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I'm a busy-ness addict. I've achieved a lot in my career but the cost has been high. As a business leader being too busy had me focus on quick fixes to seemingly urgent problems instead of attending to the messy priorities requiring patience and thought. Busy-ness also cost my family life and well-being to the point where twice I left senior management roles.
All my mentoring clients are affected by busy-ness.
I'm changing the habits of a lifetime so what to do? It feels OK admitting to being helplessly busy. I try to ask myself, 'Is that really important?' And get colleagues to ask me, 'Do you really need to do that now?' But I don't have it handled at all.
If you aren't too busy maybe this article I wrote for Sorted, a men’s publication, could be helpful.
"Make sure you look out for each other, make sure you’re resilient and kind and supportive of each other…”
Great words indeed from our Western Australian Health Minister. But the test we all face has exposed the cracks in my resilience.
Like almost everyone I’ve lost work and had every meeting and conference cancelled, and so my livelihood and ambitions for the future. All my social and exercise groups have been abandoned.
Holding on to my familiar life even as it ebbs away, I wonder what to do with myself. I over-react and get frustrated. I get stupidly busy, yet anxiety saps my effectiveness. And we haven’t even begun a lockdown here in Perth!
My mentor said we’re all experiencing loss and fear of what’s to come. Being resilient today is the capacity to adapt to adversity by bending not breaking, like bamboo*. Instead of trying to control life and fill my head with information I must allow myself to feel the loss and fear, let it go and live in the now. It’s about who I’m being more than what I do.
My Italian brother-in-law Lorenzo, locked down in Rome, is living this reality. He’s mourned his lost life and now sees his forced confinement as an opportunity to reflect. It’s like the ancient story of Jonah who’s swallowed by a whale and in the silent gloom forced to confront his life. Spat out after three days Jonah uses his second chance to complete a crucial mission.
Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King demonstrated even prison can be a time of inner growth as did writers like Viktor Frankl, Vaclav Havel and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. They suffered but used their second chance to emerge from the crucible as great leaders**.
People on the margins in my city are also ‘confined’ by poverty or illness, yet they display great resourcefulness and courage.
My brother-in-law has a lot of cred right now. Confinement is his new reality but offering the same opportunity as it did to Mandela. We will all face hardships – financial stress, loneliness, caring for kids, feeling trapped or bored - but we’ll also have the opportunity, as if we’re in a far-away place, to connect to loved ones, develop patience and grace, read, relax, watch films, meditate, write, paint, make music, garden, play, sort through old photos or start that big project. Maybe reinvent our lives.
Confinement also demands hope. Lorenzo’s 88-year-old mother has used her time indoors to prepare and freeze a feast for the inevitable day of celebration when this ordeal is over. She lived through Mussolini and Nazi occupation, so she knows.
Resilience now is acknowledging my loss, letting it go and flipping around my perceptions. Foregoing the company of others is protecting them. Confinement is an opportunity to ‘be’ in the moment and grow. As easy as helping a neighbour, reading a book, calling a loved one and simplifying life.
What about the current situation do you find most challenging? Who could you talk to build up your resilience?
*Bend, Not Break: 9 Powerful Traits of Resilient People by Faisal Hoque in The_Blog, HuffPost, December 6, 2017 https://www.huffpost.com/entry/bend-not-break-9-powerful_b_4719513
** Borrowed from a fantastic sermon by Peter Greig: Trembling at a Time of Shaking https://www.emmausrd.com/series/off-script/
I also really recommend the following (because you’re going to have a lot of time to read):
Awareness – The Perils and Opportunities of Reality by Anthony de Mello, Image Books, 1992
Consolations - The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte, Many Rivers Press, USA, 2015.
What do you do when others give you tough feedback about your behaviour, but you don’t see it yourself? In fact, you think they’re the problem. Do you humbly accept what they’re saying and try to change? Or do you rely on your own positive self-image, as I‘ve always done, and defend yourself?
My mentor says we can learn the most about ourselves when challenged by those around us. My opportunity came recently travelling through New Zealand with my wife and a couple we’ve known for thirty years. The catalyst was being together in a motorhome for almost two weeks.
