Monday, March 30, 2009

Coming Out of the Closet

…. or …. Living A Life of Authenticity.

Authenticity – The quality or condition of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine. – American Heritage Dictionary

I’ve been wrestling with the notion of authenticity recently or perhaps it has been wrestling with me. 

I was listening to my parish priest the other day speak about parents bringing their children to the Church for baptism.  As he noted, we won’t seen them again until confirmation.  After that, we won’t see them again until they get married, they need to be buried or they run into trouble and seek the help of God (demanding instant help, of course).  Other than that, God has no place in their lives and yet they can be quite demanding when they are in need.  They also note on the census form that they are Christians, using their own definition.


I was recently exposed to a group of speakers discussing personal empowerment.  Some of the subjects included how respect and honesty for fellow man were keys to success and that self-actualization techniques and a positive belief structure could manifest anything we want.

In private, the speakers admitted through action and word that respect and honesty for fellow man is a waste of time.  The real world, they believe, is a d0g-eat-dog world where you need to lift a dollar out of a gullible person’s pocket before someone else does anyway.  If you don’t like what they are doing, then you can “get over it” (a direct quote from one of them).


I know of some people who recently started a new business about helping people become financially successful .  They cite their own success as the model they wish to teach to others.

Unfortunately, those of us who know these individuals know that some are in bankruptcy or are about to become bankrupt.  Keep in mind, they are not teaching people lessons learned from their experience, something that would be incredibly powerful and useful.  They are teaching people to follow their example to reap the result they have reaped.  Their unfortunate followers don’t know the truth about what their teachers have harvested.


Last week, I was in a coffee shop and sat next to the pastoral committee for a local church.  For the hour they were there, they discussed how everybody in their church are idiots (actually they used the F-bomb liberally) and complained about how these alleged imbeciles interfered with their plans to control the church the way they felt it needed to be controlled.  Excellent church leadership, I noted to myself – I wonder what model they were following!


Of all the wonderful business people I have worked with, I have also experienced some business leaders who publically wave the flags of teamwork, growth, learning and contribution and in private, lambast employees and share personal and private matters of their employees with others because it helps them feel important.  How about those leaders who set their team members up for failure before the employee exposes them for the hypocrites or incompetent leaders that they are?

Don’t get me wrong, there are great leaders out there.  However, we need a lot more of them.


How about the person who blows up an abortion clinic and kills some of the staff and patients there because the bomber believes that all human life must be preserved at all cost?


What about the person who feels compelled to criticize you incessantly under the guise of “I’m a friend telling you this for your own good” but when you return the “favor”, you are criticized for sticking your nose into someone else’s business or not knowing what you are talking about?


How about the politician that ……………….  Wait – let’s not go there (there are some good politicians also!)  :-)


I wonder if many of the challenges we are experiencing right now in the world stem from a lack of authenticity.  We are too busy being one thing in public and another thing in private.

How difficult this makes our life.  For some of us, it means balancing the actions that we take against good, strong core values that we possess because we fear that if we follow our core values, it may cost us a job, a relationship, prestige or something else important to us.

For others, it means pretending to have good, strong core values in public while in private, wrestling with the frustration that strong values get in the way of everything.  For those people, they feel that the only way to be successful is to portray what they believe the public wants to see.

Either way, it means that a lot of us are off balance as we move through life at a million miles per hour and live a life out of congruence with our belief structures.

I am not criticizing the people in either scenario.  The reasons we do these things are based on our genetics and our life experiences.  If we had the same genetics and life experiences as someone we are criticizing, we would in fact be just like them.  This is a sobering thought that should lead us to respect everyone else a lot more.

So it is not the people who are inauthentic that is the issue – it is the act of being inauthentic itself that has become problematic.

It prevents us from being who we really are and thereby really unleashing our incredible talents and abilities.  As long as we are pretending to be someone else, then we are holding back something, living our life while holding back our reserves strategically “for the most appropriate time”.  Many of us go to our grave without having used many of our incredible gifts and talents.  As Wayne Dyer and others have warned us not to do – "”Don’t go to your grave with your music still in you”.

