Speaking at the 2017 Life Talent graduation, Julian Russell relates his own story and explains why helping other people blossom is so important to him personally. Contains some swearing.
“Deep down in every human heart
is a hidden longing, impulse, and ambition
to do something fine and enduring.”
- Grenville Kleiser
For those of you who know me or have read my Facebook posts recently (Life Talent) you will know that my early life was difficult: my father was alcoholic and went bankrupt; my mother had post-traumatic stress from the Second World War, and didn’t have much mothering instinct when her twins were born; and my twin brother become a heroin addict and eventually died of it.
What would it take for you to be at peace with yourself and happy with your life?
In addition, what if you could also be transparent about who you are, what you are good at and what you stand for at work and in your community?
There is a very natural and authentic power that comes from being at peace with oneself and, rather than having to hide who you are from any one, instead enjoying communicating with people what you are about.
Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible
- St. Francis of Assisi
Discipline and decisiveness are about knowing that “what you do today determines your success tomorrow”. There may be things that need to be done but you are frightened of doing them: for example, calling the person who could give you your next big opportunity.
Many people believe that when they are successful they will be happy. The evidence says “no”.
Research1 shows that when people become successful they are still not satisfied, and continually move the goal posts.
I don’t make New Year resolutions, because it is so easy to be overtaken by unrealistic enthusiasm! However I do dream about who I want to be in the year ahead, how I want the year to be, and what success looks like to me.
My personal philosophy is to:
- Make the most of myself
- Transform obstacles to happiness and success
- Learn to be nourished and supported by the mysterious beauty of life
Having a Life-Calling helps you to be happier, healthier, more successful and to live longer.
The research shows that if you put your Life-Calling in your work you will enjoy it more and find it more meaningful1. You are likely to work harder and be more committed, and not surprisingly, you are likely to be more successful2.
Our society focuses on the outer world, not the inner life.
Our inner life is a secret world of feelings, fears, anxieties, rage, fantasy and magical stories: stories which end “happy ever after”; or dark stories that end in catastrophe and humiliation; stories in which we are the hero or heroine; or the evil one – the world will find out who you really are, and the world will be ashamed, especially your mother/father.
We are so familiar and habituated with the stories of our own inner theatre that we hardly remember that we are the author, and that we can change the script.
Most people don’t bother to work out where the dark stories come from, and how to heal them, and how to fulfil the longing in their hearts, expressed in both the dark stories and in the super hero/heroine fantasies.
What are you longing for in your inner life? How do you build an outer reality closer to your inner longing?
First, let’s just remind ourselves that everybody has slightly weird fantasies and inner life! After all, nobody else can inspect inside your head, so you can do what the hell you want in there! When you start inspecting your inner world, you need to do so with sensitivity, tolerance and compassion. I have learnt to be sensitive, tolerant and compassionate about the weirdo that I am; and thus have learnt to be tolerant, sensitive and compassionate with other people who look very ‘proper’ from the outside, but who secretly are also weirdoes (i.e. you!). And if you don’t believe me, spend a few minutes looking with new eyes at your secret fantasies! And say yes, it is ok, everybody does this!
Second, we can divide our inner life into the two categories: there are the stories that end “happy ever after” usually as a result of our heroism. In Tolkien’s language, we may be just a Hobbit, but we are going to undertake the long journey to Mordor to destroy the evil ring, and the world will be saved, and we will get the chick/chap we have been longing for all along. There are also the opposite stories, where we are unloveable, disgusting, abandoned, destined to failure, everything is going to fall apart, and we are going to die, get tortured or something worse.
I have used the idea of “stories” but your own thoughts are so close to you that you may not recognise them as stories. I am talking about those mornings when you wake up full of anxiety, or angry at the whole world; or poignantly longing for someone you saw fleetingly on the train or at a party. Or those days when something goes wrong and a voice in your head which sounds remarkably like your mother says “I told you so”.
We are involved in the Shakespearian tragedy of our inner life. The thing is, if you don’t like the plot, you can re-write it. And if you do like a plot, you can get practical and find ways of getting a little more of what you love in your outer life.
Re-writing the tragedy
There are two approaches we can take with our own personal secret tragic movie: first we can use positive psychology habits to keep re-writing the script so we take practical actions in our life to change it.
Secondly, if our tragedy is a horror story, and we can hear the scraping foot of some monster in the basement of our house, and turning up the music doesn’t work, we can open the door to the staircase down to the basement, and go down and take a good look at the monster.
