Learning About Wilderness Survival (Part II)

When last I left you (see Part I), you were out in the middle of the forests of Alberta in -20 degree weather with nothing but the clothes on your back and a survival kit. What now?

Chris with Hack Saw
Cutting deadwood to build the lean-to

That was my question as Dudley Driscoll, wilderness survival instructor and long-time student of Mors Kochanski, led the seven of us off the beaten track in Kananaskis country. Along the way he pointed out the names of various trees and shrubs that sounded like Juniperus scopulorum and Pinus albicaulis. Who knew that one could eat Juniper berries and use Poplar buds as a breath freshener?

We learned that survival is pretty straightforward. Your top two priorities are as follows:

  • Sleep comfortably without interruption for six to eight hours each day
  • Drink enough water to urinate clear

Both priorities are meant to keep you alive and alert enough to think straight. It should come as no surprise that your brain is your most important tool. It’s what keeps you from getting in the situation, prepares you for when you do, and gets you out of the situation.

The gift of survival training is how it goes back to the fundamentals. When you read the Survival Credo, you get that it really is a Life Credo. It’s simple: rest, think, act, be thankful… if only we could do that more!

Building the Shelter

Upon finding a relatively level location protected from the wind, we started to build what is called a “lean-to”. The pictures will make it pretty obvious why it is called that. Shown below is the main frame on which to lean all the logs. This shelter was being built for six. A one person shelter would be much smaller of course.

Nylon Rope for Tying Logs
The nylon cords came in handy for supporting the main beam.

To tell you the truth, it would take me a lot of tries to tie this properly. Like everything else in this course, you have to practice, practice, practice to be able to do it in a crisis situation.

The next major task was building a mattress. Comfort is certainly one reason for making a bed. More important though is keeping the body insulated from the ground which rapidly conducts heat away from the body.

For this purpose, we used spruce boughs as the bedding material. A depth of four finger-widths is the ideal. Believe it or not, the bed was comfortable and warm!

For those concerned about the trees, I’m told that they will survive since the lower branches tend to die off as the spruce grows taller.


The bedding finished, we now leaned a number of logs against the main beam. This formed the roof of the shelter. For a single-person shelter, the leans would be steeper.

Now for an ingenious design element by Mors Kochanski. Instead of using the usual spruce boughs or bark as the roofing, the emergency space blanket in the survival kit was used to cover the roof. This makes the shelter far more efficient at reflecting heat to the sleeping survivalists.

With a plastic sheet to cover the front entrance and a fire out front, we had essentially built a greenhouse. This is what Mors calls a Super Shelter and it is highly efficient at retaining heat which means less firewood required. Click here for a description of other types of shelters.


Although a few steps in any direction away from the shelter was a frigid -20 degrees, inside the shelter was a tropical paradise. I slept through the night in my t-shirt and actually wished I could sleep with less… if it wasn’t for the spruce bough bedding.

Proud to have cut down a tree with a knife. Unfortunately, I didn't realize it was a live tree. Well, we put it to use as a crane over the fire.

There were some drawbacks unfortunately. Someone has to keep the fire going. Early in the night, the shelter temperature would oscillate between 15 degrees and 40 degrees until we learned how to manage the fire better.

At this point, you might be wondering how we were able to get the logs in the first place. Fortunately, Dudley brought a bow saw which greatly facilitated the work. But absent a bow saw, it was possible to cut down a tree with just a knife as I proudly did in this picture.

I confess however to cutting down a living tree which as you know is useless for firewood and generally bad ecological practice. It looked lifeless though…. oops.

Dead trees though could simply be kicked over and broken by levering it between two trees. Or alternatively, a fire can be used to section a log.

Building the Fire

Fire… it must have taken thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years for homo sapiens to figure out how to master fire. The closest I have come to starting a fire is lighting a candle or using a magnifying glass to burn paper, so I was eager to learn more.

As this was only the basic course, we learned how to start a fire with a match. In later courses, one would attempt to start a fire with progressively more difficult methods: half a match, an artificial match, flint and charcoal, bow drill, and so on.

For us, the building block of a fire was the twig bundle… a mixture of dried tree sap, yellow grass, dead branches and pine needles folded in together… that could be held in the hand and lit by a match.

