jimowenswrites

Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Month: October, 2011

Thriving on Change: Acceptance & Courage

Acceptance of change and the circumstances we find ourselves facing shouldn’t be confused with resignation.  Rather, it is the springboard from which to vault ourselves into the experience of thriving on change. If we do not clear the hurdle of acceptance we will find it difficult to move forward.  This is no easy thing. It will require courage.

Courage is the ability to take action in the presence of fear and uncertainty.  It is a strange thing to act out of courage because it it seems the only way to overcome our fear is to do or face the thing we fear.  Acceptance requires courage to face our poor decisions, the uncertainty of the future, and the myriad number of things that happen “to” us in life and business.

In our personal lives, we must get on the plane and fly until we are no longer afraid.  We must look over the edge of the precipice until we find pleasure in the view. We must release our children to dangers and responsibilities of adulthood until we revel in their maturity. We must choose to forgive, accepting the reality of the pain inflicted on us by another, or be tethered to the past by it.

In our business and professional lives, courage calls us to look in the mirror when our performance is questioned. It calls us to challenge antiquated processes, delivery models, and policies that put us at a competitive disadvantage.  Acceptance calls us to acknowledge we are in a professional role that creates personal misery while courage calls us to walk away from it.

In the absence of courage, failing to accept the brutal facts, we limit our joy and our achievements. We become dogs chained to a tree in the absence of courage.  We can only run to the end of our ropes and bark.  We are alternately timid and resigned or barking madly, straining at the ropes that makes our world so small.  We become bitter and find ourselves filled with regret.

Acceptance requires us to face the brutal facts.  Courage empowers us to sort them out and develop new strategies and tactics for thriving on change.  Finding the courage to accept and begin thriving on the change my be difficult,  but it is a task we must undertake.  We can find it in the experience of others who have faced their fears.  We can find it in the encouragement of friends and family if we are courageous enough to ask for it.  We can find it in a walk of faith that leads us to strength and boldness we had previously thought impossible.  Too choose anything less is resignation that our life and business is “good enough.”

Keep the Faith.

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Thriving on Change: Acceptance

Thriving on change requires us to think about the past and the future.  In that reflection some introspection about our acceptance of change is useful.  While some changes are the result of our own decisions, good and back, some things simply happen “to” us.  They can be sudden and dramatic in effect, such as  loss of a key employee or the death of a loved one.   Or they can be gradual in their appearance like the slowing of our metabolism or changes in demand for our professional skills.  Both require an open and willing acceptance of their impact before we can thrive in their presence.

Be sure not to confuse “easy” with “simple” when it comes to acceptance.  Their is nothing easy about accepting you’ve lost your job, your marriage has come to an end, or countless other things that happen to us.  Most of the time acceptance is a process.  Our initial shock, pain, and sometimes anger are the natural result of such events.  And we should not confuse those emotions with the fact we are working through the process of acceptance.  Nor can we afford to dwell on those emotions lest they anchor us in the past.

Being anchored to the past means we haven’t accepted our circumstances.  We often live in quiet denial.  There is a healthy appreciation for the past.  Experiences with friends and family, achievements, and the like are part of what make us who we are.  But longing for the good old days or find ourselves dwelling on our anger and the injustices we experience are poor strategies for thriving on change.

In our business and personal life, we must abandon old strategies that fail to accept the changes manifesting themselves in our industry and life.  Yet many of us stubbornly adhere to strategies that restrain creativity and foster discontentment in our employees.  We establish organizational structures that serve us well but disconnect us from the changing demands of our clients.   We cling to attitudes like “that’s just the way I am” that separate us from friends and family.  When we’ve lost our jobs, we define ourselves by our last job, become angry and disillusioned, not realizing how we may be limiting our future by failing to accept structural shifts in our professions and the economy.

To accept change is to abandon these attitudes.  It will take some work.  We must ask ourselves questions and think deeply to uncover the the sometimes subtle personal and cultural symptoms of failure to accept change.  Those symptoms manifest themselves in such statements as “That’s just the way I am” and “That’s the way we’ve always done it here.” They are reflected in comments or thoughts that begin with “I wish” and words like “never,” “can’t.”  They show up in relentless “rewinds” of mental tape when we have been hurt or overlooked.

Acceptance isn’t the only thing required to thrive on change.  There is much more to be said about how to anticipate and accelerate it as well.  There are strategies for both our business and personal lives to develop.  But acceptance is foundational.  Without it we are destined to live in the limitations of denial.  More on that later.

