Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Truth... but from whose point of view?

A fundamental benefit of brainwashing someone is getting them to accept as truth whatever you want them to believe. Although I have never been brainwashed (to the best of my knowledge), experience has taught me that some people state their opinions as irrefutable facts. Unless one is able to objectively assess reality, truth can seem rather subjective. Incidentally, providing tools for people to determine this for themselves is one of the things I value most about the More To Life organization.

One of the most thought-consuming activities for me over the past month has been weeding through all that I have been hearing from various people's perspectives and getting back to the truth about myself, others, and reality. I am stepping away from a situation in which income was predictable, but my opportunities for leadership and time for creative pursuits were at a minimum. What I am stepping into is in many ways unknown, with no guarantees about income or potential partnerships, but with great freedom regarding creativity. It feels both liberating and scary.

For the past few weeks, many people have been mirrors for me; some of those mirrors were a bit warped, and some were quite magical in the way they eliminated every flaw and blemish. I have received harsh criticism and high praise, and I have purposefully considered how all of these observations line up with what is actually true. If I listen to other people's words without assessing how they match up with reality, I give them tremendous power over my choices and possibilities. And yet, dismissing everyone else's opinion as being valueless could make for a rather lonely and self-centered existence.

From where I stand now, I realize how easy it would be to have someone else tell me what to believe about myself and others, but brainwashing is a costly luxury. I prefer being able to thoughtfully assess what is true and move forward with a strong belief in who I honestly am and what I want to create. There is a little part of me that wishes I were able to do a bit of brainwashing of my own, though. If everyone had faith in their capacity for embodying a noble vision for their life, I believe the world would be a very different place. Bringing it forth in my own life will have to be enough for now.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Parable

Three men set out on a journey, each determined to take their own route. The first set off without clearly defining his destination, and within the first hour he threw away his map. Along the way, he asked the people he encountered, or looked at signs along the road, to find out where he was. When he learned something about his current locale, he would think, "Ah, exactly where I wanted to go next." He knew that no one could criticize him for where he had arrived, because he had no clear destination in mind and could therefore never be off course. And he was only mildly perturbed when he learned that he traveled in circles, because at least he was in motion.

The second man was more clear about where he wanted to go, and he told many people of his intended destination. With great purpose, he set off in the direction he thought best and with great confidence he followed his own internal compass. He kept his map close and he spoke to many people along the journey, but they were of little value. When he consulted the map and learned that it indicated a different route than he had chosen, he assumed that the map was outdated. And when the people he encountered suggested a better way to reach his destination than the route he was taking, he assumed that they were mistaken or even malicious in their intent. Without regard for reality or the counsel of others, he stuck to his own sense of how to get to his destination. He has yet to draw close to it, and it is more and more difficult for him to hide his frustration each day.

The third man had a clear destination in mind, and he shared it with others. He consulted many guidebooks and maps, and when he was satisfied that the accumulated knowledge was sufficient, he began the journey. As he encountered people along the way, he shared with them about his path and his destination. If any had advice or suggestions, he weighed it carefully, considering whether it had merit and adjusting his plan accordingly. Along the way, he planned future destinations and thought about where later journeys might take him, while still holding to the purpose of the path he was on. Although he took time to enjoy the journey, he was also intentional about making at least a little forward progress each day.

A balance of confidence and humility makes any destination more attainable and any journey more enjoyable.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Goldfish


Goldfish supposedly grow to the capacity of their container. Or so I have read on the internet, where everything is true. Raised in captivity in an aquarium, a goldfish probably won't have a chance to grow as large as it would in a more expansive environment. It also probably won't live as long, unless it is a particularly persistent specimen. A restrictive environment actually becomes toxic to a goldfish over time. It doesn't grow as large as it might, simply because it's health is being sabotaged by what surrounds it.

When I look back at my choices over the past few years, I see a bit of incongruity between what I actually want for myself and how I have orchestrated my life. Of course, I am operating with hindsight now, but I wonder to a certain extent if the blinders were sneakily self-imposed. Instead of passionately putting every ounce of my energy into engaging life at 100% capacity, I chose an environment that made it alright for me to operate at a fraction of my capability. In fact, I arranged it so that I was being rewarded for operating at closer to 40% of my true self.

When I was making those choices, I had information about the aquarium from outside sources: Although it had a lot of wonderful and collaborative fish in it, it had a reputation for being rather rigid in how it defined itself and somewhat limited in its vision. And of course, I had heard that along with the abundant caring and friendly fish, there were a few aggressive cichlids that instinctively defended their territory and occasionally made living together challenging for the other fish. When it was alright for me to operate at 40%, these claims didn't matter to me. I could ignore them, place myself above them, even convince myself that I had the power to change them. I could be frustrated without having to take responsibility for my own choice to operate at reduced capacity.

