Sometimes the Battle Picks You

The Taoist wisdom of my five year old son who is discovering and exploring opposites… “Papa, the opposite of forward – is backward… The opposite of fast is slow… The opposite of outside is inside…”

He said these things to me out of the blue as he and I drove to the urgent care facility tonight. We have severe colds we would normally just ride out. But we’re about to get courses of antibiotics. We’ll also be getting flu shots because even though that sauce is pretty weak this year, it’s better than nothing. And this year I’ll be looking for every edge I can find. Every. Single. Edge.

He can’t possibly understand how relevant those words are in our lives right now… Can he? He knows a few things but doesn’t understand their implications yet… Does he?

He knows his 11 month old baby sister Danika is his favorite little girl in the world. And he knows, because we’ve started talking about it, that he’s not going to be able to give her hugs for a while if he has anything that feels like a cold. He knows he’ll have to move a little slower with her before he jumps in close for a hug-n-a-smooch, just to be safe. Because we can’t risk an infection right now.

He knows Danika has a problem inside her tummy that’s going to have to be removed to the outside. He knows that it might look like she’s becoming tired or getting sicker before she gets better in a few months. Or maybe a year. He knows that’s almost how long his sister has been alive so far.

Maybe he gets it. Maybe more than we do?

He doesn’t understand chemo therapy. He might understand what a surgery is; he’s heard some stories about some of mine.

He has no idea what a Wilms Tumor is. Or what it’s like to have two of them – one growing from each kidney. And I’m not sure he has a concept for what cancer is, exactly. Or what Stage 5 means.

But he knows his baby sister has it. He knows we’re going to go backward in order to move forward for a while. We’re going to slow way down and think, move smoothly, before we can move faster again. He knows that in a couple of months, Danika is going to have a surgery so that the problem inside can be brought to the outside. And he knows we’ll keep working the puzzle until it’s really complete, which is going to be years after it’s started. He understands that we keep working the puzzle. He doesn’t really understand what five years feels like.

Then, again… He is five, after all. Maybe he does understand what it means to spend a lifetime working a puzzle.

It’s what we do here. Danika knows it, too. And she’s about to be immersed in these lessons fully.

Your first war, littlest one. Sometimes the battle picks you and avoiding it is not an option. Your soul will be made stronger in this fire. We’ll be with you every step of the way. And we’ll all be made stronger for it.

Today, we prepare. We attack at dawn. We fight… Here.

Pain is Temporary: On Mental Toughness and Focus

There is a story in today’s Washington Post that beautifully illuminates the role that can be played by mental discipline and focus. If it’s important to you to work or play at the highest levels, there will be times when it is necessary to keep moving through a tough stretch.

Here are the basics of the story…

Bill Hurley III just won the Quicken Loans National golf tournament at the Congressional Country Club, yesterday. This wasn’t just any old golf win. This was a story of composure and finesse under pressure throughout stresses that are much bigger than the game of golf.

Bill Hurley just won his first major golf tournament. He’s not a big name in golf. By appearances, he should have been elated at the victory. He should have been jumping for joy. But his story goes much farther…

He’s a former Navy Surface Warfare Officer who has been recognized at least twice for his ability to drive a 10,000 ton ship under challenging circumstances. He has also just gone through some major family stress. His father, a former police officer, had gone missing for nine days, last July. Hurley had done a press conference prior to the tournament to help get the word out to his father to please come home in case there was a chance his dad checked out the golf websites and happened to see the message. They made contact, but a few weeks later his father was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This is a story about enduring a sadness that has never left the family throughout the last year as they try to understand an event that seemed so out of character for who they knew their father and grandfather to be.

Yesterday, on a golf course in Bethesda, Maryland, Bill Hurley III lived his values as a mentally disciplined, highly focused professional who is capable of staying on his game throughout a period of withering diversity.

He was partnered for that round with Ernie Els, a top player who is well regarded in the sport. It may have helped that Els is a class act who was encouraging and supportive throughout the day, but something tells me Hurley was rising to the occasion no matter how the game would have been played that day. Hurley also beat out Vijay Singh for the day, defeating another top name.

