Like every boy I wanted to impress my father…
I never got that chance. My dad died the year of my 19 birthday.
I didn’t realize, until recently that I didn’t have to impress my dad.
All I had to do was be me.
I guess that was when my struggle for independence and freeing myself from — the “disease to please” began.
Understand, I have wrestled with people pleasing and performance based acceptance most of my life. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on it, I get caught up in it again. That’s all right, I am normal. Everyone strives to please others — it’s part of how we advance in life — it is the way of the world.
The biggest challenge with the disease to please is just how much we change our behaviour to ensure “that people were pleased” with us and then how much it becomes an unconscious, auto-pilot habit.
I am still surprised just how pervasive this people pleasing behaviour is. Thankfully, it is much less of an issue now.
I like to think I have a more balanced perspective, these days.
The truth is, this pattern of people pleasing behaviour got its start when I was a child. I was the youngest in my family. My brother Dave was 8 years older and Lois, my sister was 13 years older.
My sister was not around much. I followed my older brother relentlessly — I felt lonely and he was around, so he was my target. Too bad for my brother, I am sure having his little brother tagging along was annoying. In many ways I was the odd duck in the family.
By the time I was born my cousins parents had already had all the children they were going to have plus they were all 8-12 yers older than I was. Not only did we not have a lot in common. I didn’t even know I had cousins. In fact, I remember hearing my parents talk about my “cousins” and I had to ask my parents “What is a cousin?” I really had no idea who they were. When I met them we had little other than blood in common. They were much older and many even married! Yuck! I was stuck tagging along with my brother Dave.
I tried desperately to tag along with him. Most of the time, he was up and out of the house before I was awake — he was in high school about the time I entered first grade. My sister was in University studying for her teaching degree.
Perhaps that’s why I didn’t feel like I fit in at home. Which might also explain why I was a loner in school and struggled to make friendships early in life.
My parents did their best to make me feel like a part of family but my lifestyle more resembled an only child.
I felt like the ugly duckling growing up. I really didn’t discover or master friendship until I entered the workforce, part-time pumping gas — yes those were the days before self serve gas pumps. Then in my senior year of High School I caught Mononucleosis, followed with a rapid onset case of Pneumonia. I essentially lost 7 months of my senior year — I slept or coughed up the crap out of my lungs 22-23 hours a day.
It was serious, it took me out of life for more than half a year. I missed my graduation and most of my senior year.
As soon as I started feeling better, my Internist suggested I change careers. No more apprenticing as a mechanic. I was allergic to gas, solvents, engine oil and anything derived from oil.
I ended up becoming an auto parts man where I could put my knowledge of cars to use. But that wasn’t good enough. Fortunately, I had a very subtle and meaningful conversation with my father.
How One Fatherly Conversation Changed My Life
When I was 19 I had a profound conversation with my father. I didn’t realize how important it was going to be, until much later. Turns out this one conversation with my father set a foundation that would change life.
What was the lesson? My father said, “Son, it is going to be important that you — learn — how you learn.” I knew it was an important concept, I just didn’t realize just how important it would become.
In those days I had no idea exactly how impactful and life shaping that single, last significant conversation would have in my life. It all happened on the Orange Couch in our rumpus room.
At the time I did not fully realize how significant this gentle and meaningful conversation I had with my father would be. Just how much that simple admonition “learn how you learn” would impact my life. It is a powerful gift from my father, Don.
The process of applying this life lesson — to learn how I learn — is the greatest gift my father gave me. When my father said “Son, it is going to be important that you — learn — how you learn.” he spoke a truth into my consciousness.
In that moment, in the blink of an eye, he planted one simple seed of an idea — learn how you learn.
You don’t need to read 100 books, you just need to find one, simple and profound idea and then do something with it to change the course, speed and quality of your life. One idea, the right idea is all it takes.
It Only Takes One Idea To Change Your Life
Understand this, when you latch onto a truth — an insight — a seed gets planted into your consciousness. It immediately begins to grow. The more you tend to the seed of the idea (or truth) by nurturing it with curiosity, cultivating it to grow and watering it with your attention — it bursts forth into life and eventually into a mature tree with string roots — full of new possibilities, opportunities and abilities.
All it takes is just One Idea to change your life!
Learning how I learn is the One Idea that keeps changing my life. Even all these decades later.
At Life Origami helping you learn how you learn is the core principle — we call it YOU-How.
The legend is this, if you learn how you learn, you will never shrink from a challenge again.
Once you learn how to harness your super power — learning how you learn – you’ll never stay stuck again. You will be able to learn your way out of any situation life throws your way.
Never frozen in fear, stuck in procrastination or shrinking from a challenge because you know you can “learn your way out of any situation, anywhere and anytime.”
My Fathers Last Life Lesson Was Profound
My father, Don, was a serious man who loved life, people and his family. He was a man of principle that allowed to me to live my life according to my own values. My father was a businessman who never discussed business at home or with me. He was more concerned with who I was becoming than anything business related.
My father was wise and let me spread my wings and learn how to fly and fall. He knew I was full of attitude and a know-it-all. He knew how to bide his time and wait for the right time to speak his mind and share with me his observations.
