How to work with others to change our lives

change our livesHow to work with others to change our lives

I belong to a couple of small groups that have been meeting regularly for decades. The men’s group meets biweekly, while the consultants’ group meets monthly. I have been exploring and writing about facilitating change since the earliest days of this blog. So in 2021, I developed and facilitated for each group a process for working together to explore what we want to change, and then change our lives.

Each group spent several meetings working through this exercise.

What happened was valuable, so I’m sharing the process for you to use if it fits.

The process design outline

It’s important for the group’s members to receive instructions for the entire exercise well in advance of the first meeting, so they have time to think about their answers before we get together.

Exploring our past experiences of working on change in our lives

We begin with a short, three-question review of our past experiences working on change in our lives.

These questions give everyone the opportunity to review:

  • the life changes they made or attempted to make in the past;
  • the strategies they used; and
  • what they learned in the process.

This supplies baseline information to the individuals and the group for what follows.

The questions cover what:

  • we worked on.
  • was tried that did and didn’t work.
  • we learned from these experiences.

We each share short answers to these questions before continuing to the next stage of the process.

For the rest of the exercise, each group member gets as much time as they need.

Sharing what we would currently like to change in our lives

Next, we ask each person to share anything they would currently like to change in their life. This includes issues they may or may not be working on. Group members can ask for help to clarify what they want to change.

Exploring and discussing what we are currently working on to change our lives

Next, each person shares in detail which of the above issues they are currently working on, or want to work on, to change in their life. This can include describing their struggles and what they are learning, and also asking the group for advice and support.

Post-process review

Exploring long-term learning is important. So, after some time has elapsed, perhaps a few months, we run a post-exercise review of the outcomes for each person. This helps to uncover successes as well as difficulties that surfaced, and can also lead to additional appropriate group support and encouragement.

Here’s an example — what I shared and did

Things I’ve tried in the past to make changes in my life that didn’t work

  • Trying to think my way into making changes w/o taking my feelings/body state into account
    e.g. trying to lose weight by going on a diet.
  • Denial—doing nothing and hoping the change will happen.

What I’ve learned about successful ways to change my life

  • Anything that improves my awareness of feeling or body state can be a precursor to change: e.g. mindful eating or emotional eating.
  • Creating habits: e.g. brushing my teeth first thing in the morning; setting triggers (calendar reminders, timers for meditation or breaks).
  • The habit of daily exercise, regular yoga, which improves awareness of my body state.

Three issues I worked on

  1. Tidying up and documenting my complicated life before I die.
  2. Meditating daily.
  3. Living more in gratitude; developing a daily practice.

My post-exercise three-month review

  1. I’m happy with the way I continue to work on the long-term project of tidying up my office, getting caught up on reading, and documenting my household and estate tasks. To help ensure that I work on it every day, I created a simple spreadsheet with columns for various short tasks that advanced my goals. Checking off time spent on one of these tasks each day shows me I’m making progress, and this feels good.
  2. I created a buddy system with another group member who wanted to meditate more. We send each other an email when we’ve meditated. This has greatly improved the likelihood I’ll meditate every day.
  3. After trying a simple daily gratitude practice, I decided to let it go for the time being until my daily meditation became a fully reliable habit. Sometimes, small steps are the best strategy!

Detailed instructions

Interested? OK! Here’s how to run this exercise.

First, explain the process and see if you get buy-in from the group about doing this work. It’s helpful to explain that each person can choose what personal change they want to work on. There are no “right” or “wrong”, or “small” or “large” personal change issues. Any issue that someone wants to work on is valuable to that person, and that’s all that counts.

I think it’s helpful for everyone present to participate, rather than some people being observers, but ultimately, that’s up to the group to decide.

Well before the first meeting, share the following, adapted to your needs, with group members.

Working together to change our lives – the first meeting

“We’ve decided to work together on what we are currently trying to change in our lives. As we will have about an hour for this work at each session, we’ll need two or more meetings for everyone to have their turn.

