The calendar of ebbs and flows of the soul

Most of us don’t change until we have to. 

But the best time to prepare for change is before we need to. 

And so, why wait until things get visibly shaky? Better to habituate ourselves to the inevitable loss and uncertainty and fear that change brings. Better to train ourselves to make those small, effortless and irrelevant changes on the regular. 

That way, when the big kahuna comes along, we’ll be in a better position to ride it. 

Senge writes in his pivotal book about the dance of change our sense of surrender can make this process much lighter:

The notion that everything is in motion, in process, can relieve us of the pressure to have everything fixed and worked out. The only reliable thing we can know is that this situation shall change. And we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that whatever we are experiencing is not forever. 

Imagine if you adopted that mindset. The prospect of change would not only become less cumbersome, but more attractive. 

It’s just a weather pattern. How long can it keep raining, anyway? 

Hawaii definitely has a few cities with the most consecutive days of rain in the country. But that happened back in the late thirties, when it rained for two hundred days straight. A meteorological anomaly. Outside of that, it never rains for more than a few days. Maybe a week. 

Thoreau once called this the calendar of ebbs and flows of the soul. He wrote in his legendary journals:

The mind is subject to moods, as the shadows of clouds pass over the earth. Pay not too much heed to them. Let not the traveler stop for them. They consist with the fairest weather. 

His concept not only applies to matters of the mind, but to matter itself. 

Change is taking place everywhere at every moment. And we can wait until it taps us on the shoulder to take action. 

Or we can throw our arms up in the air, surrender to the ebbs and flows of the soul, change before we need to, and have faith that the rain is going to pass eventually. 


Once you learn that small changes won’t kill you, what big changes might you try?

We’ve noticed some unusual activity on your account

Most credit card companies are vigilant about watching for unusual activity. 

Their algorithms constantly scan accounts and purchases, flagging any suspicious activity, and alert customers about any questionable transactions. Their computers know our spending habits better than we do. 

If we’re suddenly buying a thousand dollar handbag, but the average charge on our card rarely exceeds a few hundred dollars, be ready for the notification. 

We’ve noticed some unusual activity on your account and are concerned. Everything okay? Please call if you have questions. 

When this happens, customers feel scared and surprised, but also safe and cared for. Considering credit and debit card fraud is one of the biggest financial fears people have, fraud notifications offer us peace of mind. 

Wouldn’t it be great if people could receive similar notifications for every area of their lives? 

Just imagine, any time our behavior dramatically deviated from our normal patterns, it triggers a red flag. A computer analyzes every permutation in our history, measuring biofeedback such as pupil dilation, heart rate and body temperature; along with geolocation, cell phone data and other relevant data points, calculated against the standard variation, discovering if the activity is unusual and suspicious. 

The human seems to be experiencing genuine shock and surprise. Pupil dilation. Elevated heartbeat. Deploy response team!

Technologically, this is possible. With the capabilities of artificial intelligence, we are closer to this reality than we realize. 

Culturally, however, we may not be ready for this yet. It’s a little too close to one of those science fiction thriller movies. 

But in the meantime, this a useful exercise for each person to ask themselves. 

What triggers a red flag for you? What qualifies as unusual or suspicious activity? 

Credit card companies, for example, have certified identity theft risk management specialists who look for the following spending patterns:

Shopping away from your home base, making several purchases quickly, buying something small and then something big, charging travel expenses in multiple geographic locations on the same day, and so on.

What red flags are on your personal list? What if you shared that list with the people closest to you, and they were notified in the event of unusual or suspicious activity? 

It might prevent people from going down some dangerous roads, creating greater levels of accountability and integrity within relationships. 

Look, they’re already watching our every move anyway. May as well use it for our benefit. 


Who is notified when your behavior suddenly becomes unusual and suspicious?

The weight of myself on my shoulders

It’s true that the heaviest burden is having nothing to carry. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of our lives where a lighter touch might be called for. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some part of us that has been bursting to rid itself of all this psychic weight. 

Here’s a scary thought experiment:

Where in your life you feel most burdened by the weight of expectations? What commitments have been eating away at your soul for a long time that you’re just dying to release? And if one burden could be removed from your life today, what would it be? 

Start from that place. All those obligations and crusades and responsibilities you once said yes to, that now make your life so heavy. Odds are, they are the stones in your pack that are dragging you down. The time has come to jettison some of that bulk, so your life can take on a lighter quality. 

Look, humans are meaning making machines, which means we can both invest and divest our meaning as we see fit. We’re grown ass adults who can do whatever we want. 

And the best part is, when we finally rid of all this stuff, we will be lighter for the journey in front of us. Which is not only a gift for ourselves, but everyone we encounter. 

It’s like cleaning out your closet or garage. One dedicated afternoon of purging all the crap you shouldn’t have kept in the first place, and by the time the sun sets, you physically feel lighter. 

