You get up WHEN??

4:16AM every Monday to Friday.  That’s when I get up.

For those readers who work construction, the following post is unlikely to be revolutionary.  It’s pretty much the norm to start early, but depending on your role and how far away from work you live, ‘early’ is a little relative.

The topic seems to comes up more often that you’d think when you’re an early riser.  People are curious why you’d bother (unless you’re catching an aeroplane to jet off on an exotic holiday, then they share their frustration at having to check-in seemingly a day in advance of your flight….).

“There’s something magical about the early morning.  It’s a time when the world belongs to only those few who are awake.  And we walk around like kings while others remain unseen in their beds”
 – Shawn Blanc

So why write a post about it?

Am I showing off?  Hardly.  I mean who actually cares what time another person gets up in the morning?  I’m writing it because I want others to know about the amazing impact getting up early can (and will) have on your performance at work, your general well-being, and well, pretty much everything else.

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Well for starters let’s look at the maths.

Let’s assume there’s 220 days a year where this is an option (365 days minus most weekends, public holidays, sick days and holiday days).  Then let’s say that 90% of the time you find the mental fortitude to arise at this ungodly hour.  That’s 198 days.  Let’s now assume that most people get up around 6:30AM – 7:00AM.  That gives an additional 2¼ – 2¾ hours per day.  Say 2½ for ease of calculation.  So that’s an additional 495 hours a year.  Or 20.625 full 24-hour days, or 2.95 weeks.

2.95 WEEKS!

When you do the maths, it seems crazy to me now that I didn’t start this years ago.   I wish I had.

Why only weekdays?  Well on weekends I do sleep in, that is until my two pint-sized alarm clocks wake me up at 6:00AM by belting into my room, placing their demonic faces unnervingly close to mine, and subsequently announcing that “it’s time to get up Dad, let’s go!” while pulling off the covers.

Traffic.  There’s literally nowhere in Sydney that you can’t get to in an hour when you leave the house before 5:00AM.  Try it.

If you find yourself at work before 6:00AM (and you don’t have a concrete pour on…), the amount of work you can get done before the next person arrives is simply astonishing.  I find the 90 minutes of clear space before the background hullabaloo kicks off rivals the entire following 8+ hours in terms of effectiveness.

The follow on benefit is that you can still do your required hours and leave work at a reasonable hour.  There used to be times in my old life where for weeks, months on end even, that I’d be at work before the sun came up, and leaving after it set.  I’ll happily do whatever it takes to get the job done, but extended periods like this has becomes unsustainable, and in extreme circumstances, downright dangerous.

If you find yourself at the gym before the sun rises, the benches are empty, the weights are racked nicely, the showers aren’t funky, and early morning workouts are proven to improve your brain function, improve performance, and improve your mood.

Don’t just take my word for it.  If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll have heard me mention a fellow named Jocko Willink (@jockowillink) who I credit with a majority of my development growth over the last few years.

His book Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual is an amazing resource for laying out a simple (not easy!) guide to getting after it.  He’s a true believer of getting up early and has some simple tips on how to get started.

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Is this for everyone?  Certainly not.  Do I recommend simply tomorrow waking up at 4:16AM?  Absolutely not.  You’ll be asleep at your desk at 3:00PM, or worse, asleep behind the wheel on your drive home.  If it’s something you’re keen to try (like this lady did), do it in increments.

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Wind your alarm back by 15 minutes.  Try that for a few days.  You’re likely to just spend longer in the shower in the morning, but that little treat wears off pretty quickly.  A few days later wind the alarm back another 15 minutes.  Then again, and again until you find that sweet spot.  Mine is 4:16AM.  Why 4:16 and not 4:15?  Don’t know.  I’ve never been able to set alarm clocks at any of the 5 minute intervals.  Probably means something.