For the exercise to be fruitful, we will all need to do some preparatory work before the meetings.

Our eventual focus will be on what we are currently trying to change in our lives, and how we are going about it.

We’ll start with questions 1) and 2) below, which are about the past. Please come with short (maximum 2½ minutes total per person) answers to them. Please answer question 3) in 90 seconds or less. At subsequent meetings, we will spend much more time on questions 4) & 5).

Please come to the first meeting prepared to answer the following three questions:

==> 1) What have you tried to make changes in your life that didn’t work? What have you learned over the last 20 years?

==> 2) What have you learned about successful ways to change your life over the last 20 years?

Don’t include childhood/teen lessons learned, unless you really think they’re still relevant to today’s work.

Remember: maximum of 2½ minutes for questions 1) and 2) combined!

==> 3) What would you currently like to change about how you live your life? (You might not be working on it. You can ask for advice if you want.)

Be as specific as possible in your answer to question 3). Your answer should take 90 seconds or less! (But we’ll provide more time if you want or need help clarifying your goals.)

Working together to change our lives – subsequent meetings

At subsequent meetings, we’ll each take turns to answer questions 4) and 5) below. You’ll have as much time as you need to answer these questions and partake in the subsequent discussion.

==> 4) What are you currently working on to change in your life?

==> 5) How are you going about making the changes you shared in your answer to question 4)? What are the struggles and what are you learning? What advice would you like?”

Running the meetings

At the first meeting, you’ll typically have time for everyone to share their answers to the first three questions. Keep track of the time, be flexible, but don’t let participants ramble. It’s very helpful for the facilitator to take brief notes on what people share. If there’s still time available, I suggest you/the facilitator models the process by sharing their answers to questions 4) and 5) and holding an appropriate discussion. Use subsequent meetings as needed for every group member in turn to answer and discuss these two final questions, and write notes on these discussions too.

The post-exercise review

When this exercise has been completed for everyone, I suggest the group schedule a follow-up review in a few months time. If your group starts with check-ins, it can be useful to regularly remind everyone about the review and ask if anything’s come up that someone would like to discuss before the review meeting.

Before the post-exercise review, let group members know that the facilitator will share their notes for each person in turn, and ask them to comment on what’s happened since.

At the start of the post-exercise review, explain that this is an opportunity to share information — discoveries, roadblocks, successes, etc. — without judgment. It’s also a time when group members can ask for ideas, advice, and support from each other.

Finally, you may decide to return to this exercise at a later date. After all, there’s mucho be said for working on change throughout our lives. The above process may be the same, but the answers the next time may be quite different!

Have you tried this exercise? How did it work for you? Did you change/improve it in some way? I’d love to hear your experience with it — please share in the comments below!

I remember it all too well

all too well
“It was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well.”

Listening to Taylor Swift’s lament in her beautiful and evocative “All Too Well: The Short Film” I feel my own grief well up. My last in-person engagement was a wonderful two-day workshop with several hundred cardiologists in Texas. January 28 and 29, 2020. As I’m writing this, that was twenty-two months ago.

Since then, I’ve worked with many groups online. But it’s not the same.

I’m sure you can relate. Yes, it’s wonderful to be instantly connected, with video and sound, to likeminded folks, friends, and family scattered around the country or globe. So much better than the only option in my youth — the telephone. Long-distance phone calls then cost so much that speaking to someone far away or, heaven help us, internationally was a rare treat.

But it’s not the same.

I miss doing what I love to do. Facilitating connection between people around what matters to them. Creating meetings that become what the participants want and need. The magic of the unexpected that appears when you least expect it, and, sometimes, changes peoples’ lives.

Yes, that magic can and does happen online. But, in my experience, it’s much rarer.

In-person versus online meetings

Online, we meet using group-focused platforms that don’t have the power, nuance, and flexibility of in-person meetings.

