Balance and Stability

Taken at Toms Burned Down CafeThe world is a crazy place.  Reliable is uncertain, known is questionable, and the clear path is obscured.  I find myself struggling for things that used to come naturally, reviewing my basic beliefs and reconsidering my options.  In nearly every role I play lately, I’ve been asking questions and finding that they are unanswerable at present.  I find this extremely frustrating.  And at the same time, I know that I have to work through it all.

This past summer, I spent some vacation time on Madeline Island.  It’s one of my favorite places; a place to disconnect with the world.  I normally go with family, but circumstances provided me with the opportunity to be there on my own for a few days.  It gave me a chance to try some new things and, more importantly, a time to reflect on some weighty issues.  While there, I grabbed a drink at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe, where I saw a sign that got me to thinking.  “Seek Balance, Not Stability”, it said.

Stability: The state of being stable  – not likely to change or fail; firmly established.

Stability was always a goal for me.  Stability allowed me to know what was most likely to occur next.  Stability meant that I always had enough resources, and that I had few real concerns.  I always knew I could count on myself, that I could remain afloat despite any turbulence that I encountered.  I strove for stability in my beliefs, my feelings and my actions.  I had a stable life in many respects.  It was also insular.  Too many external influences can topple you, if all you know is how to be stable.

Stability as a way of life, I learned, is a constant state.  It is not dynamic.  It doesn’t adjust.  It does not play well with reality.

Balance: Keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall.

Deciding that stability didn’t work, I started to focus more on balance.  Balance would allow me to handle anything that life threw at me.  I started to take on new roles, new ideas, new opportunities.  As long as I continued to balance the priorities, I would be doing great.  Balance allowed me to sample anything that came my way.  All was great, and then things happened that caused me to stumble.  Stuff I never really considered or planned for.  Things I knew were true turned out not to be.  People I trusted were no longer who I thought they were.  Promises made were broken.  

Had I been living a “stable” life, I would have been knocked on my ass.  I assumed that, since I had balance, I would right myself.  Not so much.  It was then that it hit me.

In order to balance, I need stability.  You can’t build a house of cards on a table with two legs.  Stability without balance is potentially attractive, but it’s boring.  Balance without stability is temporary and scary.

So now I’m in a much better place.  I’ve reestablished my balance built on my core beliefs, my values, and the support of a handful of people who I know are there for me no matter what happens.  And on this platform, I am able to balance myself.  I’m taking on new challenges and looking to learn new things because I know I’m balancing on a solid foundation.  I may lose my balance again, and I know that I won’t fall because I’m stable underneath.  I’m ready to handle what comes next, even if I’m not entirely sure what that might be.

Find your stability, balance yourself, and you’ll have a world of opportunity ahead of you.

Who am I?

25296286_sConsider your responses and actions; they are the visible expressions of who you are.

I’ve been the recipient of more unexpected changes in my life over the last few months than I care to remember.  Many of them have tried my patience and forced me to stop and reflect on who I am, what’s important to me, and what is really mine to do.

I have taken to reading a few key “rules” to remember every day.  They’re things that I wrote, and have put together into a list called my Emergent Manifesto.  They are things I’ve learned in growing through these changes, and I think ideas that can help live more fully.

One of the rules states:

Consider your actions and responses.

My actions and responses are the most visible expression of who I am.  I know that I can improve or ruin a situation based on what I say or do.


My thoughts haven’t always been very positive about these changes, and for a while I gave voice to those thoughts and (generally) ended up creating issues for myself and those around me.  And so while I wish I could change my thinking with the flip of the switch, I can absolutely change what I say.  I can change my actions.

I’ve also been reminded that saying that I’m going to do something is a whole lot different from doing it.  I’ve heard multiple variations on the saying that “Bad news doesn’t get better with time.”  Unfortunately, (a) knowing that doesn’t make it easier to share something bad or to do something I don’t want to do, and (b) DAMN IT, the saying is true.  I’ve found that by taking action, rather than putting it off, has helped me to deal with these changes and be much more comfortable in the uncertainty.  More often than not, taking action (however unpleasant) has been a lot less work than worrying about it.


Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychologist who spent 3 years in concentration camps during World War II.  In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” he wrote:

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

When announcements come, diagnoses are made, or other bad things happen, I know that how I respond can change the situation.  The response doesn’t change the facts, and at the same time for me it makes them easier to acknowledge and deal with.  When others around me are angry or upset, my pausing to consider my response generally allows me to calm the situation a bit.  When it doesn’t calm things, at least it doesn’t escalate the situation forward.

Focusing on my response and carefully taking action allows me to move ahead, even if the situation appears untenable.  

The next time things seem like they aren’t going your way, consider your actions and responses.

I appreciate constructive or differing opinions in my comments, but choose not to react to flames.


StuckDeciding to go back and uncover those passions, hopes and dreams that we’ve buried is a huge decision. Following through on that decision is even more difficult. We find ourselves, often, stuck where we are with no clear way to move forward. It’s almost as though society conspires against us.

Understanding the undue influences that society places on us, it is easy to see that we are generally encouraged to maintain the status quo. If we’re looking to Emerge into all the things we were meant to be, we have to get to a point where we’re no longer stuck in the situation. We’ve “outsourced” control of our situation to society. We feel stuck in the situation we are in. This is not to say that we are unhappy with our current situation – many people are thrilled. But there are also some that feel like there is more that they can do, more they can offer. It’s those individuals that I’m talking to.

What do I mean by outsourcing our control? I mean that we’ve given the control of our destiny to others. We feel that our decisions and future are controlled by our boss, coworkers, spouse, lawyer, family, or anyone else – outside of ourselves. It’s easier that way, because when we don’t get what we want we can blame it on anyone or anything but ourselves. It’s also very easy to blame all the things we don’t have on our circumstances. Have you ever told yourself you couldn’t do something because of your mortgage payments? Couldn’t change something because your financial situation would be negatively impacted? What about our feelings of responsibility to others? Have you ever not taken action on something because you were afraid of letting someone else down?

We definitely have responsibility to others. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t consider others, but if the others we are thinking about are important to us then there is a better than average chance that we are important to them too. Can you really picture going to one of these people, say your spouse, and sharing your biggest hope or dream with them – and having them say that you shouldn’t pursue it? Instead, we make excuses and rationalize our way to not pursuing it:

“I’ll do it once the kids are in school.”

“I don’t know how – I need more research time.”

“When the house is paid off, then I’ll start that business.”

“If only I could start over…”

Each of us has a dream, passion or even a calling that we’ve put aside and buried. It’s the idea that gnaws at the edges of our consciousness and constantly asks us “what if”. It’s the idea that we wake up thinking about, the idea that we find on our mind while we’re relaxing over a cup of coffee, the idea that gets our hearts racing when we consider it. Imagine if you could get unstuck enough to pursue that calling. What would your life, and the life of those around you, be like if you did?

Your first step on this is, I think, the hardest. Find someone you trust, and tell them. From experience, if you’ve picked the right person you’ll have acceptance and – in my case – a fabulous cheering section.

My Resolution: Expectations and Obligations

Copyright: icetray/123RF Stock PhotoExpectations and Obligations – often confused.  And this confusion can be the source of a great deal of angst in our lives.

We have expectations of ourselves – these expectations are our goals.  If they are not explicit then they are easily ignored or compromised.  You’ve no doubt heard that writing down a goal helps to make it more achievable.  I’m not sure I believe that, but I do believe that writing down your expectations of yourself makes them explicit.  And by writing down these expectations (aka goals) we make them very concrete – there is no debating what we meant by them if they are clearly written.  And since there is no way to debate them, it becomes very easy to tell when we’ve met those expectations – and when we haven’t.  Implicit or unstated expectations, on the other hand, tend towards compromise when any unfavorable condition arises that makes meeting those expectations difficult.  By making them explicit, we hold ourselves accountable.  And yes, I think we should review those expectations regularly.

