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Tree in Boston Common, December 2011

I started this blog (almost two years ago now) because I wanted to get out my ideas on the intersection of where people feel their passion and souls live and what they do in their lives to create meaning and support themselves. I’ve seen too many of my clients who are just blindly going through their professional careers who then 5, 10, 20 or even more years into it discover that they are completely unfulfilled and feel like they have been wasting their lives. It’s my goal to get as many people as possible to consider what’s important to them first before taking these steps. They might take the same actions, but this time with confidence.

I’ve also been doing a kit of personal reflection and study in my life and tried to share my learnings with all of you. Probably the greatest insight that I’ve had is one that I’ve read and heard for years, but I finally “got it”. As is probably apparent from my posts and my professional position, I’m a great proponent of planning and working your plan. I’m always looking for ways to be in control of what’s needed to be done (just look at all the posts that I have with the tags GTD, actions, goals, and the like). That’s my natural way of being and I can easily teach this to others. I’ve had to be a student of the other side, namely allowing things to happen.

I’ve been so driven to get things done that I’ve been impatient to allow things to happen. I’ve come to realize in a visceral sense (and not just intellectually) that there are too many variables in the world that I have no control over, and I have to learn how to just “be” in order to effectively deal with life’s challenges. As the saying goes “Life happens while you’re making other plans”. If I’ve been working so hard to get everything right, I’m not able to deal with what’s in front of me effectively.

In reviewing some of the data that I’ve seen from this blog, the #1 search term that brings people to my site is “human being versus human doing”. My first post on this is subject is one of my most read posts. I think that people have a great longing wondering if what they do has meaning and if there are other ways of being. As you can probably tell, it’s my work to answer that question with a resounding “Yes!”.

The first step is to practice “being”. It sounds cliche, but you have to work at slowing your mind down and just be present to the current moment. Our fast paced culture does all it can to keep us from bring present. This is not something I can just give you; it takes practice. You will screw it up a lot at the beginning. Keep trying. There are lots of different ways (yoga, meditation, prayer, serving others, etc.). Find the way that works for you and keep trying to do it and stay present.

Once you get that down, it will be much easier to actually take the action steps you need to make your dreams happen. You’ll have a focused goal and won’t have a lot if other things crowding your mind to keep you from the action steps to get them done.

So, how are you being today?


I haven’t posted in the past week, as I’ve been on a sort of personal sabbatical.  I’ve had quite the busy and full past few months, and I needed some time that I could take to slow down, take stock of where I am, and get prepared for the months ahead.  I’m just now coming out of it, and I think I’m better centered to do what I need to do for the winter.

Part of that was doing my Alternative Black Friday retreat.  I had planned on doing that at a location in Arlington, but as luck had it I instead went to The Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusetts, which is a lovely place.   The day consisted of meditating, journaling, reading, walking, and other activities.  I’ll be planning on doing it again in the future, so let me know if you’d like to be a part of the next session!

Part of doing this was to see what interesting and creative ideas could come out of my head at this time, and I think I got a good one.  Massachusetts has 351 cities and towns.  I’ve been to a majority of them (having lived in the Commonwealth for most of my life) but there are a number of towns that I haven’t been to yet.  I have seen at least one blog about a couple working to visit all 351 towns and cities, and I thought this might be a great idea for me, as I’ve been looking for ways that I can incorporate practices to my life. I’m calling this the Meditate Mass 351 Challenge.

So, here’s my spin on this: I have to do a number of things in order for a town to count in the 351.

  1. I have to actually be in the town and either meditate/pray/sit quietly for at least 10 minutes.  This makes it so I can’t count places that I’m driving through on the Massachusetts Turnpike (Yup, just picked up Blandford!)
  2. I have to take a picture of me in front of a landmark or building that would only be in that town (e.g. post office, town hall, police station, etc.) It doesn’t have to be a government building, but at least one where there’s no mistaking where it is.  For example, I could choose Durgin Park or Fanueil Hall in Boston.  It also means I can’t just step over the border 3 feet and sit for 10 minutes.  I have to find where the life of the town is.

When will I finish this?  I don’t know.  It will be a fun project, and might get me to go out of my way to see a town I’ve never been to.  I’ve always wondered about Nantucket, Egremont, Wales, and Plympton. I’m setting this as an intention and not a goal.  I think that this will allow for some interesting things to happen, and if I just give myself the space for this, I hope they will.

Here’s my first proof:

So, what are you creating in order for interesting things to happen?