I looked it up. Ernie Els is ranked 238th in the world. Vijay Singh? Vijay lands at 119th. Bill Hurley…? His win yesterday moved him up in the rankings from 607th to 169th. Hurley credits his experiences as a Navy Officer with having helped him develop the mental toughness and focus that carried him through this period of his life and, ultimately, this victory on the golf course.

My bottom line on this story: There were literally hundreds of golfers on the PGA tour (at least 606 of them) who were ranked better than Bill Hurley III going into this tournament. There were at least a couple of guys there who were widely recognized “household names” in golf who didn’t play as well as Hurley, and many top names who didn’t show up to play that day. But the guy who won showed up with everything he had and kept his head in the game, regardless of whatever thoughts may have been chirping around in the back of his mind.

Well played, sir. I offer my condolences on your family’s loss; my congratulations on this win, and may there be many more to follow. May the pain of your family’s loss be temporary. May your pride in this accomplishment last forever…

(For the full article on Hurley’s win: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/golf/hurley-wins-quicken-loans-national-the-way-only-an-officer-and-a-gentleman-can/2016/06/26/d4d2dcae-3bae-11e6-80bc-d06711fd2125_story.html#comments )

On Showing Up

I consider myself a craftsman. Most people think of crafts like building, sculpting, painting, engraving, etc. The work that I do as an executive coach and as a kung fu teacher is all designed to build stronger people and stronger organizations. That’s the nature of my craft.

I’m writing this after finishing one of my kung fu classes. In an unusual turn of events, there was only one student who showed up for a group class. This happened to be one of the students who has been training with me the longest. I opened my kung fu school in 2010 and this is a student who has been training with me longer than five years. Not coincidentally, he has progressed to a level that has him preparing for his test for the black sash rank.

When others are “too busy” or “too tired,” the one who shows up is the one who is going to continue to advance.

This is true no matter what pursuit or craft we’re talking about. It doesn’t matter whether you’re building a financial services practice, running any kind of business, or trying to improve in a martial art or a sport of some kind. We all have to identify the fundamentals of whatever game we’re playing in the world and be about the business of showing up and doing those things. Some days it’s fun. Some days it’s not. Some days it feels good. Some days it’s tiring and painful. Other than to avoid damage or recover from injury, none of that really matters.

If you want to improve; if you want to advance; if you want to learn more, be more, or get more – you have to show up.

My hat is off to those who continue to show up for whatever it is they do, day in, day out. There is a certain kind of flow that comes from consistent effort and only those who show up every day to put in the effort will ever find it.

On policy and beliefs

What’s occurring to me and on my mind at the moment is our current events in the United States. Our elections. Our policy discussions. Our beliefs as a society.

Increasingly, I see cultures as interconnected and influencing each other greatly. But I don’t think it’s necessarily permanent. I think it’s the way it is right now.

There is an illusion that our movement as a culture or as a species is linear. That it is only a one way progression or regression. We’re either moving forward to a more enlightened time together or we’re all going to hell in a handbasket.

In my view, our path as a species is non-linear. We exist on a moving point and the pendulum is swinging continually. I don’t think we’re necessarily progressing or regressing, but moving from positives to negatives and back with each generation learning lessons that have already been seen in the past and that will recur.

I DO think that human society is moving upward in consciousness over time. It’s just that the ascension we’re approaching is something that changes slowly over millennia. We are currently changing some things with a rapidity we’ve never seen. Communications connectivity, for example has never been higher. On the other hand, there are still sections of the world ruled by warlords where slaughter of weaker populations is a common occurrence. We’re seeing that play out in Syria and Iraq right now. It’s continually happening in parts of Africa and in Central and South America, even though it doesn’t make the news as much in our sphere.

Principles from history seem to continue to play out. Never quite the same. Never very different. A few phrases come to mind:

History repeats.

Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it.

The past is prologue. Therefore, study the past.

