Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard?

Kangchenjunga Himalayas

A few years ago I sat in an auditorium listening to David Graham tell the tale of how he, his son, and a family friend were the first Canadians to summit the peak of Pathangtse in the Nepalese Himalayas.

One of the stories he told has stuck with me to this day.

The mountains in the Himalayas are tall and the altitude at the base of them is high to start. The air is thinner, which means there is less oxygen to breath, making climbing there more challenging and physically exerting. As David Graham and his team were climbing their chosen route, it gradually became more technical and difficult. Until finally they reached a section of the climb that appeared beyond daunting, but overwhelming.

One of the Sherpas that was leading the expedition wore a smile everywhere he went. David described this man as enchanting. Whenever their route became harder he would encourage the others with a smile and say, “It’s easy.”

At this point in the route David looked at this man, expecting now he would admit that the challenge ahead was not easy but potentially deadly. Instead, he smiled at David and said calmly, “It’s easy, we’ll need to take it slower.”

David experienced an epiphany from this man. Life doesn’t have to be hard. It is really how we perceive it. This epiphany was clearly contagious because as he shared it I too experienced that moment of enlightenment.

I had recently launched a startup with my brother and friend Art. In the months and years that followed I had many opportunities to make this Sherpa’s approach to problem solving my approach. Often I was asked by the team if the task ahead would be difficult. I enjoyed responding that it was easy, it would just take time. It’s hard to know for certain, but it may very well have been the lessons learned from this talk that accounted for the amount of technical hurdles that we overcame in the first few years as a startup business.

David Graham and  Finbar O'Sullivan Mt. Pethangtse climb.

Fast forward 5 years. Surfing Youtube I stumbled upon a video entitled, “Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard?” by Jon Jandai.

This remarkable talk reminded me of the story I just told you. In the video Jon Jandai describes his life growing up in a poor village in northeastern Thailand. It wasn’t until they got TV that his village suddenly realized they were poor.

To overcome his newly discovered poverty he moved to Bangkok, to work hard and earn a living. However, after moving there and working hard everyday he had very little to show for it. His diet was terrible and he lived in a cramped accommodation. He decided that he needed to make an improvement so he attended university. But university was hard, “because it’s very boring.”

Jon explains that he had a realization at university, “We were taught to make life complicated and hard all the time … but we don’t know how to make it easy anymore.”

So he decided to simplify his life. He moved home and started growing rice instead. He grew 4 tons of rice and it took only 2 months of work. He didn’t need all the food so he sold the rest at the market. He made a pond and now has fish for food year round. He’s since gone on to build a beautiful home with his own hands and has no debt. His friend, one of the smartest people in university, just built a home as well. However, he is in debt for 30 years to pay it back. The way Jon looks at it is that he now has 29.5 more years of free time compared to his friend.

Jon has many profound insights in his talk, one of which probably deserves it’s own blog post, “The four basic needs: food, house, clothes and medicine must be cheap and easy for everybody. That is civilization. But if you make these four things hard for many people to get, that is uncivilized.”

The biggest takeaway from Jon Jandai’s talk is that life does not need to be as complicated as it’s made to be. Jon said, “Now when you look around everything is so hard to get. So I feel like now is the most uncivilized era of humans on this earth. We have so many educated people and our life is getting harder and harder.” I realized that what Jon was saying is true. It’s easy to become absorbed by the demands of life and lose sight of the ease of a simple one. As I looked away from the screen of my computer towards my yard and aging fence I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation.

David Graham learned from his Himalayan guide that a challenging climb can be an easy one. Jon Jandai’s outlook is much the same. A challenging life can be an easy one.

I leave you with this last statement of Jon Jandai, “Now I try to become normal, but people look at me like I’m abnormal. Crazy people. But I don’t care because it’s not my fault – it’s their fault, because they think like that. My life is easy and light now.”

Is a good life and a successful one compatible?

hiking Crawford Falls photo credit machiine.com

Have you noticed all this focus on the perfect habits of successful people as if the cause for their success can be summed up as a daily 8 hr sleep, 30 min exercise, and 30 min reflection time? But it’s not real.

New Years Eve, Christmas Day, birthdays… we’re pretty good at celebrating important occasions. In between these holidays our days can often be forgotten as the pace of life demands our time for work, errands, exercise, etc.

As a person I’ve gotten pretty good at forgoing fun to reach a goal. Often knowing that a holiday is coming is all I need to keep the sacrifice going.

When a goal is achieved it’s rewarding. It makes the sacrifice worthwhile. Inspirational speakers talk about the impact people can make if they choose growth over comfort and work over fun.

It’s hard not to praise people like Steve Jobs, who epitomized what it looks like to die for your company and dreams. At his end he remarked that it may have been the strain of working as the CEOs of both Pixar and Apple that brought about his cancer.

When you achieve your goals or hit the jackpot it’s easy to look back at that sacrifice and feel it was worth it. Yet, what if the road is longer than you anticipated and you’ve fallen short of your quarterly goals. Even though you are made of the stuff of champions – character and perseverance – the years go by and the goal remains aloof.

Is the sacrifice worth it if the reward is the end?

Sacrificing fun over work makes for a purpose-driven life, but not a good one.

Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying that, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life less than the one you are capable of living.”

I see two important parts to what he said. Firstly, passion is found when you live up to your potential. And secondly, you are capable of living a larger life.

It’s easy for personalities like my own to miss the nuance of his point. Because I’m oriented towards action, when I read Mandela’s words I know them to be true and am motivated to work even harder.

But working harder isn’t living larger. It isn’t really living at all. It’s might even be playing small.