20111115-150752.jpgBeing successful, whichever way you define that, can be a difficult thing, as there are so many variables in the mix. It’s a combination of you, what you have to offer, the needs ofothers, and the zeitgeist of the moment all aligning. While you can’t change the world situation (on the large scale at least), you can affect your own situation.

As was mentioned to me again this past weekend, you need to “put on your own air mask before helping others” and that all comes down to managing your own needs first and foremost. You need to know what the situation is out there (e.g. Is there a need or market for someone who sings show tunes while riding a unicycle?) before you know what parts of you you need to develop. That being said, you also need to know what’s important to you before you decide which people, companies and industries you need to investigate. No use in trying to please someone or something that isn’t important to you.

That being said, there are three different areas that you have to be sure of yourself:

  • Head: Do you really know what you’re talking about? Are you sure the information is accurate? I’ve had too many clients take action steps because the “heard from somebody” that a certain job or industry would be a good choice. Do your research and get the facts.
  • Heart: Is this something that matters to you? Are your insides feeling good about what you’re doing? You need to know what’s important to you before spending your time, money and energy pursuing something that you are going to throw away later. Granted, sometimes you don’t know for sure, but listen to yourself first.
  • Guts: Do you have an instinct that you should do something? Not sure shy you’re interested in something but you know there’s a reason deep inside you? Our minds are complex and don’t always state our needs clearly to us (like our dreams). Again, it’s something to listen to.

We can’t ride on just our head, heart, or guts, but need to balance a great insight from one of them with wisdom from the others. Do you really want that great paying job that will make you travel too much? Are your dreams of Broadway stardom realistic given your mortgage? You need to consider all parts of you.

So, are you listening to your head, heart, and guts?

Note: If you want to another opportunity to slow down and listen to your body’s wisdom, please consider coming to my Alternative Black Friday workshop: Taking Stock of Your Life.

I’ll be a guest speaker on The Quest of Life radio show on WRPI-FM on Friday, December 17, 2010 and my topic will be Connecting Your Spirit and Your Work. The next few blog posts will go into more talk about the points that I’ll be speaking on there.

Every day, I have to go out and go for a walk.  It can be a blizzard, but I need to go outside, even if it’s just to breathe the air for a few minutes.  I’ve mostly realized this when I’m in those situations of having to do a “working lunch” where I’m expected to sit inside all day, and I don’t get a break. I need it for the physical as well as the mental aspects.  I just need to get away from it all.  When I don’t get it, I’m a crabby, sorry monster. (Granted, this goes when I don’t get my tea in the morning too, but that’s something different.)

There are other aspects that are really important to me too, such as feeling respected by my co-workers for what I bring to the table, getting to work directly with others on problems, having others say “Thank You! You helped me do things I didn’t realize I could do.”, and other such things that make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.  We all have these things for us, and what I’ve found is that they are different for every person.

Maybe for you, it’s really important to accomplish a project.  Maybe it’s that you get to work with a lot of people interaction. Maybe it’s that you have very little people interaction and a lot of quiet time.  Whatever it is, it’s what is important to you to do you work and feel good about it.  I always ask people to tell me about the situations where they have felt great about what they got done, and what are the circumstances of it.  It might be a boss that really was supportive, or one that just told you what to do and trusted that you’d get it down.  These environments are the fertile soil that you need to grow. Just like some plants grow best in full sun and others in sandy earth, we’re all have different needs.

So, what’s the environment that you need to grown?

Again, remember to let people know about the Finding Your Calling workshop at Easton Mountain, March 18-20, 2011!

I’ve got a beard now, and I’ve had it for almost two years. I grow a good beard and I’ve been encouraged over the past few decades to grow it. The problem was always that at about three weeks time, I would want to to tear my face off as it would get so itchy (and my face would break out). I have a lot of friends who have beards (and really think that all men look better with beards) and I would tell them that I was about to shave off my beard because if the itching. With great fervor, they would insist that I just grow it out and it wouldn’t itch anymore.  It never worked for me, as I’d last at most a month.

Finally, I grew it out and I tried something different.  I noticed that a lot of guys would now have their beards really short, and I thought it looked really cool.  I got a shaver with the trimmer guide, and just kept my beard to about a seven days growth.  Surprise, I didn’t itch.  Found out that I’ve got very curly beard hair, and by growing it longer, it would curl back into my face and make me itch.  Whereas for other guys, growing their beard out would make it more comfortable, for me it’s the opposite.

