Those rocks are smaller than you think

Those rocks are smaller than you think

Coming to the end of The Obstacle is the Way I was surprised when the author announced that I was now a philosopher in Stoicism. Although the title of the book is perhaps an obvious clue as to what follows, I hadn’t framed my approach this way. But I found much of the book confirmatory of the usefulness of the concepts of stoicism – especially in a world of disruption (i.e. always!).

The challenging client? Covid anxiety? A war? The intractable work issue? Passive behaviour that feels aggressive? Too many life admins outstanding? All of the above all at once? I try to monitor and notice my own reactions to life’s obstacles – does my heart rate increase, am I irritable, do I start doing detailed work and planning? To notice is to be present in the here and now.

I remember many moons ago working in the Auckland Central police watchhouse – where people who had been arrested were “processed” – until they were bailed or taken to court. As you might imagine, not all customers were particularly happy – many drunk, aggressive and abusive. But you had to search, photograph and fingerprint them, whether they liked it or not. In some respects, achieving the outcomes required behaviour that was the antithesis of the macho, forceful imagine of a uniform cop tackling an alcohol-infused melee. It required the ability to depersonalise the anger directed at you. It’s surprisingly difficult to fingerprint someone – hold their fingers over an inkpad, and roll each finger on the paper – all ten of them – if they don’t want it! I must have achieved a modicum of success as the senior sergeant asked me to stay on for a second six month tour because he said, I had the temperament. I declined, patrols were far more exciting.

But it must have been part of my journey of stoicism, which has really come to the fore these last couple of years, although I’ve never really framed it for myself that way. Perception, Action and Will make up the three disciplines of this book and underpinning it is turning every obstacle into an advantage. In business we might say “turning lemon into lemonade”, or “pivoting now”, but what we’re doing is turning the challenge, the obstacle or disadvantage into an opportunity.

Put another way, declining to be a victim despite the circumstances of apparent unfairness, avoiding catastrophising a situation – living in the present – the book says that unfortunately “We have to dive endlessly into what everything “means”, whether something is “fair” or not, whats “behind” this or that..”. Actually most of the time when something isn’t going our way, the person, or people that might be the perceived cause, are more than likely not particularly interested in us. Sad, but good too! It can put perspective into our lives.

Been “disrespected” at work? Who hasn’t been? (who hasn’t done it too?). Was the other person acting with intention? Possibly, but more than likely it was just a moment. So don’t worry. Feed off what they said and come back more powerful appearing more considered and patient as a result.

It’s a perfect day for stoicism. Rain is here after what feels like months of fine weather (unconscious bias of course – there’s been some!), and it’s got that cosy, rain on the roof feeling.

An opportunity to catch up on life admin, and even restart a blog!

Stephen

Headline Photograph: Stonehenge from a visit in 2015. The rocks were quite a bit smaller than I had imagined.

It’s in your head

It’s in your head

I’ve been grappling a bit over the last couple of years with resilience – the concepts more than the actual thing (I think!). People talk of building it up, focussing on your wellbeing to make sure you are resilient, especially during this Covid era when uncertainty about work, health, travel, whanau is ever present. It’ll be coming up four years soon since I saw my eldest son, now settled in Ireland with children of his own, one I’ve not seen in person. There are thousands of similar, and far more challenging situations for many Kiwis. I’m thinking especially those who have lost their employment or had their earnings restricted from business, or who haven’t been able to say farewell to loved ones who have died. It’s tough. And resilience is needed.

I was out at my little piece of paradise this long Waitangi weekend, doing some cleaning up, after a big clean up – moving bits of old metal, some electric power line fittings – trees in pots that had fallen over and so on. I’ve been very cautious – one of my legs is not what it used to be and I’ve been looking after my resilience by protecting it, having others to do the hard graft, leaving me for such strenuous activities as watering and fetching cold drinks from the fridge in the container (should you leave it on? – I hope it’s alright!).

Something switched – maybe I suddenly reached a tipping point and got tougher, but I grabbed all the old metal, electrical fittings and some bits of timber and lugged them up the hill to the bin. Cripes it felt good. Then I did it again. Then I moved the plants back upright. Then I attacked the door to the bore shed that’s been jamming – fixed that.

I’m certain it wasn’t all in my head, I have been weaker, but it had got in my head and now it’s out and I’m free and strong to do what I can. Well that’s what it feels like – probably won’t make the Olympic team quite yet, but you get the drift!

Mount Taranaki

In The Mental Toughness Handbook by Damon Zahariades he separates resilience from mental toughness. He says Resilience:

“is the ability to bounce back from unforeseen complications. It’s the ability to adapt. For example, suppose you leave your home at a normal time en route to your workplace. Unfortunately, you run into expectedly heavy traffic on the freeway. This setback is sure to make you late for a meeting scheduled that morning.
A resilient person might grit his teeth and curse under his breath, but he’d ultimately adapt to this circumstance. He might seek a different route to his workplace, using his phone’s GPS feature. Or he may call his office and reschedule the meeting. Or he might compose an explanation for his tardiness that allows him to avoid others’ disapproval.