Expectations of others are often a challenge.  This is generally because those expectations are implicit as well.  How often has someone done something that fell short of your expectations of them?  Have you been passed over for a promotion that you felt you deserved?  Have you had someone forget something that was important to you?  And why do you keep getting frustrated when that same person does the same annoying thing over and over again?  All of these questions point to missed expectations, and there is a pretty good chance that the reason the expectations were missed was because they were never discussed.  Others can’t meet your expectations if they don’t know what they are.  Speak up.  Or don’t.  But if you don’t, then don’t be upset when you don’t get what you want.  This is not to say that making your expectations explicit guarantees them to be met, but it does certainly increase the chances.

Obligations to ourselves are at the very core of who we are.  More than goals or expectations, our obligations provide our moral and ethical fabric.  We are obligated to be truthful.  We are obligated to do no harm.  Failure to meet these obligations makes us question our values and our self-worth.  Like our expectations, writing down our obligations to ourselves makes them concrete – and this should be revisited on a regular basis.  New Years’ Day is a great time to revisit these.

Obligations to others are the flip side of our obligations to ourselves.  If we are obligated to “do no harm”, then we are obligated to respect the freedoms and liberties of others.  If we are obligated to be truthful, then we are obligated to be truthful to others as well as ourselves.  I’ve summed up my take on our obligations to others (aka responsibilities) before.

Obligations of ourselves are things that we commit to do for ourselves, and expectations of others are things we expect them to do for us.  Things get ugly when we make our internal obligations into external and often implicit expectations of others.  This, I believe, is the source of much of the frustration in our lives.

My resolution, which you are welcome to take as your own, is simple.  I will make my internal obligations explicit.  I will make my expectations of others explicit.  And I will not confuse the two.

Happy New Year.

Apologies, Forgiveness and Time Travel

Copyright: fyletto / 123RF Stock PhotoThanksgiving is over and we move faster and faster into the retail season formerly known as the holiday season. There has been lots going on in my life, and it recently occurred to me that Thanksgiving goes hand in hand with apologies and forgiveness. Many think these are two sides of the same coin, but I disagree. Apologies and forgiveness usually go hand in hand, but they can also stand on their own.

I don’t think “I’m sorry” is really an apology; I translate “I’m sorry” to either “You caught me doing something I shouldn’t have, but if you hadn’t noticed I would still be doing it.” or “You’re obviously pissed about something and I think I know what it is but there is no reason why you should be angry”.  Think of just about anyone in Hollywood or politics.

An apology is offered be one person to another in recognition for some wrong doing. It’s not enough to simply say “I apologize” though, because that fails to acknowledge what the person is apologizing for. A real apology incudes detail on what the person did that hurt the other, and an acknowledgement that the other was in fact hurt in some way. Going on to justify why what the person did to the other was right, in their best interest, or for the greater good isn’t helpful. If that requires explanation, then a consideration of whether or not the discussion is an apology or a “sorry” is probably in order.

Forgiveness is offered inwardly first, and may have an outward expression later. We forgive for ourselves, so that we can move forward. It is sometimes easier to forgive someone after they have genuinely apologized, but if a person can forgive without the apology then I think they are better off. Forgiveness is an accepting of the person – it is not agreement with the situation. One may, for example, forgive ones partner for cheating on them without agreeing that it was a good thing. We forgive people, not situations. Accepting one for who they are, good or bad, is forgiveness.

Which brings me to the time travel discussion. Apologies may be given and forgiveness may be offered, but in the end that doesn’t mean that the people involved go back to the way things were before the transgression. You’ve heard people say things like “Well, I apologized!” or “Yes, I’ve forgiven you!” before. These comments are usually made when one of the people feels that everything should go back to the way it used to be. Things can go back, but they don’t have to – there is a choice to be made after forgiveness, with our without an apology. The decision, to be made by the forgiver, is whether or not the other person is still welcome in their life and if so, in what way. No matter how much the apologizer (or other person if no apology was offered) might like things to go back to the way they were before, it’s up to the forgiver to decide and be comfortable with the decision. It’s not easy, but in the end it’s for the best.

Apologies and forgiveness do not a time machine make.

I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving.