It can be surprisingly difficult to find the right materials. Nevertheless, I am proud to say that I was able to light my bundle in the first attempt.

Prior to this, we had also been collecting firewood. Food may be hard to find in the winter, but dead wood was plentiful. Within an hour or so, we had enough person-length firewood for the whole night. We wanted to build a parallel fire where the logs burn length-wise. The reason was simple. A parallel fire would heat the entire length of the shelter and whoever was in it.

Starting with the twig bundle we lit our first stack of logs.

Once the fire got going, we could melt snow for water and cook the grain mix that we had brought. We were surviving in luxury! For other types and uses of fire, click here.


More to learn than can be learned…

It’s clear that a lifetime could be spent learning the ins and outs of the wild. Building signal fires, understanding mental processes, making ropes, studying plants, constructing tools… and much more.

What I have learned is that

  • You don’t know everything, so stop pretending.
  • There is no room for fantasy or speculation. Test your ideas against reality.
  • To be good at it, practice, practice, practice.
  • Life is neutral. It is neither for nor against you.

I think I’ve caught a glimpse of how the Inuit see life as the teacher. The dead of winter would probably be the most ruthless and unforgiving teacher of all!

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
U Venture

Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in pioneering life challenges.

Learning about Wilderness Survival (Part 1)

What if you got lost in the boreal forests of Alberta in winter in minus 20 degree Celsius weather without a tent or a sleeping bag? If you had an inexpensive portable survival kit, then staying alive is possible… even comfortable!

This past weekend I went on a field trip as part of the Wilderness Survival Course taught by Dudley Driscoll through the University of Calgary. It was a thrilling experience especially for a dedicated urban dweller like myself (my brother is the serious outdoor enthusiast in the family). I found every aspect of the outdoors fresh and exciting to me.

I have long been fascinated by the question of survival. I spent many years training with the Progressive Combat Academy to learn about surviving urban violence. It seemed only natural to learn about wilderness survival.

Why the fascination with survival you may ask and what does it have to do with the human venture?

Survival is a fundamental aspect of who we are as human beings. Our species spent millions of years surviving as hunter-gatherers. Only in the last ten to twenty thousand years did we adopt an agricultural civilization, and only in the last two hundred years did cities grow into prominence. Strip away the technologies that we have become dependent upon and you rediscover the roots of humanity. Rediscover survival and you rediscover your power to adapt to life-threatening and life-engaging situations.

To be clear, I am no hurry to return to the wilderness living as primal man. Civilization has brought us incredible gifts of culture. However, it is the wilderness that puts into context how we as a human race got here and it is the wilderness that grants us leave to exist.

I digress.

In this introductory course, we looked at how we could create and use an inexpensive and compact survival kit that would help us survive for 72 hours in the Alberta forest long enough to be rescued. The idea is that the survival kit is something you can always take with you. Whether a day trip goes awry or a car gets stranded, you can have confidence that your kit will be there.

Now imagine the scenario I discussed in the beginning. Imagine being out in the forest in minus 20 degree temperatures and all you have is what is pictured below. How would you survive? What are your priorities?
Think about it. Test the thought experiment out. What don’t you know that might be useful?

Now if you’re thinking it would be easy to survive with all of the materials above, gradually take away each item and re-assess. At some point in human history, we did not have easy access to any of the above materials, yet we survived. If we had none of the materials, is it even possible for you to survive for 24 hours? 72 hours? One week? One month? One year?

Have fun playing this scenario out in your mind. In the meantime you will have to wait for the pictures from the survival course.

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
HUMAN Venture Coaching

Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in pioneering life challenges.

Once upon a time of a leader’s journey (Part I)

Once upon a time there was a peasant boy
who dreamed of becoming a hero.
He swung tree branches like a battle axe
and skewered invisible evil monsters
with his sharpened stick.
All this before supper time!

Doesn’t every new adventure begin when we have the dream, but not the ability? We may be a peasant boy… poor in status, poor in ability, poor in resources… yet we are rich in heart and spirit. Even if the path is unclear and undefined, the hero’s journey begins with hope and desire for a flourishing life.