Our journey took us past achingly beautiful vineyards, farms and vistas straight from Lord of the Rings (it really was like the photo!). Each day offered a new mountain to climb, track to cycle, or turquoise bay to kayak. Each evening we camped by a river, lake or the ocean, enjoying the sunset, a good meal and a glass of wine.
We also argued a lot over everything from directions and parking to what to eat for breakfast. We’d been warned of the risks of cramming four adults into a 6.8 x 2.2 m box on wheels in which we’d all have to cook, eat, wash up, dress, undress, sleep and pee. 'Spam in a can' as the astronauts used to say. There was nowhere to hide If you farted.
We eased any friction by starting each day with an Irish blessing* and ending with G&Ts and an honest debrief on the day’s positives and negatives.
The first evening someone brought up I’d snapped at them that day because they’d been anxious about my driving. I defended myself but apologised, to keep the peace.
The next few days over G&Ts, my companions enumerated further occasions where I’d lost it, becoming disproportionately angry with them for forgetting to turn off a switch, remove shoes inside or put recycling in the right bin. I defended myself again feeling justified at being angry.
On the final night I got mad at the others for snacking on cheese I’d set aside for pizzas. But it turned out there was more than enough cheese which we had to throw away. That’s when I received the toughest feedback of all. Everyone understood my intention but told me I'd overreacted to the point of being weird.
I knew instinctively this was the truth. I broke down at the awful realisation of just how often I’m angry but in denial about it. I had to accept it.
Back home I talked to my mentor. His feedback confirmed what the others were telling me. The pressure cooker of the motorhome had highlighted problematic patterns in my behaviour that need addressing. I want intimate, loving relationships and must take steps to heal old wounds and let go of bad habits.
Tough feedback offered with care in the right environment is life-saving. Who’s giving you feedback, and do you let it in?
*To Bless the Space Between Us – A Book of Blessings by John O’Donohue, Convergent Books, New York, 2008.
Over 30 years working with thousands of men I’ve discovered most will talk about their concerns and feelings. Recent research from Movember* confirms my experience: more than three-quarters of men recognise that talking is an effective way to deal with problems, and the same proportion has at least one person to talk to.
Yet in the same survey, 58% say society expects them to be emotionally strong and not show weakness. 62% of men who say they’re under pressure don’t talk to avoid being unmanly (38% of all men). 43% wish they could talk openly about personal problems but don’t. 41% regret opening up in the past because they weren’t taken seriously or respected.
My experience is that once men get talking, you can’t shut them up. The problem is many must overcome obstacles like ‘being manly’. So how do we encourage more guys to open up?
We need more men who know how to listen.
Most of us think simply listening to another man is too passive to make any difference but done with care and respect, it’s a gift. When a man listens, he demonstrates that what others have to say is valuable and talking is useful. With space to talk, a man can think. Seemingly insurmountable problems are exposed to the light and broken down into manageable pieces. He can run scenarios and test ideas. His confidence grows.
A while ago in a mentor training session, I ran a simple listening exercise. The guys paired up into speakers and listeners. The latter were asked to push their opinions aside, look interested, say little except to ask a few questions, and refrain from offering advice. Their job was to create space for the other men to talk, think and solve their own problems. We all felt unnatural but agreed to try it in our mentoring sessions.
A few days later a man I was mentoring was struggling to articulate his problem and then work out his course of action. I was dying to interrupt to tell him what I thought was the bleeding obvious answer. But he soon came up with a far better solution and left happy and empowered. I was so glad I kept my mouth shut.
My invitation to you is to ask another man if he’d like to talk and then just listen. That’s all you need to create space for magic to happen.
here to happen.
Have a look at my videos on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqT9PK68Z9MGI-Ia_9rRdzA
*Perceptions of Masculinity and the Challenges of Opening Up by Ipsos Mori October 2019 commissioned by Movember surveyed 4,000 men in Australia, Canada, UK and USA. https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/amhf/pages/722/attachments/original/1572840692/Movember_Masculinity_Report_%281%29.pdf?1572840692
Do you ever hear an authoritative, inner voice warning you not to do something? Richard Rohr, a well-known expert on men, calls this interior voice our ‘loyal soldier’ whose job is to help us become productive, obedient citizens by reinforcing the rules and obligations we’re taught as kids.