I honestly do not remember another time in my life where he asked me to sit down and have a private conversation. Then that day, he asked me to sit down and talk, on the Orange Couch, in the rumpus room. I was so excited and honoured. He asked me “What are your plans for furthering your education? What interests you?”
I was surprised and shocked by the question.
I struggled too answer.
I mused that I had thought about engineering, police work or maybe a minister. We had a long, winding conversation about the different aspects, pros and cons of each profession. But had decided to be an automotive parts man.
He listened and was quiet. My father was not a quiet man, he always spoke his mind.
I knew he was listening and allowing me to think out loud.
What I didn’t say to my father was, I was just so grateful to have some energy again. To have energy to spare and to be able to chase my dreams again. Well, I was in heaven. University felt like a hospital. In fact, it was the University of Alberta Hospital that I spent 2 weeks sleeping and recovering from mono. It was THE University in Edmonton at the time.
The mono and pneumonia really kicked my ass. I have very few memories of that 2 weeks in the hospital because I was told I slept 22-23 hours a day. My 19 year old brain said “No way I was going back there.”
Plus, I had to leave my job as an apprentice mechanic because I was allergic to gas and all petroleum products. I got a job as a parts man in a nearby town. I was happy because I was still working in the automotive industry. I loved cars and there was no way I was about to start over AGAIN.
As I explained my rationale, my Dad said a number of things but the one thing that really stood out was “Well son whatever you decide to do it is going to be important that you, learn how you learn. The world is changing and you will need to adapt and learn quickly.”
I remember thinking at the time that it seemed like an odd piece of advice because I was learning everyday.
Little did I know just how prescient and relevant his advice was and what a great insight he had shared with me. We closed the conversation and I left feeling like I had disappointed my father. I was determined to find my own way and I was not about to take 4 years of my life to go to university.
Turns out that was the last meaningful conversation I would have with my Dad…
Little did I know that I would be holding my dying father in my arms on the bathroom floor 2 months later. A brain aneurism had exploded and he died the next day, after we removed him from life support. I was profoundly shocked, my grief was deep and I knew I would never be the same.
My mother was desperately sad and full of grief. I stepped up to comfort her dealing with her grief. Little did I know I was about to be schooled again in people pleasing — I learned that I had to put my grief on hold — to support my mother Doris.
At many fathers funeral, one of my aunts pulled me aside. She proceeded to scold me for crying openly. She was a nurse and “knew a thing or two about death and grief.” She went on to say that I was the “man of the house now” which seemed weird to me. I could not grasp that concept. I got the message loud and clear “suck it up buttercup, your emotions and tears have no use here” and I learned to push my emotions down.
Well Mom and I comforted one another. Mom told me how her and Dad were talking about me the night he died. He told her “I wish I had Greg’s confidence.” I thought, “I have confidence?” Dad never said anything like that. I desperately clung to that memory. I went on living my life. The orange couch conversation would not come back to my memory for many years.
2 Decades Later
In the 1990’s a friend of mine asked me a question “What is with you and your drive to learn and grow? You take such risks.” he said with a condescending tone.
At the time I didn’t have an answer other than “I just do.” I did feel judged and criticized because he was frustrated I used him as a sounding board. I had no one else in my life — yes, I was married but I could not rely on positive support from my first wife.
My friend was my lifeline, a religious fellow. We would support each other discussing life, career and business issues — now for the first time he was my self appointed critic. Suddenly, my safety net vanished. I was stuck in more of my own thinking, attempting to sort out all the ideas I was working on.
Frankly, in the early 90’s I was struggling big time. My first wife was mentally ill — although we did have a diagnosis at that time.
I was struggling with coping between the craziness and neediness at home and making a living as a self employed man. I just had to learn and apply what I was learning.
This was the way the world worked, right? You try something, you learn something and then you shift and adjust your approach?
The after effect of that unsupportive conversation haunted me for a long time. I was still in shock being asked “What is with you and learning all the time?”
I could shake off the question he asked, “What is with you and your drive to learn and grow? You take such risks.” More than a decade later I would gain further insights and get in touch with my personal truth.
My Radical Sabbatical (My Now What Period)
2010 was a big year. I got a divorce after 34 years. I wound up my business affairs. I bought a BMW K1300 motorcycle and set off on a “Round the World Tour”. At least those were my intentions. It ended up being 84 days of camping, me on my BMW riding through 2 provinces and 6 states. I guess I sort of semi-retired. This was the 3rd time I took a “break from business”.
I now had the time to think. I had the time to reflect, the money and energy to do what I wanted, when I wanted. A funny thing happened, I began reflecting on my career as a business coach and author.
I began contemplating the hundreds of entrepreneurs I had served. I was reflecting on how wrong I was at predicting who would succeed and who would not make it in business. I was 100% unsuccessful in my ability to predict who would succeed or fail. The most unlikely people would succeed and those I was certain had it all going for them failed miserably.
I found this disturbing and ever since I have been searching for answers. I had come up with a number of different hypotheses around business success and failure.