Even better, we can invite the monster up into the adult world of our living room, where we have psychological resources, and invite them for afternoon tea and cakes.
There are simple questions we can ask the monster such as “what do you really want?” or “if you could have anything, what would it be?”. You haven’t asked deeply enough if the monster cannot yet articulate a heart-felt longing that is positive. And it’s very inspiring when you do receive a heart-felt answer from one of your monsters.
This is the kind of work we do on the Personal Transformation Intensive and the Life Talent Programme: combining the two approaches of building new psychological resources to help change the script, and also going to meet the monster in the cellar for a heart-to-heart.
Making the “happy ever after” story come true
Just kidding. There is no “happy ever after”! Everything is impermanent. Even in the perfect marriage, one person will die first, leaving the other behind. What is more, the human condition has success and failure, good and bad days, ups and downs; transformation and reappearance of old patterns. Life is like a stock market graph: with some focused attention, the general trend may be upwards, but there are natural peaks and slumps along the way.
But we can learn to savour the “ups” and bounce back from “downs” more quickly. Life isn’t going to give us a Hollywood movie where the couple skip off into the sunset holding hands at the end; but life can give us a movie where the couple gives up being at war with each other and can say “I can see the best in you and the worst in you, and I love all of you”.
The fantasies we all have are simply signs of our longing to be loved, admired, noticed and paid attention to. (Ok, let’s throw in some great sex too).We want to be finally admired for who we are by our father and our mother. (Ok, let’s take the great sex back out again). These fantasies come from our more child-like emotional selves and to get a little bit more of it in the world, we need some help from our adult skills and intelligent minds.
Take a look at one of your fantasies. What is it you really really want in that fantasy? What does it say about what’s missing in your life? What is a practical way to get more of it?
Cathy Broome writes:
I’ve always been a fan of Doctor Who. It’s one of those shows which sparks lots of inspiration for me, as well as being entertaining. That and he wears great coats!
It struck me recently that Dr Who is a bit like a coach and the ‘enemies’ of Dr Who are a bit like the parts of ourselves which hamper our progress, or stop us from having success in our lives. And because I do love stories, myths and archetypes, I thought it would be fun to write about it!
One of the most famous enemies of Dr Who is of course the Daleks who will stop at nothing to destroy anything and anyone they consider to be inferior to them, which is everyone except Daleks. “Exterminate” is their eternal cry.
To me, this is like our own inner saboteur, the part of us which is the superior predator for whom nothing is ever good enough; the perfectionist who wants to destroy everything, including our willingness to even try, because nothing we produce can ever be good enough for it. Steven Pressfield talks about this wonderfully in his book The War of Art. To him, the only way to combat it is to keep getting up and doing things anyway. To develop the discipline or habit of creating every day so that the saboteur is, inevitably still there, but not allowed to be in charge.
I would agree with this, though I think it can also be helpful to explore that voice if it holds very strong power over us, which is why I do the work I do and why the Personal Transformation Intensive and the Life Talent Programme are so powerful for people because we work directly with what stops you and what you want instead. When we are (re)discovering ourselves, our passions and strengths, it is important to explore, just as children do when they are learning. Restoring one’s sense of play, or experience, imagination and delight, is a potent and incredibly effectual thing to do to combat the inner saboteur or perfectionist.
Another regular opponent of Dr Who is the Cybermen. I think I find these the most frightening because they touch on one of my own deepest wounds which is around the deadening of the self, the removal of individuality and in particular the removal of emotion. Like the Daleks, they too wish to attain perfection and order, and to achieve progress at any price and do so by favouring the brain, doing and action over being, feeling and compassion. There is no integration of mind, body, spirit and emotion (one of my great passions), there is only the over-ruling of the body and feeling by the mind and force. Unlike the Daleks, they don’t simply kill you, they take away all the parts of you which make you so beautifully human – all those wonderful feelings and imperfections – and turn you into a machine the same as all the other Cybermen.
In one episode, the way Dr Who defeated the Cybermen was to make them realise what had happened to them. He was deeply upset at how cruel this was to do but in order to save the rest of humanity he did it anyway. The realisation of what had happened to them sent the Cybermen into despair and madness at what they had lost and it destroyed them.