Change the Measures

GuagesOur measurements of success are standardized tests, grades, degrees, salary, perks and material things. Visions or values not based on these things are generally tossed aside.

During school, the measures are grades. We were graded based on how well we remembered the material we were taught. I acknowledge that some teachers and classes focus on using this information as the premise for new arguments or to question other arguments, but by and large we are regurgitating information we’ve been given. We are taught to follow the rules, rather than to think and question them. We are prepared to take a place in society, rather than to change it.

After school, we are measured by other external factors. How we think about things and create arguments is no longer relevant – except to the extent that these things get us a higher salary, more stuff, or more prestige. As we continue to focus on the more external measures, we give up more and more of our internal self.

Most of us work longer hours rather than pursuing our passion – that passion could be family, giving or that great idea that we buried in our past. There are those that have figured this out, who have good jobs but don’t subscribe to the trappings – they have found a balance. And they’ve done this through thinking, questioning and changing the measure. They know that if they strip away many of the material things they have, they still have an intrinsic happiness about them.

What measures should we adopt? What measures will help us Emerge from the past into the people we really want to be? A few that I’ve considered include how many others I’ve helped, and how much love have I shared with others? Intangible, I know – and yet, to me, much more valuable than my salary, the size of my house, or the type of car I drive.

I do not, however, believe that we’re ready to have these be the only measures we use. Society isn’t there yet. People who identify themselves as part of the “Tiny House” movement, for example, are viewed as outside the norm. We’re just not yet ready to accept that less can be more. So for now we have to combine these intrinsic measures with the extrinsic ones we’ve built society on. The good news is that they aren’t exclusive – there are lots of extrinsically “valuable” people who are doing lots of great things in the world through their support of various charities and causes and I truly believe that they are doing this because they enjoy the “giving back”. We don’t have to spend years in a prison cell, experience oppression, or go off to live in the woods in order to find that intrinsic value. We just have to change the measures.

Think and Question

Copyright: artqu / 123RF Stock PhotoDo we think and question often enough? Are we even taught how to do so? As a parent, how many times have I offered a response of “Because I said so” to a question asked by my daughter? As a student, how often has she heard “Because that’s how it’s done” from her teachers? Are we rewarded for thinking and questioning, or do we feel excluded when we don’t follow the herd?

Is an argument a good thing? Most would answer “no” to that question. I think that’s the root of the problem. An argument, according to classical thinking, is simply a conclusion supported by multiple premises (or evidence). An argument is NOT a knock-down, drag-out exchange between yelling, screaming, red-faced combatants – that’s a fight. Arguments, which come with biases and assumptions to be understood, are the basic construct of how we discuss our positions and try to convince others of our thoughts.

As we’ve grown and allowed ourselves to be molded by society, we’ve adopted the expectations and values put on us by society. We’ve had no choice. We’ve learned not to argue – because by questioning things we are put outside the norm. It’s easier not to argue, especially when an argument has become synonymous with a fight. By failing to argue and instead accepting the status quo and the things we are taught, we lose ourselves. My advice? Question everything.

Judge a man by his questions, rather than by his answers. – Voltaire

A quick anecdote to illustrate. My daughter is excellent at math, but hates it. I’m pretty good at it, and I love it – this drives her pretty nuts. She’s learning how to do proofs in geometry and algebra, and she asks a good question: “If I get the right answer, why do I have to write out how I got it?” I try to explain to her that the right answer is good, but understanding why it’s the right answer and knowing how you got there is the real prize. I tell her that by writing out the proofs, the teacher is forcing her to think – to take what she knows and apply that to new situations. Here, my daughter is being taught to think and question – and she has already developed an aversion to it.

There are five “big” questions which, according to Christopher DiCarlo, tell us a great deal about ourselves if we take the time to answer them truthfully:

  • What can I know?
  • What am I?
  • Why am I here?
  • How should I behave?
  • What is to come of me?

I’ve answered these questions recently, and found that the process of answering them and the deep reflection that the answers demanded has caused me to rethink many of my beliefs. The answers have led me to more questions.

