Nothing is Something

1269 Relax and Succeed - They are the chosen onesThey were sitting in a coffee shop. The decidedly unsettled woman twitched a statement his direction. “I can’t paint.”

“You painted all of those beautiful paintings in your house, and quite a few hanging in other people’s houses too, like mine.”

“There’s no point.”

“You enjoy it.”

“Not like this.”

“This isn’t painting, this talking about painting.”

She was already done her coffee. She leaned over toward the garbage and ditched it. “This is a kind of torture, being stuck like this. Constant procrastination, no work. No achievement, no sense of self-respect. But how could I think I was gonna get that from something so fated? So pointless?”

“I like the paintings I own of yours. I take pleasure from seeing them. Don’t you enjoy people liking what you’ve offered?”

“Praise is uncomfortable for everyone. It’s too rare. Feels weird. And my problem is bigger than procrastination–although that’s huge–my problem is metaphysical. It’s… philosophical. It’s spiritual. It’s so huge it’s not even my problem it’s the problem. With everything”

“Oh oh. Then it’s a problem for me too. What is this problem we have again?”

“Everything comes from somewhere.”

“Why is that a problem?”

“It’s just a giant universe of pool balls, clicking and clacking away. We live inside a math formula.”

“What?”

She caught the eye of the bearded guy behind the counter then looked at her companion. “You want another one?” He signalled he still had 90% of his existing drink. She held up one finger and the barista nodded in understanding. “This whole thing. Everything in the world was predetermined by every other thing. It’s all just billiard balls.”

“I’m going to need a bit more detail.”

“Just think about it: why are we speaking English?”

“…Because we’re in Canada? Because our parents speak English?”

“Exactly! See! We had no choice. English came to us, we didn’t pick it off a list of German and Japanese and Italian and Swahili. Our lifestyles. Why do our Dad’s both own businesses–because their Dad’s did.”

“We’ve got friends who own businesses whose parents worked at jobs.”

“Yeah, but those people didn’t want to be like their parents, so in a weird way the parent still dictated what they did. It was all inevitable. All billiard balls. Every song, based on the notes developed by others, using the timing systems developed by others, and played on instruments invented by others. Everything is so derivative. There’s no point.”

1269 Relax and Succeed - Millions long for immortalityThat last statement shot the eyebrows of her companion up. He was thoughtful while she fidgeted even more, checking her phone. He broke her attention away from it when he spoke. “What if it’s not balls?”

“What?”

“What if it’s not balls? What if the reason it feels like there’s no point is that we’re not all individual balls in search of individual achievements. What if we’re all just one big flowing mass? Then aren’t your actions both kind of predetermined and also awake and alive? Isn’t it possible to be fully occupied with fulfilling our ‘own’ aspects of that flow? Doesn’t an ocean crash on anew on every shore? Isn’t that both ours and the–and part of the ocean of everything?”

She seemed genuinely impressed that it hung together in the end, but it didn’t line up with what she already believed, so her initial reaction was rejection. “That’s too easy. It ignores the nihilism of it all. I cannot paint with any kind of meaning. All anyone is ever going to get is just another reflection of every force I ever encountered as life unfolded me like a predetermined plan.”

“Can’t all of that be true and still leave you space to feel like you’re a part of a great oneness? Isn’t that what a muse is? The hand of God needs fingers right?”

Eyebrow. “Hand of God?”

“I was shooting for poetic.”

“Ah… no.” In the background the barista was foaming her latte.

“You’re the one going on about metaphysics and nihilism. I’m not even sure either one of us knows what those words mean exactly.”

“I just want my life to have meaning. Is that so much to ask from the universe?”

“How would I know? What’s meaning? Meaning changes as we mature anyway. I don’t see the crap we did at 10 years old the same way now that I did then. I can only assume that since everything else in my life is like that, now will be like that too. So what’s meaning? Meaning’s some floating idea we temporarily layer over an experience or a memory. But what’s so great about that? People have different opinions about the same book. Why can’t that be wonderful? Why do they have to agree on a meaning?”