My loyal soldier gave me my identity as a young man, telling me to be strong in the face of adversity and finish my homework before watching Hockey Night in Canada. He assured me of success if I was honest and worked hard. He provoked guilt if I broke the rules. He told me to be strong when my mother died.
But my loyal soldier was bound to fail me later in life. His black and white, blinkered thinking was unable to comprehend the complexities of running a consulting firm during the global financial crisis. With falling sales, outdated products and too many people, I needed new ideas. But my loyal soldier could only chant, ‘Don’t give up. Be strong.’
Instead of leading a transformation, I defended myself from criticism. After two futile years of slog, I was made redundant and the office closed. In the ensuing weeks, something inside me collapsed, like a death. I’d invested everything in that business and was unprepared for failure. With my career gone, so was my identity.
I could not work this out for myself and sought out a mentor to talk it through.
He began with Richard Rohr’s story from post-war Japan, where wise community leaders welcomed home their traumatised soldiers with a special ceremony. The men were thanked for their sacrifice and told fighting was now unnecessary. Each could ‘discharge his loyal soldier’ and become a warrior for peace and reconstruction.
‘Is it time to discharge your loyal soldier?’ he asked. ‘Another “you” is waiting to emerge. Perhaps now the second half of life can begin.’
My heart sank because I knew nothing else. Thus began months of often painful reflection with my mentor. Yet eventually I was able to thank my loyal soldier and ceremonially discharge him. Slowly my drive for career success diminished. I’ve moved to the side-lines and begun journeying alongside other men, some going through similar experiences. I’ve enjoyed basking in their successes.
Do you struggle to let go of fixed ways of thinking and habits that no longer work? Perhaps you too have a loyal soldier who needs to be honoured for his service and then discharged.
 Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr (London: SPCK Publishing, 2012).
How to stop comparing yourself to others and live your own life
CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO
Recently I was invited to a twenty-year reunion of former investment banking colleagues in London. I’d been out of that business for two decades. The organiser had been a junior on our team at the time, but his on-line biography revealed a meteoric rise since. My imagination conjured up wealthy over-achievers bragging about their high-flying careers and country houses.
I almost pressed ‘Delete’ but went to discuss it with my mentor.
‘I know I chose a different path,’ I said, ‘but I feel like a failure with these guys.’
‘Who is judging your life?’ he asked.
I felt I was my harshest critic.
‘No, it’s your Panel of Judges,’ he replied. ‘Imagine there’s a group of people in your head assessing you all the time. Every so often they hold up their scores, like judges at a figure-skating competition. Except they're not assessing your skating, They're judging your life.’
This resonated. I’d always striven to put on a good look to others. But who?
Firstly, there was my long-dead father whose approval I still sought. There were also some ludicrously successful men I knew in my twenties, including an aristocrat who became a best-selling author, a top investment banker and a famous journalist.
‘You’ve always tried to impress these people,’ continued my mentor, ‘except you haven’t seen them for thirty years or more. They never think about you.’
This was great mentoring.
I decided to attend the reunion but had a wobble when I compared the hotels where some people stayed to my university dormitory. And I cringed as I compared my dated suit to everyone’s chic casual attire. Yet those doubts evaporated when I was warmly greeted by former colleagues. No one bragged. A number shared about surviving illnesses and tragedy. Some thanked me for having been a compassionate leader. Our former boss acknowledged my contribution. Everyone left feeling good about themselves. For many, those years had been the best of their careers. Walking back to the dorm in the early hours, I felt deeply known and appreciated.
As a mentor, I’ve started talk to others about the Panel of Judges. A very successful friend calls it his Board of Directors.
‘My deceased mother is still the chairperson! There’s also a lady from twenty years ago who told me I was so talented I’d be on the cover of a magazine. Ever since I’ve worried about living up to that!’
Then he added something we could all learn from: ‘Maybe I can let them go.’