However, it wasn’t until I reunited with a past client, a woman that I would fall in love with and ask her to marry me!
I couldn’t have foretold how significant my relationship with Amethyst would become. I would experience a real, profound shift in my quality of life and now business
Learning To Feel Without Judgement
My biggest takeaway from the radical sabbatical was learning to feel again. Giving myself the space and time to be alone, to be with myself. To get out of my head and into my body, to reconnect with my heart — to feel grounded.
When I am not grounded, I end up chasing Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS) and much like real life Ants they spoil the picnic called my life. I get all wound up in my head and my mood sours, I feel blue and I get distracted within a whirlwind of thoughts. And round and round it goes.
When I am caught up in my head I am not present and not placing my attention of the things I know will move my life forward.
In the past I would have spent weeks and months caught up dealing with ANTS. Trying to “figure things out” instead of actually living my life by taking action.
I really believed the key to happiness was to make peace with myself. Peace with many thoughts, the ANTS and making sure other people were happy. Yet the more I tried to “figure things out” the more flaws I discovered. The more work I had to do.
My Self Help Obsession
I was determined to fix myself. I started reading self help books, attending self help seminars. I chased anything that I thought might help me “figure things out”. Some of it helped, the majority of it was a waste of time.
Why was it a waste of time?
I was filling my “figure things out” void with other peoples philosophies, ideas and information. I was getting to know myself better on the surface. Yet despite all my efforts, I still had a swarm of ANTS that I could not shake. Which caused me to doubt myself even further.
In those early days, no one was talking about Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS), the difference between feelings and emotions. Meditation was something for hippies, gurus and yogis, not everyday people like me.
I literally thought that my “thoughts” defined my identity. To this day, when I think of my beliefs I am still incredulous.
The biggest con job we all have to deal with is — our thoughts influence how we FEEL — they do NOT define who we are. Only our actions define and telegraph to the world who we are.
I no longer believed that my negative thoughts, anxiety and toxic inner vitriol was who I was. It was what I was experiencing but not who I wanted to be or what I wanted in my life.
Stinking Thinking Almost Ruined Me
In those days, my thoughts were a horrid mess which meant I was a mess. Which began an endless cycle of self blame, judgement and self recrimination. As I sit here sharing this I feel the sadness and the burden from that period of my life.
I read a lot of motivation and self help books but nothing really helped. I still had a bunch of virulent thoughts swirling about. It seemed like everywhere I went, no matter who I was with or what I did — my stinking thinking followed. Like a nasty dog, nipping at the heels of my insecurities. It was a horrible way to live.
I was functioning at work, at home but I was insecure, neurotic and emotional. On the outside I was doing pretty good. Nice cars, great condo — I remember thinking I wasn’t wanting for a thing — puzzled that I was still not comfortable with who I was.
Even though I appeared to have my shit together, on the inside I was a complete and utter train wreck. It got so bad I was convinced I was going to die at 32. My brother died at 32 and so I reasoned I didn’t deserve anything better, My 32nd birthday was a sad day. I think I had hit my “mid-life crisis” early.
Awakening From My Mid LIfe Crisis
When I realized I had now lived longer than my older brother I was disturbed. I remember thinking on my 30th birthday, “Dave died at 32, I better get in as much living as possible.” So began a wreck less spending and a series of decisions that created a serious debt issue, which would take me years to unravel.
I can remember sitting in the dining room, overlooking the living room and sitting on a chair next to our phone. I had just hung up the phone after talking with my mother. She was positive and encouraging. She was a saint, she listened to my stories of woe and always had affirmative and positive encouragement.
I sat there observing the wood grain on the 1960’s stereo system cabinet and all of a sudden my ANTS disappeared. At the time I didn’t know a lick about awareness, being the conscious observer or being present. I just felt different, lighter and I realized in that moment it was time to move on. I picked myself up and got on with living. What followed was one of the three most productive periods of my life.
I discovered that if I asked myself (and others) better questions it would quiet my inner tyrant. Questions, especially opened ended questions are like the signal of a homing beacon.
Curiosity, Questions and Learning
If asking open ended questions were the homing beacon, the answers that followed were like lights. Suddenly, what was confusing, dark and frustrating vanished. I had clarity, insight and new information. The answers I would get were like blips on my own private radar. Showing me what was coming or pointing me to where I needed to go and what it do. I was bitten by the curiosity bug.
I couldn’t not have imagined how significant a development learning to be curious and asking questions actually was at the time.
Amethyst and I have spent the last year collaborating and co-creating together — Life Origami and The Orange Couch YOUniversity is now available to anyone ready to super size their life can learn how to free themselves from the know how thinking virus to experience what we like to call the “You-How Effect”.
Simple and Profound
Suddenly, the Orange Couch Conversation I had with my Dad 40 some years ago suddenly appeared incredibly relevant, “Holy cow, Dad was right!”
It was so damned obvious. I used to say to people that there’s no amount of money you can spend to solve a “learning” problem.”
When things don’t work it’s because there is something you didn’t know. When you don’t know something, you can learn your way out of your circumstances. Only if you pull your head out of your ass and extract the lesson from it.