People regularly tell me “I’m not a morning person, I’m more of a night-owl”.  That’s only because you haven’t felt the exhilaration of being up while your enemies sleep.  The little ‘hit’ of superiority you get when you see that every house on your street is shrouded in darkness, not a single window lit up, puts a certain little spring in your step.

Now far be it from me to suggest there’s a direct causal effect between getting up early and being successful, but there’s a long list of people infinitely more successful than I’ll ever be that get up early and get after it.

The Rock 4:00AM (@therock)
General Stanley McChrystal 4:00AM (@stanmcchrystal)
Scott Adams 4:00AM (@scottadamssays)
Jocko Willink 4:32AM (@jockowillink)

You can read all about their routines and the reasons why they get up early, but for me it comes down to three simple things:

  1. Getting sh!t done before work so I don’t have to do it after work.  There’s now more time to spend with the family or doing my own stuff.  Be it the gym, walking, reading, life admin, RFS, whatever.  This makes me stronger, smarter;
  2. There’s so little traffic at that time of the morning, that whatever mode of transport I take, it’s fast.  This makes me happier; and
  3. I’m 100% certain my productivity levels increase on days I hit the gym before work.  This makes me faster.

Stronger, smarter, happier, faster.

Wish I’d done it years ago.


Are you an early riser?  Do you wonder why and how people get up before the sun does?  Post a comment below and start a conversation!

What can you learn from a purple lion?

I found myself standing alone, after those in the line had suddenly, and all at once, taken a large step backwards.

It had the hallmarks of that movie scene where the person is ‘volunteered’ by the simple fact that everyone else had moved quicker.

Had I won something?  Had I lost something?  Had I been volunteered to join the Army?  Had I been volunteered to make that door entry into a burning building?  No.  It was much more terrifying than that. Continue reading What can you learn from a purple lion?

Action & Will

In a previous post we talked about how by utilising the three fundamental Stoic principles of Perception, Action and Will, Ryan Holiday proposed to attack the elephant-sized problem of improving our relationship with the obstacles in our lives.

In the post, we only got round to discussing Perception, so I thought it was time to follow up with Action and Will.

Of the three principles, I think that Perception is the one that requires the biggest structural adjustment, and the largest investment of your personal bandwidth.  I’ve noticed however, that once you re-frame how you view obstacles, the resource required to then act in response to them, and to then continually endure them appears to be much lower in comparison.

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Where do you allocate your limited bandwidth?

So assuming you’ve read Part 1 of this post, and started to see obstacles as opportunities, and embracing them as chances to improve, you’ll need to foster the ability to act because of them, in spite of them even.

Enter, Action and Will.

Action, hard work and perseverance pays dividends – I don’t think there’s many who’d disagree with that.  What’s harder though, is to paraphrase the book and its concepts into actionable, tactical advice.  As I stressed in Part 1, just buy the book and read it for yourself – it’s incredible.  But that’s not exactly what book reviews and leadership lessons are about – doing all the work yourself.  What you’re looking for is advice, guidance, tactics to improve, without having slog through the textbooks.

The concepts are simple, but not easy – and make no mistake, there’s a difference.  Similar to the lessons Hal Moore offers, when you’re reading them in a book, they appear obvious.  The difference in these concepts is that they aren’t so much reinforcing leadership lessons you may already have come across, but require a substantial shift in perspective.  The effects however are immediate, and surprisingly transformative.

If I had to summarise the principle of Action into a short grab, it would be “Do anything.  Now”.  Just get out there and do something.  Anything.  There’s a power in action that trumps intent, trumps wishing, trumps day-dreaming, and separates the entrepreneurs from the “want-trepreneurs”.

I’ll admit that I often find myself falling into that second category.  My bedside table is filled with notebooks of ideas not implemented, inventions not prototyped, visions not fulfilled, and ultimately, regret.  Why?  Because I never took that first step.

One of my most quoted quotes is “You can’t cross a chasm in two small steps”, and like many of us who are only too happy to hand it out, I’m terrible at taking my own advice.  What’s stopping me?  Fear I guess.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of failure.  Fear of embarrassment if no-one buys my invention, or the new business idea fails.

