Thursday, October 26, 2017

Chapter 8 - Acceptance and Equanimity

Introduction to Part II


In chapters 1 thru 7 I told the story of how I became to live a ‘Dual Life’; A life of a ‘spiritual’ journey inwards alongside the career of a manager in the ‘materialistic’ business arena. Beforehand my experiences in business taught me it was a world for greedy ‘wolves’, proficient at manipulation and intimidation. I hoped and believed I could live differently, but I did not have the confidence that it was possible. I was concerned I may be naive, and that speaking openly about my ideas may backfire on me. So, during the past seven years, when amongst my colleagues in the the business community, I kept my ‘spiritual’ ideas to myself.


Today, seven years into the journey, I am confident that the so called 'spiritual’ and so called 'materialistic’ can co-exist. Through my own experiences and through honest businessmen and entrepreneurs that I have met, I learned to bridge these seeming polarities.


Today I know it is possible, though not easy, to live a meaningful and truthful life, to be loyal to my values, to build meaningful relationships and to put relationships before results. More so, I am confident this path produces better, long lasting, results even by the analytical figures of the business community.


The lessons I learned from the journey became the most practical and invaluable lessons I have applied in my day-to-day life, at home and in management and business.
In the following chapters I shall share my insights for the benefit of others who seek to venture into these less traveled paths of life.


Chapter 8 - Acceptance and Equanimity


Equanimity - a calm mental state, especially after a shock or disappointment or in a difficult situation: (Cambridge Dictionary)


At around 500 BC a young Indian prince named Guattama Sidhartha set out to understand human suffering and to find a way to free people from the sufferings of life. To date, the teachings of Sidhartha, later known as the Buddha, are effectively practiced by men and women around the world, reducing stress and anxiety, enhancing cognitive functions and improving overall health. Contemporary psychologists find ancient Buddhist practices, such as meditation (a.k.a. Mindfulness), of empirically proven therapeutic value,


Buddhism evolved to become the world’s fourth largest religion, and Buddha is worshiped by millions. However, my interest in Buddha is not religious. For me Sidhartha was a very wise and curious man, a researcher, a courageous pioneer, who opened new possibilities for humankind to better understand ourselves and improve our well-being.


Buddha realized that nothing in this world stays the same; everything is in a constant state of change. Pleasurable conditions, favorable circumstances, our relationships with those we hold dear, our health and well-being - any sense of comfort and security we derive from these aspects is continually threatened by life’s flux and uncertainty, and ultimately by death, the most profound change of all.


Buddha saw that people’s ignorance of the nature of change was the cause of suffering. We desire to hold on to what we value, and we suffer when life’s inevitable process of change separates us from those things. Liberation from suffering occurs, he taught, when we are able to sever our attachments to the transient things of this world. Liberation from suffering is the process of acceptance. In short, accept reality - end stress.


Yet, acceptance is not easy to accept. Our affections for others, the desire to succeed in our endeavors, our interests and passions, our love of life itself—all of these are attachments and potential sources of disappointment and suffering.


Now let us examine how these insights apply to our daily life in the business and workplace domains. In business the common predisposition is that to be considered successful, a company must grow continually. It must increase profits, expand to new markets and innovate. A company that does not show growth, would eventually be savaged on the stock market. So the common predisposition in business is discontentment from the current state, as a matter of survival.


So, with the drive to push forward we set the stage for the favourable state. We envision the future. We define goals and targets, we prepare business plans and project plans. Then we take our offerings and put them on the market, where we must provide value for money. To be competitive we will cut our budgets. A few rounds of negotiation and we compromise our margins, perhaps lower than we were willing to cut. “We’ll figure it out later”, we excuse ourselves.


Now we bind our plans in contracts, we commit to ‘deadlines’ and quotas, we make promises to customers and shareholders with bonuses and penalties. And the pinnacle illusion - ‘The fixed price, turnkey, contract’ - planning the future down to every detail and affixing a schedule and cost for delivery. The customer is content, for he has struck a great deal and believes he secured a bright future.


The goals we set, the plans we made and the contracts we signed now become the focal point through which we view and interpret reality. If we perceive progress as planned we call it ‘success’. If not, we call it a, ‘problem’ that may evolve into ‘failure’. We devise tedious “Risk Management Plans” to prepare and prevent any possibility of life jeopardizing our plans. We want to feel in control.


