Sunday, August 12, 2018

Chapter 9 - A Vision of Being

It’s been six years since I've embarked on a journey in search of a better quality of life, and almost a year since I’ve published my last post on this blog. I wanted to write about “Being” for quite some time as it is one of the most important lessons of my journey. Yet, I felt I needed to cover substantial mileage in my own life, and with my coaching clients, before I could publish insights on “Being”. Now, with the perspective of six years ‘on the road’, having experienced enduring transformations in my life and witnessed such transformations with my clients, I can share insights that may help other explorers on similar journeys. I believe the desire for a ‘better quality of life’ is universal, and so are the illusions and pitfalls that many of us fall into with the inertia of day-to-day life.

Back in 2012, when I journeyed off seeking a better quality of life, I could not pinpoint what it actually meant. I was 42 and wearing myself at work, I felt circumstances were controlling me. I couldn't create balance in my life and it was apparent that my current way of living wasn’t making things any better. I had a notion that change was possible, that a better quality of life is achievable.

What could I learn from common ‘quality of life’ theories? According to Avraham Maslow's popular ‘Hierarchy of needs’ I had all the ‘needs’ and should have been content with my life. I had the ‘Basic needs’ - We owned an apartment in downtown Tel Aviv, and were progressing quite well on our mortgage returns. I was making a nice salary and we could afford whatever we needed. But it came with at an unbearable price of being minded to work 24/7.  As per Maslow’s ‘Safety needs’, though I was performing well and business was good, there was no guarantee it would last. I didn’t own the business and could be replaced on a whim. So, having the position of CEO and making a good income did not provide a sense of security either. Per ‘Belongingness and Love needs’, I had a loving family, our elder son David was four years old, but I was hardly spending time with my family as I was mostly at work, either physically or mentally. Per ‘esteem and sense of accomplishment’ and ‘self-fulfillment’, I had an excellent reputation in my field of experience and I’ve fulfilled every dream and goal I had - ‘been there done that’. My experience showed that the satisfaction of accomplishment is short lived. The next challenge will always be waiting on the horizon.
illustration 1: Avraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ quality of life theory

Apparently these ‘needs’ that we must satisfy do not determine our ‘quality of life’ yet we tend to focus on them most of the time. We tend to be action oriented, and evaluate ourselves daily on how much we are doing, producing, and achieving. We have to-do lists and goals and resolutions. We tend to place priority on problem solving and accomplishing tasks (‘do’) so that we can yield some sort of result (‘have’), and ultimately become something or someone in the world (‘be’). This is also known as the ‘do > have > be’ orientation, or rather I should call it the disorientation. It’s quite reasonable to adopt this way of thinking as it is the orientation of our modern consumer economy, our education systems, our corporate culture and political systems.

illustration 2: example of a ‘Do > Have > Be’ orientation of my earlier life 

Up until my early 40s, I was living the by the ‘do > have > be’ equation. It was unknowingly, as a habit of life’s inertia. More so, when I looked around me, I found examples of people who did not necessarily enjoy good health, nor financial prosperity or outstanding achievements, and yet seemed calm and composed and generally satisfied with their life. What makes the difference?

As I have learned and experienced through my journey, this somewhat elusive differentiating characteristic of life is known as ‘Being’. ‘Being’, as in ‘human being’ and ‘well-being’, is the subjective way we experience life. It is nature or essence of who we are. The simplest and most practical way to define my ‘Being’ is to ask, “Who do people meet when they meet me?”, or in other words, “What do people sense in my presence?”. For example, safe and relaxed or stressed and alert.

We use the same words to describe “Feeling” and “Being”, but in fact they are quite different. Feelings are fleeting sentiments while ‘Being’ is substantial and enduring. For example, food can make us feel good and compensate temporarily for feeling bored or lonely, but it cannot fill the enduring distress of being lonely or being empty - hence the phenomena of emotional eating. Another example is feeling secure versus being secure - events such as earning a career advance or closing an excellent business transaction can feel great and have us temporarily feeling secure, but it’s just a matter of time until we feel the need for more.

As social beings, we can sense the being of others, and others can sense it in us. We can try to disguise or pretend an alternate being, but our demeanor, body language, tone of voice, eye contact, our vitality and several other subtle signals radiate our true ‘Being’. ‘Being’ is omnipresent, it transcends cultures and languages. Babies can sense others ‘Being’ long before they can understand spoken language.

