Sailing Through Life

The little boy settled onto the blanket, next to his father. They were on a steep rocky headland and they had a beautiful view of the entire ocean before them. The wind flicked a blond wisp into the boy’s eyes and he pushed it away. “Do you see her?”

“Not yet Simon. She’s still off over the horizon.”

“What’s a ‘horizon?'”

His father points out over the water. “You see it on the sea, and you can see it out in the country too when it’s really flat, or you’re really high up; and you can see it in life too.” He points out toward the ocean. “Auntie started sailing from another continent–another giant island like the one we live on–but we can’t see it because the world is curved. And if you were on one side of a giant ball you wouldn’t be able to see the other side would you Simon?”

“If I had a see-through ball I could.”

His father smiles. “That’s very clever. Yes. If it was see-through you could. But otherwise you couldn’t. And the Earth isn’t see-through, it’s covered in rock and water; so the line where we can’t see anymore, that line is the horizon and we can’t see your auntie until she comes over that line.”

Simon seems confused. “Then how does she know where to go?”

“Well, that’s a good question. She has a good boat, she’s well trained, she has courage and determination, and after that all she needs is a direction and her knowledge. That’s all life is. We’re never really sure where we’ll end up or how exactly we’ll get there. It’s just ability and effort. The rest is like the ocean. So put the best equipment you can put together, the best training you can find, and then add courage and a real desire to do it, and then apply yourself. That’s a good way to approach every part of life.”

This sounds like good news to Simon. He looks up at his father expectantly. “If she has that will she win?”

“Oh, that’s difficult to say. She’s the best sailor of all of us. She’s been winning regattas since we were kids but, like I said, sailing’s a bit like life Simon. You can be the best sailor in the world and still get wrecked on the rocks, and you can be terrible and end up fumbling your way through in record time.”

Simon’s brow furrows. “That’s not fair.”

“Yes. That would make sense. Fair’s an idea we get in our heads, but the ocean doesn’t have a head, so it can’t think fairness into existence. So my sister–your aunt–has to use her head to outsmart the sea. And maybe if she’s smart and lucky with the wind and the waves, maybe she’ll win. But we’ll be proud of her no matter what. It’s no easy thing crossing an ocean alone.”

“But you said someone terrible could win.”

“Well, that’s true, but it’s less likely. Especially in this race. But the world isn’t fair, it’s just made up of a bunch of systems. The way water and wind work, have systems. So if auntie can be smarter and use those systems to her advantage, she increases her chances of success. But if she’s lazy and unprepared and she runs into lots of things she has to guess about, then she’s less likely to be right about her answer and she’s less likely to win. So you can’t guarantee anything. But the reason your Mom and I want you to be a good student of life is because that makes you more capable, like auntie, and that increases your odds of winning races and being free. You just have to always remember that any of us can get smashed on the rocks too, so don’t be hard on yourself if that happens too. That happens to everyone.”

Simon backs away from the cliff a bit. “I don’t want to hit the rocks.”

His father looks at him but steps toward the cliff and points out at the ocean. “Oh, no one wants to hit rocks Simon. But people are tiny and look how big the sea is. Sometimes a person’s best still isn’t enough. But that’s okay too. That way we know how much we can survive. Once, your auntie wrecked in blue water and she had to sit on the hull for a day before she was rescued.”

“Was she scared?”

“Maybe sometimes. But she’s smart too, so she would have used her brain for figuring out smart things. I don’t think she would have wanted to give much time to fear. She survived that, and that helped her feel stronger, and that’s why she took on this race five years ago. She felt like she could handle it, and her first year she was in the top ten boats.”

Simon seems proud of his own connection to her. “Maybe auntie will take me sailing.”

“Well Simon, people tend to like it when you’re interested in the things they’re interested in. So I suspect she’ll take you. Maybe I could even come and help.”

“Okay. But you have to listen carefully. Because we live not on the ocean so you drive mostly. Auntie has trophies and stuff for boats. So we will be safer if you listen to her careful, okay?”

“Sure Simon. I promise I’ll be careful so that we can relax and have fun.”

“I can’t wait to sail!” he literally shakes with excitement.