  • We can’t touch, hug, or connect physically.
  • Even if an individual’s camera is on, the resolution still isn’t good enough to read their micro expressions of emotion and body language that inform our experience of and connection with them.
  • We can’t move to different environments online like we can in person: from sharing in a circle to learning about other participants via human spectrograms, from sharing with a neighbor to talking while walking.

The platforms themselves impose additional restrictions. In Zoom, for example:

  • Spontaneous side conversations are restricted to private chat — if it’s enabled.
  • A facilitator can’t “feel the room” during small group work, because there’s no way to simultaneously monitor breakout rooms. This important task is far easier to do in person, by simply walking around and noticing what’s going on.
  • Attendee attention is hard to sense. Are they listening intently, ignoring what’s going on, or browsing TikTok? Even when their camera is on, it’s difficult to tell. And if their camera is off…

Online social platforms can provide an experience much closer to that of an in-person social. Participants can see who’s “in the room” and decide whom to talk with, either one-to-one or small group, in public or private. In the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed holiday parties with folks who could never have practically got together in person, and these platforms are well worth exploring if you haven’t already.

But it’s not the same as hanging out with and making new friends in person.

The grief

And we’re back to the grief. “It was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well.” I see a photo of a meeting I attended with so many friends, and I miss them, and wonder if/when I’ll see them again in-person rather than on a screen.

September 2, 2011, Event Camp Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN

I feel it. It’s good to remember the past, to feel the pain of its absence now, to be in touch with it, to acknowledge its presence. And then I return to working on being in the present, with my grief a part of me.

Words will never hurt me

words will never hurt meGrowing up, just about every child experiences name-calling. I certainly did. Sometimes I’d tell my mum, and she’d repeat the childhood rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Oh, if only that was true!

In his memoir, English actor and writer, Stephen Fry, expresses an extreme version of what many have experienced:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will always hurt me. Bones mend and become actually stronger in the very place they were broken and where they have knitted up; mental wounds can grind and ooze for decades and be re-opened by the quietest whisper.”
—Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot

When the words of others hurt us, it’s because we take them personally.

Taking things personally

Twenty years ago I read Don Miguel Ruiz’s classic book “The Four Agreements“. The Four Agreements are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

I like these agreements, and have found them to be useful in my life.

I have always worked to be impeccable with my word and do my best. And I try mightily not to make assumptions.

An aside. In 2002 I attended the Problem Solving Leadership Workshop led by Jerry Weinberg and Naomi Karten. Jerry asked what we had learned from an assignment. I mentioned the Third agreement: Don’t make assumptions. Quick as a flash, Jerry replied, “I’d prefer Assume you make assumptions“. I love this reformulation.

But, I still have trouble with the second of The Four Agreements: Don’t take anything personally.

—The guy who swears at me when we bump into each other in a crowd.

—Angry words said by a loved one in the heat of an argument.

—A dismissive reply to something I’ve posted on Twitter.

In the moment, I take these words personally.

And, like a whack with a stick, they hurt.

An angry guy and me

So Don Miguel Ruiz says, “Don’t take anything personally“.

Yeah, right. In the moment, I think: “easy to say, hard to do, Ruiz“.

Except when — sometimes — it’s possible to do.

I was once running a small seated-group discussion, and a man got furious with me about something I said.

He was so angry that he stood up and moved towards me with his fists raised. He clearly felt like slugging me, and looked like he was about to. If someone had told me in advance this was going to happen, I would have felt scared.

Yet, somehow, I knew that his fury was about him, not about me. I didn’t take his anger personally.

I was able to talk calmly with him, and help him see what he was really angry about. Not me. Rather, his feelings of helplessness in the face of a very upsetting situation.

The whole experience was liberating for me. It was, I think, the first time in my life I’d been able to face another person’s intense anger and not be scared by it.

Words and feelings

A core aspect of being human is that words we hear (or read) often evoke feelings in us. We might feel happy, sad, angry, excited, scared, disgusted, etc. These are common and normal responses.

“Taking something personally” generally means you feel hurt by something someone has said about you or a situation that involves you.