The biggest question I’ve come to, and I still struggle to answer, is “Why do I do this?” Do I, or you, do the things we do for others? Ourselves? Society? Because we’re happy doing them? Because they are our “responsibility”? Because no one else will? Are we altruistic? Are we greedy?

I know this much – I write these posts because they help me to think through my arguments. If you’re still with me despite the gaps in my writing, I appreciate you – and welcome your thoughts and, of course, arguments.

A Blank Slate

Copyright: flippo / 123RF Stock Photo

We come into this world as a blank slate. We look to the world to help us figure out what goes on that slate. We are extremely open to being molded by those around us. Conformity with social norms is important for us to function to a very large extent; I do not deny this. My concern is that at a young age we slowly begin to be taught that thinking differently makes us different – and being different is bad. Social rejection can be devastating, especially to a child. So it’s easier to follow.

“By third grade you start to feel like something’s horribly wrong with you. You know you’re all different, but you’re taught to fit in. So you try to talk, breathe, dress, act and think like the others. I will do anything if you will let me be one of you” – Cloud Cult, Becoming One of You

What are the key messages that parents, grandparents and extended family, teachers deliver to children in an effort to help shape them? What messages do children get from media? What messages do they get from friends?

How we interact with our kids is, I think, where we start to potentially cause problems. Study after study shows that we tend to praise children incorrectly – we praise them for who we perceive them to be, rather than for the actions they take. It’s the difference between “You’re very smart” and “You worked really hard on that and got an A”. The first implies that they didn’t work to get the grade, the second encourages working hard in the future. The former type of praise tends to lead children into one way of learning and behaving – specifically thinking that they can do what they can do, and nothing more. The latter type encourages them to think and work hard, realizing that anything is possible.

We are likely also affecting the way our kids think about what they would like to do when they get older – and not always in a good way. The LinkedIn study that I referred to recently shows the top childhood “dream jobs” for males and females. There is no overlap. So one is forced to conclude that either there really is something to gender roles, or we are continuing to nurture boys and girls differently. I tend to think it’s the latter.

These influences, intentional or not, have two results. First, society starts to mold us into what it expects us to be. Second, they cause us to create limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. It’s one of the earliest ways that we bury our good.

Dream Job

Copyright: yarruta / 123RF Stock Photo

As kids, we just didn’t worry about the practicalities that we’ve grown to accept as part of everyday life. We didn’t worry about money, we didn’t worry about failure – we just knew what we wanted to do. We were driven by our passions.

The results of a survey done by LinkedIn from 2012 show that 30% of respondents currently have their childhood dream job or work in a career related to their childhood dream job. I was not able to find the breakdown of the 30%, but think it safe to assume that 30% of the 30% actually have their childhood dream job. So since the survey included “over 8,000” professionals I figure that 720 of them have their dream job (9%) and 1,680 (21%) are in a related career. Therefore, 91% of the respondents are NOT in their dream job.

The same survey states that the most common reason for not being in that job is that as respondents got older, they “became interested in a different career path.” The study does not say, but it seems likely to me that if the discussions were boiled down we would find four possible reasons. It could have been that:

  • passions changed as they learned more about the world,
  • an understanding of the work required to get the job was overwhelming,
  • an understanding of the skills required to get the job created what appeared to be an insurmountable gap, or
  • the type of work was not supported by those around the individual.

A related study conducted the Toluna Group for Discover Financial Services in 2013, makes me believe that most people who are not in their childhood dream job did not have a change in their passions. According to this study, the most important criteria when choosing a major for students is that they dreamed of a particular job since childhood, but parents put the emphasis squarely on having a job after graduation. Upon graduation, the graduates felt that the biggest benefit of college would be preparation for a job that pays well and parents hoped that their young graduates would have a degree that would allow them a wide range of job choices. Given that neither parents nor graduates were concerned with their dream job upon graduation, I feel comfortable in concluding that something other than their passions changed along the way. It’s particularly concerning to me that the graduates went from wanting to choose a major that aligns with their dream job to wanting to get a job that paid well.

I loved two things when I was a kid – I loved technology, and I loved books.