“What’s the point?”

“That’s like asking for a meaning. Can’t life be the point? Can experience itself be the point? What do people who find out they’re dying want? They want more experiences. They might have had a lifetime of crappy ones and they’ll still want more when you tell them it’s over. There has to be something to that. Picasso was billiard balls too. I remember you getting pretty excited about Picasso. Wasn’t that joy real? Wasn’t that a thing? Isn’t that a point? To just…–live that? Doesn’t the universe need witnesses?”

This catches her attention. “Witness?”

“What if we’re not here to do anything? What if we’re just here to be? To see it. What if we’re just all witness-actors in the universe? What if this whole wondrous thing only happens because each part does its part, for every other part?”

1269 Relax and Succeed - A life worth living“Can’t be. I’m sitting here. I’m not doing anything. I’ve stopped the flow of the balls.”

“Ooo. Look at you. The grand ball stopper. The whole universe? Come on. But: what if this procrastination is just you misunderstanding that this is not when you’re supposed to create? What if you’re living this, but you don’t even understand why yet, like the Kierkegaard quote? But what if this is all part of that big flow? What if you being stuck is perfect? I don’t know art, but I’d bet another coffee that Picasso got stuck too.”

She’s thinking. This logical explanation has thrown a wrench into her nihilistic negativity. Despite herself, she’s finding some gleeful exuberance bubbling down low. “I dunno. Seems too easy. And where’s it leave us anyway?”

“Under that explanation there is no ‘us’ and no ‘where’ anyway, so it’s a nonsense question.”

The barista drops down her coffee and quickly swipes her cash card. While he’s going through the motions she continues her conversation. “Right. Oneness. Flow. That was good”

It’s as though he’s realising it more than stating it. “If everywhere is the same place then your lostness is inside foundness. Right?”

She’s confused herself. “Now you’re getting too deep for me.”

“You wanna get out of here?”

“Actually if it’s cool with you, I think I might head home. This actually makes me want to paint.”

“What’s the point though?”

She tosses a sugar wrapper at him. “My own joy of the doing.”

“That sounds worth it to me.”

“I’ll hate you during the hard parts.”

“What are the hard parts?”

“The parts on which there is no paint.”

“Ah. I get hated right to the end then.”

“I get a painting out of it though.”

“A nihilistic painting?”

“I dunno. I’m going to experiment with flow.”

“I guess I’ll wait to see it.”

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.

Pick Your Poison

When we’re looking for change we almost always want major change. We want some big part of our life to be different, or rather to give us cause to feel differently about it. But when talking about the change of all changes, the shift is very subtle and the effect very simple. What is remarkable is how profound such a small change can be.

The other day on the radio I heard a woman talk about a blog she had written under a false identity. The perspective she wrote from was strong and capable and she had a voice. The woman then lamented that she wished she personally could live her life more in alignment with her character than the person she was choosing to be.

Imagine that. She created that person and lived that person’s reality when she wrote the blog, and she could feel the joy associated with that person’s freedom, and yet she would say that she is someone else. She would tell us that she isn’t strong like her character. And someone like me would think that was bizarre. Why suffer being someone you don’t like when you know who it feels truly good to be?

Picking poisons. That’s all it is. We all re-create situations because we have coping skills that emerged from our experiences. We prefer the situations that match our skills and we feel uncomfortable being in ones that don’t match. But being good at being an ego is like being good at punching yourself in the face. You don’t want the life that you know, you want the want the one that feels good to live.

By choosing a life that the blog writer found stifling; one where she surrendered opportunities too quickly and failed to gain her own self-respect, she was doubling down on her lack of belief in herself. And yet there’s the person she wants to be, contained within her, writing to the world every day. If she would be willing to learn that person’s life skills she could step into the life that excites her spirit. But instead she stays safe and misses out.