“Good. That’s the feelings that gets you through the storms and that’s the same one that makes any day a good day.”

Simon smiles.

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 Fear of Work

There’s an idea afoot that there is some kind of disconnect between spirituality and hard work. It makes sense that younger people are seeking a way to work less and/or more meaningfully than their parent’s generation, but the fact remains that there are people of all ages that are avoiding the struggles that create expansion, increased strength and resiliency.

975 Relax and Succeed - As you work to spiritual advanceIt’s one thing for a person not to have kids because they don’t find themselves with common desires for children, but it’s another altogether for them to not want them because they’ll cramp their style, or be painful to give birth to, or because they require a lot of work. The idea that profound self-actualisation only happens when you focus on yourself is a myth created by misinterpretations of spiritual ideas. In fact the very desire for enlightenment has now become just another selfish personal goal.

I’ve said it many times: enlightenment is not a state it is an action. It is a verb, a motion, a way of being. What it doesn’t involve is self-reflection because in that state there is no self. You are simply doing/acting/being. So an enlightened person is not sitting idle in the lotus position having someone else attend to their daily needs, the truly enlightened person will be that happy, self-less person who generally needs very little and gets great satisfaction from bringing happiness, peace and comfort to others.

It is an entirely market-created ego-based idea that you get up at 10:00am, have a leisurely gourmet coffee before going to morning Yoga, then an organic lunch of tofu and beansprouts, and then finally sitting at your home-office desk at 1:00pm before checking social media for an hour, and then be distracted by notifications and texts and other interruptions “all day” before leaving at 4:00pm for a jog, the gym and a healthy dinner with red wine and cool friends at a jazz bar before pottery class that night. That’s an ad for coffee or Yoga or the gym, not enlightenment.

975 Relax and Succeed - Suffering is due entirely to clingingThere’s some who have wealthy enough external resources that they can live that life of leisure noted above but those are my addicted, lost and suicidal clients. The ones that have those resources and aren’t in trouble are the ones that act more like the group in service. They’re working hard, expanding themselves and they’re finding ways to contribute to those around them.

Then there’s many many many more who absolutely cannot afford to live that life of leisure but they try for too long and just end up buried in stressful debt because there’s little reason to think anyone was saved by some stroke of genius. Einstein read a lot about mathematics and he sat in that chair for a very very long time before he came up with E=MC2. You can’t look at a YouTube millionaire today and have that as a plan to support your spiritual growth because that success on YouTube will almost always demand that you appeal to ego a huge percentage of the time.

The real question is, how selfless were you today? Did you go through your day expanding your mind and body through work of some meaningful kind? Did you work hard and accomplish something? Did you gain a new skill? Did you help your fellow man? Do you act for charities, do you contribute, or are you just a protester?

975 Relax and Succeed - The art of being happyThere is nothing unspiritual or anti-enlightenment about getting up at 6:00am to work as a garbage man, or social worker or a lawyer or anything else. There is nothing unspiritual about raising kids and dealing with their mayhem and complications. It’s no coincidence that people who voluntarily choose a more difficult path end up with more capabilities, confidence and calm.

If you’re investing yourself in what has been sold as the spiritual life then it’s you that has sold out. The real enlightened people are working in refugee camps, they’re stay-at-home moms and tradesmen doing a hard day. If they write they write every day like it’s work. What you put in is what you get out. There’s nothing unspiritual about that and there is no path without suffering. So if you’re hiding from life you can stop and go live. Because it’s not a peaceful path that creates more peace, it’s a selfless path that creates connection and connection creates peace.

Look at your life. How much of it is aspirational dreaming and how much of it is motion forward? Because there’s a lot of stressful sitting still going on today and knowing the lotus position won’t help that. Enlightenment is a verb. Find your verb today. You can still wear your tights and you can still be a vegetarian, you just won’t get the reward without the sacrifice. So rather than avoiding hard work try running towards it, because it’s along the way that you’ll stumble into the peace that you’re currently searching so hard for.

peace. s

PS This was the least-read blog ever and bizarrely so. That fact prompted a popular response the next day. If you did agree to read this one then you probably stand to benefit less from the following one, but regardless they do work well as a pair.