I started programming in grade school, spending more time in the computer lab in 4th grade than in my classroom. I may be one of the few kids who learned assembly language programming on a Commodore-64. I was getting paid for programs when I was in high school, and had a summer job as a programmer in college. I am, alas, no longer paid to program although I do still do some on the side – I am a technology and strategy consultant, so I think I fall into the “related field” category. I stopped programming because that was the career path that was before me, and I followed it.

I wrote a little bit in college, but nothing ever came from it. I haven’t written since then, but I am working on it now through my blog. My goal, as I’ve shared, is to end up with a book deal and opportunities to speak publicly about my passions.

So, are you in your childhood dream job, a related field, or something totally different? Why?

Emergence Redux

Copyright: logoboom / 123RF Stock PhotoAs I’ve taken the time to think about my position on Emergence, I’ve come up with six points that I will strive to support going forward. Emergence is an ongoing process, which I feel to be extremely relevant to success of our times. Failure to pursue emergence means stagnation in terms of pursuing your passions – and who wants that, right?

As we’ve grown, we’ve allowed ourselves to be molded by society and this gradual change also means that we’ve allowed ourselves to adopt the expectations and values that society demonstrates. In many cases, this is good. A productive society with an agreed upon set of rules (or laws) which cover personal liberties is critical to our survival; yes, they can become overbearing but I do not want to cover that here. For purposes of Emergence though, the blind acceptance of societal norms can cause problems. This acceptance has caused us to bury our passions and our good. Most of us are not following the dreams, passions and desires that we demonstrated as children. I get that not everyone still really wants to be an astronaut, movie star, or doctor, but at the same time we all have a creative spark – and most of us are not honoring it. This is largely due to our upbringing, education, and the way that we are measured.

Deciding to go back and uncover those buried passions – the process of Emergence – can be extremely difficult. We have, over time, succumbed to an increasing list of responsibilities in the form of finances, relationships, societal expectations, and behaviors (to name a few). The idea of changing our relationship with any of these things is daunting, and yet our ability to move beyond these limited expectations is crucial to Emergence. If we change, will things still be okay? Will I still be able to feed myself and my family? Will my family still love me? Will my friends still be there for me? These fears are real for us and for those around us. Going through the process of Emergence will also uncover truths about ourselves that we would normally turn a blind eye to – we will confront the things that caused us to bury ourselves and also review the actions we’ve taken to make us feel better about it.

Despite the difficulties in Emergence, a growing number of people are pursuing it. This is evidenced by the huge number of self-help books, magazines and blogs, the creation of all the various “life coaching” jobs, and the number of media stars who focus on these areas. People are also starting to consider themselves more religious or spiritual – and those that don’t hold to a belief of a higher power still feel that they have a purpose. Many are in pursuit of this purpose or vision. Volunteering of time or donating money are up, showing that we are starting to learn that giving of ourselves is part of Emergence.

Once we’ve done the work and uncovered our good, there is a path to follow which will allow us to use that good to bring ourselves to a place where we can live from our passions. It’s important to know where we are headed, for as Lewis Carroll said: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Once we know where we are headed, we can create the map – the set of milestones that we will follow to keep us on the path. This is done through visioning and goal setting.

All of this work, while challenging, is worth it. Living from our passions lets us live a happier life, and demonstrates to those around us that a fulfilling life is possible – and that we can achieve this by following our own path and not the path that is “handed” to us. Once we start to truly live from this passion, we become more open to helping those around us. And that benefits everyone.

While we create visions and goals to assist us in our Emergence, it is an ongoing process. One that continually unfolds as we learn more and more about ourselves. And like any journey, there will be twists and turns – no story worth hearing or telling ever started with “They all lived happily ever after”. Society will conspire to stuff you back in your cubby hole – continue to push back. Failures will occur – they need to be reframed. Fear will surface – learn what it has to tell you and continue moving forward.

I know I’m not offering proof for any of these premises here, but I will as I continue on this journey – and if I find that I’m wrong, I’ll work through that with you as well. As always, I value your company on the journey.