‘You have cancer’
I remember those words from my oncologist so vividly that day that it still sits with me as if it was yesterday. At the time I was leading a life in the demanding industry of software sales where quotas and big expectations were common. I was just newly engaged, living in downtown Vancouver living the young, hustling life when all of that changed.
Work/life balance wasn’t a common term for me during that time in my life. When you’re in your early 30’s no kids, you just keep working. You keep pushing your boundaries chasing the things that society and others told you were important. Money, job titles, responsibilities, material items. It’s not until that day in October of 2013 that changed my whole perspective and paradigm in life, and uprooted this whole idea of work / life balance.
My cancer journey continued with 3 surgeries and facing testicular cancer twice in the span of 7 years. Cancer also showed up in my family. In November 2016 I remember getting a call from my dad asking for me to come over to have a chat. There he told me he had stage 4 lung cancer and was already undergoing treatment. This was the first time I saw my dad cry. I came home shortly after to share the news with my wife. After we embraced and let our emotions settle down, she then shared with me that she was pregnant with our first child. The circle of life in its purest form. My dad passed away in April of 2018, shortly after meeting his first grandson.
Throughout this experience, these circumstances taught me my definition of work / life balance and made me question its importance and role in which we live our lives. Why does it start with work / life balance to begin with? How about starting with life / work balance? Language is powerful. They are clues to what’s most important in our lives.
Managing life / work balance is easy when the end is potentially approaching earlier than expected. Work tasks magically disappear and all the things that you thought were important in life aren’t. Whether it’s cancer, a death in the family or any hardship, it’s a way for the universe to tell us that things are off balance. Things aren’t aligned and things need to be reexamined.
Take for example a simple exercise of measuring and quantifying what’s most important in your life. You might have seen this as an exercise where you write down what’s most important in your life: Family, health, social connections, reading and growth, career, etc. Great. So you put those in that order and you recite how the first is more important than the other. And if we asked you to divide these buckets into slices of pie as a percentage of importance you would do so accordingly.
For most, putting family or health is first, typically putting down a figure of about 60%. Social connections are around 15% and the rest fall into career, growth and other buckets that you deem significant. I then ask people to look at their last week’s calendar and with their best estimate start measuring how much of your time you spent in these buckets in your life. Dig even a bit deeper and ask them to look not just at the actual time you spent on the calendar in these areas, but how much of your mental energy was spent there as well. Sure we may be home having dinner with family and friends but how much of it is spent thinking about work?
The difference between what we say is important and where we actually spend our time is an exercise I call the ‘Weekly Values Check’. We may have the right intentions calling out what’s most important but how many of us stray away from what we originally declared. Actions speak louder than words and that’s ok. The purpose of a Weekly Values Check is to make sure we stay on track most of the time, most of the month, most of the year.
For the most part, when you ask people who have experienced a challenging situation and have come out of it on the other side, they appreciate the learnings that came with it. My perspective on life / work balance has completely changed because of the things that I went through but the key question I have is: why do we need to go through something difficult to have a better perspective on the way we want our lives? Why does something bad have to happen in order for us to see something good?
This is a question I have grappled with over the years and even though I have this new found perspective, appreciation and gratitude of life, it often escapes me with the day to day of tasks and to-do-lists. With that said here are some tips to start building a better life / work balance that might work for you:
Time levels the playing field for everyone. It’s the one resource we all have. You can’t buy, find, or borrow more of it and you have no idea when it runs out. When you struggle to balance life / work together I hope you apply these tips in your life. The fact that you’re reading this right now is truly a gift. You’re still here. The rest of the day is a bonus.
Often at times I’m asked from others about the work I do, specifically:
What do you do with your coaching?
How do you help people?
When you think about the term of a coach, your thoughts might immediately gravitate towards a coach for a sport. Professional sports have coaches that help with your jump shot, how to improve your fitness levels or correct your posture depending on the outcomes you’re looking to achieve. These results or outcomes tend to be outside facing, more visible and more readily measurable. At the same time these professional sport coaches work with athletes to improve their mindsets. How best to prepare for an upcoming match, how to visualize the outcome you want to achieve and how to stay focused throughout a training session or program. Well the same holds true for a professional certified coach in the knowledge working space (Psst, we’re all knowledge workers now).
