I was young and this
was a nightmare job. Bosses stealing
from each other. Contracts written
painstakingly to deceive customers.
Everyone had secrets, and no one was talking. One day my boss called me
into his office and shut the door. He
asked me whether a key client I had been handling was going to sign a big
contract. I told him I didn’t know. He
reached slowly into his desk drawer and pulled his hand out in the shape of a
gun. Pointing his finger at my head he
said, “Bam you’re dead. I used to keep a
.38 in there. I guess this is your lucky
day.” He wasn’t smiling. I quit the next
day but that was after a year and a half of abuse.
What was my part in
this story? How come I did nothing for so long? Well like the lobster who keeps
adjusting to the raising temperature until its too late I couldn’t find my
voice and say “that’s not acceptable.”
If I could have been
my own coach I would suggest an elemental diagnosis as described in our book The Elements of Persuasion. I would have
diagnosed the problem as a lack of earth. Next I would reflect on the physical
sensations, emotional feelings and negative voices in my head occurring when
confronting my boss. For instance one voice in my head was resigned and kept
telling me “This is how bosses behave, so get used to it.” The more resigned I
was the more my boss pushed and bullied me. By not speaking up I was telling
him the non-verbal story that I was a pushover. I needed to put my roots down and
realize that other opportunities would come my way. I could do better.
My belief is that you
don’t have to linger for years in bad situations. Have the confidence to tell a
new story to your bully. Speak your mind. But first pay careful attention to
your body, emotions and the voices in your head.
When I lived in Japan I studied the Tea Ceremony with Soen Nakagawa Roshi. The tea ceremony is an ancient art and ritual practiced for over a thousand years. Powdered green tea is placed in bowls called chawan. Some bowls are over 400 years old and the great bowls were hand thrown by master potters who spent a lifetime perfecting their art. The tea master ladles hot water into the bowl and vigorously whisks the tea into froth with a bamboo brush. This could be the original Chai latte. As the master hands the tea to each guest he turns the bowl so that a tiny flaw or imperfection in the finish of the bowl is visible to the guest. As the bowls were fired in kilns they developed flaws in their finish. Rather than throwing the bowls away they are revered and valued. The flaws represent the unpredictable forces of nature. These imperfections were most valuable because they pointed to forces beyond human control which mark each bowl as unique.
Jeff Pulver was an extremely shy child. He had trouble going to his friend’s birthday parties and socializing. He spent many years as a lonely kid with few friends. He became a geek and turned to technology to expand his horizons. Yet in the back of his mind he realized that he wasn’t alone. There were others out there feeling lonely and isolated. He was driven to find easy and inexpensive ways to connect people. First Jeff turned his attention to developing an internet phone company. He was one of the founders of Vontage. Now Jeff has turned his attention to helping people come together. He travels around the world sponsoring breakfasts. I went to a recent breakfast in LA and had a blast. Jeff has created a safe place for people to come together and share stories and maybe end up as friends. He uses all the devices of social media such as Twitter and Facebook to let his fans know where he’ll be and what’s next. Jeff has over 5000 friends on Facebook alone. For a shy and lonely kid this ain’t bad. Jeff turned his flaw of shyness into his passion for connecting people.
We’re all flawed. Usually our first response is to turn away with feelings of guilt and shame. Can we take a lesson from the ancient art of tea and realize that our flaws may be the very thing we need to contemplate. Perhaps our flaws are to be seen like a window where the powerful and unpredictable forces of nature help us express our creativity.