Mental toughness is a mindset. It not only reflects our ability to bounce back from unforeseen complications, but also demonstrates a positive outlook during the experience. It’s not just the ability to handle stressful situations. It reflects how we handle them. For example, a mentally tough person caught in unexpectedly heavy traffic might take the opportunity to listen to an inspiring audiobook. In fact, she might be pleased with her circumstance because it gives her the opportunity.”

Obviously there’s more to it in the book than I can relay here, but think about the times when things go wrong – do you see it as an opportunity? Or do you try and make sure the tracks are covered?

I’m not advocating pulling yourself up by the bootstrings necessarily but there is something to be said for thinking of the opportunity. But it’s tough. Mentally tough, but it might just be in your head as to which way you choose.

Resilience vs Mental Toughness. Subtly different.

Stephen

The coffee experience

The coffee experience

I’ve had two now. Both involved long (40 then 20 minutes) waits in the cold for a zap of espresso. Was it worth it? Hardly. It turns out the cheap pod coffee maker at home is just fine, maybe not quite as good, but overall, sadly for NZ Inc, the more pleasant pathway.

Instant reflection on that thought: self absorbed first world boomer problem! It’s raining today in Auckland – quite consistently – so there’s a warm cozy feeling in the apartment with E Kore Rawa E Wehe – Never be Apart – by TEEKS playing on the Hifi.

One of my neighbours escaped Russian aggression with his family as a young boy, fleeing into Nazi occupied Austria and eventually, by chance of where the ship went, to New Zealand. He proudly displays the crest of his country of birth on his motor vehicle. About a year ago his wife moved to hospital care in a rest home and his routine is sitting with her and having lunch each day.  He hasn’t seen her for six weeks. Even under a lockdown regime that isolated only those predominantly impacted by the ‘rona, he would probably not have got to see her. Whenever I see his car – it’s never moved – I wonder how he’s doing. It must be hard and I imagine him drawing on his early life challenges to put this into perspective.

The Worldometer continues to fascinate me, not just for the COVID-19 statistics, but the wealth of other information on other matters in real time – how long until oil runs out (43 years – don’t rush for the E-car quite yet, maybe, although there are other reasons),  World’s population (7,781,858,953 but it grows so quickly that this tally was there for less than a second),  deaths this year (almost 20m), today’s net population growth (145,000!), undernourished people in the world (852m), and deaths of children under 5 this year (2.5m). At least none of the under 5 deaths are from COVID-19, or under 10 for that matter. The statistics on COVID-19 continue to show that by far those most at risk are those over 65 with underlying conditions (which I think probably includes many elderly) and others with underlying conditions. Men continue to have about double the chance of dying from COVID-19 as women. I haven’t seen scientific basis for that, but you’d have to assume one will come.

Having a bit of time to catch up on news over the weekend showed the economic challenges are front of mind, with the health choices we’ve made as a country a close second. Those that consider that the elimination at all and any cost was the way to go, will always see it that way I reckon. A close consideration of risk likelihood and impact is still needed to see whether that is correct. Embedded in that analysis are ethical choices that have been made.

I do not doubt for one second that the approach has saved certain people from death this year.

Is a blanket “stop the ‘rona at any cost” ethical? Sounds it, but it’s not all about creating winners. I blogged about this in more detail on Day 12.  That approach does not consider fully the risk’s impact – who actually has been at risk – and the unintended health (and economic) consequences that flowed. The sick people who couldn’t get treatment during the lockdown. I won’t add my iliotibial band in there, but there are many thousands who had treatments cancelled and delayed. This has to have made a real impact on the lives of those people. It was an ethical call, preferring those most at risk from one illness to other sick people at known risk of damaging their health. And I don’t think we should shy away from a conversation about that.

And for all the country has achieved, don’t delude yourself we’re an outlier in achieving the low spread and deaths: Australia’s death rate per population is (slightly) lower than ours and there’s a total of 120 countries or territories with the same or lower death rate than us. Maybe that will change when the ‘rona spreads, but it may not. Afterall, it’s hardly spread here at all and there’s no saying it’s going to take off in Africa to the same degree as it has in the US, UK, Spain, France and Italy, where 60% of all deaths are.

Maybe it’s a good learning opportunity for the country. We all want the world to reflect our own version of Nirvana. We want more land for housing – but it costs rural production and adds to environmental damage; we want first class public transport – but someone has to pay; we want an easy drive across the city – but roads create cars (sort of), and so on.  Stopping COVID-19 in the manner we have done has a price, that we’re only just starting to see.

I remember my Grandma in 1990 the last time I saw her, at the South Auckland Hospice. She didn’t see me. She sat, head slumped, every breath was a rasp.  A few short months prior she had decided that there was to be no treatment of her cancer – she had seen almost all her siblings treated and then die – and declared that the Lord had given her “3 score years and 10” (70), plus another 14, and that was that. I’m not sure I could have that attitude, but that message shaped my thinking I think.