Most people believe that when they need to achieve a certain outcome or result, they need to focus on their external lives, what I call the outer work. This may look like a new promotion at work, making over $250,000 a year in income or purchasing their dream home. True, these goals are important to that individual but what most people don’t realize is that in order to achieve their outer work results, they need to focus more on their inner work first.
Inner work focuses on your mindsets, your unconscious behaviours and ways of doing things that have operated in your mind over the years. Some of these unconscious behaviours have served you well and is what most likely got you to where you are today. Some of these behaviours have stopped serving you and need an adjustment or refocus. This happens for the most part when you become conscious of a new way forward, a new way of living life that wasn’t previously exposed.
The combination of working on both your inner work and outer work translates to the quality of life that you want to have. Ideally you want to work in a space that is high on the inner work and high on the outer work areas of focus, the top right of this graph.
Low inner work/low outer work
This is a tough place to be and usually looks like a stage in your life where you don’t seemingly have outer goals and work to achieve. You may be happy with what you have and achieving nothing more is fine for you, in more of a settling type of way. And while feeling grateful and present are great attributes, this space speaks more about apathy, even when you know deep down you want to change or achieve something greater. Because of this your inner work also feels stagnant. You either don’t know about the growth and development that you can achieve in this world or you simply don’t care about improving yourself. This is a dangerous place and could lead to more serious issues affecting your well being and mental health. If it does for you, find someone to talk to and ask yourself, "What am I feeling being stuck in this space?”
Low outer work/high inner work
This is a great place to start, with the awareness of a growth mindset focusing on your internal mindsets, tool sets and skill sets to get better. You understand the benefits of developing yourself and can see the reasons why improving in these areas are important. And no matter how much focus you put towards personal and professional development, your outer work seems to be stagnant. This might feel like the outcomes and goals you’ve set yourself to achieve aren’t coming to fruition. While your mindset is in the right place, your actions, even small ones, aren't amounting to the momentum needed to see this success. In this space it’s about digging deeper into the outer work goals you’ve set for yourself and honestly asking ‘Are these the most important things in my life that I want to achieve in’ and ‘What’s holding me back from directing my work into results’
Low inner work/high outer work
At first glance this seems like a great place to be. You have high goals and results and you have a history of achieving them. You are an achiever and you always find a way to get things done. This has translated into success in the physical sense, promotions, salary, house and belongings. And while these goals are just as important as any other, you feel a longing for something else. While you’ve achieved great success you have trouble reconciling that voice in your head with the things that matter most to you. How you get things done and how you operate are sticking out for you to consider as opposed to the actual results. A burning desire to look inwardly and examine all the things that are important to you and the realization that perhaps, those things are changing. In this space we look at how to synergize the great results you're achieving with the inner work and alignment that should come with it. And once you have those 2 areas aligned, you can only imagine the results you’re able to receive after that.
High inner work / high outer work
This is the utopian place to be, where we’re identifying areas both internally and externally where you want to excel and grow. You want to grow internally and view growth as a constant. You thrive on wanting to let go of old habits and paradigms while leaning into things that could make you better. You are aligned to what matters most and you continuously strive to get better. You also know that this is a journey and you will have ups and downs. You never really arrive when you focus on your inner work and giving yourself grace is just as important.
And when your inner work is aligned, now your attention can be focused on your outer work goals. Now you can double down on all the things you want to get/achieve/experience out there and set an action plan on how to get there. You can get whatever you put your attention to and you know with the right focus, you can get there.
Enjoy this space of alignment and just know when things fall from here (and it will), you can have the confidence to get back up.
And when they do, reach out and connect. Coaching is a great mechanism to get you back on track.
Our 6 year old son is starting to learn time. And for a person who really values being on time, organizing the day, making meals for the family, I thrive on being in the flow of the day which inevitably hinges on a common unit of measurement which is time (which I know isn’t real by the way - for another post one day).
Recently he’s been focused on the time, specifically when he leaves for basketball camp, what time school starts and when we should leave home to combat traffic. Sounds great you think but once we’re in the car, he asks, ‘How long does it take to get to____ <anywhere>?” This also applies to things he’s looking forward to later in the week… “How many days until parkour class?”
