You Are Not Your Job Title

Hundreds of years ago odds were good that if your last name was Smith, you were a blacksmith as was your father and his father before him. Fast forward to today where the pace of technological and social change is so rapid that you can count on multiple careers within your lifetime let alone continuing your parent’s career. Jobs will always be subject to change now. Thus taking the reins of your career and preparing for change is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity!

I’ve mentioned before the engineer who turned industrial photographer and business consultant turned non-profit founder. Since then, I have met social workers transitioning into the police force and software developers moonlighting in photography. More and more people are broadening their career “identities”. These people have a unique ability to create new opportunities for themselves and go after them. There is fulfillment, I believe, in taking control of creating your career rather than letting the career dictate who you are.

How well are you developing your career creation ability? Here are some places to look.

First, throw away this notion that you are a ___________ (fill in the blank with the name of position, title, social standing) because one day it may no longer fulfill you or the needs of the world (a fancier way of saying that you might get sick of your job or your job might become obsolete).

We have an identity much bigger than the limited definitions we give ourselves. Too often we let society dictate what is or isn’t important. Social status, climbing the corporate ladder, or having a big house and a family are all fine goals, but we are socialized to believe it without question. What if you took a break from the usual, looked around the world, and thought about it…

What is really, truly important?
What is important to your family?
To your great grandkids?
To the city, country, world they will live in?

What is important in your life to honour from the past?
In your deathbed?

If this seems a little too abstract for you, then I encourage you to take any one of these practical steps to begin or continue your exploration… in no particular order, off the top of my head:

I would recommend shutting down that fear of “yeah, but… (insert common fears of any potential change)” and imagine instead “what if” and “what would it take…”. What if you were a meaning-seeking human being with many capabilities the most valuable of which is the ability to learn and adapt to ever-changing circumstances? What would it take to live it?

Have fun experimenting for as long as it takes! More to come in the next article on paths to your career path.

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.

Is it Greener on the Other Side?

Lost Coyote in Banff

On this side is the unsatisfactory present. On the other side is the promise of a better future. If only, we say to ourselves, we could make that leap across the great chasm of fear and time and capability to greener pastures.

Framed this way, we will inevitably hear the nagging voice of the troll underneath the bridge:

What if it isn’t what I imagine it be?
What if it won’t make me happy?
What if I can’t do it?

That voice is sneaky… because “it” will never be what you imagine it to be, and “it” will not be what makes you happy, and if “it” is worthwhile, you will surely be unequipped to do it. By focusing only on the next job, the next business, the next relationship, there is little chance of fulfillment.

The point is not whether you get there. The point is who you become by attempting to get there.

Imagine I was expressing to you my desire to give hiking a try. I say to you that I should like my first hike to have the most incredible and spectacular view that I will ever see. So you suggest your favourite hike with the best view, and I promptly have my helicopter drop me off at the viewpoint. I take a few pictures and return delighted to have “hiked”.

Surely, you object, that was not a true experience of hiking!

A spectacular hike is not just a view or a destination. It is also the experience of preparing for the trip, conversing with companions, connecting with the natural world, and in the end becoming a better person… so that you can do the next big and better hike.

Likewise, a spectacular life is not just a goal or an outcome. It is the capability you develop to live an even bigger and more spectacular life.

Hence you can wonder endlessly whether leaving a job or relationship will be better or worse, but you can be certain that you will grow from the experience. Who is the more “secure” person? The person who has stayed with a job no matter what, or the person who has quit his or her job multiple times and recovered each time to find the right job? All things equal, one person knows how to adapt to change whereas the other does not.

If I may stretch this metaphor, engage with life as you would engage with hikes. Do your research, be prepared for it, let go of expectations, experience it fully, commit to becoming a better hiker, and in the end, the grass will always be greener on the other side.

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 II)

…continued from Part I…

He felt the roots of the trees
Pull him into the earth.
Reality dissolved into dreams.
Thoughts became elusive fantasies.
Louder and louder
The dead screamed and howled
Until he thought he would go mad.

With this wonderfully amazing human brain, we have received the gift of consciousness. But as Joseph Campbell suggests, we pay the price of two realizations. One, the revelation that one day we, individually, and all we care for will die. And two, that society to whom we owe our upbringing existed before us and will continue to exist after we die.

