A Life Made of Moments

1257 Relax and Succeed - What makes a life awesomeYou’ll find cases who are big stars, or some will be your friends, family or maybe a mentor or lover. They don’t feel like failures to you because they don’t feel that way themselves. Even someone with a small life filled with disasters can really like how it all unfolded, because they know that even most awesome-looking lives are filled with reactions to failure. What makes a life awesome isn’t based in our results, it’s found in the quality our interactions in pursuing them.

A good example of the results not mattering was yesterday’s post, where we looked a gold medal athlete who might move into retirement feeling sorry that they passed on a must-win attitude that makes both themselves and their child their worst, most impatient, critical selves. A gold medal can’t fix the fact that the quality of their daily interactions will have suffered to get it and, in the end, which is worth more when the athlete’s 50? Love and companionship, or ostensibly a necklace too ostentatious to wear every day?

When we hear of people shifting in this direction or that, extremely few of them are following some muse or calling, because, even if they were that does not remove the fact that life doles out a lot of punishment on its way to giving us its rewards. (Warning: movie spoiler alert.) This is what makes the ending of the film Arrival so beautiful; even though she knows she’s signing up to watch her daughter slowly die, and to be deserted by a beloved husband, when given the chance to do it all again, she joyfully takes it.

1257 Relax and Succeed - Successful people aren't betterMost of the moves we see people make in life are because of the punishment life delivers. Part of this life-game is down at the bottom of Maslow’s Pyramid and we all need to eat, so some aspect of life is invested in providing for ourselves and/or others, and our comparative minds we tend to evaluate a large part of ourselves on the basis of how much ‘food’ we’re able to provide. Likewise, we judge others on much the same basis.

This means we can detect the possibility that a manager who moves into a lower position in a new company may have been fired by the previous company, but we don’t often realise that the creation of a new TV show was actually the product of someone having their previous show fail and be cancelled. We see the new show as a victory, not as a reaction to the failure of the old show.

Lawyers lose a lot of cases. Athletes lose a lot of games. Lovers have their heart broken, and a parent can move up or down in status in their pursuit to ensure they’re providing for their children. This means that lives that we may judge as failures are also filled with successes, just as the lives we view as successes are always also filled with rejections.

1257 Relax and Succeed - When your'e not concerned with succeedingWhat counts is: what did that person do in the face of rejection? Curl up and die? No, they move forward on whatever path is best, whether it appears to lead up or down? Because it’s not like we can tell where a path is going by how it looks at the start. No one begins thinking their wedding will lead to a legal nightmare, just like they won’t assume divorce is the greatest thing that will ever happen to their love life, and yet both things often happen just that way.

Our failures will come. Some we’ll see coming, some will be unexpected. The healthy reaction is to avoid turning that fact into a personally destructive internal narrative about failure. We must free ourselves by understanding that failure litters every life, and that the quality of your life will actually be dictated by how you react, and not by what happened.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Mountains of Motivation

1237 Relax and Succeed - Success did not give meOur egos have a desire for predictability precisely because they are created by the fixed ways of thinking that we have been subconsciously taught. Any impediment to our original direction is always seen in direct relation to that direction. It might create glee because we compare it favourably to our expectations, or it may create suffering via our unmet expectations.

The funny part about that process is that we have no clue what would really be good for us. Examples of this include things like; a person is dating person A, and then they happily see the appearance of person B as a positive diversion from their wedding plans from person A. The problem is that everyone thinks their marriage will be in the successful 50%, but despite the good feelings in that moment, marrying person B could very easily turn out to be a decision the person would be inclined to regret.

If we can’t know what is ultimately right for us, it seems fair to ask where should we go? But the reason that question seems more complicated than it really is that the common and correct answer is always met with a but….

1237 Relax and Succeed - Decide who you want to become

Those that do pursue their answer by pursuing their passions will then have people say they’re crazy or irresponsible. This applies as much to someone wanting to be a musician as it does to business genius who would rather raise children, or a great athlete he wants to be a carpenter. A job’s status or income does not make being married to someone financially secure and negative better than someone financially limping, but who’s very enjoyable or exciting to be around.

We shouldn’t assume that any emotion is negative, it’s how it’s used in a current context that demonstrates its value. The adrenaline rush of war can lead a former soldier to express rage in inappropriate contexts, but that same adrenaline addiction is what pushed a large group of war veterans to face the repeated attempts necessary to successfully scale Mount Everest. Again, it all depends on how our chemistry is applied.

Some might say that those men would have been better to be home and caring for their families and there’s a very good case to be made for that. Yet, if long term experience in war has tuned a person’s biology towards violence and extreme emotions, isn’t it reasonable that their reaction would not be the same as ours? And for the same reasons, namely our personal life experiences? Some of us will be healthiest knitting. Others will need to jump from airplanes. We should accept these differences.

1237 Relax and Succeed - Life is simply a series

Rather doing what some might, and joining therapy and make the slow biological switch back to different tendencies, does it not make a kind of sense that those former WWI soldiers might choose instead to invest their honestly earned intense temperament in something meaningful to who they were at that time? That they would follow the guidance of their experiences just as we follow ours? After all, there are many young people who should be grateful that a profoundly unprepared or poorly suited parent acted as they did. Desertion can be an extremely loving act.

