We go around our whole lives looking at other people’s balloons thinking ‘ooo that’s a nice one!”Wouldn’t it be nice to have a red one. . . that one’s all silvery . . . lime green WOW! haven’t seen one of those before.’
We do this incessantly and call it comparison. At scale we call it social media.
What we should really call it is futile comparison because most of the time this comparison neither motivates us to change and very often encourages us to ignore and discount the value of our own balloon. Which to us is just a plain ole blue one.
But to other people, your ‘plain ole blue balloon’ is a ‘oooo look at that cool blue balloon!’
The truth is you’d be much better off just appreciating the balloon you have and learning how that balloon can serve others as you serve yourself.
PS – If you’re thinking to yourself, it seems silly to long after another color of balloon then you’ve understood me perfectly.
This morning the little plastic tab on my bodega coffee clicked perfectly into place.
On my way to the store, there was a stout african american man rocking out to rap music in his minivan.
And before I left the house my beautiful and loving girlfriend snuggled up to me sweet and warm and safe.
There are times in life where the big things don’t go your way. The election results seem crazy, your deal goes south, it feels like you don’t know where to go next or what to do. And it’s in moments like this that you simply have to focus on the little things. No matter how bad the rest of life is going, how depressing the world may seem, your coffee is still warm, the sun kisses your skin softly, and there is still work to be done.
Nothing lasts, so why not savor the sweet things, that moment by moment make up the breathtaking if not dream like life we all live.
Sometimes it can seem like the world we live in doesn’t care very much about people. We see a constant stream of cruelty and ignorance justified by fear and fame.
And if you only listen to what you see on TV and read online, it’s easy to start believing that the world is a pretty cruel and heartless place. A place where all that matters is how many Twitter followers you have and how good you look in a tight skirt.
In moments like these, I try to remind myself that despite what I see on television the world isn’t actually the shallow cruel place it can sometimes appear to be. Here’s what I do to reconnect with the parts of reality that never make it on the news
I look at who has truly influenced my life:
It’s easy to get caught up in the lives of celebrities and politicians, hanging on their every word and focusing on what they will do next. But when I look at who has had the greatest influence on my growth, I find it’s not those with prestige and fame, it’s the humble people who have served me out of love.
The gifted teacher Ms. Drummond who made me feel like it was safe to be different. My mother who taught me about the true power of caring quietly and serving deliberately. My friend Michael who pushed me to find the kind of partner who could truly meet me and serve me in my spiritual growth.
It was these people and their quiet love and service for me that actually shaped my life, much more than politicians and actors.
Seeing this reminds me that while politics and popular culture do have an effect, it’s the character of the most intimate people in my life that make the biggest difference.
I look at the difference I’ve made in the lives of others:
I’ve written blog posts that have gone viral and given speeches on fancy stages. But when I look at the moments that have meant the most to me throughout my life I find that the majority involve the kind of influence and connection you can’t get from the spotlight.
Sure it was great to be asked to write for the Huffington Post and I love it when Leo Babauta links to my posts, but what matters more to me is the way I’ve personally affected those closest to me.
Recently a client wrote me an email in which she said: “I feel like this was worth the whole year of working with you. For this moment.
Thank you Toku. I am sobbing here. I feel like I’ve spent so long wrestling with my calling and you’ve been trying to help me see something different, but today you SHOWED me.”
These are the moments I relish, not because I love getting these kind of emails, but because these are the moments that can only happen after you’ve invested real time and energy into a relationship.
Shallow power rarely gives you these kinds of moments. Sure raving fans will tell you that you’ve changed their lives, but it means so much more when you can feel that change slowly happening in the people closest to you.
Whenever I get depressed about how little shallow power I have, I go back and review these moments in my life to remind myself that I have influenced others in profound ways. And while this isn’t the kind of influence you can measure in Twitter followers, it’s the kind of influence that touches my heart and fills my life with meaning.