The boy’s father raised him to be a blacksmith.
Night and day, the boy learned
how to start the forge
and heat the iron just right.
He learned the many ways
of drawing iron
of punching iron
of welding iron
Until he could proudly present
to the hunters of the village
a buckle here and a plate of armour there.

The years passed by,
the boy grew into a man,
and the dream soon faded
with each ring of the hammer
although his skills grew ever stronger.

We cannot deny the forging power of our upbringing. Who are we really? Are we only what our parents, friends, and culture have given us? And who are they? Contrary to our current individualistic mythology, most of who we are today has either been passed down to us or are inherent in our animal nature. Certainly, some of our beliefs and experiences strengthen our abilities. Others diminish them. How do we tell the difference? And when do we even begin to ask the question?

One day while working,
the son saw his father arguing with an old man.
The old man with a sigh
pressed a leather-bound book
into his father’s hands
and walked away.
His father tossed the book aside in disgust.

When his father left,
the son wandered
casually towards
the book
and opened it
and revealed a world
a hundred times more vast
than the world even in his mind
for this book belonged to the loremaster.

One day or one month or one year, we come across a set of stories so powerful that it cannot be ignored because we, ourselves, are also made of stories. Oliver Sacks tells us, “We have, each of us, a life-story, an inner narrative whose continuity, whose sense, is our lives. It might be said that each of us constructs and lives a ‘narrative,’ and that this narrative is us, our identities.”

In the early stages of humanity, the entire library of what a tribe knew was preserved primarily through oral traditions. Everything from how the world worked to skills for survival were passed on person to person for generations.

The printed word changed it all enabling us to preserve more of our ideas, thoughts, experiences through time. The book then represents the source of a greater possible set of narratives from which we could draw from.

There was the story of his village
and how it came to be.
There were faraway lands
that made mysterious devices.
There were the legends of heros
who crossed the swamps
to lead their people to safety.
Then there was the story of a dragon
that ravaged the countryside
killing many heroes.
When he closed the book,
he was forever changed.
In his heart was born
A hard determination to
free the world of the dragon
to join the ranks of heroes of the past.

I use to think books were pleasant diversions. I thought that everything important could only be learned through personal experience. How could dry words on a page compare to the visceral encounter with life?

Now I see how crucial they are to existence. As an individual, we can experience only so much in our lifetime. Through books, we can live a hundred lifetimes and be wiser for it if we choose to read well, think well, and act well.

Nelson Mandela, in his youth, saw the whites as benefactors. Only through meeting with people from other tribes, through revisiting the history of South Africa, through researching the ideas of democracy and liberty, could he see clearly the segregation and oppression of non-whites in South Africa. Even as I read his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he read works by or about Che Guevara, Mao Tse-tung and other freedom fighters.

For every hero, there must be loremasters who reveal the hero’s destiny by revealing the world beyond the boundaries they know.

Upon declaring his intention,
his father in a fury told him
to not throw away his life
on some foolish quest.

His friends pleaded with him
not to leave,
to let others take care of it.

The village people cried
that he would draw the evil dragon to the town.

But the adventurer was resolute.
Hearing only the voices
of the heroes long gone,
he knew it was his calling
and no one else’s.

To leave the past self, to stand on your own, to create the life worth living is both beautiful and tragic. Beautiful in your commitment to a higher calling. Tragic in the cost to be paid by those closest to you. Even Mandela, after seeing his mother living in impoverished conditions, thought “I wondered – not for the first time – whether one was ever justified in neglecting the welfare of one’s own family in order to fight for the welfare of others.”

In every community, there is a small percentage that cares enough, desires enough, or wants enough to become the hero that reshapes the community. Emerson advises these heroes “Say to them, ‘O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law.” That is to say, although the hero loves his family, he lives by principles that transcend the familial ties.

So the adventurer,
for better or worse,
made preparations to leave.

He returned to his room
to collect a few items
and was astonished to see on his bed
an armour of exquisite beauty.
It fit the adventurer comfortably.
As he explored every detail, every contour,
he found inscribed in a corner
his father’s initials.

The adventurer then left
for the edge of the village.
There waiting for him was an old man…
The very loremaster that had written the book.
The loremaster looked grimly
upon the adventurer for a few silent moments.
Finally he spoke, “To fight the dragon,
you must first find the hero’s sword
in the Forest of the Dead.”