Our own sense of ‘Being’ reflects upon the quality of our life, moment by moment, with every breath we take. Our ‘Being’ reflects on our relationships and as such it reflects on the long term and enduring outcomes of our interactions. To improve our quality of life is to develop our awareness of our own ‘Being’. Transforming our ‘Being’ is possible by turning our attention inwards, rather than focusing outwards. Attributing our quality of life to circumstances, to other people or to things we have or don’t have displaces our focus and hinders the transformation. This can be hard to accept, especially for someone like me - a rational, science oriented engineer. So I took the time to experience and verify enduring results before I felt confident to publish this post.

To transform my being ‘insecure’ I diverted my attention from my position, my salary, my boss, my age, my assets, my achievements, the trends in my industry, employment vs.age statistics and numerous other exterior distractions. Instead, I looked at what ‘Being Secure’ meant to me. What were my fears and beliefs about life’s perils and difficulties and the gap between feeling secure and being secure. Some of this research was done by intellectual questioning and reasoning, but understanding alone does not invoke transformation. Knowing our boundaries and understanding their origins does not dismantle them, for they are conditioned in us since childhood and teen experiences. We grow to observe and interpret the world through our conditioning, it is like the tinted lenses through which we gaze at the world. Our thought patterns and habits become well established through years of repetition, layer upon layer..

To lessen the conditionings that hinder us, we must reach the events in which they were created. To re-experience them, the imprints they made on our neural system, and observe them from a fresh and compassionate point of view. To do so we apply meditative techniques that focus our attention to the most subtle body sensations, known to the therapeutic world as ‘felt senses’. These revolutionary techniques are worthy of a post of their own.

For me this was, and continues to be, a wonderful journey of discovery. When I look inwards without prejudice, receptive to any outcome, wonderful lessons are revealed. I have learned that being secure is about accepting the transient nature of life. It is about coming to terms with the natural process of aging and my inevitable death. Life unfolds in numerous unexpected and uncontrollable ways, there is no formula for “securing a future”. But this is no source for worry, because it comes with the understanding that life is not hostile, it’s not a challenge of survival. “It's amazing, when the moment arrives that you know you'll be alright” - as in Aerosmith’s “Amazing” lyrics.

With these understandings comes freedom from needing to ‘do’ or ‘have’ various things. Sure, I continue to do many things which I am passionate about - I lead exciting initiatives, I do business, I set goals, I have my success and failures, but life is not centered around them, my sense of being is not dependent upon them. This independence reduces much of the stress and drama in day-to-day dilemmas, because when you are not dependent on things much less is at stake when you let them go. ‘Being’ oriented people are more relaxed to take risks, to admit their mistakes, to reveal their vulnerability, to express unpopular opinions and to stand out from the crowd. When we are ‘Being Oriented’ we are not reliant on a charismatic leader, a guru or a political party to provide our sense of belonging and safety. Because ‘being oriented’ means you know you already have all you really need - the inner capacity to choose who I want to ‘be’ in relations to whatever may come. As difficult as it may get, ultimately I’ll be alright. Viktor Frankl, who developed his philosophy for life out of the ashes of the Holocaust, concluded that “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms — to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” Frankl survived more than three years in a succession of four Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

Learning the ‘Being’ framework confirmed some of my deeply held intuitions and provided a underpinning theory for why I believe them. It gave me clarity on what to focus on as I navigate my life, enabling me to compose a vision for my life - a vision of being. Instead of trying to figure out what I want to ‘do’ or ‘have’ in life, I wrote down who I wanted to ‘be’ based on my values. I composed a vision portraying who I want to be as a partner, as a father, as a son, as a brother. Who I want to be as a businessman, as a manager and as a coach. I carry this vision in my wallet as a compass, and though my life took many turns since I’ve embarked on my journey, the vision is just as relevant today as it was when I set off.

Life goes on, with it’s ups and downs. It is overwhelming and tiring at times, but I have learned that come what may, I can choose how it affects my quality of life. My life is an ongoing process in which every event, especially difficult ones, become opportunities for growth. When in a dilemma what to ‘do’, I remind myself of who I want to ‘be’, and the rest follows.

credit: Banksy
To be continued....

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Chapter 8 - Acceptance and Equanimity

Introduction to Part II

In chapters 1 thru 7 I told the story of how I became to live a ‘Dual Life’; A life of a ‘spiritual’ journey inwards alongside the career of a manager in the ‘materialistic’ business arena. Beforehand my experiences in business taught me it was a world for greedy ‘wolves’, proficient at manipulation and intimidation. I hoped and believed I could live differently, but I did not have the confidence that it was possible. I was concerned I may be naive, and that speaking openly about my ideas may backfire on me. So, during the past seven years, when amongst my colleagues in the the business community, I kept my ‘spiritual’ ideas to myself.