As a young man Russell’s mentors were his cool cousins and flat-mates. Really, they were just clueless ‘Lost Boys’ like him.
Later he realised there were heroes, good role models and mentors out there who’d help him, “…become the person I want to be in spite of the inner and outer obstacles I face.”
Russell’s recent book is a love letter to them all, full of hilarious stories of self-induced catastrophe as he blunders through life.
He acknowledges he’s still a work in progress, trying to stay open to learn and change.
It wasn’t until Russell was a celebrity drug addict that he sought out his first mentor, a recovered addict called Chip, who oozed credibility simply by practising what he preached. Russell was encouraged to talk about feelings he’d been keeping inside like fear, anger and vulnerability. Instead of judgement and solutions, Chip shared his own personal stories and experience with humour and compassion.
You may think you have nothing in common with Russell, but let’s face it, we all have our addictions: work, screens, sport, food, fitness, sex, gambling, games, alcohol, cigs, pot, porn. And all of us have important things we need to talk about but aren’t.
This positive experience left Russell open for others to speak into his life.
For example, after yet another failed relationship, his acupuncturist asked, “What does it mean then, all this meditation, this programme, this faith in God, if as soon as there is a problem in your life you turn to sex?”
The next mentor was Jimmy, a spiritual man who avoided giving easy answers and was able to be both detached and compassionate at the same time.
He recommended another mentor called Bruce to help Russell understand the source of unhelpful repeating patterns dogging his life.
Then a silent martial arts instructor helped Russell accept the humiliation of losing.
Later a counsellor called Manya guided him and his new wife through the first difficult years of marriage.
Russell eventually became a mentor to others, his desire to give back greater than fear of his own imperfections. He’s learned to put those to one side and be the man these guys need him to be.
The book’s honesty, affection and humour won me over. Ultimately, it’s a powerful call to action.
I learned two things:
We can all help men who are suffering. All it takes is courage and asking five simple questions.
Click here to watch the video.
Many men don’t know how to respond when a friend, colleague or even a family member is going through a hard time.
Some recent examples:
These examples reveal a massive disconnect in our society. Suffering men want someone to talk to about:
But other men are not making themselves available to listen. I’ve asked many guys to tell me what’s in the way:
‘I don’t have the time for a long conversation, so I avoid it.’
‘I have no idea what to say.’
‘He should talk to his wife.’
‘I don’t want to disturb him or make him unhappy.’
‘I’m not very good around people crying.’
‘What if he loses it? I wouldn’t know what to do.’
All this is said with a good measure of guilt and resignation. The result is untold numbers of men suffer in silence.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Dr David Servan-Schreiber, a world-renowned psychiatrist specialising in anxiety and depression, writes in his book Healing Without Freud or Prozac, ‘Because relationships have the power to regulate our emotional brains, this translates directly into protection from anxiety and depression – in fact into well-being.’
I recently saw this with my own eyes.
A man with a serious illness recently admitted he’d never spoken with anyone about his concerns for the future. Yet after twenty minutes of dialogue with another man in our mentor group, he was almost smiling with relief, having simply worked a few things out inside a safe ‘listening’ space.
Almost anyone can learn how to be listen in these situations. It only requires courage and some skills.
Dr Servan-Schreiber describes an excellent fifteen-minute process originally designed for time pressed GPs trying to help people experiencing tragedy, depression or anxiety. Any man could use this tool to engage with a friend or colleague.
The process is to BATHE the other man’s heart. If that sounds a bit too touchy-feely don’t worry. It only requires listening and asking questions (although you are allowed to hug him if you want):
B is for BACKGROUND – To connect with a man you need to find out what’s causing him to suffer. Ask, ‘What happened?’ Listen for at least two minutes without any interruption.
A is for AFFECT – Men often stuff down what they’re feeling and need an opening to connect with their emotions. It might seem stilted but ask, ‘How does that make you feel?’.
T is for TROUBLE – It might seem counter-intuitive, risky or even cruel, but the best way to help the other guy avoid drowning in emotion is to ask, ‘What troubles you the most right now?’ or 'What's the most important thing in all you've said?' It helps him find the core issue, which often is not obvious.
