Friday, September 23, 2011

Advice to Start Up Companies

Having been part of a couple of Fortune 100 corporations in the past, I believe I've got a decent amount of experience with old economy thinking, as well as an understanding of its fatal flaws. What I've come to realize is that - as folks in the trenches begin to step up in an effort to shift our global economy toward serving a higher purpose and being supportive of all life and away from the current self-serving power/money paradigm - we must, as individuals who are integral members of our economic system, not allow ourselves to succumb to pressures to continually duplicate the old paradigm just because its trajectory has been powerful. To repeat what isn't working because it's all we know how to do is the very definition of insanity. Conversely, to stand up to that old economic paradigm and be willing to put yourself on the front line for what you believe is true is a test of personal courage.

Before I felt free to quit my job at Smith Barney I had to be willing to acknowledge that I had no idea how or if I'd survive that departure financially. I had to be fully accepting in my own mind and heart that the consequence might mean becoming homeless and eating out of dumpsters - as well as being shunned by former clients, family members and friends - for choosing to stand in my highest truth instead of continuing to "sell out" for the money and accolades that arise from succeeding in the existing social structure. From that place of humble acceptance, I found the strength to trust myself to do the right thing to the best of my capacity in every given moment. By being willing to surrender it all I discovered I had nothing left to lose, which meant no fear of loss remained to hinder my ability to strive to become my grandest version of my highest vision of myself.

Having gone through that trial by fire and having personally discovered - once I stepped into the abyss of the unknown - that the universe is actually a benevolent place and supports those who have the courage of their own convictions, I would like to offer the following advice to anyone who is contemplating starting their own business (or making any other sort of radical life change.) If it doesn't resonate with you then it's not meant for you...let it go without judgment. All information finds its true home in its own way, which is part of the marvel of the cosmic unfolding of life.

1) Before you begin the arduous process of creating something brand new, allow yourself to mentally "go to zero." Going to zero means having the courage to picture yourself in the worst possible outcome you can imagine, should you fail. If you can accept that outcome - if you are willing to live with the consequences of the worst possible situation you can picture as a result of your engaging in your new venture -you will discover that fear no longer has the power overwhelm your capacity to be reasoned and focused on whatever will enable you to succeed. If, however, you've been too afraid to look deeply into the darkness of your own imagination and discover if you're capable of living with the consequences of failure, you'll likely be unable to conduct yourself with the necessary level of integrity to succeed. That seems to be the way the universe works. We have to be willing to surrender it all in order to achieve our highest aspirations. Anything short of that is "hedging our bets." And when we hedge, we're acknowledging that we don't trust ourselves enough to invest everything we have to offer in our own success. But if you don't trust yourself enough to put everything on the line for the chance to succeed, why should anyone else place their trust in your ability? That insecurity will surely flow through to your decision making, and color the outcome of your venture before it begins.

2) Give deep thought to what it is you are wanting to create, and focus the bulk of your attention on that. Don't invest energy into thinking about what you don't want to happen, because that dilution of focus will sap your capacity to direct the bulk of your energy toward your own success. All we need do is examine our world to find countless examples of situations where humanity is busy creating the very situation it does not want to happen, because its attention is focused on (and its energy is directed toward) prevention of what it doesn't want instead of achievement of what it desires. We've made war on each other to stop war, which has only succeeded in creating new enemies. We've made war on drugs, which has only succeeded in generating new, more harmful drugs and organized crime that harms more people than the original drugs we set out to destroy. So set your vision, remind yourself of it regularly and often, and check yourself constantly to discover if you're straying from it because your fears are arising in your subconscious and subverting your higher intentions. Only when we are vigilant and consistently aware of our own undisciplined thoughts can we develop our core competency in this.

3) Spend time thoroughly studying Dan Pink's amazing book, "Drive." In it, he dissects human motivation and what drives us all to succeed. As it turns out, Pink's book reveals that the drivers humanity has been focusing on for too many eons now - reward and punishment - are external motivators that are fear/greed based, thus are only under very limited and short-term circumstances. Many studies prove that human beings are actually far more driven by a universal set of intrinsic motivators than they are by the external motivators of reward and punishment. What are those intrinsic drivers? It seems they are threefold:

---The desire for autonomy, which includes the freedom to be who we are and work without overly aggressive supervision, including when and how to do the jobs we've been tasked to accomplish.
---The desire for mastery, which involves taking as much time and investing as much energy as is necessary to master the skills pertaining to our passions, talents, abilities and desires.
---The desire to serve a higher purpose than ourselves, which involves knowing that the function we perform has the capacity contribute to the advancement of human society and be beneficial to life on Earth.

Therefore, if you're going to start a new business, build a company where these drives are honored and fostered and you'll find yourself with employees who will go out of their way to serve the business's ends because they love what they do. They will appreciate the trust and freedom they've been gifted, and will be grateful to have an opportunity to develop their core competencies. By creating a win/win scenario, you enhance the chances your company will succeed.