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

The Struggle of Millennial Entrepreneurs

The brain is built by what it does. People accept this when it comes to skills and knowledge but for some strange reason they arbitrarily stop at personality when that too grows directly from your experience. So what differences exist that can help explain the consistent struggle I now see with so many Millennials?

When I was a kid nothing came to you. You had to walk to the library to do school work, there wasn’t half the work-saving machines around the house, you had to run for the phone when it rang, we had crank windows on cars, no power steering or brakes, we walked almost everywhere we went, and on summer days our parents barely told us what to do. That meant our entire day was self-created and unknowingly to most that built a brain with the wiring for initiative.

Now consider the challenge the next generation had: everyone thought it was good that there were so many labour saving devices but that slowly put people out of shape. Hamburgers got delivered to their cars. They were driven many places. Unless they were in a small town, much more of the schedule of a Millennial was being subtly booked and controlled by parents. You now had study nights and more tutors. It became mandatory to play a sport or pursue something creative like dance or a musical instrument. Grades became more important and then school became a pressure-cooker for university entrance. It was never about who you were, everything became about setting up who you could be in some future.

956 Relax and Succeed - To live a creative lifeMost damaging to the brain was the fact that everything and everyone sort of guided you or told you what to do. Lego, Meccano and Light Bright were open source. You opened the box and there was just a bunch of pieces. No one gave you a blueprint, the boxes weren’t little worlds, they were just plain pieces loaded with potential to be formed by whoever’s initiative faced it.

Then suddenly there were Gobots and Transformers and Lego sets. Some Toy Executive in London or New York would limit and channel a kids thoughts into what they wanted them to build (usually for advertising). But what if you’re now an entrepreneur and there’s no one telling you to start, or what to do?

I have lots of Millennials who come to me because their life really needs them to take action and they just can’t. They can think about what to do, plan what to do, even get excited by it, but they cannot actually turn it into a daily verb. They cannot just sit down and do undirected work for long periods of time and then act. They’re champion procrastinators.

956 Relax and Succeed - Fear is a liarAre you one of those Millennials who gets next to nothing done all day? I know, there’s a lot of you. There’s no point in using your thoughts to create guilt. You didn’t even know this was happening to you. But it did happen and there’s only one thing you can do about it. It’ll feel really scary, but it’s actually much more gratifying and enthusiasm-generating than the fear you’re currently experiencing.

You can sit and calculate the downsides forever. You can worry about how it will go wrong and do nothing and then it will go wrong by not going at all. There is no other choice I’m sorry. No other answer will be delivered.

Take heart though. Look around you and see who’s happy and feeling fulfilled. It’s the people who are busy. They have lots of responsibility and pressure and yet they’re thriving. They get a ton done and it seems to happen by magic. But it’s just taking some initiative and taking the next step. Yes, that step might be wrong, but better to retrace than to never step at all.

956 Relax and Succeed - Most people fail in lifeYour brain needs to have initiative built into it or you’ll have this challenge until you die. That will mean you literally didn’t live your life. I see far too many brilliant talented people who have done almost nothing by the same age that me and many of my peers already had numerous significant achievements. This isn’t because that generation was stronger or better or more creative. But it did have loads and loads of accidentally developed initiative. In the end we were lucky. If you have this problem you will have to make your own luck, but don’t worry. I promise it’s not only doable; once you pull it off you won’t believe how much living you’ll do.

Find someone else to work for. Don’t think about your life, think about what you can contribute to the world, your community, your household. Feel responsible; work for the betterment of others and you won’t meet that same resistance that comes from doing things just for you. In the end it’s about a month of concentrated effort and from there the muscle will be built and it’ll only be a matter of continuing to build it up.

I feel for you. I really do. I hear all the time about the hiding, the excuses, the ineffectiveness, the financial challenges, the guilt. It’s no way to live. Trust me, those things are far harder for you to do than to take the leap into action. Even if it’s wrong it won’t be as painful as nothing at all. So go for it. I know you can do it. Even if you are scared. Act anyway.

peace. s

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

A Psyche of Peace

So how do we stop thinking? Lots of people know how to do that in the theory which is why this blog is all about looking closely at the quotes I see racing around on social media. For the most part they’re pretty useful, but instead of applying them as overall lessons people only seem to post them when the most superficial meaning of the phrase seems suitable to their current day.

