An aweful life

Awe is the moment when ego surrenders to wonder.*
(Terry Tempest Williams)

In a little video accompanying his book The 8th Habit, Steven Covey invites a number of people to place rocks, small stones, and sand into a large glass bowl.  Some begin by placing the small elements into the bowl, ending with trying to force the large rocks in – these things just won’t fit.

Then someone places the rocks in first, followed by the stones, finally pouring the sand in, and everything fits.  The point Covey is wanting to make is that we have to put in place the larger things in life then everything else will fit.

When we focus on the small things, we find an effective diversion to dealing with the larger things we need to but a poor way for finding life in all its fullness.

The larger things are always moving us towards a life of more: see more, feel more, do more.

(*Terry Tempest Williams, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: The Hour of Land.)

The life of requirement

This is a plea.

When we measure by the norm everyone misses out.  Difference often requires a space of recognition.

A life of requirement is lived by the person who makes this space available to others.

It’s everyday magic and we need more of it.


So you’re an entrepreneur!

It’s one of the in-words.

If you check it out in most online dictionaries it will tell you that an entrepreneur is someone who starts a business.


Basically, an entrepreneur is someone who sees a need and acts to meet it.

The protagonist is an ancient character at the heart of a story.

The entrepreneur is revealing to us that we’re all able to be protagonists today.


On aspirations and ambitions

Others haven’t spotted this path but you have.  Others may join you, but for now you are alone.

Is this path an aspiration or an ambition?

We sometimes use the words together or interchangeably, but they’re different.

Ambition is about going around to obtain – originally, canvassing votes.

Inspiration is about breathing into.

One feel more like an accomplishment, the other a process – we cannot breathe in and in and in, there has to be breathing out.

The Heath brothers write about how:

‘We will never know our reach unless we stretch.’*

They identify what stretching is all about:

‘The promise of stretching is not success, it’s learning.  It’s self insight.  It’s the promise of gleaning the answers to some of the most important and vexing questions of our lives: What do we want? What can we do?  Who can we be?  What can we endure?’*

And because we cannot breathe in and in or out and out, here’s the other side of this from Albert Schweitzer:

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who sought and found out how to serve.”**

Perhaps ambition alone makes us forget what is possible, as Martin Buber pointed out:

‘Men prefer to forget how many possibilities are open to them.’^

For now, you have spotted this path, does it lead you to some ambition or will it teach you how to breathe?

(*From Chip and Dan Heath’s The Power of Moments.)
(**Albert Schweitzer, quoted in Seth Godin’s Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?)
(^From Martin Buber’s I and Thou.)


Hope is a way of seeing

Despair all too readily embraces the ills it foresees; hope is an energy and arouses the mind to explore every possibility to combat them […].*
(Thornton Wilder)

Instead of starting with your goals and working backwards, you started with no goals at all.**
(Chip and Dan Heath)

Hope is important when it comes to restoring the future, that is, the dreams we or others once had but have given up on.

To hold that something that does not yet exist is possible means that we have a goal, and when we have a goal we can take steps in the now, facing the reality of how things are and to make changes.

Making changes involves doing things differently, being engaged in the unfamiliar, and therefore involving the risk of failing.  Failure is undervalued although it leads us into seeing more:

‘Action leads to insight more often than insight leads to action.’**

Here, Chip and Dan Heath are identifying the need to “stretch for insight.”  Setting goals and working backwards is a critical way for seeing the change-steps that are individually or collectively necessary.  Those changes will take us into unfamiliar territory, where our old competencies and knowledge don’t work so well.  Theory U’s Otto Scharmer would suggest that we try some prototyping, producing “version 0.8” ideas designed to help us fail and learn and to try again; Seth Godin would encourage “zooming,” stretching who we are and what we do into the unfamiliar.

This way of seeing and acting is itself a future hope.  We’re imagining the possibility of stretching and failing and learning as normal components of lifelong learning and contributing.  We can then work backwards to see where our schools, universities, and businesses are working for or against this, we are seeing more and then we can begin to explore different ways.

Albert Camus spoke about how labour and intelligence are a:

‘single nobility, that their truth and, above all, their effectiveness lie in union’


The rule of our action, the secret of our resistance can be easily stated: everything that humiliates labour also humiliates intelligence, and vice versa.’^

I hope for labour that dignifies intelligence and intelligence that dignifies labour – a growth mindset over a fixed one.

(*Thornton Wilder, quoted in Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.)
(**From Chip and Dan Heath’s The Power of Moments.)
(^From Albert Camus’ Create 

Tomorrow shows another day is here*

We’re the latest instalment of the great human story as it moves from our deep past through the present and into our future.  It will continue beyond our reach into the lives of others yet to be born.  As in the past, so it is now, and so it will be in the future, this story will have be grandiose mixture of despair and hope, of problems and solutions, of ugliness and beauty.  As Eugene Peterson rightly observes:

‘To be human is to be in trouble.’**

Hopefully, though, we are seeing life on Earth moving towards improving in an all-embracing way.  The agricultural and industrial revolutions changed human life in many good ways – improving nutrition, employment and education to name a few – but we also know these have had bequeathed disconnection, depersonalisation, and de-skilling – again to name a few things.