I’ve heard it said that we get to choose our habits and our habits choose our future. I agree with that. I’ve also learned from others that there is a difference between good trade-offs and bad ones.

Living a life that you are capable of requires trade-offs. Each person is unique and their trade-offs will be different. Perhaps it means giving up security for an opportunity. Or giving up the 80 hour work week for time to invest in your family.

As 2014 has come to a close here’s what I’ve learned and will be taking with me in 2015. Good luck this year as you pursue the large life that you are capable of living.

  • To attract people to your cause you need a mission and a vision that’s easy to articulate.
  • Find fulfilment in your vision because it will become real.
  • Focusing your attention on growth and development rather than on goals makes the journey worthwhile.
  • It’s hard to control outcomes but it’s easy to control activities.
  • Measuring activities make outcomes more predictable
  • People are motivated and/or held back by fear, security, and fun.
  • Make fun an intentional part of your day.
  • Celebrate everything.
  • Working smarter is better than working harder, combining the two will get you further than either.
  • Working with others who also understand this will multiply everyones efforts.
  • If you are motivated you will be more likely to continue.
  • If you continue you will be more likely to reach your goals.
  • If your attention is on growth you will have achieved success on the entire journey.

All of us have bad luck and good luck. The man who persists through the bad luck – who keeps right on going – is the man who is there when the good luck comes – and is ready to receive it.
Robert Collier

  • Successful people attract success.
  • Life’s a long journey – make time for fun. It’s not a trade worth making.

There is no passion to be found playing small - Nelson Mandela

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
Nelson Mandela

We need to talk about the impact of Likes

Have you ever experienced information overload? Maybe I’m alone in this, but I love discovering new things. And for me learning from blogs, forums, or videos is an easy way to do it. With all that input I am influenced by the thoughts and ideas of the content. Which is part of the joy of learning, reshaping one’s frame of mind and gaining fresh insights.

Then I read Martin Cooper’s interview of Jeremy Keith in Net magazine. It was at night, I was sitting outside on my patio under the warmth of the propane heater as rain thundered down beyond the roof. In that moment I was reminded of what made the internet so compelling.Jeremy Keith interviewed by Martin Cooper

Here are the words I was reading. “What fascinates me,” Jeffrey says, “is the very basic idea of the web. This idea that anybody can publish on the web and other people can see it. People anywhere in the world. It’s a very simple idea but all the permutations of that have influenced a lot of what I do.”

Continue reading “We need to talk about the impact of Likes”

Why motivated people are waaaaay more productive

You have everything you need to build something far bigger than yourselfGood entrepreneurs intentionally surround themselves with people and activities that motivate them. We know that to win we need to stick with it when the going get’s tough. For some entrepreneurs that means getting good coaches and for others it’s engaging in the stuff that inspired them to get into their line of business in the first place. When you are motivated you work harder, for longer hours and your productivity goes up. This article will discuss your role (as the entrepreneur/CEO) in motivating your employees and why that matters.

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Islands are the fastest way to kill your startup – how to align your team

Working on islands kill startups

There’s a reason rockets are stored in silos. Working on stuff in silos kill startups. I laugh at how we ran things when we first started our company. Fired up about every new idea we had we tried to do them all… independently. I was especially bad for this. Focusing on the next great idea, I would mentally block out what the rest of the team was doing and put all my energy into the task at hand. While it might not be the worst way to build a company, it’s still a terrible way. If we were to survive we knew we needed to change, so how did we change our core culture and align our focus?

Continue reading “Islands are the fastest way to kill your startup – how to align your team”

Comfortable lives do not lend themselves to extraordinary things

Amanda LindhoutEvery day ordinary people live extraordinary true stories. A few weeks ago I met Amanda Lindhout. She’s a smart caring person working hard to raise the level of woman’s education in the failed state of Somalia. The story doesn’t start there. We’ve all heard of the pirates of Somalia, kidnapping ships off the nearby coast. Amanda understands the dangers of Somalia all too well.

In 2008 Amanda, a then journalist, was sent on a free-lance assignment to the displaced interment camp of Mogadishu. About 4 days in her journey, she and an Australian photographer were kidnapped. And their horror began. After sometime, they planned an escape. Using a nail clipper they chipped away at two bricks until after a couple weeks were able to dislodge them and escape. They planned to arrive at a nearby mosque around the mid day prayer, when it would be packed with people.

When they arrived no one could understand them. They tried to explain through hand gestures and actions, but it was too late. The kidnappers had heard them escape and arrived shortly after them firing their guns in the air. A lady in the mosque wearing a burqa, the only lady Amanda could see, came over and tried pleading with the kidnappers. The kidnappers listened for a couple minutes and then got annoyed. While the kidnappers were dragging Amanda out of the mosque the lady tried holding onto Amanda until breaking free.

After that it was a truly dark time. Amanda was kept in a dark room, raped and beaten daily. By the time she was released 460 days after intially being taken as a hostage, hair had fallen out and her teeth knocked out. Yet three years later you would never guess the experience she endured. While I was still processing her story she was talking gracefully, clearly at peace. Today she is passionate about helping educate woman in Somalia. She is passionate about making a difference in a place where she was so brutally taken hostage. It’s a remarkable story. And it’s true. Today she has been interviewed by Anderson Cooper, raised millions of dollars for woman half way around the world and is at peace. When I meet people like this I am in awe and I am inspired. I hope it inspires you as well. You can discover more about her story and the cause here http://www.globalenrichmentfoundation.org/.

Comfortable lives do not lend themselves to extraordinary things Stephen Whiting