Humid as for Christmas

Even with a cool breeze running through the house it’s well over 80% humidity according to the dial in the hallway.  If you’re a parent of a young child you’d be sweating too, if you haven’t done the business by now and got a suitable collection of presents under the tree. It’s a festival for mid-winter for most of the world but we’re here in the most humid time of the year, with the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Evan apparently in our midst.

One of the Franklin Road houses has a big ribbon around it with words that make you look twice.  Today is the presentA colleague at work commented that they “couldn’t wait for Christmas”.  When I enquired what that was about, I was told it was the current pressures.  “Now is as good as it ever gets” was my reaction.  It always is.

Enjoying the present is very much part of Christmas, whether that be the wrapped sort or the real sort. Even for a cynic who looks forward to the end of the actual day so they can start enjoying a holiday, here’s an opportunity to really take stock of the present. Sweating it out with a hot roast here in Auckland can be tough, but don’t worry, those relatives won’t be here for long! Always waiting for the future is a trap. The present is our gift to ourselves.

Merry Christmas.

Stephen

Loving the extra hour!

I woke up early this morning for a Sunday and even earlier ‘cos it’s the end of Daylight Saving. I read quite a bit at 6.30 this morning from Zite – the on-line magazine you tailor to suit your interests (and prejudices too no doubt!) – including a piece about happiness and the need for us all to play without a goal. Like kids do. And on your hands and knees sometimes.

Martin Seligman, the author of “Authentic Happiness” is quoted as saying the three pillars of mental health are love, work and play.

I’ve seen an awful lot of work lately, come to think of it I always have. Why do we work so hard? Or you might think work so poorly that you have to spend way too much time at work. Which could be true. Work can be play of course and can bring satisfaction.

If, on the other hand we’re working hard for money because we believe at one level that that will bring happiness then it might be worth thinking about Martin Seligman’s other work on positive psychology. He talks about three life states: the pleasant life (things) the good life (discovering our unique strengths) and the meaningful life (finding a meaning for our life greater than just us).

Money gives us the pleasant life. Work gives us money. But neither can give us the good life or the meaningful life on its own.

An extra hour gave me some play, a hint of the good life (whether it’s any good or not I’ve blogged again!) and even some time to reflect on meaning.

I’m loving the extra hour!

Stephen

First Night

It’s been a bit of a first night for me these last 7 weeks getting used to my new role and lots of things have suffered in the meantime, including my blogging here which I enjoy so much.  But I’m back.  A bit of time out of Auckland recently has seen me flying much more than I’m used to and if you know me you’ll know that it’s not something I’ve enjoyed recently but even that’s going okay somehow.  Conditioning.

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Sarah Brightman is the First Night - but she doesn't sing much (photo courtesy of http://www.littlewhitelies.co.uk)

The movie First Night is a farce. A funny movie set in the beautiful Manderston House in Scotland.  Always wanted a two kilometre long stone driveway.  I used to listen to lots of opera but haven’t much lately. I think I’m into it again after First Night. It’s about the production of Mozart’s comic opera Cosi Fan Tutte and it’s glorious music, great setting and very funny too.

Sometimes you just need a feel good movie to get you back on track.  As I let the story glide over me I realised these last seven weeks have been pretty intensive. Now it’s time to get back to being happy for myself, now that I’m settling in.  And enjoy life.

That’s leadership. Leading yourself into a great spot.

I’ll be better tomorrow for it.  Hope it’s all good for you too.

Stephen

These are the good old days part II!

I bounded up the stairs just now at home having returned from the movies alone. At my farewell lunch with colleagues from AUT just before Christmas I was taken to blog about the good old days. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris explores both the glorious beauty of Paris and the good old days. On his midnight strolls through Paris whilst visiting with his fiance and future in-laws, Gil Pender, a screenwriter and budding author,  travels back to the good old days. He finds himself mixing with Hemmingway, Picasso and others. Okay, so it’s not real, but hell, you don’t go to the movies for reality!

It’s a delightful romantic comedy and I can’t believe it took me so long to see it. This week I started my new role at PwC. There’s been grief from parting and finishing and wondering whether I was living in the good old days these last few years. Now I know I was for certain.

In the last year or so I’ve come to know a very special man, the poet Sam Hunt, and now be privileged to help him to find more places to perform to those that would appreciate him. He offers much to those seeking to find their grounding and understand their moral compass. Beyond Martin Seligman’s pleasant life of material pleasures, beyond the good life of maximising capability and achievement to the meaningful life characterised by connectedness to a greater whole.

I am not sure yet why I am connecting these diverse events – the good old days, Midnight in Paris, Sam Hunt and the meaningful life, but it’ll come as we continue.

I don’t always have it, but I have enough of a sense of the meaningful life to value it, want it and know that it is my key to happiness.  I’m honoured to have such a reputable firm as PwC take a chance on me to make a difference for them and add value both to them and their clients. I’ll try my best to do so.

Midnight in Paris reminded me to treasure the meaning I already have, and the meaning I am once again starting to build in a new place.  But starting new isn’t really starting new. It’s building on what exists and all the meaning I have built in leadership development, before that in investigation, and more recently connecting with Sam, is part of that base.

It was scary, but now it’s exciting and much more connected. Whatever you do, connect it with what brings meaning. Otherwise, why do it?

