28 Years Old – What Have I Learned?
The following is a stream-of-consciousness narrative about finding a purpose so compelling that I stuck with it, no matter the challenges and circumstances.
After 28 years of helping people find their ideal purpose and helping them orchestrate their success, I will do my best to share what I believe can be helpful in a world that continues to change more rapidly every day.
My story begins on Saturday, September 15, 1990. George Bush Sr. is in office and many of the people we serve today were still a glimmer in God’s eye.
I stand in front of 36 participants to deliver the first Inspired Work Program. Candidly, I felt like a fraud. But, I was fortunate enough to know the back story from many of the world’s greatest success stories in human potential. Napoleon Hill, of the Think and Grow Rich fame offered up the secrets of success that industrialist Andrew Carnegie had personally shared with him and him alone. The truth is they never met. In fact, Hill regularly had to flee from towns when his newest scams caught up with him.
But, his work paved the way for science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard to invent Scientology. His volunteers led people to insights by asking questions while they interpreted the feedback from a 50s era electric meter, all at a price.
One of their students was the used-car salesman, John Rosenberg. He didn’t much like his life and one morning while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, John had an epiphany. He decided to re-package the curriculum from Scientology into a group program called EST. He quickly abandoned his family and changed his name to Werner Erhard. Today, Mr. Erhard lives in Switzerland, the one country that outlaws Scientology.
What did I learn from these deeply imperfect individuals?
Far too many of us wait to get better, to become more educated before making a difference, to do whatever we can to change the ills within our society. But, this compulsion usually happens when someone actually connects with the truth in meaningful and cogent ways. Recently, I congratulated one of our graduates for having the courage to launch a business that is now on its way to becoming a category leader.
He responded, “Courage? I had no choice!”
When we define the truth of what we are here to do or born to do, the other options fall away. That is also the purpose that can successfully drive anyone through a world of accelerating change.
In 1990, human potential seemed like a good idea. But, the very words imply an experience that can be high on drama and low on deliverables. The coaching industry was just beginning. So, many people have referred to me as a coach and for a long time, I went with it kind of like a line item. But, the most accurate description of what my life is about is as an orchestrator. I help people define what they want and then help orchestrate their success. A spiritual master that I once met had been a violinist. He said, “I used to tune violins and now I tune people’s souls.” I prefer orchestration, which gives room for a person to play their music straight from their hearts.
28 years ago, I had no alternative.
As a young adult, I had become used to big disappointments. I grew up in a violently awful adoptive home. A year before I anxiously walked through that hotel lobby, a long and impactful relationship came to a surprising end. I had quit my day job as a staffing executive because I had finally been given a recording contract. Six weeks later, my producer dropped dead of a heart attack. He was 37 years old and a visionary.
Virtually every conversation we had was about changing the world. One morning, I was looking at the ocean from my home in Malibu and envisioning all we were accomplishing when the phone rang. It was his girlfriend, hysterical. He had walked to the bottom of the stairs leading into their living room and dropped dead. Gone. One moment. The biggest gift in his passing was in realizing I had devoted most of my early adult life towards being happy…in the future. How many of us sacrifice each precious moment on the notion it will all turn out in the end?
I realized I knew nothing of value about being happy in the present. Lyman and I had talked less than a day before. We were going to change the world. From a certain lens, Inspired Work began in a rather maudlin fashion. I had been engaged in Cherie Carter-Scott’s work, which was all about asking people the kind of questions that connected them with their truth. Every morning, I walked out to the beach with a notepad and asked questions under a heading, “My Miserable Life.” Really. In Malibu.
During days of journaling, I came to the truth that work, for most of us, is the biggest relationship that we have. But, the industrial revolution, which, just as a reminder, lasted 300 years, conditioned us to view work as simply a source for survival and predictability. So many of us, while growing up, reached that age when we thought about becoming adults and voiced what our soul suggested we could do with our lives. A parent, faithfully representing what they were told to do passed on the message: “Don’t be you.”