Other than hurting others–which healthy people feel a natural inclination to avoid–people should feel free to pursue whatever emotions and motivations make sense to them, regardless of whether or not others from other perspectives deem it boring or insane. We all need to find the right context, and we may appear off balance to others, but if our soul feels good about it the results will do remarkable things; like like turn middle-aged angst into a soulful career, or an angry anti-establishment rebellion into something like The Beatles, or maybe even Nirvana.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Success by Failure

Each of us will take a direction in life depending on who we see ourselves as. For some people this leads to obscurity, for others it leads to great fame, but fame should not be mistaken for success just because it’s more visible. That’s just their job. People’s personal lives will all share the same sorts of ups and downs, so we shouldn’t either lament that we aren’t famous, nor should we be jealous or envious of those who are.

Just the other night my parents were watching America’s Got Talent, and a young singer noted that to pursue his dream of being a famous singer, he left home and moved to New York and for a few years he slept on couch that smelled like cat for $30 a week. Britney Spears has had jobs since she was about eight years old. Olympians rarely see their friends so they can work out instead. And there’s only so many of us who think the result is worth that effort, just like some people don’t think cooking a fancy meal is worth the effort when they could just fuel up. We’re all different.

1207 Relax and Succeed - Believe in yourselfI remember I’d been working in film and television for about 10 years before the first time I ever heard anyone say that they wanted to “be famous,” rather than note what they would want to be famous for–as in the case above, where what he really wants to be is a singer, not famous. In my experience, the ones that want to be famous never have that cat-sofa dedication and they eventually surrender that idea for something that actually suits them better. In that way their failure is a success.

A very talented film student I taught wanted to be an A-list cinematographer on big budget superhero blockbusters. But after close to 10 years climbing his way up and seeing Hollywood work, he concluded that the reality of the job wasn’t what he wanted and he surrendered that and went to do smaller, but much more meaningful documentaries. And he’s much happier doing it.

Cases like the one noted are often seen as a failure by the person approaching the decision. All they feel is the separation from their previous identity. It feels like they surrendered in a bad or weak way, when it’s actually the smart or strong way. Once that student crested the hump into his new identity, he got to work at his new career and it turned out he loved it the way he’d assumed he would have loved the Hollywood blockbuster job. It wasn’t a fail. It was a discovery. You’ll make them your entire life.

As I’ve noted before, if you want to know where you’re at, imagine your life as a big continuous sine wave that completes each wave about every 7-9 years. At each peak you have slowly rewired your brain to be fully efficient at being that version of you. But of course, once you’ve maximized why continue? Been there done that, as the saying goes. And so it’s not really disappointment that disrupts success, it’s the inklings of our next success.

The sooner we start to embrace that downslope the shorter it gets–although it can never be fully removed, otherwise you can’t have your peaks either. This is why a Buddhist monk on a train once lead me to conclude his encapsulation of life: everything changes. If it’s good, enjoy it–it’ll get worse. And if it’s bad, don’t lament–it’ll get better.

Find where you are on your wave and surf that. It’ll include the pain of those downslopes, but wherever you are, wishing you were an an upslope is the literally the definition of suffering. But if you surrender instead, it’s actually flows pretty nicely.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The Law of the Jungle

How good is your life balance between work, family and your social life and friendships? It’s tricky to do, and the constant connectivity of smartphones means you never really leave work. The question is, how much work do you need for success, what kind of success should you target, and how far do you go on that road before it’s too far? When’s work billing life for too much? When are you just being asked to be dedicated and when are you being asked to be abused?

762 Relax and Succeed - Your value doesn't decreaseAmazon is famous for its brutal corporate culture. Weird eh? They brag about it. Can you imagine if we were back in the days of Kings and Queens ruling everything, where your livelihood was entirely in their hands just like it is now, and you happened to live under the King who was a selfish jerk and then bragged about how bad he treated you? That would suck.

The thing is, you probably moved into the neighbourhood intentionally. You may have very actively sought to live under that King. Many many many people–yes me included–have worked towards external goals like wealth or power, but these are really all just attempts to to feel loved and respected. We want people to be impressed by us rather than to love our own lives by feeling connected strongly to our work. (See the second video in last week’s Friday Dose.)

If you go to somewhere like Amazon because they have their oar in some water that you believe in then you can sustain that for a career. You can love creating value for others, but that must be weighed against the cost that King exacts on his kingdom.

762 Relax and Succeed - What's money A man is a successShareholder Value is a much more ethereal thing that most people realize, and no one lays on their deathbed wishing they could stick around to make more money. But a nurse might welcome caring for one more patient. Or a carpenter might love building one more home he put real care into. Or a designer might want to create one last piece of jewelry. But if you’re only at your job for money and status then you’re most certainly doomed.

At your death-bed you’ll realize that neither money nor status goes with you. But the other folks have already lived the joyous moments of a connected life. They carry with them the sense of a life of real value and purpose because it wasn’t about themselves, it was about others. Their lives will carry forward. This is key. Otherwise you will crush yourself.