Yet somehow in our Western civilization have become fixated on the first realization such that we have an almost obsessive fear of death. Looking younger, living longer, or having more becomes the only reasonable balms of life to avoid the frightening specter of death. Surely, death alone makes a poor source for meaning.

In other cultures, ancestors are often celebrated and revered giving expression to that second realization of humanity… where our lives are part of a bigger story played out by our ancestors and our children. Shouldn’t individual and community be connected as well as the past and present?

Then he caught the faint hint of a word
Then another word and another.
Straining to hear, he heard whole phrases
Until he realized each tortured spirit
was crying out its story
filled with such pain
that brought the adventurer to tears.

If we were to listen carefully to the voices of the dead then we might discern the lessons of past and discover who we are. Initially though, we may recoil in horror at the ghosts of civilizations buried in the ancient strata of the earth. What would the howls of the Easter Islanders, the Mayan, and the Vikings say to us? The same ones who spoiled their own nest and thus destroyed themselves in the process?

The hard truth is that in every story of genocide, war, or poverty, we learn about a part of us that is real today. It takes a bold heart to hear them and not die from guilt or despair. But is it any better to ignore them to repeat our ancestor’s mistakes?

He steeled himself to listen
To each spirit one by one.
Each told their story
In tortuous detail.
Every time his mind would wander
the story would turn to howls
Until he could find focus again.
Years passed by in the telling
And when the last spirit
shared its wisdom,
all was serene
once again.

Like opening Pandora’s box, one may find, among the terrible stories of the past, a small but resilient strand of hope. And the source of the hope is our capacity for wisdom.

However, wisdom does not come to those who listen passively. Instead, every ounce of deep learning must be extracted with blood, sweat, and tears. Wouldn’t you be suspicious of wisdom attained effortlessly? Psychologist Herbert Simon suggested that it takes ten years of intense effort to develop mastery in any field. How long then would it take to develop mastery over ourselves? How long to understand our time and place in history?

Epictetus said, “When we remember that our aim is spiritual progress, we return to striving to be our best selves. This is how happiness is won.” When we remember, all is serene again.

The traveller cracked open his new eyes
Tearing off the moss and the ivy that had grown over him
He stood.
He stretched.
He breathed.
The forest was humble and at peace.
Seeing for the first time
he saw leaning against a tree
An ancient sword
Carrying the magic of all the ages.
With humility he claimed the hero’s sword
Ready to continue on his journey.

I find that when I recover from the flu, the day after is a glorious day. I feel as if I am breathing for the first time and the world seems more vibrant, more alive. To be touched by a wise spirit be it through a book, a movie, or a conversation, feels much the same way. Too often, we imprison ourselves in a few safe stories not realizing that freedom lies in exposing ourselves to a wider breadth of the human experience.

The magic of all the ages is in our ability to pass on to each other a strand of what was, what is, and what might become. Although we have lost much of our oral traditions, we have also gained new mediums for seeing the world… an image of the earth from space, video news from around the world, or a rare book from an unknown author.

He left the forest in search of the dragon
And found it feasting on a goat.
The fiery traveller reached for his sword
But the moment he touched it
The sword dissolved into dust.
Abandoning that plan, he waited instead.
For weeks, he tracked the dragon
Until he found its lair
where the dragon would sleep.

How often do we hope that the one answer, the playbook, or one relationship will resolve all of our problems? The hero’s sword, the newest technology, or the latest fad cannot be the silver bullet for our dragons.

I am reminded of the story of Prince Five-Weapons and the Ogre Sticky-Hair. The prince had used all five weapons against the ogre to no avail and found himself stuck in five places to the ogre’s hair. Yet, he remained undaunted. When the ogre asked the prince why he was not afraid, the prince replied, “Ogre, why should I be afraid? For in one life one death is absolutely certain. What’s more, I have in my belly a thunderbolt for a weapon. If you eat me… it will tear your insides into tatters and fragments and it will kill you.” [Hero with a Thousand Faces]

The prince was the future Buddha and his weapon was the weapon of knowledge. Although we might have all the world’s resources at our disposal, it is ultimately the sword within us that will see us through.