It’s about a 10 minute drive away, I respond one morning.
“10 minutes? That’s sooooo long from now.”
I used to reply that no it’s not, 10 minutes is quite short and we’ll be there soon. And that response never got the reaction I was hoping for.
Until recently I started to reframe the discussions and position the thought of…
“Compared to what?”
10 minutes is much shorter than a 30 minute drive to camp. 4 days is a lot shorter to soccer practice than 7. Playing with your brother before bed for 30 minutes is better than only 5 minutes.
In the daily moments of leading our lives, we often find ourselves with the sense of scarcity and the idea of not having or being enough. We also side with the negative things in our lives, leaning towards complaining or venting with things not going well in the present moment. But with anything, a thought, an object, or item, we need something to compare itself to before we can recognize its value and more importantly where we want to move forward.
If you find yourself thinking throughout the day:
Reframe your thinking and ask yourself, compared to what?
Your work might be stressful and meaningless but compared to what? What other roles out there are more stressful and mundane? What does a stress free and impactful career look like to you?
Things are definitely more expensive than before but compared to what else? What do you have that others don’t have in the world right now? What can you be thankful for?
Time might feel like a limited resource but compared to what? What if you only had one day left to live? What if you had double the responsibilities compared to someone else? Triple?
Asking yourself ‘compared to what’ does 2 major things:
Identifies quickly what you’re grateful and appreciative for
Creates space for you to create what you want going forward
Use this in your daily practice and this muscle will build over time.
My son has started to stop complaining about the time. Instead, he sits there in the back of the car, smiling in appreciation.
Definition: A person can only truly change, adapt, move forward when they are awake to what they truly want.
Only once you become awake and aware of what you truly want in life can you make the small steps to move forward. Like a dream, one needs to have an image, a picture or visual to see where that direction is. Imagine the times you had no dreams after a night’s rest. Nothing to reference, nothing to base and compare things to. No guiding star.
Think about this. People all around the world are constantly striving to want and be more than they are. Their situations, although unique to themselves, are the same we’ve heard and seen before. Perhaps someone wants to get out of a career they’ve felt stuck in for years. A person may want to change a bad habit for one that is more fueling and energizing. And another may feel like they want to leave a relationship or situation that isn’t serving them anymore.
The solution? The solutions are also not unique. They’ve been tried and tested by others in similar situations with varying degrees of success. Not liking your career? Then quit and do something you love. Wanting to quit a bad habit? Change your identity and the behaviours and good habits will follow. Looking to extinguish a relationship that’s not working anymore? Leave and create boundaries for what you’re going to say yes and no to.
These are answers that you already know work. From others in situations like this in the past.
What’s unique is the ability for the person to ‘wake up’ and adopt the Conscious Principle to finally make that adjustment. And only that person can determine when they want to apply the principle to make a positive change going forward.
Sometimes it’s when something bad has happened in their lives when they truly take time to reevaluate their lives.
Sometimes it happens after some deep thinking, inner work and self reflection over the course of days, weeks, months or more commonly years.
Sometimes it never happens at all and they stay unconscious for the majority of their lives.
The Conscious Principle is simple. If you truly want to make a change in your life you first need to be conscious of what’s most important.
Here are some tips and practical ways I make this work in my life:
The Conscious Principle works every time. If you want to get better, move forward, learn more about yourself, you first need to apply this principle. I’ve helped many leaders apply this simple principle in their lives. Reach out on how we can help.
I had a great time jumping on as a guest with 'Trailblazing in colour' to talk about our shared love of coaching and what it can do for clients. To listen, click on the link below or find this podcast on your favourit player.
Never stop growing and learning.
It's in our human nature to ever evolve, to not stay stagnant and to develop into our next level of selves. Whatever that might mean for you, it's evident that throughout history, humans need to grow in order to find fulfillment. For me, the journey in my coaching practice has been one of growth. When I first started this chapter in my life, my driving force was to make an impact in the lives that I touched. Using my own life experiences, coupled with my coach training skills, I've grown into a place that feels right. I've grown into a practice that feels authentic to myself, aligned to my purpose and values and fulfilled to make a lasting impact to those that I get the opportunity to interact with. I've silenced the noise out there and realigned to the real reason I'm doing this in the first place. As a result, my mission, remains stronger than ever before.