There’s no way I can criticize someone for pursuing hollow dreams when the nickname some girls painted on my gym bag in Junior High was “Mr. Billion.” I had my first business while I was still in high school. I bought new cars and stupidly expensive clothes. When you look into the face of a kid starving to death due to money, and you spent most people’s monthly wage on one outfit, you just realize you could have done a lot better. You could have made the kind of difference that you would really feel good about. And so next time you do.

762 Relax and Succeed - The poorer we are inwardlyWe’ve got a pretty good brainwashing system. No one did it by design. It just kind of tumbled this way accidentally. But schools train people to compete and win with grades, and then that principle gets converted into money when we’re in the workforce. It’s a treadmill and only half the people figure out their on it before they die, and even then it’s usually because they got really sick or someone significant died to remind them that time is limited and how do you want to spend yours?

Maybe this is the group I feel most compassionate toward in our society. They are trying to impress us and that’s exhausting. They’re making really big sacrifices to get and keep their money and they will eventually realize that it doesn’t create value in our life. You can easily be super rich, in a fantastic house with fantastic cars and with a fantastic spouse–but if you have a crappy way of thinking none of that other stuff will make any difference at all.

Don’t ask yourself what you want to “do” for a living. Ask yourself what you can really get passionate about–where work won’t even feel like work–and then find or create a place where you can do that. Because if you don’t figure that out, Amazon etc. might just convince you to live in the dog-eat-dog world of their corporate and claw-filled jungle.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, mindfulness instructor, coach and communications facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

Doing the Right Thing

I finished my degree and ever since I’ve just been spinning my wheels getting nowhere.
I don’t even know what I want to do with my life. How am I supposed to pick a career?

signed,
Paralysed

Dear Paralyzed,

You don’t. It picks you. Either that or you become a slave to something.286 Relax and Succeed - Remembering that I'll be dead soon

You know those things you do that don’t seem to have anything to do with work? Like the way you would organize your dad’s garage when you were ten even though it was really hard and no one asked you to? Or if you’d help in the kitchen and think it was fun? That’s what you should do for a career. That’s the job you should work: the thing that doesn’t feel like work. The thing you’d work your ass off to do even if you won the lottery. Do that and you’ll have loads of energy, you’ll naturally get really good at it, and it’ll never seem to take any unpleasant effort. The effort will always seem easy.

Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson was featured in over 200 recordings, he won 8 Grammy Awards and he is widely considered to be one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. One of the things that he was best known for was his speed and precision. And yet both things were skills he possessed completely by accident.

First off, Peterson may well have been a trumpet player except that his childhood Tuberculosis pointed the way to the piano. He was dedicated and very good about practising, but there was this one particular recording that he was amazed by. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t 286 Relax and Succeed - Sometimes it falls upon a generationseem to figure out how to play it. But with that mystery came freedom. Because after he’d exhausted everything he knew, that only left him with inventions of his own.

So he tried everything he could think of—and eventually he did figure out how to do it. But he didn’t realize what a feat it truly was until over a decade later when he finally learned that the recording he was struggling to imitate had two piano players on it.

By not thinking about limits Peterson freed himself up to think about possibilities. By being innocent he did what it previously took two men to do. There’s no such thing as a genius. There are just people that do not see limits and they continue to ask questions and try things long after others have given up.

Do not use the brilliant capabilities of your mind to calculate perceived or trained limitations in yourself. Forget beliefs about what isn’t possible. It’s time to see your life another way. It’s time to see your possibilities. You are capable of much more than you currently realize. But that’s just it—you must realize that.

You don’t come to some sort of conclusion and then boom, you’re all calm and peaceful and spiritually finished. The realizing is a verb. It’s how we live our life. It’s Oscar Peterson practising for reasons even he can’t explain. He just wants to know. And by doing so, he expands the entire universe by proving that the impossible is once again possible. You want to find your thing like that, no matter how strange it might first seem. Pick the thing that doesn’t feel like work.

Maybe it’s about how to raise kids, or influence co-workers, or improve some tool or process. We’re naturally creative. But we have to stop trying to be good at everything and we have to start focusing on 286 Relax and Succeed - Clouds gone the mountains appearbeing ourselves. Because it doesn’t matter what other people think of your interests whether they involve English Literature, Star Trek, or spiders. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. You only have one thing to do: quiet your mind so that you can hear yourself.

I know some parents who thought their son was wasting his time with toys long after he was a kid. Now that kid makes over $60,000 a year buying and selling toys on E-Bay. E-Bay didn’t even exist when the kid was born. How could he prepare or train for that? You don’t. So great, you have a degree, hopefully in a field that genuinely interests you. Now just follow your heart. You don’t want to be successful. You want to be gratified.

Peterson failed at learning that piano piece for a long time. But he kept playing not because he wanted to impress you and I. He did it because that’s who he was. And even if he wouldn’t have figured it out, he was still being himself by trying. Because there is no success or fail. There is only the living of our life, and for that to be rewarding we should trust ourselves to know our own direction.

peace. s