In navigating our career paths, many times we get recommendations from people that work for them, but don’t work for us, and many times they are absolutely sure are know the right thing.  This goes to show that you really have to look at what is your own situation, what works for you, and what doesn’t.  That’s one reason that I work with so many people in asking the “What do you want?” question.  Until you know more about what’s important to you and your own situational specifics, it’s hard to know where to go.

So, how do you know what recommendations to take?

Note: Remember about my Finding Your Calling Workshop at Easton Mountain, March 18-20, 2011!  Tell your friends!

I was very fortunate this past Thanksgiving week to be able to take time off to rest and restore. Between the sinus infection that still seems to linger and some family health issues, I’ve been in a somewhat constant state of low level stress for the past few months. Nothing completely debilitating, but aggravating nonetheless. It’s just kept me from having the energy to do a number of things (including writing blog posts).

I have been told many times that our bodies are very wise and let us know when we should do something. From that gut reaction that any opportunity in front of us is right or wrong, to the overwhelming “clue-by-four” that we are tired and need to stop and rest, to the smell that leads us into a great restaurant, we are led by our bodies more than we think.

In the Christian calendar, we’re in the season of Advent. I’ve seen this defined as expectation, waiting, or arriving. Whatever it is, it’s definitely a time for slowing down. With the darkening days, our bodies know this instinctively. Unfortunately, our commercial culture tells us that this is the time to speed up and get crazy. I personally think that this I’d the reason why do many people get the blues in January. They are so out of touch with the rhythms of the year that they crash.

Much of my career development work is to get clients to listen to their own needs as far as what will make them happy in their work. Too often, people have been programmed by culture or family to deny what they really want and what really makes them happy. I’ve found almost universally that a dream deferred will pop up somewhere in life to disrupt your plans, much like your body will shut you down if you don’t listen to its needs.

So, what needs are you denying or ignoring and how is your body or spirit screaming to be heard?  What actions are you doing to start to hear?

I’ve been battling a sinus infection for over a week and it’s really gotten me into a low energy place (that’s also why I haven’t done a blog post in the past week). My brain has been very fuzzy and it’s hard to keep my mind on doing anything. Luckily, I’m on my second round of antibiotics and that seems to be helping. I actually got some things done last night that I haven’t been able to do for a while (I still have a couple of loads of laundry to fold though).

One thing that I have been noticing in my life recently is my ability to numb myself to the outside world when it gets “scary” for me. Just now I had the idea to start writing my thoughts down for this blog post, and my mind went right to the want to play a computer game or listening to music.  I’ve been getting more aware of this since doing more work with Joe Weston’s Respectful Confrontation approach. I tend to numb myself from the works when it doesn’t flow as easily as I think it should, and I can then avoid doing or thinking of many things.


When this happens, I’ve hit a little respite from life, but then I have to deal with things later. Occasionally, my problem will just disappear, but most likely it is waiting more me to emerge out of my mental bunker and deal with it. At that time, I’ve usually gotten some more strength to deal with the issue and don’t feel so overwhelmed. It’s like my personal strength has been zapped when I’m presented with anything from a disagreement with a friend to having to put away my winter clothes. I’ve come to see that this is when I’m attacked by my personal Gollum, a gremlin that waits for my moment of weakness, and then convinces me that I have to hide for my safety. I lose the sense of personal power where I know I can handle things. This Gollum used to control my life much more than now.  I’m working at just noticing when he’s around, as it seems like he has control of my when I don’t realize it.  If I’m vigilant enough, then I can hopefully avoid these traps where I’m doing something silly and time-wasting instead of getting a number of things done that I want to do.

How does your Gollum show up in your life? What does he keep you from?

I’ve just returned from an intensive weekend program at Easton Mountain called Authentic Eros, facilitated by Kai Ehrhardt and Don Shewey. I had heard great things about this program and knew that it would force me to look at myself more closely to see how I was being in my interactions with other men.

I came onto this workshop with the intention of being present all the time. Like many others on this high speed world of ours, I tend to always be thinking about many more things than what I’m doing at the moment. While my meditation practice has helped me be more centered, it’s much harder for me when I’m out in the “real world” and have more inputs.

We also did a lot of exercises on saying what you want and negotiating when that doesn’t align with others wants. This is a big one for me. As someone in the helping profession, I want to help others, many times to the detriment of my own needs. It’s and ongoing learning process, and this took me one more step.

