2015 November

Teens Lifting Their Community

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jeffbannerSparrow Clubs change the lives of the givers and receivers. I am honored to have written about Jeff Leeland, the founder, and his son, Michael, the present director of this organization, in The Gift of Courage. Their story is a model of courage, caring, and giving.

The Sparrow Clubs’ school community approach empowers teens to help people truly in need. A school adopts a child in their town-their “sparrow”-who has serious medical challenges. The students provide services and raise money for the family of the sick child in order to reduce financial and other burdens facing the family. By lifting one person and one family in their hometown, the entire community is raised. Watching this video should lift you up as well: http://www.katu.com/news/local/Everyday-Heroes–Stand-up-for-Elijah–284949601.html?mobile=y


My Business Broke My Heart

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Business Broke My HeartThis year, the commercial real estate brokerage company I own will facilitate over $100,000,000 in transactions, for clients worth billions. Before creating and building this company, for nearly two decades I owned and operated an international rafting and adventure travel business, running trips from Bolivia to Baja and Norway to the Pacific Northwest. Most people see these industries as very different in terms of focus (money versus lifestyle), employees (white collar versus no collar), and culture (stiff versus loose). I was one of those people. As a broker rather than a guide, I at one point viewed myself as a pursuer of things shallow and selfish rather than a provider of inspiring and life-changing events.

I felt empty and drove myself nuts in the early years of brokerage. I had left an industry that I adored, believing that my young family needed more financial stability and material comfort to thrive. Guiding rafts did not meet my idea of what a father should be doing. I let go of a job that matched my entrepreneurial DNA and moved into one that felt ignoble and misguided in its singular pursuit.

There are not many jobs like owning a rafting company, where virtually every moment is heart driven. You are part of a community regularly reminded by your “uniform” of how precious each day is: we wore life jackets to work. It was easy to wake up each morning with passion and purpose as I provided guides and clients alike with trips that lifted spirits and unveiled goodness in each other, the result of having fun and tackling exciting challenges in beautiful places.  Our whitewater trips helped grow local economies, empowered people to work as a team, left clients in awe, and spurred guests to create a life that really meant something to them and to the rest of the world. In my years as a guide and outfitter, I can’t tell you how many times I heard, and told myself, “You are so lucky to be able to do this.”

No one has uttered that phrase to me as the owner of one of the most successful brokerage firms in the Northwest. The thought did not cross my own mind for years, either, as I grew weary of colleagues and clients who would put their heart on the shelf during negotiations. For some reason, it was acceptable in our business to wall off interpersonal traits that I know we each have. For some reason, kindness and consideration—that are apparent in other aspects of lives, as evidenced by how we compassionately raise our kids and fairly treat our friends—did not apply here. I did not understand or accept this disconnection but sometimes even found myself rationalizing my own ego- or profit-driven behaviors. At times it broke my heart. Professionally, I broke my own heart. But, I discovered a deeper truth in the pain.

After several years of hollow and unfulfilling days, I realized that regardless of the industry any business could be heart directed. It came to me in my car on the side of the road after a nasty “circular” conversation with a broker representing a buyer of my client’s property. My clients were in their 80’s, had run an auto electric shop for many, many years, and were now interested in selling the real estate they owned to operate their business. They were kind and shrewd and never ill willed. After the other broker repeatedly threatened legal action if my clients did not recommit to selling their property, I unraveled. This was a broker who was not interested in what really mattered to two folks well into their retirement. He only wanted the deal to proceed to his client’s benefit. I stopped talking in circles, melted down, and grew resolve. For the last time on my watch decency took a back seat to dollars.

There was no reason to honor industry philosophies and practices if in my gut I knew they weren’t needed or right. As an outfitter I had long helped people feel comfortable, safe, happy, and rewarded in often very challenging and scary situations. I always took their heart and soul into consideration. It dawned on me again—and now permanently—that holding one’s heart was infinitely more important than following an ideal that could spiritually and financially hurt people. I knew as I sat on the side of the road that I would never allow anyone’s heart to be ignored in real estate or any other business I owned, no matter what the transaction.

It was an overnight change. I asked myself and others to use a true gauge, to measure what really mattered. I reminded my employees and partners that there is no reason to replace what you feel in your chest with what you hope for in your wallet. We are each intuitively wired to be compassionate and connected to others. This is what secures our survival. Disregarding this essence happens only when ego-driven pursuits overpower heart-driven motivations. But one person’s gain at another’s loss—financial or spiritual—is not a global net gain. It is a community “wash,” or worse, and never pans out to growth for all. Success is best celebrated with others and there is no such thing as true success if it comes at some expense of another. In my world, “just business,” where disregarding another for the sake of personal gain, is unacceptable.

Our company motto is “Community before commodity.” We live it and we are spreading it. It feels great to change an industry where honest and honorable relationships struggle to form due to egregious focus on material gain. It feels great to bring heart to life.

This year, the commercial real estate brokerage company I own will facilitate over $100,000,000 in transactions, for clients worth billions. Before creating and building this company, for nearly two decades I owned and operated an international rafting and adventure travel business, running trips from Bolivia to Baja and Norway to the Pacific Northwest. Most people see these industries as very different in terms of focus (money versus lifestyle), employees (white collar versus no collar), and culture (stiff versus loose). I was one of those people. As a broker rather than a guide, I at one point viewed myself as a pursuer of things shallow and selfish rather than a provider of inspiring and life-changing events.