I look for love and wisdom in everyone I meet:
Television and social media only show us a very small sliver of what life is really all about. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the world who care more about where their next meal will come from then who said what on CNN. But you don’t have to go to the third world to see how much exists outside of the world we see on our screens. You simply have to watch your fellow humans.
Whenever I’m feeling depressed about the world I simply go and watch strangers. I see parents taking time out of their day to take their children to the park. I see groups of teenagers playing basketball and having fun. I see people standing up on the subway to offer their seat to someone in need. I see people dropping dollar bills into the open case of a passionate street musician.
Everywhere I go I see examples of human compassion. Despite what the screens show me, the world I see at large is kind and loving. Yes, there are wars in the world, there is cruelty, racism, and suffering. And yes, we need to address these problems, but that doesn’t change the fact that most people live and act from a place of love and wisdom. As problematic as the world is, all you have to do is go to the grocery store and you’ll see our acts of kindness to each other far outweigh the other side.
I choose to focus on what I can change:
Perhaps the most powerful thing I can do when I find myself drifting into cynicism and sadness about the state of the world, is focus on what I can truly change.
The truth is that I can’t choose for others. I can’t change the fact that our culture is obsessed with celebrity or focused on personal power. But I can choose what I want to focus on and the work I do on myself.
I can give in to the siren call of beauty and prestige and decide I should try my best to look the part or gain influence any way I can. Or I can decide to ignore what I see and choose the path that aligns with the truth I know deep in my heart.
I know from experience that deep connection with others, the courage to be myself, and my desire to love and serve are what leads to the greatest feelings of fulfillment and joy in my life.
So despite how good fame, fortune, and influence look from the outside, I know that if I want to live a life I can be proud of on my deathbed, I need to focus on the things that speak deeply to the wisest and most compassionate parts of me. I need to ignore the loud voices of the world and instead learn to listen to the quietest voices that lie at the center of my being.
It may not lead to me having my name on buildings or my face on the news, but it will lead to a sense of deep satisfaction and lasting peace that comes from seeking the kind of power that can help me shape my life in unspeakably beautiful ways.
I also published this post on an amazing blog I help edit at: LivingQuirky.com
Recently, I’ve been noticing a trend in the amazing and breathtaking clients I work with. They always want to talk about the same things. They want to talk about their potential clients, their business ideas, and their teams.
But 9/10, it’s never the areas they want to discuss that yield the biggest insights for them or have the biggest impact on their businesses, which has led me to this simple, but powerful, distinction.
Normal topics yield normal results; unconventional topics yield unconventional results.
And if you’re anything like my clients, I want you to know I get it. I understand why you want to talk about the normal things. You want to talk about them, because they feel safe. You want to talk about them, because the familiarity of these problems soothe your brain, even if they cause a little stress.
These topics give you the comfort of feeling like you’re taking action, even if the action you’re taking isn’t the action that will have a lasting effect on the problems you face.
The things you aren’t talking about are scary. It’s that bump on your shoulder that appeared a month ago that you know you should call the doctor about; it’s the client relationship you secretly know isn’t serving you, but you don’t know how to deal with; it’s the deal that is going slowly south, but you’re afraid to admit you made a mistake; it’s the pattern in your relationship you know isn’t sustainable, but you have no idea how to address, because doing so will rock a boat you’re already worried might take on water.
And I know you know that the longer you leave those things, the worse they will get. The longer you don’t talk about them, the more money you risk, the shakier the relationship gets, and the more the fear builds that, by now, it’s surely too late to make a difference.
You like to tell yourself stories about how you don’t have enough time, about how you’ll talk about it after you get through this week or quarter, how you’ll take care of it when your schedule lightens up. I know these stories are the thinnest veils of personal subterfuge, and that you know it too.
So, here is my simple invitation to you. Instead of making these topics a personal taboo, instead of trying to fit them into the edges of your life, which means they won’t fit in until they explode and demand your attention, make discussing the abnormal normal.
Make time every week to talk about the things you aren’t talking about in your business and your life. Find a coach, a mastermind, a consultant, or even a close friend and sit down and tell them what I really don’t want to talk about is . . . and then take it from there.
