Nanci’s Blog

The Mushroom Effect 

October 23rd, 2006

I went on a retreat three weeks ago in northern Scotland, hence my tardiness in keeping up with BLOG entries. Had to finish up stuff before I left and on my return, there has been a lot to think about and process based on realizations and experiences there.

We were a group of thirteen plus two ‘focalisers’, what we would call group facilitators or leaders. The entire focus of the week was on doing things with intent and being in tune with the environment, yourself and co-workers i.e. being present. All it takes is a few seconds of closing your eyes, focusing on your breath, bringing your attention to the present moment and keeping it there while you were doing a task; whether it was vacuuming the hall, picking apples, scrubbing potatoes or listening to others share their experiences.

On one afternoon, we went on a nature outing along the river. The rivers in this part of Scotland are very unusual in that they are almost completely black due to the peat in the water which gives the whisky its particular flavor. The foam at the bottom of the rapids was a pale cream color and gazing from the top of the banks, it looked like a river of Guinness or Coca Cola thundering past. Completely amazing!

We had two hours to wander around on our own (and ‘be present’) and while walking through the woods, I came across a field of mushrooms. They had pointy caps like gnome hats and were bright yellow with brown flecks. They stood below a low hanging branch of a tree like sentinels guarding the trunk, surrounded by a carpet of orange, yellow and brown autumn leaves. There were literally hundreds of them and as I stood there, a thought started unfolding.

I don’t know if you have much experience with mushrooms but they don’t pop out of the ground as tiny mushrooms and then start growing. They actually grow underground to their ‘full size’ and when the conditions are right, they pop up in their entirety. The whole bang lot in one go—in the right place, at the right size, color, thickness, proximity to each other. So, you could be walking past that spot right now and there would be no mushrooms. Walk past that spot tomorrow and lo and behold, hundreds of mushrooms; giving one pause to ponder, “Where did they suddenly come from?” or “Was it there yesterday and did I miss it?”

Well, they were not there yesterday, at least not visible to the eye. They were busy developing and growing underground and when the conditions were ‘perfect” (humidity, temperature, wind, light, soil moisture content etc.) they manifested. Boom, out the ground!!!

The point of this story is not to encourage you to take up mushroom farming. Bear with me. My thought process continued. I suddenly realized that this is exactly how life is. We plan, study, create, develop, invest, work out and often we cannot see immediate effects of what’s going on and then one day, it happens. You get the job you want, you find the perfect house and the mortgage comes through, you meet your partner, you are ten pounds lighter. Stuff happens. But again, only when the conditions are ‘perfect’. Everything needs to be in its place exactly like for the mushrooms. A bit too warm, too wet, too cold–they just won’t show up.

I then asked myself, “What conditions do I need to create to manifest my dreams and desires?” I took the focus off the goal and instead brought the focus closer, to myself. What are some things that are not ‘perfect’ in my life and are precluding me from manifesting my dreams? Are my daily thoughts mainly positive or negative ones? What knowledge or skills do I need to develop right now? Do I feel ‘in charge’ of my life or ‘a victim’ of life’s circumstances? What opportunities to be more compassionate and kind to others am I missing? Do I see abundance or scarcity around me? Do I see a world of hatred or a world of people struggling to be loved? And most importantly, what am I going to do about it? You see, whatever picture of the world I currently hold, is the world that I am going to create.

What ‘perfect’ conditions do you need to create in your life in order to manifest your dreams and desires?

“Trust is the link between the mental world and the physical world. It provides continuity during the time that elapses between the conception of an idea and its manifestation. Realize that your dreams are already real on the mental plane; they are just waiting for the perfect time to appear in your physical reality.” [Orin, by Sanaya Roman in “Creating Money and Abundance”]

Work-Life Balance—A Myth? 

August 25th, 2006

Whenever I address a group of professionals, the issue of work-life balance always crops up as an area that people want to improve. What is work-life balance–what does it mean to you? Does this exist? Who is responsible for creating this?

When changes occur in your work life or circumstances, they will invariably affect your home life. To expect or imagine otherwise is naïve. Often we grasp new opportunities which appear exciting and filled with all kinds of promise without really envisaging the impact that this will have on our home lives. We may think of the extra commute if we change our place of work, the extra travel or responsibilities and very quickly come up with all kinds of justifications for this newly-earned nirvana. But after a few weeks or months when the initial euphoria wears off we wonder, “What have I done? Is this worth it? I never get to see my family anymore.” These are silent entreaties of course, as we are never going to openly admit that we did not foresee the complexities this new opportunity brought with it.

The good news is that no matter how you much you think it through and plan for it, life has a way of throwing the odd ball at us which carves up the neat field that we have laid out. An unexpected merger, a new boss, divestment of a division, product recalls, new legislation are just some of the things that we are not ready for. Given all of this, what can you do?

Firstly, you have to understand what ‘work-life balance’ means for you. Does it mean that you are home every night for family suppers, that you spend 2 hours per night with your children, that weekends are free, that you only do emails once everyone has gone to bed? Work-life balance means different things to different people and it’s crucial that you understand what this means for you. Because you are the only one that can create it for yourself. Not your boss, not your company, not your spouse—–just YOU.