Coaching people to become leaders in their own lives, living life in the present, on purpose, and full of passion.
Leaders in their own lives
We are authors in our own stories. Things don't happen to us, they happen because of us. When we realize that life is a direct result of our thoughts, feelings and actions, we empower ourselves to make the life we want, not the one we fear. What we resist, persists. And we have no one else to blame but ourselves. Leadership can take many forms. Whether you're a leader in an organization for the first time or if you want to become a leader at home, we all have our place as leaders.
In the present
We've all heard this phrase that all we have is the now, the present moment. And yet how many of us fall back to past worries or future fears? There is no yesterday and there is no tomorrow. When we think about the past, we experience it now. When we worry about the future, we experience it now. Knowing this provides such a sense of freedom and power when harnessed. Today is all we have. Desire for more, yet be in the now.
Your life is yours. How often have you heard of people lives years into their lives only to look back to realize they've lived someone else's life? Take time to find out what you truly want in life. What your calling is, what makes you extremely happy. Shut out the noise of the world and go within in. What would your 70 year old self say about your life looking back at it now? Did you live someone else's life or yours, on purpose?
Full of passion
Your spirit is calling you. And it's not meant to live life in a tepid nature. Have fun. Sing out loud. Find your voice and do it passionately and with love. There is no guarantee of tomorrow. Find your mission in life and do it with a smile.
My mission has remained the same. If anything it's become even more crystal clear as to what I want to do with my life and how I want to impact those around me. I'm grateful to sit alongside those that I have partnered with already and appreciative of the future to come. Whatever happens, I vow to live it in the present, on purpose and with passion.
3 months into paternity leave with our newest addition to the family and it feels amazing.
He's grown in the last 3 months, my partner is doing well and our oldest is adjusting to being a new big brother.
But to say it was easy is an understatement. There were challenging moments, an early delivery, sleepless nights and feelings of 'what did we get ourselves into' came as you would expect.
And through it all, I am here, at a better place, feeling grateful and happy of where things are at.
Even in your most trying times, when things are in complete chaos, of grief or sadness or hopelessness, I'm reminded of all those life challenges I've faced that eventually, the sun rose again the next morning. That there were days that didn't seem as chaotic. That you catch up on sleep eventually and your tears and heartaches subside at some point.
I get it, when you're in the thickest fog, you can't see the lighthouse, let alone the hand in front of you. Here are 3 tips that helped me through those moments in life.
1. 'This too, shall pass'
Etched into his ring as a Persian king, these words helped the emperor keep himself happy when he was sad while also reminding him to enjoy the good moments knowing they will end at some point. Keeping it even keel some would say. And true they are, no matter how dire the situation, no matter how bleak. This moment will pass. And if you don't believe me, think back in your life at your most trying times and applaud yourself for how far you've come.
2. Things could be worse
I have to admit, this line makes me cringe a bit while also acknowledging this also works. I cringe because I know when you're in the deepest of S#$(, this is the last thing you want to hear from someone. I'm reminded by one of my coaches who said to me when I tried to minimize my cancer journey - 'a person's deepest pain is their deepest pain'. It's not meant to be measured, it's not meant to be judged by the eyes of the world. If you are in pain, you are in pain. End of sentence.
But this line does help in reflecting your own life, in those own moments of despair. There were probably moments that seemed to be the worst. If not yours, think of those close by you in your life and their moments of despair. Shifting focus into how things could have been helps you gain the strength to see your current situation in a different light.
3. Look at the trees
How often do you go out and take a walk and you just stare and marvel at the nature at you. Like really stare, over a few seconds and minutes. And the next time you do this, really look at the tree for example and get lost into it's peacefulness. Think about how long this tree has been here, how many wars, moments of grief, world disasters (real and imagined), how many iPhones have been created while it's just stood here. To the tree, nothing has happened and life continues.
