Emperor – Get Some Clothes

We are all great at some of the things that we do and mostly we know it.

But are we aware of the dark side of our strengths?

For instance

·     You are lightning fast at seeing the core of any issue. You get it right away. But, are you impatient with folks who operate at a slow burn and need time to come to clarity?

·     You are a strategy type and see the big picture immediately. But, it blows your mind when people get down into the weeds and fuss over details.

The good news is that if you can admit facts like the above then you have a good dose of self-awareness.

But self-awareness is not enough. You need to be able to compensate for your weakness in some productive ways.

Since there is no point in being dazzled by our brilliance when our bull can quickly baffle everyone, here are some ways to balance our weaker personality or leadership traits.

Some Experience Required.

 When working on a project it is prudent to include team members outside of our areas of strength. That is where diversity matters. Sometimes those who attempt to practice outside of their Subject Matter Area start to believe the myth that experience is not necessary. Recently Frank Bruni wrote in the NY Times,

“You would choose a pilot who had flown 999 flights over one with nine, and you would want your child’s teacher to be practiced with pupils, not merely a vessel of great enthusiasm.”

Advice: Partner with experienced and skilled practitioners

Try a dose of humility

The advice of the oracle at Delphi “Know thyself” is at the root of humility.

Self-awareness is essential to humility because by recognizing both our strengths and limitations, we keep ourselves from slipping into either a sense of inferiority or superiority. In remaining self-aware, we neither over-dramatize our weaknesses nor flaunt our strengths.

When we are humble we are being as realistic as we can be about ourselves. We are in balance and aware of our humanity and the real value of our person. 

Advice: Remember that ‘eating humble pie’ is not humility

Get over being the Emperor

An extension of humility is to have a realistic perspective on the relative importance of our position. Emperors have life tenure. But organizational leaders come and go every few years. We have to get over the “my position, my self” habit. The ancient Romans had a custom of welcoming home conquering generals with a parade. Accompanying the general in his chariot was a slave who reminded him throughout the parade “Remember you are human”. This supposedly helped the general stay humble. We need to plant a voice in our minds that relays the same message.

 Conclusion. Know your strengths and leverage them with humility. Be aware of your weaknesses and don’t underplay them or think that you can “fake it until you make it”.

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Preparing Emotionally for a Successful Strategy

Do you want to be a better strategist?

How about ways to prepare yourself emotionally to succeed with your future plans?

Yes, I know, I know, we cannot control all outcomes and life is what happens while we make other plans, but indulge me for a moment and finish this sentence

Imagine a world where….

Where does that exercise lead you?

As you engage is such a mental exercise you are priming your brain for future success by

1. Rehearsing the successful outcome

There is strong scientific data to prove that regular positive mental rehearsal powerfully determines the successful outcome of our aspirations. In so doing, you reprogram your neural pathways to move you to that successful future. What happens is that you install the neurological hardware that prepares you for successful execution.

Think of an Olympic gymnast mentally preparing for an event or a basketball player setting him/herself up for a free throw. Each athlete is rehearsing mentally what it is like to perform that skill perfectly. Such a mindset activates the body memory that is formed over years of skillful practice. And wham. The athlete hits the mark! The same is true for anything from public speaking to formulating a successful strategy.

Furthermore, each person is

2. Orienting fully to the present

Mindfulness or staying in the moment is not just the latest fad. It is a powerful tool that aids successful execution of any task or skill by bringing you solidly into the present.

Take the example of a biathlon athlete. He/she has to transition from one sporting activity to another, cross-country skiing to target shooting. The athlete has to be fully present and fully focused on aiming at the target. He/she cannot be breathless from the skiing. There can be no attention on the outcome (e.g. this shot could win/lose me the gold medal). He/she cannot be glancing on the competitors.

Be here now is the task.

Added to that, in order to bring the future into the present, the athlete has to find a way to sustain a calm confidence linked to the joy of achieving what one has trained for over many years. They have to be

3. Anchoring emotionally to success

We remember best what we feel the most. Hence it is imprudent to tie our selves into knots with negative feelings like fear, lack, or resentment. Instead, we aim to experience positive emotions right now. Each feeling will be wedded to the realization of our bold plans. For instance, live as if you

Realize your organization’s strategy?