Today, seven years into the journey, I am confident that the so called 'spiritual’ and so called 'materialistic’ can co-exist. Through my own experiences and through honest businessmen and entrepreneurs that I have met, I learned to bridge these seeming polarities.

Today I know it is possible, though not easy, to live a meaningful and truthful life, to be loyal to my values, to build meaningful relationships and to put relationships before results. More so, I am confident this path produces better, long lasting, results even by the analytical figures of the business community.

The lessons I learned from the journey became the most practical and invaluable lessons I have applied in my day-to-day life, at home and in management and business.
In the following chapters I shall share my insights for the benefit of others who seek to venture into these less traveled paths of life.

Chapter 8 - Acceptance and Equanimity

Equanimity - a calm mental state, especially after a shock or disappointment or in a difficult situation: (Cambridge Dictionary)

At around 500 BC a young Indian prince named Guattama Sidhartha set out to understand human suffering and to find a way to free people from the sufferings of life. To date, the teachings of Sidhartha, later known as the Buddha, are effectively practiced by men and women around the world, reducing stress and anxiety, enhancing cognitive functions and improving overall health. Contemporary psychologists find ancient Buddhist practices, such as meditation (a.k.a. Mindfulness), of empirically proven therapeutic value,

Buddhism evolved to become the world’s fourth largest religion, and Buddha is worshiped by millions. However, my interest in Buddha is not religious. For me Sidhartha was a very wise and curious man, a researcher, a courageous pioneer, who opened new possibilities for humankind to better understand ourselves and improve our well-being.

Buddha realized that nothing in this world stays the same; everything is in a constant state of change. Pleasurable conditions, favorable circumstances, our relationships with those we hold dear, our health and well-being - any sense of comfort and security we derive from these aspects is continually threatened by life’s flux and uncertainty, and ultimately by death, the most profound change of all.

Buddha saw that people’s ignorance of the nature of change was the cause of suffering. We desire to hold on to what we value, and we suffer when life’s inevitable process of change separates us from those things. Liberation from suffering occurs, he taught, when we are able to sever our attachments to the transient things of this world. Liberation from suffering is the process of acceptance. In short, accept reality - end stress.

Yet, acceptance is not easy to accept. Our affections for others, the desire to succeed in our endeavors, our interests and passions, our love of life itself—all of these are attachments and potential sources of disappointment and suffering.

Now let us examine how these insights apply to our daily life in the business and workplace domains. In business the common predisposition is that to be considered successful, a company must grow continually. It must increase profits, expand to new markets and innovate. A company that does not show growth, would eventually be savaged on the stock market. So the common predisposition in business is discontentment from the current state, as a matter of survival.

So, with the drive to push forward we set the stage for the favourable state. We envision the future. We define goals and targets, we prepare business plans and project plans. Then we take our offerings and put them on the market, where we must provide value for money. To be competitive we will cut our budgets. A few rounds of negotiation and we compromise our margins, perhaps lower than we were willing to cut. “We’ll figure it out later”, we excuse ourselves.

Now we bind our plans in contracts, we commit to ‘deadlines’ and quotas, we make promises to customers and shareholders with bonuses and penalties. And the pinnacle illusion - ‘The fixed price, turnkey, contract’ - planning the future down to every detail and affixing a schedule and cost for delivery. The customer is content, for he has struck a great deal and believes he secured a bright future.

The goals we set, the plans we made and the contracts we signed now become the focal point through which we view and interpret reality. If we perceive progress as planned we call it ‘success’. If not, we call it a, ‘problem’ that may evolve into ‘failure’. We devise tedious “Risk Management Plans” to prepare and prevent any possibility of life jeopardizing our plans. We want to feel in control.

Then life happens. Delays, complications, misunderstandings, mistakes, unforeseen factors, changes in the market, political barricades, illness, forces of nature, you name it. Everything is in a constant state of change. As John Lennon so wisely put it, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans”.  But our expectations are different - we made plans, we signed contracts. We hold ourselves and others accountable to fulfill our expectations.

