Shifting Focus

Taking clients and students on peak ascents is a wonderful experience. First there is the  preparation, pulling equipment together, packing what is truly necessary and paring down what is not.  Then there is the emotional and mental readying for what is to come, perhaps the ascent will be extremely physical or involve dealing with fears and anxieties. Finally, the trailhead is reached and the excitement of what is about to begin; the weight of the pack settles into the shoulders, the smell of the forest fills nostrils and the crisp air provides a sense of freedom and anticipation. The toil begins, onwards, upwards, step by step, height is gained, views increase, nature becomes more stark, there is a proximity to the clouds that induces a closeness to higher power, and so it goes on. If the planets are aligned then a peak is reached, the world opens up under our feet and a sense of euphoria sweeps us up.

This though is often when the real work begins, tired, emotionally spent we have to descend with the accompanying tightness in the knees, the proneness to day dreaming and the exposure of facing out and down. This is often the time when fears are outed and it is usually compounded by having to negotiate steep, loose ground. There have been a number of times when someone in my group has frozen, deciding that they are not up to the task. Their skittering feet and the potential of the fall mapped out clearly below them stops them in their tracks. This is when the plea of, “I can’t do it, I can’t go on” really is not an option. There is no turning back and making it go away. So how does one deal with it?

My usual response is to pull out two flat rocks and place them on the back of the hands of the person struggling. I will model how to walk down hill balancing these friends. Immediately, my knees bend, my butt closer to the ground, legs acting as shock absorbers, back straight, hands in front, poised like an extreme skier. This is the ideal posture for negotiating such terrain, feet stick and if they do not, then the loose screes can be surfed. For the mentally drained, focus turns to the back of the hands, the distant view becoming blurred, like a shifted aperture on a camera. While the location is still obvious they disassociate from it and it no longer occupies the prevalent place in their mind, they are disconnected from their fear, they do not worry about their feet or the fall, they think about balancing the rocks. The result is truly magical, fear is replaced by drive, confidence comes from practice and the descent is safely navigated. Accomplishment is the order of the day

If you are feeling overwhelmed, and you are freezing up, what can you do to refocus? By shifting the emphasis to a small seemingly insignificant detail can you replace anxiety with elation? Good luck.


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What do you stand for?

What is it most of us really want from work? We would like to find the most effective, most productive, most rewarding way of working together. We would like to know that our work process uses all of the appropriate and pertinent resources: human, physical, financial. We would like a work process and relationships that meet our personal needs for belonging, for contributing, for meaningful work, for the opportunity to make a commitment, for the opportunity to grow and be at least reasonably in control of our own destinies. Finally, we’d like someone to say “Thank you!”
Max Depree

Max DePree wrote a book called Leadership is an Art and the warmth and wisdom it contains leaves me nodding my head in agreement every page I turn. It is eloquent and tackles real issues head on, in fact President Bill Clinton calls it “astonishing”. The thing this book makes me do is read, re-read and think.

Here is what I am reminded of – I will only find the job that I truly want when I truly know what I want. Each time I edit my resume I am taken a little closer as I am that much clearer in my own mind of what it is I am looking for. The less often I edit my resume to fit a job and instead send the resume that describes the me I want to be the more likely I am to find the work that will leave me truly satisfied. The most important thing is to find a job and organization that aligns with my vision and beliefs – I had better know what they are.

In the words of a new friend, Stu Cabe, “what do you stand for?”

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Networking: Opening Lines of Communication

“Si hoc legere scis nimium eruditionis habes”

This morning as I was walking Cai to school, he started a conversation on languages and I was reminded of a story.

Around my 17th birthday I was hitch-hiking through Europe stopping at various climbing venues. For part of the journey I was accompanied by a friend. Somewhere in the middle of France we were picked up by an Italian in a VW Bug, neither Tom or myself spoke Italian and so we were expecting the next few hours to be a rather confusing mix of feeling rude and exasperated. I do not know why but when our benefactor tried conversing one of us responded in Latin. Being the product of English private education we had been brought up on a diet of dead language and had received many homework assignments translating vast passages of the original Cicero, Lucretius, Horace and Vergil. All of these were dished out by fusty old men in capes and mortar boards, sat at heavy oak desks carved with graffiti from the 19th Century (I kid you not).

Now let me make it clear that they are not the same language and yet they are suitably similar that we were able to understand one another. The atmosphere in the car lifted and all three of us became excited by the opportunity to talk; if only in a somewhat confusing melee. The great thing though is that we heard each others’ stories and parted as friends even if somewhat fleetingly.

This brings me to my point. How often do we see barriers to communication? How often do we just not make the effort because it does not seem like it is possible or worthwhile? How often do we let opportunities to connect slide by?

In this job market, networking is the going to be the biggest source of real job leads. How are you going to bridge the gap, make meaningful connections and find the hidden gems out there?

Oh and the approximate meaning of the Latin quote – “If you understand this you are over educated.”

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Lessons in Stone

Once upon a time I was a rock climber, every spare minute I had was spent caressing stone with my fingers and feet. Each year I gained strength and improved technique and slowly but surely became better, a little more graceful and fluid.

Often I was to be found in a valley in North Wales called the Llanberis Pass, it is my Mecca and if you see me kneeling and facing East you will know why; I am prostrating myself to the memory of a youth well spent, of excitement, vitality and a tribe of misfits who described an incredible dance amongst spires and monoliths. Truly, this was an inspiring time and place that spawned art, literature, teachers and leaders and I am forever grateful for my involvement.

