I ran out of battery on my iphone this afternoon while sitting in starbucks.  I was waiting for 2 people.  I had to stay.  It was good that I ran out of battery, because I ended up looking at Tibidabo mountain for 30 minutes and thinking about life.

I was thinking about my post on Fear of an Ordinary Life from yesterday and the responses that it generated.

The Origin of a Fear of Ordinary

Where did this fear of living an ordinary life come from?

I read intensely as a child.  I would read anything, but by far my favourite type of novel were the fantasy or science fiction novels where a young unknown hero saves the universe.

From age 7, I watched Star Wars repeatedly.  I would watch 10 to 15 minutes each morning during breakfast before going to school.  The books are terrible, this was a movie world not a book world.

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The final Dune book, in my hands today

Starting from age 11, I read fantasy books.  My favourite fantasy world of all was Dune.  I found Dune aged 12.  There are 8 books (I still have them here on my bookshelf) in the series.  We follow the life of Paul Muad’ib from his life as an unknown son of a small time aristocrat to his becoming the Divine Emperor of the entire known galaxy, including mystical powers of telling the future and reading other people’s minds.  I fancied myself as a version of Paul.  I tried the mental skills that he was taught in the book.  Never did work.

Didn’t stop me imagining. As a teenager, I read the Dune books twice; from start to finish.  Each time, it was a 6 month journey.  (I have only ever read 3 books twice:  Dune, Lord of the Rings and Steinbeck’s East of Eden.)

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The bottom of my bookshelf

I remember the first time I finished the Dune books, I searched everywhere to see if there might be a ninth book.  There was no google, no amazon – only my local library and local bookshops.  When I realised that it was over, that there was no more adventure to be had in the fantasy world of Dune (and that Frank Herbert had passed away…  the final book was finished by someone else) I was devastated.

Real life never felt as intense or as alive as the experiences that I was living in these book-based worlds of fantasy.

In the real world, I went to school (boring), did my homework (boring), climbed trees (fun), ate breakfast, lunch and dinner (alway enough and healthy).

I think it is this immersion in these fantasy worlds for much of my childhood that shaped my fear of living a life that is ordinary.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

The Fantasy Worlds I Lived In

The Author’s & series that I loved during the ages of 10-15 (in order of preference):

  1. Frank Herbert – Dune Series
  2. Isaac Asimov – The Foundation Series
  3. Terry Brooks – Sword of Shannara
  4. Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game
  5. Tolkien – Lord of the Rings
  6. Stephen Donaldson – Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
  7. Arthur C Clarke – 2001 Space Odyssey

Imagine looking back at the age of 75 and realising that you chose the wrong thing to live for?  Realising that all those years of work and sacrifice were for something that you now do not value?

Living to Please Elizabeth

Over at the excellent Art of Manliness blog there is a recent post about Walter Raleigh.  He was of the best of his age: smart, connected, quick-witted and strong. He sought a life of fame and fortune.

He decided that pleasing Queen Elizabeth was the path to success.  He sacrificed time with his family, sold himself short on his own values… anything to keep pleasing the Queen.  He found riches and fame for a time…

Eventually Elizabeth tired of him and had him thrown into The Tower of London.  He never left the tower.

We Find What We Seek

My favourite novel is Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge”.

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The Razor’s Edge book cover

The Razor’s Edge tells the story of Larry, an American pilot deeply changed by his experiences in World War I.  Larry rejects the conventional, safe path that awaits him and lives in search of meaning.

He is surrounded by 5 main characters: Isobel, Gray, Elliot, Sophie and Maugham himself (who is both author and a central character in the book).

Isobel seeks financial security.  Although deeply in love, she breaks her engagement to Larry once she sees that he will not follow the path of financial security.  She marries Gray, a millionaire stockbroker and heir to a fortune.  She sacrifices love for money.  Gray will go on to lose his fortune.

Elliot wants to be part of aristocratic society.  He will do anything to be invited to the right parties and will sacrifice anything in order to be around people with titles.  As he lies dying, not a single one of his aristocratic friends makes the trip to visit him.  Elliot dies alone.

Sophie drifts into Larry’s life.  She has fallen into alcohol and promiscuity after her family life fell apart.  Larry tries to save her, but triggers Isobel’s jealousy.  Sophie is alcohol-free with Larry, but Isobel tempts her back with a bottle of vodka.  One bottle triggers a collapse into complete alcoholism.

Maugham ends suggesting that all the characters got what they desired: “Elliott achieved social eminence, Isabel achieved a secure position, Sophie, death, and Larry found happiness.”

What are you searching for?  You will find it.

* Photo of The Razor’s Edge – Source Wikimedia under Fair use

Simplifying Leadership

I am sharing a new book and a short video by a friend of mine, Bill Treasurer.  The book is called “Leaders Open Doors” and is a short, simple answer to the question: what do great leaders do for those around them?  

I first met Bill over 20 years ago on an Accenture (then Andersen Consulting) training program in Chicago.  We were put on the same team and enjoyed the fun and challenges of 2 weeks of intense, sleep deprived, project work.

Since then, Bill has become a well known speaker and author.  Bill is the author of Courage Goes to Work, an internationally bestselling book on courage building. Bill is also a former member of the U.S. High Diving Team, a cancer survivor, and a champion for the rights of people with disabilities. Bill currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and three children.

Leaders Open Doors

Transcript of Bill’s talk

But the reality is we’ve inflated this idea of leadership too much and after twenty years I had a conversation with a very wise person that brought me back to the essence of what leadership is really all about I had a conversation with my five-year-old son.

Now Ian, at the time, was a five year old at the preschool the Montessori School and Asheville North Carolina where I live. I came home and my wife said “hey honey Ian got to be the class leader today!”

“A class leader!” My son.

I’m the guy who goes around teaching leadership and my son got to be the class leader.

“Son give me a high five! What’s it like to be a leader? What did you get to do as a class leader Iain?”

He looked at me and with 7 words he cut through to what matters most about leadership.   He looked at me and said: “I got to open doors for people”

I get to open doors for people.

I thought about it for a couple of days… I kept thinking about that concept: leaders opening doors.  I thought about the leaders who had made a difference in my life; and there are always people that have taken an interest in me and nudged me into discomfort; sometimes to help me be accountable to my own potential… they believed in me until I start to believe in myself.

I can live up to, and into, my potential.   Leaders to open doors… and I thought about that concept and it turned into a book. “Open-door Leadership” is about serving people and organisations by creating opportunities for them to grow and develop.

What if leadership was that simple?  What if that’s the central idea? Leadership is serving others. Leadership is not about the leader, it is about those being led.  What are you going to do in the service for them?