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I’m not going to dive down the rabbit-hole of ‘move fast and break things’, or ‘failing fast’ and a hundred other FaceGoogle-esque maxims, other than to say I think that if I took a step, made the leap that it’d probably work out OK.

Besides, even if it didn’t, Part 1 of this review would give me advice on how to re-interpret the obstacle!

Unselfish action, now at this very moment”
– Marcus Aurileus

Summary.  Do the sh!t that you need to do to get things started and don’t stop moving.

Easy to say.  Hard to implement.

Worth the effort though.

Will.  If Perception and Action are disciplines of the mind and body, then Will is the discipline of the heart and soul.

Let’s say you’re faced with a problem, any problem.  You’ve taken the advice in the earlier post and re-framed your perspective.  You now see this problem as an opportunity.  Tremendous.  You’ve taken that first step into action.  Tremendous.  You fall at the first hurdle.  Tremendous.  There’s nothing in the manual that says you won’t end up in a feedback loop from hell going around and around and around from Perception to Action with no end in sight.

Enter, Will.

“Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”
– Tennyson, Ulyssess

When Antonio Pigafetta, the assistant to Magellan on his trip around the world, reflected on his boss’s greatest and most admirable skill, what do you think he said?  Turns out it had nothing to do with sailing.  The secret to his success, Pigafetta said, was Magellan’s ability to endure hunger better than the other men.

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We discussed in Part 1, that re-framing your perspective of obstacles was the key to defeating them.  Perhaps Magellan saw his interminable hunger as simply an opportunity to master the demands of his body?  Perhaps he saw it as simply payment for the opportunity to explore the unknown.  Perhaps he just had a small stomach.  Who knows?  What it does show is that endurance, a desire to move forward, simply not allowing obstacles to stand in your way, is not subject to the obstacles themselves, but simply the way you view them.  You can choose to succumb to hunger, to complain you are on half rations, or you can remember that some people, many people, have no food at all.  That you’re lucky you’ve got some mouldy bread and scraps of salted beef to nibble on.

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The straits of Magellan…..pun intended

So how does all this help those who are leaders, or who aspire to be leaders?  Think back to all the bosses you’ve had (or if you’re new to the workforce, the family & friends who hold leadership roles in your life).  Now picture an example where things have gone to custard.  A project fails to meet a critical deadline.  A sales team repeatedly doesn’t hit the monthly sales targets which is now threatening the viability of the entire company.  A piece of heavy plant rolls over and traps a worker’s leg.  A family member dies unexpectedly.

None of these are particularly good news items.  None of these are cause for celebration.

Now then think about the people who stand out in your memory in that situation as being calm, collected and in control.  What was it that separated them from the rest of the team or the family?  Those who weren’t lost in the emotion of the situation, or those who didn’t run around doing ‘busy’ work without getting done what needed to get done?  I’m sure if you reflect on it, these three foundational principles will have been in play – whether you (or perhaps even they) noticed it at the time or not.

Perception.  Action.  Will.

It’s amazing how calmness is contagious.  How a cool head prevails.  How this leader may not necessarily have been the ‘boss’, or eldest in the family, but whose implementation of these principles steadied the ship.

Isn’t that what you want from your leaders?

To see clearly.
To act correctly.
To endure and accept the world as it is.

What did you think of today’s post?  Do the principles of Stoicism interest you – are you keen to learn more?  If you’ve seen examples of non-traditional leaders stepping into the void in a crisis and steadying the ship and you’d like to share, leave a comment below or get in touch via the Contact Page.

So. Do you miss it?

No one likes a fence sitter.

So when I’m asked “Do you miss it?”, I’ve got a pretty standard answer on tap, which I’ve had the last 5 or so years to polish.  A conversation ensues, and depending on the person asking, we chat some more, or we don’t, and we go our separate ways.