Just imagine feeling like that, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. 

That’s is the true benefit of deleting expectations, both yours or other people’s. They add up quickly. But because we never question their validity, we fail to calculate their total psychic burden. 

And we end up carrying the weight of ourselves on our shoulders.


What if you released the onus of taking responsibility for the rest of the world?

Putting ourselves at the mercy of people’s opinions

Have you ever given up on ideas, projects and even beliefs just because of one asshole’s unsolicited judgment? 

Sadly, it happens to the best of us.

Instead of choosing how much weight we grant other people’s opinions, we collapse faster than a cheap soufflé. 

This is one of the great joys of getting older. 

Once you know exactly who you are, then you put exactly zero weight in other people’s opinion of you. 

Once your life is where you want it to be, you don’t have to listen to anybody. 

Most codependency questionnaires include a question or two about this issue. Something like:

Are you always worried about other people’s opinions of you? Are the opinions of others more important than your own? 

Clinicians name this excessive impression management, or external referencing. It’s form of manipulation and control, and it’s completely exhausting. 

Kind of sounds like the first fifteen years of my adult life. Thinking back to the number of sheer calories burnt trying to manipulate people into seeing me in the ideal light, it’s a wonder that I ever had time to work. 

How much light and freedom and joy would you feel if you simply ignored everybody? 

Thatis an option. As an adult, you don’t actually have to listen to anybody. 

Each of us has the right to choose how much weight we grant other people’s judgments. 

But that’s just my opinion. 


What is your sense of self overly reliant on?

Perspective arrives in the form of slightest swing

Reacher perfectly explains the notion of perspective in his latest adventure:

It’s like being on a train, stopped next to another train in a busy railroad station. Your train begins to move. It picks up speed. And then all of a sudden, it’s not your train moving. It’s the other train. Your train was stationary all the time. Your frame of reference was wrong. You thought you train was moving, and the other person thought theirs was

Think about the last time you were in that situation. 

Somebody, something or some experience stopped you in your tracks and made you think to yourself, huh, would you look at that

When this moment of perspective occurs, it’s disorienting, but subtle. It’s not like we’re teetering on the edge of some astounding epiphany. 

Typically, what we think is an epiphany is merely reality. It’s the other train moving. Subtle, quiet and sudden.

And when this perspective washes over us, the healthiest response is to express gratitude. 

Because although we’re all waiting for that one huge cinematic and epiphanous moment with fireworks and banners and trombones that will changes everything forever, most of the time, perspective arrives in the form of slightest swing. 


Are you willing to accept that there may be a bigger reality asserting itself through you?

We’re all trying to out special each other

How was your specialness insulted? 

This is the issue underlying the majority of our suffering. We are terrified of not being unique and not standing out and not being congratulated on how remarkable we are. 

Or maybe that’s just me. 

Either way, one of the fastest ways to puncture our veil of specialness is with a physical ailment. 

Years ago at a checkup with my urologist, the doctor told me that the pain in my groin was the result of an abdominal hernia. 

Shocked, I asked what might have caused my condition. Lifting weights? Singing too loudly? Working too many hours? Exercising too much? Making passionate love to my wife? 

The surgeon responded very matter of factly:

You have a hernia because you have testicles. 

Huh. Well then, that makes sense. 

My doctor explained further:

Look, you’re a man, and men are vulnerable to this kind of injury. It happens all the time. One out of every twenty males suffers a hernia in his life. And so, it’s very routine. We perform over a hundred hernia removal surgeries every year. You’re going to be fine. 

Instantly, waves of relief flooded me like light, bathing me in almost celestial glory. It never felt so good to be so unremarkable. To be so exquisitely ordinary. 

It’s funny, we live in this culture where we’re all trying to out special each other, tripping over ourselves trying to prove to each other how extraordinary we are. 

Durden’s classic monologue comes to mind:

You’re not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re just the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world

That’s the best part about getting injured. 

It makes us less interested in the story we tell about our own specialness, and more interested in our common humanity. 


What if you let go of the pressure you put on yourself to be special and great?

We rarely remember what we missed it for

One of my mentors spent his second career building and moderating leadership forums with executives from hundreds of different organizations. 

Arthur’s philosophy is, life’s journey happens one pebble at a time. Growth is continuous improvement in incremental moments. 

One of the pebbles that always stuck out for me was about the opportunity cost of a career. 

Meaning, what we give up to pursue our dreams of professional achievement. 

During one forum he advised the group:

We often remember what things we missed for work, but we rarely remember the things we missed them for. 

Like the anniversary celebration, the school play, the soccer game, the family holiday or the community fundraiser. Those events stick in our minds forever. 

But the all nighters at the office and the presentations to the prospective clients who weren’t going to hire you anyway, those supposedly important events disappear faster than a flat screen television in a crack house. 