You’re ego’s right. There will be people that will stop liking you if you change. If someone used to complain with you all the time and you don’t want to complain anymore, they’ll feel like you’ve changed for the worse. But while you lose those people, you find others, because the real matches to you can now see and recognise you for who you really are.

Seek a safe, encouraging, supportive environment with no violence or abuse and then find your nature. Because if fear or control take your ego over, you will live a life that is a thin shadow of an existence. But if if you are willing to accept the consequences of being the person that it feels truly good to be, then you will experience life’s challenges as that strong person. And that is much more rewarding than volunteering to be someone less capable and confident; someone who repetitively suffers through familiar problems.

It’s all just self-identity thoughts. The strong ones don’t use more energy than the weak ones. They’re not harder to  have. So be strong. It’s allowed. The crap was always going to come anyway. If you can’t avoid that then you might as well accept it and be who it’s most enjoyable to be.

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.

Conscious Leadership

If I were to hazard a guess, I would guesstimate that about one manager in 30 actually demonstrates any real leadership skill. This isn’t to say they’re incapable of leading—I simply mean that they’ve never really thought much at all about the act of leadership itself. As I’ve written before, they manage the work and not the people. But of course you can’t really manage work. You can talk like you do, but you can’t turn that blabber into a verb.

648 Relax and Succeed - Instead of thinking outside the boxWhere you see this most often is with sales teams. I’m often brought in by a manager to help them realise more potential from their sales employees, but 95% of my success comes from making the manager more conscious about how counter-productive they are, rather than any changes to the actual employees under that manager. Saying to someone, you sold $40,000 of product last month, I want you to sell $43,000 this month is not management. That’s target-setting and you might as well get a computer to automate that process because it is thoroughly meaningless—and yet it’s what 99.9% of sales teams focus on. The numbers are pulled out of the manager’s ass and they simply amount to the manager habitually saying to the employee at the start of each month: MORE!

Let’s just think about this for a moment. I was talking to an excellent top sales performer at a company recently and she noted in a group session with her managers that the targets were meaningless to anyone who had done the job for more than about a year. After 12 months of repeatedly saying MORE! the employee just tunes it out. If you’ve been selling for 5 years, you’ve heard this stupid plea on the 1st of every month 60 times in a row. You might as well just email them a link to an audio recording that slots in a new digital number every month that is +X of whatever they did last month.

648 Relax and Succeed - Showing gratitude is one of the simplest thingsIf they really wanted to get an employee’s attention and see some change, they should talk to someone and say, “Hey, you know what? You’ve been an excellent salesperson for X number of years. Your numbers have steadily grown year after year. You’ve proven yourself and I want to show you that I appreciate that growth and the effort that it took to achieve it. So this month I made your target lower. Take a bit more time this month and do some things for yourself. Family time, fun, recreation a hobby—whatever. Go invest in yourself and next month we’ll get back at it hard. I need you to pull at least a decent number so my boss doesn’t chastise me, but otherwise let’s create a bit of space for you. You’ve earned it.”

I’ve asked a lot of sales teams what affect that would have and they have universally responded to it super-positively. The few places that had actually implemented it often saw the numbers go up anyway on the “lax month” because the employee was more relaxed and less stressed, so they used their energy more efficiently.

648 Relax and Succeed - People don't respond to youSimilarly, you can’t manage time. Time is nearly irrelevant. I recall seeing an email from a manager that I know zero thought went into. It was ridiculously simplistic. It wasn’t chosen as a strategy from a competition of other ideas, it was just a knee-jerk reaction to some event, (with the emphasis on the jerk). The manager was a truly decent guy that I actually quite liked, and the fellow was bright, but that didn’t make the decision smart.

The email suggested that any employee who was even one minute late should text their boss or they should not even bother showing up. Of course, to say to a salesperson to not show up is to say, don’t earn any money for your important bills. How important did this guy think one minute is? He would make all sorts of lame arguments about principle but if he had to debate it with me in front of people he would realise there wasn’t anything principled about his decision at all. Another manager could easily create better performance with a smarter strategy.