If you do this practice, not only will your business grow and your relationships improve, but you’ll slowly learn the courage to face the things in your life you don’t want to face.
I’ve spent my entire life, since I admitted I like girls (pivoting from my original position of thinking they were gross), seeking the woman of my dreams. Maybe it’s because I’ve eaten and swallowed this western idea of romance, or maybe, it’s because I’m ridiculously sentimental, even though it stands in direct opposition to my Zen aspirations. But in either case, I’ve been on this quest to find a woman, who lifted me up, who challenged me, and with whom I could build a life.
Recently, I met this kind of woman. She’s breathtakingly beautiful, clever, ambitious, perceptive, powerful, kind, and the perfect mix of frustratingly and tantalizingly mysterious. In a word, she’s the woman I felt like I’ve spent my whole life searching for, and yet, here I am just a couple of months into our relationship, a relationship hard fought across distance and circumstance and I find myself forgetting.
I forget how unbelievably lucky I am to have found someone, who can play at the depths I love to call my home. I forget how lucky I am that a woman, as beautiful as her, would be attracted to a not bad looking, but handsome in kind of an ordinary way, man like me. I forget how lucky I am to find someone I can partner with, not just in romance, but business, spirituality, and creativity. Here I am, having finally stumbled across something I’ve sought for so long, and still, I can’t help but forget. I can’t help but get wrapped up in my own stories of how it should be or how I wish she were different, how I wish she came with leather seats and air conditioning, with a little bit easier to use control panel.
Now I could beat myself up about this. I certainly have in late night moments, after I’ve proclaimed my desires for her to change in a plaintive tone I know all too well. But the truth is, we all do this. We all forget. It doesn’t matter how high you go, how beautiful or amazing your partner is, how many books you’ve had published, or countries you conquer, forgetting is our nature.
As a species, we are driven to seek better. It’s what drove us from the safety of the jungle trees to the savannah, where our bi-pedal nature and insane levels of endurance gave us a distinct advantage over almost every other creature. Our desire constantly to improve is the reason we gained the ability to consider our own nature and because vessels that could inhabit and incubate amazing artistic and spiritual experiences. And it is also this desire to become more, that lies at the very heart of our suffering.
The reason you find yourself strangely unsatisfied in your home, your job, and your marriage isn’t because something is wrong with any of these things or even you. It’s simply because the desire that leads us to wake up to ourselves, is also the desire that lulls us into sleep. Desire is a universal adapter for progress, and it doesn’t care if that progress is towards the lofty aspirations of human rights or the worldly aspirations for a new pair of shoes. The problem isn’t that we have desire; the problem is that we forget how to apply it.
Instead of taming the beast and directing it towards the things that make us and the world better, we allow it to run roughshod over our lives. And soon, we wake up in a moment, complaining about how our beautiful one bedroom apartments don’t have enough a/c or that our partners are a little too much like the ones we fell in love with.
Luckily for you and for me, the solution to this problem is as simple as its cause. To escape the trap of desire and forgetfulness, we must simply accept and remember.
We must accept that desire has no bounds, and it will always seek the better, the cooler, the fancier. We must realize desire left unattended will uproot the most solid tree and undermine our most meaningful relationships. We must see this and learn to laugh at desire, to see the pure folly of its endless quest to improve upon the Sistine chapels of our lives.
Then, we must encourage it to look for the right places to do its work. For me, this is improving my ability for compassion, my deep feeling of wisdom, and my craft of helping others to wake up to the same sleepiness I nod off to every day.
After that, we must remember. We must remember how lucky we are. We need to stand at the doorway of our lover’s rooms in the morning, before they are awake to the world. We must look at them in their quiet sleeping beauty and love all the things that bother us. We must remember it is all of these little peculiarities, these little foibles, that made them so lovely in the first place. We must remember that these breathtaking creatures do the same for us all the time. We must remember how lucky we are to have found them in a vast ocean of people even worst suited to us. We must remember how impossible to live with we must seem, at times, and feel the deep gratitude of remembering how blessed we truly are.