Grateful for his gift and advice, the adventurer headed for the forest.

When we commit to something, doesn’t it seem as if the universe moves to support it? I prefer to think that the universe has not changed so much as our perception of it. Suddenly, we are able to find the right person or the right resource to help us move forward because we now know what we are looking for.

The heroes of mythologies often receive supernatural assistance from a fairy, a wizard, or an old man, but only when the hero is ready. Joseph Campbell notes this pattern: “Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side.” Commitment has power!

Bold and naive,
the adventurer arrived at the dark forest.
Though he felt fear,
he entered the forest
and within days found himself lost
among trees that conspired against him.
Trails would disappear behind him.
Roots would reach up to trip him.
Thorns would scrape his armour.
At night, the howling voices of the dead
would keep him awake.

Even with all the gifts of the world, the hero must fight the greatest adversary of all. Ignorance. What the hero does not know, can hurt him. It takes not only courage to peer into the darkness of our own blindspots, but also a willingness to figure out what to do about it.

Yet this too is not easy. Our day to day experience tells us that we know everything we need to know and that we’re good, confident, competent people. Anything that challenges that notion is pushed into the dim confines of the forest. Where do we justify foolish beliefs? Where do we profess one thing and do another? Where do we fail to grow? This sort of doubt is so uncomfortable that, as Bertrand Russell says, “in the absence of good grounds for belief, [man] will be satisfied with bad ones.” But what are the consequences if we avoid the doubt?

Days, weeks, months passed by.
With each rise and fall of the sun,
the would-be adventurer
grew weaker and weaker
as he searched in vain
for the hero’s sword.
Bewildered by the trees,
overwhelmed by fear,
overcome with fatigue,
he collapsed to the ground
with the last thought that
maybe he would instead join
the dead in their anguish.

Not every hero survives the adventure. Every revolution has their unnamed heroes who died for their cause. Every innovation has its roots in failed attempts. Failure is a part of how the human species has moved forward. One might say that some must join the dead to become beacons for the living.

Our ventures may go bankrupt, our old identities may perish, our vulnerabilities may be exposed… nevertheless, our momentary flourish ripples outwards to encourage others to take on the journey that perhaps we could not finish.

…continue reading Part 2…

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
HUMAN Venture Coaching

Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in pioneering life challenges.

How DEEP is your Creative Space?

There are many fleeting moments of fulfillment… an intimate connection with another human being, a beautifully played soccer game, a breathtaking view at the end of a hike. Creating something, however, is a kind of fulfillment that lasts many moments more. Sometimes it lasts just long enough to be eaten and other times it lasts well past future generations.

Part 1 was about opening up a play space for your imagination. Part 2 is about the often neglected part of creativity… deepening your creative space. Strangely enough, the process of replacing my toilet has provided me with some startling insights.

Before you recoil in horror at the thought of toilets, many a great ideas have been had on the seat of inspiration! There is more to this story though. If you indulge me, it is every bit relevant to deepening your creative space.

Admiring the Mystery

When I first looked at my toilet, I was overcome by a sense of dread. It’s dirty. It’s heavy. And let’s face it, every first-time replacement takes longer than planned.

Upon attaining a pre-repair zen-like state (please join me in taking a deep breath…), the toilet attains a certain mystique. For instance,

How is it one button can cause the whole thing to flush?
Why does the water in the bowl actually get sucked out (along with its contents)?
How could a low-flush toilet work better than a high-flush toilet?

Isn’t it incredible in this digital age (where most things require electricity or gas) that we have in our homes a device which operates time and time again without it?

Except for when it doesn’t and then it’s even more of a mystery.

It is a mystery and here’s the thing… I could stare at this toilet for the rest of my life and I will be no closer to figuring out how to replace it.

I have to take off the cover!

Similarly, it’s easy to admire a beautiful sculpture and wonder in amazement at its beauty. But underneath the wonder is a richer place of mysteries where the source of creation thrives. Underneath is a story of struggle and success, despair and discipline. Unless you’re ready to take the cover off, you will fail to find your creative spirit.