What is ‘it’ you ask?

‘It’ is, or was, the construction contractor’s life.  ‘It’ is delivering large civil infrastructure projects working for the big Australian Tier 1 companies.  ‘It’ is what I used to do.

It wasn’t until recently that after giving my answer, I sat down, tilted my head waaaaaay back and looked directly upwards, as I do sometimes when I’m thinking, and asked myself why it was that people even wanted to know.

Think about it, no one ever asks if you miss being sick, or miss being broke, or miss anything that generally sucks.

So with that in mind, is it generally considered that the construction contractor’s life is more exciting, more rewarding, more everything, and that people wonder why I’d leave that life for (supposedly) duller client-side project management work?

If you’d asked me 6 years ago if I’d ever consider moving client-side, it would have been a resounding “Nope”.

 

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But seeing as I’m now into my fifth year as a client side practitioner, I thought it’s probably time to have a proper think about what is actually a tough question to answer.

So here’s my Top 5 things I don’t miss about working contractor-side:

  1. The 11-13 hour days…every day
  2. Saturday shifts
  3. Seemingly endless night shifts re-sheeting roads and rolling out traffic switches (usually in the rain)
  4. End of month (dockets, invoices, accruals, forecasts, budgets….)
  5. The cold.  Early starts for big pours, middle of the night SuperT lifts, even a few years drilling under Bass Strait where it was so f**ing cold that full thermals were issued as standard PPE

And because everyone loves a list (including me), here’s my Top 5 things I do miss about working contractor-side:

  1. The occasional shouting match at 3:00 AM when landing Super-T’s over a live rail line (you know who you are Mr Henry)
  2. The swearing.  Now I’m not really a regular swearer, and never have been, but there’s something quite satisfying about working in an environment where unleashing a few nuclear F-bombs every now and again raised n’er even an eyebrow
  3. The depth of camaraderie of being in the trenches with your team (sometimes literally)
  4. The relationships with the work crews, and being able to direct, in real time, outcomes on the ground
  5. The level of satisfaction in seeing something you planned, sweated over, occasionally bled over, regularly stressed over, played out in your mind 1,000 times before the first agi arrived, come to life as an actual thing you can touch

Now for my current colleagues whose mouths may have dropped open and are thinking I don’t get any satisfaction from my current role because I don’t get to shout, swear, work in a trench, or directly impact outcomes on the ground, you couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s like that ex-girlfriend you had in Uni, who was a little wild, but deep down you knew it was never going to last.

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Client:Contractor OR Contractor:Client?

So if I miss the action, what is it that I’ve gained instead?

  1. Visibility into a breadth of interfaces I never even knew existed.  I deal now with an exponentially larger number of people in different positions, agencies, and authorities than ever before – where my work life before was particularly insular, now it spans not just Projects, but Programs, Government planning and look ahead dates that extend past 2030.  It does something to your immediate perspective when you’re aware that things exist past the end of your Project
  2. The opportunity for strategic thinking.  I’m not sure if it’s just that as I’ve moved up the tree that strategic thinking has become a larger part of  my role, or if it’s being client-side forces that task upon you.  Without the benefit of time travel, perhaps I may never know.  What I do know is that in my current role there are means and opportunity to use a part of my brain that I hadn’t for some years.  In the contractor space, thinking, one, two, maybe three steps ahead was as much as I had the time to devote to, while neck deep in building the job.  Now there’s more latitude to take a step back and see the bigger picture
  3. Time.  Time on the weekends with my kids.  Time to find (or make) my own action outside of work; with the RFS, with my business, at the gym, wherever my mind takes me.
    This new gold mine of time I’ve stumbled across is partly because of my client-side role, and partly because I now actively make time.  I now get up so early it sometimes seems like it’s still the day before, and not working contractor side any more certainly helps me to be able to do that4d431dfa741f9681654958caeb370914
  4. A renewed desire to learn.  Again, I’m not sure if it’s me getting older, (hopefully) wiser, being more protective of my time, or being Client side, however I’ve read more books in the last 3 years than the last 10 combined.  I’ve read books on strategy, books written by Japanese Samurai, a Roman Emperor, a US Army General, and even the coach of the San Francisco 49’ers.  Some have been better than others.  Some offer guidance.  Some offer nothing.  All of them though in some way, shape or form, have ultimately been worth the time invested

