The Gift of Time

The Gift of Time

I read an article last week that charted changes in Canadian life expectancy since 1921. If I had been born in that year, the odds are good that I would already be dead. The average life expectancy of a person born in 1921 was 57, a milestone I reached last year.

canadian life expectancy

By the time I was born, in 1960, life expectancy had grown to 70 years, and now, a child born in Canada can expect to live to be in their mid-eighties. What a fantastic gift that is. Continue reading “The Gift of Time”

Two people on a bench

Being Aware: Compatibility’s Key

I believe my spouse is so much better at understanding and describing how relationships work than I. The fact that I am aware of that may be the key to our compatibility over 25 years.

Last night we were talking about relationships, as one of our daughters enters a new one after several years of single life. I wondered out loud what makes people compatible, despite being entirely different personalities. I used our relationship as an example.

My partner, as is their gift, got straight to the “meat” of it.

“We know what little things drive each other crazy, and we avoid doing those things around each other. We care about, and are aware of, who we each are and what makes us happy.”

What an excellent example of what can make being together either stress-free or intolerable. The simple act of being aware of each other can make all the difference. Continue reading “Being Aware: Compatibility’s Key”

lost person with compass

How to be a Decent Person?

How Can We Be Decent?

One of my favourite comedians, Jim Jefferies, has a straightforward rule about being a decent human being: “Try not to be a cunt, and if you do that every day, you’ll be a good person.” (link to video)

Crude, but perfectly valid advice.

You cannot expect to learn morals from outside of your own experience. They must be absorbed by observing your role models, parents, peers, and personalities you encounter. Once absorbed, you need to process those impressions into what your choices will say about you.

Why Not Depend on Religion?

Most people look to religion to get their moral compass bearings, which is a valid start. Christian’s Sunday school, Muslim Koran readings, Buddhist teachings, they all point to methods to determine what is right and wrong. But it is dangerous to rely strictly on external sources to inform decisions. So many millions have been marginalized, discriminated against or killed just because of strict interpretations of ancient words – which mean vastly different things in today’s more complex world.

Instead, as you grow up you should start taking your moral bearings from within. Once you’re past 6 years old, relying on someone else to tell you right from wrong is avoiding your responsibility as a human being.

Be Responsible

As a mental experiment, imagine if every word you said was tattooed on your skin – would you speak any differently to those about you? What is impressive is that every person has that capability – to just be a decent person by attempting to treat everyone else respectfully.

We are all exposed to social media that captures people behaving badly: racial insults at a cashier, road rage, fights at Walmart, politicians denying sexual abuse charges. It seems like an endless parade of people behaving like they’ve forgotten what those early lessons in right and wrong were teaching. All to the point where we become desensitized to the pervasiveness of questionable behaviour.

So a challenge: we all have the power to be the light of reason in someone else’s life, as long as we follow a path that fits with our moral compass. Do that, and as Jim Jefferies says, “you’ll be a good person.”

You might also like: Zen Koan 45: Right & Wrong

People on a dock - leaders

3 Traits of Real Leaders

Can You Learn “Leadership”?

I read and follow a LOT of self-help content on leadership. By the sheer volume (200,659 results for “leadership” on Amazon alone, for example), you might be inclined to think that you can read a few books and become a successful team leader.

You may be the exception if you can. Ideally, you should first examine your own leadership experience, style, and responses. Otherwise, you may end up in a position where others are depending on you to lead, and you are incapable of doing so. I’ve seen many well-meaning, but incompetent people completely derail a team.

There are three traits you should examine, as you look at how effective a leader you may (or may not) be:

  • Serving
  • Timing
  • Acting

By assessing how you follow each of these three traits, you can determine where your leadership skills need work.

1. Serving the Team

“If you think service is beneath you, then leadership is definitely beyond you.”

I wrote earlier about the two types of leaders I have experienced: directors and guides. While a this is a valid analysis, we can push it even further. We should consider those grey areas that exist on the “Goal versus Team” scale. This scale goes from “Hit the Target at All Costs” to “Create an Amazing Team.” The result is a leader who either burns out the team achieving the goal or misses the goal but has a great group.

More effective leaders place themselves in a service role first. They coach, develop, and guide the team to the point where achieving the target is not only possible, it serves the goals of the team members. Bullying, cajoling and browbeating your team is not motivation, it is a trait of a weak leader. You do not need to fawn over the team members. Basing your success on how much the team likes you is not a valid measure of your leadership. You can be a strong leader in building a strong team that naturally achieves the goal.

