“They say that these are not the best of times, but they are the only times I have ever known.”
~ Billy Joel, Summer, Highland Falls
These are challenging times we live in for sure. There is no need to make a long list of what is challenging, as we all have our own lists and could easily become fatigued by such acknowledgments. Instead, this article is the beginning of series of articles about how to live well in challenging times.
I’m Doc Klein. For over forty years, I have dedicated my life to helping people create new habits. Much of that time has involved working with Outward Bound as an instructor, course director, program manager, and eventually as the Director of the Kurt Hahn Leadership Center.
Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound, started Outward Bound with the intention of providing powerful learning experiences that compelled young people into action during times such as these. One of his most well-known quotes states: “There is more to us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.”
Create Your Life
One of the key habits in my book 12 Life-Giving Habits for Life After Outward Bound is Create Your Life Versus React to Reality. This tenet is at the heart of living well in challenging times. We can either react to events that happen in our lives or create the events that compel us into our desired future.
For example, I suspect all of us want safe school communities that allow all kids to thrive and flourish. This could be accomplished by creating smaller schools where no one falls through the cracks. Every student would get personal attention and real counseling, and a culture of community would be created to support one another during the ups and downs of school life. If someone started to withdraw or go AWOL, they would be noticed, and interventions from the community would be provided.
Reacting to Life
A reactive option would be to arm our teachers, put in metal detectors, and create fencing around schools. However this sounds like our prisons, and learning in a prison environment is not always conducive to safety and positive mental health. The first approach is a creative orientation to living well in challenging times, and the second is a reactive one.
To pay for these smaller schools and services, we would have to get creative for sure, but the point is that we need to imagine the world we want to create versus just reacting to the world we do not like.
Someone once told me to buckle up and face reality. I responded, “I want to face reality with compassion and love and not just armor and weapons.”
Learning How to Create Versus Problem Solve
The first step in creating involves using your imagination to paint a clear picture of the world you most want to live in, including your desired outcomes/results. This can be hard to do when we have never fully experienced the world we want to live in before.
Many of us are not use to using our imaginations. I use to teach a course called The History of the Future. During this course, I would ask each student to imagine three possible future lives. “Our future is not fixed,” I would tell them, “it has many possible outcomes depending on our actions.”
I would have them create the history of events that would lead to each of these futures. This practice required research and interviewing others who had traveled their potential paths before. The important thing to realize is that if you cannot see where you want to go, anywhere will do.
In creating our lives, we do not want to settle. We want a future where we thrive and flourish. We want to be part of communities that thrive and flourish too. That may look different to each of us. However, there are core elements that all people desire – wellbeing, interesting work, and respect in the places they live and work.
Grounding Your Desired Future in Current Reality
The second step is to ground your vision of your desired future in your current reality. This involves creating an accurate snapshot of where you are. This step is not about just identifying what is not working, but also describing what is working well that we can build on. If you are paddling in a river and say to the others around you, “Whatever you do, do not hit that rock!” nine times out of ten, they will hit the rock. People need to know what they are aiming for versus what they want to avoid.
To be honest with our current reality, we need to look accurately at what we are doing well and what we are not doing well to manifest the desired future. Pointing fingers at others and hoping they change rarely leads to results that matter. If everyone looked accurately at our current reality, each person would be focused on his or her contributions to the desired future.
When I describe current reality, I also seek to describe things accurately by describing facts, perceptions, and feelings. Differentiating facts from perceptions, for example, helps us sort through what are stories we have concocted from our limited perspective and what is actually true. It can be hard sometimes to do this in our age of spin and half-truths, but genuine curiosity and research can often expand our understanding of reality. Feelings and intuition often play a critical role in our decision-making and to ignore this will get us into trouble.
Lastly, we must choose high-impact actions, not just strive for low-hanging fruit. Getting relief feels good temporarily, but high-impact actions often involve a shift in our mindsets and our comfortable ways of being in the world. High-impact actions are essentially where small thoughtful efforts with multiple actors in the system lead to big results.
There is rarely a single solution to our intractable social problems, but living well in challenging times involves clear vision and results, honest assessments of our current reality, and choosing high-impact actions that lead to results. This can be applied on a personal level as well as at a community or systems level.
We cannot live well in isolation. Given our dependence on our community to help sustain our basic needs, we must learn to work together to find common ground and the life-giving habits that sustain our collective efforts. Our collective efforts, make our individual lives more vibrant and our individual contributions make our communities more vibrant as well.
The 12 Life-Giving Habits Program provides services and resources designed to help you experience an Amazing Year. Led by the founder and president Kevin “Doc” Klein, a thirty-five year veteran of Outward Bound, our team of passionate educators and entrepreneurs is constantly finding ways to help people of all ages thrive and flourish. It is our mission and our aspiration to create a movement of compassionate citizens who are in service of lifting individuals and communities up to their highest aim.