Hunter S. Thomspson - Life Coach?

The role of a coach isn’t about providing advice, unless that advice helps people find their own answers. Hunter S. Thompson, at the tender age of 20, seemed to understand this perfectly, as shown in this wise and entertaining letter he wrote to a friend, whom had asked him for advice on life.

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"And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you've ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don't see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect—between the two things I've mentioned: the floating or the swimming."

Personally, as someone who has both “floated with the tide” and “swam for a goal” at various points, I wish I had seen this letter earlier in my life. Considering the time of year, spring time with college graduations in full bloom, may I suggest you share it with any young people you know starting out in life, or maybe people a few years (or even many years) from life’s starting line, still floating or worse, drifting. 

Read the full letter here.

It’s never too late.

A toast ...

A few years past at a going away party for a close colleague, who had worked for me for 10+ years, I made a toast.  In it, I told the story of how I hired him with one role in mind, but quickly realized, he had so much more potential, ambition and competence for what he was hired for.  I then stated, half-jokingly, I faced a choice so many managers come to face with a high-performing team member.  Either be threatened by their abilities and sideline them, in the myriad ways so many poor managers do, before they “make me look bad”. Or, appreciate and promote those qualities, collaborate, and accomplish great work together.

Fortunately, I chose the latter.

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After the toast several people came up to me, with a wink and a nod, thanking me for those words, and mentioned how several of our more senior colleagues looked nervous and weren’t laughing during what I took as a humorous anecdote.

I hadn’t noticed, but found it interesting.

Often people rise in their careers and organizations because they have ALL the answers.  They are the experts.  At some point though, to quote Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”  It reminds me of what one of my mentors once told me early in my career.  She asked how was it she could manage and lead such a diverse group of people, with diverse areas of expertise, when she didn’t have experience in those areas.  She said, it was because they had the answers and she had the right questions.

Being humble enough to know you don’t have the answers, confident enough to admit it, and curious enough to ask questions goes a long way.

Thx for reading.

As always, interested in hearing your thoughts and continuing the conversation

Bill

Appreciating the Present Moment

I recently returned from three weeks in Peru, more specifically three weeks in the jungle at Mayantuyacu, a plant medicine center.  A place one visitor described as part hospital, part school and part spa – a good description.  This was my fourth visit and longest stay, as I had more time, due to finally concluding my long tenure at The Atlantic Philanthropies.

My interest in Amazonian plant medicines started back in 2012 and has fed a spiritual thirst I never knew I had, which I’ve written about in the past.  Early in 2017 that thirst grew even more, as I faced some challenging times personally.  At that time, I began a meditation practice along with a good deal of reading about mindfulness and Buddhism.  I found the two paths complimentary, as the more articulated philosophies of mindfulness filled in the blanks of the mysterious and subtle ways the Amazonian plants have worked for me.

 Making friends ...

Making friends ...

It is fascinating, experiencing in myself and observing in others the challenges spending time at Mayantuyacu poses for people.  They can be deep and profound, such as re-evaluating your life and the relationships in it.  Or they can be subtle, such as battling one’s ego and needing to analyze and control the experience. Or, finally, they can be quite simple, such as learning to live with discomfort (so many little insect bites and a terrifically damp mattress to sleep in every night!), learning to be grateful for a bland diet (more quinoa and lentils please!) and overcoming the desire for a busy schedule (accepting the slower pace of just being)

 Mayantuyacu

Mayantuyacu

For me, the main learning was really a feeling as compared to a thought.  It was the feeling of presence, of being in the moment, not caught up in memories from the past or worries about the future. I was experiencing each present moment for what it was. I swung in a hammock, staring at the thatched roof of the malocha, totally aware and following each swing, back and forth.  Each conversation I had, no matter how long or short, I was present for, present for the other person and present for myself.  When I hiked the path along the river, over wet rocks and moss, I walked aware of each step, and then the next step, and then the next.

 Just breathe ...

Just breathe ...

It felt like peace, actually it was peace, and it’s something I am going to try to carry inside me with each new step I take.

 

Have YOU rebooted lately?

As I write this, I am in a single digit countdown of days, at the organization I’ve worked with for twenty plus years, The Atlantic Philanthropies.  A long-time colleague stops by my office to ask for assistance with a minor technology issue she’s having.  I help her with it, as it turns out, the solution is to reboot her computer.  I jokingly tell her that in twenty-plus years a lot has changed, but one thing remains constant, a good reboot fixes a lot of issues.

On a computer, a reboot clears out and refreshes elements of the system, so it may start anew.  It allows the computer to start doing what it does, with less baggage and patterns stored in its working memory, as well as possibly some corrupted logic.  I think this holds true for people as well.

