A Life Well-Lived

1276 Relax and Succeed - Authenticity the courage to be yourselfA lot of the reason that people feel like they may not be doing the right thing in life is because they have pre-constructed the concept of success in their imagination and what they imagine isn’t an action, it’s a definition or result. While a healthy person is merely fascinated by what they’re doing, someone lost and uncertain will be trying to raise their value, status or power in some way, shape or form.

Since the media is a nearly unavoidable force in the raising of a child it is important to see a child’s actions as not only being based on the child’s caregivers, but also on other significant forces like media trends, which lead to all sorts of unintended consequences, like the formations of things like cultures of irreverence, or of uptalkers for example.

One of the other unintended consequences of media as a learning force is that children automatically and unknowingly come to see success as being linked to popularity or fame, hence “be famous,” has only recently been added as an answer to the question, what do you want to do with your life? (People used to say astronaut, or doctor or deep sea diver.)

1276 Relax and Succeed - Study hard what interests you mostThe truth is, fame and fortune are not at all what makes a good life. Richard Feynman won a Nobel Prize almost because he was a famous iconoclast, too dedicated to his own curiosity to ever get anywhere had it not been for the fluke that his curiosity primarily landed in one field (while he was well respected in many). But if his passions had not been in physics right while physics was literally exploding (he worked on the atomic bomb), his life may have been much less notable. Likewise, most truly great lives are not noticeable to anyone but the people living them, and those closest to them.

I was recently at the funeral of my parent’s neighbour. I’ve known her since I was three. As I sat in the pew at the church listening to the speakers, I was struck by how much I admired the woman, and almost precisely because she was so different from me. Since being teased relentlessly as a kid I’ve ignored other people’s views in favour of a set of guiding principles so, I’ve always liked my life and how I live it, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate equally authentic lives that unfold in their own unique ways.

Whereas I am a quick thinking enthusiastic person who has generally held leadership positions and would be in that tiny group of people that takes action when others won’t, she was extremely gentle and appreciative; always a safe harbour for any and all troubled neighbourhood kids. I’ve travelled the world and had awesome jobs and worked in film and TV and made lots of money–my life looks like (or rather used to look like)–the kind of life people would want to have. Hers was much smaller, but it was equally a rich life and it was very well lived. I had fun in my other life, but I’m actually more like her now.

1276 Relax and Succeed - Don't change so people will like youJust as I had cared about the big exciting things I was doing, she was caring deeply about the smaller more intimate details of life. Where I might be inspiring or informative, she offered comfort and support. She earned the love of her family throughout her life. She was enthusiastic about her work while she was a worker, and as a homemaker she was one of those dream Moms who always has a warm smile and fresh homemade food. She was also a very dedicated and loving parent and stand-in parent to her own child and many others.

If someone asked me today; if you couldn’t live your life, which life would you live, I have generally answered I’m loving the life I have. But if you forced me to choose, a life entirely like hers seems, to me, as enjoyable and as profound as my own has been, and the change of pace would be educational I’m sure. What’s curious about this is that many of my students come to me wanting to be more like I was, and by the time we’re done they want to be more like themselves, which is often much more like my parent’s very successful neighbour with her very successful life.

She died wanting more. That can feel like it should be sad, but it’s really the opposite that’s sad; when they’ve gone past their desire for life the death feels more like a relief. But right up until the end she had a tomorrow to be excited about and, when she finally realised she wouldn’t get that, she became just as excited by what was next, smiling just before her death, uttering the words, “my parents…” It really doesn’t get more beautiful than that and I am glad such a wonderful woman got such a fitting end to a life very well lived.

Life is in the details. Don’t always look above you. Sometimes what you’re looking for is already around you, or even possibly something you previously left behind. But do not assume bigger is better. Better is whatever your nature leads you to. In that regard, may your life be as successful as hers.

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.

Intentional Courage

1248 Relax and Succeed - Bethany Hamilton professional surferThis is Bethany Hamilton. You might recognise her. She was thirteen years old when a fourteen foot tiger shark took her left arm while she was surfing with her best friend in Kauai. Beautiful place, best friend, a favourite activity…it was all a dream come true. Even after the shark attack, Bethany used her sense of intention to adjust her dreams and then she made those true.

Bethany was an active young woman who loved surfing and spending time in nature. Today Bethany is an active young championship surfer who loves to spend time in nature with her husband and two children. Note that losing her arm did not change who Bethany is. She was always determined to live deeply and fully and the shark only intensified that drive.