Now managers and employees are concerned how this shortcoming will affect them. Surely, someone will be blamed. Worry and fear prevail. The elders have foreseen this. They have been through this several times. Life in the organization has taught them to be cautious, to brush off responsibility, to keep ‘cover ass’ documentation for a rainy day. In some organizations ‘problems’ are not communicated. People have learned that delivering ‘bad news’ has its negative repercussions, so they avoid it all together. And so the Titanic steams ahead at full speed, as planned, while signals of the impending glacier collision do not come through.

Why do we respond like this? According to Sidharta, the reason is our ignorance of the nature of change, believing our plans were meant to happen, and holding on to them while life moves on. Ignorance spawns fear as we face uncertainty feeling unprepared and vulnerable. We are at loss over “what went wrong?”, “we should have done so and so…”, “we should have not done so and so”. All a costly waste of energy; excessive suffering; water under the bridge.  

More so, is it possible we are caught up in a gloomy interpretation? Perhaps the so called ‘problems’ may turn out to be birth pains of a soon to come ‘success’? Is it possible these surprising occurrences hold new opportunities? Some of the greatest discoveries and life changing inventions were created by accident. Our experiences and expectations bias our perception of reality in a way that prevents us from seeing other possibilities. Columbus set out to find a short route to India, stumbled upon America and changed the world. But as it happened he was unaware. He called the natives Indians as he believed he reached India. We experience such misconceptions on a daily basis.

How can we bring clarity and equanimity upon this turmoil? Is it wrong to plan? Is it possible not to expect? I cannot overemphasize the importance of the process of planning. Through planning we create clarity about what we want to achieve. Planning creates a common language across the organization and aligns expectations. Yet, the plans themselves, are not as important as the process. Plans are transient entities, soon to be changed.

The key is our attitude towards the goals we set, the plans we make and our relation to change. Surely, turning vision into reality requires faith and persistence, in spite of what life throws at us. But at the same time, we must stay clear and open minded. We must keep in mind that plans are a product of our imagination, created with the limited information available at that time.  As life unfolds, things change. We must be attentive and receptive to whatever comes and goes and be agile to adapt accordingly. Michael J Fox who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at age 29 is quoted to explain, “Acceptance doesn't mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there's got to be a way through it.”

With a clear and open mind new information is accepted neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’, it just is. If we can remain receptive to change there is no stress. People will not fear to communicate so called ‘bad’ news, nor will they be apt to produce so called ‘good’ news to appease us. With acceptance there is no blame, it is simply observation, assessment, re-planning and carrying on.

This phenomenon is not unique to workplaces. As humans we constantly expect and plan. We have expectations from ourselves, from our parents, our children and our friends. We plan our day, we plan the weekend. We expect the lights to turn on when we flip the switch, we expect people to turn off their cell-phones at the cinema. But life has its own ways, and it bothers us.

In some areas such as business this phenomenon is amplified. But no matter which lifestyle you choose, you cannot avoid it. Even monks who live in renunciation of material possessions and physical pleasures have expectations. Ultimately we all face the changes of aging, illness and death.

We can train our minds to lessen our hold to expectations and be more receptive to
change. Such a profound transformation is possible through meditation, a simple, natural technique practiced on a daily basis. Through meditation we learn to experience our own thoughts and opinions for what hey are - subjective interpretations of our own creation, primarily based on our past experiences. Past experiences, childhood experiences, make an imprint and condition the way we perceive and respond to events. When we observe and  recognize this, we naturally become less attached to these conditionings. We don’t take our paradigms and opinions so seriously and new possibilities are revealed.

No matter what area of life may trigger us to embark on a journey of personal development,  the fruits will enhance our well being in all areas. For it is we who transform while the world goes on, unchanged.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Chapter 7 - The Dual Life

It’s been five years since I left my workplace and lifestyle of 15 years. Today, I can look back upon these five years with some perspective. I can see how the story unfolded and connect the dots. But when I set out I did not know what I would do and how I would make my living.  I wanted to find ‘my way’. To live by my values, and follow my own pace. I had enough of the rat race, enough of chasing goals set by others and succumbing to do things I felt were wrong. But what was ‘my way’ and where would it take me? I did not know.

I was concerned I may experience long periods without income and worried that financial pressure may discourage me to turn back. As I resigned of free will, I was not entitled to severance pay. In exchange for the much needed payment, I agreed not to work with the firm’s customers nor with its competitors for a year. This gave me some financial backing and some peace of mind, but the agreement also hindered my ability to produce future income. It isolated me from working within my professional community. Nevertheless, I considered the agreement beneficial as it constrained me to be creative, to build new connections and seek new business opportunities.