Right now in this moment you

Feel your heart swell with pride

Experience deep satisfaction with your accomplishment

So now, how then does one balance planning for a successful outcome with the ever-present dangers of overconfidence?

4. Balancing self-compassion with optimism

The older I get the more I am aware of human frailty and foibles. However despite that, we are capable of doing far more than we could ever dream or think. If I tell myself that

·    I’m too old then I behave as if I’m too old

or

·    This strategy is not that important then somehow I introduce the seeds of failure into the mix.

If you apply the above on a consistent basis along with the work you have to do (evidence-based best practices), you will more than likely achieve your lofty goals.

Give it a try.

 

 

 

 

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Five Ways to Avoid the Overconfidence Trap

 

We all want our leaders to be confident. However, we don’t want this self-assuredness to bleed into arrogance.

Of course, not all confidence is bad. Decisiveness can be a positive behavioral trait in leaders. The ability to execute with speed and conviction is one of the top behavioral predictors of a person becoming a successful CEO.

So when does confidence work against us? How does one not succumb to the arrogance of “I know more than the generals”? Most of us don’t go that far. However, at times we can get too cocksure about our ideas, opinions, and decisions. It is then that we are caught in the confidence trap.

I remember when I sat next to a heart surgeon on the plane. After enquiring about my work he commented, “I could be an executive consultant. I know about that from my life experience. I don’t need training for that”. Needless to say at that point I clammed up.

How does one avoid being perfectly sure and completely wrong?

Here are five ways to avoid the overconfidence trap.

Stick to what you know 

I often find that people talk to me about my field psychology where for them bit of knowledge can be dangerous. Note how quickly people slap a psychiatric diagnosis on friends, enemies, and celebrities. It took me several years of study, internships, supervision, and licensing exams until I could hang out my shingle as a psychologist. Even after all that, one of the ethical constraints was “Don’t practice outside your area of training.”

I would add that in the area of business leadership one may not have domain knowledge but certainly can learn to ask perceptive questions.

 Adding to practice what you know we all need to learn,

Don’t confuse seniority with competence

Watch out for strong opinions especially when you are very experienced. An attorney friend who specialized in malpractice law once told me that the majority of professionals who were sued by their patients had been practicing for many years. They may have relaxed their standards, not thought as deeply as they once did about a challenge, and had come to believe the myth that longevity of practice meant competence. Such persons needed to

Temper confidence with humility 

Very smart people sometimes have a mistaken sense of their infallibility. However, the more senior the leader, the more he/she oversees functions outside of his/her subject matter expertise. One mark of a great leader is humility that builds on the input of others. However, even in such cases experienced leaders still

Give everything the “smell” test

There is a level of knowing that some call ‘gut instinct’. Here one just knows whether one is reaching the right conclusions about a particular topic or challenge. When you sense that “something is not quite right here” you need to sleep on the problem, consult others, or wait until the path becomes clearer. You do this by

Recognize that you may be wrong

 You need to entertain the fact that your idea needs to be tested and maybe proven wrong. Don’t be so attached to the outcome you may have seen at the beginning of the project. This is a way of asking others to tell you what you do not know, show you your blind spots, and become joint owners in the pursuit of truth.

All of the above will keep you honest with yourself and help you not fall into the confidence trap.

 How have you kept yourself out of confidence trap?

 

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Leading from the Soul

Our natural inclination as humans is to live from the perspective of our ego: our thoughts and behaviors revolve around what we are getting or not getting from life or other people. We seek satisfaction; however, we never fully realize it because the ego is insecure and insatiable—it is never satisfied. Consequently, we are often left feeling somewhat empty or disturbed, as if there is something missing from our lives.

Interestingly, many of us go through our lives never realizing that we can make another choice, a choice that allows us to see our lives and relationships with others through a very different lens, the lens of the soul.

Switching from an ego-based to a soul-based perspective is a powerful paradigm shift.

The switch dramatically changes the way we experience the world, improving the quality of our experiences, opening our hearts, and leading us to a deeper understanding of life and the great gift that it is.

How do we make the shift to living from the perspective of the soul or living as ensouled loving beings?

