There is only one success - to be able to spend the rest of your life in your own way. - Christopher Morley
Two weeks ago I'm sitting at a stool writing my bio at Barefoot Coffee Roasters (a fantastic organic coffeehouse in Santa Clara, CA). I'm supposed to come up with a witty list of bullet points per request to sum up my education, work and adventures. I get up to go to the bathroom mainly to stretch from the hours spent in front of the laptop. I'd been staring at the screen stumped as to how to succinctly articulate that rollercoaster adventure that spanned the years 2001-2004.
The bottom half of the bathroom wall is entirely wrapped in chalkboard. And there's a plastic tub with colored chalk to tempt our expressive side. Someone else has written in baby blue:
All You Need is Love - John Lennon
A dissenter responds in pink pastel:
Yes, thank you. We've all heard the song. When's the last time you tried to pay the rent with love?
That my friends pretty much sums up the core question in my life today. I use it as an open-ended question to dwelve into rather than an abrupt and cynical that's-just-the-way-it-is-folks statement.
I know, I know I said I'd come clean with my story. That's not entirely possible in the attention-deficit blogosphere. Only a sneak peek fits here. It doesn't help that I'm not entirely motivated to speak about the past. The beauty and freedom of blogging is writing about the here and now in the here and now.
Yet I thought you should know that although this here blog is often listed in the business blog category, I personally know almost nothing about conventional quote success unquote. I've only been a millionaire on paper. Heck, haven't we all been millionaires on paper, in our imaginations? If you resonate with Chris Morley's definition, well, then perhaps I can be more helpful.
Think of me as a fellow patient in the same hospital who, having been admitted a little earlier, could give some advice. - C.S. Lewis
In many ways, my story isn't unique. I've met so many folks that have gone through a near-bankruptcy, the dot-com crash, business betrayal, and divorce. It matters little if it was all in a span of a year or three or ten.
From there, each of us goes down our own pathway. I think what's important is not so much the turning points themselves, but the aftermath. How we learn, digest, integrate, rebuild in that in-between time to use the lessons and wake-up calls fruitfully. Along with my father's death at seventeen and more recently witnessing the tsunami, the avalanche of events circa 2001-2002 have been among the turning points of my life.
In hindsight I was fortunate enough to have so much go so wrong in short order that I couldn't pretend that I knew anything about anything. The Buddha has said: Forgo everything you have thought significant until now. (Uh, easier said than done.) I was stripped of everything I thought significant and I was stripped of being a know-it-all. I was hungry for answers, and this time simply stark questions remained. That in itself was a remarkable turning point: Evelyn didn't know.
Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to them that knock it shall be opened. - Jesus, The Sermon on the Mount
(Note: that I can even quote Jesus in public forgodsakes shows the great strides I've made. This would have been unthinkable - what would they think!? - just two years ago.)
Let's switch to another story... Don Listwin was No. 2 at Cisco when he left to become CEO of Openwave in September 2000. (Talk about bad timing. Uh, strike that, it did allow Listwin to cash out all his Cisco stock options.)
Yet the Internet bubble had already begun to burst, and [Don] Listwin says the four years he spent as CEO turned out to be the hardest of his life. "I had to lay off half my 2,500 employees. I got divorced. And my mom died." Listwin says....
He was at the hospital, near Vancouver, where his mom had died less than an hour earlier. His father and sister had just arrived, and the mourning process had begun in earnest. Just as a nurse came into the room and asked if the family would like to donate Grace Listwin's corneas, Listwin's mobile phone rang. It was Openwave's CFO, reporting in that they had missed their numbers for the quarter. "Thanks for telling me, but at the moment that's just going to have to take a back seat." - "When the Dream Changes", Paul B. Carroll, Worthwhile Magazine, July/August 2005
I'd been the first employee of a golden-boy-founded Internet start-up. That same September 2000 that Listwin joined Openwave we tried to get a second round of funding. I can only picture the men gathered around the board room as our iconic venture capitalist yelled and stomped when he uncovered that said golden boy, now chairman of the board, was merely working part-time. Everything quickly unraveled.
