'We can be heroes.' (David Bowie)
I’ve known and worked alongside so many heroes that I can hardly begin to list them all. These aren’t famous celebrities, basking in wealth and media limelight. They’re ordinary people who have chosen to live extraordinary lives. I say chosen because they could all have done something different, something more ‘normal’, yet chose – and still choose – to take the road-less-travelled. It’s always a choice, even if it doesn’t always feel like a choice.
There’s Rudi. He’s a social worker in Germany who has committed his life and career to work relentlessly to prevent the social and political conditions that led to the rise of the Nazis. He looks on the rise of the AfD with alarm. And there’s Jasmin. She’s poor and lives among the poorest in the Philippines. She gives every spare peso and moment of her time – with scary degrees of self-sacrifice – to bring love and hope to the most vulnerable people.
Then there’s Sue. She was on the last plane out of Saigon to rescue mixed-race children at the end of the Vietnam war. The plane was riddled with bullets. She and the children lay terrified on the floor as the aircraft fled the runway. She rarely speaks about it now. And there’s Mike. He works with street gangs and drug addicts in the UK, putting his own welfare at risk because he sees potential in people where others only see broken, messed-up lives.
All of these people are ‘followers of Jesus’. They challenge and inspire me and serve as a continual reminder that every moment represents a decision, a choice to live a self-centred life or to serve a higher cause – whether that be God, humanity or nature-environment. I find it easy to get distracted, to slip into pragmatism, expediency, convenience or comfort. Yet I want to live a well-lived life. Who are your heroes and how do they inspire you?
Do you try to live and work in perpetual 'summer' mode?
One thing you notice living in a temperate climate is the changing of the seasons. In autumn and winter, we see nature dying back, retreating into hibernation. In spring and summer, we see it springing back into life again. It’s as if winter is resting and summer is thriving. It’s a similar rhythm to sleeping and waking. Down-times allow us to recharge so that we have the energy we need for the up-times. Try going without sleep for a night or two and you quickly realise how vital it is!
Confucius said wisely: ‘If the land is always filled with sunshine, it will soon turn to desert.’ These words resonate down through the ages and yet, in the 21 century, our technology (e.g. electricity, light, on-line) and culture (e.g. consumerism; competition; on-demand) are driving us incessantly towards continuous activity, constantly straining to achieve, to out-perform. Busy-ness is equated with value (if you don’t believe me – try telling your boss and peers at work that you’re not busy). No rest.
In order to sustain this lifestyle, we live on caffeine and all sorts of other stimuli to keep us going, running at peak performance. As a consequence, physical and mental health suffers and we feel caught in a perpetual rat race where only the fittest survive. Organisational KPIs drive us to lower costs and higher results, always with an anxious look over one shoulder to keep an eye on the global competition biting at our heels. Resources are getting scarce and the environment is at risk.
So here we are and it’s tempting to think, ‘We’re all doomed’ and to cry out in protest, ‘Stop the world, I want to get off!’ Or we can pause and reflect: What is driving our leadership and business beliefs and behaviour? What could the benefits be (e.g. energy, sustainability, effectiveness) of building autumn & winter periods into our organisational plans and cycles? What ecological principles can we draw on? What could that look like in practice? What are we willing to do to make it happen?
Nick is a psychological coach, OD consultant and trainer, specialising in critical reflective practice.