So just to recap, I’ve gained a broader horizon, increased brain utilisation, developed a renewed passion for learning and a seemingly limitless bounty of time….

Seems like a good deal to me.

Is client-side for everyone?  Absolutely not.  But it takes all sorts to make this world go round, and if we were all determined to work client-side, who’d build the projects?  If we were all determined to work contractor-side, who’d decide they needed building in the first place?

Can’t have one without the other.  Simple as that.  It’s not a zero-sum game – both can, and must, succeed for these projects to succeed.

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No one likes a fence-sitter.

So when I’m asked “Do you miss it?”, I’ve got a pretty standard answer on tap, which I’ve had the last 5 or so years to polish.

“Sometimes I do miss the action, although I don’t ever miss the Saturday shifts.  In saying that, if I’d never have experienced all of that madness and chaos, and learned what I did, I wouldn’t be who I am, or where I am today.”

Growth.  Development.  Change.  Isn’t that what it’s all about.


So have you made the move from contractor to client side?  Did you find it a good or a bad thing?  Are you interested in making the step and not sure where to start?

Leave a comment or get in touch via the Contact Page.

“Son, you’re on your own this time….”

I realised recently there’s a difference between leadership and true leadership.

In the last few years I’ve gobbled up scores of lessons about leadership, from actively seeking out a range of books, to observations on the fire ground, to random learnings in the every day.  What I observed just last week though, was the purest form of leadership I think I can recall – and it’d been staring me in the face for years.

We were on a family holiday, my wife and I and our two young kids up at Nelson Bay (highly recommended by the way).  Our eldest son, a five and a half year old terrorist, had done something he shouldn’t have, like all five and a half year olds do, and was being told off by my wife.  He responded with  something along the lines of “Well it doesn’t matter what you say because Dad makes all the money and paid for the holiday”.

There comes a time, when despite wanting to protect your child from all of life’s ills, that there’s simply nothing a father can do. Son, you’re on your own this time….

While my wife isn’t exactly prone to bouts of expletive-ridden tirades, this had all the hallmarks of being a reasonable excuse to let one roar.  Instead, she calmly stated;

“I do everything for you.  I’ve given up everything for you.”

The moment of tension quickly passed, and we all got back to enjoying our holiday.  I am certain however, that our eldest (and possibly my wife, until she reads this I guess) was entirely oblivious to the power that statement had on me.

For some background.  My wife is significantly smarter than I am.  First Class Honours in a Science degree I can’t even explain – something about genetics and biodiversity.

Due to, well, life, she went back to Uni later than most, demolished a Science degree, volunteered in Costa Rica doing conservation work, travelled the NSW coast collecting and freezing an invasive species of crabs to monitor their insidious march northward, and got published for her efforts.

What I’m trying to show here, is that she’s no slouch in the brains department, and was primed to kick off a fantastic career in something smart.  Something she was particularly excited about.

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Mess with crabbo – get stabbo.  Photo taken off internet

Then came along marriage and motherhood – both of which I might add, she’s also smashing out of the park.  I have no doubt that without her, our entire mob would be a hot mess of (disorganised) chaos.  I’m not talking about cleaning and cooking here – I’m talking about our entire way of life.  It’s no wonder the kids call her The Captain.

It dawned on me in that brief moment of frustration, that all this time she had been demonstrating the purest form of leadership.  Self-sacrifice.  For the good of the mission.