Sometimes we try to aspire to achieve something normal. One of my favorite quotes:

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”

[Ellen DeGeneres]

So, how can you introduce balance in your life?

On a personal level, I believe that work-life balance is a state of mind. It’s not the amount of time that you get to spend off work or with your family; it’s what you do with your time and how you feel while doing it. By this I mean that if you feel engaged and energized while at work or at play, then you don’t need ‘down-time.’

1. Be present. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book “Flow” describes how people get more satisfaction and meaning when they are fully engaged in a task–when they are in ‘flow.’ You know how sometimes you are in the midst of something and time just seems to pass? Then you were in flow. Try to introduce this into as many activities as you can during your day.

I know that many of us have myriads of things to do everyday but if we just focus completely on the task at hand rather than being distracted by the list or the next thing on the list, we will reduce our state of mental exhaustion and stress. So, be ‘present’ (give your full attention) to whatever you are doing—whether you are in a meeting, writing a report, talking to a colleague, playing with your children, having dinner with your spouse. Do not let your mind wander to the ‘next thing’ to do. We are so busy focusing on the ‘next thing’ that generally we don’t enjoy what we are presently engaged in, which was the ‘next thing’ of the previous thing that we were distracted from. Life then becomes a series of ‘next things,’ perhaps explaining why we don’t have a sense of accomplishment and meaning at the end of the day, and keep seeking.

2. Make changes to your routine. Sticking to ‘traditions’ like daily family suppers may not be possible for you at this stage of your life. Instead of feeling guilty, accept it. Speak to your family about what is going on in your life and work out a plan with them. Perhaps you are now home for dinner two nights a week and decide to spend every Saturday afternoon between 2-4pm engaged in some activity just with your kids or spouse. There are loads of solutions out there. You need to look at what you are doing, why you are doing it and what changes you can introduce. These changes don’t have to be permanent. When things free up for you, make adjustments accordingly. Go with the flow.

3. Make time for yourself. It is vital that you find time to do things just for yourself such as walking, biking, gym, yoga, swimming, jogging, or dancing (you can do this with your partner too!)—anything that you enjoy. Doing something physical (it does not have to be strenuous) a few times a week calms the mind. Really try to find an activity that you enjoy as the chances are greater that you will stick to it. Don’t promise yourself to go to the gym just because that seems to be the thing to do. In addition, do things to indulge yourself— take art classes, singing lessons, go for a spa treatment, a massage. These so-called indulgences remove stress from your life and celebrate who you are, and in so doing, introduce a sense of balance and well-being.

4. Let go of some things. We tend to introduce more and more stuff into our lives without examining what we need to let go of. If you have a heavy travel schedule, then ensure that the weekend is not filled with activities. If you are working under pressure, don’t have social engagements during the week. Look at some of the things that you still have in your life and ask yourself why you are still doing them. Afraid of not being liked, not being invited again, called boring?? I am not suggesting giving up things permanently but make sure that you have ‘white space’ in your calendar. When someone shows me a full calendar I don’t think, “Wow, what a busy person,” but rather, “Wow, what a needy person.” Delegate, outsource, get rid of, say ‘no’; do whatever it takes to create space for yourself.
Here’s a challenge for you: Say ‘no’ to one thing each day for the next seven days.

5. Get help. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things become just a bit too much and we feel trapped, despairing and overwhelmed. At times like this, a friendly ear or a helping hand is invaluable. Find yourself a mentor (within or outside your company) or get a coach to help you through those tough times.

True work-life balance means not feeling stressed and under pressure. It’s enjoying your life and work, feeling calm and in control of things, and knowing that you have the space if new things show up for you.

Go create it.

What One Person Can Do 

August 10th, 2006

In recent weeks at al fresco dinners and barbecues, discussions focused on the state of the world from politics, to AIDS, poverty, the weather etc. While some of them have been lively and insightful, inevitably someone in the group would say, “Well, we cannot change the world,” or something to that effect. My response is always, “You are right. You cannot change the world but you can change your world and in that way influence the world.”

With the many wars going on, corruption, poverty, and escalating deaths through AIDS and famine, it is understandable that we feel overwhelmed and despairing sometimes–as if life is taking us over rather than us being in the driving seat. But there is something that we can do about it. We can start by making changes in our world.

These don’t need to be monumental efforts taking hours of our time or huge amounts of money. They can be simple acts of courteousness, compassion and caring. For example:

1. Take someone that you don’t get on with at the office a drink/chocolate bar/fruit and wish them a good day.
2. When driving to or from work, make no rude comments to the drivers or cars around you. Give them space to pass or move in front of you and smile and wave.
3. Give someone a compliment–especially someone that you know that suffers from low self-confidence and self-esteem. Help them see their true potential.
4. Make one day about other people and not about you. Don’t focus on your needs or wants or desires but focus on how you can help others. Just for one day.
5. Monitor your thoughts for fifteen minutes and note how many self-defeating and negative thoughts you have. Change them.