779 Relax and Succeed - Meditation is the medicationIf you spend real time meditating on these ideas you realize that most people posting the quotes do believe they’re pointing to something real, but they don’t make any real effort to try to truly understand them or live by them, which sort of defies the value of a quote that’s survived for thousands of years. The answers to our perpetual questions are perpetually in front of us and yet we ignore them.

The nature of modern life, social media and the popularity of the visual quote has somehow turned quotes into commodities when the original point was the deepest possible meaning. These were ideas meant for slow deliberate contemplation, not to be treated like a checkbox. But as the old saying goes, when the wise man points at the moon the fool looks at his finger.

So we each have to ask ourselves–are we just treating these quotes as check-boxes? Do you really do anything other than just quickly acknowledge you like it, maybe save it and then move on? Many of these are are famous, ancient quotes. Surely your personal peace and spiritual life are worthy of an hour of serious meditation on an idea you already know you like?

If I post something on the Other Perspectives stream on Mondays that’s because it’s a quote that is either dangerous to healthy functioning or it has the potential to be. And if they’re in the rest of the week—like these ones are—then the reason is because we’re here to discuss them more fully. To understand them and turn them into actions in our lives.

779 Relax and Succeed - Religion is beliefSpirituality isn’t a noun. Enlightenment isn’t a degree you get. These are verbs. These are actions. These are when subject and object merge to the point where this is where you are not a separate individual thing that is moving through space and time, but rather your life is a motion–a living perpetual creation: a State of Being. At that point you, your life and the world around you merges into a single experience.

Don’t skim with your spirituality. Don’t spend more time choosing a coat or shoes than on your personal development. One just drapes over your ego, the other is your fundamental substance. And the essence of you is definitely worth exploring. You are beautiful. That’s a guarantee.

Enjoy your day.

peace. s

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

Other Perspectives #73

Newsflash. Life is not a competition. And if you have chosen to enter some contest that involves physical competition then that’s why it’s called a con-test. The prefix “con” means convene, condone or connection. So a contest is a test that involves some convening and some connection and you certainly have to condone to compete. A Roman can throw you in with the lions but he can’t make you compete. That has to be a choice. So if you’ve chosen to compete then you should be happy and enthusiastic about exercising and practising because that’s the course you chose for your life. And if you’re not competing then why in the world would you care about when other people are at the gym? You’re not in a competition with them and if you believe you are then start by recognizing that act as an entirely ego-based action. The Tarahumara Tribe run 100 mile foot races that can feature half the tribe and there is no accounting of who won or who finished in what order. They run for the love of it. So unless you’ve chosen to be happy by competing, you should exercise for the same happy reasons. Because if you’re doing it right it feels great even when it doesn’t feel great. Love your body, love your life. But do not live it in competition with others unless you keep that in proper perspective because otherwise that is a recipe for an unhappy existence. Now go have an awesome week.

peace s

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Ageism at Work

Millennials” is the colloquial word that Boomers and Gen X‘ers use, but they mean the very tail end of the Millennials and the first wave of Generation Z. These are the people that are often misunderstood, and so they drive their older co-workers and managers crazy. And rightly so in some cases, but there’s been two overlapping paradigm shifts in our culture and they can confuse these issues if they’re not thought about carefully.

637 Relax and Succeed - WhateverFirst off let’s get the reasonable concerns off the table so we can focus on the more meaningful issues where each group can actually help make each other better. Several generations have seen a steady advancement in mechanization, electronics, computerization and now web-integration. In short: life has gotten easier and more comfortable all while also becoming more time and energy stressed. So kids rarely walk to school even if the weather is terrible, but they’ll also almost never experience true privacy.