I get it we're not a tree but the gift that humans received with the choice of mindsets is the very same thing that can get us out of that funk. We create our own suffering. No matter how you shape it and how many bad things have 'happened' to you, we create our own suffering. Nothing happens to us, it happens because of us. And the inspiring thing is that we then also have the choice and ability to get us out of this mess. The choice is up to us.
So when things seem tough, like the end is nowhere in sight. Just remember, you are stronger than you think and you have the strength and agency to get through anything. This too shall pass. Enjoy it for what it is.
With vaccinations on the rise, cases declining and restrictions lifting it's not hard to feel the optimism as things start to move towards a new 'normal' after more than a year in this pandemic. It's also important to realize that although we are the fortunate ones in Western civilization to be moving ahead, the rest of the world is still far behind in tackling COVID-19.
With that said, it's easy to get excited to get back to all the things that we missed in the past year. Social interactions, dinner parties, work meetings and connecting with others. And as always the case for humans, we're focused on the future and what's next. Our brain is wired to think of our future state. With all that we've learned in the past 18 months, my hope is that we don't forget. We don't forget all the valuable lessons that we learned, lessons that could only be taught through global pandemic.
Less is more
Remember when we had all that time to ourselves, what did we do? We learned what our true passions were in life. We learned what was really important in our lives, what we said yes to and more importantly what we said no to. We learned new skills, hobbies, recipes, songs and ways of connecting. We learned more about our partners, friends and families. We also did more with less. We realized with all this time, we don't need a lot to 'survive'. We were able to do more, more deeply and feel happier than ever before.
Busy is not a good thing
Social and work interactions are a great way of connecting with others. When time slowed down, we learned that there was a difference between spending quality time with someone and social obligations. Birthday parties, celebrations, weekend rituals. Some felt it was too much, bouncing from one event to another 'just because' while feeling drained and depleted. We don't 'have to go' anywhere. It's the quality of the social connection that matters, not the quantity. Remember to check in with yourself. If you're not 100% and it doesn't serve you, don't go, stay home and recharge.
When the world stopped, we had nothing but our thoughts and what was in front of us. Some didn't like what we saw, some saw things in a new light and some realized what a true gift life was. That's all we have in this world, the present moment in front of us. That's all that we had during the pandemic and that's still true for what's in front of us now. 18 months ago we didn't know when this would end. But we took it day by day, moment by moment. This approach doesn't change now that better times are ahead of us.
Hard things will come again
In 'The Obstacle is the Way' by Ryan Holiday, he talks about how the struggles and challenges that come before us is part of the path or journey we're on. Life is not about avoiding these obstacles in life, it's about what we do and how we react when they arrive. And hard things will come again. There will be another (fill in the blank___) that will result in a challenging moment, fear, anxiety and doubt. But as the Stoics would say, it's not the (fill in the blank____) that harms us, it's our perception and the meaning that we give it that does. With that being said we dictate the story that comes into our lives. We have the control and freedom. Why not write a story that serves us and on our terms?
While we move towards a new way of living, let's make sure we pack the things we learned along the journey as reminders of a better way forward. What a wasted opportunity that would be if we didn't. Let's not forget.
It's been more than a year since the world changed forever. I've learned a lot of lessons over this time period with the most important being the power of choice.
Quality versus quantity
We rushed to helped those in need without much after thought when the world was faced with COVID - 19. Do you remember when we clanged pots for healthcare workers? When we played musical instruments on the patios and welcomed Zoom parties with friends and families? How about picking up groceries for seniors in the neighbourhood or restaurants giving out discounted takeout? All these warm and fuzzy feelings was a pivotal moment in human history as we reflect back and ask ourselves what’s most important in our lives. We figured out quickly what we didn't need (junk) and what we cherished the most (health, connection, alone time with our thoughts, love, community).
Isolation is tough
For some this is the longest time they’ve spent with themselves, reflecting on who they are, what they want and who they want to become. Some, weren’t ready to look in the mirror for that long. Some didn’t like what they saw and used socializing with others as a way to distract themselves. We should connect with others, it’s in our nature, it's what makes us human beings. And we should cherish the our time with ourselves the most. As long as it’s productive, honest, and safe with the goal of better understanding yourself and finding your purpose.
