Different kind of 12 step program

Alan Cohen, an author and a psychotherapist, asks in his lectures: “who is dissatisfied with their work?” Seventy-five percent of the audience raise their hands.

Cohen has created a twelve step system to help people rediscover their “purpose”. Here are the steps – without interpretation. I think this is an extremely interesting place to start a practice of deeper self understanding and discovery.

1. Tell yourself the truth
Draw two columns on a sheet of paper and in the left column write down what you would love to do. Then write down on the other side everything you’re doing without any enthusiasm. Write as if nobody were ever going to read what is there, don’t censure or judge your answers.

2. Start slowly, but start
Call your travel agent, look for something that fits your budget; go and see the movie that you’ve been putting off; buy the book that you’ve been wanting to buy. Be generous to yourself and you’ll see that even these small steps will make you feel more alive.

3. Stop slowly, but stop
Some things use up all your energy. Do you really need to go that committee meeting? Do you need to help those who do not want to be helped? Does your boss have the right to demand that in addition to your work you have to go to all the same parties that he goes to? When you stop doing what you’re not interested in doing, you’ll realize that you were making more demands of yourself than others were really asking.

4. Discover your small talents
What do your friends tell you that you do well? What do you do with relish, even if it’s not perfectly well done? These small talents are hidden messages of your large occult talents.

5. Begin to choose
If something gives you pleasure, don’t hesitate. If you’re in doubt, close your eyes, imagine that you’ve made decision A and see all that it will bring you. Now do the same with decision B. The decision that makes you feel more connected to life is the right one – even if it’s not the easiest to make.

6. Don’t base your decisions on financial gain
The gain will come if you really do it with enthusiasm. The same vase, made by a potter who loves what he does and by a man who hates his job, has a soul. It will be quickly sold (in the first case) or will stay on the shelves (in the second case).

7. Follow your intuition
The most interesting work is the one where you allow yourself to be creative. Einstein said: “I did not reach my understanding of the Universe using just mathematics.” Descartes, the father of logic, developed his method based on a dream he had.

8. Don’t be afraid to change your mind
If you put a decision aside and this bothers you, think again about what you chose. Don’t struggle against what gives you pleasure.

9. Learn how to rest
One day a week without thinking about work lets the subconscious help you, and many problems (but not all) are solved without any help from reason.

10. Let things show you a happier path
If you are struggling too much for something, without any results appearing, be more flexible and follow the paths that life offers. This does not mean giving up the struggle, growing lazy or leaving things in the hands of others – it means understanding that work with love brings us strength, never despair.

11. Read the signs
This is an individual language joined to intuition that appears at the right moments. Even if the signs point in the opposite direction from what you planned, follow them. Sometimes you can go wrong, but this is the best way to learn this new language.

12. Finally, take risks!
The men who have changed the world set out on their paths through an act of faith. Believe in the force of your dreams.

The lottery

Over the past couple of months, my family has discussed what we would do differently if we won the lottery. This is not passive dreaming, we had purchased tickets.

First one was my Dad. He had a ticket for a grand prize of $50 million. Since we were discussing how to spend his money, we didn’t get too greedy. My sister and I suggested a luxury family vacation. We started with what we knew.

My sister has been to Maui and has no great urge to go anywhere else, so Maui it was. I said it had to be at least a month. We agreed that private accommodations for parents, separate from children was a must. On the beach. Then, I really wanted to fly business class. My Dad busted out a private jet. So generous! It actually felt, for a few minutes, as if we were going to Maui on a private jet!

My Dad did not win that lottery. But my husband got into the spirit and bought a ticket for the BC Children’s Hospital Dream Lottery. The proceeds from this support a great cause and a hospital which we have used several times for our own children. It really feels like a donation, with a possible upside.

The prizes are quite lavish, with the early bird draw yesterday of a brand new Tesla Model S. I have not checked our answering service, so it is not 100% confirmed, but probably we did not win the car. However the final draw is November 5. While the homes and cars and furniture are all nice, we have our eye on the cash. $2 million would allow us to set up our future more quickly and easily than our current path.

As we discussed this lottery it quickly became apparent that we have a pretty great life already. In fact, I would not change a thing for the rest of this year. That is a pretty satisfying thought. Money would not improve the things in my life which I hold with the highest value. My family, our health. Friends and the great relationships they bring. Experiences, learning. These things money can’t buy.

So we sleep soundly knowing that whether we win the lottery or not, we already have the life of our dreams. I know how that sounds and my younger self would have scoffed at hearing me say it. Maybe this kind of perspective comes with age. But I have finally realized, acquiring more stuff, traveling to far off places, these things alone do not bring me true happiness. It is how I feel with the people I cherish most, these are moments of bliss.

Teenager in the house

“Keep true to the dreams of your youth.”   ~Friedrich Schiller


Yesterday my son stepped over from being a tween, solidly joining the ranks of teens. So far so good. It has only been a day. But we have been watching him change over the months and years. There have been little signs and clues. Nothing is happening in the flash of a birthday passing by the calendar.

The articles on the internet, (probably a bad place to look for information on this topic), describe a list of horrors which await parents. Luckily life doesn’t unfold for one person in the same manner as another. We don’t know the trials waiting for our family as our son grows into a man, but something about his character will be at his core to guide him.