Unlike many other feelings, feeling hurt by someone’s words involves you granting, either consciously or unconsciously, the speaker some kind of authority over you. You are accepting, to some extent, the speaker’s reality as your own.

What Don Miguel Ruiz says is that when you really know that another’s reality is not necessarily your reality, you can be immune to the hurt you might otherwise feel.

Words will sometimes hurt me

I don’t know Don Miguel Ruiz. I wonder if he, or anyone, are truly able to live in such a way that words never hurt. Whether that’s the case or not, I strive to listen to what people say to me without taking it personally. When I don’t succeed at this, drama of one kind or another often ensues! As someone who tries to avoid unnecessary turmoil in my life, I will continue to try to not take anything personally.

Image attribution: Conflict between little siblings for a toy while sitting on stairs at home by Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com

Successful change requires integration and practice

integration practiceI find Virginia Satir’s change model to be the most useful of the many models of change. There’s a crucial fifth stage in Satir’s model that people often neglect: the integration and practice phase.

integration and practice
The hero’s journey shortchanges change

Why do people overlook the importance of integration and practice? Well, the hero’s journey is a common way we picture how change occurs. A hero goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed.

At the end of the hero’s journey, everyone involved, just like in fairy tales, “live happily ever after”.

Integration and practice is absent from this monomyth version of change.

Integration and practice is a vital component of change

In reality, integration and practice are vital components of change. You’ve probably experienced moments in your life when you realized that something was or was about to be different: the fourth stage transforming idea/event of Satir’s model of change. I certainly have.

Typically, however, such moments of insight or awareness do not lead to instantaneous change. Think about the times you’ve realized you can/have to/want to make a change in your life.

Some stories about working on change

Here are three stories about working on change in my life:

Losing weight.

Meditating daily.

Asking for help.

Each story includes the awakening moment(s), followed by integration and practice.

Even when we incorporate integration and practice, successful change isn’t guaranteed. Though eating mindfully has maintained my weight loss for 6 years, and I’m now good at asking for help, I still struggle to meditate daily.

As Jerry Weinberg said in his wonderful book Becoming a Change Artist:

Change requires patience. John Stevens tells this story from the martial arts:

Once, a young man petitioned a great swordsman to admit him as a disciple. “I’ll act as your live-in servant and train ceaselessly. How long will it take me to learn everything?”

“At least ten years,” the master replied.

“That’s too long,” the young man protested. “Suppose I work twice as hard as everyone else. Then how long will it take?”

“Thirty years,” the master shot back.

“What do you mean?” the anguished student exclaimed. “I’ll do anything to master swordsmanship as quickly as possible!”

“In that case,” the master said sharply, “you will need fifty years. A person in such a hurry will be a poor student.”‘

Practicing to become a change artist

We all probably hope that implementing change in our lives won’t take decades of integration and practice. So, are there ways we can practice getting better at facilitating change?

Why, yes, suggests Jerry Weinberg!

The title of Chapter 6 of Becoming a Change Artist is “Practicing to Become a Change Artist”.

In it he makes simple suggestions on how we can practice implementing change in our lives, and, in the process, become more open to and expert in facilitating change for others and ourselves.

‘The purpose is to launch your career as a change artist by experiencing some of the theoretical learnings in the “real world,” but in as small and safe a way as possible.’

Here are some exercises Jerry recommends:

  • Go to work in a different way tomorrow.
  • Make a different lunch every day, or make the same lunch a different way.
  • Brush your teeth in a different order.
  • Instead of trying to change something, sit back, listen, and observe. Notice your urge to change things and what happens when you don’t do anything about your urges.
  • Pick one habit that keeps you from being fully present, and focus on reshaping that habit in all your interactions.

Why not try some of these yourself? I enjoy this challenge!

Practicing how to implement change in small ways in our daily lives can help us improve how we facilitate change. Put another way, concentrating on the process of facilitating change, rather than the product or outcome is the way to go.

