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.

The Value of Caring

What is the value of death? Of funerals? Is there a way to experience these tragic events and draw strength, resiliency, connection, love?

951 Relax and Succeed - Stop and take a momentI was at the funeral of an out-law family member this week. He learned as a relatively young man that he had been dealt a difficult hand which would prevent him from leading a full and involved life. This reduction in his capacity for involvement was always a very painful experience for his family. Everyone always wished more for his future.

Deaths like this can be tricky. I’m sure many came to the funeral concerned about how it might feel. There were certainly people that could have tilted the entire experience toward something really depressing–something that circled and focused on all that was missed. But that wasn’t what happened. In fact, the exact opposite happened. It was one of the most inspiring funerals I had ever attended.

Eulogies are difficult to write at the best of times and this was to be a celebration of a life unlived. The difficult job, given to the eldest, was taken with grace. When many would have hidden behind quotes and scriptures and platitudes, instead she dove into the heart of it and there she found her gold. It was her words that opened everyone’s eyes and hearts.

951 Relax and Succeed - Do small things with great loveThe value of a funeral is in what the life can teach the rest of us. That’s how their spirit is passed on; when we inform our lives by the lessons provided by theirs. In that way we literally make them a part of ourselves. And yet some lives do such a bad job of lining up with society that the presumption is that they are failures and that they have nothing to offer. All the check-boxes are ticked off and no one gives it any real thought. It’s just a shame.

But then a sister takes a deep hard loving look and she’s surprised by what she sees. She’s further surprised that she’s surprised because as she sits with the knowledge she realises that some part of her always knew it–just like everyone in that room subconsciously knew it: the deceased was never seen to be suffering. Yes he experienced pain but he never dwelled there. The person everyone perceived as having a sad life had actually always been happy.

It’s a strange thing for everyone to miss isn’t it? No one actually missed it, but no one at the time every gave it the value it deserved; we were all too focused on what was missing. Everyone else was focused on what was missing his life. He didn’t mind because he never noticed; he was too focused on caring about all of our lives.

951 Relax and Succeed - For everything you have missedI remember going to the funeral of an extremely wealthy man who I had grown very close to and the saddest part about it was that I didn’t hear anyone talking about him the way he told me he wished they would. He wanted to be seen as being a person who people liked because he personally left them feeling better than he found them. Put another way, the billionaire wished he could have given people the feeling that the man with the “sad” life got to give. So in the end whose life was rich?

The billionaire was a good man and his life meant a lot to me due to the many poignant conversations we had about life, but even he said that the lesson of his life was to avoid the choices he made because they were external and hollow. He wanted people to remember him as someone nice. He wanted himself remembered the way we’ll all remember Ray: as a guy who was always smiling and was always genuinely interested in how you were. And when you stop to really think about it, it’s just amazing what that’s worth.

Rest in Peace Ray.

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.

Made to Order

Winner: 2016’s Blog of the Year #5

Despite how parts of it are sold, society is a cooperation not a competition. Traffic, infrastructure, schools, corporate structures, the internet; these are all things that were designed to help us cooperate.

903 Relax and Succeed -Calvin and Hobbes
The Story Behind This Cartoon

Our societal cooperation works best when each of us intentionally aligns our deepest self with the larger goal. So for some big startup company to succeed it needs someone who wants to lock themselves away alone to do some deep, complex thinking. But it also needs bold, talkative, likeable salespeople who’re good at managing grey areas, and those salespeople all have to be different to appeal to different clients. Then the organisation will also need accounting and legal staff that then turns grey areas into black and white. Etc. etc.

It is called an organisation because it is the coordination of all of these very disparate and even conflicting skill sets. So the saleswoman intentionally generates grey area to achieve a sale only for accounting to have to slice all the grey into neat little boxes. One person’s work literally creates the other person’s work. Nothing’s wrong there, it’s just the nature of an organisation.

The challenge occurs when a catch-all idea tries to encapsulate all of these complex relationships. We see this most often in schools, where it used to be presumed that some students were strong in some subjects and not in others. Now if you’re a good student you’re not allowed to be a human with natural skill set. Now a good student gets good grades in everything.

903 Relax and Succeed - Action without visionStudents are no longer their experiences, now they are just the memories in their brain. In turn their brain is seen as a computer to be programmed, and the notion is that the same process applies to programming math skills as reading skills when that is simply not the case.

Some kids look out their bedroom window and see the stars move each night and they wonder about those movements and they get good at math because they are innately interested in becoming a cosmologist. Some can’t sit still in class and they become world-renowned ballerina, Karen Kain. Some aren’t good at math but they’re good at understanding complex physical relationships, as was the case with the physicist, Albert Einstein.

Those are not people who succeeded because they got good grades and fit into the boxes at school really neatly. These are people who had just the right conditions to become fully themselves, even when that self conflicted with some pattern that society found convenient. Yes, we want to see ourselves as a part of larger society, but we don’t want salespeople to start acting like accountants any more than we want accountants to act like salespeople.

903 Relax and Succeed - Notable college dropouts

Real drive, real success and real happiness do not come from good grades, good pay and people approving of you. You’ll get all the approval you need from yourself if you’re realising your inner motivations and then working hard to achieve them. Because that doesn’t even feel like work–it just feels like the steps you need to take to get you where you’re going.

Yes, we all need to do reasonably well in school because those basic skills do end up way more important than any kid realises up until they’re about 25 years old. But we shouldn’t panic if someone struggles in a subject or their grades are average. College is no guarantee of a good life, but knowing how to realise yourself through diligent work is. If something matters enough to someone they’ll work incredibly hard at it whether that’s in a college or outside of it.

Do not treat kids like pegs to fit into holes. They are all individuals and as much as a hassle it might be for a parent or teacher to have Karen Kain and Steve Jobs in the same class, it’s important to remember that the school is a construct not a natural occurrence. Meaning we should be less invested in things like grades and more focused on seeing if the kids themselves feel like they are expanding.

Too many of our pressures on kids have to do with conforming and getting into line. Yes, teach kids to be good, solid cooperative citizens. But not at the price of choking off their spirit, because if that’s intact it will drive their intellect to create not only great things, but also a great life.

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.