The dragon slept soundly for many nights.
The tracker watched and searched
But found no weakness he could discern.
Suddenly, he was startled
as a rock tumbled over the cave.
The dragon awoke with a fury.
The tracker dove into a dark corner
Just as the dragon flew by
Shaking the cave with a violent rumble.

Hours later, the dragon returned with a bloody maw
And went back to sleep once again.

The tracker spent the days following
clearing the loose rocks.
Weeks passed and then months
Still the dragon remained asleep.
Years followed years and he came to be known and worshipped
in the surrounding lands as
the guardian of the dragon.

So often, we rush in to “fix the problem” without stopping to wonder what the problem might be. When the UN sprayed DDT in Borneo to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes, they successfully reduced incidents of malaria but created unintended consequences of a rat-infestation which threatened to unleash a plague of typhoid. What they didn’t know was that the DDT crept up the food chain and killed the cats which previously controlled the rat population.

Had we the patience to stop and observe and think, the solution might have been very different. This much is certain. The bigger and more dangerous the dragon, the greater the patience and investigation needed.

The hero’s sword, then, is in our ability to take find the patterns that live beneath the surface and decipher the clues to find a fruitful way forward. So should we decide to search the patterns in our lives, in our relationships, and in the world around us, we might find a better pattern to live by.

One day, the guardian fell and hurt his leg.
For a full day he could clear no rocks.
Worried that one day his strength would fail him,
He travelled the nearby villages to find help.
Few believed his incredible story.
Even fewer would dare take his place.
And the few brave souls left
Sought only the glory of killing the dragon.

It is the nature of those early pioneers to be the Cassandras of society. They dove too deep into the nature of things to be understood by those who haven’t peered into the depths. The Wright Brothers first flight barely drew any attention. Rachel Carson was denounced for claiming DDT was toxic. Galileo was imprisoned for challenging the church. Cultures are more powerful than individuals and more often than not an individual doesn’t have the power to change it.

Despondent, the guardian cleared the rocks one last time
and journeyed back to the home he once knew.
His return was greeted with awe and wonder.
Who had he become?
What stories would he tell?
What riches would he bring?

He shook hands with his father
And though his father was proud,
he knew not his son.

Returning from the depths is like returning from long travels… you see for the first time how much you have changed. Expatriates returning to their native land often experience “reverse culture shock” where their home no longer feels quite like home. Although everyone may be happy to see you, they also cannot possibly understand what you have gone through. They take five minutes to flip through photographs that took you a lifetime to experience.

In his room once again,
The son who became a man,
Who found the hero’s sword,
Who helped the dragon sleep,
Picked up his pen to write
Another chapter in the loremaster’s book
About the dragon and the rocks and the hero’s sword.
From then, the story-teller traveled the lands
To fill children’s minds with rich lore.
Hungrily they would listen
Until their parents would drag them away
from such nonsense.

While the glorified hero may inspire a fire here and there, a cultural shift inspires whole generations. The hero must instead find a way to embed their lessons into the society through organizations, through stories, through documents, through the many ways that culture is passed on. Consider Raphael Lemkin’s creation of the word “genocide” and his lifelong quest to have it explicitly banned by the UN. Although he could not see the results of his work while alive, today his word and work has made it possible to begin tackling the crime with no name. To transform a society requires patience beyond measure, yet it is possible.

The seasons turned. His parents passed away.
The story of the guardian became a myth.
The dragon returned and fear was rampant once again.

Eventually there came a day
In the story-teller’s old age
When four youth declared to him,
“We want to conquer the dragon!”
With a grim and serious eye,
He looked at the young adventurers
And after thinking long and hard he said,
“To defeat the dragon, take this book
and find the hero’s sword
in the Forest of the Dead.”

And so it came to pass
that the hero would
see the youth off on their adventure
with greater hope for a new future.

Some live to see the days of freedom like Mandela did, but only to find new dragons in the form of HIV / AIDS. Thus the journey is simultaneously carried by ourselves and all of us. In the words of Tolbert McCarrol:

“You are a guardian of the seeds for the world to come. All that has gone before and all that is yet to come is within you. Through you passes humanity’s saving fire. You are running in a relay. This is the moment you have been chosen to hold the torch. You cannot refuse to run.”

And I think it would be right to say: to be a true leader, remember to help others carry their torches and remember that one day you, too, must pass on your torch.

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.