Someone once asked me what would happen if people could just be themselves and follow their heart.  I said there would be at least 10,000 more bad poets in the world.  We laughed at that but it occurs to me now – it would be better to have 10,000 happy (but bad) poets than 10,000 people who are unfulfilled and creating troubles for themselves and others because they are acting out of congruence with their core values.

Here is an interesting exercise I encourage you to try.  At the end of the day, write down a list of all the people who annoyed or disappointed you and how they annoyed or disappointed you. 

Take a close look at the list when you have finished compiling it.  After you have examined the list, it would be interesting to see how many of these things originate from others versus how many actually originate from within ourselves but we see them reflected in others.  It’s an interesting insight into areas of our own life that we might want to polish up a bit.

I recently disconnected myself from electronica for a couple of weeks to provide me with an opportunity to just be – to think about my life experiences in a number of areas:

  1. the incredible gifts and opportunities I have been given
  2. the strengths and talents I have developed
  3. the areas where I need to improve and grow
  4. my abilities
  5. my personality
  6. my preferences in just about everything
  7. my education experiences
  8. the places I have traveled
  9. my friends
  10. my work experiences
  11. my family

I am grateful for the entire collection of memories, the good and the bad.

However, as I worked through this process, I realized I have been in a struggle for authenticity for a number of years and didn’t realize it until I took the time to slow down to just think.  I also realized that this lack of authenticity wasn’t allowing me to shine in all aspects of my life as my public and private personas clashed in a never-ending battle for supremacy.  There has been a inner restlessness that I have wrestled with for years as my public and private intentions and execution clashed.

I often danced with “who I want to be when I grow up” and made suggestions and hints to some people about the next phase in my life.  However, I never embraced the next phase nor followed through with it.

Today the battle ends as I embrace that which is important to me – the core values that permeate me and define who I am.

Today I dedicate myself to a life of faith and service to God, following a Path I believe God has called me to follow.  I am involved in a discernment process which I hope will lead me to a life of ordained service within the Church, bringing my skills, talents and strengths to a global organization that is empowered to help others but which needs an injection of new blood, broader life experiences and new thinking in order to achieve more positive results.

I believe that my life experiences have prepared me for this decision and it is a calling I am humbled and privileged to answer.  Maybe I should write a book - “From Wall Street to Ordination – A Journey of Gratitude”. :-)

Where will this take me ultimately?  I have no idea.  However, I do know that it will probably be the first time in my life that I have been 100% authentic with myself and frankly, I am excited to see what that produces.

How about authenticity in your life?  How is your inner dialog coming?  If you are in complete congruence publically and privately, I congratulate you – you are blessed. 

If you are experiencing an inner dialog similar to the one I have experienced, balancing your internal values and intentions with your external execution, I encourage you to take some quality quiet time to explore your inner self, “stick your toe in the water” and explore where your mind and spirit would like to take you.  

Even if you make no changes in your life, the experience can be profound and may provide a foundation for a future change for you or someone else.

Yours in service and servanthood.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Proper Human Values Still Exist

Last night, I attended the memorial service for the families and victims of Cougar Helicopter Flight 491 that crashed off the coast of Newfoundland on Thursday, March 12th.  17 souls were lost and one survived, still in the hospital as I write this.  Later today, I will be attending the funeral of one of those souls, someone I went to high school with in the late 70s.

The communal expression of grief and the outpouring of love and support from the community and the nation brought me back to similar outpourings of love and support that I witnessed in September of 2001 when so many innocent people were lost and the nation rallied around the families.

For all the topsy turvy stuff going on in this world and as much as we think human values have been subsumed by greed and narcism, at times like this, I am reminded that the human values of loving, sharing, caring, generosity and helping others are alive and well.

The media is highlighting excessive levels of greed, selfishness, apathy and stupidity as the reasons why we are experiencing the crisis that is allegedly undermining every aspect of our lives.  If we use the media as the source of our definition of whether “good human values” (as each person defines them) still exist, the answer is probably no. 

The media’s constant hammering almost implies that the time has come for us to move into the mode of “every man for himself” since government, business and individuals either don’t care, don’t know how to fix it or are in it for themselves.