If you are wondering how any of this is going to remedy any of the ills of the world, well by engaging in any act of kindness or having positive thoughts you will reduce the amount of fear and despair in the world by getting rid of your fear for just a moment. Yes, you. Just one person. In just one moment.

This beautiful story illustrates the power of one person:
An old man is walking along the beach and he sees a young man picking up small objects and throwing them into the ocean. He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.” “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled old man. To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” Upon hearing this, the old man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!” At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

Yes, we can all make a difference. Look around you and see what you can do to make a difference today. The world is not something that happens to us, it’s something that we constantly choose and create. Decide what kind of world you want to live in. Then start creating it. For example if you want a peaceful world, how can you bring peace in your life? If you want a world filled with kindness and generosity, how can you introduce these into your life? If you want an eco-friendly planet, what are you doing in your life to ensure this?

It all starts with us, not with others. We need to start making changes in our thinking, awareness and actions–that’s where and how the world is going to start to change. Lao-tzu, the Chinese philosopher said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

What step are you willing to take today? Remember, all it takes is one person.

Democracy - Is there an alternative? 

July 25th, 2006

The Middle East has been back in the news (or did it not leave?) for the past week with the bombings in southern Lebanon. As usual the news is filled with analysts’ views as to the cause of the problem and potential solutions. Western world leaders have shared their opinions too about a democratic solution to the Middle East crisis.

What we, in the western world, often tend to forget is that it took literally hundreds of years for the form of democracy we know today to emerge. This was not an overnight process. And yet we expect countries in the Middle East and other parts of the world to become democracies just because we ‘know’ that this is the best solution. I sense a certain arrogance and moral rectitude behind this kind of thinking.

Have we even paused to think that a democratic solution is not something that may work in all parts of the world? While democracy ‘works’ in many countries, is it really the best solution for governing people? Some say that it’s the best we have today. I challenge this view because if we continue thinking along these lines we are never going to discover a better way of governing if we just sit back and accept that this is as good as it gets. Let’s face it; democracy has not prevented war, famine, poverty or disease from pervading this planet.

What is democracy anyway? The right to vote, the right to choose, the right to live freely? When I ask people what it is that they truly want in their lives, I am often met with silence. For those that can articulate something, I ask if they have a clear plan of action, the resources and commitment to make it happen and a timeline for achieving it; and the answer is often ‘no.’ So, if we are unclear as to what it is we want for ourselves, how can a democracy or any other form of government give it to us? Have we absconded part of our responsibility for our lives to our governments by asking them to take care of us and make decisions on our behalf?

Do not misunderstand me–I am not against democracy or a supporter of any oppressive system such as communism or dictatorships. What I am questioning is our passive acceptance that this is the best form of government available today and our self-righteous views and opinions of those who do not adopt this method of governing. Now, I don’t have an alternative solution for governments but what I do have is the way that I choose to govern my life. For me, that’s a more plausible and manageable place to start making a difference. Once I feel truly free (of other’s opinions, expectations, need to prove myself, owning things, fears etc.), then I have no need for a government at all or perhaps this will lead to a new form of governing.

Maybe one day we will become a self-governing planet with no leaders as we all take responsibility for living our lives purposefully and with integrity. Some may shrug this off as being idealistic, but it has been less than a decade since the internet and the mobile phone have become part of our lives. Anything is possible–all we need to do is show a willingness to be open to it.

An article by Thomas Friedman in the International Herald Tribune, 15 July 2006, inspired this writing.

Differences vs Similarities 

July 11th, 2006

For the past six months, Arcelor and Mittal Steel have been in the news. Mittal Steel, an Indian steel company made a hostile bid for Arcelor, a French steel company. During negotiations, things got ugly with Arcelor’s management calling Mittal [an Indian company run by Indian monkeys] and inferred that Mittal Steel made money through unscrupulous means. Arcelor then turned to a Russian steel company and planned to merge with them as they wanted to merge with a ‘truly European’ company.
After the announcement of the merger, Arcelor’s shareholders decided that they were not getting a good return on investment with the Russian deal and voted to go with Mittal instead. At the end of the day, Arcelor got both a lucrative deal and some of the prime management posts (CEO).
Here’s the thing, how would this entire deal and negotiations have been different if Arcelor initially looked for similarities with Mittal? Intrinsically, they are both steel companies which should have given them common ground to work with. But rather than focusing on the business benefits of merging the two companies, Arcelor’s management decided to focus almost entirely on the cultural differences–Indian versus French. The fact that Mittal is London-based, is one of the top five wealthiest people on the planet and is an erudite businessman, did not enter into the discussions.
How often do we behave in this manner? How would our lives and the state of this planet be different if we saw others first as people, with the same needs, desires and fears that we have, before labeling them through gender, nationality, size, height, hair color, eye color, dress etc? There are many books and courses on cultural differences and diversity. I think we should spend more time focusing on similarities. This will enable us to show less judgment and more understanding and compassion to others when we realize that in essence, they are merely extensions of ourselves.
Is there someone at work or a department that you view as different from you or your department? How would your relationship, method of working and results be different if you focused on what you had in common?




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