First, we need to learn to distinguish ego-based versus soul-based thoughts and actions. When the ancient sage encouraged a person to “Know thyself” he was not speaking of knowing one’s ego. It was knowing one’s soul.

Second, because the ego is a constant presence in our lives, we need to recognize when it threatens to derail us.

Finally, during these destabilizing moments, we need to intentionally choose to view our life’s circumstances differently.

Here’s an everyday example of making a different choice. On one of my business trips I had a very frustrating travel day. The following morning, feeling exhausted and very grumpy, I left a popular hotel chain to meet a customer. As I exited the elevator, I read the hotel’s slogan, “Wake up on the bright side” and thought, “You must be kidding!” After I met the customer, however, I felt inspired to collaborate and help solve her problems. Suddenly, I found that I was engaging and energetic.

What happened? I made a choice. (Grumpy consultants are unemployed consultants!) But moreover, in choosing to be the best I could be for this customer, I discovered I had inner resources I wasn’t aware of.

I had suddenly got in touch with my soul!

We are all capable of viewing life from a soul-based perspective because it is an inherent part of who we are. It does, however, tend to be overshadowed by the insatiable needs of the ego.

At work and at home, it takes an intentional focus to respond to life’s challenges from a soul-based perspective. It also takes time to develop this awareness so that we can choose to shift our perspective at will.

As Thomas Moore notes: “Soul doesn’t pour into life automatically. It requires our skill and attention.”

Let’s take a look at some of the wiser soul-based skills we can develop:

  • We can choose kindness in responding to others (especially when they irritate us) rather than being judgmental
  • We can focus on using our talents and abilities to serve others as opposed to showcasing our accomplishments.
  • We can be present now, accepting what is and embracing it, rather than ruminating about the past or distracting ourselves with fantasies about the future.

An example of soul at work is the life and career of Ken Frazier, Merck CEO. In an interview with the NY Times “Corner Office” Ken commented

The most important role of a leader is to safeguard the heritage and values of the company.”

Read this important interview about a soul-based life. Read why and how he left Trump’s advisory business council, represented pro bono a person on death row, and made a series of value based decisions at Merck.

What choices are you making to live a more soul-based life?

What impact has this choice had on you and others?

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Unforgettable You

“Unforgettable. That’s what you are. Unforgettable” Nat King Cole

How do you stand out in a crowd of other talented, personable, and intelligent leaders?

In what positive way are you unforgettable?

That’s what personal branding is all about.

I have travelled the road to the ‘unique you’ with many talented leaders over the years.

Here are four words they use to position themselves.

Integrity

Integrity is about keeping one’s promises and living the content of a good character. For instance, employees at Avis that go the extra mile for customers back up the Corporate brand “We try harder”.

Question. What aspects of your brand reflect your character?

 Investigation

You have to dig for the nuggets of your brand. Here is where looking at your past, reviewing key phrases in a resume, and doing a 360 Assessment yields great bounty.

Look for recurring words and phrases that become become the foundation of the unique you. View my article on “The Barn Raising Leader” that became the brand statement of an executive.

Question. What recurring phrase or word captures your essence as a leader?

 https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leader-barn-raising-whats-your-story-cedric-johnson-ph-d/

Imagination

 “Building a brand does not take millions. It takes imagination – Harry Beckwith

A mundane brand statement leads to mundane results. You need something that captures the imagination of others.

I know an IT Executive that is known as someone who “Breaks glass”. That phrase is perfect for him since he was hired to completely revamp the IT systems in his organization. The brand speaks of courage, innovation, and in the end a major paradigm shift. It makes him stand out from all the other leaders in his organization.

 Question. What unique phrase captures what you are/do as a leader?

Invigoration

A powerful brand statement leads to positive feelings in both the listener and the speaker. At the end of every encounter, folks not only remember the great ideas we have but also how we and our ideas made them feel. In that way brand is an experience.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

Question. How do you make people feel?

My brand statement

Inspiring Global Leaders to Empower Others

 Please contact me if you want help formulating a winning brand statement

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Narrow Your Focus to Increase Your Impact

 

The trouble with many smart people is that they tend to say too much. As a result their message is lost in a fog of detail. What they don’t recognize is that less is better when selling an idea or positioning their product or service.