However, when I witness communities and a nation come together to support each other during times of stress, it is apparent to me that the media’s implied message is way off base.

Our core values are still there – our ability to reach out to others, to share grief, to share love, to help one another overcome challenge and to help each other make our way towards a better future.

It is true that sometimes it looks like those values have disappeared under the crush of life in the 21st century.

However, when we are forced to shrug off the yoke of today’s life pressure, our core values stand tall.

As we face today’s struggles together, let’s not wait for immense pressure to bring out the best in us.

Let’s work harder to show each other that the core human virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness are alive and well.

Let’s convince the media that these virtues are worth highlighting.

If they run out of bad stories but won’t highlight the “good stuff”, maybe they won’t highlight anything at all.  In that case, we’d still be better off.

Last night, Archbishop Martin Currie closed his Homily at the memorial service with a powerful quote from Robert Frost:

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned in life: It goes on." 

It does indeed – let’s make it the best we can with the gifts we have been given.

I am grateful for all of you and the impact you have on the world.

Tag – you’re it – pass the gratitude along.

In service and servanthood.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So You're Successful - Now What?

I am amazed and staggered with the number of life coaches that promise success.  The most extreme statistic in England suggests that in the worst case scenario there is potentially one life coach for every person seeking a life coach - a one to one ratio of teacher and student.

With so many life coaches promising success and unlimited financial abundance, I can only assume that many of us are operating at the peak of our potential and are ready to engage in something more profound in our lives.

After all, unlimited houses, cars, jewelry, sailboats and vacations must get terribly boring.  Excuse me but ... do you have any Grey Poupon?

I wonder how long it will take for us to discover that life is more than a collection of "stuff".  After we have compiled a phenomenal collection of baubles, how many of us are left wondering "Is this it?  Is this what my life is all about?"

If the amount of stuff we amass is the measure of our existence, then I feel very sad for us collectively.  Many of us secretly admit that there remains an emptiness to be filled despite our abundance and despite our public message to others that we are at the peak of happiness.

I can also assume with so many empowered people running around that there are no longer issues with poverty, hunger, homelessness, disease and other challenges.

If only it were so.

So we set about embracing this cause or that one.  We embark on a mission to accomplish some great purpose or to leave a great legacy.  Many of us ignore the fact that there are other people who have the same purpose or objective.  "I am smarter than they are", we reason.  "I have more money, more connections, etc.  They don't know what they are doing but I do and can be successful where others fail.  I have greater insight than the other person. I have a greater sense of urgency than they do. They just want to steal my ideas for their own glory.   or ....   _____insert your own reason why you can't collaborate______."

Ah - the beauty of ego .... and the crippling result of "one-man- band syndrome".

Step 1 to leaving a great legacy is:

                          We need to get over ourselves

Individually, we aren't as smart, connected, powerful or anything else as we think we are.  If any of us believe otherwise, we are headed for some incredible disappointments.

However, we all bring incredible gifts to the table.  These gifts are amplified when combined with the gifts of others.  The combination of gifts, the old adage that 1+1 can equal 5, is a powerful concept that we seem to not take advantage of although we sure love to quote it.

"Collaboration is the only way I operate", we say and then we go on to do our own thing because we feel that the other person can't contribute to our great vision and would only hold us back or we don't trust other people, fearing that they might somehow steal our thunder.

Self-promotion seems to be the way of the 21st century.  Don't believe me?  Take a look at Twitter, LinkedIn or other powerful social media - 75% of people out there exist to share their secrets to success with you - at a cost.

What wasted opportunity.

Competition does indeed spark innovation in the right circumstances.  However, oftentimes it diminishes our result because of redundancy, unnecessary competitive undermining or failure to share information - all based on our fear that someone else might actually do something useful with the information (maybe even creating a better result than we could have).  "How dreadful that would be", cries our ego.