I am looking at a document I wrote 12 1/2 years ago. It was titled – “Long term vision”, where I detailed hopes and dreams for my family, 10 years hence. I wrote an interesting paragraph about my son. Keeping in mind he was only 6 months old at the time, I was seriously projected my wishes, rather than having knowledge of him.

he is 10 now….11 in August he keeps reminding me whenever he asks to do something I think he isn’t ready for yet. He is so confident and big for his age. Sometimes he bites off more than he can chew and no-one is the wiser because he has the stride of someone who knows what he is doing. Under it all though, he has a lot of fun. He understands very clearly, at the end of the day, you only live once. He is content to still play and enjoy the age he is at.

Of course, not every detail of this vision is accurate. But the essence is spot on. Maybe that is what I find interesting as I review this and compare to the young man he is becoming. He is confident and self-assured. He still enjoys life.

Maybe all that will change as he wades deeper into adolescence. The hormones will rage and cause all number of problems and confusion for him, I’m sure of that. What I think will help unravel the confusion for him is at his very core – his dreams. From the beginning he had an active imagination, something which has served him well. He speaks of his dreams, he plans for the future.

Now I think it is our job, as his parents to help keep these dreams alive. Prop him up and remind him when life seems overwhelming. And maybe we need to lead by example. It might be time to reach back into our young minds and remember. Sort though what is there and act on the good stuff we find.

Practice is a process

In those quiet moments of the early morning, the little gap between being asleep and awake, is where some good thinking is done. Lately, I’ve taken to keeping a pen and journal on my bedside table to catch some of these thoughts. We all know what happens if we don’t. The light of day casts a strange hue on those ideas. There is a tendency to minimize them with doubt and fear, put them down to a dream like state where only gibberish happens.

This morning, I took that early thought process and just kept going with it. I let my mind wander around a number of ideas and concepts. I dared to think differently and I was pleasantly surprised. The creative thinking part of my brain woke up and got right to work. The delight was in how quick and easy it was to ignite.

Normally, you can’t force creativity. We all know that. There is a deadline looming, all the technical bits of work are done and now you have to accomplish some creativity, yeah right. Not going to happen. A modern office building with sterile furniture, office walls, cubicles, printers humming – these are not creative places. My solution is usually to cruise around the internet until I find enough inspiration to finish the task.

A long time ago, when I attended design school, (presumably to learn the skills to apply in the work world), we thrived on the creative process. However, I swear, the minute we left with degree in hand, we lost much of what we learned and practiced.

As time went on and the ways of corporate life started to take hold, I somehow came to think, (or maybe I always did), practice makes perfect. My strategy became work very hard over long stretches of time, in other words diligent practice would make me perfect. Me and my work would be perfect and everything I dreamed of would fall from that.

Of course, we all know what falls from that train of thought – breakdown, burn-out, depression, spiritual awakening, (insert your name for it here). After a great deal of self-awareness training and getting a new kind of education, (still learning), I began to see that perfection is a swear word. I tell my kids, “there is no such thing as perfect”. (If my daughter follows the same route as I did, then she learned it from school, friends or society at large – which is entirely possible).

So fine, eliminate the word “perfect” – what are we left with? For me a hollow feeling. I’ve always mourned the loss of that word. There is something to be said about the quest. Powerful emotions to drive forward with.

Then this morning I came up with the notion that “Practice is a PROCESS”. For me, that links right back to the creative process that I learned so long ago and carefully tucked away in the corner of my mind. You don’t have to be painting or drawing to use the creative process, it can be applied anywhere.

Even the word process, all by itself can mean something different to each person, and so it should. Practice and process are going to become specialized to each person and to each situation. Powerful ideas and words to move us closer to dreams, in a way perfection never could.

Brene Brown ecourse

Brene Brown ecourse

Personal legend

I first read the book called “The Alchemist”, by Paulo Coelho while on holiday in Mexico a couple of years ago. Over the past few months, I have been waiting for the CD version to come available from the library. Finally it was my turn. The reading was done by Jeremy Irons, who did an amazing job.

When I read the book, I remember feeling a stir of emotion around the idea of finding and living a personal legend. And then, the holiday was over, we left the blissfully sunny days beside the Sea of Cortez and arrived home to snow. The usual rush of life, during the run up to Christmas took over.

This time round, I tried to really listen to the ideas presented in the text, for I now knew the general storyline. I should say that I listen to books on CD while in my car on the drive to work. However, even while inching along in traffic, the mind can wander. I think one more listen will be in order.

There is an interesting distinction made between people. Some are fully aware of what they want in life, but would rather dream about it because nothing in life could live up to the dream they have created in their minds. There are a few people, however, that go after their dreams. They eventually conquer every obstacle and get what they wanted.

The reason, it seems, that so few people really go for it, is fear. As I listened to the words and pondered my own thoughts, I would have to agree, fear is a pesky little feeling. It starts small, maybe like a reasonable voice of caution, but it spreads like a cancer. But overcoming fear, when we have become so used to submitting to it, is no easy task.

Interestingly enough, Paulo Coelho has a great blog where he gives ideas about realizing your personal legend. This is a great resource to help get you going on the right path. I will be completing these exercises this weekend. And I’ll let you know if I make in progress in beating down fear.

The Good Stuff – Books