And we can’t stop there. We must do the same with our children, our jobs, our writing, our parents, our homes, almost anything and everything we have.
Even if the things in our life must change, these things, as they are now, are a silent and subtle blessing. They are our teachers and temple.
Which is why we must remember that forgetting is normal. So normal, we must learn to laugh and love our nature to forget. And then, in the next breath, remember again all the love we’ve lost track of. This is the secret to lasting happiness and to the pursuit of what we already have.
When you’re at the beginning of your life’s work, staring up at the huge hill of doubt and effort, the most important thing you can learn is fearless action. The ability to look risk in the eye and not blink is a powerful catalyst for creation, creativity, and the effort required to build something of substance.
But when you reach the first or even the fifth plateau on your journey to the heights of your genius, fearless action isn’t enough anymore. Instead, you must learn to master the art of fearless rest, which requires a courage all its own.
When you’re at the height of success, it takes courage to rest. It takes courage to take time for deep work and the pursuit of creativity that’s uncommon. When the world is spinning around you at a thousand miles an hour and the emails are flying in faster than you can answer, it takes a true warrior of work to stand at the center of the storm and sit down quietly and read a book, snuggle your partner and/or kids, and drink a warm perfectly cooled cup of coffee.
But the world has enough fearless doers caught on the coattails of their own success, chasing a vision of life they have long ago achieved.
What the world needs more of is people who will opt out of the mad chasing and do the thoughtful work of changing the world that begins with refining the edges of your own heart.
The world needs more fearless warriors of rest and contemplation.
So, I hope you’ll join me. I hope you’ll find some time this week to step to the edge of your working life and slowly close the door.
Sure, it all might collapse if you do, but then again, you might collapse if you don’t. And if you do, what was this all for, anyway?
Part of the privilege success affords you is that you don’t have to do new or hard things. You are so good at what you do that you can just do your one trick over and over again. You can do the trick of your magical success for the rest of your life.
The problem is that you’re bored of this trick even though it impresses everyone else, which makes me wonder: What could you create if you stopped relying on your one fancy trick?
I know you have a clear sense of the business model you love and the lifestyle it affords you, but what if you were willing to abandon that model and alter that lifestyle even for just a month or a year? What amazing thing could you build for others if you let go of your bread and butter? What amazing quest could you undertake that could change your relationship with yourself to a level so deep you no longer feel unsatisfied or depressed?
I know that you are driven by your ambitions, the books you want to write and the businesses you want to build, but what would happen if you let that ambition take on new forms? What if you used that power to transform who you are and your connection to your heart in a way that unlocked parts of you that you didn’t even know existed?
The world may be impressed by your one trick, but I’m not. The people who see everything you could become still love you, but they know when you’re just doing your one trick.
Stop clinging to this one kind of brilliance. Stop doing the thing that is familiar. Instead, learn a new trick, even if it’s the wrong one. No one loves a one trick pony or even a five trick one. What people love is imperfect messy people becoming something even more gloriously messy and real.
Many of my clients think they have imposter syndrome, which is “the fear talented people have that their true lack of ability will be discovered, exposing them for the frauds they truly are.” However, in all honesty, they aren’t afraid of being imposters; what they’re actually afraid of is that they may be as good, or better than they think they really are.
Even though I meet so many people who claim to have imposter syndrome, I can’t help but notice that for most of them, being discovered as a fraud would feel like a relief.
After all, if they were unskilled at something, they could accept that reality and work to improve it. I actually welcome the identification of my faults as do many of my clients. We love seeing where we can improve, because we’re so good at learning, adapting, strategizing and overcoming challenges.
What we’re not so good at is accepting the fruits of our labor, enjoying our lives and being ok with how friggin awesome we actually are. Feeling like a fraud gives us a reason to be anxious and work even harder to maintain what we think is a façade of excellence; whereas accepting that we’re talented and brilliant means we’re truly responsible for our lives. It means that we’re actually getting what we want because we’re amazing people who care a lot and work really hard.
