Part Three: Awareness and the Art of Life-Long Learning

I had always thought about life as a quest to “get somewhere, and be somebody.” The constant thought that this life of winning would lead to me to eternal happiness. Failing to find this place I would immediately turn on myself for being a loser. Of course, all of this was a mute play. My spirit and soul cried silently in agony with little awareness on my part other than searing pain that needed anesthetic. Now I had made the decision to live, plotted a course to help myself and others learn, blessed with a wonderful wife and child, learning to be a father and husband and most of all learning to be me.

Dr. Gates McKibbin was a wonderful help to me during my discovery of being me. She introduced me to numbers of books, but one has always stuck with me, The Hunger for More, by Laurence Shames. Many aspects of the book resonated with me. The first was how my life had been, “Never good enough even when winning.” The second is the concept of liminality, the space between where you’ve been and where you are going. This was a space that I had little awareness of other than it scared me. Once I was aware of this threshold, I learned how to tolerate my anxiety as I moved through this space. It is a natural space between planes. I think change efforts often fail, because people cannot tolerate this space of the unknown. The higher we climb in the world of management the less control. We have power. When senior people learn to tolerate this space called liminality, they get much better at learning how to give his/her best and create environments for other peoples’ success.

Awareness, the gift that keeps on giving, and for many years of my life I operated with only an awareness of winning and losing. Life was reduced to this. Today, I could say it is hard to imagine living within that framework, by I would not be telling my truth. My truth, today, is I am much more aware of my thoughts and feelings. When I feel afraid, which may happen numbers of times per day, I find myself back in that space of win/lose. It is a dark, scary and depleting place. An exciting aspect of myself is that I usually become aware I’m feeling fear (False Evidence Appearing Real). Rarely am I truly threatened by anything or anybody other than myself. It is awareness that offers me freedom. It is not that I’ve tried to eliminate “bad feelings;” I’ve continued to nurture my awareness so I can live in present time and be aware of the things going extremely well in my life at that moment.

I love golf. Fred Shoemaker, a wonderful coach, leads people through golf experiences that help participants increase their awareness. Golf is a game I’ve cherished since I first caddied for the Army golf team at West Point when I was nine. It combines the beauty of being outside, tremendous walks, persistent learning, the challenge of living in present time and the constant lesson that life has nothing to do with perfection. The list is infinite.

One of Fred’s classic statements is, “What was enjoyable about that shot and what did you learn.” For a number of years our company, Leadership Resources, LLC, invited friends and clients to participate in private workshops with Fred. When you’ve just missed an eighteen-inch putt, ask yourself, “What was enjoyable about that and what did I learn?” My experience tells me you may first utter a profanity, look at the statement as crazy or silently stew, ready to lash out at any moment. Now ask the same question to a person who just made a 20-foot putt. The person is absolutely loquacious; you can’t shut them-up, he is God’s new putting expert and feels tremendous. Once again, the competitive mind-set of winning and losing raises its ugly head.

Golf is spiritual practice for me, because it allows me the beautiful temples of nature, camaraderie, absolute joy, fear, the fact that I struggle to live in present time. It offers shot by shot opportunities to become more aware and learn, and the constant reminder of “It is not about winning or losing, but how you play the game.”

John Wooden, one of the greatest coaches in history, felt the definition of success was a person making his/her best effort. He went on to say if you won, but didn’t make your best effort you should be challenged; if you lost and gave your best effort you should be lauded. Remember, as a leader in your organization everyone is looking at your behavior, not what you espouse. Lead with your best effort and you will inspire others to do the same.