Someone once said that presenting an idea is like drilling for oil. If you don’t strike oil right away, STOP BORING.

Years ago I had a radio talk show in Los Angeles for over a decade. Listeners would call in with a wide range of life problems seeking some piece of helpful advice. I quickly realized that the audience would change to another station with the flick of a finger if they lost interest. As a result I learned to keep the topic succinct, aim for focus with the listeners, and set the expectation of getting one thing accomplished. Hence the show was named “The Next Step”. We have to realize that,

o  At best we remember 10% of what we hear

o  We live in a short-attention span self-centered generation

The solution to the attention and absorption challenge for any message is to

Narrow our focus to increase our impact

This involves surrendering the impulse to be all things to all people. We have to curb our fear of leaving important stuff out. What we don’t realize is that one thing said well and focussed on the customer has what psychologists call a “halo” effect. It generalizes to everything else.

I love the question Harry Beckwith asks in his classic book on marketing “Selling the Invisible”

Which terrifies service marketers the most:

A)  The suggestion that they must position their service?

B)  The shower scene in Psycho?

The correct answer is A.

Think of how Avis Car Rental leveraged it’s second place to Hertz in positioning a customer oriented message,

“We try harder”

I don’t know about you, but I will go most anywhere where the Company works hard on my behalf. 

Question

What one distinctive thing differentiates you from all your competitors and gives the customer what they want?

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Returning to Honesty

Is an honest politician an oxymoron? How about two thousand fabrications in 12 months?

Why is honesty so important if a lie will help you achieve your goals? 

With the need for fact checking in our political discourse, the appearance of business CEO’s before Senate committees to answer for illegal practices, and the advent of “Russiagate”, many long for uncompromising integrity in our leaders and society.

Here is my attempt to articulate what we all know intuitively about the nature of honest leaders? These persons have,

1. A transparency that includes accountability.

They do not seek to hide either their true intentions or character flaws. They also recognize the human propensity towards self-interest and accordingly build into their lives corrective measures like having peers who give them frank and uncompromising feedback.

2. An ability to be reflective.

Honesty demands that one step back from one’s public actions/image and reflect on one’s private self. We all have some propensity towards self-deception and confirmation bias. As a result, we need truth telling mirrors (frank and honest feedback). Here the goal is to correct for blind spots and rationalizations and realign our lives with true north values.

3. A life that serves others and not the self.

A person blinded by self-deception and who cannot tell the difference between a lie and the truth is essentially self-serving. However, an other-oriented leader recognizes the sacred nature of public trust, sees truth as the glue that holds civil society together, and recognizes that deception violates the very essence of democracy and decency. One cannot be a public servant and live a lie.

There is a saying from my African roots that if one points a finger at another, there are three fingers pointing back at you. So we can rant about dishonest politicians, unscrupulous business leaders, and those who have betrayed us over the years with their duplicitous behavior. However, the burning question is,

“How are we living out the exhortation of Shakespeare “ to thy own self be true”?

In so doing, we have a better chance at becoming radically honest leaders that have a chance at serving the greater good.

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A Quest for Hope in a Fearful world

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Here are the New Year’s aspirations of a confirmed pessimist in search of hope. To confess, I come from a gene pool that leans towards mild depression. Consequently, when I face a seemingly insurmountable challenge or a negative forecast, my response is to slide into the darkness and maybe even wallow a bit in my pessimist hot tub! This is the time when I need to pull myself up and remind myself of three truths I’ve learned (in this long life of mine), which always turn me away from despair towards hope:

1.  Helplessness is learned

2.  Attitude is a choice

3.  Hope is a habit

My teacher for the last several years has been my wife Kris who seems to always find a way to turn a situation of “lemons” into lemonade. For example:

  • Shortly after we became a couple (decades ago now), we were told we could never afford a house in the San Francisco area. Her response? “Watch me!”
  • Some of our friends are preoccupied with disease (real, not imagined). Her response? “Adopt science-based healing practices but don’t invite the disease to take over your life by ruminating about it all the time”
  • Many today are rightly pessimistic about the political situation in our country. They become a part of the BMW club (Bitch, Moan, and Whine Club). My wife’s response? “Let’s refocus our efforts toward bringing positive change to our community, even if we cannot do it (right now) at the national level.”