As we previously, accepting change isn’t easy.  And when we begin to examine how our denial has limited us we can find ourselves struggling with regret.  That’s another tether to the past that must cut. Don’t let recognition of your own attitudes or even your own part in experiencing the adversity of changes become another road block.  To paraphrase a much wiser man, forget what lies behind.  Press On.

As always,

Keep the Faith!

Thriving on Change

In mid-August 2007 world financial markets began to seize. Liquidity became precious and fear became the foundation for financial decisions, both personal and corporate. In the months that followed world markets tumbled and people lost vast sums of money. Now we live in the midst of what seems to be an unrelenting recession. Now, you might ask, how does he plan to find something encouraging and inspiring from this place? Indulge me for a moment.

The “sudden” change in financial markets and ensuing recession wasn’t all that sudden. It was the outcome of a decade of financial decisions that preceded it. Regardless of who’s to blame, the “changed” world we now live in is the product of, and here’s a technical, financial term, “gazillion” other little changes. When I “change” pants sizes it is the result of all the double-stuffed Oreos I ate the months before. Buying new pants is just the result. It is the outcome. Though it will appear to others as “change.”

It is easy to feel like we have little control over our lives, to believe that our lives are at the mercy of greater forces than we can understand or control. There is some truth in that. But if we stop there we are left with the option of ignoring the forces of change in our lives or simply resorting to despair. Neither seems to be a productive strategy. What then?

There is much more to be said about how we can “thrive on change.” As you follow these essays I will share some thoughts on accepting, anticipating, and even, accelerating change. But thriving on change begins with reflection on both the past and the future. It will require some deep thinking about your responses to several simple questions.

Ask yourself: What’s different about my life today than I anticipated 10 years ago? What decisions did I make that lead me to this point? What did I fail to anticipate as I was making those decisions? Now, looking ahead, ask yourself: What should I anticipate happening in the next 10 years? What can I control? Am I on a course that will lead me where I want to go? Is “life getting in the way of the stuff I want to do?” Reflect on what will happen in your health, with your children, your parents, and in your profession, the economy, and world affairs. The greatest mistake anyone can make is to assume the world will always be as it is today.

What you will find encouraging is how much you actually have control over. True, you may need to make some difficult choices (like limiting your consumption of double stuffed Oreos) but you do get to choose where you live, where you work, how much you eat, your friends, how much money you save, spend, or invest, how much television you watch, how many books you read, lessons you learn, your reaction to adversity. There’s more. But you get the point.

So here’s the deal. Think. Consider. Reflect. Invest the time. It’s the beginning of “thriving on change.”

Keep the Faith!

Risk and Disappointment

As I recall, it was author Scott Peck who penned the words “Life is difficult.” For some, life seems to be filled with little more than pain and disappointment.  Such pain can result in a hesitancy within us and  a willingness to live within the margins of a small world. Fear of failure, fear of rejection and fear of disappointment may not completely paralyze us, but it’s subtle invasion into can limit our hope, joy and experiences.  That need not be the case.

Now here you might expect some of you might expect to find me proselytizing about faith. Not today.  Perhaps some other time. But neither will you find some trite reference to Sun Tzu and “that which does not kill me…”  Blah. Blah. Blah.  Rather you will find some simple truths that I hope will encourage you.

Yes.  Life is difficult.  It can be filled with disappointment.  But when the expectation of disappointment invades our perspective we need to “think about what we think about.”  I recently heard a speaker say “If you don’t like the way you are thinking,  have another thought.”  What a remarkable, foundational way of approaching our experiences.

Thinking better requires us to do several practical, simple things.  First, don’t let the disappointment and cynicism of others become yours.  People with limited expectations in life tend to want to export that philosophy.  They crave an audience.  They want their disappointment to define their world and yours.  Don’t let them.  Avoid them at least until you’ve reset your expectations.  Then reach out to them to help them reset theirs.

Second, pay attention to what you let “in” your head.  All of us have heard the expression, “garbage in, garbage out.”  (That reminds me. Today’s trash day. Garbage out!). The barrage of media face each day can subtly drain our hopes and expectations.  Several years ago, I stopped watching television news and carefully limit how I get the information I need. The simple truth is I don’t need about 95% of what passes for news today.  Just as you should limit your consumption of certain types of food, limit your diet of daily despair found in most media.  Replace it with more reflection, reading an encouraging book, learning a new language, or hanging out with friends and family.

