It’s tempting, when times are tough, to start cutting corners or to justify doing whatever it takes to get where you want to go. It’s a slippery slope, however, when we start justifying means by ends. It’s far better to live by positive, life-giving values, whether in good times or bad. As you go through your days, ask yourself this question: “What would make life more wonderful right now?” Let your intuition be your guide. It will often make clear the way.
It’s been five years since I last published a Provision on my birthday. At the time, I was 49 years old and in the mood for a reconnaissance of my young life. I touched on my education, my 20 years of experience as a pastor, and the meaning of my work as a coach since 1998. You can read the Provision, titled Listen Intuitively, in our online archive (along with every other Provision from the past 10 years).
Today, five years later, I turn 54 (funny how that works) and the world is a far different place from 2003. Then, we were heading out of a recession and many were feeling hopeful; now, we are living through a recession and many are feeling fearful. In both cases, the feelings stem from similar needs: security, safety, contribution, freedom, choice, creativity, and adventure. When those needs are being met, or even when we are confident that they can be met, we feel open, optimistic, and risk-tolerant. When those needs are not being met, or even when we are doubtful that they can be met, we feel closed, pessimistic, and risk-averse.
That’s the situation in which increasing numbers of people find themselves on my 54th birthday. Of course most people in the world, who live on less than $3.00 a day or about $1,000 a year, know all about such difficulties. For many who are reading this Provision, however, they represent unfamiliar and unsettling territory. It is a scary thing when such basic human needs fail to be met, or even fail to be promised to be met.
One might imagine, therefore, that this is no time to celebrate, birthday or not. How can one sing a happy song in desperate times? By staying focused on the things that matter.
That’s the only way to avoid making things worse. We cannot afford desperate measures in desperate times, especially if we start to sacrifice values in the pursuit of goals. The ends do not justify the means. That kind of thinking leads to atrocities such as torture and terrorism. “We must be the change we wish to see in the world,” to quote Mahatma K. Gandhi. Otherwise, the spiral of injustice and violence will never be abated. We will end up replacing one desperation with another.
When that happens, there truly is little to celebrate. But everywhere I look I see people engaged with life, treating others right, and making the best of difficult situations. The “bloom where you are planted” bumper sticker is not far off the mark; each of us has an opportunity to lead and to make life more wonderful from any position and vantage point. The question is not whether such opportunities present themselves • they are always there • the question is whether or not we seize the moment.
While the United States was celebrating Thanksgiving Day I was visiting Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica. Instead of a traditional turkey dinner, I enjoyed tuna fish on rice cakes with friends while visiting a beach surrounded by hungry monkeys and lazy iguanas. On the way to the beach, a local tour guide named Danny was quick to point out other animals, including endangered species, and to imitate the call of howler monkeys in an effort to bring them out of the forest.
It worked. Danny was quite pleased that we had a chance to see and hear these monkeys. He was even more pleased to communicate in English and to connect with us, his appreciative guests. There was no desperation or panic here. There was only the beauty of needs being met and of life being enriched. We were in the moment and the rest of the world’s problems faded from view.
At the beach we had the privilege of experiencing another special moment, as I once again donned my ministerial hat to baptize the almost 14-year-old son of my friends. Twenty years earlier I had baptized my friends’ first son, when he was an infant. Now, I had the opportunity to baptize their second son who had just completed his baptism and confirmation training at a church in California.
Unlike the first time, which involved sprinkling water on an infant’s head, this baptism took place in the Pacific Ocean with full immersion. After making promises and saying a prayer, we positioned ourselves in the ocean to do the deed. That’s when the biggest wave of the day decided to make its appearance. It was as though God wanted to be clear who was doing the baptizing. The wave sent us all sprawling in every direction, and it dislodged my normally secure glasses. We quickly looked around, but the glasses were not to be found.
So we got back in position, took a few deep breaths, said the words, poured some holy water over Paul’s head from the main basilica in Costa Rica, and dunked the boy into the ocean. He came up with a smile on his face that could only have meant the baptism took.