As I embark on this next phase, I’ve reflected on the reboots I’ve had in my life, the new energy and excitement they bring, along with the unknown and uncertainty.  So far, they have served me well.

I am grateful for my long tenure at Atlantic, as it is one of the more unique organizations in the world. It has been a blessing being part of that story and its mission, working with such a smart, interesting and diverse group of people, and having many opportunities to grow over the years.

Now it’s time for the reboot.

Starting in 2018 I will be dedicating myself full-time to my coaching practice at Human42 and exploring other opportunities as they arise.  I am both energized and excited by it all, and looking forward to the future.

Thanks for sharing this ride with me, it is very appreciated!

p.s. – have YOU rebooted lately? 😉

Bill

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

When I launched Human42 a few years ago, I recall talking to a friend of mine, who happens to be a rockstar/creative/philosopher, with a sharp intellect and wide range of interests.  One of them happens to be the occult.  In seeing my logo and discussing what it meant to me, he commented, “It looks like a sigil.”

I had never heard of a sigil before - which is why I like having friends who are rockstar/creative/philosophers, because you never know what you will learn from them next.

“A sigil (from Latin sigillum "seal") is a symbol used in magic. The term has usually referred to a type of pictorial signature of a demon or other entity; in modern usage, especially in the context of chaos magic, it refers to a symbolic representation of the magician's desired outcome.” – Wikipedia

The Human42 logo is based on the alchemical symbol for the planet Jupiter, with a human face blended in.

When people see the Jupiter symbol, they often see the number 24, which is the mirror opposite of 42. I like that.  If you look at the Jupiter symbol with a slightly different perspective, it is not hard to see it as 42 though.

That change in perspective, or looking in the mirror, is a lot like what happens in a coaching engagement.  A good coach can help you see yourself and your situation in a different way, via a different perspective, but one that is still yours.

And when you change your perspective, you change your reality, which changes everything.

If you'd like to explore sigils further, click here.

To further our conversation, click here.

Thanks for reading!! - Bill

Predicting Your Future

When I was 18 years old, at his request, I took my grandfather, Gaetano, to the fortune teller in Coney Island.   He was becoming paranoid about the racketeers in his neighborhood, whom he thought meant to do him harm, due to their jealousy of his house, an old brownstone in South Brooklyn.  As he said in his heavily accented English, “it was the best house on the block, best block in the neighborhood, best neighborhood in the city, best city in the country, best country in the world.”

The fortune teller seemed happy to confirm his unfounded fears, for a price – my job seemed to be to limit the price.  In the end, there weren’t really any racketeers out to get him.  He was growing old and lonely, and letting his worries get the better of him.  We moved him in with our family and surrounded him with a lot of love, which seemed to make the fears go away.

These days I notice fortune teller or psychic shops spread all across the city, particularly in the high-rent neighborhoods and wonder how they afford the rent.  I imagine them holding sway over the city’s landlords and promising bad times unless they get a good deal, though I’m pretty sure it is something much simpler, the fact that there is a market for their services, because people tend to worry about their future.

One of my favorite pieces of advice is “don’t go meeting trouble half way” – which means don’t worry about bad things, out in the future which may never happen and we can’t control.  I try to live that way, I try to live in the present and be grateful for the moment, but like anyone I have my moments too.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” - Peter Drucker

Is it possible to be too present and never envision what your future self might look like? Do you take time to picture the future life you want and then take steps leading you in that direction, to your future self?  It can be hard. Taking big bold steps can be scary. Taking little steps, with no easily seen, tangible benefits, towards an uncertain future goal can be frustrating. Both scenarios often stop people from ever starting, if that first step isn’t taken, you will never arrive, but if you start now, you will arrive sooner.

I am going to continue to try and balance being present, and grateful for my life, while also taking steps towards my future self.  I’d love to hear from you on how you travel this path and if I can help.

po·co a po·co

adds up to a lot

 

Create Warmth When the World Gets Cold

Next week I am heading to Chicago to visit a client and catch up with a few friends.  Since I booked the trip I find myself nervously checking the weather app on my phone, seeing the frigid temperatures and almost feeling the cold before I get there.

Being a native New Yorker, I am used to cold winters – but something about the extreme cold scares me.  It’s all relative I guess.  It's the similar chilling apprehension I get when my friends in Winnipeg invite me to visit them in the winter, with their 20 degree below days and nights.  They reassure me it will be great, because they are really good at creating warmth.  I received a similar promise from my friend in Chicago, the promise of a fireplace to catch-up by.

