Category Archives: Philosophy

“I can’t” and the amazing truth about us all

We say “I can’t” all the time: 

“I can’t come to dinner, because it’s my wife’s birthday.”

“I can’t stop smoking. Its too hard.”

“I can’t figure out why I’m so tired. I’m just tired.”

 

But its never true. Every “I can’t” is always an “I don’t want to”: 

“I don’t want to come to dinner because I prioritise my wife’s birthday.”

“I don’t want to have to deal with “too hard” while I quit smoking.”

“I don’t want to figure out why I’m so tired. I’m satisfied with ‘so tired’.”

 

If we can realise that “I can’t” is never an expression of ability, we will be more truthful about what it really expresses: Willingness.

If we can replace “I can’t” with “I don’t want to”, we will be more honest with ourselves and everyone else.

It will be hard, but we will be willing to do “hard”.

 

“Of course,” you will say, “there are limits to this denial of can’t.”

“OK, maybe I don’t want to go to dinner with you, but I can’t play anything on a violin! ”

 

But it’s not true. There are no limits.

If I want to play a violin, I will play a violin. It’s as simple as that. We are all amazing. We are all limitless. And we are all able.

If we want to be.

 

“No, no, that’s enough,” you will say, grasping at straws. “There are still some things I can’t do :

I can’t jump over a tall building without any aid from technology.”

And you will wait for me to say that you could try if you wanted to.

But I won’t. Because that’s not the point and not the truth that gives rise to the point.

 

Yes. There are some limits in physical ability.

I could not go out today and complete an Iron Man faster than anyone ever did.

I can’t jump over a tall building.

 

But that is not a reductio ad absurdum to the real point.

Because the point is not about physical limits and you damn well know it.

When did you ever say “I can’t jump over a tall building” until today ?

You are just looking to argue your way out of hearing the truth about how we all speak all the time.

And the truth about who we really are.

 

The point is about being a lion, not a victim. 

We all have amazing ability.

We all have dreams.

We all have a “real me” hidden behind the bullshitting victim that other “me” is trying so hard to cling on to.

We can all be decisive and take ownership for whatever action we choose to go out and get.

We can all dare to announce to the world the limits we choose to place on ourselves.

And we can all believe in and be willing to be who we really are and do what we really want.

 

Sometimes I don’t want to.

And that’s OK.

 

But I always can.

And that’s the amazing truth about us all.

 

 

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Speaking the truth with non-violent communication

The following is a collection of phrases that I regularly think, say myself or hear other people saying. Some seem positive and some seem negative. But none of them are true.

Understanding this and practicing the habit of speaking the truth results from my learning about non-violent communication. Sometimes non-violent communication is about respect towards others and sometimes it is about self-respect. It seems helpful to me because I can more easily share opinions with others, being more open-minded and leaving room for dialogue in place of conflict. When I practice non-violent communication with myself, I feel more self-aware and more confident.

 

I say: I have to write that report this evening

How many times have I thought and said such a phrase? The problem here is that such obligations don’t exist. No-one has a gun to my head and I am free to choose the consequences of not meeting the deadline. When I hold myself to such obligations, I am denying my own ability to choose what seems right to me. And when I use this as an excuse to stay home instead of having dinner with friends, I am being dishonest about my preferences.

I prefer to say: A deadline was set for the end of the day and I would prefer to write this report to achieve that deadline 

 

I say: I’m no good at playing the piano

Sticking labels on myself and my incompetence doesn’t make me feel good about myself. If I can’t play the piano at all today, it might seem fair enough to say I have a limited ability to play the piano. But when I judge that limited ability as “bad” I am holding myself to a standard which I value and then labelling myself as sub-standard. In my head, I create a self-image of someone hopeless.

I prefer to say: At the moment, I can’t play the piano to the standard I would like

Or: I can currently make sounds with a piano that do not correspond to the first graded level of piano playing

 

I say: That’s ridiculous!

..and I wish I could stop saying this! Sometimes it goes so quickly: Someone shares their ideas on things and in a flash before I can even stop myself, I pronounce these words, as if I was the holder of all the answers, the one who knows everything about everything. This kind of language is oppressive and impolite at the worst. At the very least, it translates as “What you say is stupid” and therefore doesn’t seem a nice thing to say.