Some years ago when I was working on some goal setting projects in New York, I attempted to engage with a leading mentor organization to see if they would partner with me.  Their response was "no".  When I asked why, the response was "Don't you realize that if you are successful then we will be out of business?"  I responded "Isn't that the point - to be able to have a society where someday we don't have a need for such programs".  I was told that that was a magnanimous intention but they had an obligation to their employees first and the people they served second.

Very sad.  Maybe they should be totally transparent and change the mission statement on their website to read "We are focused on providing a good environment for our employees.  After they have been rewarded, any money left over goes to our programs for inner city kids".  I wonder where donations would go with such a message.

What would happen if we turned the volume of our ego down just a shade, turned the volume of our humility up just a tad and then sought out ways in which our respective purposes and objectives were so alike that we simply had to collaborate to produce the result we sought.

After all, what is more important - the result or the recognition?  If I had a choice, I would choose an amplified result and shared or no recognition over minimal result and all the glory.

How about you?  When you think of the life legacy projects that are important to you, what is most important - a phenomenal result or phenomenal recognition.  If the latter, I wish you luck - it's a lonely world out there when you go it alone.

If the former, I invite you to think about your ideal life objectives and desired result of your legacy.  Think about the strengths you bring to the table.  Think honestly about the strengths you don't have but which you need to maximize your result.  Find people with a similar purpose and with the strengths that you do not posses.  Focus on a maximized result instead of focusing on why no one else can help you get the job done.  Focusing on collaborative strengths is far more empowering and productive than focusing on the weaknesses of others (the latter process often highlighting your own weaknesses).

If you are a part of an organization that serves the needs of humanity in some way, look for ways that your organization can collaborate with others to enrich and amplify the result and the sense of fulfillment amongst the organization's team members.

You may run into a lot of resistance since many people will feel threatened that collaborating will somehow reduce the result or their ability to be recognized.  Overcoming this resistance won't be easy for you to accomplish but you will discover that it is worth the effort.

But then again, anything worthwhile in life isn't supposed to be easy, is it?

I'm not suggesting that every individual or organization is focused on themselves.  In fact, there are phenomenal people and organizations who are incredible models of unselfish collaboration as they move unwaveringly towards their objectives.

Let's find these people and organizations and use them as a standard by which we can judge our own intentions and results.

Only after that can we really claim to have done our best for others.  Prior to that, we will have done our best for ourselves and our egos with some residual positive impact on others.

The challenges of the 21st century need collaboration and maximized result stemming from that collaboration. 

What is more important to you - the reward or the result?

Yours in service and servanthood.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

When the Student is Ready ....

... the teacher will appear.

So they say.

I'm sitting in a coffee shop, listening to people speak about the problems that confront the world - the economic crisis, poverty, disease, the homeless, depression in people, failing healthcare and education systems, crumbling infrastructure, global warming and whatever else they can think of that strains our confidence and faith in a positive future.

As I listen to this litany of concerns that would challenge some of the greatest optimists that have ever walked the face of the earth, I started to think about how well we apply what we have learned from the most impactful teachers and guides that have entered our respective spheres of influence.  I'm wondering what those teachers would say to us now if they were sitting at the tables around us, challenging us to apply our gifts to take on these global concerns.

From my own perspective, I'm not referring to the obvious list of teachers that come to mind:

  • our parents, siblings, spouses, children or other members of our family
  • God / Goddess / Allah or other supreme deity we worship
  • Gandhi or any other brilliant mind that has walked the earth
  • good friends who have been significant in our lives in other ways (that's a series of blogs in itself).

I'm thinking of the people we have encountered in our lives who, with no obligation to us as strangers, took the time to teach us by sharing their knowledge, life experiences and insight in a meaningful and impactful way.

We all have those teachers who arrived at pivotal points in our lives, made a long lasting impression and possibly moved on (or passed on to what follows after our time on Earth is complete).

Sometimes the lessons they taught us have had no perceived impact until we acquired enough life experiences to finally understand the lesson.

I'll share some examples from my life.  As I do so, I invite you to think of your own examples.

When I was in grades 1 to 3, Margaret R. introduced me to the love of reading and learning.  She created a joy of acquiring knowledge within me that burns strong to this day.  If a day goes by where I haven't learned something, then I try twice as hard the next day to make up for the opportunity missed.