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. - Steve Jobs
Listwin walked away from Openwave and now devotes his life to fighting cancer at his non-profit. (Listwin's mission is focused on the crux of the cancer problem because "money is being made from treatment, not from detection.") I only use Listwin as a counterpoint to myself. It really doesn't matter: you can be a multi-millionaire in a velvet-lined prison cell of your own making or you can be a nomadic gypsy tossed from port to port, freedom and security is totally independent of your bank account.
Money isn't evil. It is nothing. - Anonymous
As catchwords that pull me forward, authenticity, purpose and integrity were the drivers that fueled my personal quest. These catchwords guided me quite well for the last few years. They fueled my curiousity. The funny thing was I practically ended up right where I'd started, or at least it looks that way externally.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.- T.S. Eliot
I watched many of my compatriots (especially women) leave behind technology and business to heal the world and escape to be 'more authentic': from joining non-profit ventures to becoming Reiki masters to listening deeply as a personal coach. It would require a book-length post to chronicle my journey - so I'll cut to the chase. I got to the point where I realized I didn't need to go anywhere to be myself. I didn't need to go anywhere to heal. Trust me, there's a whole lot of healing needed right here within business.
The old catchphrases have lost their mystery. Ever since the tsunami, I have new catchphrases: open-heartedness, selflessness, and grace. These catchwords are proverbial carrots at the end of the stick - pretty distant but compelling. Yet, they are on the very same authenticity continuum that I embarked in 2002.
Ultimately authenticity is interwined with fearlessness. You can read Steve Job's 2005 Stanford commencement speech. It's remarkably inspiring. Four days later, one can easily be back to reading the weekly status report and glumly punching the clock. I know this. Very well. Your fear, your doubt, your resistance, your homeostatis and your obstacles aren't specifically addressed in Job's speech, are they?
Inspiration doesn't pay the bills. We dismiss millionaires like Jobs and Listwin. Yeah, right, what do they know about fear and failure, we mumble. Fine, then (although they're ultimately flesh and bones - and spirit - too).
I grew up in an immigrant family, so 'Do what you love and the money will follow' was hardly my parent's life-long advice. To top it off, they were so overprotective and fearful of outsiders that riding my bicycle around the block, going over to a friend's home, having a boyfriend, and certainly the school trip to D.C. were strictly forbidden.
In a parallel universe I would have been an English lit and philosophy major, but even a journalism degree was too risky. In my first semester as a copy editor of the university paper, I quickly saw that seniors were having a tough time securing ill-paying reporting jobs. Needless to say, I graduated with a BSEE. (Actually, I love the art of computers too, but in my heart of hearts it's not my first love.)
Recently, at a journalism conference an Indian-Japanese comedian is introduced thusly, "Like all good Indians and all good Japanese, he became an engineer." This is so true it hurts like a Dilbert cartoon. His humorous quips as Andy Groves' demo boy eventually paved the way to his new career. The Indian journalists foremost question to him: "What did your parents say?" I'm scratching the surface, but this is the firm foundation I then laid my own heap of fears upon.
"So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time," is plain as day in Jobs' pep talk. He continues:
It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. - Steve Jobs
In 2002-2003, I bounced around the Bay Area sleeping on friend's couches (no floors, so I am one up on Jobs ;-)) and there were days I could barely afford peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. After one consulting engagement in Europe (after a long dry spell, and expenses were only reimbursed later), I wandered alone through Italian cobblestone streets teeming with cafes and shops hoping I could find something to eat with the change in my pocket. It amounted to less than a euro. Although I went hungry that one day, I gorged myself on the morning flight back to the U.S. on business class.
