Lost and Found

My eyes scanned the shelves. I nodded and I smiled.

I recognized that I owned nearly all of the self-help books in the store. And I knew in that moment that I was finally on the road to getting better.

That was well more than a decade ago now. Yet I remember clearly the bleakness of that time. How very lost I felt.

Divorced; single parenting; raising boys; practicing law.

Making lunches; taking kids to school; racing to work; getting the calls from daycare, the fever of 102º; the homework; the soccer games; the parent-teacher meetings; the calls from the principal; and, oh yes, the clients and the cases and the employees and the office management.

Falling into bed at night, exhausted and depleted. One day melting into the next; every day like the last.

And wondering: Is that all there is? What in god’s name is the point?

Dante wrote,

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself in dark woods, the right road lost. To tell about those woods is hard — so tangled and rough and savage that thinking of it now, I feel the old fear stirring… .

(Yup. He sure had that right.)

The truth is: All of us get lost from time to time. We lose our way. The road gets rough and savage and really hard.

None of us escapes. (It’s what brings many folks to coaching.)

And there really is no way out of that dark wood.

The only way out is through.

Good teachers and mentors and therapists, and of course dear friends, can help us along the way.

But only we can do the heavy lifting.

Nietzsche wrote, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’

Rediscovering our purpose, reclaiming our sense of meaning, finding again that grand vision for our lives, allowing for the possibility of our dreams, getting in touch again with what quickens our hearts, what fires our imaginations: This is where the work is done. These are what finally lead us to the forest clearing.

Because our purpose is our power; and a purpose driven life is a life on fire. SunStar3

I remember climbing Mt. St. Helens after it had erupted, the volcanic ash ankle deep, two steps up, one step back. A demoralizing slog.

But the view; oh the view from the top, across that landscape of renewal and regrowth: It was magnificent.

And the slide back down the hill such fun.

It’s kinda like that.

So don’t despair. You will find your way through.

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Purpose work is some of the toughest work people do. I know that it’s some of the toughest I have ever done. Coaching folks along this path is a tremendous privilege. As a way of giving back in gratitude for those who walked the path with me, and for the lessons I have learned along the way, I’m teaming up next week with a friend and coaching colleague for an hour-long teleclass to talk about purpose and meaning and finding the way. Join us. There’s no charge, no up-sell. Just a bit of perspective from the top of the hill.

Click HERE to join us.

 

 

Why Happiness Is Old School

Happiness is all the rage these days. A good thing, I say.

Gretchen Rubin’s book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for a bazillion weeks. And Shawn Achor’s  getting 15 grand a pop for his keynotes on happiness.

(That sure would make me happy!)   images-1

Last month, there were 5 million Google searches worldwide using the keyword happiness.  And there are more than 25,000 books in print that have something to do with happiness.

So I guess it’s kinda a big deal.

I tend to think so… I talk about it a lot in my own keynotes.

It’s a key to our success, I think. And, it’s a choice.

A colleague challenged me last week over my happiness toot. He said that the pursuit of happiness is a narcissistic, superficial, self-serving preoccupation of the modern world.

I had to think about that for a bit.

Not that I don’t have a capacity for self-serving pre-occupation; but, I think my colleague is wrong.

Granted he grew up in a third world country. And I get it that folks who are scrounging  for food and just getting by don’t have the luxury of existential reflection. Don’t Worry, Be Happy isn’t likely a theme song.

And yet…

Some of the happiest folks I’ve ever come across in my travels are folks who have far fewer bells and whistles and toys than most of us have.

So I had to go back and dig deep into my thinking on this thing called happiness.

Turns out that long ago and far away Aristotle had some things to say about it: He thought happiness was the central purpose of human life!

But here’s the rub: Turns out that Aristotle and, later, John Locke and Thomas Jefferson (you, know that ‘pursuit of happiness thing’ in the Declaration), when they were all talking about happiness, weren’t referring to beach volleyball, cigarette boats or Paris in the springtime.  They were talking about fulfillment, the attainment of our human potential, and the depth and meaning of our lives.

I came across a great article from The Atlantic, a rather dense deconstruction of happiness and meaning. Seems like Aristotle probably had it right all along.

The article spends a fair bit of time reflecting on Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, a book I love. Frankl was the Austrian psychiatrist interned in the Nazi death camps, who lost his entire life’s work (and, oh yes, his wife and his parents too) . Through his words and his actions, Frankl taught that happiness is a byproduct of the choices we make in every moment, regardless of our circumstances; that happiness is really about valuing our own uniqueness; and that it is only in the service of others that our deepest meaning – and greatest happiness – can be found.