The journaling led to a curriculum and I asked some very brilliant people for their views on work. We created a model. It became clear that a great relationship towards our work would require a unique definition in terms of roles, gifts, values, morals, point-of-view, and interest. That led to insights that the reason so many people have remained stuck is they had not adopted the life skills that make any career successful. It is hard to motivate people without that purpose in place. So, the curriculum had to become a seduction of helping people define what they really wanted to do with their lives and used that enthusiasm to take on skills that would often produce a period of discomfort. It was a blend that would lead to a role which often resembles a midwife.
I was, however, a salesman. We managed to get 3-dozen people into that first room through sheer chutzpah and hubris. As I walked in the door of the hotel, time switched into slow motion and I greeted people coming in the door possibly a bit like a zombie with a perpetual smile. My greatest fear was that nothing would happen. However, my terror grew to a whole new level when it worked powerfully. Every program since has had the same elements of truth-telling that exponentially grows with each passing hour. After each question session, narratives emerged that moved all of us. People talked about their hidden aspirations, spiritual DNA, about taking what came from the heart and packaging it in practical and actionable ways. The experience was so profound that many of those first participants have been friends ever since.
When the last person left, I walked to the parking garage, got into my little red BMW, tried to turn the key and realized I was in no position to drive. Up until that moment, I had felt, at best, conditional value as a human being. It was a legacy from an abusive childhood, one that included the additional message most adoptive children have and that is one of disloyalty. I invested much of my early life in trying to not only run away from that but to become a better person by helping others. Do you want to heal? Go help someone.
That, my friends, is the first truth I have to share from almost 3 decades of commitment to this work.
A few years ago, my ex-boss reached out for lunch at Hotel Avalon, by the pool. I hadn’t seen her in 25 years. She had sold her staffing company and become a celebrated artist. Her installations are in museums throughout the world. When she walked in the door of that restaurant, I was stunned at how youthful and beautiful she looked. We hugged and sat down. But, before I could say one word she asked, “What is it like for you to wake up in the morning?”
“What do you mean?” I responded.
“David, your work has touched thousands of lives. What is it like to wake up to that every morning?”
“It feels like redemption.”
Our eyes locked and at that moment we saw each other. Understanding. Grounded-ness. It happened.
So, if this was my last moment on earth, what would I want to share with you, my beloved readers?
1. Each and every one of us is born with a purpose. It is a form of spiritual DNA that isn’t duplicated in anyone else. Find it. Because, when you do, life comes together, life takes on meaning, and work becomes a source of tremendous joy.
2, Many people don’t take the initiative to define what they really want to do with their lives because they believe, on some level, that the right people will not help them. However, once we define what we want to do, our success is based purely on the quality of help that we get.
3. Work is our biggest relationship. Treat it with the same respect and give as much nourishment to our purpose as we give to our most precious relationships. In so doing, we become better role models to the people we love.
4. The rate of change has thrown almost half of working Americans into underemployment. There has never been a time that is more important than to learn how to change oneself, to learn the skills of reinvention and to learn how to master the kinds of personal change that make our lives vividly better.
5. Technology isn’t taking away work. It is eliminating tasks. From that vantage point consider the possibility that technology is offering us freedom. Now, what do you want to do with that freedom?
6. Everyone, no matter their politics, economic class, educational background or religion has a spirit, an entity that when given the opportunity, takes the high road. I have witnessed that progression thousands of times. It is a power that makes our differences superficial.
There have been many, many extraordinary humans that have supported us and helped me in good times as well as difficult periods. Today, I think of the late Dr. Howard House. I met Howard at the House Ear Institute, which he founded. It is the world’s most influential organization in the restoration of hearing. We periodically got together. He was fascinated with what I was doing and I was floored at his impact on people who wanted to hear. Our friendship included moments standing together in their learning center.
One day, there was a young woman being taught how to understand English. Her husband was standing next to us with tears streaming down his face. They had traveled from New Zealand for the surgery. where a young woman was being taught a language. Her husband was with us watching.
I turned to him and asked, “What were the first words you said?”
Of course, he responded, “I love you.”
Howard was approaching his 90th birthday and I asked, “Why do you keep showing up and devoting your life to this cause?”
He said, “Oh, I want to see their faces when they hear for the first time.”
“That magic has never worn off?”
“It is the same for me. I get to be there when their life purpose all comes together, whether it is new or forgotten, I get to be there.”
That is redemption.
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