Shortly after I left my work, a self-development program was about to start at “emotion”, the school where my personal coach was trained. I was intrigued to learn about “Satya”, the methodology that transformed my life, and to meet its creator, Natalie Ben David, founder of “emotion - the school for listening, being and transformation”. Being on a program also filled my need for a sense of placement within the great emptiness and uncertainty of sudden unemployment.

Parallel to my studies I attended to the numerous activities involved in starting my own business. I spent time thinking about the services I would offer and conceiving various business models. I met with several people, especially executives who I had good relationships with. Most people were positive, willing to listen and share their opinions. It was a very interesting and optimistic period. But the meetings rarely materialized into substantial business opportunities. Instead I received some tempting employment offers, which I declined gratefully. I began to understand that finding ‘my way’ was going to take time and not going to be easy.  Still, I was determined to give self-employment a fair chance. To help me cope better with the situation I began to write a travel journal. I liked keeping journals when I traveled the world. Writing helped me relate to the situation as an adventure of exploration, rather than an arduous struggle for survival.

In the midst of the occupational and financial uncertainty I had my island of serenity, learning at “emotion”, where things began to fall into place. “Satya” (Sanskrit for truth) is a methodology that has its roots in ancient Tibetan Buddhism and modern existential philosophy, emphasizing individual existence, responsibility, freedom and choice. Unlike conventional coaching methodologies, “Satya” is not about setting and achieving goals. Instead, “Satya” questions the goals we set, aiming to understand the motives and the paradigms on which our goals were founded. “Satya” prompts us to pause, to take a deep breath and look inwards. It questions, ”If I achieve my goals, how is that going to affect the person I am?”. “Who do I hope to become by reaching my goal?... Who am I now?”.
“Satya” focuses on the present, aiming to understand our experience of life here and now, in reality. Our mind is often turbulent and misleading, troubled with fears and worries and biased by our paradigms and past experiences. Distinguishing between reality and our self projections and subjective interpretations is quite confusing. It requires an awareness that can be developed through a continuous process of learning and practice. I learned to observe and to listen, to listen attentively to others and to listen attentively to myself. To be attentive to my thoughts, to my body sensations, to my breath and heartbeat. Practicing these skills is so basic and straightforward and yet so extremely apart from how I have lived so far. It was a mindblowing awakening. No doubt, I was in the right place, an excellent starting point to acquire skills and tools for my quest for a better quality of life.

Meanwhile my attempts to find sources of income through self employment seemed futile. Weeks went by without results and staying optimistic was becoming difficult, when suddenly I received a call from an unexpected source, a former employee of mine. Her husband was an executive at Clarizen, and he told her they needed of someone with my skills. Two days later I was at Clarizen headquarters for a meeting with the founder and CEO.

Clarizen is a visionary software firm that pioneered the use of cloud  technology for Collaborative Work Management. They were planning to roll-out a major product upgrade that would transform the company. It was a complicated and risky endeavor, and they needed an executive that could lead the operation. Seemed like a perfect match, albeit I was not prepared to become a full time employee. So the CEO agreed to employ me as a contractor, on a two days per week basis, to work with the firm's executive team and lead the operation. I was grateful and excited to start.

Working with Clarizen was extraordinary. A group of young, talented and enthusiastic people who were on a mission to change the future of work. It was a mature start-up that was competing with global software giants and securing a leader position. The kind of company that made Israel famous for being the ‘Start-up nation’. In a way it was very different from the Information Technology Professional Services industry that I came from, but in most aspects it felt very familiar, like a fish in the water. People are people, in any industry.
At last things were going well, life was good to me. I was working two days a week in a job I greatly enjoyed and I was taking some of the most important lessons of my life. I now had an inner confidence that I will be all right. Nature has its own pace. Some processes take time and cannot be rushed. Sometimes it’s a matter of patience, resilience and faith.

Upon concluding the basic program at  “emotion” I decided to continue to a full year’s training; to learn the profession of “Satya” coaching. With “Satya” we examine our being by observing our relationships and reactions. We study how we relate to ourselves and how we relate to others. We question our relationships with certain ideas and our relationships with things. In short, our reactions to people reflect our relationship with them. These mostly automatic reactions are like habits, a product of our conditioning through our early life experiences. “Satya” provides a technique to dissolve these conditionings and open new possibilities to transform old ‘habits’ into actions of free will. Thus “Satya” methodology offers a systematic approach to a profound and meaningful transformation in a person’s life. I could easily relate to the basic values of “Satya” as they were my own. By becoming a coach I too could help others learn to know and understand themselves, to find what they really want and to live by it. By mastering “Satya” I could reduce suffering and help people find calm and clarity. In doing so, I could continue my own personal journey of self-development and live a purposeful life. I made my choice to become a “Satya” coach.