You can lead a team at work, you can lead a team on the sports field, and I’m sure you can cite examples where you put the welfare of your team above your own – fundamental to the success of any team, and the sign of a good leader.

What you’re probably citing though is when you didn’t take credit for the work your team did anyway, or that you took the accountability you should have regardless, for the team missing a deadline, or when expenditure exceeded budget.  While certainly important – these things don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, and I’d suggest they won’t be things you reflect upon on your death bed.

Your most important contribution may not be something you do, but someone you raise

Want to know what matters?  Kids, legacy, growing a family.  Are they the only things that matter in life?  No, obviously, but I’d suggest they’re on almost everyone’s list above missing that deadline.

Want to know what’s admirable?  Putting a promising career on hold that you worked godd@mn hard for, re-calibrating the trajectory of your life to care for and support 2 small kids (and 1 large adult-sized kid).  Providing an environment where these 3 other humans are given every opportunity to achieve their own successes (and failures), in a space that’s structured, organised, has high standards, is clear, supportive and never-failing.

We are defined by what we choose to reject”
– Mark Manson

What I observed was leadership not towards a short-term goal; hitting a sales target, pouring a slab, winning a contract, but true leadership – for a vision, for something that means something, and dedicating everything to achieving it.

It was a German-born theoretical physicist that said it best.

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
– 
Albert Einstein

I guess the lesson I learned in that moment was, apart from my wife being a superstar, is don’t just employ leadership techniques you read in a book or a blog, but find something, anything, that inspires you to live true leadership.


As we approach Mother’s Day – take some time to reflect on the sacrifice your Mum made, or is still making, to create an environment where you can achieve the successes you’ve had.  If you can, call your Mum today and tell her she’s awesome.

From the fire ground to the office

With the recent bushfire activity here in Sydney, I thought it was timely to share some of the exemplary leadership I’ve witnessed in my time within the NSW Rural Fire Service.

In late 2017 I was on a Hazard Reduction burn, an HR.  Before we go any further, can we  please stop calling these back burns.  Back burns are where you use fire to fight fire (which is what happened down at Holsworthy / Menai), and a hazard reduction burn is where you burn off as much of the ground fuels as you can ahead of a bush fire season.

So I was on a hazard reduction burn with the mighty Continue reading From the fire ground to the office

The Obstacle is the Way

If you follow this blog, you’ll hear me mention three people on a regular basis.  Ryan Holiday, Tim Ferriss and Jocko Willink.  I credit them as the majority shareholders in my recent learning investment portfolio.  They themselves are prolific in their teachings, and I recommend you read and listen to them all as much as possible.  Along with the resources they recommend, they form a 3-person Advisory Council that’s hard to beat.  I must note that I’ve never met any of them – although I did once get a Facebook response from Jocko – but reading their books and listening to their podcasts has been as good a schooling as you’ll get anywhere, and I’m thinking of making a trip to Jocko’s Musterin 2019.  Side note: Ant, I’ll be crashing at your joint so get that air bed pumped up.

Today’s post is a review of Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle is the Way.  For reasons unknown, I read the first 3 chapters of the book back in early 2017, and it then sat on my shelf for almost a year.  Why?  It wasn’t boring or poorly written.  I suspect it was because I wasn’t really ready to absorb the message it spruiked on the dust jacket and those early chapters, and I was possibly a little apprehensive, or maybe even blinded by my ego that the lessons would even apply to me.

“It’s impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows”
– Epectitus

For reasons even further unknown, I picked it up again recently and simply devoured it.  Perhaps I was ready for what he had to say, perhaps I needed to hear what he had to say, but regardless of the reason, it’s certainly made an impact.

The book is set out similarly to his others (Ego is the EnemyThe Daily Stoicboth are highly recommended), in that it looks to break down huge, mind-bending concepts into tasty bite-sized pieces.  Similar I’m told, to the way you should eat an elephant.  These tasty brain nuggets make the concepts infinitely easier to retain and even more importantly, easier to implement.

