Impact

From a post on mentoring:

As a first-time father of a seven week old little girl I found your analogy helpful in a way I might not have two months ago. The lesson I am currently learning with my daughter, especially in these early stages, is that the first challenge in a mentoring relationship is learning how to communicate. Right now, she doesn’t know how to tell me what she needs so it’s up to me to observe her closely to learn what she might be saying unconsciously (rubbing her eyes means she’s tired, kicking her legs means check the diaper, etc.). As she gets older she will gain a wide array of communication tools that she can use to clearly let me know what she wants, the challenge will then be to get her to use them.

When we first begin mentoring someone in a professional context, especially someone who is new to the company or the position, they may not know what they need from us as a mentor. They may have no way telling us how we can help them to improve or grow because they aren’t familiar with us or with their environment. In this stage it is up to us to know the environment and what skills and attitudes are needed for successful growth. As the relationship develops and they are able to more clearly ask for specific help, the next challenge to ensure that they feel comfortable asking for that help. Maintaining an open attitude towards the people we mentor is vital to creating a sense of safety and well-being in them that will allow them to make full use of us as a resource.

Lastly, I would like to add another perspective to the subject of impacting the lives of others. While it is clear that deep investment over time is an extremely effective way of influencing others, it is also possible to impact people deeply with just one meeting. The analogy I like to use is geology. For centuries it was accepted by geologists that the physical landscape was primarily the result of eons of slow shifts in the earth’s tectonic plates. However, that perspective has changed in the past 20 years or so as we have gained a greater understanding about the effect of meteor strikes on the surface of the earth. Entire valleys in central Europe contain mineral deposits that are evidence of a massive meteor strike millenia ago. Siberia, Arizona and the ocean floors also show evidence of large meteor impacts that have had a makor influence on the earth’s landscape. Modern geologists accept that the shape of the earth is due to a blend of long, slow internal change mixed with sudden upheaval from external impacts.

Is there a speech, a seminar or a passage from a book that you still think about regularly even though you’ve never seen that person again? Perhaps you’ve had a fleeting introduction to someone you greatly admire and while they only said a couple of sentences to you, those words have stuck with you and inspired you for years? I know that I have.

The application is this: sometimes we don’t have the opportunity to invest in a long term mentoring relationship. In those cases it is up to us to always give our full attention and energy to the people we with whom we make contact. You never know the sudden impact you might have that could inspire them for the rest of their lives.

Who’s Next?

From a discussion on leadership succession:

I disagree with the comment that planning immediately for the next successor is a dangerous strategy. First, if it is the stated policy of an organization to manage its succession policy this way then there is no undermining message to be received. The decision to prepare for the next change is simply a matter of course. Second, CEO longevity is not guaranteed. Being prepared for an unexpected departure is simple common sense. We back up our hard drives and our files regularly and assign backups for job responsibilities not because we do not trust our hardware, our software or our staff but because accidents happen, people get sick and power surges are beyond our control. Surely it is better to be prepared than caught off guard.

Another area of concern in leadership succession is the matter of organizational culture. As businesses become less traditional in structure, environment and personality companies like Google and Apple must also consider how well a new CEO fits into the unique culture that is an integral part of both their public image and their financial success. In organizations such as these it is even more important for the current CEO to be involved in the selection and mentoring of future leaders in order to ensure that the values that drive the organization are effectively passed along.

The Temptation to Quit

“All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance.” – Edward Gibbon (from my iGoogle Quotes of the Day gadget)

It is often said that life is a journey.  This analogy can be extended in a variety of ways depending on your personal philosophy or spiritual world view.  For some the journey is about holding firm to a path of moral rectitude.  For others it is a journey of self discovery where twists and turns are welcome.  There are those for whom there is no path at all, only the placing of one foot before the other.  While the application of the analogy may differ widely, the vast majority of people agree that the purpose of the journey is not to reach a destination, but to move from one place to another, to travel.

In my younger days, I believed that I had a specific destiny, that I had been created for one purpose.  Finding that purpose was a requirement, then, of achieving my potential.  Progress could be measured by my level of certainty that the path I trod was leading in the right direction.  When I reached a crossroads it was up to me to pick the one that would take me closer to my destination and if I chose poorly I would end up having to make up for lost time eventually.  During this period of my life temptation could be defined as those things which distracted me from my goal or that moved me off the path intended for me.  Temptations were forbidden or unexplored avenues that dazzled the eye but led to destruction.

Over the past few years I have come to believe that destiny, if I have one, is something that will find me.  I have a wife and a daughter who need and deserve far more attention than my search for a more ethereal sense of purpose.  I make choices to pursue things that I think will challenge me, like graduate school for instance, but they do not define who I am.  I’ve also found that my choice of traveling companions means much more to me than where I end up going.  Walking a lonely path covered in the rose-colored petals of Destiny was appealing once but I discovered that loneliness is a poor companion and flowers make terrible conversation.  So when I reach a crossroad now I try to look ahead to ensure that those with whom I travel will be able to follow.

These days, the nature of temptation has changed as well.  The danger is not is following a wrong trail but in ceasing to travel, to give up on maturing.  Some days I think the greatest relief I can imagine would be to stop trying.  To just yell at people who irritated me, or to simply impose my will where I see fit.  Mumbling and grumbling to myself about the problems in the world around me instead of speaking up and trying to be part of an active solution.  Perhaps even more insidious is the temptation to zone out, to live for nothing other than the gratification of the immediate moment.

