The start of lockdown

Happy Sunday Everyone

It is a privilege to be connecting with you in this moment. Thank you for helping me feel part of something bigger than myself.

In his book, Dark Nights of the Soul, psychologist Thomas Moore says “The dark night saves you from being stuck in your small life. It makes you a hero. It grows you in to your fate and into being a responsive member of your community. In your mother’s womb, you were becoming a person. In your womb-like dark night, you are becoming a soul.”

Later, in the same book, he writes “A society is like an individual, in the face of a dark night it can either become defensive and avoid the challenge of new life, or it can reform itself and discover in the darkness where it has gone wrong. It takes a strong heart, a steady intelligence, and a visionary imagination to go in the direction of life”.

There can be no doubt that we are in a dark night. Simultaneously, there are amazing stories of courage, sacrifice, and innovation that remind us of the best of humanity. These stories offer glimmers of a new world. For this reason, we should not dull our senses to what is truly a dark night. If we engage with the fullness of this dark night, we can possibly unlock new paths for ourselves and each other.

This moment is undoubtedly the most profound challenge that most of us have confronted. In older traditions, moments of profound transition were accompanied with ritual. So, today’s letter reaches into the rituals we might use in this period of isolation and anxiety, so that we can shape our futures even while we are in this moment.

In writing this letter I have been inspired by Solitary, a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award.

Albert Woodfox, whose story it is, spent 4 decades in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit, says “I believe that life is in constant motion. Even in the prison cell with the numbing repetition of the same day over and over…Even with the fear that one day I would go insane like so many others I’d witnessed. I saw my life as constantly changing and I allowed myself to change. By the time I was 40 I saw how I had transformed my cell, which was supposed to be a confined space of destruction and punishment into something positive. I used that space to educate myself, I used that space to build strong moral character, I used that space to develop principles and a code of conduct, I used that space for everything other than what my captors intended it to be…I knew that my life result of a conscious choice I made every minute of the day. A choice to make myself better.”

I hope that what follows will make it a little easier for you to choose options that make your life better.

STRATEGY

Build your vision

The essence of strategy is developing a vision for the future. As economies stumble across the world, our role as leaders in envisioning a future is critical.

This week I am sharing two podcasts.

The first I have chosen to challenge our everyday perspectives. It is a conversation between comedian Russell Brand and Gabor Maté a specialist in addiction and childhood trauma. It is controversially entitled “Damaged Leaders Rule an Addicted World.” You may not agree with all that Brand and Maté say. However, they force us to confront our world through an unconventional lens. As the following podcast reveals it is this kind of curiosity, that will enable us to find the solutions that we will need.

The other conversation is between Tim Ferriss and Walter Isaacson, biographer of Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and others. They distil lessons from these great innovators that will be invaluable as you reflect on how you can be more effective in a world that requires ingenuity. They point to the power of staying curious, of being deliberate and intentional, of creating great networks of support, of being dedicated to a purpose large than yourself, to the magic of blurring the boundary between observation and imagination, of fantasy and reality in order to achieve the impossible. It is a framework to live by.

Keep a journal next to you and write down the ideas and feelings that arise as you listen.

SELF

Build your agency

“Sometimes everything has to be inscribed across the heavens so that you can find the one line written inside you” (David Whyte).

However, finding that line requires agency.

In their book “The Power of Agency”, Paul Napper and Anthony Roa describe seven principles to build your agency:

  • Control Stimuli;
  • Associate Selectively;
  • Move;
  • Position Yourself as a Learner;
  • Manage Your Emotions and Beliefs;
  • Check Your Intuition;
  • Deliberate, Then Act.

It’ll help to be grounded in this time. It is tempting to numb oneself in series binging, social media, and probably all manner of other vices. However, you’ll only feel worse.

Practices like journaling and meditation are invaluable in counteracting stress. Even if, like me this week, your entries are the same line over and over. For three days all I could write was variations of “stay grounded and stay connected”, but that intentionality eventually enabled me to move to positive action.

This week, the meditation app Calm, extended its library of free meditations. Dr Ela Manga told me about the free Breathwork Summit happening this week. If you are uncertain of the power of breathwork, hold your breath for 30 seconds and see how you feel. Now imagine the opposite.

Staying grounded will materially improve your effectiveness over this period.

SOUL

Share kindness

The quality of the connection that we create with others will determine the world we create for our families, communities and businesses.

Many of us have toggled from the workplace to working from home. Most of us have never worked this way. We’ve been thrown into it.

Many of you are seeing more of your family than you ever have outside of vacation, and this is an entirely different situation. In this moment you are a new you, a hybrid of personal and professional personas. That’s going to end up being a bit confusing for those around you and, possibly, the source of conflict. But, with intention, it could be a magical source of a new type of connectedness with family and colleagues.

I have seen many guides to remote working but not much about how to BE at home. In the spirit of acknowledging this to be a profound change, what are the rituals that you could adopt with your family that allows this time to become a period of deepening connection?

I have borrowed this “Sharing Kindness” exercise from Linda Graham’s Resilience that may help. You can read it here.

 

Best wishes

 

Karl

 

PS: Not everything I read makes it into my letter, you can follow me on Instagram for more. If this letter was forwarded to you, you can subscribe here.

PPS: I got a tremendous response to last week’s letter on toxic leadership. My letters Are You A Creator or a Reactor? and Do You Force or Lead? also speak directly to what it takes to be a powerful leader.