In terms of our own lives, all too often we live at the expense of our own bodies, feelings and of course our environment because our society is still in the habit of favouring logic, the rational, and progress at any price over the body, emotion and what is sustainable, individually and globally. It certainly does not need to destroy us to realise this, in fact quite the opposite! When we become aware of the fact that we are not living from our hearts, when we understand there is something vital missing from our lives, the things which give us most meaning – our passions, instincts, lust for life and love – then we can begin to recover those. It’s one of my greatest joys as a coach to help someone rediscover these aspects of themselves and to see the difference it makes to them.
A more recent addition to the Doctor’s list of deadly adversaries is the Weeping Angels: very scary! When you are looking at them, Weeping Angels are made of stone, so seem to be harmless. But when you turn your back, they move faster than you can think. You don’t see them coming and if you so much as blink, they’ve got you. And as soon as they touch you, you are zapped back into the past, alone and with no idea what has just happened. They let you live to death but living in another time and place – living someone else’s life instead of the one you were meant to have. And the Angels live off the potential energy left behind by the life you might have had had you not encountered them.
How many of us have lived parts of, or our whole lives, doing something because someone else wanted us to? Huge numbers of us! All too often we do what our parents want us to do, what society deems is the ‘right thing’, or have a picture of success in our minds which is not our own and so spend our lives doing, not what we want to do, not what we are passionate about but what we have been unwittingly ‘zapped’ into.
What if you could tap into all of that potential energy that the Angels live on and instead of giving it away, have it for yourself, for your own life, to create a life which has meaning and success to you? Well, that is infinitely possible! Start now. What are you passionate about? What do you love and long for? How can you bring more of it into your life?
A one-off enemy the Doctor faced was an Absorbaloff (!) which absorbed all the life from what it touched. I mention this because I think it is like a career or life which has no meaning but is a ‘hamster on a wheel’ existence for the sake of it. It ties in with the Weeping Angels because all of the energy for life is sucked out of you – though in this case it kills you. One of the top five regrets of the dying is that they wish they had lived a life true to themselves, instead of the life others expected of them, and another is regretting “spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence”*. Personally, I’d really rather not have these regrets which is why I work on what I love. It’s totally in my hands, and it is in yours too.
The final opponent I’d like to talk about is The Master, who is also a Time Lord and is a mirror for Dr Who, in many ways his most arrogant, powerful, insidious enemy who tries to destroy what is most important to the Doctor – and also wants the Doctor to look on, helpless to stop him. This is like the part of us which is incredibly magnificent but gets channelled into destructive behaviour or something wilfully meaningless, or the part which, when we get to a point of creating something of value in our lives, will come up with something, subtle or large, to distract, ruin or destroy what we are trying to create. This is the place of our own blind spots and is the most confronting of all the ‘enemies’ because it is what is inside ourselves, not something which comes from without. We all have a side to us which is potentially difficult, hostile, defensive, aggressive, afraid, wanting to play small, feels both inferior and superior and so on. It is by having greater awareness of that part of ourselves that helps us navigate our lives with more ease because we understand when we are acting from that place rather than our best selves. And we can again learn from Dr Who in this case, as when The Master had committed atrocious acts, Dr Who stopped him but did so with love, and connected with his ‘frenemy’ with compassion and forgiveness: the only thing I have ever found which helps that behaviour to change.
And so at last to the coach himself, Dr Who! One of the most instantly recognisable things about him is that he has a time machine which means the people who travel with him get to explore the past and future. At Life Talent, we too help people create positive visions of their future, even to literally step onto the timeline of their life and create a vision of purpose, meaning and success. We also look at the past when it holds the key to some present difficulty, is stopping someone move forward into their future with confidence, or when it contains a potential source of energy and power which is needed to support that positive future vision.
Dr Who also has wisdom, intelligence and experience, thinks on his feet, might have a plan but will improvise depending on circumstances, and encourages anyone he meets to be magnificent. He is totally unapologetic about, unafraid to be and unashamed to call himself totally fantastic which gives absolute permission to those around him to be the same. What an amazing role model! He does not pretend to be perfect or a guru, but is flawed, real, and, in spite of being an alien, is incredibly human. And, he regenerates instead of dying which means his face changes, so in a way it doesn’t really matter who (Who) he is, it is what he represents which is important, which is encouraging others to be their best selves. Yes, he swoops in and helps people to save the day, but the point is he helps people to save themselves from what is plaguing them – whether that be the inner saboteur, the dominance of the rational over the heart, or the living of a life without really living it. And he does this by helping people have experiences which show them that they too are already brilliant, they just need to realise and act on it.
