sail with the sea

A clear purpose inspires courage, patience, optimism, and devotion. It allows you to sift through distractions and get the right information at the right time, apply the right effort in the right way. And no one can judge that for you but your own inner being. Like a lighthouse waiting by the shore, nobody can affect where it stands. Not even you. Don’t grab at waves, sail with the sea, and never forget why you started the journey.

Achieving stability in 2018

As long as there are goals there will be people who don’t achieve them. There are two reasons why goals don’t get achieved. Either you don’t believe in it or 2. you believe in it but are too lazy or afraid to act on it.

It’s important to first know your purpose: your core belief, your personal mission. A goal is what we pursue and purpose is why we pursue it. The “why” is our source of stability regardless of circumstance. three things make a purpose that endures:

  1. it’s bigger than you,
  2. you believe in it 100%,
  3. and it inspires action.

I love AirBnB’s mission: to help anyone belong anywhere. I founded SeeingPotential with the mission to inspire growth in people and their organizations and it fuels me every day.

In 2018, may a clear mission lead you to new heights.

Right action at the right time

With a clear purpose, you apply the right action at the right time.
Unhurried by fear and unchained from regret or blame, just living your rhyme.
You shape the vision you hold to be true, and if success is the fruit, gratitude is the root.
We’re all just gardeners here, it’s nice to see you.

everything is a mirror

Timing is everything,
Everything is a mirror,
The reflection is a gift,
The gift of conversation.

Timing is everything,
Everything is a mirror,
The reflection is a gift,
The gift of conversation.

Timing is everything,
Everything is a mirror,
The reflection is a gift,
The gift of conversation.

Timing is everything,
Everything is a mirror,
The reflection is a gift,
The gift of conversation.

know your purpose

Know your purpose and appreciate where you’re at. That’s the fastest way to achieve your goals. It’s a lesson we’re all learning in different ways. It’s the great awakening of our time. If you think you got it all figured out and your system is perfect then your growth is limited. Make 2018 a year of awakening through continuous learning. That’s the truest way to live that I know.

creativity, improvisation

Trust the process, improvise success

I was given 90 minutes to do something fun and creative at a Spittoon tour event in Chengdu, China. It could be about anything! And I was delightfully overwhelmed with possibility. So, I listened to the words of a mentor: “let’s do nothing and then take a break.” The event was not for another month, so I planned to do a lot of nothing until then.

After many walks along the river during my lunch breaks, I finally turned on to an idea for the event: Improv Storytelling. It married two of my favorite things in the world and something I personally wanted to know more about. It made me nervous and feverishly eager. As a long time student of improvisation and storytelling, I believe in their potential to inspire youthfulness and affect positive change in people.

The following week during an open mic night, I met Olaf who happened to come from the world of comedy and improvisation. We instantly clicked, and I invited him to co-lead the Spittoon night with me. Our basic intention was to play improv games, grasp its principles and then apply them to storytelling. We expected maybe a small group.

On the night of the event, it was a wonderful turnout with a crowd of around 30 people. There were a few who knew about improv and most people just seemed curious. For those who were not familiar I clarified some terms.

Firstly, improvisation means performing without preparation. Great actors, musicians, dancers use it to tap their inner wisdom and the group genius of their teams. It’s an out-of-ego experience. It’s where we rest our intellect and create something together in the moment. And it’s something we all do to some extent.

For example, imagine running down a flight of stairs. You don’t calculate every step in that fast pace. If we did that we’d tumble down the steps. Instead, we trust our instincts and let the body act in a flow of movement that turns up effortlessly. The brain is wired for safety, and our job is to let it work and trust the process. In other words, be present.

I once met a pianist who was on his way to play at the world-famous Carnegie Hall in New York. I asked him, “When are your moments of magic when you’re performing?” He paused and said, “when I get out of my own way.” This is common sense for great artists because they know the best they can do is let the work come through and let it come first.

While it’s not about preparation, improv does have core principles that set us up for success:

Be in the moment

There is nothing outside of this moment and that is magical because this is when we are truly listening. Simply being present is a catalyst for conversation. When we get out of our heads, even briefly, new ideas have a chance to sprout.

“Yes and”

Pixar has now released a score of hit-films that people love. Their magic doesn’t begin at a masterpiece. It’s the process of repeated failure and learning through “yes and”. When an idea is offered, we don’t have to worry about pushback with “no” or hesitation. The tension of uncertainty actually advances the idea further. Every film goes through 10’s of thousands of storyboards to distill the story to its essential features. “We labor over the story,” says Pixar CEO John Lasseter. Improvisation is in the DNA of Pixar’s culture and what they call plussing is the idea of driving forward together with “yes and.”