I like the idea of creating warmth, not just during winter or the holiday season, but always, particularly now with the world feeling for many like it is speeding up into an ever more uncertain place.  Creating warmth is needed, literally and figuratively, in the spaces we occupy and in our hearts for others.

With that in mind I want to wish you all a happy holiday season and a beautiful new year!

Much love,

Bill

Dreamers

As I sat on the floor of the Lynx Lodge at Tonkiri, nestled in a whispering forest in a remote part of Canada, I couldn’t escape the feeling I was in someone else’s dream. The construction of the lodge, a big attractive structure with high ceilings and large windows looking out into the forest, had just been completed.  I was visiting for the week, for vacation, to rest and see friends, for reflection and healing and to soak up the peace that comes with spending time in nature.

A dozen or so people were in the lodge as well, taking part in a plant medicine ceremony.  As improbable as my participation, in particular my singing, felt to me, the fact that the place even existed pushed me out of my pragmatist comfort zone.  This retreat center was my friend Jim’s dream and it was becoming a reality.  It was a vision he had for years, to connect indigenous communities from different parts of the world together, to offer healing to people in need and to ultimately bring peace to the world.  It was a vision I supported wholeheartedly, but my inner common-sense compass was also quick to recognize all the challenges he faced.

 Jim, harvesting plants from which to make medicine with.

Jim, harvesting plants from which to make medicine with.

This experience had me thinking about the wide range of lenses we see our lives and the world through.  There are the dreamers and visionaries, whose faith drives them forward.  Then there are the pragmatists, who might take a more cautious approach to change and progress.  And finally, there are the folks who get stopped by self-limiting beliefs, who can only see false horizons, ceilings to their own happiness and all the reasons something cannot work out.  All of us have these different lenses and see the world through varying combinations of them.

Personally, I am very much the optimist, but can also be fairly pragmatic.  It might be why I like to spend so much time with dreamers and visionaries, as they inspire me.  It also might be why I enjoy coaching people with those qualities, I get to spend time in their dreams, watching them come true.

How about you?  Where do you fall along these lines?  Who helps you push past your limiting beliefs to achieve your vision?  Who acts as a sounding board when your vision isn’t clear?

As always, thanks for reading - Bill

Well, how did I get here?

In 2003 I traveled to Hanoi to help open our organization’s office there.  I returned from that trip a different person.

When I left for the trip, I was married with three adolescent sons, living in a large, beautiful home in an affluent suburb.  I had been successful the last several years, first with my own technology consulting business and then taking a position at The Atlantic Philanthropies, as Director of Information Technology.  Atlantic was in a growth phase and opening offices around the world.

I had a healthy family that I loved and a career that was hitting its high point.  I should have been very happy, but still, something didn't feel right.

Before I left for the trip I had finished a book called Affluenza (a play on the words affluence and influenza), which had left me with an uneasy feeling about my life, but nothing so strong as to make me change it.  Affluenza’s proposition defines the epidemic as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more."

In Vietnam, besides the shock of visiting a new culture in the east, I found the juxtaposition of how people were living there, as compared to how I was living, dramatic.   Over there, everything felt simpler, more real, not to mention dirtier and riskier.  The noise and smells of the cities brought energy and optimism, the beauty of the land brought calmness. I liked it.

I returned home to what I call my David Byrne moment.

And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?"– Once in a Lifetime, The Talking Heads.

Something in me had changed and it took me a few years to process it.  It took time to ask myself the right questions and explore what I really wanted out of this one life.  Also, to find the courage to course correct and change the elements of my life which weren't aligned with my values and passion.  I made it though.

Recently, while telling this story, someone pointed out to me the slight similarity of these feelings to Chuck Feeney's story, the man behind the organization I worked at for many years, the billionaire who gave it all away.  While my story is not nearly as dramatic, nor do I have large sums of money to give, I understood what they meant.

At some point in life you arrive at a place you thought you were supposed to get to and become the person in that place, but what if upon arrival you find it unsatisfying in some way. What do you do then?  With this one life? Your life.

 

 

Re-Creativity

Over the past week I’ve had several conversations about creativity, in one’s career and in one’s life. The first was with a new client who works in the field of web design. She’s had success working for large organizations as well as with her own consulting firm, and yet, with each successful iteration of her professional life she continues to feel a strong desire to change and adapt her career to the moment. 

As we were speaking about a new change she was about to undertake, she admitted her current situation was going very well and she could stay the course, if not for this ongoing desire for new challenges and being part of something bigger.

She added with a smile, “Well, you know I’m a part of the creative class.” 