Recently, I had the pleasure of eating lunch with a man in his early seventies who has been very successful in business.  He has been married for more than 40 years and has a rich personal life.  He spoke of an experience with the IRS (need I say more) that he approached with this philosophy.  “Never get too excited about good things or bad things.”  In short, he was saying his experiences don’t define him.   So the third and final simple truth is don’t let your experiences define you.   The past is the past.   Let it go.

Our life and thinking requires examination much like driving down the highway requires us to watch road signs.  We adjust our speed based on traffic (unless you’re driving in Atlanta), road construction, weather, and a variety of other factors.  When we aren’t sure where we are going we slow down and pay attention rather than barreling down the highway.  It’s time to do that in our lives.  Doing so can help us reset our expectations, prepare us to enjoy the rewards of taking new risks, and enjoy the journey.

Who’s with me?

 

Reflections on Risk, Rewards and Responsibility

Risk is a funny thing.  And not in a “ha ha that makes me laugh” sort of way.  Risks aren’t always easy to quantify and we simply aren’t very good at understanding them.  That’s why so many people think are afraid to fly but willing to drive automobiles.  We wrongly believe “doing nothing” is a way to avoid risk.   Sometimes we take risks we don’t realize until we see the outcome. You know, like getting married, having kids, or letting someone new cut your hair.  Writing these reflections is a bit like that.  I’m willing to take the risk in hopes of giving you something meaningful to reflect upon, or make you laugh, or even make you mad.  I’m willing to take the risk of finding I really have nothing to say and the absence of anyone listening will confirm it.

It seems that nothing meaningful was ever accomplished without taking some risks.   Sometimes we take emotional risks like getting married or having kids.  Other times we take financial risks by investing in a new venture, buying stock, or taking a new job. While we all need to get better at measuring risks we take so we can avoid the calamities of investing in Enron or finding ourselves married to Satan’s brother or sister most of  us are in danger of taking few of the “right” risks.  But for heaven’s sake, don’t let yourself settle into an anesthetized stupor where life is “good enough.”

It’s been said that most men and women lead lives of “quiet desperation.”   Much of that desperation, I believe, comes from a lifetime of complacency and avoidance of perceived risk.  We are so afraid to fail that we settle for lives of a little comfort, a little peace or a little hope. We yearn to be noticed yet we fear being seen.  We long for meaning in life but find ourselves swept along by the currents of what happens “to” us.  For many of us the time has come for a “new thing.”  A new job.  A new city.  A new hairstyle….with apologies to those who’ve lost it.  For you, may I suggest a new fashion “statement.”

Now here’s where the responsibility part of this little essay comes in.   I’m taking the risk of being misunderstood and some of you will let this be permission for you to engage in foolish things like quitting your job with no means of providing for yourself, your family, or paying your mortgage.   I feel an unexpected burden of responsibility as I write these words.  I believe we all reap what we sow.  So I’m choosing my words carefully.  And I encourage you to choose carefully.  But for your own sake, make a conscious decision to take measured risks rather than sit and stare at your television or computer….well, you can stare at your computer is your reading this.

As you walk through this day take some risks.  Tell someone you love them.  Make peace with an enemy.   Change your hairstyle.  Audition for a play.    Make a new friend.  None of these simple acts is without some risk.  But they all have the potential to enrich your life.  Start the journey to a new job.  Consider moving to a new city.  Do it wisely.  Get the counsel of people wiser than you take the risk.

Heck, maybe you should write a blog.

Reflections on Life, Leadership, Change, and other Important Stuff

Given this is my first venture into blogging, I find myself having much to say.  This, of course, doesn’t assume anyone will be listening. Yet I’ve never allowed the absence of people listening to stop me from sharing my thoughts. So in the coming days, at random intervals, you’ll find me here sharing my thoughts on Life, Leadership, Change, and other Important Stuff.  Look for future topics like….

Life Keeps Gettin’ in the Way of the Stuff I Wanna Do….

Thriving on Change…

Leadership….What not to do!

Nobody on His Death Bed Ever Wished He’s Spent More Time at Work…

I hope these thoughts will inform you, entertain you, and provoke you to think….and maybe even make your life a little better.

Lofty Aspirations, huh?

Keep the Faith!