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

How eventprofs are feeling during COVID-19

eventprofs feeling during COVID-19How are eventprofs feeling during COVID-19? Over the past few weeks in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, I’ve listened to hundreds of people share their feelings at online meetings I’ve led and joined. Though everyone’s response has been unique, three distinct sets of emotions stand out. Here they are, from the perspective of the many meeting professionals I’ve heard.

Anxious

eventprofs feeling during COVID-19I estimate that about 85% of the event professionals I listened to shared feelings of fear, compared to about 65% of the general population. The most common description I heard was anxiety/anxious. But strong expressions like “scared”, “terrified”, and “very worried” were more common than I expected (~5-10%).

This is hardly surprising. Every event professional who spoke had lost essentially all their short-term work and event-related income. In some cases, they were attempting under extreme time and resource pressures to move meetings online. The meeting industry has been struggling for years to understand and develop online meeting models that provide traditional face-to-face meetings’ desired outcomes and are both technically and financially feasible. To have to pivot to such modalities overnight — assuming they are even feasible for the specific meetings in question — is having a huge impact on every aspect of the meeting industry.

When your present circumstances and potential future dramatically change, feeling fear is a normal and healthy response. And fear of anticipated upsetting change leads to the next set of emotions…

Unsettled

eventprofs feeling during COVID-19About half of event professionals, and slightly less of everyone I heard, shared feeling unsettled. “Unsettled” is a mixture of fear and sadness we may feel when we experience the world as less predictable and our sense of control or comfort with our circumstances reduced.

Feeling unsettled is a natural response to perceived chaos, as illuminated by Virginia Satir‘s change model.

Above is a diagram of Satir’s model of change. An old status quo (the event industry before COVID-19) is disrupted by a foreign element (the COVID-19 pandemic). Then we begin to live in chaos, and do not know what will happen next. This provokes our feeling unsettled. Such chaos continues for an unknown period of time. Eventually, a transforming idea or event (in this case, for example, perhaps the development of a vaccine) allows a period transition away from chaos towards a new status quo (hopefully, a post-pandemic world).

Hopeful

eventprofs feeling during COVID-19I was surprised that about half of the general populace mentioned feeling some form of hopefulness about their current situation. Event professionals were far less likely to share feeling this way. This discrepancy is probably because some of the non-event industry people were retirees, and others have escaped significant professional impact.

It makes sense to me that meeting professionals aren’t feeling especially hopeful right now. If/when the chaos and destruction of the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, we don’t know how much delay there will be before face-to-face events are scheduled and run. And we also don’t know how our industry will change for good, and what our new roles in it will be.

My experience

These days, I feel all the above emotions (though not all at the same time 😀). Clients have cancelled all my short-term design and facilitation work. I love to facilitate connection, and feel sad at not having face-to-face interactions with clients and meeting participants. I am anxious about the health of my family and myself, and unsettled about an unknown future for my personal and professional life.

Yet I am also hopeful.

I have reached out to connect in real-time online. Although I have created and facilitated hundred of online meetings over the last ten years (from the days when video chat was a buggy and bandwidth-limited experience) I am continuing to learn more about facilitating connection around relevant content online. And I’m thinking about how online meetings can be significantly improved, using technology to create better implementations of the many in-person participation techniques I’ve developed and championed for decades.

What’s your experience of how eventprofs are feeling during COVID-19?

Please share your own experience and what you’ve heard from others in the comments below!

How I got here

How I got hereHow I got here?

Schoolboy days

I have little memory of my earliest formal education though I suspect it has informed my entire life.

My mother decided that I should attend London’s Chelsea Froebel School. For a couple of years she valiantly brought me to school via two buses and a train, went to work, and then picked me up to return home via the same interminable route.

The school’s philosophy was developed in the early nineteenth century by Friedrich Fröbel, the remarkable German pedagogue who created the concept of kindergarten and espoused the importance of children’s games, singing, dancing, and self-directed play. I remember singing, writing poetry, and spending hours at water and sand play tables.

At the age of seven, my school environment changed drastically. I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to Dulwich College, a British “Public” (in actuality private) all-boys school founded in 1619. I say “lucky” because, as a child of working-class parents who were forced to leave school at thirteen due to the outbreak of the Second World War, my options for educational advancement were severely limited. By a twist of fate, the school had recently implemented what eventually became known as the “Dulwich College Experiment”. Local councils paid the fees for the majority of boys selected to attend.Attending a private independent school with experienced teachers and small class sizes greatly increased my likelihood of access to higher education. On graduation, I won a second scholarship to Oxford University.

Education

I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities Dulwich College gave me. But I had no awareness at the time of the poor learning environment it offered.

I sat at ancient wooden desks, complete with inkwell and carved with the initials of generations of earlier schoolboys. I listened to teachers sharing knowledge that the best minds had taken hundreds or thousands of years to figure out. A condensed précis poured unceasingly into my ears. Somehow, I was expected to absorb, understand, regurgitate, and use this information to do well at frequent tests and nerve-wracking national exams that determined my educational and vocational future.

Apart from the tests, I found this torrent of knowledge exhilarating. Apparently, as judged by tests and exams, I was capable of absorbing it better than the majority of my peers. It was only much later that I realized that for most people, immersion in a high-volume flood of information is a terrible way to learn and provides minimal opportunities to connect with others.

It had a cost for me. The school environment emphasized my intellectual side and provided almost no time for personal or social development. I made no close enduring connections at school, becoming a nerd, concentrating on my studies. Luckily, I never completely lost touch with the Froebel-nurtured, playful, and curious child buried inside me.