Then life happens. Delays, complications, misunderstandings, mistakes, unforeseen factors, changes in the market, political barricades, illness, forces of nature, you name it. Everything is in a constant state of change. As John Lennon so wisely put it, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans”.  But our expectations are different - we made plans, we signed contracts. We hold ourselves and others accountable to fulfill our expectations.


Now managers and employees are concerned how this shortcoming will affect them. Surely, someone will be blamed. Worry and fear prevail. The elders have foreseen this. They have been through this several times. Life in the organization has taught them to be cautious, to brush off responsibility, to keep ‘cover ass’ documentation for a rainy day. In some organizations ‘problems’ are not communicated. People have learned that delivering ‘bad news’ has its negative repercussions, so they avoid it all together. And so the Titanic steams ahead at full speed, as planned, while signals of the impending glacier collision do not come through.


Why do we respond like this? According to Sidharta, the reason is our ignorance of the nature of change, believing our plans were meant to happen, and holding on to them while life moves on. Ignorance spawns fear as we face uncertainty feeling unprepared and vulnerable. We are at loss over “what went wrong?”, “we should have done so and so…”, “we should have not done so and so”. All a costly waste of energy; excessive suffering; water under the bridge.  


More so, is it possible we are caught up in a gloomy interpretation? Perhaps the so called ‘problems’ may turn out to be birth pains of a soon to come ‘success’? Is it possible these surprising occurrences hold new opportunities? Some of the greatest discoveries and life changing inventions were created by accident. Our experiences and expectations bias our perception of reality in a way that prevents us from seeing other possibilities. Columbus set out to find a short route to India, stumbled upon America and changed the world. But as it happened he was unaware. He called the natives Indians as he believed he reached India. We experience such misconceptions on a daily basis.


How can we bring clarity and equanimity upon this turmoil? Is it wrong to plan? Is it possible not to expect? I cannot overemphasize the importance of the process of planning. Through planning we create clarity about what we want to achieve. Planning creates a common language across the organization and aligns expectations. Yet, the plans themselves, are not as important as the process. Plans are transient entities, soon to be changed.


The key is our attitude towards the goals we set, the plans we make and our relation to change. Surely, turning vision into reality requires faith and persistence, in spite of what life throws at us. But at the same time, we must stay clear and open minded. We must keep in mind that plans are a product of our imagination, created with the limited information available at that time.  As life unfolds, things change. We must be attentive and receptive to whatever comes and goes and be agile to adapt accordingly. Michael J Fox who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at age 29 is quoted to explain, “Acceptance doesn't mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there's got to be a way through it.”


With a clear and open mind new information is accepted neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’, it just is. If we can remain receptive to change there is no stress. People will not fear to communicate so called ‘bad’ news, nor will they be apt to produce so called ‘good’ news to appease us. With acceptance there is no blame, it is simply observation, assessment, re-planning and carrying on.


This phenomenon is not unique to workplaces. As humans we constantly expect and plan. We have expectations from ourselves, from our parents, our children and our friends. We plan our day, we plan the weekend. We expect the lights to turn on when we flip the switch, we expect people to turn off their cell-phones at the cinema. But life has its own ways, and it bothers us.


In some areas such as business this phenomenon is amplified. But no matter which lifestyle you choose, you cannot avoid it. Even monks who live in renunciation of material possessions and physical pleasures have expectations. Ultimately we all face the changes of aging, illness and death.


We can train our minds to lessen our hold to expectations and be more receptive to
change. Such a profound transformation is possible through meditation, a simple, natural technique practiced on a daily basis. Through meditation we learn to experience our own thoughts and opinions for what hey are - subjective interpretations of our own creation, primarily based on our past experiences. Past experiences, childhood experiences, make an imprint and condition the way we perceive and respond to events. When we observe and  recognize this, we naturally become less attached to these conditionings. We don’t take our paradigms and opinions so seriously and new possibilities are revealed.


No matter what area of life may trigger us to embark on a journey of personal development,  the fruits will enhance our well being in all areas. For it is we who transform while the world goes on, unchanged.