The Genesis of Change

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candle light macro
You are only one small heart-driven act away from sparking significant cultural change.

The human race is just that. It is a match against our selves. Will compassionate heart-to-heart cultures lift us all or will destructive, head-to-head approaches bring us down?

Our enlightened evolution–to the point where we no longer fight to survive but can unite to thrive–is dependent on us. We have repeatedly shown ourselves capable of doing what is right in the face of wrong. Now is the time to take this to the next level, by not waiting to overcome adversity but by proactively enlivening ourselves to most humanely grow.

All significant cultural change is started not by a movement, but by a small community of heart-driven people doing what they know is right, and who then fuel a movement. It is you and I and a few others sitting down to make a plan and acting on what matters that sparks change. It is a collection of heart-to-heart collectives that will save us from ourselves by empowering us to locally and globally flourish. It is community that will help us win the human race.

Most inaction is the byproduct of the desired result being seen as too big to achieve. For example, losing two pounds by the first of the month by working out two days a week seems much more realistic than getting into shape to run an Ironman by the end of the year. Breaking it down into bite-sized pieces makes achievement more possible.

A small group of like-hearted people wanting local school kids to get healthier is far more realistic than fixing national childhood obesity. This group–of two or twenty–meet and create a plan, which is then communicated to others. This grows into a small community–defined as a group of people united by an idea. Here, change takes hold. Local growth and a positive movement is born of this small act, this initial gathering where an idea was shared. It can then grow into something bigger–for example, a collection of these micro-communities focused on local childhood health creates a expansive regional effort focused on the same–and the movement gains traction and more power.

Small communities can create powerful local change. And you and I are the spark, by simply sharing an idea or concern with another, to ignite the growth.

Heart to Heart: Creating Compassionate Communities

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Heart to Heart
In a pattern that repeated itself daily for tens of thousands of years, our ancient predecessors pursued prey or herded livestock, fed their children and watched them laugh and play, ate the fruits of their labor, crawled under a rawhide blanket with their mate, made love, and fell asleep. They knew what they could accomplish by the cycle of the sun, which was focus on today, rest for tomorrow, and gently dream of and build ways to do things better. Trying to do anything more could have killed them or brought harm to their clan. They lived at their emotional, physical and spiritual capacity to survive, procreate, and evolve. Unlike today, they had very little extra time just to do nothing, pursue excess material gain, or practice mindfulness. Their focus was simply on surviving.

Today, things are different. In western worlds, we need not compete for food. Our pursuit of material wealth is not from the need to survive, but rather is a misplaced drive to gather more than we really need in order to protect and promote ourselves, the result of egoic, head-driven pursuits. We need to shift from head-driven to heart-driven relationships and cultures. Our very survival and ability to thrive depends on it, as we are “consumering” ourselves to death on community and ecosystem levels.

“Heart-to-heart.” These words convey using honesty, understanding and compassion to craft solutions to problems and to build relationships. By comparison, “toe-to-toe” connotes turning to violence to deal with conflict. “Head-to-head” invokes confrontation to solve differences. Most of the body part metaphors highlight a survival thinking that can and should now be forever changed.

Until about 200 years ago we had to literally fight for our survival. Consciousness and mindfulness were secondary to staying alive. Only in the past few decades have we created the comforts that enable us to contemplate how best to evolve. Today, we have the tools required to implement a needed change in how we treat each other, and in our approach to community.

The need to compete for game animals in the wild, to stave off warring tribes seeking our goods, or to protect our homes from marauding murderers is no longer necessary to survive or thrive in most parts of the world.  “Back then,” communities fought among themselves and against each other, as sustenance was king. Today, we could fisticuff in the produce aisle, guarding our turf and keeping fellow shoppers at bay in order to hoard all the lettuce. But, we have evolved and now understand that there are far better and peaceful ways to feed our clan. And, as ridiculous as territoriality in a grocery store or coffee shop or workplace sounds, don’t we still awkwardly protect of our turf-be it house, money, or job-as if we were threatened like our distant ancestors?

There is no reason to violently or vociferously compete. Hoarding more than one really needs is not a matter of survival. Greed (of money, things, or places) is an outcome of a species that had to fight for survival. For thousands of years our hormones goaded us to fight for our survival. But now, those hormonal drives-that evolutionarily pushed us towards food, water, shelter, and procreation-are resulting in misplaced pursuits for more than we need. Excessive indulgence is an ego-driven behavior that can destroy the very environment we depend on for life. The need for more stuff causes toe-to-toe exchanges and head-to-head relationships that ultimately lead to one party suffering and the other, on a selfish and superficial level, to “succeeding.”

But what is success if it is at the cost of another, of community, and of our common growth and survival? Is thriving individually and elevating as a community truly possible if others are injured in this process, which is often the case when ego drives behaviors? Is toe-to-toe really necessary in business, relationships, and community? Shouldn’t heart-driven concern for others-where pure and good intentions lead-be at least equal to self-preservation? Isn’t care for one another what leads to true growth? Why can’t hand-to-hand or head-to-head be driven away, like an ancient marauding tribe, and be forever replaced by heart-to-heart?

Martha Ryan: An Angel on Earth

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I’m honored to have written about Martha Ryan and the Homeless Prenatal Program in “The Gift of Courage.” When I first met her I felt like I was in the company of an angel. Martha followed her heart and built a community that has saved thousands of families by helping them off the streets and giving them hope.

Thanks For Your Request!