It is oft said : “the best predictor of the future is the past”
At the current time I am focussing on studying the Roman Stoics of around 2000 years ago. Their teachings are so relevant today and also at any time.
This is a site focussed on leadership. Humility is a key characteristic of being a leader others choose to follow, so let us all have the humility and invest the time to study and learn from the great leaders of our past.
Going back only 78 years, we have one of the greatest orators and leaders of the 20th century, a man who literally changed the course of world history through his insights and, far more, by his bravery in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and almost universal opposition around him. That man is Winston Churchill.
“You see, I have a condition,” Tom Hazard, the narrator of this engaging novel, confesses on page one. He is quasi-immortal. “I am old – old in the way that a tree, or a quahog clam, or a Renaissance painting is old. I was born well over four hundred years ago, on the third of March 1581 …” For every 13 or 14 human years, he ages one year. But far from bringing him godlike pleasure, his condition places him at a mournful distance from the rest of humanity, doomed to see everyone he loves age and die.
From this premise our protagonist takes us back and forth through time, through the journey of his life.
As one can imagine, there is much self-examination of what it means to live such a long time.
I actually listened to this as an audiobook, as I somehow found it as the BBC featured it as their “book at bedtime” and I could download it from their radio iPlayer. I do love the BBC !
Love is the key to life, and loving life too. Fantastic plot device for the author to work with. I won’t spoil the plot, simply to say that the last few pages have so many exquisite lines in there, tying everything together.
The book is also a reminder of this quote :
“Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.” ~ Michel de Montaigne
As the adage goes, when you are flying and the safety announcements are going on, they say “in the event of a sudden drop in air pressure… put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others”.
Loved Matt’s book, and the reminder of the lesson from Montaigne.
In supporting leaders in gaining clarity of their vision for themselves and their busiess, I’ve often used the phrase “if you don’t know where you are going, all roads will take you there”. As you can see, though, Seneca spoke of this two thousand years ago !
Of all the books I read and recommend to others, top of the list is Man’s Search for Meaning. There is so much in this short volume to recommend, and at the core of it is Frankl’s philosophy that our core driver is to find meaning in life (which ties back to the Japanese concept of Ikigai, written about a number of times on my site, including here)
One of the core themes in the book is so relevant to leaders. I frame it as “are you “response-able””.
Frankl writes :
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
I’ve heard leaders argue that they are under stress, they have too much to do, that others don’t understand what it is like. The first half of Frankl’s book tells his story of surviving in a nazi concentration camp. He was able to respond.
On a perhaps more relatable level for us, yet still literally unbelievable for many, an astonishing ultra-endurance athlete called Mark Beaumont in September 2017 smashed the world record for cycling around the world, beating the mythical “Around the World in 80 days” by riding 18,049 miles in 78 days and 14 hours. Do your own calculations on this. Unthinkable indeed !
After completing the ride, Mark did a 35″ interview with Global Cycling Network and a lot of it was about the physical endurance needed for the ride. Amazing though those elements of the interview were, what really struck me was Mark’s mental approach.
Listen from 5:54 to 7:15 here , where he talks about : “once you are fully committed….your ability to complete is your ability to suffer…..”
Also from 14:13 to here, including “after you are two or three weeks in…the body has an amazing ability to adapt…if you’ve not broken down and had to stop after the first two or three weeks”. Yes, he is talking about ignoring injuries and the mental fortitude of getting through the first TWO OR THREE WEEKS with injuries etc. Unreal.
I’ve known Mark for some years and always been inspired by him. Inspirational level of self-knowledge gained through his global adventures. I can imagine Mark would only very rarely react, rather than be response-able, whatever comes his way.
How about you, looking honestly at self, are you able to respond or do you react ? If you have worked for or with a leader who tends to react, what is the impact on you and others ?
Of all the books I recommend to others, top of the list are Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, which I wrote about here in the Unthinkable series I wrote on Linked In), and next on the list is The Alchemist.
I tend to pick up this book at least once a year and read it again, and every time I read it I find new learnings and meaning.
“when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Yes, this sounds like an inspirational quote theme, and perhaps so, yet within the context of Coelho’s poetic writing, this and many other thoughts create much meaning for the reader.
The plot ? Almost irrelevant.
Trust me, pick up this short novel and dive in. Everyone takes multiple meanings and lessons from it.
Recently I wrote a post called “What do you do ?“, where I voiced some frustration at the emptiness of the energy behind the question people always ask in London when they meet someone for the first time.
Contemplating this, I realising that “what I do” is look for ways to help others. I have interesting conversations with interesting people, explore, flow, and always look to find some way to be of value to them, whether it is by co-creating with them, or perhaps by connecting or introducing them to an idea, person, concept, story or simply a book.
Sometimes after I explain this people look, then ask again: “yes, but what do you DO?”, meaning what do I do to earn money in the world and how to you go about it.
That one I find more difficult. Yes, I work 1:1 with leaders as a sounding board, and currently I’m super excited to be launching a peer group to scale that further than the 1:1. However, where do those people come from ? That is where people can get confused. You see, I simply go out in the world looking to help people and everything seem to work out from there.
This seems to intrigue people, so then I remembered Adam Grant’s book “Give and Take” and have been recommending it often ! (more…)