So in considering my New Year’s resolution to be more positive and hopeful, here are three pointers on the way towards developing and sustaining a more positive disposition.

1.  Helplessness is learned

The other day on our walk with the dogs, I shared with a tourist we encountered on our path that we were having a La Nina-driven drought in New Mexico. He commented, cynically:

“Soon this area will become a hot desert like Arizona and the river that runs through your property will dry up”. 

Where did he learn this negative fatalistic response?

Researchers in psychology have studied the phenomena of learned helplessness as a habitual response that can lead to depression. People (initially dogs) were exposed in experiments to situations where they were trapped in a mildly painful environment. Initially they were able to escape the situation. However, when all exits were blocked for escape they passively adapted to the pain.

The antidote for learned helplessness is to learn new attitudes and behaviors that will likely produce positive change and to remember and practice old behaviors (like walking to improve mood) that have worked in the past.

Probably the most highly effective behavior of an optimistic person is the way he or she looks at life. Though we each have hard-wired dispositions, we can choose a hopeful, and more successful outlook, as discussed below.

2.  Attitude is a choice

When I find myself under sustained stress and I don’t take care for myself physically or spiritually, I can become grumpy and unnecessarily reactive. For example, when I want to sleep in after a restless night and our young dog starts whining to go out, my first response is to be annoyed and irritable. In so doing so, I allow a dark cloud to enter our home.

In recent months, I have been making the somewhat difficult choice not to react to unpleasant situations with negative comments. At dawn, when the dog predictably whines each morning to be let out, I remind myself to get up without outbreaks of complaining and rather, breathe, stay in the moment, and look out of the window to take in the glorious sunrise while I wait for the dog’s return. It has worked!

Attitude really IS a choice.

3.  Hope is a habit

Some people (like my wife) have a sunny disposition and a bias towards hope (This fact at times really bugs me because I have to spend so much effort re-focusing on the positive). So, since I am not a naturally hopeful person, I have to work on developing hope as a habit.

Here’s how.

o Read less of the bad news when I wake up each day. Starting one’s day by dwelling on national and domestic disasters, workplace toxicity (lately, harassment), and the seeming dearth of values in our society (e.g. civility and respect for truth in our government) is a real downer! So I have chosen not to read the news in the morning. Instead, I am starting my day with a

o Daily meditation. My mind is like a barrel-full of noisy dysfunctional monkeys. It chatters all the time with thoughts de jour centered on worry and ego concerns (“Why am I not getting the respect I think I deserve?” (is this my pathetic sense of white male entitlement?). I don’t make these thoughts disappear but just observe them with compassion and detachment.

Also, as a general practice in my daily life, I

o Avoid Danny and Debby Downer. Neither is good for reinforcing my negative predispositions! I was once told, “surround yourself with truth-telling and supportive friends and not a caseload of negative people.” When it comes to others’ negativity, I tell myself “I am too old for this crap.” This reminder shifts my attention towards people who live and generate hope.

o Focus on making a contribution to others. There is a saying that goes something like this: “A person too wrapped up in themselves makes a small and miserable package.” One of the biggest satisfactions of my last year has been the volunteer work I do in my small community. In these modest but constant contributions, the truth of the quote, “It is better to give than to receive” has come home to me. I am also reminded that hope is sometimes “caught”, not “taught”. You “catch it” from other people–their positive energy, aspirations, sharing, and playfulness. And, especially, the everyday satisfaction of a tight, extraordinary community in northern New Mexico simply enjoying being together.

We can’t deny that there is scary stuff out there in our larger communities and the world. We also cannot dodge unavoidable calamities. Nor can we always prevent our hair from being set on fire from daily tweets and disturbing news headlines.

However:

We can practice being present in the Now, which almost always seems to bring peace, and develop the disciplines of choosing and learning how to hope.

Wishing all of you a Hopeful New Year!

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A Slump – Now What?

 

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Sometimes a slump can be an opportunity for us to reflect on the course of our life and make new and creative decisions.

However when you are in the doldrums, your job security is under threat, or an important relationship is going through a rocky phase, how can this slump be an advantage? Equating a slump with a blessing seems at the least to be an oxymoron and at the most a lack of empathy. (Of course there are great tragedies that strike all of us and grieving cannot be hurried or rationalized as something good).