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Chapter 7 - The Dual Life

It’s been five years since I left my workplace and lifestyle of 15 years. Today, I can look back upon these five years with some perspective. I can see how the story unfolded and connect the dots. But when I set out I did not know what I would do and how I would make my living.  I wanted to find ‘my way’. To live by my values, and follow my own pace. I had enough of the rat race, enough of chasing goals set by others and succumbing to do things I felt were wrong. But what was ‘my way’ and where would it take me? I did not know.


I was concerned I may experience long periods without income and worried that financial pressure may discourage me to turn back. As I resigned of free will, I was not entitled to severance pay. In exchange for the much needed payment, I agreed not to work with the firm’s customers nor with its competitors for a year. This gave me some financial backing and some peace of mind, but the agreement also hindered my ability to produce future income. It isolated me from working within my professional community. Nevertheless, I considered the agreement beneficial as it constrained me to be creative, to build new connections and seek new business opportunities.


Shortly after I left my work, a self-development program was about to start at “emotion”, the school where my personal coach was trained. I was intrigued to learn about “Satya”, the methodology that transformed my life, and to meet its creator, Natalie Ben David, founder of “emotion - the school for listening, being and transformation”. Being on a program also filled my need for a sense of placement within the great emptiness and uncertainty of sudden unemployment.


Parallel to my studies I attended to the numerous activities involved in starting my own business. I spent time thinking about the services I would offer and conceiving various business models. I met with several people, especially executives who I had good relationships with. Most people were positive, willing to listen and share their opinions. It was a very interesting and optimistic period. But the meetings rarely materialized into substantial business opportunities. Instead I received some tempting employment offers, which I declined gratefully. I began to understand that finding ‘my way’ was going to take time and not going to be easy.  Still, I was determined to give self-employment a fair chance. To help me cope better with the situation I began to write a travel journal. I liked keeping journals when I traveled the world. Writing helped me relate to the situation as an adventure of exploration, rather than an arduous struggle for survival.


In the midst of the occupational and financial uncertainty I had my island of serenity, learning at “emotion”, where things began to fall into place. “Satya” (Sanskrit for truth) is a methodology that has its roots in ancient Tibetan Buddhism and modern existential philosophy, emphasizing individual existence, responsibility, freedom and choice. Unlike conventional coaching methodologies, “Satya” is not about setting and achieving goals. Instead, “Satya” questions the goals we set, aiming to understand the motives and the paradigms on which our goals were founded. “Satya” prompts us to pause, to take a deep breath and look inwards. It questions, ”If I achieve my goals, how is that going to affect the person I am?”. “Who do I hope to become by reaching my goal?... Who am I now?”.
“Satya” focuses on the present, aiming to understand our experience of life here and now, in reality. Our mind is often turbulent and misleading, troubled with fears and worries and biased by our paradigms and past experiences. Distinguishing between reality and our self projections and subjective interpretations is quite confusing. It requires an awareness that can be developed through a continuous process of learning and practice. I learned to observe and to listen, to listen attentively to others and to listen attentively to myself. To be attentive to my thoughts, to my body sensations, to my breath and heartbeat. Practicing these skills is so basic and straightforward and yet so extremely apart from how I have lived so far. It was a mindblowing awakening. No doubt, I was in the right place, an excellent starting point to acquire skills and tools for my quest for a better quality of life.


Meanwhile my attempts to find sources of income through self employment seemed futile. Weeks went by without results and staying optimistic was becoming difficult, when suddenly I received a call from an unexpected source, a former employee of mine. Her husband was an executive at Clarizen, and he told her they needed of someone with my skills. Two days later I was at Clarizen headquarters for a meeting with the founder and CEO.


Clarizen is a visionary software firm that pioneered the use of cloud  technology for Collaborative Work Management. They were planning to roll-out a major product upgrade that would transform the company. It was a complicated and risky endeavor, and they needed an executive that could lead the operation. Seemed like a perfect match, albeit I was not prepared to become a full time employee. So the CEO agreed to employ me as a contractor, on a two days per week basis, to work with the firm's executive team and lead the operation. I was grateful and excited to start.