I love this about being a coach. And it reminds me of one of my favourite quotes: “True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.”**
I always wanted to be Dr Who. It appears that doing the work I love brings me about as close to that ambition as I’m likely to get. How fantastic!
*The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware
** Nikos Kazantzakis, poet, writer & philosopher (1883-1957)
These famous lines speak to me deeply:
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way….Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!
-WH Murray, The Scottish Himalaya Expedition (1951)
Why shouldn’t this year be your best year yet? What stops you?
- Is it that last year was a miserable year for you and others, so this one might be more of the same?
- Is it that you have tried changing things in your life for years, and you haven’t managed to do it?
- Is it because of your husband/wife/child/elderly parent/being a single mum or dad?
Could it be because you don’t believe in yourself?
Where are you in your journey of development to having a fulfilling life and happiness? To what extent have you realised that the key ingredient is you? You determine, to quite a large extent, what happens to you in the future and, much more importantly, how you make meaning of what happens to you in the future.
Build a new identity that is capable of changing, growing and learning
Your current life is simply a reflection of your current sense of identity. How you live now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously).
To enable change to happen more easily, you need to start believing new things about yourself.
The key to stepping up to the mark and doing things differently in your life is to change your sense of who you are. You will only do things that you truly believe are possible, so make sure you have an identity in which your dreams are possible! If you change your identity (the type of person that you believe you are), then it’s easier to change what you are doing with your life.
Changing your view of who you are
Changing your beliefs about yourself isn’t nearly as hard as you might think. There are two steps.
- Decide the type of person you want to be.
- Prove it to yourself with small wins.
Start with incredibly small steps – this is key to creating new behaviours and new actions in your life. The goal is not to achieve results to start with. The goal is to become the type of person who can achieve those things.
Become the sort of person who could get these results. For example, I want to feel more confident as a writer so I can write my Life Talent book “Success from the inside out”. The small win I have committed to is to publish a “micro blog” of 100 words or more on Facebook every day, and a long blog (like this one) once a week. I have been doing it since December and I am really enjoying writing! I feel like a writer! Funnily enough, I am already a published author, but the habit of writing was never truly established in my identity.
To keep myself motivated to microblog on Facebook everyday, I reward myself in a tiny way: I have downloaded a free one page 2015 calendar in a Word document from the internet and every time I publish a micro-blog, I give the date fluorescent yellow shading. Now when I open the calendar, the amount of bright yellow shading in January jumps out at me and I feel proud.
To create a new habit that proves to you that you are the sort of person who can grow and change, find a very small step that takes less than two minutes. Why not get an enormous wall calendar and put smiley faces on it every day you act in the new way? Any habit that you create and maintain for more than 30 days in a row is likely to stick. The secret is to make the habit so small that you can do it without thinking about it.
Supposing you want to get more opportunities to at work to be involved in things that express your passion. Instead of waiting until you have the courage to give a dramatic presentation on it, come up with a short sentence which can be inserted into everyday conversation. For me it could be “I love helping people have great lives”; or “I came from a difficult family background, so I had to find myself, and I love helping other people make sense of their lives”. Wouldn’t it be fun to communicate your passion to someone every day this week at work? And guess what, one of these days, someone will pick up on it and suggest that you get more involved in a project that lets you use your passion. I was best man at a wedding in China and talked to my friend’s wife about what I love, which is this work. I now make six trips a year to teach it in China. I would never have guessed it, but If I hadn’t been talking about what I love, it would never have happened.
How can you be more of the person you want to be today?
Imagine the sort of person you want to be, make sure this is the sort of person who loves to learn and grow, who, like all of us, may fall flat on their face, but promptly picks themselves up again. Create a little video of this in your mind. Now, what would be a tiny action that you could repeat every day that would take you one tiny step closer to it? An action that would start to prove to you that you could be this person. If you have an identity that is capable of growing and developing and having the life you want, then change becomes much easier.
You may find it helpful to attend our workshop, the Personal Transformation Intensive to help you revitalise yourself, increase your confidence, improve the way you deal with difficulty, and turn what held you back in the past into resources for your future.
Should you want to go even deeper and really look at your psychological resources and your strengths; to build a new identity of someone who is developing and growing; and to reveal and heal the impact of anything that is disempowering in your life, then the Life Talent Programme is for you.
So, make THIS the year you decide to get a step-change in how you view yourself and your life.