Image attribution: Close up of a girl training inside a boxing ring by Jacob Lund from Noun Project


How do you facilitate change? In this occasional series, we explore various aspects of facilitating individual and group change.

How to trust your gut

How to trust your gut
Three stories and a presentation about “How to trust your gut”.

1 • My gut meets Seth Andrew

Last week, I was about to begin an online presentation on “How to trust your gut” when a national story broke. Major news outlets (1, 2, 3) were reporting that Seth Andrew, founder of a national network of charter schools, had been arrested for allegedly stealing $218,000 from one of the schools: Democracy Prep.

Now it happens that I’ve had an intense set of community interactions with and about Seth Andrew over the last year. I first met him on Facebook on May 28, 2020, where he announced his non-profit, Democracy Builders, had purchased the Marlboro College campus where I taught for ten years.

That same day, it took me just thirty minutes to get a gut feeling that this man could not be trusted. I’ve worked in and with non-profits—in board member, volunteer, and consultant roles—for decades. When I asked Seth about Democracy Builders’ missing 990’s, the reports that every federally tax-exempt organization has to file with the IRS every year, he was clearly evasive and kept trying to change the subject. (In retrospect, now knowing that Seth is alleged to have stolen government funds the year before and transferred them to the exact non-profit I was asking about supplies a new perspective to his reactions.)

[Click on the image of our conversations below and scroll down to and expand my first post, to see Seth’s evasions in the public Facebook thread.]

how to trust your gut

I considered adding this illustrative tale into my presentation. But, with ten minutes until showtime and a promise that the talk would take fewer than 21 minutes, I reluctantly omitted this remarkable story about trusting my gut response to Seth Andrew.

Regardless, my presentation includes other personal stories about how trusting my gut has worked out for me.

2 • How to trust your gut

How did I come to be giving this presentation in the first place? Well, a couple of months ago, my friend, the warm and oh-so talented association maven Kiki L’Italien, invited her Association Chat community members to share anything they wanted to talk about — in just 21 minutes. While reading her invite, “How to trust your gut” somehow popped into my head. I’ve never spoken on this topic before. Nevertheless, trusting my gut, I immediately signed up for a presentation.

During the following weeks, I realized that I had some advice to impart about trusting one’s gut, and put together this presentation that you can now watch.

3 • When your gut leads you astray — the story of vaccine hesitancy

As I share in the presentation, sometimes it’s not a good idea to trust your gut. A good example of this is the current issue of vaccine hesitancy: folks delaying acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccination services.

I’m not going go into much detail, except to point out that anecdotal stories often win out over facts. While personal stories can be a powerful modality for learning, the steps involved…

  1. Notice the important story.
  2. Capture the story.
  3. Tease out the meaning.

…as described in the post, can be misapplied.

Especially when the stories we hear are untrue.

The reality that…

  • getting the COVID-19 vaccine can protect you from getting sick and helps others in your community;
  • the fast development of COVID-19 vaccines did not corners on testing for safety and efficacy; and
  • side effects of COVID-19 vaccines are temporary

… has been hijacked by deeply held gut beliefs that are the heart of many people’s resistance to getting vaccinated.

For example, research has shown that “[vaccine] skeptics were much more likely than nonskeptics to have a highly developed sensitivity for liberty — the rights of individuals — and to have less deference to those in positions of power. Skeptics were also twice as likely to care a lot about the ‘purity’ of their bodies and their minds.

Such gut feelings can be very strong, and it’s hard to override them using facts and scientific findings.

Unfortunately, relying on such gut feelings and passing up opportunities to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can have deadly consequences. There are countless stories of COVID-19 deniers dying of COVID-19. Here are a few: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Don’t ignore your gut feelings, but test their veracity!

My presentation includes suggestions on what to do to check the accuracy of your gut feelings.