Make your partner look good

During a group improv session, basically, our job is to make each other look good. Instead of shooting down each other’s ideas, we build them through “yes and.” In other words, it’s about empathy. My personal story runs on the same thread. Overcoming speech impediment and social anxiety required me to change my inner narrative from “what will they think?” to “what pleasure can I bring?”

There are no mistakes, only opportunities

Soon as we let go of the need to be perfect, we open ourselves to rapidly learn from mistakes and continuously grow as a result. Master improviser Robbin Williams puts it best, “we have to fail to find the new.”

As shapers of our own stories, improv is a way of being with them to inspire trust and cooperation. What started as an invitation to do nothing, “yes and” led me to a room full of adults playing, creating, and connecting. The night was a blast and through a series of games, the group met friction and flight, and that’s life in the moment.

Inside out: 4 ways to lead positive change with self-awareness

Getting past speech impediment and low self-esteem didn’t happen overnight. As a teenager, I remember listening to the radio feeling puzzled by how people could enunciate words so well and be so easy and confident. How was their voice so clear and mine so muffled? The root of the struggle was that I held too many distractions and so I would easily get overwhelmed, and lengthy episodes of depression followed.

By quieting the mind through meditation, I learned to give up buggy beliefs and things began to clear up. A friend told me, “when we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.” It was a good look in the mirror and poetry was an outlet for me. It’s where I found my voice. I no longer felt the need to push against reality and its gifts opened up beautifully. I had to learn to lean in and just be with the quietness of the unknown.

I realized that we live in a noisy world and many people talk, yet few communicate. I grew to accept the gift of conversation which is at the heart of self-awareness. Acceptance means turning our insides out. The world is a conversation and positive change occurs through open and meaningful relationships.

It’s humbling to see how far I’ve come on this journey and yet how far there is to go. Tomorrow isn’t promised and I’m honored to be helping people lead positive change in their work and relationships. After years of teaching, coaching, consulting, and venturing, with success and failure along the way, a pattern began to emerge. Here are 4 guiding principles to wake up to our true potentials.

1. Mindfulness

Notice life through the senses here and now. Live in the moment and be fully present. It’s as simple as noticing the breath, the posture of your spine, or the way your shoulders hang on the sides as you sit. Research from Harvard and others are showing the positive effects of mindfulness on the brain and how it reduces stress and improves cognitive functions.

One study revealed 20 minutes of mindfulness practice for 8 weeks improved memory and actually developed neural tissue in the Hippocampus, the memory center of the brain.As we quiet the mind chatter, we grow open to what is and make decisions from a place of clarity. Buddha’s Brain and The Mindful Brain are great readings on how mindfulness can enhance focus and mental health. The skill here is observing.

2. EQ

Be an expert on your emotions. Life is constant change and with it comes uncertainty. The ability to read and regulate emotions is key to personal happiness and success. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is how we pay attention to things. In the world of emotion, 2+2 doesn’t always equal 4. As anyone who’s in a relationship knows, arguing with logic does not help. Rational thinking grabs at waves while EQ sails with the sea. In other words, feelings trump reason and the quicker you handle emotion the more nimbly you adapt to change.

The brain is a storytelling factory, weaving narratives around pleasure and pain and our emotions are nested in the stories we tell. Questions that arise are: what story do you tell most often? What emotions are present? What variations do you tell that story? What does that story mean to the people in it? The skill here is storytelling.

3. Purpose

Know what you honor. Why do you do what you do? What is your undying belief? When we look back at the great leaders of history, they all stood for something larger than themselves. There was a bigger picture that guided their mission, a belief that stood the test of time. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that everyone deserves to be free and safe no matter the color of their skins. Nike honors great athletes. Pixar stands for telling a great story. Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs believed in thinking differently.

What do you hold true? The answer begins and ends at the most important word in the English language: “Why?” Design Thinkers and Lean software developers use the 5 why’s technique to solve complex problems. The idea is to methodically ask “why” to examine the root-cause, and not just react to symptoms on the surface. In other words, stepping back and looking at the bigger picture and asking, “what really matters here?” The skill here is questioning.