My suggestion for today is that we take some time to breathe. Be neither worried about our future, nor complacent about it. The pendulum is continuing to swing. The future is not a fixed point and it will continue to evolve along with us.

Study history. Keep changing into the future. Keep working the puzzle. There may be no immediate solution. Just make the next most reasonable step.

Continue.

The awake state

I am often working with students in the kung fu school on the state of being Awake. This is an internal skill that develops over time while the student is working on developing the external physical skills of whatever style they may be practicing.

The Awake state is probably somewhere between serenity, rage, and terror. If you were to draw it as a Venn Diagram with three overlapping circles representing those emotional states, you would want to be in the center. (A young Charles Xavier describes this very well to an also young Eric Magnus Lehnsherr, AKA Magneto, in X-Men: First Class and here’s a clip from YouTube… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7aEn7p4yhg )   Other emotions could be added to the diagram like Acceptance (of what is,) Curiosity, Willingness, Compassion, etc., but I think the essential point is that too calm is too calm.

Too angry is too angry. Too fearful is too fearful. Even too compassionate is too compassionate. We do need some edge, especially in the fighting disciplines. But I think this concept applies to any task requiring effort, particularly during critical moments. Clutch situations require us to access everything we know, everything we feel, and sometimes even things that we don’t know intellectually or feel emotionally or physically. In these cases, access to our intuition may make the difference between success or failure, life or death.  The clutch moment requires us to be fully awake; fully human.

The 10 habits of happy CPAs

In my many incarnations as a Big Four auditor, a controller, a consultant, and a coach, I have met and worked with hundreds of CPAs. I can report that there are all kinds of CPAs out there: some tired, bored, flustered, bossy, loud, and some – why, yes – happy! My amazing discovery is not only that happy CPAs exist (which by itself is a pretty big deal), but that they are not singularly defined by industry, job title, age or gender. Rather, what sets them apart from the rest of the grouchy crowd is what they do differently.

Here, in no particular order, are the ten things that I have consistently observed happy CPAs do. Continue reading

Connect

Question on Facebook:
How do you find peace when you are scared: do you have a mantra, prayer, process, technique? Please share…

My response:
Physically: connect to your breathing and focus on the sensation of air coming in and going out. Relax your body and release tension. Keep it simple. Mentally: connect with the present moment. The thing you fear is in the future and has not come to pass. Spiritually: connect with gratitude in the knowledge that everything that happens is ultimately the best possible thing that can happen for you whether you can perceive the benefit immediately or not.

The key word in all of this is “connect.”  Be still. And, know that you are whole.

What’s next?

I love my job.  I just finished a coaching call with a client of mine (he’s a wealth manager handling tax and investment matters) who has made a profound shift in his life.  He shared with me a story about approaching a very significant investor to invite the client to come and talk with him about his retirement portfolio.  My client was very happy with himself for doing that and it was something he expected to do more often in the future.

I asked my client what shift he had made that had allowed him to do that.  He struggled with the labeling on that shift.  Sometimes it can be difficult to put our fingers on what exactly has changed in our awareness or in our mental makeup that has enabled a new way of being for ourselves.  Doing so and giving that shift a name can help it stick and make it more lasting.  He talked me through what was different and the response was rather lengthy.  In essence, he was thinking out loud.  The description was wordy and useful in terms of processing for him, but it didn’t create clarity for either of us.  Finally, I asked him to put it in a nutshell of 8 words or less to define the shift.  His answer:  “I’m not judging myself anymore.”

What a relief that was!  Once he said that, there was the kind of giddy laughter that comes from a huge release of pressure.  The man was experiencing a new sense of freedom and I was thrilled to be there to see it happen.  What’s next for him, I wonder?  He plans to follow up on opportunities much more than he ever has.  I suspect that will only be the beginning point to what happens for him as a result of this new shift of not judging himself anymore.

So, I wonder…  What has happened for you when you’ve let go of judging yourself?  And, if judgment still has a strong hold on your life, what do you think might happen for you if you were to stop judging yourself?

What’s next?