I prefer to say: I don’t agree with your idea. It doesn’t fit with my way of seeing things.

Or: Given the information we have and my own vision and knowledge of the topic, I don’t see how that can work.

 

I say: She made me really angry

No she didn’t. She did something and I was angry. Anger is not something someone else can cause in me. To make such a statement is to deny the boundaries of responsibility when it comes to feelings. My anger is mine. Her (in)actions or words are hers. Changing this phrase to the preferred statement (below) helps me to take more responsibility for my anger and also to question which values and goals I have that are not in-line with the actions of the other person.

I prefer to say: She did XYZ and I feel angry

 

I say: It’s a beautiful day

Seems fair, right? But the truth is only that there are no clouds in the sky and the sun is shining with more heat than it was yesterday. It is also true that I like that kind of weather. But when I name things as “beautiful” I am imposing my vision of the world onto reality. Does this make it true? If I can imagine anyone having a different opinion (agricultural industry? not enough rain?) this should be enough for me to recognise that my words are no more than personal opinion.

I prefer to say: I like the weather today

 

All of the preferred statements above are attempts to use non-violent communication. For the purpose of this blog, I would define “violent communication” as any speech that mixes up (my) perception with (the) factual reality and imposes the former onto other people. When I push my vision of things on other people, it is not respectful to our differences or potential difference of opinions. It is a form of verbal aggression which can lead to confusion, conflict, loss of dialogue and even sadness and bitterness.

For example, telling my children they are being “bad girls” or that they “can’t do that” are simple everyday examples of violent communication that seek to impose my values onto them and to bend them to my will. As a parent, I might find it best that I decide for my children what they can and cannot do and I might even want to impose that on them. But when I present my ideas to them as the truth about “good” and “bad”, “allowed” and “not allowed”, my communication is violent: It imposes my vision of reality onto them in a non-respectful way. This particularly worries me since I know that my kids are like little sponges soaking up everything Daddy says for the future. If I can learn to instead say that “I don’t like what you are doing” or “In my house, I want you to follow my rules” this is much closer to the truth. It will open the dialogue with my children towards mutual understanding of what we all (don’t) like and or (don’t) want. And I leave them free to form their own opinion.

Outside of family life, the same idea is valid in many environments. I might argue that something is “not fair” when I really mean to say that “I don’t feel comfortable with it” or “I’d like to find other solutions where I get more of what I want”. I might say “You’re performance is unacceptable” when a non-violent version would say “I expected you to achieve XYZ and you haven’t so I am not satisfied”. I might say “You’re disturbing me” when the truth is that “I’m working on something now and I don’t want to talk’.

 

When we use non-violent communication, we respect the rights of other people to think differently and (importantly) we give them an open-door to reply with their own vision of things. We state things as they truly are and not only as we see them.

If you are in the business of oppression and control, stay violent. But if you want respectful communication and the possibility of dialogue that leads to sharing and deeper mutual understanding , go non-violent.

 

See also:

 

Thanks for reading

The man who made up stories

Once you a time, there was a man who liked to make up stories. He liked it so much he did it all the time.

When he heard people talking, he would imagine what they meant and why they said it. When he saw clouds in the sky, he imagined rain coming.

Very often, he was the hero of his own stories. When the characters he had invented spoke to him, he would make up replies to advance his plot. With the fear of rain, he would carry an umbrella. Sometimes he got what he wanted and would call it a good story. Sometimes, he got wet and called it a bad story.

One day, he hit his head and lost his ability to make up stories. 

All of a sudden, there were no more characters and he was no longer the hero. There was no more plot and no more story. Nothing was good or bad anymore. There was only the truth.

 – – The beginning – –

The depressed inventor

The depressed inventor hadn’t always been depressed.

For most of his life he had been really happy.

As a little boy, he loved to invent clever ways to fix problems. Once he invented a cat flap to feed the family cat when she came home in the morning. And to get to school more quickly, he invented a really big catapult to throw him from his house to the school yard (although Mummy said “No” to that one).

 

For every problem, he invented a solution.

And that pleased him very much for many years.

 

Until the day he ran out of problems to solve.

At first, he thought it would be a good moment to take a holiday. Surely when he came back, he would find lots of new things to invent?