648 Relax and Succeed -Why good employees leave

The guy had an MBA, but everyone teaching it was an academic who’d never been in a senior position, and even if they had, they’re far more likely to be one of the 29 bad managers, not the one good one. Which shows you can go to school to learn data but in practice you still either have an unconscious manager or a conscious one and only the latter makes people better, and the latter one would never send such a useless, silly and entirely counter-productive email. The reaction to it by the manager’s staff was universally a drop in respect for the him because he had so clearly shown disrespect for their lives and the money those lives need to function in a healthy way.

It was petty, punitive and what bothered me most about it was that it had zero chance of causing that sales team to be more effective and in fact it did the exact opposite. It took people’s heads out of the game. They spend half their time gossiping about how bad their boss was. Yes, it’s much more professional and much more likely to be a promotable person if they show up on time and demonstrate respect for their co-workers so it does have real value, but there isn’t much worth in being rigid about flawless precise timing.

Respect for clients and co-workers (including the managers) has a huge impact. So asking them to leave home an extra 20 minutes early every single day on the off chance they’ll get caught in bad traffic on one of them—that just means work is eating even further into people’s lives and that never pays off because people are starting to choose jobs based on who respects their lives outside of work. And even after all of those reasons, where I live texting and driving is illegal, so that manager’s request was essentially a demand to break the law or make no money. Nice guy, but dumb dumb dumb decision that never held anyway.

648 Relax and Succeed - No individual can be happy who livesGreat managers treat all employees as what they are—individuals. They each have their strengths and weaknesses relative to the job, and each has their own fluctuating life challenges. Telling some guy with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or a sick child at home that they can’t make money because of 1/60th of a clock tick is meaningless, thoughtless and potentially cruel. The better manager would tailor everyone’s schedules to their natural rhythms and circumstances and then they would be working with the employee’s nature rather than subjecting them to the tyranny of a clock. Seriously. That one minute late decision still stands out as one of the most counter-productive things I’ve ever seen in 30 years of learning and teaching management.

Bad bosses will lead by title. They’ll point to their sales record as proof then know what to do when that is almost entirely irrelevant to their staff. The hockey strategies used by a long-armed 6’5” winger are not applicable to a 5’9” speedster with quick hands. Again, that’s unconscious management. Thinking that someone else should just mimic you is arrogant and meaningless. You coach to people’s strengths you don’t try to whip them all into the same person. The meticulous customer service focused person cannot be managed the same as the cold-hearted money-motivated one. They can both be maximized to excellent effect, but not by just broadcasting arbitrary uniform demands from the professional equivalent of a bullhorn.

648 Relax and Succeed - Thomas A EdisonIf you took an action as a manager and you didn’t think of five other choices before choosing that one as the best choice, then you know you’re an unconscious manager. That’s the vast majority of you. The good things is, anyone can become conscious. You just have to spend a bit of time extrapolating out what the impacts of each choice might be, and then select the one that looks like it will take you the farthest. How well you’ll do will depend on how well you understand how people work. Regardless you’ll still be wrong plenty of times. But doing it the unconscious way you’ll hardly ever be lucky enough to have your personal opinion line up with what’s best.

Don’t think a degree or success in a job qualifies you to lead. It absolutely doesn’t. Understanding people well enough to know how to motivate them as individuals does. So spend less time on rules and targets and penalties and more on learning about what personally inspires each of your staff. Do that and you’ll find they not only perform better than their competitors, but you’ll save yourself a ton in Human Resources costs. And—oh yeah—you’ll actually enjoy your own work day more too. And after all, that is half of your waking life.

peace. s

Enthusiastic Management

If a manager is going to work at the highest level he or she needs to have one primary realization. Even though it is gained through years of experience, it arrives in a flash of insight. It is a quantum shift in how to think about managing people. And that is when you realize that you haven’t been managing the people at all—you have been managing the work.

