However, four strategies made the difficult easier, the challenges less frustrating, and his enjoyment more joyful.

  1. In change, especially big change, let flow show you the way through the transition. We are so conditioned to make plans and take action that when big changes occur or are anticipated, we take the planning and actions to an even more intense level. When you relinquish total control and allow some of the decisions to sit, flow will show you the way. When flow guides you, the creative spark needed or the right person to do something always appears and right on time.
  2. It is easy to focus on the end of the transition, but the process determines success. No matter where we think something will end up as a result of change, the process will guide us to success if we trust it. When you focus on what could go wrong, you divert the direction of your intended outcome. Ignore the naysayers and keep focusing on and trusting what you want.
  3. Looking ahead to what could be and looking back at what has been, only keeps you from looking at the present. Change and transitions are ripe for the games of the ego-mind. Remember the ego operates almost entirely in the past (where you have been and why) and the future (where you could be and why that is better than the past). When you choose now from the possibilities in front of you, the transition will be smooth without a beginning or an end, yet it will take you exactly to the experiences you want, by presenting them over and over now. All choices are made now.
  4. All transitions are personal and even with the best intentions, other people’s¬† opinions, suggestions, and advice¬†is just that – other people’s. I often find that change is tough for people because they are waiting for permission or advice on whether they should or how they should change. (Here’s a post¬†that addresses “shoulds.”) This continues during the transition, if we trust the opinions, suggestions, and advice of others more than what we know is best intended for us and by us.

If you are making changes and going through transitions, I wish you the best for navigating them not only successfully but also effectively. Transitions make life interesting while expanding your possibilities and potential. Let it all flow, be in the process, be present, and take it all personally. You will be rewarded!

How Important Is It?

“Be who you are and say¬†what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” ~ Dr. Seuss

How many times have you thought you were a good judge of someone’s character, only to be fooled? Unless you’re an expert at assessing character, it can be tough. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assert that we live in a world filled with fakes,¬†frauds and people who are just not real. The¬†obvious flip side to this and a belief I hold, is that being authentic is one of the most important aspects of living a meaningful life.

Being authentic is more than just being real; it’s finding what is real in yourself. And what is real for me may be quite different from¬†what is real for you. There is no value attached; it simply is what it is, for each of us. If your sexual orientation, spiritual beliefs or chosen path is different from mine, we are both okay with it.

Being ourselves when we are with others, especially strangers, can be challenging. The stress in those situations can cause us to regress into old behaviors, personas, and patterns of feeling anxious and trying to fit in. While it may seem to be easier to stay in your comfort zone, finding the courage to be who you really are in all areas of your life will help you to realize your true potential. To get to your true self, you have to examine dreams you have forgotten, fears that are holding you back, or beliefs that are not your own.

When we are living our authentic selves, our differences do not frighten or challenge us. There are no judgments. I honor the authentic you and you honor the authentic me.

Learning and accepting the truth about who you really are and what is important to being who you are takes honesty, awareness, and time. Yet when you pursue your authentic self, you will find you no longer have to live in fear of exposure; it means you will be acting in good faith and aligned with your personal values. No more pretending to be someone or something else.

There are many ways in which to live a more authentic life. Here are four to consider:

  • Identify the voice. Is it yours or your mother’s or mass media or the TV? Steer clear of trying to be an image of what you think others would like to see.
  • Be honest with your feelings. What you do with them is important. Be true to rather than denying them.
  • Appreciate your uniqueness! Find your own special talent or skill. Each of us is blessed with gifts that we’re meant to share with others.
  • Be clear and truthful with your intentions. When your heart’s intention is honest, you need not concern yourself with making an innocent mistake. Act in good faith.

You are one of a kind. Henry David Thoreau once¬†said, “We are constantly invited to be who we are.” Is there any reason you’re not fully embracing that invitation?

Getting from Here to There

“We are our choices.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Making the visible invisible is entertaining. That’s what a magician does when he makes an object “disappear.” However, making the invisible visible is a far more impressive feat and you have done¬†that every time you have taken a dream, waved your magic wand of ambition, and created something¬†in the physical world for all to view.

You already have accomplished so much. But you know there is still more ambition inside of you; so much more you want to do. So much more you can do. So much more you will do. How? Walk along with me…

For thousands of years, 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 the hardest part of change. We read, listen 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.

The bridge is a path over or through the gap between where we are and where we want to be. To cross the bridge 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 go begins the crossing of the bridge. Honest awareness makes this possible.

From expanded awareness we have to spend time and energy to explore and discover the concepts, ideas and strategies which could help us close the gap and cross the bridge. We have 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’ll be stuck on the bridge. And we all know how frustrating that can be.

Finally, with clarity and knowledge, followed by exploring our possibilities, we can make choices. We only have to choose an action, a pattern, or an opportunity to effect change. Keep repeating the new choice and the easier the change will get. It won’t be long before the new knowledge is the old knowledge and more possibilities for growth are recognized – and a new gap appears.

It’s a cycle; a constructive loop. Everyday becomes a new adventure in expanding, enjoying, and discovering, as the bridges get crossed. With each bridge crossing from knowledge to reality, we will enjoy the process more as our potential expands.

So, are you contemplating crossing, already traversing, or have you successfully bridged a recent gap? Being afraid of heights doesn’t cut it. ūüôā