We don’t need as much as we think we do
The human race has done incredible things. We can ask, get and receive anything we want at unbelievable speeds which was unthinkable a few years ago, let alone decades ago. But what we’ve done is conditioned ourselves that we need stuff to make us happy. We often make fun at millennials for growing up wanting instant gratification not realizing that we are all becoming one ourselves. This last year has put that theory to bed. Surprisingly we’ve learned what little we need in life to be happy. And that happiness is not a destination but a choice in the present moment.
We are in more control than we think
For most people I've spoken too, last year turned out better than expected. We had our selves back, time to read, time to connect, time to shut off the noise of external pressures (interrupted as internal pressures) and lived the life that we wanted to. Without judgement, without fear of what others thought - because we were all doing the same thing - self reflecting, re-evaluating, re-imagining what an ideal life would look like. For some, the last year went by in a blink of an eye and instead of seizing on the opportunity to make real strides in their life, they spent it in fear, anxiety, worry and distracting themselves with numbing activities. There's no judgement. We all meet challenges and circumstances differently in life. But for those that didn't take advantage of the gift that was brought to us last year, some are wondering what did I do with the year in my time? The question will remain - how was 2020 for you? What did you learn? What are you taking away from that year? And how are you that much closer to living your life the way you want it to, the way your authentic, true self is aligned with?
A year goes by faster than you think
When you're in the thick of things, it seems like nothing else matters. During the start of last year, none of us knew how long it would take to live the way we had to live, socially distanced and isolated. What probably felt like eternity now looking back seems like a distant memory. Brighter days ahead of us are closer to us than the darker ones behind us. Which makes you think, nothing is as long as it seems. In the moment, we have a choice, to face what we're facing one second, one minute at a time, or to choose to live in a perpetual fear of the unknown future state. One robs you of opportunity, the other keeps you in fear, uncertainty and anxiety. And the liberating feeling from it all? You have the power to choose, and it can start right now.
As we approach the end of the year, you will undoubtedly see and hear many perspectives and reflection on the year that was. As expected, it is a time to review the lessons learned while also looking forward to the year ahead. For the most part you'll hear that 2020 was a tough year and rightly so. It was the year of the pandemic that affected the world on such scale never seen before in our lifetime. And while the year brought many negative aspects to light including health, job losses, mental health and the loss of connection, it also brought many positive aspects with it as well. While it was a tough year, remember that some experienced 2020 as their best year ever. And this might be the reason why:
We were forced to confront realities we've been ignoring for far too long
While losing your job is a tough situation to experience, it also allowed people to revaluate their priorities in their lives. Without this jolt of reality, some may never have had the opportunity to step back to envision the life that they want. Was this job that important to me? Did this career provide me purpose? Is this something I want to do with the rest of my life? Does the company actually value me as an employee? This pandemic brought light to many of these conversations that we've been putting off for far too long. For some, this has created a new way of looking at your work and the impact you want to leave behind. For others, it revealed that the path they've been on has been the wrong one for far too many years.
Before the pandemic, we were often floating between conversations, connections and relationships throughout the minutes and hours of the day. From work relationships to relationships at home, we were only scratching the surface. Am I really spending quality time with my partner? My kids? My friends and colleagues? During the lockdown, we were forced to dive deep into the relationship we had with others and we were confronted with the realities of where the relationships were strong and others that were not. Some relationships ended, some relationships realized they are stronger than they first thought. Either way, this year has taught us that relationships are sacred and they need time and attention in order for it to flourish. In the end, we've also discovered that connections with others is a basic human need along with food, water and shelter.
Previous to 2020 we've always assumed that life would just carry on. That we had enough time and time was always around. I'll call that friend next week or I'll catch up with them next time. What this year has taught us is that we don't have as much time as we think we do. And no one truly knows how much of it we have. Seeing that friend for coffee next time turned out to be weeks and months away. For some, that next time never happened again. We have to stop assuming that time will go on and stop taking things for granted in all aspects. We have today, we have this present moment and that is all we can guarantee.
My goal heading into 2021 is that we do not forget the lessons of 2020 and use it as a year of opportunity. Yes, 2020 was a tough year, but in my story, it was the year of great realization and with it, the best year of my life.