Six Places to Give Up

Most of us grew up taking classes, doing homework, and passing (or failing) tests. Then we found a job, got trained for the job to do the job and we succeed in the job! Schools are good that way. They train us to be good trainees.

There is another kind of learning however where you have to design your own course, make up your own homework, choose your own standards and hope you survive reality’s tests. Whether we’re forced to do it on the job or we are thrown into an unexpected crisis or we choose to start our own pioneering project, there are no clear teachers and no clear direction let alone a clear path. Worse, success is chancy and giving up is a real temptation.

School does not train us for this kind of learning.

If you are on an important new adventure with a murky destination and doubts about your ability to get there (wherever there is), the path you will follow will look very different from what society normally teaches us. Not to worry… you are not alone. Others have explored the frontier before. Although the details are different, their struggles have a similar feel to them that will help you become more aware of the types of challenges you will face.

Based on the patterns identified by the Action Studies Institute research on adaptive persistence, here are six places in the pioneering journey where you might run into trouble and give up.

I. The Splat Start

For the most part, someone usually tells you where to start. Teachers provide us with the textbooks. Companies provide the job description. Society shows us how to behave. And it can be a good thing because it is more efficient to learn from someone who has done it already.

If on the other hand, you are starting something new, there’s a good chance you’re going to start in the wrong place. It can be deflating to be so excited about your new adventure just to trip before you get out the door! You’re passionate about this new business idea, but it gets shot down right away. You envision the career you want, but you don’t know how to get it going. You catch on really quickly to a new skill and then you realize you’re really not that good. Splat, splat, splat… this is the easiest and most common place to give up. After all, nothing has been really lost by this venture except our expectation of a quick and easy success.

Recovering from Splats
The Wright Brothers spent eight years to design the plane they envisioned. Edison went through thousands of prototypes. Newton took twenty years to develop his theory of gravity.

The story behind these commonly quoted examples is that false starts are a necessary part of early exploration. You don’t know what you don’t know… and that includes not knowing what you want.

Instead of being the adult who must get everything right the first time, be the newborn baby who flops around the first hundred attempts at walking.

Every flop is another little muscle learning how to do it right.
Every splat is another reason to learn and try again.

* * *

Things I’ve said during a false start…

I tried five times, five different ways. It doesn’t work.
I was so excited to get started but when I did, it wasn’t what I expected.
Well, I never really wanted to do it anyway.

* * *

II. The Cold Realization

The real work begins when you realize the actual effort it would take to get started. It is like when you get to the base of that mountain and you look up. You may have prepared for the hike and planned for it, but nothing quite prepares you for the sight of it. This is also a place where you can turn back. You might not be prepared to start. But then again, you might be as ready as you will ever be.

Recovering from the Cold Realizations
The sooner you face the actual amount of effort you need to put in, the sooner you can prepare for it and get started. So often we do everything else to avoid the thing that most needs doing.

Serial entrepreneur Martin Eberhard admitted, “If we had faced reality three months earlier, we’d be much further today”. If a successful entrepreneur like him can make mistakes, then surely we can forgive ourselves for not always facing reality.

Look into the demon’s den,
Be prepared,
Take a deep breath,
Enter knowing that the unexpected will always find you
But also have faith in your capability to understand.

* * *

Things I’ve said when I realized how much work it was going to be…

Ha, ha, ha… I signed up for this?
This is going to take a lot more work than I thought.

* * *

III. The “DOH!” Experience

A “DOH!” experience is spending hours putting together IKEA furniture, realizing you misplaced one piece, and needing to take apart the whole contraption. A “DOH!” is spending a year investing your heart and soul into developing a product and finding out that people wanted something different. “DOH!” is a setback in your journey forward that stops you cold.

You can give up here too… when the pain of losing, of being rejected, or of failing yourself can be too much. Will you stay broken at the bottom or will you find the will to get back up?

Recovering from Setbacks
Consider that soccer players spend 95% of the time on the field NOT scoring and hence messing up. With every failed play, athletes exercise the ability to recover and return to playing the game. With every setback, we have the opportunity to exercise our ability to bounce back and continue.

There will be this incessant voice that tells you how you disappointed yourself and disappointed others. Take a moment to acknowledge the disappointment, but then ruthlessly close the door on that voice. Open instead the door of learning.

