The Power of Daily Change
The End is in the Beginning
“Consider not the present condition, but rather foresee the future and the end. A seed in the beginning is very small, but in the end a great tree. One should not consider the seed, but the tree and its abundance of blossoms, leaves and fruits.” Baha’u’llah
“We are going to Vancouver.”
It is 5:00 PM the day before the last day of school, the day of anticipation of the long awaited and deserved rest period. I have just arrived in my apartment and am about to lie down on the living room couch to get a few moments of rest. The phone rings. It is the executive secretary of the acting director. She tells me that I have a meeting with the executive committee of the school council the next morning. I fear the worst in the same manner that any of the 750 students do when an administrator suddenly pulls them out of the middle of a class. It must be bad, but I quickly dismiss it with a host of other reasons for the meeting. When I mention the call to my wife, she is certain that my fear will be realized. She calls our children in Vancouver to say that we may be spending the next year with them. Then we sit down at the dining room table to consult about our options should the worst actually occur. Should we stay or should we go? That is the question. We both agree to return to Vancouver if it happens. Our children are already leading cheers for the worst in hopes that our bad is their gain. We also talk about going to the Pantanal, a huge watershed in Brazil, known for wildlife observing if the worst does not happen. My wife begins to pack and make a list of all the household items we should sell. She is certain.
Before the meeting I tell her that in an hour I will tell her whether we are going to the Pantanal or to Vancouver. I walk into the meeting and realize that the end has come. They tell me that I am disconnected from the school. It is a strange word for me even in Portuguese to be disconnected as if I had ever been connected to them. They give a few reasons. I ask them why I haven’t been informed previously about the perceived weaknesses. They tell me that they have been giving me signs, but I haven’t been reading them correctly. At that point I know that any chance for justice is impossible. I arise from my chair, turn, and walk away.
From the meeting room to my wife’s classroom is about a 100-meter walk. I move slowly and deliberately trying not be noticed. The reality has not fully set in. I approach her door, gaze at her, and say, “We are going to Vancouver.” The words now spoken make the decision of the Council suddenly feel real. My voice cracks, tears begin to flow.
I am not expecting to make such a radical departure from Brazil, but it happens. The executive committee changes my life in a flash. It is traumatic. Like most traumas the first moments of shock seem rather unreal as in the death of a relative or close friend. It is a radical change, but not the one that I had planned for. Being fired as abruptly as I was alters everything, or does it?
As in previous traumas when I am suddenly forced to make a change, I begin by searching through the inspirational writings of my faith, the Baha’i Faith. In one of the mystical writings I find some solace. It recounts a story of a lovesick young man who is ready to end his life because he has lost his lover. He leaves his house in the middle of the night ready to be finished with his weariness, when, on a sudden, a watchman sees him and begins to chase after him. The weary lover begins a frantic attempt to escape by running as fast as he can. After awhile other watchmen enter the chase, and it seems as if his life will be ended not by his own hands, but by the guards. He comes to a dead end where the only choice he has to survive is to scale a huge wall. With all of the effort he can muster, he climbs the wall and leaps down to the other side. There he finds himself in a beautiful garden and before him is his lover holding a ring.
The writing goes on to say that if he had known his end in the beginning, he would have paid the watchmen a big sum of money, but as he was blinded, he could only moan and complain. He had been stuck in his grief, but the seeming injustice of the watchman became the cause of him finding his heart’s desire.
Since I am newly fired, my ears want no thought of paying riches to the executive committee for firing me as if it will be the cause of finding what I am truly looking for like in the story of weary lover, but this is the change I must make if I am to have a bright future. How is it possible to think positively when I have just been thrown out? I want revenge. My temporary solace is that all of my staff are angry, crying, and shocked. Their evaluation of me is 180 degrees opposite of the executive committee. A new leaf is about to turn over in the book of my life, full of bright and new opportunities and wonder, but right now I am sitting in huge pool of grief and anger.
I read the story of the weary lover again and again hoping that the brightness of the future will burn away the pain of the current moment. The pain lingers. I am worn out. I retreat to the living room couch and turn the TV on hoping it will dull the pain and let me forget for a little while.