Working with Clarizen was extraordinary. A group of young, talented and enthusiastic people who were on a mission to change the future of work. It was a mature start-up that was competing with global software giants and securing a leader position. The kind of company that made Israel famous for being the ‘Start-up nation’. In a way it was very different from the Information Technology Professional Services industry that I came from, but in most aspects it felt very familiar, like a fish in the water. People are people, in any industry.
 
At last things were going well, life was good to me. I was working two days a week in a job I greatly enjoyed and I was taking some of the most important lessons of my life. I now had an inner confidence that I will be all right. Nature has its own pace. Some processes take time and cannot be rushed. Sometimes it’s a matter of patience, resilience and faith.


Upon concluding the basic program at  “emotion” I decided to continue to a full year’s training; to learn the profession of “Satya” coaching. With “Satya” we examine our being by observing our relationships and reactions. We study how we relate to ourselves and how we relate to others. We question our relationships with certain ideas and our relationships with things. In short, our reactions to people reflect our relationship with them. These mostly automatic reactions are like habits, a product of our conditioning through our early life experiences. “Satya” provides a technique to dissolve these conditionings and open new possibilities to transform old ‘habits’ into actions of free will. Thus “Satya” methodology offers a systematic approach to a profound and meaningful transformation in a person’s life. I could easily relate to the basic values of “Satya” as they were my own. By becoming a coach I too could help others learn to know and understand themselves, to find what they really want and to live by it. By mastering “Satya” I could reduce suffering and help people find calm and clarity. In doing so, I could continue my own personal journey of self-development and live a purposeful life. I made my choice to become a “Satya” coach.


Meanwhile the Clarizen Customer Roll-Out project was progressing very well and exceeding expectations, when suddenly I was called to the CEO’s office and informed that my contract would be terminated in two weeks.  It caught me completely by surprise. Everything was going so well, I could not see it coming. I was shocked. Knowing “Satya” I turned my attention to my body. The effect of the breaking news was overwhelming, I could feel the blood draining from my upper body, I was sweating and feeling dizzy. I was about to faint. I focused on my breathing to calm myself and contain the situation. It was very stressful as I had no alternative source of income, no ‘plan B’. I was baffled.


A few days later the explanation came. I was most welcome to join the company's executive team as a full time employee. Part time contracting has run it’s course. It was no longer an option and I was expected to make the right choice. “I want people who’s life is vested in the company.” explained the CEO. This sounded to me like an all too familiar approach to employee engagement. Something I had chosen to walk away from. Vested,.... Vessted, ....vesssssss, resonated in my mind like the hiss of a poisonous snake.
I enjoyed working with Clarizen. I loved the people, their spirit. The vision and the product. But staying full time and giving up coaching was not an option. After the initial shock dissipated, I accepted the outcome as a product of my own choosing. I was no longer on the occupational mainstream.  This was the essence of my journey and I was grateful for the opportunity to be with the fine people of Clarizen. There was no anger nor disappointment. It was time for me to move on.  


I made my choice and within two weeks I was back on the road, back to uncertainty. The term at Clarizen worked very well for me and it would shape my course going forwards. I chose to divide my professional life. On the one hand, an executive for rent, contracted to lead organizations through ambitious, and often aggressive, change programs. On the other hand, a “Satya” coach, bringing empathy and compassion to the life of individuals of all walks of life. This would be a life of contrast and paradox. A business dominated by aggressive goals and ‘bottom lines’ versus a practice focused on slowing down, breathing, meditation, acceptance and letting go.

Could I reconcile these polarities and live the two as one? To figure this out would be my next leg of the journey. But until I find the link, I would live a dual life. I would use “Satya” in both worlds, but with my associates in the corporate world I would keep my new learned concepts to myself, and not speak of my ‘other life’.

Chapter - 7

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Chapter 6 - David and Me

End of August 2010, a week before the new school year


"Do you remember that next week you’re responsible for David?", my spouse Yael asked me, "You take him to nursery school, spend some time with him and be available to pick him up early”. Surprised, I said nothing. “How embarrassing”, I thought to myself, “I forgot all about it”.


David, our two year old son, was about to go to nursery for the first time. For Yael, my spouse and a teacher, the back-to-school season is her most intense period of the year. So taking David to nursery school was on me. Several weeks ago Yael advised I should work half days, leave the mornings empty and spend some time with David in the mornings. Also, I should be available to pick him up early in case he has difficulties adapting to the change.