(Or perhaps finds us?)

The pursuit of happiness – that happiness so fundamental to the fabric of our nation – that happiness that we search for and write and talk about – that happiness that always seems to be just beyond our reach and yet so key to our success – is not about our things.

It’s about how we connect with others. It’s about how we show up in the world.

It is about how we choose to frame our lives. Even in the midst of hardship.

It is a necessary quest. It is essential to our wholeness.

It is our wholeness.

So go out and give and love and share and serve.

Don’t hold back.

Choose in every moment to live out the highest expression of yourself.

Choose to believe that you will make a difference in the lives of others.

And (don’t worry); you’ll be happy.

Danger Will Robinson

“The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” –Tacitus

Danger. And opportunity.

Risk. And reward.

I thought about these things as I was watching the Weather Channel from the warmth of the Dunkin Donuts… just before Ann and I headed off into the White Mountains for a day of climbing.

The weather folks – all wearing arctic gear and carrying yardsticks – were sounding the alarm: a nor’easter bearing down; a dangerous storm; a storm of historic proportions. Cataclysmic even.

Buy batteries; and flashlights; stock up with food and water; stay inside; hide out; don’t move.

We moved. And climbed and laughed and shivered. The wind tossed us around. But we experienced the beauty and the grandeur and the power of the storm. We connected with the mountains we so love; and with each other. We had a blast.

The Chinese symbol for danger is also read as opportunity.

The truth is, there is no reward without some risk.

But sadly, as a culture, we’re told that risk is bad. Playing it safe is “in.”

Insure everything; protect it all; risk nothing.

But here’s another sad truth: When we play it safe, we play small.

It is those who have dared to push beyond the boundaries in medicine, science and technology; those who have dared to defy the odds in adventure, athletics and exploration; those not concerned by perception or bound by convention; who lead the charge, who make the breakthroughs, give us wonder, and reap rewards.

In every recession giants of industry and enterprise have been created. In every market crash millionaires are made.

In every arena victory belongs to those who confront their fears and, in the face of failure, in the face of risk, step boldly forth.

Meg Cabot writes, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.

Leadership expert Robin Sharma says, “Do work that scares you (If you’re not uncomfortable often, you’re not growing very much.”  As entrepreneurs, he says, “We’re paid to be scared. We’re paid to play out on the edges.”

The message of my own book Journeys on the Edge is that life is lived most poignantly out there; that we come most alive out there on that edge.

Of course, we can cower. And many will. But none of us will get out of this thing called life alive.

So why not dare to dream; dare to live out loud; dare to play full out?

Dare to make your life extraordinary.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

What will it be for you today?

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Sight Unseen

I love ice climbing on frozen waterfalls. Often you can hear the water rushing underneath.  You can almost sense the motion. It feels alive.

But what happens when you can’t sense the motion?  What then?

I received an email from a coaching client late last week. She felt frustrated.  She’d made a lot of progress in 2012; scored a lot of victories. Now, though, she said, she couldn’t see much forward progress. She felt like she’d lost momentum.

I wondered aloud whether it was just the season of things.

The late great thought leader Jim Rohn spoke of the seasons of change; the seasons of our lives that always come; those season that always repeat themselves. The rhythm of things.  The springtime of planting and new life; the summer of cultivation and care; the fall of reaping and the harvest; the winter of darkness, contemplating and planning.

The seasons of things. Interconnected. Locked in balance. Necessary one to the other.

I look outside my window at winter’s frozen landscape here in the northeast. There doesn’t seem to be much of anything going on. But I know on some particularly warm day, not many weeks from now, flowers will bolt from the ground. And spring will be here.

Not by accident. Not without the work of winter.

Spring doesn’t just happen.  Stuff’s going on in the ground even now.

Momentum.  Just unseen.

I asked my client whether she was continuing to do the work… attending to her daily practices; whether she was ‘showing up’ even though she didn’t ‘feel the love.’

“Of course,” she said. Which was the right answer. (At least as far as her coach was concerned.)

Because, as I’ve written many times, it is the showing up, even in the face of failure – and especially when we can’t see the progress – that matters most.

The small, tiny, incremental, perhaps imperceptible, steps over time. The ulta-marathon of life.

We might say we hate the winter. But the winter always comes.

And so the spring.

I told my client (and myself): Do the work. Keep at the work.

Hold fast the vision.

And trust more.

Just trust. In the rhythm of things.

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SharpEnd