The key here is that you build your team via the individual building blocks that are its members. Each one has unique strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. By paying more attention to developing each person’s contribution, you create a culture of shared goals and group achievement.

2. Timing Your Intervention

“If you feel you are always the right person for the job, you are not a real leader.”

Stepping in at the right time is a crucial trait of leadership. But so is stepping back out! If you insist on being heard all the time, it merely means you are seeking recognition.

I’ve seen a lot of potential leaders over-direct their squad, like a hockey coach that tries to fix a poor performance by switching the lines up too much. The result is a fractured, frustrated group.

You run the risk of being seen as brusque, bossy, and an attention-seeker if you continually take command. When a firm decision MUST be made, that is the time to step up.

Assess each situation. Are you required to step up and take charge? Is a situation best suited to another team member’s strengths? Is a consensus needed, rather than an edict from above?

3. Observation versus Action

“Uninformed action is like diving into a shallow pond: the results can be disastrous.”

We’ve all seen the boss that works more extended hours than anyone else. They fire off more memos, emails and useless blather around the team. They are confusing action with leadership: believing that intense activity will create team cohesion and success. In fact, they distract from the well-informed business that achieves the goals of the team. I talked about the importance of “Thought before Action” in a previous post.

What’s worse, they mirror that constant push for activity onto the team. If it you are not working as hard as the boss, your performance review will reflect it.

Effective action is the last step in the process of patient observation. Seeing all potential pitfalls, opportunities and effects of a proposed action are far more critical than acting at random. Real leaders listen more than they talk, and think more than they do. Chasing after work to look busy is likely to end in missed goals, a burnt out team, and a reputation for lack of focus.

Be Self-Aware!

Being a real leader takes more than these three essential traits. But they provide a simple first step toward understanding your leadership style. Natural leaders do exist. But they must first achieve a level of self-awareness that lets them see within.

You must understand your inner motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. That awareness is a prerequisite to understanding and leading others.

Photo by Stuart Vivier on Unsplash

 

serenity comes from within

Serenity is a Skill You Can Learn

Serenity is not bestowed from outside; it can only be built from within. You can actually learn to be calm, by practicing “thought before action”.

What is “Calm”?

I am known for being calm. I can remember how many times I have lost my temper since I was in my mid-twenties, and count them on one hand. A passage comes to mind when I think about how I achieved that serenity.
 
“CALMNESS of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. It is the result of long and patient effort in self-control. Its presence is an indication of ripened experience, and of a more than ordinary knowledge of the laws and operations of thought.”
 
James Allen wrote this in 1903, in his short book “As a Man Thinketh”, a set of brief essays that outline how each person is the architect of their own life. It is one of the jewels of early western thought on the power of our minds to direct our lives.
 
“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armoury of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”
 

Serenity Now!

As we engage in the world, it can become easy to get frustrated and angry at others. People do not behave as expected, much of the time. But you might as well get mad at the stone on which you just stubbed your toe! In the end, you can only govern your own thoughts and actions. Trying to force your mind on others is no way to grow inner serenity.
 
serenity now
Seinfeld tried to address the pursuit of inner calm with Frank Costanza’s “serenity now!”  yell. It made me laugh but pointed out that just yelling the word was the exact opposite response required to achieve it. You can’t force serenity on yourself; you have to build it from the inside.

Thought Before Action

Real peace and inner calmness can only come from looking within. You have no control over anything outside of your thoughts and actions. Once you come to grips with that, you can focus on examing the things that cause you distress and change the way you respond to them. Take time to think about your responses before you decide on action. Thoughts affect no one but yourself, actions affect the world. Approach action with calmness and serenity, and you will rarely regret your choices.
You can grab a copy of this insightful little book from The Gutenberg Project for free. Read some of the Zen stories that inspired thinkers like James Allen.
Photo by Tony Rojas on Unsplash
As always, comments and critique are welcome!
emotional vocabulary

Building Your Emotional Vocabulary

How is your emotional vocabulary? Do you struggle to find the right word to describe how you are feeling? You are not alone!

Understand Your Emotional Fluency

As I posted earlier, I went to a counselor to get some insight into my feeling of disconnection from those around me, which I thought was based on experiences from my childhood. In conversation with him, we discussed how I expressed my emotions to others. It turns out my ability to express what I was feeling was restricted to 5 or 6 feelings! What I needed was to expand my ability to express my emotional state, and so improve my emotional intelligence.