We’re afraid of truly enjoying our success because enjoying our success means embracing the guilt of being successful. It means feeling guilty for not feeding starving children in Africa and instead taking a trip to the beach. It means feeling guilty for deciding we are worth the money, time and sacrifices people make in order to pay and support us all for doing something that we love.
No matter how many ways you cut it, we got to where we are by leaning on this idea that dreams take a lot of work, and as a result, we must sacrifice now in order to get something even better later. What we struggle to accept is ‘later is NOW!’ You’ve done the work, you’ve paid your dues and here you are sitting in the halls of Valhalla. This leaves you with a simple choice; you can choose to run your story and believe that you don’t belong, or you can choose to use the fuel of fear and doubt to drive yourself forward or modernize your technology.
You can learn to make enough room within you to hold your awareness of what needs improvement, as well as your awareness of what is amazing right now. You can learn to expand your beliefs to include the truth, that sometimes hard work is needed, while also including the truth that enjoying a trip to the beach is friggin’ grand. You can learn to experience the guilt of being a smashing success while also experiencing the joy that achieving something great also brings.
If you simply accepted the love, support, and joy that others offer you; if you simply decided that your successes weren’t just flukes, but due at least in part to the work and sacrifice you’ve put into them, something amazing might happen. You might work less. You might be kinder to others. You might enjoy your life more. You might even learn how to be happy where you are now, while also striving to create something even more extraordinary and that might be something that could help the world more than you could ever possibly imagine.
Why aren’t we talking about race?
One of the fundamental qualities of a great leader is the ability to have difficult conversations. Yet so many of the leaders I know aren’t talking about racism in America. We’re talking about our sales numbers, our marketing funnels, and how we can write better headlines. But, we aren’t talking about race.
If you want to become a better leader one place to start is by beginning a conversation about race in your home, your businesses, and your communities. Nothing will teach you how to speak skillfully, listen deeply, or face uncomfortable topics quite like addressing this deep and divisive issue. Not to mention that talking about race will also make you a better citizen and human being.
Why I don’t talk about race –
I’m a coach and the truth is coaching is a very white profession. Most of the times when I’m at coaching conferences, in coaching forums, or around other coaches, I’m around white people. Not just white people, but white middle class, college educated people.
The reality is that coaching is largely a profession of white people helping other white people. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, people of all colors need love, support, and guidance, but recently I noticed how silent my fellow coaches and I were being about what’s been going on in our country, this week, this year, and this century. Despite the fact that coaches pride ourselves on having difficult conversations; this is one conversation we aren’t having.
We aren’t talking about race. We aren’t talking about how white the world of coaching is. We aren’t talking about what our responsibilities are when it comes to addressing the reality of racial oppression and privilege in our country.
Instead, we spend our time talking about marketing, coaching techniques, and the events we’re going to.
One reason I don’t talk about race is because I don’t have to. I’m a white, college educated man. I can simply share or like some Facebook posts and then go on with my day.
Recently a friend of mine posted about how he deals with the police when stopped and the only familiarity I felt was when I remembering what it was like to get pulled over when I had drugs in my car. And even in these cases, there’s no real comparison.
My experience of privilege is mostly invisible. In fact, I spent most of the week not even thinking about how the killings of two black men might affect the people of color I know. I have two clients who are African American, I have another that’s South American, and I have friends who are people of color. Yet, it took me almost a week before I really thought about reaching out to them.
It took me a week because that’s how easy it is for a white person like me to not pay attention, to not care, and to do nothing.
This isn’t just a personal failure when it comes to race. It’s a failure of leadership. I pride myself on coaching leaders on serving the unconventional and forward thinking but I failed my clients, colleagues, and friends this week because I was too caught up in my white privileged way of thinking.
What’s A Leader To Do?
So, what’s a leader to do? Wading into a conversation on race is scary and fraught with difficulty. Which makes talking about race something most of us want to avoid and so we do.