The difference between facing temptation earlier in my life and dealing with it now is a matter of focus.  In the past I would rely on the strength of my conviction that where I was going was right and true and ultimately better for me than the delectable diversions at the end of the various rabbit trails of temptation.  Some times that would work great but other times the goal just seemed too far off, too ethereal and the hunger for something now too great.

Today my focus is much narrower – the feet in front of me and the people near to me.  To shrug off temptation means taking a single step, making a single motion towards a loved one or replacing a “treadmill” activity with a “road race” activity.  Interestingly, as I focus on continuing to move forward I am finding that as a matter of course I am also pursuing a narrower path than before as well.

Finding Resistance

Yesterday I took my second yoga class.  I’ve done yoga stretches as part of warm-up exercises in acting and dance classes for years but I’ve never had a strong desire to take a class in it.  Part of the reason for this is pure laziness.  I’ve been relatively un-limber most of my life and it’s something that I have come to accept.  I don’t do a lot of activities that require flexibility – or if they do I haven’t paid the price for my vise-like hamstrings.  The other reason is that I was raised in a yoga-free environment, my only exposure being caricature images of middle aged women in tie-dyed tops and leg warmers or soft-spoken gentlemen on PBS in uncomfortably tight leotards.  Not exactly the kind of things that make me want to jump in the deep end.

But a few years ago my dad had a triple bypass and I found myself instantly transformed from a relatively young guy in his early thirties who could stand to lose a few pounds to an overweight male approaching middle age with a history of heart disease in his family.  A couple of weeks before my daughter was born I had some blood work done to check my cholesterol levels and they were a little bit high.  Nothing major but a warning sign that without making some changes to my diet and exercising more I could be putting my family at risk.  So when some signs showed up at work announcing a yoga class starting in the new year I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

So there I was in class yesterday and the instructor starts talking about resistance.  As we were contorting our bodies in a fashion that would have made an Inquisitor proud he continued to philosophize: Many people find that doing yoga brings up things, resistances, that they need to breathe into and let go.  Something caught in my chest as I breathed in, imagining the air flowing to my recalcitrant leg muscles, grabbing the tension and flying away.  My body isn’t the only thing that’s too tight.  As the class continued I kept thinking back to quarrels with my wife that were caused because I didn’t want to take advice, I wanted to do something my way.  I breathed into it and let it go.  I thought about the ridiculous feeling of frustration when my daughter cries even though I’d prefer she was calm.  I breathed into it and let it go.  I thought about the friction at home when my personal would-like-to-do list gets overridden by the my-wife-and-daughter-need-me-to-do list.  I breathed and let it fly away.

It wasn’t the episodes of conflict, frustration or anger that I was releasing, it was my need to justify myself in those moments.  I wasn’t holding on to my anger I was holding on to my right to be angry.  My leg muscles have no intrinsic desire to lengthen, soften or change in any way – that motivation and effort has to come from me.  In the same way, my emotional muscles have no inherent impetus to make room for others.  Muscles shrink and stay rigid for two reasons  – lack of use and protection of an injured body part.  Emotional inflexibility exists for the same reasons.  By consciously embracing the practice of relinquishing my right to harbor negative feelings, by purposefully seeking to release when I find resistance, I am giving my heart the opportunity to expand, to soften and to experience love in places that have been dying for it like a cramped quad aching for some oxygen.

One of the Myer-Briggs personality trait pairings is Perceiving v. Judging.  I’ve always thought of myself as a perceiving person, at least according to my test results.  I think back to various times in my life where I’ve been happy to go with the flow.  But feeling that resistance in me has forced me to rethink that conclusion.  I think now that my concept of myself as being free-flowing was really a denial of my preference for putting off unpleasant decisions.  If I could let circumstances eventually wipe out one of the choices then I would have The Universe to blame for the results.  So my challenge to two-fold: to pursue and embrace flexibility both in body and mind and as my ability to move increases to use that openness to take more initiative in tackling things like taxes, chores, career and education.

When conflict becomes an opportunity for education and insight instead of a means for deepening one’s entrenchment then growth, flexibility and inner freedom become possible.

I’m Not Fat, I’m Just…

…allergic to everything except Doritos and Mountain Dew.

…King Size.

…really fat looking.

…full of marshmallow goodness.

…fatter than you.  Go eat a sandwich you skinny bastard.

…dating your sister.

…suffering from “puffy bone disease”.

…really good at denial.

…getting ready for a growth spurt.

For the past few years I have been jotting down random t-shirt design ideas with the thought of some day turning those ideas into a business.  I have a few different series rolling around in my head, the above being one of my favorites.  The last one above was inspired by my 4 week old daughter, whom I have already seen go through a major increase in feeding followed by a noticeable change in size.  In the past couple of days she has started this process again (thank God I am not one of my wife’s nipples!) and watching her has given me some food for thought.

All growth requires massive amounts of energy.  As I watch my daughter I realize that if I am to grow then I need to make sure that I am feeding richly and drinking deeply as well.  I need to take some time to consider what I am taking in and there is no time like the present.  I have an appointment this week with a nutritionist to go over how I can lower my cholesterol, which is a bit high.  While I am considering how to cut the fat out of my diet, I am also challenged to take a close look at what I am reading and watching as well.

So I am going to try to make some intellectual strides this year as well as emotional.  This will be the year that I finally read the non-fiction I have collected instead of re-reading my favorite novels.  I will spend less time watching TV and more time engaging in debate online.  If I am going to grow up, I need nourishment.  I need more than the same old diet of overcooked ideas that are nothing but mush.  It’s time that I developed my intellectual teeth and paused to consider that I might do better than to settle for merely being entertained.