However, the real downer is when people are on your back about your tough times and tell you to “snap out” of your dark mood or look on the bright side of things.

We live in a culture that denigrates and devalues the darker moods and difficult periods. Unless one lives in California life is hardly one endless summer (forgetting of course the fires and earthquakes). Down periods can be a typical part of the rhythm of life.

Does the winter of our discontent really mean that something is radically wrong with us?

Not necessarily so.

These cold and dark periods can be the harbinger of spring since the downturn of events may be

  • ·     A signal from our inner self to make a course correction
  • ·     An opportunity to reconnect with the drive of our inner values.
  • ·     An inner prompting that we need to change paths.

During such times we have the opportunity to revisit questions like,

What is the central driving force in our lives?

What puts a spring in our step and song in our heart?

What nourishes us at the depth of our being?

Maybe we have been distracted from such life-affirming questions by our busyness. We could also be stalling on the call for necessary change because we fear the risks of exploring new horizons. The comfortable has become our death trap.

So what would you have to do to make your slump a springboard to a new and enriched expression of your life?

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The Perfection of Imperfection – A Lesson from Japan

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Cover picture of book by James and Sandra Crowley

It seems as though in the USA we want everything to be perfect. We do this in part to feel good about our work or person. However, the perfect home, body, project, and relationship is impossible in the real world.

Everything has its flaws and that fact alone can potentially enhance the quality of our lives.

The perfection of imperfection came to mind as I recently was introduced to the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi.

The Japanese people have a preference and penchant for things imperfect.

Take the celebration of the full moon. Instead of the ceremony being on the day of the actual full moon, it is held three days before the full moon appears. Authors James and Sandra Crowley, in their book on Wabi Sabi writes of the Japanese

“They find the imperfect not only more alluring but also more poignant. The Japanese believe that the evocative shapes of emerging buds have more ability to touch peoples’ hearts than the glory of the spring tree in full bloom.”

 And,

 “Wabi Sabi is not found in nature’s moments of grandeur or majesty. It is found in meekness.”

 The adoption of the Japanese appreciation of imperfection can teach us top,

  1. Lower our disappointment level

When my son was a toddler, he refused to accept a cookie if it was broken in any way. Now while we may accept such an behavior in a small child, in the adult world perfection is a creation of our mind. We always fall short of our ideal. As we aim at excellence we need to factor in imperfection. This helps us recalibrate our life when barriers and problems arise. It is the old “when life presents you with lemons, make lemonade”.. When we see imperfection as the norm, it sets the stage for our,

  1. Imagination to be stimulated

An incomplete moon can remind us that life presents us with partial knowledge. And incompleteness presents the possibility of new vistas ahead. As the Crowleys write,

“The perfection of the full moon leaves no room for the imagination”

The ambiguity of saying “I don’t know” is a more honest response than a person, in their arrogance, claiming complete knowledge. This “not knowing” is not a failure on our part. Rather, it presents the potential for us to push ahead into new territory. It could be the beginning of us

  • Making an honest statement about the limitations of our knowledge
  • Recognizing the mystery contained in the “big” questions we encounter
  • Experiencing the true nature of humility
  • Knowing the power of the “what if’s” in life.

At the point of admitting partial knowledge, we could be experiencing the ultimate paradox in life where,

 The end of our knowing may be the beginning of new creative adventures.

  1. Find inner peace

Wabi sabi also helps us not freak out when we have everything from a less than perfect body to business plan. We have all experienced the inner turmoil when things did not turn out as expected. But finding beauty and meaning in incompleteness can be the path of peace.

The Crowleys write,

“Wabi sabi is for those who are at peace with themselves and want to feel the peace of the natural world around them at all times.”

The Japanese aesthetic of the perfection of imperfection has the potential of restoring harmony, balance, peace, and our experience of the true nature of beauty. We also learn that these experiences cannot be fully explained but can be totally experienced. It also teaches us about the value of asymmetry rather than living with the illusion that we have “all our ducks in a row”. In other words

We discover the liberation of not having to be in control

 Question

 How could you find Wabi sabi helpful in your world?

 

 

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