2014 - Create a Cage or Unleash the Beast?

We all want to believe that we are in control.  Over the course of our lifetime, in order to give the illusion of control, we’ll develop a set of rules for ourselves to avoid pain.

“That which you collected from your past forms a boundary that you intuitively want to avoid.” – Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul

Have a bad experience speaking in front of a crowd?  Get your heart broken? Put up a wall and avoid any situation that might make you relive that pain.

The walls you create end up defining your comfort zone.  What is inside is familiar and safe.  Beyond the walls is the unknown.  Imagine the most paranoid person that you have ever met.  This person is so obsessed with avoiding pain that it’s all they think about.  With every person he interacts with or situation that he’s in he spends every moment with the inner narrative that someone is trying to hurt him.  If you offered up a cage, this person might willingly accept your offer.  From his frame, the cage will protect him from everything that could harm him while from the outside perspective you can see the cage for what it is… a prison.

While this example may seem extreme, the truth is that we’ve all accepted–even designed–our own cages more than we realize or want to admit.

Don’t get me wrong…sometimes the walls can be helpful.  At a young age, your parents probably intentionally instilled in you a fear of the street.  “Don’t go near the street!  It’s dangerous!”  After hearing this a few times, you made a mental note…

street = dangerous…therefore, avoid street

They were only trying to protect you…and for good reason!  One day, they decided you were old enough to revise this belief so that now you could cross the street, but only when you were holding the hand of an adult.  Eventually they taught you to cross by yourself after looking both ways.  Imagine your life if you were still afraid of the street.

Many times, we defend walls that from an outside perspective, seem as silly and outdated as a fear of a street.

Sometimes, the walls are not of our own making.  There is an old experiment where 5 monkeys were placed in a room with stairs leading up to a banana.  When one monkey climbed up the stairs towards the banana, the rest of the monkeys were sprayed with cold water.  Pretty soon, the monkeys would physically prevent any monkey from climbing the stairs.  Then, the researchers stopped spraying the monkeys and took one of the monkeys out of the room, replaced by a brand new monkey that wasn’t aware of the unwritten rule.  The new monkey saw the banana and headed towards it, but was physically stopped from climbing the stairs.  Now he knew not to try to climb anymore and when a second monkey was replaced, the first replaced monkey joined with the others in preventing this newest monkey from obtaining the banana.  Eventually, all of the original monkeys had been replaced and those that remained ignored the banana, although they themselves had never been sprayed and did not know why they shouldn’t climb the stairs, other than that it was “just the way we’ve always done things.”

What walls have you adopted from parents or friends?  What norms did your colleagues introduce you to when you first started your job?

 The problem is that many of these rules were set with the best intentions.  We wanted to protect ourselves (or others wanted to protect us) from pain.  Maybe you learned not to stand out from the crowd because of cruel jokes in middle school.  Or you tell yourself that you don’t like meeting new people because of a few bad experiences in your past and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that limits your future.  The world is changing every day…YOU are changing every day…how do you know that the walls you’ve set up around yourself are even protecting you from anything anymore?

I’m reminded of a story of my boyhood dog, Oreo.  When Oreo was a puppy, we got an electric fence installed around the edges of my parents’ yard.  I still remember having the little flags up around the boundary of the yard and having to walk him daily around the path to train him and familiarize him with his new invisible boundaries.  Eventually, without any flags to guide him, he knew exactly where to stop when chasing an animal or an overthrown tennis ball to avoid the shock that awaited at the boundary’s edge.

A few years later, a house was being built next door and one of the contractors accidentally dug up our invisible fence wiring, severing the cable.  There was no longer a shock awaiting Oreo at the boundaries of our yard, but he was so accustomed to his boundaries that he never tested them to figure it out.  For several years the once invisible, now nonexistent fence kept him within the confines of our yard.

That is until one day that his world became instantly larger and filled with infinite possibilities.  Perhaps one day he forgot why he obeyed the boundary or was so caught up in chasing a rabbit that he lost bearings on his location and suddenly, he was free!  At first he may have thought it was some kind of momentary malfunction, because in the months that followed, he still seemed to obey the boundaries (whether consciously or by subconscious habit).  Eventually, he tested the boundary more and more often, and suddenly his adventures were full of limitless possibilities.  He would explore the wooded areas in the back yard, returning home from his adventures with burrs coating his fur and paws full of mud, much to my mother’s chagrin.  Even for a dog with already limitless energy, you could notice an extra spring in his step and twinkle in his eye.

What would 2014 look like if you challenged the boundaries you’ve set for yourself?  You don’t have to jump off the deep end (though if you feel inclined, who am I to stop you!)  Going slow and steady works too.  Remember how your parents slowly weaned you off of your fear of the street?  What could you do this week to test out some of your self-imposed walls?  Don’t be surprised to find that many of your walls are no longer protecting you from anything.