But when he got home, he still couldn’t find anything to work on.

Until he had an idea: He would invent a problem!

For days and days, he worked very hard at inventing his problem.

No time to eat, no time to sleep. So much work to be done!

 

Finally, he was satisfied: He had a problem to solve!

So he set to work to invent a solution.

No time to eat, no time to sleep. So much work to be done!

He read lots of books and talked to lots of people. He made lots of notes and did lots of sums.

 

But after lots of time, he still hadn’t invented a solution.

And so he started to get sad. And sadder still. And sadder still, under he was completely depressed.

For the first time in his life, he didn’t know what to do.

So he went to bed and slept. And slept. And slept some more.

 

After a few weeks, the doorbell rang.

The depressed inventor dragged himself downstairs.

At the door stood Benny the Baker, who wanted to know why he hadn’t come to buy any bread for so long. And his little girl Jenny, who asked “Why do you look so sad?”

So the depressed inventor explained. He told Jenny how he loved to invent things to fix problems and how he had always worked hard to make everything work just so. When he told her how he had run out of problems, little Jenny started to smile.

As he started to explain how he had invented a problem, little Jenny started to giggle.

And when he said he was sad because he couldn’t invent anything to fix his problem, she just burst into laughter!

The depressed inventor looked at Jenny all seriously and asked: “What’s so funny?”

 

And so little Jenny told him:

“It’s so silly. You can’t fix your problem because you just made it up! And the more you work on it, the worse it gets. But it doesn’t even exist, because you just made it up! Your problem is that you had no problems and made up a problem so now you have a real problem because you can’t solve your problem. But there’s still no problem. It’s so silly!”

 

All at once, the depressed inventor understood.

Little Jenny was right.

And he started to smile again as he remembered he had made up his own problem.

And that’s not really a problem at all !

 

THE END

Facing freelance fear for the future

When I started out freelance in October 2008, I knew setting up business for myself involved risk: “Will I be able to win clients? Will I survive? Am I better off with the security of employment for someone else?”

On day 1, I had a contract for 11 days work at 350 euros before VAT. Enough to pay the bills for the first month. But I asked myself: “Will I have enough work in November?”

I started the next month with the same (renewed) contract and some other new work . I asked myself: “Will I have enough work in January?”

Eventually, as I saw some stability, I managed to stop worrying too far in the future. (Today, for example, I know that I have enough work until February 2016.) I started to think the sky was the limit and wondered how far I could increase my revenue. I even congratulated myself on being able to take on so much and make it work. At that point, things became interesting and the fear changed form…

 

I would win more-and-more work and invoice more-and-more, but I started to feel the pressure of too much work. But I told myself  that this was “a luxury problem” .. I should be thankful the work is there. I was afraid to say “no”. If they asked for me, I had to make it happen. If I said “no”, it would all fall apart sometime later. This is how my work progressed…

revenue-worktime 1

Proudly, I would tell myself I was working and invoicing more-and-more and that business was great. But a look at the facts told me something was wrong:

  • I was working minimum 60 hours a week, every week
  • I was too tired to enjoy any of my non-work time
  • People said I was on the road to burn-out
  • I was making money, but I didn’t feel like I had any control
  • I worried constantly that if I said “no”, people would go away and I would lose that business in the future
  • I was “successful” on paper, but not happy

 

 

For a while, I held the course. It worked.

Then it didn’t. I couldn’t do it anymore.

 

The next year (2013), I had a “crash” and couldn’t work for a few months. When I went back to work, I struggled to deal with the commitments I had made prior to that. But I wouldn’t dare go back to those clients and say “I can’t do it”. That would be breaking a promise. And I had already let them down by the taking time off. So on I went. The yearly revenue went up even more despite the time off. And although the average work time went down on the year (due to my absence) my actual week looked even worse then ever.

 

I wondered if I had learnt anything, but in the back of my mind I had at least started to ask some good questions:

  • How can I call myself successful if I’m not happy or healthy? “Success” in terms of what?
  • How much of my life do I want to spend “working”?
  • What work do I WANT to be doing? If I was only doing what I liked most, what would it be?
  • How much money do I need to live how I want to live? Why would I need more than that?
  • If I say “No” to anything that doesnt fit the work I want, or anything unnecessary to meet a quarterly financial need, what could be the worst that might happen?