Meanwhile the Clarizen Customer Roll-Out project was progressing very well and exceeding expectations, when suddenly I was called to the CEO’s office and informed that my contract would be terminated in two weeks.  It caught me completely by surprise. Everything was going so well, I could not see it coming. I was shocked. Knowing “Satya” I turned my attention to my body. The effect of the breaking news was overwhelming, I could feel the blood draining from my upper body, I was sweating and feeling dizzy. I was about to faint. I focused on my breathing to calm myself and contain the situation. It was very stressful as I had no alternative source of income, no ‘plan B’. I was baffled.

A few days later the explanation came. I was most welcome to join the company's executive team as a full time employee. Part time contracting has run it’s course. It was no longer an option and I was expected to make the right choice. “I want people who’s life is vested in the company.” explained the CEO. This sounded to me like an all too familiar approach to employee engagement. Something I had chosen to walk away from. Vested,.... Vessted, ....vesssssss, resonated in my mind like the hiss of a poisonous snake.
I enjoyed working with Clarizen. I loved the people, their spirit. The vision and the product. But staying full time and giving up coaching was not an option. After the initial shock dissipated, I accepted the outcome as a product of my own choosing. I was no longer on the occupational mainstream.  This was the essence of my journey and I was grateful for the opportunity to be with the fine people of Clarizen. There was no anger nor disappointment. It was time for me to move on.  

I made my choice and within two weeks I was back on the road, back to uncertainty. The term at Clarizen worked very well for me and it would shape my course going forwards. I chose to divide my professional life. On the one hand, an executive for rent, contracted to lead organizations through ambitious, and often aggressive, change programs. On the other hand, a “Satya” coach, bringing empathy and compassion to the life of individuals of all walks of life. This would be a life of contrast and paradox. A business dominated by aggressive goals and ‘bottom lines’ versus a practice focused on slowing down, breathing, meditation, acceptance and letting go.

Could I reconcile these polarities and live the two as one? To figure this out would be my next leg of the journey. But until I find the link, I would live a dual life. I would use “Satya” in both worlds, but with my associates in the corporate world I would keep my new learned concepts to myself, and not speak of my ‘other life’.

Chapter - 8

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Chapter 6 - David and Me

End of August 2010, a week before the new school year

"Do you remember that next week you’re responsible for David?", my spouse Yael asked me, "You take him to nursery school, spend some time with him and be available to pick him up early”. Surprised, I said nothing. “How embarrassing”, I thought to myself, “I forgot all about it”.

David, our two year old son, was about to go to nursery for the first time. For Yael, my spouse and a teacher, the back-to-school season is her most intense period of the year. So taking David to nursery school was on me. Several weeks ago Yael advised I should work half days, leave the mornings empty and spend some time with David in the mornings. Also, I should be available to pick him up early in case he has difficulties adapting to the change.

One week to go, my calendar was packed, it always is. If I have a free moment, I immediately fill it with something productive, never leaving space for idle time. What shall I do? I can’t just drop him off and run, and there's no way I can waive this off. “I'll manage”, I thought to myself, “I’ll postpone a few meetings, start at 10:00, and compensate for the missed hours by staying late at work”.
On opening day the nursery bustled with toddlers and parents. I found a clear spot, a few toys, and played with David to acclimatize. Occasionally I checked the dials on the wall clock, calculating when I should leave to reach the office on time. “Need to hurry”, I thought.

Being together and playing was great fun, but it didn’t seem to prepare David to our soon to come parting. Time flew by and I became uptight, I had to go. I signaled to the nursery owner and she quickly came into play. A warm, loving woman and experienced in such circumstances, she collected David in her arms and motioned for me to go. It was comforting to know David was in good hands. But David instantly understood what was happening and burst into bitter tears. It was heartbreaking. I felt awful, my whole body convulsed. I felt I had no choice but to cut away. I hurried to the car.

On the street I paused for a moment to listen to the sounds from the nursery. David's crying was heartbreaking, I felt my eyes welling and my stomach twisting with guilt. "That’s life" I excused myself, "He’ll have to learn to deal with it’s hardships. It’s his learning experience."

A little bird in my heart doubt my reasoning, and a little doubt can go a long way...