Margaret also taught me something else.  One day when I would not stop talking, she asked me to come to the front of the class.  I was terrified - these were still the days when a nice "yardstick across the knuckles" was the common punishment for children who misbehaved.  When I quietly walked to the front of the class, she made me face the class and then informed the class that my punishment would be 5 kisses - the class deciding where the 5 kisses would be planted.

So after the enduring the tremendous embarrassment of being kissed on the forehead, the nose, the top of my head and on each cheek, I sat down quietly and was silent, my ears burning bright red with embarrassment.

It was a far worse punishment to a 7-year old than a whack across the hand.  I would have endured the whack across the hand, felt like somewhat of a hero and moved on.  To be kissed in front of my fellow classmates was dreadful.

Looking back on it as a 43-year old, I realize it was the best punishment I could have ever received.  In that simple lesson, she taught all of us that to make a point through violence was far less effective than to do so with love and humor.

The lesson is more enduring as well.  I may not have remembered the yardstick.  I do remember the love.

Some of the primers that we used back in those days had a lot of content written or edited by Emily H.  The flow of her work and the way it touched my mind and heart without being complex in nature sticks with me to this day.  Her work, which I still enjoy reading (both her new material and the material I read when I was 6, 7 or 8 years old) reminds me of the power of words to inspire, to motivate and to leave a life-long impression on the reader.

When I was in high school, I had a math teacher named Newton M.  Newton had a few simple rules - no gum chewing, no looking at your watch ("It's a lazy man who watches the clock", his voice would boom if he saw you) and if you were done with all of your work, you were to sit up straight and twiddle your thumbs.  If your thumbs got tired, you reversed direction and twiddled them in the opposite way.

Newton taught us that your culture and heritage are integral parts of who you are and that you must learn as much about your cultural history as you can.  "If you don't know where you come from", he reasoned, "how do you know where you are going?"

He also embraced the notion that respect is earned and not demanded.  While many of our school teachers at the time demanded that we respect them because of their title, he treated us like the young adults we were and we loved him for it and gave him equal respect back.  The toughest teacher in the school was one of the most loved. 

I found out after he passed away that he spent every spare dime he had on the kids whose families didn't have sufficient money for clothing, shoes or school books.  He did it without the need for recognition (in fact, he avoided it), he did it frequently and did it even when he had little to give.  He was despised by many teachers for doing it but did it for many years anyway.  This lesson of anonymous, unselfish service to those who need it (but don't request it) and against the beliefs of others who condemned him for it lives with me to this day.

Richard G. was a business associate and mentor of mine during part of my career on Wall Street.  I previously wrote about Richard back in November of 2008 - you can find this blog entry here.  Before he passed away, Richard taught me that even in the cutthroat world of business (and New York is as tough a place as any), good guys don't have to finish last.  He and Bruce P., who I had worked for a few years earlier, both lived by the same philosophy - "Take care of your people, take care of your customer and everything else takes care of itself".  Richard and Bruce also reminded me many times that successful people don't need to be callus, ruthless or cold.   To be successful, Richard and Bruce both insisted on:

  • being in tune with your team members individual strengths, skills, talents, knowledge, passion and purpose
  • knowing where your team members are in their life journey
  • understanding how to find the best fit for each team member within the context of who they are and the needs of the organization they work for - failure to find a place where a team member fit properly was oftentimes more a failure of the leader than the team member
  • knowing when to delegate and when to step in to guide (not to take control)
  • living with transparency, honesty and humor
  • not being afraid to ask for help or admit that a leader has made a mistake.

Richard would say that "applying these thoughts without fear can only produce positive results".  Knowing how to apply this correctly is a a gift that harvests the greatest results personally and professionally for an organization, its teams and the people and organizations they serve.  It's still the model I use when I help organizations rebuild their teams.  Jim, a friend of mine, reminded me recently that this model is not welcome in the corporate world.  He is right but I do it anyway. :-)

When I was working on some goal setting programs for inner city youth a few years back, I was extremely gung-ho to get out there and get stuff done.  I was in a hurry to make an impact, the need was great and so I reasoned that there was no time to waste.