 

Not knowing all the answers was tough. It fueled the fear (“Don’t screw it up”). But I was past the point of no-return: Assumptions had to be tested to find a new balance.

 

Today, the graph has progressed on both measurements, most importantly the average weekly work-time:

revenue-worktime 2

 

Here’s what I learnt from my crash:

  • Its not healthy to consider success in terms of “more”. Success is achieving what you really want or need and no more. In terms of my revenue, I no longer think “Can I invoice more?” but rather “Do I now have enough?” If the answer is “yes”, I won’t take on any more work. I know that its possible in the short-term, but more work and more money is not the goal. For the years to follow, I have no intention at all to see those blue bars go up.
  • I now set “work-life balance” goals more in terms of “life” than “work”. What do I want to be doing with my time on Earth, both in and (now importantly) out of work time?  (The answer by the way is “having fun” and “relaxing”). I want to see those red bars go down even more. Or at least to consider that all “work” is “not work” (fun).
  • I made a decision on the financial worth of a day of my life. Here’s how: If I want to be doing 123 when I’m not working and I need XYZ euros to sustain that, how much do I need to earn while I AM working? And if I divide that by the maximum time I am willing to work, what is my required day-rate? This is a very different approach to “What did I used to invoice?”, “How much will they pay me?” or “What is the market price?”
  • Although previous experience made me think I knew how things worked, testing assumptions has proved me wrong. For example, when I clients came along, I tested the assumption of what they would be willing to pay for my time. That’s why the blue bar HAS still gone up.
  • I fired a few clients. Those who weren’t bringing me joy in my day-to-day interactions had to go, as did those who weren’t willing to pay for my time (life). Blue bar up; red bar down.
  • I started to say “No” trying to trust myself and the universe that it would all be OK.

 

The results in terms of finance and work-time are in the graph above, but the important results cannot be seen in numbers:

  • My time off work is spent sitting in the sun, playing with my kids, sleeping more and making music
  • This summer was the first in 7 years where I didn’t “fall over and die” from exhaustion in the first 2 weeks off
  • I have more focus in the jobs I take on and more fun day-to-day doing the work
  • I still have my annual 15 weeks holiday 🙂

 

“So, Dan, what’s your point?” I hear you ask? “Why write this?”

I guess for those that don’t need to hear this experience, there is nothing to learn. But if you are lost in your quest for freelance success, victim of your own ability to please your clients or worried that your work-life imbalance is not sustainable, maybe this is the point:

 

Be clear on what you want out of freelance life, focus on that in every interaction, test your assumptions and dare to take your cake and eat it.

 

But, in the words of some wise Chinese tourist-site manager…

chinese wisdom

 

Thanks for reading

D

No more self-employed lazy guilt

As a self-employed person, I have a tendency to work, work, work. But right now, it’s 9.15am and I still haven’t “done anything”. Is this bad?

Well, first of all: It is not true. Having gotten up at 6.30, I packed my kids off to school, spent 45 minutes exercising and have since been reading “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel whilst eating a healthy breakfast that I enjoyed taking the time to prepare. So I have done something.

But let’s pretend that I had just rolled over in bed, left the family to it and done nothing but sleep. Yesterday, I only did a 2-hour coaching session and I just spent all of July and August on holiday. That doesn’t sound like doing much. Is that OK? Is that what self-employed people do?

Last week, I read an article about the morning rituals of awesome entrepreneurs like Jack Dorsey or Mr Branson. Up at 5.30. Sport. Meditation. Family etc.. Inspired by that this morning, I thought I should probably now sit down and seriously meditate on my top 3 priority business objectives for the day, week and year to come. I should make plans for new services or products, improved efficiency and more profit. That’s what successful business types do in the morning, right?

But quite frankly, I can’t be bothered. I don’t need to do anything. Tomorrow and Friday I’ll be delivering training all day, my revenue-winning calendar is as fully-booked as I’d like it to be and I don’t have anything hanging over my head. Except the “self-employed-lazy-guilt”, that is.