How to trust your gut—the presentation

Last week, I went on Kiki’s show. In 20 minutes, I shared everything I’ve learned (so far) about how to trust your gut, how trusting your gut can change your life, how to get better at doing it…and when you shouldn’t.
How to trust your gutThe presentation includes illustrative personal stories, the four qualities you need in order to trust your gut, how to learn when you shouldn’t trust your gut and two things you can do about it, plus a section on avoiding getting “stuck”.

I hope you enjoy it!

Additional presentation resources

Finally, here are two resources I mention during the presentation for learning about the importance of our gut responses. These excellent books explain in detail why our feelings, rather than our cognition generally drive us to act.

What have you learned about trusting your gut? Do you have stories to share? Wisdom to add? Please let us know in the comments below!

On our different responses to adversity

responses to adsversityWe all have different responses to adversity, and none of them are “wrong”.

I write this post a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, sparked by the personal experience of an old friend, psychotherapist and author Nancy Leach. She shared the following:

This was the journey

I thought I had successfully managed my emotional wellbeing through almost a year and a half separation from my daughter and grandson, who live in California. I was deeply sad at times, but phone calls, texting and FaceTime usually took the edge off and so I carried on. I was grateful that I and my Toronto family were safe and well, and that I not only love my husband but like him and enjoy his company. The addition of an 8-week-old puppy just before Christmas kept us both incredibly busy and provided many moments of unbridled joy.

Then there was an emergency in the extended California family and in response I hopped on a plane. Twelve hours and two flights later, my daughter and I fell into each other’s arms. I was not surprised to feel a tsunami of love and relief; I was well aware that I was suffering without physical proximity. But I expected the pain of the past year to resolve itself quickly. I’m someone who feels intensely, and I tend to mine feeling for insight, so I figured I was pretty-much in touch with my inner state.

It therefore took me by surprise, when a few days later we stopped on the road to talk over the fence with a neighbour. “You must be so happy to be together after all this time” said she. A lump suddenly appeared in my throat and tears came to my eyes. “How was it to be in airports?” she asked, to which I replied, “It was a little crazy, but I didn’t care…” Deep breath as I struggled to let the grief move through me. “I would have walked here.” Sheltered in the soft and deep silence of a redwood forest and in the company of the two I had missed so much, my very cells were releasing the cumulative sadness of more than a year.

It wasn’t until at least a week later that I felt I had fully “metabolized” the loss of a pandemic shutdown. My daughter is of very similar sensibility and often conceptualizes and better articulates an experience we share. She commented that it was almost as if she had been gaslighting herself, telling herself she was okay when she was not.

Of course, we need to “carry on” even when conditions are far from optimal. But I’m sharing this because I wonder how many of us have convinced ourselves that because no family member has been incapacitated with Covid or we haven’t lost our job or aren’t devastated at the impact on a vulnerable child we are doing okay. My “suffering” was but a small fraction of what so many people have endured, and I simply didn’t realize how much ground I had lost.

Well, what is ground but an illusion? The deeper message is one that is always with us, but we don’t always want to acknowledge. When we investigate the nuances of our suffering, we come face to face with the reality that any certainty we feel about life is an illusion. Throughout our lives, our hopes, dreams, plans, even parts of us that identify with a certain narrative or condition must die. In these small deaths is a reminder of the fragility of the “self” we have so painstakingly built over this lifetime – and the reality of the impermanence of all things.

We don’t like to be reminded of our death and despite the passing of each moment, sadness or joy, we cling to all vestiges of what seems to endure. But in the end, we cannot change the law of impermanence; we can only strive to make peace with it. As the worst of the pandemic restrictions ease, I hope I won’t be too quick to put that insight behind me.

Read the rest of this entry »

Distracting ourselves from what matters

distracting ourselves from what mattersWe spend too much time distracting ourselves from what matters. Distraction is fine, up to a point. But when we spend two trillion dollars annually on entertainment, I’d say we are well beyond that point.

As Seth Godin puts it:

Marvel spent $400,000,000 to make Avengers: Endgame. Because there was a business model in place that made it a reasonable investment choice.