Three years later ... end of August 2013

Three years have passed since the summer of 2010. Three years of awakening, of observation, of questioning. Three fascinating years of transformation.
David was now five years old and ready for kindergarten.
I was now self-employed and owned my time.
I devoted the week to David. I planned it so any other tasks could be carried out in accordance to his acclimatization. No pressing commitments, no fires to fight, no drama.

On opening day the kindergarten bustled with children and parents. It was a new community and everyone was strange to us. David and I played and adapted to the space. In another room the teachers arranged the little chairs in a large circle, preparing for the morning session. I prepared David that soon the parents will be asked to leave.
At the appointed time the teacher asked us to leave. The parents parted and left silently as the children entered the other room and joined the circle. The glass door between the spaces was closed and the morning session began. Some parents stayed a few moments to watch through the glass before going about their business. I stood watching in amazement. The children were all seated and listening to the teacher attentively. There was no weeping, no wailing. All except David.
He clinged to my legs, grasping them tightly, his eyes watering and demanding we go home. I tried to comfort David, to reassert his difficulties, to be empathic - all in vain. The minutes went by and we were at a standstill.

I tried to make eye contact with the teacher or one of her helpers beyond the glass door. They were fully engaged in the session, overlooking David’s absence. No help - this time it was just between  David and me.

My thoughts ran: How is it that all the children adapt so easily, except for my son? What does it reflect about me as his father? About his upbringing?
I was determined that David enter the kindergarten and acclimatize like everyone else. David wanted to go home. We were in conflict.

My recent years’ experiences taught me to always forge relationships before results. In this case, my relationship with David. To put relationships before results meant to pause and set aside my desire that David enter the kindergarten. Instead I should consider the lifelong relationship I want to have with my son and question:
If I impose my intentions on David, what sort of a relationship am I forging?
Does it correlate with the father I want to be? What father do I want to be?

As David stood his ground and wept, I took a deep breath and remembered the father I want to be; Loving, attentive, compassionate, yet able to set clear boundaries. I want to be an empowering father, to lead by example and to have mutual respect. How would such a father respond to this situation?  
My thoughts drifted to my first day in second grade at a public school in Philadelphia. Our family relocated to the USA for three years due to my father’s studies. I’ll never forget that first day at school. A new country, new language, new culture, new school, new people. Everything was foreign. It was stunning and incomprehensible. I have a vivid memory of being dragged to class down a school corridor by a strange adult. I’m on the ground screaming and crying helplessly, refusing to cooperate. I remember the people standing along the corridor, looking down at the crybaby being pulled at their feet. It was humiliating. I was alone, no mother, no father. Apparently it happened after they left.

I was at a loss, I didn’t know what to do. I felt stuck in a deadlock. I told David I’m going outside for some fresh air, he can do whatever he wants.

I sat on the floor, leaning against the wall. David followed me out and sat near me. We were side-by-side, almost at eye level, as equals. It occurred to me to share my memory with David, and as I did, he listened attentively. His focus shifted from his own problems to my story and he calmed down. I told him how difficult it was for me and how I finally got used to the new environment and made new friends. David showed interest, we developed a conversation and he concluded,"Dad, I think it is harder in Israel".

Then David came up with a proposal. "Dad, I'll go to kindergarten, you wait for me outside and we’ll go home at the first break." I agreed to wait outside and that we would reassess the situation during the first break. My offer was accepted, we had an agreement. David stood up and walked confidently into the kindergarten. I watched excitedly from behind, following his small footsteps and adoring the cute nape of his neck. He did not turn to look back and entered with determination.
I was elated, proud of David, the hero who conquered his fears and entered the kindergarten of his own will. I was proud of myself, for I have found patience, attentiveness and sensitivity. I was proud of my journey and thankful for its fruits.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Chapter 5 - A Sense of Urgency

