I am currently facing a new challenge in my life: I picked up my family (my gorgeous wife Kate and my beautiful little 1 year old daughter, Charlotte Bella) and moved them from Melbourne, Australia – where my business as a professional speaker, consultant, trainer and mentor had just broken through to a level of income from which to create financial freedom – to Vancouver, Canada – where I am starting to build my business again from scratch. It is easy to draw confidence from the template for success that I created in Australia, knowing that I can replicate it here in Vancouver – but it is a difficult pill to swallow when I realize that I have a lot of work to do to get my business back to where it was when I left Melbourne. I am sharply reminded to reside in the humility of being a beginner again, and not to forget to keep open to learning in every new environment and situation I step into to, regardless of any previous success achieved.
The practice of excellence is just that… a practice. In the the martial arts, as with many art forms, sports and other complex skills, we are taught that there is no substitute for repetitious practice of our basic moves. Re-learning some of those basic moves is also critical.
An open mind is essential in the face of personal change… and it is necessary to help one evolve with the ever changing world around us. Openness to learning and relearning will keep you on the path of excellence.
I have always considered myself an open person – thirsty for knowledge, hungry to learn from the great teachers of the world. However, several years ago, during my doctoral studies, I was challenged by one of my supervisors on the issue of my openness and my opinion of what makes a ‘great teacher’… I remember we were walking along Acland Street – a particularly quaint street in Melbourne, populated by delectable cake shops, gourmet cafes, restaurants offering cuisine from every corner of the planet, and shops overflowing with bohemian culture – when he turned to me and said “Sean. You are not open! You divide up the world into ‘my equal’ and ‘not my equal’… and if you don’t see someone as your equal or greater, you don’t listen!” Wow! I was stunned… here I was always thinking of myself as open to anyone and I get stung by someone, whose perspective I respect immensely, on that very issue. He followed up by saying, “If you are open… from the mouths of babes you will learn.”
I have never forgotten that interaction… and I am reminded of it again today as I work hard to practice excellence in my life, in my business, in my health, in my relationships. I am reminded of my own words, which I have often said to others – “constantly seek to learn and grow – this is one of the pillars of resilience… and part of the path to success.” Openness to learning requires humility, which I could see that I lacked back when I received those words from my supervisor… and it requires courage – the courage to admit to weakness and uncertainty, coupled with the courage to ask for help… it also requires commitment – the commitment to learn and implement whatever it takes to build strength into those weaknesses and conviction into the uncertainties.
If you want to practice excellence in your life, there are a number of key things I could suggest, which I believe I have learned from my failures in life, and which I hope to keep re-learning and practicing along the way:
1. Make discomfort your ally, not your enemy – learn from discomfort
Our survival mechanisms are hardwired to be on high alert of discomfort – particularly in the form of fear and anxiety – and generally to avoid situations which provoke such unpleasant feelings. However, a defensive or avoidant stance, causes the mind to narrow and withdraw, shutting down the opportunity for learning and growth. However, if you are pursuing goals that are not threatening your life or your physical well-being, then your survival mechanisms might be lying to you about the need to pull back and avoid discomfort. Too often people are stopped in life because they give too much weight to the fear and anxiety, which is telling them to stop pursuing a goal. If you are in a balanced state of physical and mental health, then you might actually consider that discomfort is an essential part of growing, which you want to embrace and move toward, rather than move away from. Learn from the discomfort; open to it; let it tell you that you are in the right place, rather than in the wrong place.
2. Weak is tough – learn from your vulnerabilities
Many cultures seem to reinforce that mental toughness is about being stoic – never let them see you in pain, never let them see you as weak… that might work if you are a gladiator fighting for you life in the arena… but for everything else in life, have you ever noticed that it is more difficult to admit that you are struggling than to pretend everything is OK? Admitting to vulnerability is not weak at all – it is far tougher than hiding it. AND, hiding it or living in denial is a sure fire way to keep your mind closed and to shut down most opportunities for learning. It is only when you open to your own weaknesses that you can begin to take steps to strengthen them.
3. Challenge the future – learn from what has not happened yet
We can spend so much time looking backward, worrying about the mistakes we have made in the past, that we don’t pause to think about how we can prepare for the challenges we might face in the future. Galileo was cast out as a heretic for claiming that the world was round at a time when it was considered by all people to be flat – his contemporaries were closed, perhaps by fear, to thinking about how to manage the uncertainties of a future that included a round earth. To practice excellence in your life demands that you contemplate the possibilities of what you don’t even know yet, and to prepare the mind to be open to the yet to be experienced challenges that lie ahead.
Practicing excellence in 2011 for me is going to include a lot of learning. It is going to start and end with openness, and hopefully humility, that I will always have much to learn. May your own practice of excellence challenge you to remain open to the countless opportunities for learning with which the universe provides you.
There exist limitless opportunities in every industry. Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier. ~ Charles F. Kettering
All the best,
Dr Sean R