How I got here

How I got here

After school, I began a thirty-year journey. It wasn’t until my fifties, after careers as a high-energy physics researcher, owner of a solar manufacturing business, college professor teaching computer science, and independent information technology consultant that I reconnected with the six-year-old who loved to sing and dance.

Throughout this period, convening conferences on my current professional interests fascinated me. I organized academic, solar, non-profit, and information technology conferences. In retrospect, it was an advantage to be an amateur. I hated the formal academic conferences I had to attend. Eventually I tried new approaches.

People started asking for my help with conferences on topics I knew little about. I eventually realized how much I loved to bring people together around common interests and needs. I became fascinated with the remarkable improvements that good process can have on the individual and collective experience and satisfaction when people meet. Eventually I decided to make inventing and proselytizing this work my mission.

Today, I’m happy that thousands of people and organizations have realized the value of what I’ve been learning and sharing. Over the last twenty-plus years I’ve worked all over the world, facilitating connection between people face-to-face. The current coronavirus pandemic has temporarily suspended this work. Yet I feel confident the value of well-designed and facilitated face-to-face meetings will only become more apparent during the period we cannot hold them.

Life lesson: Rescuing the child in the coal cellar

integrating your inner childWhat’s your most important life lesson that you wish you learned ten years earlier? Julie Zhou, VP of Product Design at Facebook, asked this question on Twitter last month.

Amongst the several hundred responses, one by Amanda Goetz, VP of Marketing at The Knot and Wedding Wire, struck me. “Better understand your inner child issues so that your subconscious becomes conscious.”

A psychosynthesis workshop

Almost fifty years ago, I participated in a weekend psychosynthesis workshop. A central tenet of psychosynthesis, developed by the Italian psychiatrist, Roberto Assagioli, is that our personal unconsciousness contains subpersonalities. Psychosynthesis work aims to integrate our subpersonalities into a single adult consciousness.

The workshop used a guided visualization to uncover and explore our subpersonalities by having us visualize a house with rooms that contained them. I still remember many aspects of that house, including rooms that contained a powerful wizard, a beautiful creative woman, and several other subpersonalities.

And there was also one tiny room, a coal cellar with no door. In that room, curled up tight in the dark, was a little child.

I did nothing with this unsettling discovery for thirty years.

Another workshop

It wasn’t until 2001 when I met that lonely little child again. I participated in a different workshop, where I realized that I had been separated from my inner child, my “little Adrian”, for a long time.

That discovery started me on an eighteen-month journey involving therapy focusing on my childhood and a set of visualizations developed by the late John Bradshaw. I found the visualizations, which can be found in Bradshaw’s book Homecoming as well as audio recordings of his workshops, to be a powerful way to reconnect with my inner child.

For many years I kept by my desk a simple drawing of arms hugging, reminding me to hug myself — hug my little Adrian — when I was feeling disconnected from my inner child. Over time I needed to do this less and less, and one day I took down the picture.

Integrating your inner child

Your inner, magical child — the child you entered the world as — is the epitome of wonder, joy, curiosity, sensitivity, and playfulness. Often, experiences in childhood wound our inner child, distancing our adult selves from these essential human qualities. Integrating your inner child into your adult self allows you to be curious about and open to new experiences. You spontaneously respond with joy and wonder, and are playful when encountering silly or comical situations.

Your adult self is still present, but it’s complemented and deepened with the addition of the fundamental lightness of the child within you.

Rather than regret I didn’t meet little Adrian earlier, I’m happy that he is with me now.

You deserve integration with your “little you” too; the benefits are incredible.

I wish you well on your journey.

The first hill is the hardest

first hill is the hardest

At the age of 67, after returning from a meditation retreat, I started running daily for the first time in my life. And I soon learned that the first hill is the hardest.

Beginnings

It was summer, and I had no idea what I could do. So I began by exploring without expectations. I dressed in my regular sneakers, some shorts, and a tee shirt. I live in a rural town with 60 miles of dirt roads, so I ran out of my home and down the 600′ driveway. Wanting exercise, I turned left on the town road and started up the hill. Way before the top I was out of breath, so I slowed to a walk until I got to the top. I ran down some of the other side, decided that was enough for the first day, and turned around and retraced my path. I had to walk up most of my driveway.

The total run and walk was a mere mile.

I wondered if I’d ever be able to do better than that.

What happened

Read the rest of this entry »

An excellent life story exercise for groups

In 2005, I joined a men’s group. Eight of us get together for two hours every fortnight. One man chooses a topic and leads the meeting. A couple of months ago, Brent offered the following life story exercise via a preparatory email sent in advance:

Read the rest of this entry »

Facilitating change: The power of sharing our experience

sharing our experience

Sharing our experience of others directly with them can be incredibly powerful. Let me tell you a story…

Not long ago, I was working at a multi-day workshop with a 6-person group that included someone I’ll call D. D self-described themself as mentally ill, bipolar, and with psychological issues. They spoke slowly, and described themself as not emotionally available, and often confused about what they said.

D also shared that they:

  • Felt isolated and wanted to get better at connecting with people;
  • Believed that other people couldn’t easily understand them and didn’t like them; and
  • Had a hard time deciding whether to attend the workshop.

D was clearly feeling fragile. Group work can be confrontational at times. So I privately hoped that the other group members would be supportive.

What happened?

Read the rest of this entry »

Becoming Brave

becoming brave

The past

It’s been a long journey becoming brave.

Fifty years ago, I was a teenager who, after a single embarrassing moment, gave up dancing in public. For forty years.

Twenty-five years ago I was a college professor who spent hours preparing classes, fearful that students would ask me a question I couldn’t answer. And when I started convening and speaking at conferences I was scared of being “on stage”, even in front of small audiences.

Read the rest of this entry »