457 Relax and Succeed - People will forget what you saidWork management would exist in 97% of the businesses I see, and yet 97% of them will claim they’re in the 3% that don’t do it. And that’s not to say they’re lying. It’s making my central point: because they cannot fully appreciate what I mean, they’re assuming that something they are already doing is what I’m talking about. No. I mean they don’t philosophically get what I mean or what the value is. Hence this post.

Right from the hiring phase, you want to choose people whose brains match the work. And I don’t mean intelligence, I mean temperament. If someone hates being organized and doesn’t like details, then don’t put them on the accounting team. But if they are good at motivating others, then think about having them in some form of management. Etc. etc. So pay attention to personality and realize that it must suit the job. A guy who plays all solo sports and no team sports may not be the guy to put in charge of team-building.

Assuming you’ve got a suitable personality in the job, they then have to realize that how they would do the employee’s job is largely irrelevant. The employee can ultimately only be themselves, so we teach them tasks but not attitude. So if you’re a clean freak don’t expect your employees to go beyond what makes sense to them. How would they know where that line is? That is your line, in your consciousness. It is invisible to them. They have their own line, and that is where they stop. So you can’t order an employee to get a new personality. You figure out how to manage the one they have.

People are overwhelmingly good. They are overwhelmingly helpful. They have a completely undeserved bad reputation due to media, but there’s no shortage at all of awesome, intelligent, creative and dedicated people—provided no one is depressing them by asking them to be someone they are not, (as opposed to harnessing who they are to full effect). So far more than managing the work a manager is better to manage the office tone. If you offer 457 Relax and Succeed - Compliment peoplegenerous support when things aren’t going well, people stay relaxed and thereby maintain a connection to their own natural wisdom. They will eventually come up with their solution and you will get it far sooner than if you try to yell or punish it out of them faster.

There’s a wonderful quote I’ve always loved from General Patton. It goes something like “Never tell people what to do. Tell them what you want done and then let them surprise you with their ingenuity.” That’s great advice. Many brains are better than one brain. So don’t focus so much on correcting behaviour to make it more like what you would do. Instead focus on empowering and informing the employee. Allow them to feel respected. Seek their advice. Trust them. And let their overall results speak for them. Don’t blame them or give them credit for statistical aberrations, but if the overall trajectory is up, then all is well.

If an employee has the knowledge they require, then all a manager needs to do is to inspire them. So rather than paying attention to how much work got done, a manager will get further in accomplishing that objective by focusing on the happiness and attentiveness of his enthusiastic employees. Happy people work well together and enthusiastic ones will naturally focus on the work.

In the end good management is a bit like a jockey and racehorse. In the best of situations the horse should be propelled by the jockey without ever really feeling his weight on its back. Think less about the work and more about enthusiasm. Define the work, and then ignite the worker with confidence and enthusiasm. That’ll beat a stopwatch, a riding crop or a critical eye any day.

Have a great day at the office because that’s what you create with your interrelations.

peace. s

Leading the Pack

132 Relax and Succeed - The problem is not the problemBecause we drive and wear clothes, people generally pretend that we’re no longer animals and yet our instincts all come from the same origins. After food and shelter, the comfort of our pack is our primary concern. We are able to survive without the pack, but not in a healthy way. We are designed to function as a group, so any extended separation or estrangement will generally debilitate us.

Modern packs come in many forms. There is the family, there are classrooms or cliques of students in school, there are our sports or activity friendships, our social circle, and of course there is the dog-team of the workplace. Some—like our activity or social friendships—are voluntary. We decide who we want in and who we want out. Others, like family or work, are not under our control and we must adapt to our imposed pack-mates.

132 Relax and Succeed - You've got to changeIn each of these situations a natural or imposed hierarchy will exist. Maybe it’s the Mom or Dad at the top of the family, with the kids being ordered variously by age, strength, intelligence, and confidence. Or maybe it’s with friends, where the order is determined more like a pack of wild animals—where the choice for leader is an unconscious consensus between the people who naturally step forward to lead, and those who would prefer not to have that responsibility themselves. But in every other realm of life the leader is imposed. This is challenging, because if that assigned leader does not naturally gain the Confidence of the pack, then that pack will become dysfunctional both socially and in terms of its ability to successfully hunt.

