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.

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.

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.

Ongoing Emergence

Copyright: tdoes / 123RF Stock PhotoEmergence is an ongoing process. As we learn more about ourselves, our goals, our vision, things change. Priorities change. Focus shifts. And we emerge again. It is ongoing.

Lots of things have been going on over the past few weeks; I needed a break from writing. I also felt a bit lost – like I was simply flinging around my opinion with nothing to back it up. Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just not how I like to convince people of my point. So I stepped back.

Last week I picked up a book called “How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass“. The title is misleading, but it certainly caught my attention. The subtitle is “A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Asking the Right Questions”. And after having read about half of it, I understand why I was drawn to it. It’s reminded me of the basics of creating a well thought out argument, and it’s providing the blueprint for how I’m going to move this endeavor forward.

While I plan to share my ideas using a more formalized structure going forward, I’ll still throw in personal observations and thoughts.  I just won’t spend most of my posts like that anymore.  I’m looking forward to the ongoing emergence, and appreciate your willingness to hang in there with me.

Complaining for Results

Complainer QuadrantI am not a fan of complaining.  For years really, I’ve always felt that complaining failed to deliver any results.  It was essentially a pity party.  And while I still believe that there is a lot of useless complaining going on, I have found a benefit to complaining.  I call it “Complaining for Results”.  As you work through your Emergence, you will likely find things you don’t like or don’t understand and you may decide to complain about those things.  That’s fine – just be sure you’re complaining for results.  The first step in complaining for results is understanding who you are complaining to, and whether or not they are in a position to help.  Depending on who and where they are, you can expect different outcomes.  As a consultant at heart, I found it easiest to show this in the 2X2 grid.

The vertical axis represents who the recipient is by gauging their level of interest in listening or helping the complainer.  People high up on the interest axis hopefully include your friends and family – lower would include acquaintances, random strangers, and tax collectors.  The horizontal axis represents the recipients ability to help address the complainer’s grievance.  Where the recipient lands on this axis is related to the issue at hand; its perfectly possible for the same recipient to have a low ability for one complaint and a high ability for another.

  • Low Interest, Low Ability: If the recipient is in this quadrant, the complainer gets nothing out of the effort other than reinforcement.  Restating his or her complaint over and over again reinforces how untenable the situation is, making it harder and harder to change it.  The complainer wallows in self-pity and gets nothing in return.
  • High Interest, Low Ability: Here, the complainer gets quite a bit of sympathy from the recipient.  It’s in this quadrant that we cry in our beer with our friends, get lots of “it must be awful” or “it will get better” commentary – but very little in the way of practical solutions.  The complainer may feel better during the exchange, but the situation doesn’t change.  The bar bill, on the other hand, continues to grow.
  • Low Interest, High Ability: The recipient can definitely help address the complaint or issue, but couldn’t care less about it.  Here, the recipient gets pity – and only a small amount of it.  The recipient knows how to solve the problem, and ends up feeling bad for the complainer because the answer is so obvious that the complainer must be dim to not see how to solve it.  And because the recipient doesn’t have any interest in helping, the pity doesn’t last long before they just walk away and the entire interaction ends never to be repeated again.
  • High Interest, High Ability: The recipient is able to help, and has an interest in helping.  It’s in this quadrant that the complainer will get results!  And because of the high interest level, the recipient also gets results!  It’s the win-win quadrant.

I hope this is helpful to you – complaining can lead to results if you are considerate.  Before you even think about complaining, figure out who is interested and who can help.  Once you know who to complain to, the next step is complaining effectively.  More later.  As always, I would love any feedback you care to offer.

How to Emerge

Image credit: velkol / 123RF Stock PhotoSo how do I push?

  • I do something small each day.  As they say, the easiest way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.  Sometimes the effort is to draft ideas for a post, sometimes to write one.  Other times the goal is to simply see things differently.  But each day, I try to do something.
  • I strive to have my thoughts, feelings and behaviors align with my beliefs.  People are inherently good, even if they’ve buried their good and their gifts deep within themselves.  I strive to see that good in everyone, and let them know that I’ve noticed it.  Seeing this and acknowledging it is easy most of the time, but is sometimes extremely difficult.  I find it a bit easier since I’m willing to believe that everyone is doing the best they can at any particular point in time, and that the “best they can” changes frequently.
  • I talk about Emergence.  If people ask me about my thoughts on Emergence and why I’m doing this – I tell them.  I don’t care if it’s during a job interview, casual discussion with friends, or a person who has found me online.  I want everyone to know, because knowing my inspire them to start asking questions and searching on their own – or better yet, along with me.
  • I learn.  I’m open to learning – I feel like I’m on the right path to change the world, but I’m open to the possibility that there are many ways to go about it.  You may have seen a comment from Aaron Z on my “Oneness” post.  He called me out on my thinking; I did some research, responded, and continued to think through his point.  I’m grateful for the discussion and the learnings it allowed me to experience.  And in the end, I believe that I’ve been able to incorporate his point of view into my thinking.  Pretty cool.
  • I listen.  There are opportunities around me each and every day; sometimes they are opportunities to learn, sometimes to expand my business, sometimes to make a new friend.  I never miss an opportunity.

Can you do these things?  Absolutely.  It just takes a firm commitment to Emergence.