Simplify.
Check out britespot design on Pinterest for cool stuff like this!

So what are these concepts, these principles?

Holiday doesn’t just look to, but succeeds in, cleverly detailing a personal operating system to help you perceive, act and persevere in the face of obstacles.  I write that, but actually it’s more – it’s providing a way to entirely refocus your approach to obstacles, great and small.  Redefining them in your head so that they no longer appear as obstacles, but opportunities for growth, learning and improvement.

He does this by providing a way to visualise obstacles in the same way Stoicism teaches an approach to life.  Three basic principles.

Perception – See things for what they are.
Action – Do what we can.
Will – Endure and bear what we must.

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Photo credit: author

Fundamentally, these principles, or maxims, are what have guided the Stoics for centuries.  From the teachings of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and beyond, Stoicism provides us a framework for re-configuring our perspective on life, with the ultimate aim of a simpler life.  Simpler doesn’t necessarily mean living like a pauper or foregoing pleasure, but that whichever path you choose is chosen for sound reason.  Apart from the seemingly obvious benefit of this, it then ultimately provides you with more time and focus on doing what it is you need to do in this life.

I’ll be sharing a post in the coming weeks on how reading and learning, and practising Stoicism has had a huge impact on my life, but for now you might be asking “What does any of this have to do with leadership?”

I’ll be honest, it’s hard to provide a specific answer to this.  If I could, it would have been be me that would have written the book.

But alas.

What I can tell you is that since trying to implement the fundamentals Holiday writes of, I’ve noticed that what would have previously pi$$ed me off for hours or even days, seems to have shrunk to minutes, or not at all.  Is it because I’m older, wiser (ha!), or maybe it’s having two kids who are growing up too fast?  Do all these things mean I’ve mellowed with age?

Perhaps.  I’m not saying I’ve reached a Zen-level calmness, far from it, but with the stresses and obligations more pronounced than ever before, you’d think this would be offset by any mellowing and I’d still be pi$$ed off.  I truly believe that the combination of Stoicism and the teachings of this book have made me a better father, better leader, and a better human.

Yeah right, I hear you mutter under your breath.  Check out this sucker caught up in yet another self-help cult.  I understand your scepticism.  I felt it myself before I started learning again.  Just read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

Holiday’s fundamental principle is that the obstacle you face, whatever it might be, is unlikely to go away simply because you want it to.  You stub your toe on a table.  You then shout at the table, and while you’re at it, you shout at your toe.  Neither of these are going to upset the table, nor you toe for that matter.  You stub your toe on the table and then take a chainsaw to the table.  This is also not going to upset the table.  I recommend not taking a chainsaw to your toe.  The table is a simple example, but illustrates the point.  It is your response to an obstacle which causes the reaction, not the actual obstacle itself.  More importantly, it is only your response to an external stimulus that you are able to control.

He’s mindful of not wanting to sound glib, which is difficult when you consider some of the obstacles people face every day.  A sudden and unexpected death of a loved one?  Hard to see how that’s a good thing, and while grieving is a natural response, Holiday’s approach is to limit the impact that that grieving has on your life, by understanding that there’s nothing you can do to change what happened, and that being paralysed by that grief serves no one.  To take it to the next level, the person that’s dead doesn’t care at all.

On a lighter note, the approach can be applied to your work (and home) life almost every day.  I’ve stolen from Jocko Willink a method of changing your perspective, whose standard response to members of his SEAL team when things didn’t go as planned was “Good!

Good!
– Jocko Willink (when something went wrong)

Good?  Yup.

Same approach as Holiday describes, but provides a tactical method that you can implement today.

Ammunition re-supply didn’t arrive?
Good!  Opportunity for us to practise hand-to-hand combat.

Our operation got cancelled?
Good!  Opportunity for us to run through the plan a few more times.