Feels heavy on a gloomy Sunday! And I quoted the Bible, on a Sunday.  I haven’t completed my thinking here, but I’ve well exceeded the desirable blog word limit, so thanks for making it this far!

And despite declaring I had no opinion on the End of Life referendum on Day 11, I now have.  That feels useful and I’ll take that as a win for deep work.

Time for a home espresso.

Stephen

 

Day 33

Day 33

A very kind reader sent me a message today “I have learnt a lot more about you than I otherwise would in the business world.  You’re a great writer, you like the outdoors and walking, and you’re a big softy when it comes to your parents“.

Writing each day for the length of the Lockdown was about several things for me. Creating a worthwhile pattern or chain, straight out of Cal Newport’s Deep Work and something I mused on earlier on in the Lockdown. Practice is an under-rated thing, linked closely with the ability and time made to do genuine deep work. Work that truly makes a difference to what you’re trying to achieve.  The Lockdown was and still is, a perfect time for trying some deep work. The experiment of the daily blog has been rewarding, and hasn’t at all felt like hard work. It’s helped me process thoughts and feelings, and created a discipline of continuous work that felt meaningful for me.

I’ve always written in my blog as a reflective process too. In the leadership development work I facilitate, the power of reflection is always top of mind and I’ve, perhaps selfishly, used these last five weeks as a personal reflection. To see what might come out of a condensed, focussed, purpose-driven reflection to achieve lasting change. And it was doing something, when doing nothing seemed like a real possibility!

During the month, Facebook and the like has been great for connecting with family and friends, well that’s what I pretend it’s like, but it’s really full of feeds to meet your personal algorithm, echos of your own views and prejudices, and largely uninformed commentary building on the echos. It, along with Twitter, and an empty email inbox, will have zero consequences when the day comes and people talk about what was meaningful and memorable in your life. The shallow work things in your life don’t matter and the same applies in leadership. Ignore them. Cal Newport’s Facebook Amnesty can help.

iStock-1138765864.jpg

I noticed these last five weeks that a majority of the viewers came to the blog via LinkedIn, which has prompted me to look at it a bit. It’s nice to look at, clean, and the commentary is somewhat more intelligent. Is it just a giant for sale thing or is it just me? Is there anyone there buying? You might know that my main day job in client work is leading the PwC Forensic Services practice – you know, economic crime, conflicts of interest, fraud, anti-money laundering et al. Although during the last five weeks, most of the time has been spent in my people and culture lead role in PwC Consulting, as you might expect. Perhaps I should have spent time writing about all this stuff to sell! Maybe, really, that might have been a better use of my time and energy. Afterall, someone has to pay for all the nice things! Is it worthwhile reflecting and sharing?

Writing wasn’t the only chain I had. I walked everyday – total distance 322 km in 41 separate walks. I love walking and I’m sitting at 140 walks for the year, creating a habit for mental and physical health. The Lockdown has solidified the walking chain and I have a deep sense of contentment and achievement from that.

When we went into Lockdown 33 days ago, it felt quite scary and I was quite anxious.  Living close to the Newmarket Viaduct, the drop in city activity was obvious and confronting. I got irritated about the 80,000 people that were said to die if we didn’t do anything as it seemed obviously wrong. Today that was brought up again, sort of, in a rough looking chart that mapped countries that did nothing vs those that did. That binary message is too simplistic as I doubt anybody thinks we should have done nothing.  It draws from declarations of war language to fire up a community.  It’s hardly been challenged. I’m disappointed in that as it’s an opportunity for authenticity lost.

My anxiety passed quite quickly and I let my own thoughts about where I was each day into the blog.  At its core I think leadership and authenticity are inextricably one and the same. Together. Peas in a pod. When you write your own journal, you’re reasonably likely to write truthfully, honestly and authentically. So the same has always applied here for me. It can feel risky at first. It’s not smooth and manicured like a marketing message. What if you said the wrong thing? What if you offended someone? What if your thoughts today, are not yours tomorrow? Hey, so that’s authenticity right?

I’ve no idea about the writing as my kind reader has said. I’m pretty sure I’ve started way too many sentences, like this one, with “And”, although you are allowed to, apparently. What I do know, is that if you want to build trust in your life, with a team, your family, maybe your readers, you share a bit and build the trust bank. Trust is at the heart of meaningful business relationships.  Possibly even better than a LinkedIn Ad!

What you share must be authentic, things that matter to you. And the more you know about yourself, the more you have to share. Before you know it you have a story, your leadership story which will start with events long before you were in business, probably from your family. So of course, I’m an old softy about the folks!

It won’t be every day from now on, but the blog feels that it has a much better meaning for me now.

I’m feeling grateful for the opportunity to reflect and share. There’s a lot of pain in the world right now and I, relatively speaking, have none. Just the leg a bit still. Thank you.

Stephen