I discovered that being in a hurry and seeing an urgent demand does not necessarily guarantee that things will happen quickly.  My belief that urgency of need guaranteed that everyone would climb on board with the same sense of urgency rapidly hit a brick wall.

At that time, Bret D. arrived in my life, bringing his business knowledge in the space, his passion for education and youth, his love for people and his life experience in the same arena I was working in.  With careful coaching, he was able to reset my expectations without quenching the fire that burned within me. 

He challenged every assumption and assertion in a manner that taught me how to refine my promotion and implementation, all the while increasing my passion instead of diminishing it.  It takes a real gift to guide someone without them feeling that they might as well give up because their initial assumptions needed strong refinement.  It also takes an incredible gift to encourage and teach without crushing the ego of the person who feels that they have it all figured out.  I had been successful in everything else, I thought - how tough could this be? :-) 

Today, I am making a transition from the business world that has provided me with incredible friendships, memories and abundance in many aspects of my life.  My Life purpose is drawing me towards a Life of deeper faith and service to humanity.  As I would expect, another teacher has arrived when I need it.

Dr. Carmel D., who is a chaplain and professor at the theology school where I have been studying theology part time for the past 8 months, brings an incredible calming presence and insightful mind to her students.  Her techniques for guiding students through a discernment process for defining a new path in Life are powerful.  Her strong faith in God and her belief that every person is important and brings God-given, God-inspired talent to Life is inspiring.  Her way of providing the student with the tools to discern for themselves how to bring their gifts to bear for the benefit of themselves and others is life-transformational.  Her relationship with her students is built on respect, love and God's purpose for each of us.

So when I think of these teachers and return my thoughts to the challenges I hear people discussing around me, a few things come to mind.

The teachers I described have taught me some significant things that have strong relevance to today's challenges and the role I can play with others in addressing these challenges:

  • Know who you are and where you come from and love yourself for it.  If you can't get past this step, everything else can be very challenging and complicated.
  • Loving others can help us overcome our apathy or indifference to what's going on around us - if we truly care for someone else, we know that we must help them.
  • Love works better and faster than violence, distrust or dishonesty.
  • Fear has no place in our life - we must push forward and expect positive results.  We live in a world conspiring to shower us with abundance - we will never partake in it if we are afraid to lift ourselves and others to share this abundance.
  • Knowledge is important to solving many of the challenges before us - we must endeavor to be in a position that provides for constant learning.
  • Sharing your knowledge unselfishly and in a way that moves the minds and hearts of others to action produces profound results.
  • Give respect to earn respect - demanding respect for any reason is setting yourself up for some incredible disappointment.
  • Give unselfishly to others and don't expect payment or recognition.
  • Build your life around collaboration, honesty and transparency - it produces much more profound results and is much less complicated.
  • Don't try to do everything yourself - there's lots of room to share the credit and provide for opportunities for growth in others. Besides - it's a lot more fun and more gets done when we work together with our respective gifts.
  • Put your ego away - we are all equal in Life potential. 
  • During times of struggle, listen to what your inner Spirit, your instinct or your faith tells you to do.  Move towards your Purpose without fear.
  • Build up the confidence of others.  Breaking others down not only sets them back, but doing so brings you down as well.

In class yesterday, my classmates and I were asked what we would identify as the most impactful story or theme from the Bible.

Mine comes from 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Stand fast in your faith.  Be brave and be strong and all that you do, do it in love.

I think this quote succinctly ties together the themes taught to me by the teachers significant in my life.  If I can live by this creed, I can proudly say that I did my best for myself and others during my time on earth.

Now it's your turn.

Think about the significant teachers in your life.  If they were with you right now, what knowledge or insight would they share with you about your life or the world we live in?

What would they see in you that needs gentle correction or refinement?

What gifts and talents within you would they praise and draw your attention to?

What action would they encourage you to take regarding challenges in your life, in the life of someone else or in the world?

What insight from them can you share with others, to continue the legacy of learning, sharing and loving?

What indeed .............

Yours in service and servanthood.