H is for HANDLING – Once the man has identified the most important thing you can encourage him to think about solutions by asking, ‘And what would help you handle this now?’ This questions implies he has everything he needs to resolve the situation. You need to trust he can do it.
E is for EMPATHY– Men feel alone when they suffer. They’ll know you care if you empathise by nodding a lot, holding his gaze and saying, ‘That must be hard for you.’ Or ‘I felt sad as you told me your story.’ Or ‘I’m sorry this happened to you.’
In summary, by simply following this process in the recommended order you as a mentor enable another man to take ownership of his situation and come up with practical strategies to make things even just a little bit better.
Of course, you don’t need to squeeze this conversation into fifteen minutes. Take an hour if you can. And then see him a number of times in ensuing months.
According to Dr Servan-Schreiber a listener demonstrating care and empathy is good for him too, creating feelings of connection and confidence.
Please let me know how you go if you try this process. Click here for the contact form.
Click here for more resources on mentoring.
"We evolved to need and depend on each other. It’s part of our biology."
It was 5:35 am, pitch dark, 6 degrees and cloudless. The road was very wet. Still eight guys were waiting to start the Thursday bike ride.
The whole way we were sprayed by vehicles beside us and the bikes in front. Soaked, dirty and cold we pulled in 45 kms later at our favourite café, ready for a coffee and pastry.
In the middle of the usual post ride banter, someone asked, “What time is the funeral?”
I asked, “Whose funeral?” and was told of the tragedy fallen on a cyclist from another group: his son had recently taken his own life.
“That young guy ticked all the boxes,” someone said. “An ‘A’ student at uni, a beautiful girlfriend and a large social circle. He suffered from anxiety but was under the care of good professionals… Not good enough I guess.”
I was devastated. He was the fourth young man connected to my immediate circle of friends who’d died by his own hand in the past six months.
Apparently eight hundred people attended his funeral. He was truly loved and is truly missed.
By chance, later in the day I listened to an interview with Hugh Mackay, Australia’s most eminent social researcher, talking about the ‘epidemic of anxiety and mental illness in the Western world.’ He says the evidence is overwhelming humans are hard wired to live in community. We evolved to need and depend on each other. It’s part of our biology.
“We only find ourselves in the faces of others,” says Hugh.
Yet these days we don’t live that way, led to believe ideal humans are strong and independent.
The result is a fragmenting society: more marital breakups, one parent families, people living alone, shift work, FIFO work, job changes and house moves. Many of us don’t know our neighbours so don’t rely on or trust them. Our faith in institutions and leaders has diminished. On-line ‘communities’ are a pale imitation of coffee with a real person. We retreat into ever disintegrating nuclear families, or on our own, doing life independently.
How are young men affected? Many don’t experience family or community behind them simply because those people are often not there.
‘Does anyone believe in me?’ they wonder. ‘Does anyone, other than my mum, really care?’
I went through this experience in my late twenties. It makes you anxious and stressed. Your body pumps too much adrenaline and cortisol. You get exhausted and don’t think straight. You have lots of friends but don’t talk to anyone for fear of looking weak (and you know they don’t know anything anyway). You party to dull the anxiety. You react impulsively to events and make poor decisions. You care little about other people.
What is the solution? Hugh Mackay says we must learn compassion, real compassion, which involves reaching out to people and making a sustained effort to know them.
This is so important for young men!
They need interaction with a man who has come alongside in support. Someone with the skills and courage to engage with difficult topics like: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why am I here?’.
I am calling for all mature men to reach out to a young man in your life and offer what you have: a willingness to believe in him, an ability to listen and ask questions, and your years of experience.
Many of us will find this uncomfortable because we don’t think of ourselves as ‘mentors’. It’s too formal a word, perhaps. Or we’re afraid of being rejected or not knowing what to do or say.
But all this can be overcome. Look at the resources on Men’s Business for guidance. Join a mentor community.
The prize is raising up a magnificent generation of men who will help rebuild our social fabric.