It turns out men are not trained to be as emotionally descriptive as women. Most men use the same basic descriptors of their emotions when expressing them. The most common being sad, happy, angry, afraid, surprised and disgusted. Most women have access to many more terms to more accurately describe how they feel. Just as some of us men are color-blind, many of us find ourselves floundering to state our actual feelings, a sort of emotional blindness. Women are encouraged to “feel” much more openly as they grow – the end result is they are far more skilled at emotional fluency than men.

The Vocabulary Wheel

What we need is a way to become more fluent in the language of emotion! My counselor shared a tool he uses to help people work on their emotional vocabulary – English teacher Kaitlin Robbs’s wheel. This wheel starts in the middle with basic emotions (like what I was used to using) and expands outwards, giving us more accurate words to describe our feelings.

emotional vocabulary wheel
Click to Open

These detailed synonyms are extremely helpful in expanding your fluency. They certainly helped me move from “I’m happy” and “I’m sad” to more accurate descriptions.

Exercise your Emotions!

I use this wheel to find alternative words to use in posts, articles, and conversation. It is a great tool for fresh writing, and a must-have to build your emotional vocabulary. If you are interested in emotional intelligence at all, this is a great place to start.

Are there other tools you have come across to help express your feelings?

Photo by Austin Mabe on Unsplash

thoughts on being a man

Thoughts on Being a Man

I was at a wedding recently and watched a friend of mine walk his daughter down the aisle. One of the most touching moments was the father-daughter dance at the reception. I thought to myself “What a great guy, and what an impressive example of how to be a man”. I wrote recently about respect being a key to a great relationship, and I started thinking about what it takes to be a man today. Here are a few of the things that come to mind, when I reflect on the guys I know and respect.

Be Respectful

Every man I know who I admire presents respect for those they encounter. In every act, they demonstrate that they value the other person. Whether that is their spouse, child, friend or a stranger. Speak directly, without any hint of condescension. Consider the day the other person is having, and attempt to put yourself in their shoes.

Being manly does not mean you need to be a dick to others. Quite the reverse. First, you need to respect yourself; then you can fully respect others.

Be Humble

Nothing is more of a turn-off to another person than to be confronted with someone who comes off as superior. Ask yourself if you do any of these things:

  • Talk a lot without being prompted
  • Complain about stuff on social media
  • Never ask how the other person is doing
  • Display strong opinions on any subject, regardless of your familiarity with it
  • Constantly talk about your accomplishments and future plans
  • Refuse to enter a conversation with a person who does not share your views

If you do, you may need to examine how you perceive others, you may be looking at others as an audience, rather than equal participants in life.  Take a breath. Try and have a conversation, rather than preach. Ask opinions.

Be Strong

Being decisive is one way to be strong. Offer an opinion, but be willing to change it if logic or circumstances make it more desirable. Don’t be afraid to argue a point, healthy debate is part of learning and growing.

More importantly, being strong means being there for others. Be “The Rock” for them! (As much as I admire Dwayne Johnson, you can be a strong guy without rocking those pipes!). Sit on the floor and hug your spouse when they cry. Hold someone’s hand. Give a firm handshake.

Have Fun

The worst thing any man can do is take himself too seriously. The ability to laugh at life and yourself gives you a chance to step back and appreciate just how much of a gift your life is, and the lives of others. Having a sense of humor lets you free your soul occasionally. Nothing is as healthy as a great laugh. 

Spend time with the people you love – even if it is a morning cup of coffee with your partner. Tell jokes, bad puns, and tell stories.

Be Open

The most critical trait of being a modern “real” man is to be emotionally open. If you are angry, accept it and don’t make it personal. If you love someone, you’d better let them know! You don’t need to wander around with Kleenex stuck up your sleeve – it is more about being open to experiencing all emotions. The days of the clichéd “man as stoic” not showing any emotion are over. You are allowed to smile, frown, laugh, cry –  pretty much anything goes (as long as you don’t go too over the top).

Please leave a comment below with your thoughts on what it takes to be a man these days!

Photo by Dustin Scarpitti on Unsplash

UPDATED: I originally referred to men who put themselves first and don’t have a sense of humor in a negative fashion. I fell into the trap of categorizing people, which I appreciate is the opposite viewpoint of what I am talking about here. I’ve removed that categorization.

 

To learn more about being open, check out the post on emotional vocabulary.