Even if your walls are protecting you from something real, you’ll likely find that the momentary discomfort is nothing compared to the freedom on the other side.  If you come up against a border of your “electric fence” and feel a momentary “shock,” your instinct will be to jump backwards…and that's ok!  You’ve taken the first brave step by seeking the edge of your comfort zone.

“If you are willing to just stand at the edge and keep walking, you will go beyond.”                                                            -Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul

After you’ve composed yourself from the initial shock, remind yourself of the freedom on the other side of the wall and march on.  The discomfort will be fleeting, but your reward will endure.  You may even begin to love the discomfort because it will point your way to growth.

My own goal for 2014 is to seek that discomfort every day.  How will you (and your comfort zone) grow if you do the same? What would your life look like in a year?

Further reading:

I was inspired to write this post after reading The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer.  There will be future blog posts inspired by the book as well and I would highly recommend it.

In addition, here’s a great article I read on New Years Eve.  There is certainly no shortage of people online telling you what kind of resolutions to make in the New Year.  But this one stuck out to me because what you resolve to add this year probably isn't as important as what you let go of. Clear out some space for the wonderful things 2014 has to bring!

The Power of Passion

Next month marks a year that our son Andrew joined The XLR8 Team, Inc. to follow his passion.  He left a secure job, even turned down a promotion!  Would you do that? Granted he has a bridge so to speak.  He is joining a successful coaching practice but he still must forge his own way...make his own mark.  Worth ever bit of the risk.

Along the way he was somehow accepted into the Rochester Rotary, the youngest member ever!  How did he do that?  Through the Rotary he volunteered at Junior Achievement and was recognized by them this week as part of National Volunteer Week (April 21 - 27).  So as proud parents, please read what JA said about Andrew.

Andrew learned about Junior Achievement through my involvement in Rochester Rotary.  Andrew says he is passionate both about education and entrepreneurship and it seemed like a natural fit to get involved.  One of Andrews most memorable moments was when he was volunteering in a 5th grade class.  “One of the activities was to look at a specific problem and come up with a product or service to solve the problem.  I saw how eager the students were to share their products so I told each group that they would be presenting their idea to the class as a commercial.  One young boy was in a group and gave an idea that was quickly dismissed by the others.  He was quite disappointed and seemed to withdraw from the group.  When I went over to try to persuade him to contribute to his group, I saw that he was vigorously sketching his own product idea.  I told him that if he would rejoin the group for the rest of the activity, I would let him present his own idea as well.  When it came time for presentations, this normally quiet boy was overcome with passion and imagination.  After his presentation, I asked the class who might like to buy his product and every hand shot up enthusiastically.  Even his group who had not given his idea a chance raised their hands, albeit somewhat reluctantly.  For the remainder of the day, this normally shy boy was congratulated, included and sought after by all of the students in the class. It was a truly profound experience for me.”  We have no doubt that this was a profound experience for that student as well.  Thank you Andrew!

Wow.  Share YOUR passion!!!

Wishing You JOY!!! in 2013

I've had plenty of JOY!!! over the last several months, helping Andrew figure out how to take my life's work and make it his own.  While this is still very much a work in progress, we have met with many people trying to explain to them how we may serve them.  Yesterday we spent a delightful two hours with Ryan Davis @ DIGUDESIGN.  In my words, not necessarily his, they help make your soul purpose visible and marketable to the world.  My home-made efforts were enough for me, but they won't be for Andrew.  We need some help. I mentioned to Ryan a previous desire to write a book that I abandoned a couple of years ago.  As I was communicating with my soul recently during my morning meditation, the thought came to me that I should reconsider this decision.  Last Sunday I started writing the introduction.  The working title this time will be XLR8YOU!!! A Leader's Love Story:  A Father and Son's journey.  The introduction began with the question "How do you fall in love with you?"

As we were talking with Ryan, I found myself referring to my formula for joy and happiness that I hadn't mentioned in our other networking conversations.  I shared the story behind the formula in a book Wake-Up...Live the Life You Love - Empowered in 2009.  I'd like to republish it here for you with the heartfelt wish that 2013 brings you much joy and happiness.

Empowerment is probably the most overused and under utilized concept in business. The reason is the misconception that the organization empowers individuals rather than an individual empowers themselves. This is exactly what I am trying to do for myself and those I love – family, friends and coaching clients.  Since I work with Executive Leaders, I call this “Waking Up” something different – my “Formula for Business Success”: G + L + F = JOY!!!.

The finishing touches to this formula came in a series of “Wake-Up” moments during a “perfect storm” period in early 2007. At that time, my wife and I had become empty-nesters, celebrated 20 years of marriage, have been enjoying a successful business 10+ years as Executive Coaches, and lastly, I survived my obsessions over my 60th birthday.  I began by focusing my passions around making this my next best decade.