After the baptism, two things happened that confirm my faith in humanity and that give me reason to celebrate today. First, a passerby offered to let me use his mask and snorkel to look for my glasses. Now this was not a snorkeling beach and no other person on the beach had any snorkel gear. But this man was standing right there, holding the mask and snorkel in his hands, watching us peruse the bottom with our feet.
There was no hesitation, no thought of germs, and no confusion as to what to do. We had many needs and he had a way of assisting us to meet those needs. A connection was made and I was soon snorkeling down the beach, with his gear, looking for my glasses. To everyone’s delight, they were found unharmed in less than a minute. I walked back, returned the snorkel, and the man smiled as did others sitting on the beach who had been watching our little drama. What once was lost, now was found.
The other thing that happened was that Paul’s father became emotionally moved by the whole experience. It wasn’t just that his son had been baptized or that we found somewhat improbably both a snorkel and my glasses. It was more that the giant wave did not distract or deter us from doing the right thing. With my glasses lost, we might well have postponed the baptism until we had finished looking. But that’s not what happened. Instead, we intuitively put people ahead of things. Paul was ready, we were ready, and God was ready. Delay was not an option.
Ironically, that intuitive act of putting the search for my glasses on hold reflected the very thing I wrote about, five years ago today. Intuitive listening involves vision, voice, and vibration. It’s a matter of paying attention to the moment. What is called for? What would make life more wonderful? When we have competing commitments, intuitive listening enables us to make better decisions. In this case it worked out great, since we both did the baptism and found the glasses. But even if we had never found the glasses, it was still the right thing to do and I would still have felt great.
There’s an important lesson here as we go through the current recession. Losing my glasses could be compared to desperate times. That did not stop us, however, from doing the right thing. It did not stop us from caring and celebrating and connecting with Paul. It did not sidetrack or derail us. It certainly did not justify the suspension of the means of grace (baptism) for the ends of gain (finding my glasses). The latter did not take precedence over the former.
So that is what I choose to celebrate on this, my 54th birthday. Times are tough but people the world over are still reaching out to share and to care. People have not forgotten how to be the change we hope to see: compassionate, creative, and connected. I see that all the time, from beaches in Costa Rica to replies in Provisions to clients engaged in the fullness of life and work. It’s a matter of not forgetting who we are in the pursuit of goals; it’s a matter of seizing the day, living by our values, and treating each other right.
Thanks to each of you who do that for me. There’s no better birthday present than that.
Coaching Inquiries: What do you celebrate about life and work? What good things can you see? Where are the silver linings around storm clouds? How can you become more appreciate and more engaged? Who helps you to be your very best?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
Hope you all had a wonderful time in Costa Rica. I understand it is a beautiful country. Your Provision, Say Yes! To Life, is timely and very significant. I have a rather perplexing theological question to write to you about. Do you look upon the devil as a symbol for evil in this world. I am currently taking a course on Alpha by Nicky Gumbel. Do you see our life’s journey as a daily struggle between good and evil? I would like to hear your views on the subject.
(Ed. Note: I try to avoid labeling people or things as evil. As hard as that sounds, and as hard as that is (especially when people do terrible, violent things), I think of evil not as an independent force but as tragic expressions of unmet needs. The more we try to understand each other, the less evil we will see, know, and experience. Read more at www.CelebrateEmpathy.com.)
I give thanks for you every day for sharing your thoughts and feelings with the rest of us. Have a wonderful vacation and happy Thanksgiving.
Thanks for continually reminding us of “what really matters”. Wishing you lots of fun and smiles in Costa Rica !
I just finished reading your Listening series. I loved every word. Thank you! Have you published your Provisions in book form yet? You have been given a glorious writing gift. Thank you for sharing it with the world.
Suzanne’s story is powerful and moving; she must be doing something right to have lived so long with metastatic cancer and I applaud her for that. As a Wellness Coach specializing in cancer recovery I believe that the medical community would do well to look at her accomplishments and find out what has kept her alive for so long. If the medical community would give more credibility to people like Suzanne who have developed internal skills to keep themselves alive, I believe that more people could be saved with less use of expensive drugs and treatments. Meanwhile, I will continue to promote healthy lifestyle choices and help people to develop their own skills for overcoming cancer. It’s great to read stories such as Suzanne’s and I wish her all the best as she lives each day.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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