Looking Beneath the Surface

When the cover is off, you get to see a simple machine in action. The handle opens up the flush valve to let the water flow into the bowl. After it has flushed, the tank refills itself ready for the next flush.

Watch it one day. Really… try it if you haven’t already.

Isn’t it strange and wondrous?

Why does the valve open with one press, but close only after it has all flushed? How does it know how much water to put into the tank? What happens if the water keeps on filling?

With a little curiosity and experimentation, you’ll have no difficulty in figuring out how it works.

As a bonus, once you do know how it works, you’ll find that it is no trouble at all to understand how to fix a leaking tank or a broken handle.

In a day where we want it fixed now and we want it given to us now, it is hard to take an hour or two to understand.

Creativity can be like that too. Sometimes you know something is not quite right. A note is wrong, the taste is off, the idea doesn’t work… sometimes all it takes is the patience to stop and reflect and understand.

Going Down the Toilet Hole

I turned off the water, flushed the toilet to drain the tank, siphoned away the remaining water, detached the water hose, and unscrewed the washers that held the tank in place. With the tank removed, I was left with the bowl part of the toilet.

Did you know that you can still flush the toilet without the tank?

For the experienced home owners, you may already know that pouring a large bucket of water into the bowl will cause the toilet to flush.

Haven’t tried it? Go ahead and try it for fun. I did….

Why does it do that?

Now for some of you, the question might be “why care?” Which is a legitimate question. You may have no reason to know. But let’s say that you wanted to build a better toilet, or let’s say that you wanted to know how rich and complex a creation is… then you’d have to know.

The magic really is in the bowl. A cross-section reveals a simple arrangement that belies the complex physics involved. Somehow, this structure is capable of sucking out the contents of the bowl. How?

Unlike the water tank, it isn’t obvious at first glance how it works.

The key is understanding how a siphon works which dates back to 1500 BCE when the Egyptians used it to empty jars. When you put enough water into the bowl, the siphon will fill and literally pull the water out of the bowl.

When air escapes into the siphon, it stops pulling water out of the bowl causing that gurgling sound.

Put the tank and the bowl together and you get the basics of how a toilet works. The tank of water essentially acts like the bucket of water which causes the bowl to flush.

* * *

Understanding Siphons
Remember grade school science? If you put a tube filled with water into a tank of water, the water will drain out the other end without any additional help as long as the one end is placed lower than the other end.

To understand the physics behind the siphon, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siphon.

* * *

The average society plays to the myth that creativity spontaneously springs out of thin air… companies make sudden breakthroughs, scientists cry “Eureka!”, the public discovers the next celebrity artist. While luck and circumstances certainly play a big part, not enough credit goes to the effort that these people or organizations spent to develop their expertise.

The Wright Brothers spent eight years in the workshop testing different wing configurations, building different motors, and practicing flight controls. When they finally revealed their invention, a few kids were watching and the news barely acknowledged it.

Drawing from the Best

I removed the bowl with a great heave and at last I was in view of the pipe (rough-in) that takes everything to the sewer. I replaced the wax ring with a new one. And now I prepared my new top-of-the-line low-flush toilet. My parent’s have a similar model and I remember watching amazed at how powerfully it flushed with only six litres of water (as opposed to my fifteen litres).

If you had to design a toilet that flushes better with less water, how would you do it?

If you have been following how the toilet works, you can probably come up with some reasonably good ideas.

Before you get too excited though, consider what resources you would need to implement it. Below is a diagram of the improved toilet from the maker of a top-of-the-line low-flush toilet.

Now imagine what it took to design this toilet.

  • A better siphon – computer simulations were used to determine the most efficient shape. Imagine what the author of those simulations had to know to create the simulations.
  • A better bowl – the glaze acts like a non-stick coating to keep the water flowing.
  • A better tank – a wider valve allows the water to flow faster.

Neat eh?

If it isn’t clear already, the depth of your space is greatly enhanced by the technology available to you through other creatives.

The modest toilet owes its lineage to the ancient Egyptians, the Romans and many people since then (see the box below). Creation then is not one person’s discovery, but one person that builds on the people before them.