Not surprisingly, almost on cue, this shift began happening in April 2007, as I was preparing a presentation to a professional group I am involved with.  I love presenting to them every year because they are kindred spirits and always challenge me go deeper into what I’m trying to say.  (Hopefully this story is it!)  I had been playing around with a speech entitled: The “G” Word, The “L” Word and The “F” Word in Business and Leadership.

As I was editing my presentation the week prior, I revisited my personal mission statement.  I felt at that time that a “Wake Up” moment was going to happen, but I couldn’t find the words.  As I was focusing on the G, L, and F words, it hit me. The “L” word was also about self love, not just serving others lovingly. I modified my personal mission to read:  “Igniting inspiration by enthusiastically coaching people around the world to discover the simple truth that loving ourselves leads to manifesting our passions and fulfilling our need for purpose”. (I have since added and change the world)

However, the formula wasn’t complete yet. All I had was G, L, and F words. Upon signing in at the conference, I received a “goodie” bag, which included one of my favorite thought provokers, an Angel®Card.  I love these cards because they can be used to set the tone for the day, week or even the year.  Well, my Angel®Card was Joy.  Without hesitation, the G, L, and F words became the formula G + L + F = JOY!!! - Joy being “approaching life with a buoyant attitude, light heart, and unencumbered mind.  Let joy lift your spirit and fill each moment.”  Now I was more fully empowered – I put Joy as my #1 personal value as well!

By putting these words into my approach to coaching, I have the opportunity to connect on a much deeper level with executives who I know are starving for it.  One of my clients stated that his “Wake Up” moment in our coaching was “The day you told me it was okay to use the word love in my leadership style. I knew at that very moment I was talking to someone with similar beliefs about people. From that day on, I trusted you.”

That story illustrates how we continue to become more fully empowered especially when things are going great.  I’m not going to spend time telling about growing up in a dysfunctional alcoholic family, flunking out of college, doing and selling drugs, drinking and working myself out of my first marriage, and eventually getting sober in 1985. There were many people trying to get my attention during that time, but if you aren’t paying attention, it’s hard to hear the universe saying “Wake Up!”

But I started my big “Wake-Up” with the help of Earl Nightingale and the co-authors he introduced to me while driving.  He became my “Audio Dad.”  I remember him saying: “five years from now you will be the person you will become from the books you read, the people you meet and what you think about.” Earl’s “guests” became my Audio “Big Brothers”, Denis Waitley, Wayne Dyer and Ken Blanchard, whom I have had the good fortune to meet and thank.  I cried when I found out about Earl’s death in 1989 while hearing a new voice on the cassette.

Now that I was paying attention to my many teachers, I was able to hear a song that now forms the basis of my unique coaching system for focus and clarity in our business and personal lives.  After you ask the questions: “What do you really, really, really, really want?”, you can start singing: “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream”…(you know how it goes).

Having clarity (the really’s) and focus (the song) is what the “XLR8 YOU!!! Leadership Excellence” process is all about - what I do and the story I am telling. If it can work on this hard head, then there is hope for others, too!

I call it “In Search for Adventure” which details:

  • What do you Really . . .Top Five Passions today
  • Really . . .Write them down and tell someone, anyone and everyone!
  • Really . . .Actions you’ll take along the way leading to your passions.
  • Really want?  How do they connect to your personal mission? Do you have one? Is it written down?

So, now it’s time to sing again. Ready?

  •  Row, row, row your boat . . .Acting on those passions with a coach – thus “XLR8ing” (say it three times fast!!!)
  • Gently down the stream . . .Building on your strengths and unique abilities – getting in the flow
  • Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily . . .Walk the talk of your personal values (a true source of happiness)
  • Life is but a dream!Back to your personal mission – what are you dreaming about? How will you change the world.  Don’t think small!

So it all boils down to the formula (yes, finally).  The God (Greatness, Genius) manifested in you no matter how you pronounce the “Ah” in your God.  The more you are clear and focused with your God, the more you Love yourself and will constantly be “Waking Up Living the Life You Love” in service of those who Love what you do.  (Lots of “L’s” – what the world needs more of – which is what you would expect from a former crazed, long-haired motorcycle hippy).  That’s when life is Fun and it all adds up to pure JOY! Thus G + L + F = JOY.

It has lead me to a deeper appreciation and love for my imperfect self.  Yeah, that guy who wasn’t good enough - at least deep down inside.  I have grown tremendously as a coach and I’d do it for free, because not only do I love doing it, but it is my mission.  People have been kind enough to give me feedback that I have indeed been part of their “Waking Up" to their love story. . . or in my words XLR8ing!!!.