The Owl's Perch

Stoicism and Fear Setting - Old Tools for Today's Issues

Sunday, May 13, 2018

When you think of a Stoic, you might create a picture in your mind of a boring, emotionless person. Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius are a few famous Stoics from a few thousand years ago, and they were anything but boring. Having studied Stoicism recently, I think there is great relevance of the philosophy today. Seneca is quoted as saying, “Think your way through difficulties: harsh conditions can be softened, restricted ones can be widened, and heavy ones can weigh less on those who know how to bear them.” One tool stoics used is imagining the worst-case scenario and clarifying fears.

In today’s age of optimists tending toward naiveté and pessimists tending toward cynicism, it makes sense to reach back 2000 years to this tool when entering a negotiation, making a big decision or preparing for a difficult conversation. Further, I believe it’s a key leadership tool when setting strategy.

In a nutshell, here’s the process: First, imagine the worst thing that could happen if you took a certain course of action. Be specific in defining what might happen. Next, specifically name the fears that may attend such an occurrence – really feel what it might be like to experience the emotions. Then, consider what you might do to prevent such an occurrence and then repair it. That’s it.

A quick example: Recently I had some friends I hadn’t seen in a while over for dinner. Truth is, I felt very judged by them for many years and was unsure how to invite them into my home. I considered topics we might discuss and how I wanted to show up. Using this process, I defined the worst things that might happen if I brought up uncomfortable subjects and how I might prevent things from going off the rails. I tried to sense what it would be like to feel judged and to continue the status quo of not seeing them. Damage repair began to feel better than doing nothing, if in fact they even stayed for dessert. I chose to consider discussion topics that were interesting and thoughtful. Perspectives on current events, thought-provoking recent books and family updates beyond just where and when. I steadied myself for twists and turns that may happen and had a few kind words ready in my back pocket should things go sideways

Because I first considered a few worst-case scenarios, I showed up full of compassion and heart rather than with fear and trepidation – and that made all the difference. At the end of the evening, one of them said to me, “Wow – you really did this well. Thank you.” By the way, if you’re interested, Tim Ferriss describes a Stoic process he calls “Fear Setting” in his TED talk. It’s worth a listen. I’m curious how you might consider using this ancient tool to help solve some of your big decisions?


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Why Transformation is Messy

Sunday, April 08, 2018

We’re all on a journey of self-discovery and living a full life. Sometimes that journey involves transformation. If you’ve experienced transformations in your life or witnessed one in someone close to you, perhaps you agree that they, like the journeys of life itself, are rarely linear or tidy. In fact, for me the difference between transformation and change is that transformation nearly requires a messy falling apart or reordering of things.

When a caterpillar goes through a metamorphosis into a butterfly, its body literally liquefies before becoming a beautiful butterfly. Radical transformation is the very process of becoming new by a thorough shedding of the old. When a business needs a turnaround, or you’re thinking of moving to a new home, there are sometimes just simple changes to make. Other times, a complete transformation is necessary. Both are perfectly acceptable ways to move through change. But if you sense a transformation is needed, be prepared for a twisting, turning exploration ahead!

For me the key is finding beauty, compassion and adventure in the process because it’s all too easy to find blame, shame or judgment in the messiness. For nearly twenty years, I had a successful career in commodities trading. For a couple of years, I knew inside that a change was needed, but I wasn’t sure what the catalyst would be or just how transformative those changes would be. Boy, did I make a mess of my leaving! A falling out with my business partner took years of care and resilience to repair. But I spent a lot of time blaming others for how and when it happened. As I look back, the deep inner work and complete re-ordering of the way I saw the world and my purpose in it was the only way to move forward to forgiveness and healing. Gratefully, most of the impacted relationships were fully restored, re-ordered and built on respect and love. Others are still a work in progress. But today, I look on the last 14 years since I left my former career as a beautiful example of the power of transformation, mess and all. What’s more, I built a new career around helping others through their transformations and I couldn’t be more fulfilled.

I wouldn’t be doing this work and loving every bit of it, were it not for going through the messiness of a life-changing transformation. While I wouldn’t have chosen to make, or be in that mess, I’m grateful for the lessons it taught me. Fear needn’t be a deterrent to real change. It’s truly an amazing, beautiful adventure!

What changes are ahead for you and how will you move through them?


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Deep Kindness

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Tolerating, Emptying and Beginning Again

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Spiritual Warriors Respond to Spiritual Crises

Sunday, January 07, 2018

First Be Kind - Practicing Kindfulness!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Rooster's Sunrise

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Those Who are Different than Me

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Fifty Shades of Gentleness

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Unconditional Gentleness

Sunday, October 09, 2016

I’m in the midst of a deep and thorough internal re-wiring process. For most of my life I was proud of how hard I drove myself, the high standards to which I held myself and others, and my ability to get through just about anything. Alone these aren’t good or bad traits. What’s being rewired is the force with which I push myself. I’m giving gentleness a try and finding some pretty incredible results.

My internal conversation used to sound something like this: “Well, that was a mistake! Now, what caused it to happen, how did I contribute and what did I learn?” With a very subtle “you dummy” in the background after each question, I’d dig into the answers. What usually happened is I’d never find a real solution, meaning or lesson because the harsh judgment made me keep digging and digging – often starting around 3am every night.
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Assoc Conflict Res Bosi Certified Partner Center for Right Relation Coaches Training Institute ICF Leadership Circle Team Coaching Int Vistage Chair