This proves just how we misalign our priorities. 

It’s like the movie character, typically a man, who puts in an insane amount of effort for a big promotion at work. But once he finally receives it, he loses everyone who was important to him along the way. And left standing in the closing scene before the credits roll, he discovers that whatever he wanted, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. 

It’s more than a trope, it’s a truth. 

We rarely remember what we missed it for. 

In fact, most of our deepest regrets are failures of priority. 

All of those greedy, narcissistic, dysfunctional moments when professional achievement became more important connection. Shame on us. 


Where are you meeting other people’s priorities at the expense of your own?

Being a good patient does not mean being a silent one

One time after a surgical procedure, the nurse handed me the standard set of patient discharge instructions. 

It’s a packet of educational sheets that provide information to manage my own care. 

Once the anesthesia finally wore off, I sat down and flipped through the folder. One passage in particular caught my attention:

Being a good patient does not mean being a silent one. If you have questions about the pain you may feel after surgery, let your caregiver know. Patients have the right to asses and manage their pain

As it turns out, this is standard patient bill of rights language. Healthcare organizations nationwide use the exact same phrase. 

And what’s interesting is, you could easily substitute the word patient for just about anything. 

Employee. Husband. Customer. Member. Student. Manager. 

Being a good one does not mean being a silent one. 

Because each of us has to advocate for ourselves. Nobody is going to stand up for us. 

Honestly, looking back, what I regret most about my life are my silences. Christ on cracker, there are so many thousands of moments where using my words would have been a better solution.

Breaking the silence marks a milestone on the healing path. We don’t have to keep quiet if we’re in pain. 

Dare to speak up and see what happens. 


Where is your silence not serving you?

Grasp for the gift that’s already inside ourselves

The question is not whether we should receive credit, but rather:

What is receiving credit going to give us that we do not already have? 

The warm feeling of being safe? The proud sensation that we were right? The soothing relief that we didn’t fail? 


Turns out, once we actually tease out our own list of what we think our precious credit will buy us, we slowly discover that all these things we are working and striving for, we already possess. We’re grasping for the gift that’s already inside ourselves. 

As the mystics used to say, standing on a whale, fishing for minnows. 

Getting someone to give us credit, that’s just a means to an end to. It’s an intermediary. 

Godin writes about this issue his innovative book abouttribes:

Real leaders don’t care about receiving credit. If it’s about our mission, if it’s about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do we not care about getting credit, we actually want other people to take it. They want the community to grow however it can.

But the frustrating part is, some people simply don’t trust this. They are suspicious when we say that we don’t want credit. 

You encounter this archetype quite a bit in the agency and startup worlds.

Wait a minute, you’re going to stand there and tell me that having your name mentioned is not as important than becoming an integral part of the team? We’re calling bullshit. 

This has happened to me many times. Apparently, my generosity scares people. And that’s fine. They don’t get the joke. And they never will. 

Because here’s the real punchline. Enough people already know my value, and enough people already respect my work. What matters now is that the work spreads, becomes an enabling force for other people’s talents and keeps our story moving forward. 

Forget getting credit. Create from your primal center, not your grasping ego. 

Bask in the anonymous glory of knowing that your work matters. 

If that can be enough for you, you win. 


Are you still taking the long route to fulfillment when there is a shortcut?

It’s not a big thing, it’s a hundred little things

When my grandmother turned eighty, we decided to move her into a senior living facility. 

It was a tough transition. Edie naturally had a lot of sadness and apprehension about the move, as any person would. 

Can you imagine assimilating into a new community at that stage of life? You’re out of practice making friends, feeling shy about being the new kid, and coming into a strange environment where everybody else already knows one another. 

As if growing old wasn’t scary enough. 

But my grandmother, someone who never met a stranger in her whole life, decided to be proactive. She asked me to write out a stack of hundred nametags that she could wear around the facility. 

Always the comedian, she told me, look, most of these old farts have memory problems anyway, so let’s do them a favor. 

After all, my grandmother laughed, she was only eighty. Edie was one of the young ones. 

Fast forward about a month later, my family stopped by for a visit. And not surprisingly, every single resident and staff member already knew my grandma by name. She was like the mayor. The executive director even came up to us and shared some stories about how our grandmother was the only person whose name the other residents could actually remember. 

Lesson learned, approachability isn’t a big thing, it’s a hundred little things. It’s less about labor and time and more about intention and attention. Expending emotional energy for people and delighting in the humanity of personalization. 

Next time you find yourself a stranger in a strange land, do people a favor. 

Give them one less thing to worry about. 

Give them one less thing to remember. 

And they’ll never forget you. 


What’s your nametag?

Sign up for daily updates


Daily updates straight to your inbox.

Copyright ©2020 HELLO, my name is Blog!