And then the phone rings. Is it a new client calling to ask me if I’m available for training next Wednesday? What will I say? Strictly speaking, I’ll only be lazing around doing nothing but fuelling my own pleasure. Will I be able to say “No”? Can I tell the truth? Or should I say I’m fully-booked? What if he takes a day off himself and sees me at the cinema at 11am? Or running in the park? Where will I hide?

Or maybe it’s my mother, calling to tell me I’m a lazy freelancer and I can’t possibly expect to be successful if I just hang-around doing nothing when work could be done.  “Everybody has to work”. “You can’t expect to just take random days off in the week. Your father could never do that.” Or even worse: “Don’t say ‘No’ to work now. You never know if you’ll still have more next year. You’re lucky people ask you. You should say ‘Yes’.”

Fortunately, it’s an unknown number. The stuff of voicemail. I don’t answer it. Today, I am calling all the shots. As I was promised when I read “Freelancing for Dummies” all those years ago, it would be great if I could do whatever I want whenever I want. If I chose to work for myself, it’s because I thought I could be a better boss to myself than anyone else. Well, I want a boss who loves my happiness more than the cash, productive hours or time-filling. Who is happy with achieving targets and going home early. Correction: Who doesn’t even call it “early” because that implies some form of 9-to-5 ritual just for the sake of it. 

For the new season ahead, my boss is going to tell me take it as easy as possible. “The clients are satisfied and so should you be. And even if they aren’t, you can’t please everyone all the time.” Relax. It’s not lazy. It’s awesomely efficient, minimum effective dose. It’s long-term sustainable, more rounded and balanced. You deserve it. Not because you worked so hard before, but just because you deserve it. Full stop.

So go lay on the grass for a while.. 

Jim Smith on letting go of your fearful boxes

ATD2015. Session SU304 is underway. Jim Smith says it’s not good enough to think out of the box. We need to get out of the box and act out of the box. 

To do that, you need to keep your personal power. You need to be able to be vulnerable enough to be yourself and not cater to the opinion of others.

But it’s not easy: There are many ways that we lose our personal power, from having fear of failure, to wanting to be liked, being overly-critical of ourselves or being perfectionists…

 

  

 

If you (like me) recognise any of these things, what can you do about it?

In short: Let it go. (I knew that was the theme song for ATD2015)

Really, that’s the whole message: Dare to live in the moment, stop worrying and believe in your personal power.

 

Want to see it in action (that sounds arrogant!) ? Here is my improvised mini-presentation from Jim’s session…

 

As I said to Jim later on, I think the key message here is far important than this post gives credit. Probably, I am not the only person with “self-esteem issues”. Lucky is the man who can say he is really in the moment, not caught up in what is “good” or “bad”, what has always worked in the past, or what “should” be done into future. Many of us worry (Are we doing OK? Will it work? Will people approve?). And caught up in the worry (box) we try desperately to keep doing the same things we always did in the hopes of getting the same satisfactory result.

But is “satisfaction” what we want out of life? Or do we want more? Do we want joy and awesomeness? If the answer if “yes” then it can’t be about staying in our boxes and conforming (to our own self-image or that of other side). “Awesomeness” is not a thing you can put in a box, measure, write and run a process for. It’s a “way” and a “being” that has to be felt. You have to trust in it. And that requires a little faith.

 

Let it go.

 

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There’s no respect in tolerance

Tolerance is supposed to be a good thing. The British stiff upper lip demands that we take a deep breath and don’t aggress those who don’t fit our standards. But this is not the same as true respect.

Today in training, we have discussed the different things that annoy us and how we deal with them. Participants have shared several examples of how people do unacceptable things, but they tolerate them. As if that’s a good thing.

But I only need to tolerate something I can’t tolerate! When someone is disrespectful, I can “teach him a lesson” or I can tolerate it. When someone exceeds the limits of what is acceptable, I can “put him in his place” or I can show tolerance.

But respect is different. Respect is true acceptance of the idea that I have my vision of things and you have yours. I have my beliefs and you have yours. I have my way of doing things and you have yours. None of them are “correct”, “better” or more “valuable”.

When I have respect for the vision, beliefs and behaviour of others, I have nothing to tolerate. I accept that everyone has the right to his own vision, beliefs and behaviour. Everything is “OK” and we can all agree to disagree. 

Tolerance is SO last year.,,