4) Acknowledge from the outset that nobody starting a new venture can possibly know what they don't yet know. In Tarot, life is called the "fool's journey" for a reason. We discover our own ignorance piece by piece, only after we've foolishly - and perhaps with the arrogance of ignorance - delved into the depths of our own incompetence. It is from that place of humility, from our rising awareness of our own incompetence and our desire to attain mastery, that true learning begins. To therefore blame, shame or guilt start up employees for failing to grasp what they did not know at the outset of the venture merely creates a hostile working climate that may well derail your operation before it gets underway. Which leads me to my next point:

5) Allow the unfolding of your venture to take as long as it takes to succeed. Impatience has killed more start up companies than any other personal and emotional failing. The desire to become too big too fast, to create a product before constructing a solid ground of operations, to meet some arbitrary internal deadline to the point that a steady, measured approach to success is tossed aside for the sake of meeting the target, is almost certain corporate suicide. Don't allow the existing human condition - which sets too much stock in time-based accomplishments and not enough in relaxing and allowing - to push you into being stressed and overworking to the point of exhaustion. An exhausted and unhappy employee (or employer) cannot possibly be bringing the best of themselves to the world. And if you're not doing that, then what on Earth are you doing? And for what reason?

I invite all prospective jobs creators - as well as all existing employers - to ponder these things as we move forward as a society...together.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When Good People go Crazy

Several times in my life I've experienced the sorrow of witnessing the absolute emotional and psychological unraveling of another human being. I am, at the present moment, once again observing exactly such an experience. As I take a deep breath and step back from the self-induced, self-destructive, take-no-prisoners carnage that this individual is currently creating, I find myself examining the way the situation has been unfolding. I have been seeking to understand - with deep feelings of loving compassion for the individual in question - why it is that sometimes good people go crazy.

The following quote by Albert Einstein has been most instructive: "The intuitive voice is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant, but has forgotten the gift."

Irrationality, which is the energy that fuels mental craziness as well as all emotional reactivity, does not arise from the intuitive voice, which doesn't create fear or encourage fear-based thinking. The intuitive voice is - always and ever - arising out of the energy of unconditional love. Irrationality can only arise when the formerly rational mind - the faithful servant of the deepest essential self - has lost its way, and is no longer listening to the powerful intuitive voice that is encouraging it to value love before all else. What causes that to happen is a function of separation consciousness, the mistaken belief that each of us is entirely independent from one another, and from the larger world that has created and contains us all. It's hard to unconditionally love the external world (or its occupants) when we perceive it to be a dangerous and hostile environment for us to navigate, threatening to our very existence - because we imagine the totality of our existence to be only our mind-based self. Of course, it is only the mind that is telling us that terrifying story; the mind - out of fear of its own mortality because deep down it knows IS a mortal element and will ultimately dissolve with the body - that has attempted to elevate itself to the level of the infinite, eternal One Source that is manifesting life through every one of us.

Our society, such as it is, does not make it easy for those whose rational minds have (consciously or unconsciously) severed their connection to their deeper intuitive voice to find their way back to emotional wellness. As Einstein inferred, we have created a modern society that itself has elevated the status of mind to a level above the intuitive voice, which means we have - for all intents and purposes - created an insane society. Love these days therefore takes a back seat to success; empathy and respect take a back seat to personal reputations and self-image; integrity takes a back seat to the fear-based drive to accumulate wealth and perceived security.

Irrationality arises when the rational mind, faced with the cognitive dissonance of wanting to act out of accordance with its own highest principals in service to its own fears, chooses to invent a rationalization to justify the wrong action. The rationalization that occurs (which is actually irrational at the deepest intuitive level) goes something like this: "I can't afford to practice my highest values and be my best self at this point, because I'm not yet secure enough to do so. When I have attained the level of security I desire (or fame, fortune, public accolades, etc.) then I will be free to be fully and truly myself."

Having personally attained (and then willingly surrendered) the things I once thought I needed to feel security, if I've learned anything in this life it's that the search for one's self-image "out there" is an endless quest that is doomed to end in failure. Once we achieve what we believed we needed to be happy and feel secure, we discover either that it's relatively hollow and quickly loses its luster, or we discover we have to continually to battle the external world to hold onto whatever we've gained. The fact is, any quest to hold onto impermanent things is a fool's game, because all things must eventually dissolve. As Eckhart Tolle says so eloquently, "The things we think are so important in our lives, all the life dramas and suffering that consume so much of our attention and our energy, one day amount to the dash between the date of our birth and the date of our death on our tombstone."

Therefore, how we choose to live within the context of that dash matters more than all the narrative stories we're creating about ourselves to satisfy or quiet the fears of our mind.

Yesterday I took a time out from life and strolled through an old Vermont cemetery. I noted the dates of birth and death on many tombstones, wondering at the life stories that lay beneath my feet. Who was Lena, aged 13, and what was the cause of her untimely death? I'll never know. I'm sure she had many amazing life experiences, suffered some tragedies, was mourned by her family members and friends. Yet all that remains to remember her by is that dash.

This is true for most all of us. Most of us are not destined to become rich, or famous, or to go down in history as movers and shakers of human society. Most of us will live our lives quietly, and our bodies will dissolve as bodies inevitably do. The key then, is to be able to wake up every day - knowing it may well be our last day on this Earth - and to live it as if that is so. That most of us fail to do that, imagining we will only be able fully live in accordance with our intuitive voice, the voice that is always on the side of love, once we've accomplished our personal goals, is to put the destination ahead of the journey, allowing the end to justify the means.

That is humanity's collective insanity, and it is indeed what causes good people to occasionally go crazy.