Within two months of losing her arm she was back in the water and not long after that she was competing. The arm didn’t stop her from meeting a man, the fact that it was missing attracted a particularly strong and loving man. She’s written a book, had a film made about her, she’s started a charity, works with many others, and she’s been on countless television programs for her charity work promoting positive mental attitudes, faith and a general outlook of abundance.

1248 Relax and Succeed - Just because today is a terrible dayMany people fall asleep within their own lives and they sleep most of the way through living them. Generally only illness or divorce or the loss of a job or some other tragedy will temporarily wake the person up, but they’ll rarely account for the fact that they feel more alive when they’re struggling to survive than when they are stultified into not even noticing their life is ticking by.

Bethany loses an important limb to a shark and shortly thereafter she’s back in the water, competing on a surfboard, married and pregnant. That’s a lot of belief in a bright future and note it kicked in almost immediately after the injury. In fact, she faced the injury with the same positive attitude she faced the rest of life with.

You can argue for your weariness. We all do it for periods and you can bet she did too. But it’s how much time we spend in which mental states that decide how much control we can maintain throughout our lives. If we see the world as fatalistic and ourselves as unlucky then we have doomed ourselves with a literal intention to have a bad life. But we can use that same force of intention to create a full life like Bethany’s.

1248 Relax and Succeed - ForwardBetween toiling in oblivion and struggling for equality, most people focus on sadness over who they were rather than seizing the opportunities that emerge from who they now are. Bethany’s positivity route is actually the easier and more enjoyable to live, but to get it you must be positive even when the indications urge you to feed a darker aspect of yourself. This is where Bethany takes control and makes her life happen, rather than idly watching it happen and then commenting to herself in her ego, after the fact. A good life is created by action. A bad one by inaction.

Don’t use Bethany’s example to beat yourself up for perceived shortcomings because that is not what Bethany would do. She would not account for what is missing, she would account for what is there. She could have been just another anonymous woman with a missing arm who lead a sad life because of a tragic accident. Or, she could become who she’s been; a rare person who’s both been attacked by a shark and who has survived. Add her positivity on top of that and now she’s so rare that you can see why she can make a living on TV and by doing public speaking on the value of faith and a belief that the universe is working with you and not against you.

Every day you choose a path. Sometimes the choice is conscious, sometimes not. But for our lives to improve, those choices must not only be made more conscious, they must be made with the sort of courage that allows us to step outside of a common narrative so that we can instead continue to be ourselves even in the wake of whatever tragedies we face. None of us are the results of what has happens to us. All of us are the result of how we chose to face what happens to us. Get active. Live consciously. It’s the only way to find your actual life.

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.

Changing Your Life

1225 Relax and Succeed - If you're not going anywhereWe’re all guilty of it. We want our lives to improve and we have these things that we know would help, but we just can’t get others to cooperate with our plans to improve our situation. Eventually though, we reach a maturity where we realise that they are thinking precisely the same thing about us.

This isn’t to say that our lives couldn’t be improved if others made the changes we’re suggesting, but the fact remains that you have a massive amount of control over yourself and you have little to no control over others, so you are far better to invest your energies in improving your life through things that you control, that can happen for sure versus things you don’t control and only might happen.

We all know that every single one of us has some habits that may be difficult for those around us. You have to have a personality, so we don’t want to remove any quality because on the other side of it will be something useful; like you’re pushy, but when leading is a crappy job the pushy person will still take it and save everyone else. But the point is to mature so that we can apply that ability when it is most useful and not the most damaging.

1225 Relax and Succeed -  To improve our livesPick your issue. It can be small, that’s fine. Maybe you tap your fingers too much, or you’re not polite, or you rush, or you won’t make decisions, or you’re a bully in meetings. Just stay conscious of that one thing for today and try to influence how often or how meaningful the impacts to others might be. And maybe if you do end up doing that thing you do, consider apologising.

Just this one bit of simple mindfulness will make a big difference to not only the other people around you, but more importantly it will also strengthen your mindfulness overall. You will also end the day feeling good about your successes in altering your behaviour. So ignore when your old self emerges and be happy when you adjust. This isn’t about where you are on some scale, it’s about taking you wherever you are and expanding your capacities.

Pick your issue, maybe leave a note or two to yourself or in your daily calendar, and then stay conscious of yourself. That awareness alone will pay additional dividends throughout your day, and who knows, someone might even notice. Enjoy!

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.