Some of my key learnings were:

  • I have a difficult time doing more than one thing at a time – I know this is why I like playing the hammered dulcimer (two hands doing similar movements) better than playing the guitar (two hands doing different movements).. My mind just doesn’t function well in that situation. This also got me to recognize my coping pattern of trying to build systems where things are automatically bunched together. That way, my mind thinks it’s all one action.
  • When I’m present in my body and all the voices in my head have been quieted, I can feel the rhythm of my body – We did a lot of meditative type activities (thanks Kai!) and one that really worked for me was when I was invited to take an inhalation and have the back of my pelvis go down. In all the breathing and yoga work I’ve done, I’ve always had the front of my pelvis go down. It probably just came at the right time, because it felt like my whole trunk relaxed. I then was feeling a pulse of my body like when I’m laying on the acupuncturist’s table.  This revelation felt like finally finding your balance when learning to ride a bicycle. Now at least I know what it feels like and I can shoot for getting that feeling again.
  • I tend to go out in the world with armor on – I’m finally accepting something that I’ve denied for a long time: people find me attractive. This may seem a silly thing to many of you, but it’s been something that gas been difficult for me. I’m realizing that I’m in such need of control, that I get scared if men approach me and I’m not interested. I sort of freeze up and armor myself against everyone, or at least the shields cone up when I sense “danger”. More practice needed in claiming my own power to get what I want in the world, and to gracefully decline what I doesn’t serve me.

Any similar experiences?  If you were at the retreat, please feel free to leave your own comments.

As those who know me realize, this was the first Mother’s Day I’ve had since my mother passed away in September 2009. I was lucky enough that I had the diversion of performing with my rapper sword dance team, the Gay Blades, at the Lilac Sunday event at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. There were dance teams from all over New England and some as far away as Toronto. We did well and got to not only perform a new dance for the group, but also got to do the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.

It didn’t hit me until I was driving out to my father’s house. When I got there, it was sort of what I’ve come to expect as the new reality of my father and sister in the house. We discussed our trip next month to Newfoundland (we’re going to visit Renews, the small fishing village where Dad’s grandparents emigrated from in 1889), his upcoming knee replacement, and our continuous search for relatives and connections before we get there. It’s been a really tough year for my father since Mom’s death and this trip has been one thing that he has had to look forward to.

A lesson I took from that is that we can only deal with the present and what we can do from here. My Dad’s doing it in his own way, and I’m trying to do it too. I’m on day 8 of antibiotics (it turned out to be a sinus infection) and so looking forward to the summer. While I can make plans, I have to deal with the present reality, no matter how difficult or unpleasant it can be. I’ve been served recently by my study of the Getting Things Done process. Which has helped me focus on tangible steps in order to move my life along.

How are you dealing with your current reality? What’s the next step for you?

Two big things happened this weekend that really got me thinking about how I tend to mark my days. First, it was May morning, which in many traditional societies marks the beginning of summer and the bright, warm part of the year. In the Boston area, the folk/ritual dance community rises and “dances up the sun” at sunrise on May 1st (5:39 am here. It’s the only day of the year that I voluntarily get up anywhere near that early). We sing, we dance, wind ribbons around the maypole and generally rejoice that the winter is gone. This ceremony mimics those that have been done on England for centuries. Coupled with the New England Folk Festival last weekend and Lilac Sunday next weekend, it’s functioned as the end of one season and the start of another.

Additionally, we had a massive water pipe failure here on Saturday, and 2 million people in Boston were under orders to boil their water. Havoc reigned yesterday when people couldn’t get their morning coffee because Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t have the water to make it. Many people’s morning rituals were put akilter. While I don’t drink coffee (tea is the nectar of the Gods), it also put a crimp on my personal routines also. I didn’t do my meditations, and I was generally off.  Thank God the water has been played as of this morning!

Finally, I was at the Living Soulfully group in Boston (for gay men to continue their personal development started at Easton Mountain programs), and Bob Bruillard led a session on what lessons we can learn from our ancestors. In it, Bob stated that ritual is a way for us to mentally separate one experience from another. It allows us to close a chapter and start anew. It marks our days and accomplishments.

In Boston, we are now entering the times of college graduations. Students will be marking that they have accomplished something great, and looking for the next steps. For all of us, taking notice of our achievements and intentionally saying that we are moving on is a healthy way of mentally clearing our mind and moving forward.

What are you noticing and marking today? What are your rituals?

Ken Mattsson

Ken Mattsson

Ken Mattsson

I am a career consultant who specializes in the connection between what your spirit wants to do in the world, and how to marry that to the work that you do in order to support yourself. While I work with people in all fields, I specialize in working with "creative entrepreneurs" and the LGBT community.

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