School also got easier. I asked a couple recent college classes if they were concerned about their education in any way? A student offered that he felt he had been moved through grades more because that’s what the school wanted, as opposed to it being very focused on whether or not each kid knew the material well enough to use it. Other kids joined in. Sports too—prizes for limited efforts. When I asked how that made them feel, I believe in both cases it was the entire class who agreed they felt insecure and unprepared compared to generations they interacted with that were older than them.

Now a critical area where older generations misunderstand the motives of younger generations is in their values. Character has always been a big thing that defined people. Where are your lines? What defines you? What will pay a big price for? Those are the sorts of questions that arise out a period where there was a war every few decades. But advertising has sold that a lack of effort is a victory and that a life of leisure and wealth is the only value in life that there is. But of course, a beer or a bed always feel a lot better after a day of chopping wood if you get what I mean. So on one hand younger generations were told not to try too hard. Instead of 637 Relax and Succeed - By learning you will teachlaughing at Bart Simpson as the writers intended, people were laughing with him as though Bart was the success of the culture, not the failure. This is a real issue that masks a rather beautiful transition that happened that will benefit us all.

These “kids” watched the most miserable generation in history come home from work and bitch and bitch and bitch. And I don’t blame the parents for bitching. Because my Dad could raise six kids on one salary and he could take his holidays and we had lots of free time. Today people are struggling with at least two jobs per household, their two kids go to schools miles apart in different neighbourhoods and all of their “play” is actually organized training like dance class, hockey, scouts—whatever, and it all costs a lot of money. It’s no longer—go outside and play and Mom was free and clear for 5 hours. Those days are gone. Mom has a cell phone and her boss will send her emails to answer at 8:30pm and night. So the kids watch Mom become a strange kind of slave to her office even within their own house. Bosses and work get talked about disparagingly and work life starts to become so dominant that kids rightfully identified that as a problem. They weren’t go to mimic that and that makes perfect sense—it was, and is, making everyone miserable.

So no, these kids will never care about a company as much as their parents did, because like the French learned that “King” was just a word, a couple generations later learned that “company” was sort of another word for “King.” The bottom line was, this generation does something much wiser than the two before it and they value time more than money. Yes, like all young people they want their cake and eat it too, but that’s no different than any generation. This recent shift has to do with how capitalism actually overtook humanism as the dominant way of looking at how to set up the world. So if a company’s profit went up but it laid off 20,000 people, that was suddenly a good thing. Of course it’s not, because profits exist in our imagination and those 20,000 people have very real appetites and medical needs. But for a time economists had people so mesmerized that they had everyone subscribed to a system that is supposedly kept fair by something as silly and nebulous as “the invisible hand.”

637 Relax and Succeed - Patience and WisdomSo now kids interview the companies too. Good for them. They grew up with recycling and Wall-E was big when they were young. They don’t want to work for companies that make smart tax moves by donating to charity, they want a company that actually believes in supporting the broader world around it because it has a vision much bigger than simple financial profit. Oh wouldn’t that have looked impressive to aliens if they arrived? Hey guys, check out how cleverly we structure debt! No, these kids know there’s a serious problem with the planet. These dates that don’t matter to my generation are when this one wants to be having kids, so the idea that the planet might look like hell is actually pretty important to them. So what they like is companies that give based on what they believe rather than what the tax code would reward. Redditt is getting a ton of credit for giving away 10% of its ad revenue to charity and it’s letting its readers choose who gets the dough. That’s who the smartest people in the new millennium want to work for.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve aged that the one giant mistake I made as a manager was I completely overlooked the enormous amounts of experience I often had working for me. By the time someone’s 50 they’ve met a lot of people and tried a lot of things. I should have been able to figure that they would have a lot of wisdom just by stopping and thinking about it. I count it to this day as the biggest mistake I made as a manager. Age teaches far more than you’d think. But let’s not forget that those with some grey hair should also listen carefully. Because as we age we lose that drive to win or beat others. We get softer and more interested in quality experiences. And these kids want to build a world where quality experiences are more the priority than profits. So I think there are a lot of reasons that people of every age can successfully work together toward an objective like that.

No matter how old you are and now matter how many people you work with, regularly give them a fair and open listen and see if maybe there’s some wisdom there for you to glean.

You guys have an awesome day, okay?

peace. s