What if we wanted to cure river blindness or address ineffective policing as much as we wanted to watch movies? The business model would shift and things would change–in a different direction.

I’m not sure there’s an intrinsic reason that watching a particular movie is more satisfying than solving an endemic problem. We’ve simply evolved our culture to be focused on the business of amusement instead of the journey toward better. [Emphasis added]
—Seth Godin, In search of amusement

Seth points out that our business models have shifted away from those that satisfy needs, towards those that satisfy wants. These growing businesses make money by selling distraction from work, work that is needed to make things better.

Pandemic distractions

As I write this, the COVID pandemic has been raging for a year. We’ve had even more reasons to distract ourselves from the additional turmoil the pandemic has brought to our lives. Online streaming consumption has soared (while live event attendance has plummeted). The rise of online makes it possible to choose exactly the kind of distraction we want with a click or finger tap.

It’s hard to believe that in a (hopefully) post-pandemic future, we’ll spontaneously give up our newfound distractions. Especially since businesses are hard at work creating more distraction opportunities and temptations, making it even easier to avoid what matters.

After all, that’s where the money is.

Or is it?

A different choice

Each of us can make a different choice.

It’s going to need to be a conscious choice, because businesses craft their distractions to be as addictive as possible. They will continue to do their best to make us want things that aren’t what we need.

There are so many unmet basic needs in this world. Here are some important ones:

  • Shelter
  • Food and water
  • Healthcare
  • Safety
  • Adequate income
  • Education

None of these needs are impossible to satisfy. The human race is capable of significantly improving access to all of them right now.

Working to meet these needs is a global effort. No one person can singlehandedly satisfy these needs. But each of us can do something.

You can make a difference

Individually, you can make a difference. Each of has unique talents and energy to devote to issues that matter.

We can choose to distract ourselves a little less, and use our freed up time to make the world a little better.

Because, for our world to become a better place, we can’t keep distracting ourselves from what matters.

You get to choose. Reduce weekly Netflix watching? Stop solving quite so many crossword puzzles? Don’t play Solitaire so often? (Those are some of my choices.)

Use your freed up time to make the world a little better. (I choose to help run non-profits that provide support for healthcare and education, and to support other non-profits that work on improving the world.)

Make a conscious choice that works for you. One that supports a “journey towards better” for the world we live in.

 

 

Knowing what you’re going to draw

know what to draw
Do you know what to draw? Perhaps — if someone has told you to draw it.

Do you know what you’re going to draw? That’s a different question. It implies that you have some agency to draw what and how you like.

Beginning creation

Picasso answered the second question like this:

“To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.” —Pablo Picasso, Conversations with Picasso by Brassaï

Creating anything, there’s a moment when you begin. Picasso is saying you begin without having a completely predetermined plan of what you’re going to create and the process you will use.

This doesn’t just apply to creating what we think of as art.

Programming machines

For quarter of a century, I wrote computer software. In that time I wrote and maintained around a million lines of code. Initially, I never thought of what I was doing as creative. I was writing instructions for a machine to process. The machine did exactly what I told it to do. How creative could that be?

My first inkling that programming might be creative came when I began teaching it. When the introductory class started, I gave students homework problems that needed perhaps ten lines of code to solve. To my surprise, I discovered that each student wrote a slightly different program. What’s more, within a few weeks I could look at one of their pieces of code and know who had written it.

As the problems got harder, it became clear that some students were more creative programmers than others.

This made me think about my own programs. I realized that I was doing creative work. Many of the programs I wrote for clients solved problems in ways that I had not foreseen when I started.

Continuing creation

Another way to look at creating something is explored in my post Process, not product. All too often, we focus on a desired finished product, rather than the moment-by-moment process of creation. This is typical when we perform mundane tasks. Needing chopped onions for a vegetable stew, we automatically slice them, one more task on the list. The mindful person is one with the chopping — they “chop wood, carry water” [XinXin Ming].