Banish the voice that accuses you.
Find the supportive voice that encourages you.
Together explore the ruins of your setback.
Take what you need and return with new power.

* * *

Things I’ve said because of a major setback…

…. <stunned silence> ….
This cannot be happening to me.

* * *

IV. The Never-Ending Prairies

Grade-school science taught us that if you add heat to ice at sub-zero temperatures, it will steadily rise in temperature until it hits zero degrees. Then it will stay at zero even as you continue to add heat until finally the ice melts into water.

There are many kinds of learning where we see great gains initially, but then our apparent progress flattens out even though we’re putting in the same amount of work. Weeks at the gym does little to improve strength, months of marketing yield few if any new customers, or years of research produce no breakthroughs.

The lack of results may cause you to give up, or you might look for an easier way and change tactics before the previous ones became effective. Or you might be lured into complacency where things do not get any worse, but they do not improve either.

Recovering from the Prairies
Like the germination of a seed, there may not be any visible results for weeks or months, but that does not mean progress has stopped.

Jim Collins (Good to Great) discusses how Alan Wurtzel spent nine-years developing the concept of Circuit City before it exploded in growth generating stock returns greater than Intel or Wal-Mart. From the outside, it appeared as if nothing was happening in those nine-years. On the inside, the idea was being nurtured, tested, and grown. Like the ice, the inside was being transformed!

When you find yourself on the plateau of life, the question “Am I getting anywhere?” is only one kind of measuring stick for progress. Try some other ones on:

“Am I being complacent about my own development?”
“Am I strengthening my abilities and skills?”
“Am I building the roots for the next phase of life?”
“Am I improving the quality of my character and conduct?”

Find the right questions for your journey.

V. The Boom and Bust Cycle

As much as we enjoy variety in our lives, we generally don’t enjoy chaotic instability. Imagine that just as you have finished climbing your way to the top, you find yourself sliding back down… and this repeats itself on and on and on. It is as tiring as a volatile economy that oscillates between prosperity and recession, plentiful job opportunities and layoffs.

Instead of continuing, you may crave stability or something to grab on to. You may get off the roller coaster ride altogether. It’s not the first setback that gets to you. It’s the hundredth one.

Recovering from Boom and Bust
An effective way to exercise your cardiovascular system is through interval training ( where you alternate between sprints and walks.

Boom and bust cycles are like interval training for your life. It forces you to adapt to new situations and stretch your capabilities.

Ride the chaos with glee,
Take a break when needed.
To create your calm centre
Do something you’re good at,
Be with good friends.
Meditate in nature.
Then return to the venture.

On the other hand, the boom and bust might indicate something you are not paying attention to.

VI. The Arrival

The event you spent months planning is now done, but the joy of finishing it never quite measures up to the work you put into it. Somehow we expect that arriving at the destination will fulfill everything. The exhausted and hurt soul that arrives can decide it isn’t worth the sacrifice and give up on all future projects.

Recovering from Arriving
One can glibly say that it is the journey not the destination, but what does that mean? Two men from different eras speak to this question.

Seymour Tilles, a Harvard Business School professor, wrote in the 1963:

“If you ask young men what they want to accomplish by the time they are 40, the answers you get fall into two distinct categories. There are those—the great majority—who will respond in terms of what they want to have. There are some men, however, who will answer in terms of the kind of men they hope to be. These are the only ones who have a clear idea of where they are going.”

Meaning to say that what you want to have cannot be a guiding light for who you are. Surely it matters whether you build a business that enhances the human spirit rather than tears it down. Epitectus from over a thousand years ago describes this and more:

“True happiness is a verb. It’s the ongoing dynamic performance of worthy deeds. The flourishing life, whose foundation is virtuous intention, is something we continually improvise, and in doing so our souls mature. Our life has usefulness to ourselves and to the people we touch.”
– Epitectus The Art of Living

Just as no single frame of a film makes sense without seeing the whole film, no single point of time in our lives is more important than the entire flourishing life.

So when you arrive, take a moment to celebrate the person you have become rather than only the final outcome. Celebrate all the false starts, the setbacks, the ups and downs, and plains that has made who you are. Above all, remember Churchill’s declaration “Never give in!” and like all famous quotes, don’t forget the rest of the message:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
– Winston Churchill in Speech to Harrow School (1941)

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.