But, it’s precisely because it’s so scary and hard that as leaders we must talk about it. The world needs people who don’t know what they’re doing to speak up. It needs leaders to magnify and support the voices of people of color who are speaking about this issue with so much passion and clarity. It needs leaders who are willing to have those difficult conversations and discussion.
If you aren’t willing to talk about race, what other topics are you avoiding? What other ways of thinking are you not considering?
If we want to help change things, then this is a conversation we all need to start having. And if you want to be a great leader, learning how to talk about race is one of the best ways to learn how to talk about anything and stand up for what’s right all at the same time.
So don’t wait for another killing or another change in the news cycle. Sit down with your team, your family, and your friends today and start talking – imperfectly, ignorantly, and uncertainly. You will make mistakes, you will say things that are colored by your privilege, but great leaders don’t wait until they’re ready or sure that they’ll do it right.
All the greats wrestled with their demons. Christ spent forty days in the desert and was tempted by the devil. The Buddha overcame the prison of privilege, saw through religious zealotry and battled the forces of darkness. Luke fought Vader (twice!) and found a way to make peace with his father.
However, we want to think deep personal work is like the flyer for a yoga retreat. We think that we’ll go to a beach somewhere hang out with svelte, attractive people, move our bodies, lie in the sun, and be transformed. Sometimes, this is how it looks true, but more often, deep personal work isn’t what you can put on a flyer or post to Facebook because it’s ugly.
Instead, it looks more like:
- Weeping on your bed clutching your sheets
- Having the most awkward conversation of your life without running away
- Eating kale even when you’re so fucking sick of it that you want to eliminate all the kale in the world
- Looking in the mirror, hating what you see, and then yelling at the top of your lungs
Deep personal work uncovers everything you’re hiding from yourself, the world, and those closest to you. And the things we hide are often raw, gritty, unprocessed, and messy. They are old fears, secret resentments, hidden agendas, and deep shame.
They are things we’ve invested much time into hiding and so when they hit the open air, they grow in size and magnitude, tearing into the night air with all of the terrific gore of a big budget horror movie.
In the rest of our lives, we judge success by smoothness, ease of use, and the small smiles it brings to others’ faces. With deep personal work, it’s better to judge success by bumpiness, by the raw depths we dig into, by the crap that comes up as a result, and by the dead and exhausted feeling that’s left when we’re done.
Deep personal work isn’t pretty because it’s not supposed to be. That’s what Facebook is for. Deep personal work is the container where our demons can play, our fears have room to breathe, and where everything we’ve been trying to keep down gets a seat at the table.
The hard part is accepting the messiness of it and being ok with seeing your guts spread out on a table in front of you. Accept that you won’t look coifed and lovely all the time, and that you will have mascara running down your face, back shaking, and pitiful expression of human emotion.
The reason I do this work and why I invite others to do it is because it’s the only thing that changes everything. It’s the only thing that can stand on the tracks and stare down the screaming train of your karmic patterns and have any hope of surviving. It’s the only thing that has made my heart grow bigger, my voice softer, and my life more real and amazing.
If you’re trying to sanitize it or look good while doing it, you’re missing the point.
Help Doing Deep Work
Doing deep work is hard. Which is one of the reasons I’ve engaged many teachers, mentors, and coaches to guide me into the depths of myself with skill and patience. One question I often get from people is how do I find the right group, mentor, teacher, or coach to guide me through this process. Many people aren’t sure if what they need is a therapist, a coach, or just some form of daily practice in order to deal with the things they’ve been avoiding.
Because of this I felt moved to offer a simple way to get started on this path. If you feel like you want to dive into this deep work, but aren’t sure where to get started, I’d love to invite you to have a short ten-minute conversation where I can give you some personalized support on how you can get started on this path. If this is a hell yes for you simply grab a time on my scheduling page and please keep in mind that while I’d love to help everyone I only have enough space for a few slots and then I’ll remove the link.