One week to go, my calendar was packed, it always is. If I have a free moment, I immediately fill it with something productive, never leaving space for idle time. What shall I do? I can’t just drop him off and run, and there's no way I can waive this off. “I'll manage”, I thought to myself, “I’ll postpone a few meetings, start at 10:00, and compensate for the missed hours by staying late at work”.
On opening day the nursery bustled with toddlers and parents. I found a clear spot, a few toys, and played with David to acclimatize. Occasionally I checked the dials on the wall clock, calculating when I should leave to reach the office on time. “Need to hurry”, I thought.


Being together and playing was great fun, but it didn’t seem to prepare David to our soon to come parting. Time flew by and I became uptight, I had to go. I signaled to the nursery owner and she quickly came into play. A warm, loving woman and experienced in such circumstances, she collected David in her arms and motioned for me to go. It was comforting to know David was in good hands. But David instantly understood what was happening and burst into bitter tears. It was heartbreaking. I felt awful, my whole body convulsed. I felt I had no choice but to cut away. I hurried to the car.


On the street I paused for a moment to listen to the sounds from the nursery. David's crying was heartbreaking, I felt my eyes welling and my stomach twisting with guilt. "That’s life" I excused myself, "He’ll have to learn to deal with it’s hardships. It’s his learning experience."


A little bird in my heart doubt my reasoning, and a little doubt can go a long way...


Three years later ... end of August 2013


Three years have passed since the summer of 2010. Three years of awakening, of observation, of questioning. Three fascinating years of transformation.
David was now five years old and ready for kindergarten.
I was now self-employed and owned my time.
I devoted the week to David. I planned it so any other tasks could be carried out in accordance to his acclimatization. No pressing commitments, no fires to fight, no drama.


On opening day the kindergarten bustled with children and parents. It was a new community and everyone was strange to us. David and I played and adapted to the space. In another room the teachers arranged the little chairs in a large circle, preparing for the morning session. I prepared David that soon the parents will be asked to leave.
At the appointed time the teacher asked us to leave. The parents parted and left silently as the children entered the other room and joined the circle. The glass door between the spaces was closed and the morning session began. Some parents stayed a few moments to watch through the glass before going about their business. I stood watching in amazement. The children were all seated and listening to the teacher attentively. There was no weeping, no wailing. All except David.
He clinged to my legs, grasping them tightly, his eyes watering and demanding we go home. I tried to comfort David, to reassert his difficulties, to be empathic - all in vain. The minutes went by and we were at a standstill.


I tried to make eye contact with the teacher or one of her helpers beyond the glass door. They were fully engaged in the session, overlooking David’s absence. No help - this time it was just between  David and me.


My thoughts ran: How is it that all the children adapt so easily, except for my son? What does it reflect about me as his father? About his upbringing?
I was determined that David enter the kindergarten and acclimatize like everyone else. David wanted to go home. We were in conflict.


My recent years’ experiences taught me to always forge relationships before results. In this case, my relationship with David. To put relationships before results meant to pause and set aside my desire that David enter the kindergarten. Instead I should consider the lifelong relationship I want to have with my son and question:
If I impose my intentions on David, what sort of a relationship am I forging?
Does it correlate with the father I want to be? What father do I want to be?


As David stood his ground and wept, I took a deep breath and remembered the father I want to be; Loving, attentive, compassionate, yet able to set clear boundaries. I want to be an empowering father, to lead by example and to have mutual respect. How would such a father respond to this situation?  
My thoughts drifted to my first day in second grade at a public school in Philadelphia. Our family relocated to the USA for three years due to my father’s studies. I’ll never forget that first day at school. A new country, new language, new culture, new school, new people. Everything was foreign. It was stunning and incomprehensible. I have a vivid memory of being dragged to class down a school corridor by a strange adult. I’m on the ground screaming and crying helplessly, refusing to cooperate. I remember the people standing along the corridor, looking down at the crybaby being pulled at their feet. It was humiliating. I was alone, no mother, no father. Apparently it happened after they left.

I was at a loss, I didn’t know what to do. I felt stuck in a deadlock. I told David I’m going outside for some fresh air, he can do whatever he wants.