The problem, of course, is that when it became more important to me to operate at my 100%, the environment didn't grow or shift to accommodate that fullness. Like a goldfish, I can influence things in my environment, but I don't have the power to alter an aquarium that resists change. But, unlike a goldfish, I can choose my aquarium. And I can choose to be willing to have an impact with those who are willing to be affected.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Putting Yourself in the Story

Once in a while, a scandalous tell-all makes the news because it ruthlessly reveals someone's secrets. The scandal isn't that a person's actions or decisions are published, but rather that their identity is made blatantly clear. If the same story is written with names and circumstances sufficiently altered or obscured, it isn't scandalous at all. It becomes only slightly elevated above fiction in that it is "based on actual events."

Even when I read a work of fiction, I often find myself identifying with a character. The more life-like and realistic the portrayal, the more inclined I am to find commonality with him. It is often clear that an author's inspiration for characters are actual friends and acquaintances, people that have had an impact or made a lasting impression. My sense is that it could be flattering to know that you are an important part of someone else's story.

This venue is where I have been telling my story. My challenges, my learnings, my goals. I have been sharing it because I believe that I am not alone in my experiences, and that others can benefit from what I learn in my journey. It is my hope that a reader will in some way be able to see himself or herself in my story.

Not being an island, there are of course other people connected to my story. Some of them offer support and some offer challenges, but they all offer opportunity. With very few exceptions, I have kept their identities confidential. I trust that anyone reading will recognize that what I share here is much more about me than it is anyone else. This arena is not intended to reprimand or scandalize, but I have learned things from my interactions and connections with others. In fact, these are some of the most important lessons I have learned. They are worth sharing.

For the past year, I have done very little to engage my musical creativity because of my commitment to a group of people I value. When I began articulating my story here, I had hoped that it would be additional incentive to compose and send my music out into the world. What I learned is that my innermost passions include having meaningful connection with others and challenging others in their own growth journey. As I turn the page to a new chapter in my story, I see greater opportunity and desire to make creating music a priority. I am confident that my growth will continue as long as I am willing, and I hope that those readers who see themselves in my story continue to grow as well.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Leadership and Friendship

While overseeing a rather extensive program, I have frequently been faced with choices about what was best for the overall program. Often this includes creating opportunities for other people's skills and abilities to shine, but once in a while it can be a challenge to maintain relationships and also support the development of a high-quality program. In one particular instance many months ago, I chose to let go of an individual in order to allow growth of the broader program in new ways. Even though I liked this person and valued the connection, it was clear to me that he wasn't really a fit for the direction of growth I envisioned.

There are many circumstances in which I'm sure it is still true that who you know is more important than what you know. Our connections with other people are incredibly valuable, and I believe that the most inspirational visions evolve from partnerships. That being said, there are times in which a vision or purpose may require something beyond the capabilities of current connections. My preference would be to maintain the friendships and partnerships that I have in place while pursuing a vision or purpose that augments or surpasses them. This can involve some tricky navigation, and ultimately it requires partnership and understanding on the part of someone else.

I am a bit sad today that the connection I had with this particular person was not strong enough to survive my purposeful decisions. Even though I have tried on numerous occasions to reconnect, I received a clear signal recently that there was no willingness on the other side of the equation. At least not right now. What I want to do in the future is to more effectively and engagingly bring others on board with the vision(s) I create, so that the partnerships and connections I have are strengthened even in the midst of difficult choices. Still, to a certain extent, every partnership requires willingness on both sides.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Speaking in the Face of Fear

Edmund Burke claimed, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Often, this politically charged quote is used to draw attention to flaws in large-scale systems, but it is equally applicable in small-scale communities. In fact, when fear runs rampant in a community, it is often because the fearful voices are the only ones being heard. There may be those who are level-headed, trusting, and full of faith, but if they do not speak up, they diminish their chances to influence a community.

In the past, I have watched as communities divided over petty issues, or as charismatic and vocal individuals spread panic through a group of people in order to gain support for personal agendas. Fear can be very persuasive, and it doesn't take much effort for us to become fearful. And yet, individuals and communities who react to situations out of fear or panic often do things that are in direct conflict with their purposes. Fear gives us an excuse to behave badly, a justification for doing things we would criticize in others.

And when no one points it out to us, fear keeps us blind. Fear puts sheets up over all of the mirrors so we never clearly see who we are being. It takes a certain trust, confidence, and willingness to stand up in the face of that kind of fear and call it what it is. In communities where those kind of trusting and willing people speak up, fear is less likely to take root. It is not always comfortable or easy to speak up in a rising tide of fearfulness or panic, and yet it is vital for the well-being of a community.

When individuals are willing to hold one another to the true purpose of a community, that vision can remain clear and focused. When we see something happening that is out of alignment with the purpose we have claimed for ourselves and our communities, it often only requires us to be willing to open our mouths to defuse the fear. It may seem easier to step back and criticize, to form our own secret collusion committees, or to suggest that "someone" should do something, but those responses only engage our own fears. There is something noble in each of us that calls us into action, and that noble action can be as simple as a calm, gentle, and disarming reminder of purpose and vision.