Where this often becomes the most challenging is situations where the leader is new. The new manager will begin by giving their staff the sort of management they wished for or admired while they were still an underling. But that only helps people with personalities very similar to the manager’s. Better leaders will realise that each pack member is unique and that what works on one won’t work on another. If the leader fails to have this realisation, then they will attempt to run everyone like they’re one person and they will vainly attempt to maximise everyone’s strengths but in every single pack member.

Human packs in business will have greyhounds that can sprint and huskies that can carry heavy loads for long distances. They will have wiener dogs that can dig well and that are designed to hunt in very confined spaces, and they have hounds that can follow a scent for days. The weakest leaders will fail to notice these differences and they will often angrily demand that each dog have every strength.

131-relax-and-succeed-i-think-the-secret-of-successYou cannot ask the short-legged dachshund to have the advantages of the long distance husky, and then on top of that you want the husky to go down a tiny hole in the ground where it doesn’t even fit. It’s also unwise to want the greyhound to still run like the wind, but still follow a scent. That isn’t the dog failing, that’s the manager failing and with each admonishment the pack will get weaker because the animals will feel like they’re failing when in fact they are simply being lead in the wrong direction.

Yelling at or harshly criticising an animal will not increase its performance, it will decrease it. An animal does not run toward things that look dangerous or unpleasant. An unhealthy pack will fearfully fumble along with only half of its attention on hunting because the other half will be focused on trying to keep themselves safe from being attacked by their own pack-leader.

People don’t leave meetings where they just got yelled at and say to each other, “Yeah, we’re really dumb and lazy and awful—let’s do better!” No, they head straight to the water cooler to waste time discussing how poor a leader they have.

132 Relax and Succeed - Promote what you loveLife and school and business will have natural ups and downs. There is nothing in this world that isn’t like that, so if a leader is disappointed by anything other than significant success then they are living in a fantasy world and they are only a leader in name. True leadership knows that off-days are inevitable and they know to show up with love and support when things are bad. That is when that support is most useful. But if the hunting was bad and all the dogs are tired and starving, biting them to run faster will only serve to make tomorrow’s hunt even worse.

The best leaders are loved and trusted for their consistency. Both good news and bad news is met with the same quiet confidence. And a good plan doesn’t change based on short-term results, because even the best plans don’t guarantee perfect performance. If the pack is getting attacked any time things aren’t perfect then it will almost always be under some form of attack, and it will under-perform simply because too much of its energy is wasted on disappointment and fear.

If you’re seeking success and you think punishing people is an effective means of getting them to do things differently then you simply do not understand how people (or animals) work. If a dog gets beaten every time it can’t live up to the achievements of a completely different kind of dog on a different kind of day, then that will be one nervous and ineffective pup because too much of its attention will be focused on not getting beaten.

132 Relax and Succeed - Strong people don't put others downIf that same dog gets rewarded for its unique skills and good behaviours, those will expand. The dog will literally ask for opportunities to succeed. So yes, a wiener dog will struggle with running long distances. But at the same time, it will feel entirely comfortable crawling down dark holes. So each member of the pack must be approached as an individual and managed according to their strengths, not their weaknesses. Because no amount of barking or biting will turn a chihuahua into a pit bull.

If you’re in a position of leadership, stop telling your pack how to be successful and start asking them how you can support them in being successful, because the leader isn’t supposed to turn the dogs into each other. The good leader figures out what each dog’s strength is, and then it applies those strengths appropriately.

If your staff or your children see you approaching and their response is fear, then you are failing at maximising their potential. However, if they see you approaching and they feel secure and cared-for, then you will be maximising their potential and you will have 100% of it available for the hunt. And that is the good leader’s best bet for keeping his both himself and his pack happy.

Happy hunting.

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.