I sat on the floor, leaning against the wall. David followed me out and sat near me. We were side-by-side, almost at eye level, as equals. It occurred to me to share my memory with David, and as I did, he listened attentively. His focus shifted from his own problems to my story and he calmed down. I told him how difficult it was for me and how I finally got used to the new environment and made new friends. David showed interest, we developed a conversation and he concluded,"Dad, I think it is harder in Israel".


Then David came up with a proposal. "Dad, I'll go to kindergarten, you wait for me outside and we’ll go home at the first break." I agreed to wait outside and that we would reassess the situation during the first break. My offer was accepted, we had an agreement. David stood up and walked confidently into the kindergarten. I watched excitedly from behind, following his small footsteps and adoring the cute nape of his neck. He did not turn to look back and entered with determination.
I was elated, proud of David, the hero who conquered his fears and entered the kindergarten of his own will. I was proud of myself, for I have found patience, attentiveness and sensitivity. I was proud of my journey and thankful for its fruits.



Sunday, December 25, 2016

Chapter 5 - A Sense of Urgency

Life is short, youth is finite. With every breath we take, we come closer to our inevitable end.  Thus, time is our most precious resource. We cannot control time, yet we control how we spend it. Most of us invest a great deal of time in building our life, earning a living, acquiring assets and securing a future. We invest time making money, but money cannot buy back the time invested in it. Our children will never be children again, our parents will not be around forever, and who knows when our time will come. Time does not wait for us to wake up and appreciate it. It rushes by. For the most part of my life, this was not my way of thinking.
As a young man death and aging did not bother me. With plenty of years ahead, old age was too far to be noticed. My interpretation of ‘living the moment’ was to make the most of the cards that life dealt me, to be productive and do whatever was necessary to succeed. I was busy, one thing followed another. I had no reason to stop and ponder over life.
Then, at 32 I felt a twitch in my left eye and noticed my eyesight became blurred in the evenings.  I assumed it was related to my working late hours in inadequate office conditions. After a few days without improvement, I scheduled an appointment with the local eye doctor. The ophthalmologist looked through my pupil and thought my optical nerve seemed swollen. He concluded that I may have a brain tumor and that I should go straight to hospital. Needless to say, it came as a great shock.
I spent the next two weeks hospitalized in the neurological department, going through every imaginable test, some invasive and risky such as lumbar puncture. The doctors speculated but could not find a diagnosis. Only when my parents intervened and asked for a friend’s second opinion it became clear - I was farsighted. Natural aging simply exposed a common condition I was born with. I just needed glasses.
It was a daunting lesson about the imperfections of the medical system, but more important, I began to recognize that age was catching up with me. A few years later, cholesterol popped up. Gradually strands of grey hairs became apparent, and I noticed wrinkles subtly accumulating around my eyes and forehead. Here I was, gazing at the aging man in the mirror, wondering how fast the years flew by. Still feeling young and wishing I could be forever young, but no longer able to deny my time was ticking away.
So, by the time I entered my 40s, my perception of life has matured. It was no longer infinite, and perhaps no longer taken for granted. Time became precious and I began to pay attention to how I spent it. I looked at my relationships,  my free time, my well-being and quality of life as a whole. Was I living the life I wanted? If everything was possible, would I still choose to live this way?

Many of the people who transformed their life, attribute the trigger to some compelling event such as evading a fatal accident, overcoming a deadly disease, or losing a loved one. Such events change one's perception of life and add a sense of urgency – to consider what is really important and to pursue it. Do I need to experience a compelling event to get going? Why not learn from others?
I would like to share with you the story of Alice Lok Cahana, which had a profound influence on my journey:

"Alice Cahana, an artist living in Huston, has a painful and vivid memory of her journey to Auschwitz as a fifteen-year-old girl. On the way, she became separated from her parents and found herself in charge of her little eight-year-old brother. When the boxcar arrived, she looked down and saw that the boy was missing a shoe. “Why are you so stupid!” she shouted at him, the way older sisters are inclined to do. “Can’t you keep track of your things?” This was nothing out of the ordinary except those were the last words that passed between them, for they were herded into different cars and she never saw him again.

Nearly half a century later, Alice Cahana is still living by a distinction that was conceived in that maelstrom. She vowed not to say anything that could not stand as the last thing she ever said."