The “Pass” is a majestic haven, rock walls sprout each and every way; covered in colorful specks, linked by rainbow lines and emitting the echoing call of “watch me”. At the bottom of the valley are some boulders, these also have a colorful history involving dynamite and a desire to build a road but that is not part of this story. For ten years I came often to the boulders, I warmed up there if going up to the cliffs and I was happy to spend a whole day there if alone, alternating between hanging off the smallest holds I could pull on and lying in the stream to cool off. During those ten years I approached a particular boulder problem and was spat out, failing to gain even a few feet. It haunted me, I watched others do it and wanted it to be me grasping that final hold but each time all I realized was failure.

Then one day I read a book called Performance Rock Climbing, it is a wonderful training book and there were two things that really spoke to me. The authors suggested that you train your weaknesses and play to your strengths and they taught the art of visualization.

A few days later I was back, I put on my shoes about to throw myself at the problem again when I stopped and thought about what I had read. Off came the shoes and I sat down in the dirt looking up at the problem. What were my strengths? I looked at that piece of rock with new eyes, each hold was a piece of a jigsaw. Where I had once tried to pull on small crimps, I recognized that an uncomfortable pocket might work well with my ability to undercut. My sausage fingers were not so suited to the crystal edges but with momentum might give me sufficient purchase to latch something a little more substantial above. I then closed my eyes and pictured myself holding that final hold and I filled myself with the sensations I had felt when winning a recent race.

Methodically I put on my shoes again and tightened the laces, I stood up and the rest was a blur. 20 seconds later I was on top. Ten years and 20 seconds. Was anything different? Was I stronger? Had my technique improved?

Ultimately, I was still the same person that I was before reading the book, what had changed was the way I thought about the situation.

I have held on to this lesson. Train your weaknesses, play to your strengths and learn to visualize yourself being successful. The rest takes care of itself.

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Escaping the “But” Cycle

On Wednesday mornings I go to Coach Joan‘s Career Café; it is a supportive place where I gain insights into my own behaviors and how they are either aiding or slowing my job search. Like many who work with people I am far more adept at helping other folk to create change in their life than I am at taking a good hard look at myself so I appreciate this opportunity to reflect on my stuff in a “safe place”.

Today though I had an opportunity to pass on a little insight in a digestible way – that is after all what I do. I was listening to the conversations around the table and there was a general air of defensiveness. How do I qualify this? In one word, “but”.

As a job seeker I am guilty as charged. That little, three letter word sneaks into my conversation and literally smacks people around the head saying, “run away, unless you want an unhealthy dose of negativity.” I do not know of many other words that are quite as destructive and certainly if you are in an interview situation it is wise to think about it’s impact.

What I asked the group to do is an old improv game and I encourage you to find a few friends and do the same.

Have someone start with a short statement, ours was “Oprah is the best talk show host”. Now, in round robin order people follow on from the previous statement starting with the words “yes… but”. It is important to keep this quick fire. After a few minutes adapt the game with each person now starting with “yes… and”.

Do you notice that the energy levels go up in the group when the word “but” is replaced by “and”? Why is this? Does it happen in other situations? Why does it happen and how can we use this information in our daily dealings with people?

If you need more convincing go into an elementary school yard and watch the younger children play.

“I am going to be a spaceman.” “Yes and I am going to be a scuba diver.” Look how the kids interact with each other and the energy they create.

Everyone left the café laughing today and they left thinking and they will change their behavior and they will benefit from it.

Games rule, “buts” stink.

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Making Lemonade From Lemons

A few years ago my wife Kimberly taught me a good lesson. I was lopping some trees in our yard to make a swing for Cai. Kimberly advised me against cutting a particular limb the way I was and following perfectly felling the previous one I ignored her. Inevitably she was right and the weight of the tree took out the railing of our deck. I was distraught; firstly because I was seeing dollars fleeing the confines of my wallet and secondly my pride had suffered a blow far more substantial than any I had delivered to the tree.

Kimberly calmly suggested we make lemonade out of lemons and consequently with a little ingenuity Cai not only gained a swing he was also soon master of a frigate with rigging up to the ship’s wheel and a slide to leave the deck.

This year has been an interesting one. Following leaving my job and Alaska (where we were somewhat sheltered from the economy) in the summer I have been surprised to find that gaining a new job is not as simple as I initially thought. Over the holiday season we did not have the expendable income we once had and the potential for the festive season to not be quite so merry has been a very real threat. The solution (for me) has been to acquire the keys to the woodwork shop at Cai’s school and some wood from Habitat for Humanity. Cai is now the proud owner of a castle and Kim, well she was awarded a wooden spoon. The thing is that both these presents are probably some of the best I have given, the love and energy that went into them far exceeded the last minute gift I might have bought if I was working 60 or more hours a week. Also, I was able to take Cai into the shop and he helped carve Kim’s spoon. Watching a piece of old dirty wood turn into something beautiful as he uncovered the layers was a wonderful metaphor that was not lost on him.

So some of the things I have gained form not working is spending a lot of quality time with Cai; we walk, bike and go to the museum together. We have become more frugal and thoughtful with our resources. We have come to appreciate the little things a lot more and we plan things out as a family more consistently.

These may be tough times and there may be lots of lemons but the real question is what is your lemonade?

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