Richard Sennett points out that these revolutions brought change from a different place.  Change happened faster but not always better:

‘Mechanical change came to the labour force rather than from within the labour movement.’^

Seth Godin envisages a group of people bringing hope from a different place:

‘Entrepreneurship is a chance to trade a solution to someone who has a problem that needs solving.  Solve more problems, solve bigger problems, solve problems more widely and you’re an entrepreneur.  It’s tempting to industrialise this work, to make it something with rules and bosses and processes.  But that’s not the heart of it.  The work is to solve problems in a way that you’re proud of.’^^

Artists are another group of who bring something different, when:

‘Artists reflect their times through lenses that influence insight and action, in themselves and in others.  In the face of great art, we find our spirits lifted, our views challenged and sometimes our very foundation of understanding tectonically shifted.  Arts moves us and out species evolves with this kind of internal striving.’*^

When it comes to human evolution and our impact on the planet, and now into the solar system, imagination changes everything.  Instead of randomness moving us from the past to the present, imagination allows us to imagine a different future, making it possible for us to live differently to create the imagined in the present.

Of this tribe, Ursula Le Guin writes:

‘To ask questions which must be asked yet cannot be answered, to create images which can be neither forgotten nor explained – this is the privilege of the most courageous artists.’^*

These entrepreneurs and artists may not look like they are bringing solutions.  First they make clear the problem.  This may be as far as some can take us, and we should be thankful for them.  It’s not that some are born to be artists and entrepreneurs, rather it’s a way of thinking, feeling and doing we each can learn in accord with our differences.

Our revolutions have brought us into a world of abundance, making it possible to produce more faster.  Look more closely, though, we see how a lot of this is sameness, and abundance that is sameness feels more like scarcity.

This is a scarcity of the things in which we are different.  When we’re living our “different,” we’ll sometimes be a question and sometimes an answer, sometimes a problem and sometimes a solution, but, if we’re getting this right, we’ll see a richer planet for all its species, a richer neighbour, and a richer self.

(*A play on Yesterday shows another day is here, an illustration in Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak’s Open House For Butterflies.)
(**From Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.)
(^From Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.)
(^^From Seth Godin’s blog: Entrepreneurship is not a job.)
(*^Kelvy Bird, from Drawn Together Through Visual Practice.)
(^*From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)

What are mountains for?

I see our national parks as our ongoing struggle as a diverse people to create circles of reverence in a time of collective cynicism where we are wary of being moved by anything but our own clever perspective… The nature of our national parks is bound to the nature of our own humility, our capacity to stay open and curious in a world that instead beckons closure through fear.


Our national parks are blood. They are more than scenery, they are portals and thresholds of wonder, an open door that swings back and forth from our past to our future.*
(Terry Tempest-Williams)

Mountains can be obstacles or achievements.

They can be places to be lost or places where we get found.

They can be places to escape or places to gain perspective.

However we see a mountain, climbing them often demands effort.

All of these things mean mountains provide us with great metaphors and analogies.  Never mind the elephant in the room, what about the mountain?:

‘There is something bigger going on, which is establishing cultural norms, appropriate behaviour and mindset are essential for organisational well-being.’**

Hugh Macleod is reflecting on the bigger issue behind the recent Starbucks’ cultural blindness.  There are coffees to be made, tables to be cleared, profit sheets demanding our attention.  Who has time to to look at the mountain, never mind climb it?

‘If we only pay attention to things that we can measure, we will only pay attention to the things that are easily measurable.  And in the process, we will miss a lot.’^

Okay, mountains have summits that can be measured, but beyond this, there’s a transformative story to be found through climbing

(*Terry Tempest-Williams, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: The Hour of Land.)
(**From gapingvoid’s blog: Make mine a bias-free latte.)
(^From Youngme Moon’s Different.)

Turning …

What do you see that no-one else sees?

Or, what do you feel differently about what everyone else sees?

Or, what do you do because you are prepared to turn towards what you feel when others turn away?


When the scientist falls in love


All that conformity to law, which impresses us so much in the movement of the stars and in chemical processes, coincides at bottom with those properties which we bring to things.  Thus it is we who impress ourselves in this way.*
(Friedrich Nietzsche)

all things have meaning and beauty**
(Dag Hammarskjöld)

The universe is a confusing place.  The scientist and the story writer are both trying to make sense of it.  

For all the scientist depends rigorously on data yet she falls in love.

For all the story-teller believes in the abstract yet he embraces facts and information to ground the narrative.

‘We respect that statistics matter, but we also respect the fact that to reduce the game to numbers alone is to divest it of its soul.’^

We’re always playing this game of data and intuition: seeing, feeling and doing more.

(*Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Nietzsche on Truth, Lies, the Power and Peril of Metaphor.)
(**Dag Hammarskjöld, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(^From Youngme Moon’s Different.)

The investigator of truth

At bottom, what the investigator of such truths is seeking is only the metamorphosis of the world into man. […] His method is to treat man as the measure of all things, but in doing so he again proceeds from the error of believing that he has these things [which he intends to measure] immediately before him as mere objects.  He forgets that the original perceptual metaphors are metaphors and takes them to be the things themselves.*
(Friedrich Nietzsche)

human understanding at best can understand itself, but nothing outside itself**
(Ursula Le Guin)

No-one is purporting we know all there is to  know, that we have discovered everything there is to discover.  New scientists continue to emerge and are likely to for a long time yet.

We have to accept limitations, though.  We cannot become a bird or a squid or a millipede.  All of which discover and explore and know this world in different ways to us.  We may imagine what their experience is but its human imagining.

This is our weakness and when we accept it, then we shall be stronger.

(*Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Nietzsche on Truth, Lies, the Power and Peril of Metaphors.)
(**From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)