How to get the bright lights of the future to turn back on again after having had such a dark thing happen is what ‘daily change’ is all about. Being fired, losing a loved one, having a devastating illness, or having all of your money stolen are tough. Imagine the difficulties of a child survivor of the great tsunami of 2004 who has lost his parents and all of his brothers and sisters. How is his light ever going to be bright again? Who wants to be hopeful about a future where the possibility of things being taken away is so great?
Lesson one in daily change is the belief that the future is bright; that there are unlimited possibilities ahead and that the greatest source of learning is the book of your own life, especially the dark chapters. No one wants painful difficulties, but everyone has them. It is part of being human. It is where the great learning is, the rich reference libraries from which you can do great research. A life without much negative experience has less potential for positive things to happen.
Lesson two is that lesson one about the future being bright is not a guarantee. Everyone learns his way to a bright future. There is no such a thing as a positive future that is just given to you. World peace is something that humanity is going to have to learn. It is not coming down from the clouds. If it were going to come down from the clouds, it would have already come. We need difficulties and challenges so that the future can keep growing in brightness. But just having difficulties is no guarantee that you will deal with them in the right way. Most people don’t. Most people are overcome by them. Tests are hard. Life can be hard, but getting to the bright side is worth all of the work.
Lesson three about having a brighter future is that the brighter it is, the brighter it can become. We used to think that a person’s potential was fixed. Now we understand that every time we actualize a new capability, we open the door for more positive capabilities that make things better. Therefore, change is done best, when it is done everyday. Don’t try to change all at once nor expect that world peace is going to come in one moment. The future is made better by making positive change habitual. Monumental change is done by changing everyday.
If I want to have big change in my life, then what I can do is just change everyday. I don’t have to have some great restructuring scheme or magical plan. What I need is the ability to make key changes everyday and when I consistently do that, they become huge. It seems to me that the great majority of us are trying to change by hitting the jackpot. We are hoping that one day we will win the lottery so that our whole life will be better. Executives often try to do a whole restructuring of companies or organizations to try to make their companies a lot of profit in a short period. It is certain that winning a large sum of money will change some things from one day to the next and that a company may get some short term growth by restructuring, but if a couple was fighting constantly as a way of resolving problems before they won the money, the money isn’t going to stop the fighting nor will restructuring solve the reason a company had the problems in the first place.
I am not against restructuring as a concept even though, like most of the people who are reading this book, I have lived through some really horrendous restructuring schemes. I wish that restructuring or winning the jackpot worked, but the premise just doesn’t make common sense to me. You can help the grass grow with fertilizer and sunshine and water, but you just can’t yank the plant out of the seed. When you make a physical restructuring of a company or win a big sum of money, you still basically have the same people running and working the company who haven’t yet made very many personal changes. The people who have won a large sum of money usually have the same bad strategies that kept them from having money before; so getting lots of it will just mean that they will use the same bad strategies with a lot more money. If they were used to losing their money very quickly before, now they will just lose a lot of it very quickly. Change, first and foremost, is about changing our own selves and the way we do things. When we change ourselves, the restructuring and the jackpots follow more naturally and actually work.
What should make you suspicious about restructuring, if you are not so already, is the fact that the people at the top keep getting wealthier while the people at the bottom become fewer. Now if a company would cut wages at the very top that would be radical change, but for the most part companies just replace one person with someone else who has been reared with basically the same strategies and then pay them more. Real change rarely occurs because you can’t get top executives who think that what they are making in comparison to the bottom is ludicrous. If you compare the growth of salary for someone, who is at the top, like a television anchorperson on major networks in the United States with the growth of salary of reporters or camera operators since the 1980s, you will see that the people at the top have grown in salary maybe 100 times what they were getting in the 1970s. The camera operators maybe have raised their salaries 1 time. If that doesn’t make you suspicious about the people at the top and their motives, I don’t know what will.
It is the spring of 1998. I have been fired from a job that I was in for 8 years where I have had nothing but very high evaluations. I am victim of restructuring. But right now that is not on my mind. I have about 6 kilometres to go in 42 k marathon in Vancouver and I feel like I am going to die. Some children offer me candy from the side of the road along the way which I take hoping that anything will spur me forward. I walk for a while, and then continue the run. At last as I approach the finish line the announcer calls out my name. I am in the middle of the pact of some 2500 runners. He is calling out my name over the PA system. I feel so encouraged. As I cross the finish line I find that I am overcome with emotion that I simply cannot explain. I am fired, but I am still running. I am on the wrong end of restructuring for the first time in my life. My future feels really bright. The small group who did the restructuring do not know it, but their days are numbered. Soon they will be gone as will the organization. It takes about 8 years before their doors are permanently closed. My running days have barely begun.