* * *

History of the Toilet
Believe it or not, it was only a hundred and fifty years ago that people emptied their chamber pots outside the window. The toilet (and the sewer system) makes city living possible. For a fascinating history see www.victoriancrapper.com/Toilethistory.html.

* * *

To the Sewers and the Beyond

As I was looking at the rough-in I imagined following that pipe down to the sewers which spiders out across the city and at some point returns to a sewage waste treatment plant. What an incredible system!

I unpacked my new low-flush toilet, read the instructions, and decided to check the measurements. My toilet required a standard distance of 12” from the rough-in to the wall. I measured mine… it was a baffling 11”.

I looked on in despair trying to will it to fit, but unless I wanted to move the rough-in or the wall, it wasn’t going to happen. Sadly, I had no choice but to put everything back.

There are always setbacks when you decide to delve deep into your creative space. It takes practice and discipline to develop the skills, knowledge, and experience to create. Ten years is about the time it takes to become “expert”.

While this seems daunting, it reveals the key behind creativity. Joy must be taken in the journey of going deeper and deeper. If it is important enough to you, then you’ll be ready to start now, play now, dig now, and nothing can stop you.

I put the old toilet back, returned the new toilet, so I could order a new 10” toilet.

Once I got over the disappointment, I realized with a little glee that I had plumbed the mysteries of the toilet and that has a reward all of its own.

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
HUMAN Venture Coaching

Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in pioneering life challenges.

Waking Up to a Meaningful Life

“I was hanging out in Nepal doing this hike. I saw this one kid over a few days who was wearing this paper-thin t-shirt. Every day he wore this same t-shirt. My first instinct was to think, ‘Oh poor kid… he only has one t-shirt.’ I quickly realized that he was one of the lucky kids in the village. He was the only one who had a t-shirt!”

“I came home to my life. I looked in my closet and there were quite literally ten lifetimes of clothes. These people were using to their clothes to their functional end. Here I was changing styles every year. I was disgusted with myself.”

* * *

Jay Baydala was a successful IT project manager for large scale software development. After thirteen years of what he deep down knew was not meaningful work, he left the industry and sold most of his worldly belongings including half of his clothes (he’s working on the rest).

That was four years ago. Today marks the opening of his dream… ChristmasFuture (christmasfuture.org), an organization dedicated to eradicating extreme poverty by redirecting a percentage of consumer spending.

I interviewed Jay to learn about his journey so that I could (perhaps selfishly) extract some of his wisdom for myself. He’d be the first to say that he’s still learning, still “figuring it out”, and that every person must find their own path. But regardless of the path, I think pioneers have many common qualities.

Here are parts of that interview and my irreverent and real take on the lessons I learned.

* * *

What led you to leave your job?

There wasn’t one moment. I enjoyed IT project management. I enjoyed working with a team. I enjoyed making things better. However along that journey, I also realized that it wasn’t enough for me that the company saved “x” millions of dollars.

I got to a point where I had to move away from this. In reality, I did not know what I was moving towards. But the moving away, clarified what I was moving towards. You had to have a faith that this [job] wasn’t it.

The “Letting Go” Lesson: Sometimes the problem is that the job, the relationship, or the situation takes up so much space that it crowds out all other possibilities.

Only when you leave it behind do you invite the answers into your life. Be prepared still! AND also have faith that you have the ability to figure it out.

How would you describe the birth of ChristmasFuture?

I realized that I didn’t want to live in a world where someone starved to death for no good reason because they didn’t get 20 cent medicine. It wasn’t right. The more I saw how much I actually had in my life compared to what I saw in the developing world… the more I wanted to engage in this issue.

The Compassion Lesson: True compassion is not just about feeling sorry or pity for someone’s suffering. It’s about feeling the suffering of the other and doing something about it.

How did you come up with ChristmasFuture?

I wanted some way to engage in changing the world. So I looked for something I wanted, and it didn’t exist. That’s part of my business training. When you’re looking for something and it doesn’t exist, there is probably someone else looking for it… which means opportunity.

This is something that I can do. I have the skills. I have the connections. I can make it happen… accompanied with some faith.

The “it’s never too late” lesson: Just because you leave your previous job behind doesn’t mean that you leave behind your abilities or your experiences. Not everything you’ve learned up until now is throwaway.

How did you get started?