Hugh Mackay – Australia Re-Imagined, Podcast: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/reimagining-australia/10003652
Hugh Mackay – Australia Re-Imagined, Book: https://www.booktopia.com.au/australia-reimagined-hugh-mackay/prod9781743534823.html
Recently I had a coffee with a young friend who runs a not-for-profit organisation.
Normally he is one of the most positive people I know, which is why I so enjoy being with him. He makes me laugh. I’m inspired by his commitment to reconcile communities which historically have not understood each other. And he makes me wish I’d focused more as a young man on making a difference instead of money.
But that day my friend was really down. One of his organisation’s most important funders had just communicated they would not be renewing their grant. The implications were serious going forward regarding staffing and programmes.
He took full responsibility for what happened, which is a powerful thing to do when things don’t go to plan.
But then he started blaming himself for everything that had gone wrong. He felt he should have seen this problem coming. I really felt for the guy.
It was very familiar to me. I’m hard on myself when I’ve done something wrong. I default into ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ mode, incessantly mulling over things I believe in retrospect I should have / could have / would have done differently to prevent the disaster from happening. I play every possible alternative scenario through my head as if I could have known the outcome in advance and changed it.
Our culture seems to require a ritual self-flagellation when one has done something wrong. People want to see remorse, a necessary performance of penance displaying how really, truly sorry you are.
You then declare, ‘This will never happen again’ and hope someone believes you.
After you’ve spent enough time in the dog house, you sense the gods and those you’ve upset are finally appeased. You can then move on.
I’ve raked myself over the coals this way many times. It’s always sincere. But is it really being responsible? And does it lead to useful change? No!
The problem with ‘what’s wrong’ thinking is staying stuck there. It’s past based and mostly about protecting my ego. Feeling guilty and stupid does not encourage reflection, learning and adaptation.
Carl Jung, the great psychoanalyst, realised both the ubiquity and damage caused by self-condemnation among modern humans. Once one discovers the worst enemy is oneself, what then? Unless one believes God forgives, or can forgive oneself, “…we…condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide it from the world and refuse to admit ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves.”
But if one truly wants to be responsible, learn and improve, what else can one do?
A few years ago, one of my best clients announced he was not going ahead with a multi-million-dollar consulting engagement. I’d been counting on it and was shocked. How could I have got it so wrong?
Everyone was upset with me – my boss, my colleagues and my client. I was flogging myself hard, wishing the earth would swallow me up.
Then a wise friend made a mind-altering suggestion.
“Why don’t you stop making yourself wrong?” he asked. “It’s not leading you anywhere productive.”
“I have to take responsibility,” I replied defiantly, wedded to the binary thinking of right / wrong, blame and shame. “The buck stops with me.”
“If you really want to be responsible,” he sniffed. “Ask yourself, ‘what’s missing?’”
It took a while but eventually the power of the question seeped into my brain. ‘What’s missing?’ gave me space to stop and inquire. There was no blame in the question, just curiosity.
Very quickly I realised I’d been trying to do too much on my own. I wasn’t using the expertise of smart people in the firm. Serving clients really suffered.
This simple insight helped me tremendously. I handed some responsibilities over to others and collaborated more with our experts. I prepared well for client meetings and workshops, which reduced my stress and made them happy. It was a virtuous circle.
When I recently told my young friend this insight over coffee he could see ‘what’s wrong?’ led only to self-condemnation. He was actually not to blame for anything. There was no way of foreseeing the funder’s negative decision. All that mattered now was an effective response.
What was missing was to keep sharing the vision with as many people as possible. He still had money in the bank and many leads to follow up. His burden lifted a little.
As mentors we can lift the curse of self-condemnation and help people think creatively. The technique is very simple. If someone is blaming themselves for a mistake, make the distinction between ‘something is wrong (with me)’ to ‘something is missing’. Share from your own experience of blaming yourself. Ask them how each statement makes them feel. For most it is a huge revelation. You’ll see them lighten up and gladly let go of making themselves wrong.
By asking ‘what is missing?’, you will encourage them to reflect without blame, shame or guilt, work out how to clean up the mess, and determine appropriate actions to move things forward.
Have a look at the website http://www.mensbusiness.net for more resources on being a better mentor.