The idea of restructuring is that you can gain a lot of physical reward, by making sudden shifts in the physical structure. It is the same reason so many athletes want to take a drug to help their performance. Restructuring is like trying to take drugs to improve your life. At its best it gives short-term benefits. At its worst it kills us. It is a form of cheating; taking the easy way out and it just doesn’t work in the long term. If we attack a country to have a change of government believing that the change of government is going to greatly benefit the country overnight, we are in for a rude awakening. If the old government was characterized by cheating and corruption, restructuring is not going to change what is essentially a systemic process issue. There is always only one way forward in life, changing your own self for the better.
I wish I could just point a finger at the re-structurers in the world and tell them that they need to change, but the truth is, that as a member of the culture that created restructuring and lotteries, I am quite vulnerable to its way of thinking as well. I just want change right now really fast with a huge share of the rewards so that my life will be better and happier. I wish that I could say that I was completely free of restructuring thinking, but the truth is I am not and it would be difficult to find even one person who is not at least partially infected by its curse.
We are living in a time when two strategies of change, the jackpot-restructuring approach and the consistent process approach, are in a competitive struggle with each other. I have participated in many sports in my life and was in highly competitive sports all through high school. What we all worshiped was being number one, the winner, and we didn’t want to be second place, so when my high school football team came in second place in the state playoffs, it was extremely painful for me even though I can remember that it was one of the best games of my life and that we had had the best team in the history of the school. I was in playing very hard and doing some things that I hadn’t been able to do before, but because we lost, I felt dejected and heart-broken. I wanted the game to be the jackpot, to have it give me a lot of rewards, but we lost the game and I missed the point. Fortunately, in the 1970s a huge new movement of physical activity began in the world, a movement based upon the value of participation over the value of winning or losing. One of the manifestations of the movement was road running. Whereas before there were only a few crazy cross country runners, suddenly large numbers of people began training to run huge distances like 5 kilometres. With 1000 people in a race the chances of winning were very slim, but the joy of participating and winning a participation shirt drew large numbers into a field where before there had only been a handful. Although we still had the super athletes, the participation movement gave rise to the idea that every ordinary person was capable of changing their lives for the better. You could finish in the middle of the pack and feel fantastic because you made a huge effort and maybe set a personal best.
Although the 1980s saw the jackpot theory reappear more viciously with such ideas as trickle-down economics where the rich made a lot more money than ever before and where they were suddenly supposed to give it to everyone else, but to no one’s surprise kept it, participation as a dynamic since the late 90s has increased dramatically as a powerful force. People have taken to the streets in larger numbers than ever to improve themselves.
We have, on the one hand, a culture that rewards the best athletes, the top executives, the big stars with huge amounts of money. A person playing baseball can earn $10,000 just for playing one game for a couple of hours. A soccer player in Europe can earn $250,000 per week. On the other hand we have millions of people participating in sports like never before without the hope of any financial reward. They do it because they love it and the participation brings a lot of satisfaction about the growth they are experiencing.
A few people, on the one hand, have really hit the jackpot financially in the sports world or other financial worlds, and at the same time, millions and millions of people are hitting the participation jackpot as well, that is, they are reaping the rewards of change through constant participation.
We could argue for a long time about the justice of whether or not a player or company executive doing restructuring should earn so many 1000 times more financially than the ordinary participant. It hardly seems fair especially since the amount of effort isn’t a 1000 times more, but the purpose in writing about change is not to focus on justice or the need for it. The world is obviously in a state of extreme injustice. We have all probably been treated unjustly and been hurt in horrific ways by it. I don’t doubt that it will continue for some time to come. I am not interested at this point in history in restructuring the way we pay people especially how much more we pay a few people. What I am interested in is encouraging the movement that has already begun in the rest of us, the daily change movement. At some point, I am sure that the injustice will right itself because the force of the daily change movement, which is based in participation, will be just too large for the jack potters to resist and it is just so much more rewarding than the physical rewards.
We now stand on the threshold of creating a new culture, one where change is constant and daily and where we all take over the world and participate in it fully. Stay tuned for Chapter 1, What Are You Paying Attention To.