To which I replied, “Or the Re-Creative Class?”

“Did you just make that up? You should write about that,” she said.

So I am.

“Live out your imagination, not your history.” — Stephen Covey

According to the social scientist, Richard Florida, the Creative Class is a key driving force for the socioeconomic development of post-industrial cities in the United States.

The Creative Class is made up of two broad groupings, the Super-Creative Core which features a wide range of occupations (e.g. science, engineering, education, computer programming, and research), of which arts, design, and media workers form a small subset. The other group is Creative Professionals: these professionals are the classic knowledge-based workers and includes those working in healthcare, business and finance, the legal sector, and education. 

The next two conversations were with senior managers at two different organizations, first a current client and the second a prospective client. One had recently lost his job when he didn’t see the tides of his organization turning and as a result, didn’t adapt his way of doing business. The other was having success, but was not feeling fulfilled and was struggling to define what fulfillment looked like, both in his current role and in an imagined new one.

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” — Muhammed Ali

I was struck by a common thread running through all three of these stories: the need for imagination and creativity in both your personal and professional lives. The need to adapt and change — to imagine possibilities for yourself as you are and how you might be. Also, how it comes easier for some folks than others and what one can do to spark that creativity, or re-creativity, when a bout of “writer’s block” hits your life story.

Could reflecting on a time way in your past provide a spark, before “life happened”, when you were very young and your imagination roamed free? How about re-visiting experiences and passions from that time, and how they made you feel? For me, returning to writing after too long a hiatus has been wonderful.

What about trying on totally new experiences, experiences you never imagined you would try, could they be transformational? I have had several of these over the last few years which has opened my mind and heart to new possibilities.

The above are two examples which have worked for me. I’m sure there are other ways too. I’m interested in how one keeps their imagination fertile and how you live a creative life, in order to keep growing and re-creating yourself as needed. 

I’m curious, what works for you?

 

 

 

Intelligente Goals, Capisce?

A while back I was coaching a client, let’s call him Tom. Tom is a good guy. He's in his mid-thirties and a professional in a technical field.  Tom is introspective, aware and very engaged in the coaching process.  Our sessions were focused on his job and career, but as the New Year began, he spent some time making a list or two of goals he wanted to accomplish, some in the coming year and some more long term, almost like a bucket list.  As we discussed these he lamented how a few of them had been on these lists before, some of them for years.

“Like learning Italian.  I’d like to learn Italian,” he said, sounding frustrated.

In our prior coaching sessions I noticed Tom's habit of keeping the discussions at a higher level and a lack of willingness to bring them down into the details. It's in the details where a person can commit to actions.

“How would you define success with that Italian goal,” I asked.  “Would you be totally fluent, like a native speaker?  Or is it enough just to be able to ask for the washroom at a restaurant in Naples? It makes a big difference in how you go about learning it you know.”

He laughed.

I continued.

“I imagine there are different ways to learn a language, depends on how you define and measure success. Once you do though, then you can put together a plan.  Maybe taking courses is the way to go.  Or computer based programs, like Rosetta Stone or Duolingo.  Or maybe you move to Italy for a year?  Or stay here and get an Italian girlfriend.”

We both laughed.

My point was, when trying to accomplish something, making it more specific and understanding how you will measure if you succeeded is important.  You can then decide on the steps to take to get there.  The one thing to add to that is - When? -  If you don’t set a time, you may never get started.

After this exchange, in future coaching sessions, when we would discuss other elements of his professional life, we were able to refer back to - “like learning Italian” - and we both knew what we meant.

 

Why human?

Toward the end of my studies in New York University’s coaching program, I was contemplating names for my business.  As the class discussed who they would be marketing their coaching practices to, the professor said something which made me think.  She said, “at the end of the day, all the people we are trying to work with are human.”

I began this practice because I want to help people, and believe I can. 

Concepts such as human nature and the human experience have always interested me.  When I tell stories about growing up, a working class kid from New York, I often tell stories of my father, how he would come home from a long day's work, driving a delivery truck around Harlem, and hold court at the dinner table, beginning stories with the line, “ya wanna hear a human interest story …”  

That interest in people and what makes them tick was definitely passed down to me.  I see myself as a student of human nature.  Always curious about people, their relationships and the inter-relationship with the world we live in.  I've had a long successful career as a leader in the technology and non-profit fields, and in both areas I was most drawn to the human side of my work, which fortunately played to my strengths.

Like any business, there is a target group of people I will want to work with, and there are groups of people who will be attracted to me and what I have to offer, but I like the idea we are all connected by the human experience and interested in working together. 

so, why 42?