My training said business plan. You have to be able to communicate your business. An effective tool is the business plan. That honestly took about a year. I ended up with a 145-page document which highlighted everything. Then I summarized it down to ten pages so that I can get the right people involved for the next level.

I had a high-level view of the pieces. But I didn’t know enough to bring that through to reality. I knew I had to learn. Part of that process is finding [what we had to learn] from the bigger picture. For example, we don’t know enough about Christmas spending through the internet. Let’s find out more information about that.

It’s an iterative process. The more you learn about one thing, the more it changes how you view other the pieces.

That’s what I’m good at. Fitting the big picture pieces together. I’m not so good about the details, but I had to do it. I had sold my stuff afterall!

The “You are the Business” Lesson: There is the “start with the big picture and work your way down” lesson.

But I think the tougher lesson is, if you want to start something new, be prepared to do some things you are good at, some things you’re not good at and many things you need to learn to be good at!

What gets you through the tough times in building ChristmasFuture?

The thirteen years of not living a meaningful life. Thirteen years of learning that other way and now feeling this and experiencing this. This is a far better way to live!

This has made every choice very easy. I’m not trying to want to or wanting to want to. I want to. I want to sell my big SUV that is polluting the atmosphere and costing me hundreds of dollars. I want to sell my house that fills up with things I don’t need. It’s clear. It hasn’t been a struggle.

The “Surviving Through Tough Times” Lesson: When you are on purpose with what you want to do, it becomes easier to do what needs to be done, learn from the challenges, and change your behaviour.

What happens when no one knows the answer?

You mean what happens when no one knows the answer or knows where to look for the answer? First is panic [laugh].

Then it comes down to trying some things in a controlled setting, looking for examples of similar things, similar industries, similar patterns that could transfer. Then you try those theories out like in a lab… without hurting anyone.

You also have to be transparent. We don’t know. We’re learning. The answers aren’t within the four walls of your organization. Open it up to learn from everyone.

The Pioneering Lesson: In the frontier, you can’t only rely on what has been done before because no one has done it before! Get over the panic. Open yourself to what life has to offer and use inquiry and testing to find a way through.

What has been your process of waking up?

I’ve been on a journey. Part of living this awake life is realizing what is most important. Thinking, “I don’t need the expensive new pair of jeans.” You wake up first and go down that path. Then you want to do something about it and participate. Then after going down that path you realize the complexity of the things that you are doing.

You move from doing something that makes you feel good to doing something that does good. ChristmasFuture is about doing good. It’s not just a water well. It’s about how you move people out of that situation. It’s about how you empower people to live a life where they have some choice and freedom.

The Waking Up Lesson: Waking up is a continuous process of seeing what needs to be done and doing something about it.

Ultimately it is a choice. Like in the Matrix, you can wake up, hate what you see, take the blue pill and go back into the Matrix where you will find safety and even success. Or you can decide to live the real life where what you do is meaningful and worthwhile.

What would you like for society to wake up to?

I would like for all of us to understand how much we have. Not just in our head, but in our heart to experience the feeling of knowing that we’ve got a lot. That’s part of it. And part of it is realizing the connectedness of all lives. It’s not us and them. It’s not, “Let them starve to death” or “It doesn’t effect me”. We’re all connected and we’re all responsible.

I use to say, “It doesn’t matter.” I drove a big sports utility vehicle. Every time someone criticized me, I’d think, “I make a lot of money. I can afford it. Why can’t I?” That was my attitude.

NO! It’s not okay. Every choice I make affects everyone else. That’s why I’ve tattooed “WE” to my forearm. There is no “just” affecting me even if I create the illusion that it doesn’t. The “WE” reminds me. Keeps me alert. What are you choosing today?

The Connection Lesson: We are part of a larger community and that is one step to waking up. See “Have you thanked humanity lately?”

What does it mean to be fully alive and human?

It’s being on that journey towards who you are and realizing and joining that connection with everything around you. It’s not about you. Yes, you are writing a story of your life, but if you think it’s all about you, you’re going to miss it. It’s about everything and your connection to it.

The Life Lesson: Life is not about you. You are about life.

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
HUMAN Venture Coaching

Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in pioneering life challenges.