Closing creation

Finally, there is a moment when you end creating something. Let’s be clear; creating something requires ending its creation. Billions of pages of never finished novels attest to this. Those novels never saw the light of day.

So, when do you know that something is finished? Before that moment, it’s almost impossible to predict! Afterwards, especially if it was a big task like writing one of my books, you may remember the moment. But don’t reinterpret that memory as something planned.

Creating something is much more mysterious than that.

Images attribution:

By <a href="//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Picasso" title="Pablo Picasso">Pablo Picasso</a> - <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href="http://www.nationalgalleries.org/collection/artists-a-z/P/2628/artist_name/Pablo%20Picasso/record_id/2224">National Galleries, Edinburgh</a>, PD-US, Link
By <span lang="en">Anonymous</span> - <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href="https://www.photo.rmn.fr/archive/98-021978-2C6NU0XWEWEW.html">RMN-Grand Palais</a>, Public Domain, Link

He can only do Segar

be myself
How does what someone says about me myself influence my life. Who am I really? How can I be myself? What does it even mean to “be myself”?

The school play

Educated during our teens to be total nerds, we had little time for anything but science and math at Dulwich College. So we were thrilled when our English teacher said we could put on a play. We wrote a script and I got to act. I can’t remember what the play was about, but I recall my excitement wearing different clothes instead of our obligatory school uniform.

The play ended, and as we left the theatre I overheard my teacher talking about me to another teacher. “Oh, Segar,” he said. “He can only do Segar.”

I was crushed. I felt terrible, because I thought I had acted well. And here was my teacher saying that I was just the usual Segar he knew.

I can’t act

For the next forty-five years (!) I took what my teacher said as a declaration that I wasn’t good at acting. My self-esteem was bound up with being seen as good at doing things. I couldn’t act! So I avoided opportunities to play being someone different, and perhaps, in the process, discover something new about myself.

I dare to try improv

Sparked by years of cautious personal development, I finally dared to try some improv work. I enjoyed the improv exercises snuck into various experiential workshops, including some of the (no-longer held) annual Amplifying Your Effectiveness experiential workshops (sample). Eventually I became brave enough to take a three-day introductory improv workshop at BATS in San Francisco, and have participated in a number of improv workshops and conferences since then.

I’ve discovered that, actually, I can act! In both senses of the word! And, just like when I was a teenager, I enjoy it!

These days, I don’t see doing improv as being someone different from who I am. Rather, I see it as a tool for exploring different things about myself, playing with others, and having fun.

Can I be myself?

I now interpret what my teacher said in a positive way. He may not have meant this, but I hear what he said as a compliment. “He is who he is.” Not a fake persona, not someone trying to be someone he’s not.

That’s who I want to be, myself. Everyone else is already taken.

Are you old yet?

are you old yetAre you old yet? (Click on the image to watch the skateboarding professor, who’s my age.)

I turned 69 last week. My body and mind do not work as well as they used to. Oh for the days, long gone, when I went to bed, fell asleep immediately, and woke up eight hours later feeling refreshed! My stamina starts to drop at five pm; no more long productive bouts of late night work.

Traveling extensively for my meeting industry work, I’d meet hundreds of new people every year, and used to be pretty good at remembering their names and how and when I met them. Not these days.

There are all these little aches and pains that weren’t there before. Standing up from a chair is harder than it was. Standing after kneeling on the floor is unexpectedly difficult at times.

It’s not going to get better. (Although, I can run better than I did twenty years ago. But I really had to work at that.)

Anyway, I could go on. This is a litany you’ll likely experience at some point in your life. If you haven’t already.

So, I ask myself: “Are you old yet?”

And then, today, I read this quote from Nobel Prize winner Rosalyn Yalow.

“The excitement of learning separates youth from old age. As long as you’re learning, you’re not old.”
—Rosalyn Yalow

You know what? I’m still learning and unlearning every day — and I’m excited about it!

So I’ve decided.

I’m not old. Yet.

(How old are you, anyway?)

Photo attribution: Stephen Shield