Source: "The Art of Possibility", by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. (New York: Penguin Books, 2000, page 174)

Alice’s story inspired me to question, “If I knew today was the last day of my life, would I still live it the way I do?” Answer was clearly NO. “And if I knew I had a few more years to go, would it change my answer?” I reflected upon my relationships with family, friends and colleagues and asked myself, “Was I content with my current relationships? If a relationship was to terminate abruptly, would I be content with what I left behind?”  


How well did I know my son, and how close were we? How much time was I spending with Yael (my spouse)? How well do we know and care for each other? How does my son experience me as a father? How does Yael experience me as a partner? Am I present? And what about my parents, brothers and sister?


Clearly my focus was elsewhere. I was preoccupied with my work, spending most of the day at the office. I firefighted my way through the week, and the weeks flew by. Any attempt to slow down and take a breath was in contradiction to the belief that executives should be fully committed to the firm and that success required sacrifice. Life was measured by efficiency, utilization and profits. I was aware and discouraged by it, but I kept going, perhaps on the premise that it will change for the better in the future.


Before I was CEO I may have hoped that as CEO I would be able to change things. I believed I would be in control of my time, set my priorities and enjoy financial security. But here I was, CEO, and none of the fantasies materialized. I was working harder than ever, and I could easily be fired by whim of a boss. I did not own the business, I did not call the shots, yet it completely dominated my life.

My fears of change, as grave as they were, were secondary to my fear of carrying on like this for years to come. I was burning my most precious resource - time. Looking forward and assuming I might work until 67 meant I had another 25 years to go. So, potentially, I had more career years ahead of me than behind me. I could start all over again! I had a window of opportunity to take a shot at a new life, but that window would not stay open for long.

When I’m old and facing the final curtain I want to look back with satisfaction, like Frank Sinatra singing, “I did it my way”. I do not want to look back with regret, knowing I had the opportunity to make a difference, but was too afraid to take it. Transformation became a matter of urgency.







Friday, December 9, 2016

Chapter 4 - Independence

I was about to leave behind 15 years of career with the firm. I did not know where I would go or what I would do. But I was determined to be self-employed. To be my own boss, to set my own targets, and go at my own pace. A frightened, pessimistic voice inside my head called me to stop. The voice knew it’s a tough world out there and provided good reasons why I should fear.

  • What are you going to do?
  • How will you make money?
  • What if you don’t make enough money?  
  • Your savings will burn out within 18 months. You’ve got just 18 months!!!
  • You can’t burn out your savings.You’ll need them when you’ll be elderly.
  • You must keep your savings for emergencies.
  • A corporate career is child’s play compared to going solo in the real world..
  • You don’t have what it takes; you’re not a salesman, you’re not a businessman. You don’t swim with the sharks, you don’t run with the wolfs.
  • You’ll end up like those prison inmates that can’t make it on the outside and return to life behind bars.
  • You’ll come crawling back, asking for a job.  

These were not momentary thoughts, they were powerful self-limiting beliefs. I could not dismiss them with “think positive”, “believe in yourself” or other such motivational slogans. I perceived life as a struggle - the survival of the fittests. The successful businessmen I met so far were wolves, superior and skilled at deception and manipulation, far from who I was or whom I wanted to be. Throughout the years I developed strengths that enabled me to prevail in this environment, but I had an Achilles' heel as well. When it came to caring for my own interests and well being, I could not draw the lines. I could not have an open, eye-level dialogue with superiors whom I did not respect. Instead, I would clench my teeth and fists, keep to my own, and build a grudge.

Most of us have self-limiting beliefs and habits that affect various aspects of our life. Some believe they are limited by a glass ceiling. Some feel lonely in a relationship, others can’t find a relationship. Some feel they are not fulfilling their potential. Some feel they ticked all the checklists, but something's still missing.  Some struggle to keep their head above the water. Others feel they have drowned and wish it would be over. As I would soon learn, such feelings are not a product of the present.

My coach reflected my beliefs back to me, and asked how I knew them to be true. She was questioning what I had considered to be obvious. “That’s life” I said, I didn’t have a better answer. Apparently, what was obvious to me was clearly not obvious to her, it was something to challenge. I didn’t enjoy life in the rat race, it’s values were different from mine. So even if there was the slightest chance to make a difference, I was willing to open to the possibility that I was wrong. We were about to  reveal ‘the Matrix’. and I was ready to take the ‘red pill.    