4. Trust

The difference between a group of people in a room and a connected team is trust. The fields are in our favor, at the speed of trust. Trusting people, trusting the process, and trusting ourselves to do the right thing. What’s the right thing? It depends on the purpose (see #3). The most important relationship is the one we hold with ourselves. Like the classic trust exercise, I must know my own stability in order to safely catch my partner’s fall. It takes empathy to know my strength when giving support. Empathy means stepping outside of ourselves to add value to someone else.

Trust is built when we repeatedly do the right thing and the right thing tends to make others feel safe. And of course, words don’t mean much if actions don’t match and the contradictions we can mend within ourselves. No body’s perfect and when we accept what is, we release resistance and trust has a chance. And all we can really do is give it chances. World renown executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith, poses the following question when receiving feedback, “is it worth it to argue?” The skill here is Empathy.

Acceptance is the end-goal to recognize the journey as the treasure. It takes courage, patience, and optimism and the result is an everlasting pleasure with people. And change is natural when you’re hot on “why.” Imagine working with a team where people simply accept and trust each other. A team where people grow through a shared purpose and have each other’s backs. There’s no need to blame others because leadership starts within.


Dreams of an Octopus

Once there was an Octopus with a vision to travel on land. All day he would pretend what it’s like to be a land animal. All his friends teased him because he didn’t have the proper legs and it was dangerous and silly to even consider that quest.

But Octopus was determined and he had an idea. One day he floated to the surface of the sea and lured a nearby hawk to catch him. The hawk’s eyes locked in and flung into the water, snatched the octopus with her claws and flew back towards the land.

Octopus could feel the breeze for the very first time. He saw the ocean from overhead, the horizon and the sunset blazing in orange and red. Octopus swiveled his eyes and saw the mountains at a distance and the trees and houses with humans walking on streets. On a bench there was a baby sucking on a mother’s breast. Octopus finally died in the hawk’s nest.

Without a head

The first night I fell with a high fever, vomiting through trembling teeth. My head was caved in from the high altitude I could feel death looming in and out of my veins. The next morning, I stayed in bed while the others wandered the town. I was extremely glad to have a comfortable bed with the hostel manager looking after me. He was lighthearted and I didn’t have the energy to say much. His Chinese name translated to “without a head”. His WeChat id had the tagline “always stay naive.”

It was Spring and the three of us had taken a 13hour bus ride to Seda for a taste of Tibetan culture. Seda, also known as Sertar, is a Tibetan county west of Sichuan in China. At nearly 4,000 meters elevation, Seda Monastery is the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist school and houses up to 40,000 monks and nuns in dorms stacked across in a valley. The tiny lit windows spread a colorful mosaic that blends into the starry night sky.

The next morning, I was about 60% and decided to roam with the others. At dawn, we hiked up the mountain for a view of the valley where the monastery laid. Morning prayer was in order and clouds of incense smoke covered the valley. Fingertips freezing, the sun slowly peeked over the mountains and shadows began to stretch. We goofed around a bit then sat quietly with the sunrise. There was a cold stream in my belly.

We then made our way toward the monastery. I was woozy and grumpy while the other two chatted with the locals. Everyone was dressed in different variations of a brown and red cloak with a softness in their face. I spotted a cozy corner by the temple’s entrance and dropped for an overdue nap deep into my beanie and jacket. The cold air, fever, trembling body. I hated everything and somehow content. I had given up the will to change anything and had no regrets.

Next day we took a shuttle to the sky burial where vultures feast on the dead. It’s customary funeral for Tibetans, a morbid fascination for tourists. Six bodies had been laid and prepared in a pit for dozens of vultures to digest. Slowly birds swarmed in and tore away at the limbs. The thick smell of carcass waved around the funeral site while the birds frenzied in the pit; some flying overhead with wings blanketing the sun. Some were playing tug-o-war with the skin that wouldn’t tear. Near the end, a man with a butchers’ outfit walks to each skull with a knife and strikes a pounding blow at the base, cracks an opening and tosses them to the birds. They beaked into the brain as the jaw bone loosely opened and closed. I couldn’t help but see myself as an anonymous skull in that pit.

Same sun new day, head fevered and knees were trembling after a lengthy walk around town. We spotted a café and claimed a dim empty room with couches all around. We each took a full sofa and crashed from sheer exhaustion. Alina was cold and quiet. The window behind her was open with cool breeze coming in. Just as I got up to close it for her, Ree dashes for the window and slides it shut. She then falls dead on the couch. I drop my head and quietly start crying. I was drained and didn’t need a reason survey my tears but I felt relief. Maybe it was the emptiness inside and the kindness near. It’s like letting it stream down your face and grabbing at no wave because the ocean moves through us.