Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Compelling Saga

If I am lucky I am often a week or two behind my ability to grasp big ideas. In a previous blog I mentioned a book called High Altitude Leadership, in it was the concept of a compelling saga.  According to the authors, a compelling saga is “…a story or drama that inspires passion for a strategic result, a passion that overwhelms the selfishness common in humans.” 

I have been mulling over for a month or so how can I tell a compelling saga. I know the desired outcome of the compelling saga, I know the components of a compelling saga but I do not know how to tell a compelling saga.

I believe whenever I have a pressing question, an opportunity to discover the answer is always present.  As such, an opportunity came through invitation to a Toastmaster's storyteller workshop this past Monday.  When the speaker asked why we were there one man said he wanted to relearn how to tell stories like when he was seven years old. His statement soothed any anxieties of the crowd and reminded me of how an honest and authentic presenter with child-like awe can win the hearts and minds of an audience.  

This workshop spoke to my inner artist and rekindled my enthusiasm for stories. So I thought I would share what I learned through a great online example. 

Benjamin Zander is a conductor who claims (and convinces us) "classical music is for everybody." This is a fairly refutable statement as only approximately 3% of the population listen to classical music. Mr. Zander surely has a compelling saga up his sleeve.

Mr. Zander speaks in a vibrant, quirky, unique, and surprisingly funny manner. We know without question his life and his passion is classical music. Perhaps this is what lulls us into somehow believing this classical music business is not merely for the wealthy, the intellectuals, or those who are willing to spend an entire life understanding the meaning of one piece of music, but that it is for us common folk as well.

Mr. Zander immediately disproves typical arguments against an individual's ability to enjoy classical music and closes the gap between those who love it and those who have no relationship with it at all. All this within mere minutes, and then Mr. Zander's begins his compelling saga, "I am not going forward until everyone in this room...will come to love and understand classical music."

I actually love classical music yet with his compelling saga I felt my love grow stronger. In fact, it made me want to re-watch a favorite movie which showcases my favorite piece.

Mr. Zander has let us in on a powerful insight, "You notice there is not the slightest doubt in my mind this is going to's one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he is leading to realize whatever he is dreaming."

Until I can practice more and deliver a one-buttock compelling saga, I am off to practice a two-buttock compelling saga. If this does not make sense, then you probably didn't watch the video. So I will forewarn you: If I am telling a story and leaning over on one buttock, I am not attempting to pass gas.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Am I Stressed Out?

Let’s see:

I work full time, in fact I am looking for a new job, I am the president of my Toastmaster’s club, and I am attending school full time. Sadly, this was not enough for me so I enrolled in a class which also requires a good deal of physical training. This class also soon requires I come clean with my own inability to cope in a healthy way with a work issue. And, this week we are assigned to watch Stress: Portrait of aKiller and I got stressed watching it!

So, the short answer would be yes I am stressed out!

But let’s take another look. 

I chose all of these things and at different moments, each has brought me a sense of something to strive for, to shine in, and to step up to the plate and put my best foot forward.  Even though I am challenged by this balancing act and the demand to go inward to find my strength I know this cat-in-the-bag struggle is a gamble with rich rewards. So I keep working at it.

I am currently reading Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You by Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Koshaba. I do not recommend it full flavor. While the book is rich with ideas it has proven burdensome to read (and I get funny looks on the metro). There is a mind numbing amount of repetition and pages and pages of questions. My advice: read a summary if you would like to learn the principles. 

The good thing is I have learned more about resiliency from this struggle with myself and find I apply it frequently throughout my day.  Right now I am overdoing it a bit, but until I feel confident in using the principles I will continue to practice, practice, practice. In the meantime I believe the better fortified my internal life is, the better I can handle external stressors. This has meant a lot of exhausting inner work for me. To actually sit down and list out all of my current stressors and go through the best and worst scenarios and laboriously identify solutions is not nearly as relieving as I thought it would be.  I guess if I wanted easy I would accept excuses.

Progress update: My last post was written thinking harsh thoughts about myself and where I am, progress-wise. One of the principles of developing resiliency is to broaden my perspective. After last week ended I realized I was beating myself up because I was exhausted from running. When I took a step back I realized that week the temperature ran above 60 percent humidity and in the upper 90’s. That is tough weather to run in.  I am trying to be gentler with myself—this is also helping me build my inner strength.

A great thing happened today. After an afternoon run I went to Whole Foods for a few items. The good news is as I winced and limped through the store my attention could not be held by the angel food cake, the bakery, or even those incredible vegan peanut butter cookies (if there are better vegan cookies out there PLEASE keep it to yourself!). Not only was it too much effort to limp over to them to browse, but I realized it is too much work to get the junk off my body. I was deeply satisfied by my dinner of salad and a sweet potato with coconut oil. 

The best thing I am incorporating into my life from all of this work is not that I need stress relief (come on, I laugh enough for that), but that stress does not have to affect me at all.   

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Exercise: Struggling for Motivation

I have been struggling to get on a consistent exercise program for at least a year.  I used to think I need be only as fit as my current lifestyle required. And since I work and go to school full time, I have had to rethink this approach.  So, when the opportunity to take a class involving camping and stretching myself mind, body, and spirit to a glacial mountain top in the Cascade Range came--I signed up! I figured I could dig deep and find the motivation to get in shape. 

I must report: not yet. Although I have been running, carrying a pack and speed walking, and even sitting into a squat when I have an extra moment—I confess I am not having a good time.  I thought I caught my stride two weeks ago but as it turns out it was the glass of wine I had after work with a coworker which made me run better.  What to do? 

Mentally, I ran through a list of people who have inspired me. One of the most amazing people I have met came to mind: Billy “Makata Taka Hela” Mills. This was my introduction to Billy Mills (number 722):

The crowd burst into applause. Billy needed no further introduction and stood up to give a speech with a spellbinding tale of his life woven skillfully with harnessed, but powerful emotions. As I look again at Billy's story I found I need to go inward and develop my own motivation. Or as Billy says in an interview: “Look inside yourself, believe in yourself, put in the hard work, and your dreams will unfold.”

After the speech I enjoyed watching a cultural celebration with Pow Wow dancing in full regalia and many of the audience members sharing a meal. I was standing next to a table and Billy came over with a plate of food and asked if he could use the table. I thought to myself “I’ll leave if you’d like me to.” But I of course agreed. I enjoyed every moment with him—he is a gentle soul.

I asked Billy if the Marine Corps let him train for the Olympics. He told me he worked full time and trained on his own time. Ok—there goes that handy-dandy excuse: I do not have enough time to exercise.

When I watched the video above I noted it is different from the one I saw during his speech and one memorable part is not captured. In the speech video Billy was not only boxed-in but he was shouldered hard by another runner--enough to momentarily distract him. If you have a moment you can see it here and hear about how Billy beat the odds and developed mental toughness while training. When I think about the adversity in Billy's life, I am awed by his resilience and perseverance. Billy overcame obstacles most of us will never have to deal with by finding his passion and believing in himself.

I have looked inward and I found my passion. I know the rest will follow.

Wakantanka bless you Billy. Wakantanka bless.