There’s a line: meaning for happiness. Maybe that should have been the title of the blog.

Stephen

A three-day weekend

If you travel to Samoa from New Zealand you travel back in time – 23 hours at the moment to be precise – and if like I did last Sunday evening, you travel on Sunday evening you get two Sundays. Which from what I could see if you were local, means that you would spend two days in a row going to church and I imagine, having quiet family time. The missionary colonialists could not have imagined such success to convert the locals to Christianity. It would appear as a miracle beyond their wildest expectations. In my hotel two of the six channels available were showing local church services.

A Samoan waterfront run

When Monday arrived the deserted town of Apia surged into life with uniformed police maintaining or watching – I couldn’t tell – traffic flowing in this busy harbour-side town. I found coffee too – at the curiously named Sydney Side Cafe – and everyone I spoke to commented how hot it was. Really? We are in the tropics man. Am I the only one that knows that?

 

I’ve been warned when I start my training delivery tomorrow that they might only want to talk about the Rugby World Cup. That’ll be okay – Manu Samoa did their nation proud, give or take a tweet or three but who really cares? I’ve had a couple of jogs to get the muscles moving after the Auckland Marathon. I haven’t seen anyone else out running and if I lived here I’d start a running group – there’s a lovely waterfront that looks like it stretches well out of the town that would be good for out and backs. I’ve been here before, a few years ago and there are some new buildings and they now drive most of the time on the left side of the road (airport transfers in the middle of the night excepted!).

 

Samoa is moving forward on 29 December 2011 – by a whole day to align its time to New Zealand – that would be a great opportunity to say to the world that it’s moving forward in a number of other ways too. The work I’m doing here is in a very small way part of Samoa up-skilling itself for wealth prosperity and dare I say it, happiness. Not sure about that part as everyone I see seems pretty happy with their lot.

People seem pretty happy at the hotel though like other Pacific nations I’ve been through, I can see from my runs around Apia that the Hotel is not like the locals live at all. There were families out walking this evening, raw smoke from open fires and the next generation of Rugby players mucking around by the harbour with shirts off. All in all pretty laid back and easy feeling.

We drive ourselves pretty hard most of the time – well I feel I do – and there’s rewards and satisfaction from achievement and goal setting. Happy though? It’s a very difficult thing to measure by observing such difference in societal norms. Maybe I’ll get a better sense in the morning when I interact at a more meaningful level with local professionals. And great food for thought at our Wisdom Retreat for Senior Leaders starting the day I return.

Looking forward. And if you want your three day weekend, you’ve only go about 6 weeks to do it.

Stephen

ps I’m back after RWC2011, Auckland Marathon and some manic work commitments!

Enjoy your life

My friend and colleague Richard Kerr-Bell asked me to write a prologue for his book – Enjoy your Life – coming out on Amazon soon.  Here it is: 

When I clear my mail box at the local superette, if it’s Saturday afternoon there will be a steady stream of punters queuing to buy their lucky lotto ticket and occasionally the proprietor convinces me that I really shouldn’t miss out this week. After all, I could win $10 million!  Who wouldn’t want that?

At the end of four days on a public leadership course we have groups of participants who have a bond so close, a support network so finely tuned to each other, that there are often tears when it’s time to go.  If we can do this in four days, then surely we can do this for ourselves.

Senior leaders who interact with me during my leadership development work present with a range of challenges and opportunities.  In coaching sessions I often hear of the boss who is only consumed by financials, by politics that derail teams and of work structures that just don’t seem right.

I see people striving to get to the top, spurred on by career ambitions from family, colleagues and probably society.  If you’re not going up then you’re not going anywhere, I often hear.

Happiness is a simple concept made very complicated as we confuse the means with the end.  Assumptions that money, position and relationships will give you happiness are just that, assumptions.

All of those things may contribute to your happiness but they will not on their own, or even collectively, give you the happiness that you strive.  If you think that winning a million dollars, or for that matter losing a loved one will have a dramatic long term impact on your happiness, you’re wrong.  Research tells us that most people return to the state of happiness that they existed with prior to such an event, within a year.  One year!

Which should tell us that our state of happiness is more likely to be impacted by our own personal conduct than any external forces.  Put another way, you are responsible for your own happiness.

Being responsible for something means being pro-active, engaged in the process and making changes.  If you’ve read this far then there’s probably a good chance that Enjoy Your Life appealed to you because well, like me, you want to be happy.  But where to start? What to do when it seems life is so complex? 

When Richard asked me to write the prologue for Enjoy your Life I knew that this would be a book rich in stories, quotes and experience. This is why Richard works on our Authentic Leadership programmes.  Because he’s real, has lived and knows a lot more than most people about what it takes to be happy. He knows all those simple things that will make you enjoy your life.

Career and having lots of money might well follow happiness, but the mistake would be to start there.  Start with yourself. After all, no–one can ever have as much interest in your happiness than you. Don’t you owe it to yourself to enjoy your life?

And if you have a niggling doubt that to spend time on your own happiness is selfish, don’t be concerned.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that much of what it takes to be happy is about how you treat others.

In any case, I say you’re allowed to be selfish about your own happiness. In the end if you’re not happy then those around you won’t enjoy your life either. So be selfish and enjoy your life.  What else is there?

Stephen

ps here’s a photograph from Te Wananga o Aotearoa in Hamilton. See here for the meaning of Aroha.