But as I've said before, the summer of 2002 was priceless. All the money I'd hoarded during my lucrative engineering days had never granted me a lasting sense of peace and joy and freedom. With nowhere further to fall, I gleaned what intuition actually was and followed it; I experienced the expansiveness of impersonal unconditional love - a love that emanates from the universe; and I was experimented with what freedom without strings attached might look like. It was that indescribable love that I trusted. It was an imperfect often halting trust, but it got me by. In an about face to the controlled will and rationality that had shaped my life, I simply trusted that it would (ok, how's might even) all work out OK.
You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. - Steve Jobs
What motivates me now? You will think me absurd for saying this in the same breath as the word business - and perhaps you've already surmised it: Yup, I am definitely hinting about enlightenment as the endpoint on the authenticity continuum.
We could regard enlightenment as the complete experience of fearlessness. – Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Shambhala Sun, March 2005
Enlightenment: that's my carrot catchword these days. Although enlightenment feels nebulous. It's more concrete when I translate it and contemplate opening my heart and living in grace.
As I write, I feel more absurd. The concept sounds absurd. Enlightenment? Hello, it's 2005. I work for a living. And I am attempting enlightenment in the most (or one of the most) materialistic regions in the most materialistic country while employed in a materialisitic profession. What gall!
According to Buddhist teachings, the buddha-nature is present in every living being, and the natural state of one's mind, when it's not misconstrued by the power of negative thoughts, is perfection. - Matthieu Ricard
They say Matthieu Ricard, the son of a French intellectual, "gave up a promising career as a scientist to study Tibetan Buddhism." Uh, what exactly is this promise behind a promising career, anyway? Does it have any relations in the family of happiness?
At a 2003 conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin who oversaw the experiments there, described his follow-up studies. Davidson, who had spent time in Asia studying meditation when he was younger, flashed a PowerPoint slide of a bell curve rising like a red mountain out of a flat landscape. It was a graph, he explained, charting 150 people's normal brain states. For the great majority, that state was a mix of left prefrontal cortex (positive emotion) and right prefrontal cortex (negative emotion) activity. But there was one tiny "data point" at the chart's far edge, a solitary pilgrim walking away from the looming red peak of statistical normalcy. That point was Matthieu Ricard, scanned during his compassion meditation. His reading was entirely off the curve in the area of positive emotion -- the most extreme result ever recorded. - "Scanning the Monk", Marc Ian Barasch, Utne Reader, March/April 2005
For extreme results of happiness and compassion, I'd go back immediately and wipe the tad-less-than-positive absurd from my vocabulary.
The eighty-four adepts, or mahasiddhas, who lived in India in the second to twelfth centuries found it necessary do spiritual practice in conjunction with their worldly activities. For instance, King Indrabhuti ruled a large kingdom and was surrounded by great luxury. Yet he received mahamudra [Buddhist] instructions, practiced them while ruling his Kingdom, and achieved the supreme accomplishment of mahamudra - enlightenment in one lifetime. Other mahasiddhas were cobblers, arrow makers, sweepers, and even practitioners of such humble occupations as grinding sesame seeds...There was for them no contradiction between the work that they had to do and the practice of mahamudra; no conflict came up between Dharma [application of Buddha's teaching] practice and worldly activities. - Essentials of Mahamudra: Looking Directly at the Mind, by Khenchen Thranga Rinpoche
What motivates me? Today, Mother Theresa's words spur me too: "Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." And I continue to ask myself: When's the last time you tried to pay the rent with love?
Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whoever loves much, performs much, and can accomplish much, and that which is done in love is well done. - Vincent van Gogh
Now ask yourself: When's the last time you tried to paid the rent with love?
Wish list: Web designer for a Drupal-based templates. Project: a group blog and community for an experimental customer storytelling blog that supports a new grassroots media cause each year (via blog + videoblog + podcasting). This year's cause: Tsunami Aftermath (see About Me) Multimedia Blogging. Passions: the inner and outer journeys and pilgrimages, everyday mindfulness/awareness, global citizenry...and more.
Wish list is a new end-of-post feature where I solicit for fellow adventurers for time and gifts for a new project (there's something in it for you, but only respond if this calls to you regardless of compensation). The running wish list (and project) will be wikified soon enough.