Life is short, youth is finite. With every breath we take, we come closer to our inevitable end.  Thus, time is our most precious resource. We cannot control time, yet we control how we spend it. Most of us invest a great deal of time in building our life, earning a living, acquiring assets and securing a future. We invest time making money, but money cannot buy back the time invested in it. Our children will never be children again, our parents will not be around forever, and who knows when our time will come. Time does not wait for us to wake up and appreciate it. It rushes by. For the most part of my life, this was not my way of thinking.
As a young man death and aging did not bother me. With plenty of years ahead, old age was too far to be noticed. My interpretation of ‘living the moment’ was to make the most of the cards that life dealt me, to be productive and do whatever was necessary to succeed. I was busy, one thing followed another. I had no reason to stop and ponder over life.
Then, at 32 I felt a twitch in my left eye and noticed my eyesight became blurred in the evenings.  I assumed it was related to my working late hours in inadequate office conditions. After a few days without improvement, I scheduled an appointment with the local eye doctor. The ophthalmologist looked through my pupil and thought my optical nerve seemed swollen. He concluded that I may have a brain tumor and that I should go straight to hospital. Needless to say, it came as a great shock.
I spent the next two weeks hospitalized in the neurological department, going through every imaginable test, some invasive and risky such as lumbar puncture. The doctors speculated but could not find a diagnosis. Only when my parents intervened and asked for a friend’s second opinion it became clear - I was farsighted. Natural aging simply exposed a common condition I was born with. I just needed glasses.
It was a daunting lesson about the imperfections of the medical system, but more important, I began to recognize that age was catching up with me. A few years later, cholesterol popped up. Gradually strands of grey hairs became apparent, and I noticed wrinkles subtly accumulating around my eyes and forehead. Here I was, gazing at the aging man in the mirror, wondering how fast the years flew by. Still feeling young and wishing I could be forever young, but no longer able to deny my time was ticking away.
So, by the time I entered my 40s, my perception of life has matured. It was no longer infinite, and perhaps no longer taken for granted. Time became precious and I began to pay attention to how I spent it. I looked at my relationships,  my free time, my well-being and quality of life as a whole. Was I living the life I wanted? If everything was possible, would I still choose to live this way?

Many of the people who transformed their life, attribute the trigger to some compelling event such as evading a fatal accident, overcoming a deadly disease, or losing a loved one. Such events change one's perception of life and add a sense of urgency – to consider what is really important and to pursue it. Do I need to experience a compelling event to get going? Why not learn from others?
I would like to share with you the story of Alice Lok Cahana, which had a profound influence on my journey:

"Alice Cahana, an artist living in Huston, has a painful and vivid memory of her journey to Auschwitz as a fifteen-year-old girl. On the way, she became separated from her parents and found herself in charge of her little eight-year-old brother. When the boxcar arrived, she looked down and saw that the boy was missing a shoe. “Why are you so stupid!” she shouted at him, the way older sisters are inclined to do. “Can’t you keep track of your things?” This was nothing out of the ordinary except those were the last words that passed between them, for they were herded into different cars and she never saw him again.

Nearly half a century later, Alice Cahana is still living by a distinction that was conceived in that maelstrom. She vowed not to say anything that could not stand as the last thing she ever said."

Source: "The Art of Possibility", by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. (New York: Penguin Books, 2000, page 174)

Alice’s story inspired me to question, “If I knew today was the last day of my life, would I still live it the way I do?” Answer was clearly NO. “And if I knew I had a few more years to go, would it change my answer?” I reflected upon my relationships with family, friends and colleagues and asked myself, “Was I content with my current relationships? If a relationship was to terminate abruptly, would I be content with what I left behind?”  

How well did I know my son, and how close were we? How much time was I spending with Yael (my spouse)? How well do we know and care for each other? How does my son experience me as a father? How does Yael experience me as a partner? Am I present? And what about my parents, brothers and sister?

Clearly my focus was elsewhere. I was preoccupied with my work, spending most of the day at the office. I firefighted my way through the week, and the weeks flew by. Any attempt to slow down and take a breath was in contradiction to the belief that executives should be fully committed to the firm and that success required sacrifice. Life was measured by efficiency, utilization and profits. I was aware and discouraged by it, but I kept going, perhaps on the premise that it will change for the better in the future.

Before I was CEO I may have hoped that as CEO I would be able to change things. I believed I would be in control of my time, set my priorities and enjoy financial security. But here I was, CEO, and none of the fantasies materialized. I was working harder than ever, and I could easily be fired by whim of a boss. I did not own the business, I did not call the shots, yet it completely dominated my life.

My fears of change, as grave as they were, were secondary to my fear of carrying on like this for years to come. I was burning my most precious resource - time. Looking forward and assuming I might work until 67 meant I had another 25 years to go. So, potentially, I had more career years ahead of me than behind me. I could start all over again! I had a window of opportunity to take a shot at a new life, but that window would not stay open for long.

When I’m old and facing the final curtain I want to look back with satisfaction, like Frank Sinatra singing, “I did it my way”. I do not want to look back with regret, knowing I had the opportunity to make a difference, but was too afraid to take it. Transformation became a matter of urgency.