How do our paradigms and perceptions of life come about? Apparently they form early in life. Various schools of developmental psychologists, associate our development to different stages of infancy, childhood and adolescence. Yet, it is commonly accepted that by the time we reach our early twenties our personality, our habits and beliefs are conditioned. From there onwards we just repeat patterns. We have patterns of response, we have emotional patterns and patterns of thinking. We look upon the world through the tinted and biased glasses of our childhood experiences, and we interpret events to suit conditioned agendas.

As babies we are totally dependent on our parents. We are born dependent and nurturing has shapes the person we become. For example, Avigail, my ten months baby is not fond of diaper changing. As I try to change her diaper she may roll on her belly or arch her back and scream. Changing diapers is not my pleasurable pastime either, especially if I am preoccupied or in a hurry. We are in conflict - I want to get it done, she does not, If I lose my patience, the conflict will become physical. A baby is no match to an adult, and if I hold her down forcefully her experience of diaper changing will be of oppression - the exercise of authority in a cruel, or unjust manner. The upbringing of children provokes conflicts and it can bring us to unnerving situations. Children can be very difficult at times, and as parents we may feel helpless. But if we lose our nerves, if we use force and aggression we oppress our children and we can make an imprint on their body and soul for the rest of their life.      

Today I understand this, but at first I refused to consider it. To think that my relationship with my boss was somehow a reproduction of my childhood experience came to me as a great surprise. When my coach proposed we look into my childhood to understand my current behavior I resisted. I wanted executive coaching, not psychological therapy, and I didn’t like where this was going. I considered my childhood a matter of the past, and saw no point in reopening it. Lucky for me, my coach was a professional. She understood resistance was part of the process, and lead the way with patience and compassion.

I am the eldest of four siblings. My parents were 23 when they had me. Two years later came my first brother and the second was born two years after. So, at the young age of 27 my parents had three boys to handle. Our sister was born much later, when I was 13. In retrospect I think the three of us were too much for my parents to handle at such a young age. They both studied and worked hard, especially my father who always came home late, tired and stressed up. House rules were non-negotiable and crossing lines was unyieldingly punished. Gradually I developed a passive-aggressive attitude towards my parents. In the early years it was passive rather than aggressive, because aggressive conduct was punished with even greater aggression. There was no dialogue, harsh events were never discussed and reconciled. At age 16 I rebelled and became a raging teenager. I did not speak a word with my parents for more than two years. I kept to myself clenched my teeth and fists and feed my feelings of victimization with even more anger. Eventually, during my military service I tired from rebelling. Life went on, but those years were never spoken of, the experiences were never processed. We locked them away and threw the keys.

Twenty-six years later, at age 42, and with the guidance of my coach, the wounds were reopened. Gradually it became clear, I saw the pattern of my relationship with authority figures. It repeated itself again and again. When I had supervisors who I could look up to and gave me a free hand, I flourished. But whenever I faced a supervisor who I did not appreciate, or I felt he was limiting my freedom I would rebel. Usually I would  bottle up my feelings and shut off verbally and just do my own thing, accumulating my anger. My conditioning confined my possibility of having an eye-level dialogue with authority figures. It happened with quite a few commanding officers in the military and now it was happening again as I lost faith in my boss and did not want to follow his guidelines.

Born free spirited and restrained by upbringing, I carried my restraints into adulthood by preserving my resentment and anger. These restraints affected my ability to communicate openly with some of my superiors. When we had conflicting interests I was unable to speak out, express myself openly, and protect my interests. Deep within I preserved the victim mentality of a raging teenager. No matter how high on the ladder, even as CEO, I was not free.

Life taught me that freedom does not come with rank, position or title. It is not granted or delegated by others. Neither is it related to being employed or self-employed, I’ve seen enough business owners who live as slaves. To be free is to have a sense of responsibility and ability to navigate my own life. To let go of the victim mentality, the blame and the anger. Today, I do not blame my parents. They did their best and believed they were doing the right thing. I recognize my responsibility for my choices. I have reconciled with my past, therefore I am free to live in the present and to choose my future..


Chapter - 5