Now unless you’re in a combat zone, these may not seem particularly relevant, but in our normal, ‘not being shot at’, lives, the approach still works.

Got a boss that micro-manages you?
Good!  Now’s your opportunity to work on methods in dealing with this type of person.

Got looked over for that promotion?
Good!  More time to get better.

Got dumped?
Good!  Now there’s more time to spend with your family who you’ve ignored recently.

“If you can say the word Good!  Guess what?  It means you’re still alive.  It means you’re still breathing.  And if you’re still breathing, guess what?  You’ve still got fight in you.  So get up.  Dust off. Reload. Recalibrate. Re-engage.
And go out on the attack.”
– Jocko Willink

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Jocko Willink – Good shirt.  Note how it’s written mirrored?  The message is for YOU.  Visit jockostore.com

Your response to the obstacle is the only thing you can control.  Re-visualise it and see it as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to develop, and you’ll suddenly find that everything is a lesson in leadership.  Even the hard sh!t, in fact, especially the hard sh!t.  It’s an uplifting revelation to have.

Obstacles in whichever form they take, are a vast majority of the time, not placed in your way deliberately, or with malice.  Obstacles are life’s way of reminding you that you’re alive, and that while you think you may have mastered her, that Mother Nature still runs this show so and you’re really just a passenger.  Each time you conquer an obstacle, you’ll learn something.  Each time, you’ll develop strength, wisdom and perspective.  Each time, a little more of the competition falls away.  Until all that is left is you: the best version of you.

“Lose money?”
Remember, you could have lost a friend.

Lost that job?”
What if you’d lost a limb?

“Lost your house?”
You could have lost everything.

Perception.

So we’ve covered off Perception and we’re already at 1,600 words.  There’s enough meat on this bone to warrant more posts, so we’ll stick with just Perception today and cover off Action and Will in a few weeks.

Of all the stories in the book about Perception, the one that stuck most in my mind, and the one I’ve reflected on the most, is a story about a factory fire at Thomas Edison’s laboratory which destroyed almost all of his life’s work.

Now it’s statistically unlikely that any of us will ever reach the heady heights of Edison, but if he can approach the razing of his factory as a spectacle to behold, who told his son with childlike excitement as the fire raged, fuelled by the strange chemicals in the various buildings, “Go get your mother and all of her friends.  They’ll never see a fire like this again”, and calmly state afterwards, “It’s alright.  We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish”, we can surely re-frame having a difficult boss or poor Wi-Fi reception as an opportunity.

Side note:  Edison’s factory was up and running again in weeks, at full production some 3 months later, and almost tripled its output and profit within a year.

Good!

Make no mistake.  It’s hard work trying to implement the approaches outlined in the book.  It’s easy to see every obstacle as another reason to rest.  Another reason that explains why the other guy is succeeding when you’re not.  Another reason to give up.

But that’s the exact reason why you should try.  Why you must try.

The only person you should try and be better than…..
is the person you were yesterday

I promise you that you only need to do this exercise a few times to see the benefit.  But I promise you will, as the effect is immediate.

The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.
– Marcus Aurileus

As I promised in my first book review, I’m happy to send through a copy of my index in Excel format.  Leave a comment below, or get in touch via the Contact page.

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The Obstacle is the Way – index

As also as promised, my 3 takeaways;

  1. Edison’s factory fire – everything is an opportunity if you’re open to it.
  2. Changing your perspective on obstacles being opportunities is difficult and takes time.  Worth the effort though.
  3. A quote from Amelia Earhart “Always think with your stick forward”.  That is, you can’t ever let up your flying speed – if you do, you crash.  Be deliberate, of course, but you always need to be moving forward.

Re-framing my relationship with obstacles, and making it part of my existence, is I suspect, going to be something I’ll have to work on for the rest of my life.  But in the short time I’ve been trying to implement it, I’ve learned a lot.

Learning to be better than I was yesterday.

And as I always say, isn’t that what’s it all about?