I just noticed this in a Robert Goddard thriller:
“Tell me, did you ever meet my father?”
“Yuh, I met him.”
“What did you think of him?”
“I thought he had the look.“
“A lot of guys his age fold their hand and leave the table. Quit while they’re ahead, is how they’d put it. Something dies in them then. A light goes out. You can see it gone from their eyes. It never comes back. But Henry still had it. He hadn’t left the table. He was still in the game.” The Ways of the World
It would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it, to judge people in interviews, meetings and assessment centres by the look in their eyes? Or would it? Isn’t that exactly what we’re looking for – beyond the usual proofs of competence – someone who is really present, fired up and energised? Honestly so.
We once selected quite the wrong person after a competence interview. There was no tick box for “shining eyes” on the interview form and so the process led us to choose someone who was neither present, fired up nor energised”. They had all the relevant competences on paper but lacked those vital elements that would bring motivation and purpose to the job.
Many people leave the table quite early on. It’s not about being industrious. You may say, for goodness sake of course I’m still in the game. I’m rushed off my feet; I feel I’m doing 3 jobs, not one. I’m definitely still at that table. You may indeed be super busy and getting through everything you have to do, but is it possibly just that, getting through? You might be acting out your role automatically, ruled by your head without the energy of heart or gut. You might be super-articulate, but not invested in your interactions with others. So, what’s wrong with that?
All that’s missing, that’s what’s wrong. We think we fear death, but all that dies inside us while we’re still alive is perhaps a greater loss. Empathy, for a start, for if you’re not really present, you lack genuine connection with people. Creativity, for another, that brings innovation, synergy and delight. Fulfilment for a third, that gives you the glow of satisfaction and keeps you firing on all cylinders. It’s not about being busy but rather, “Is the light still on?”
Does anything you do, think or feel make your eyes shine? I’m not suggesting that you should be more empathetic or creative or fulfilled, or that you should be anything. I’m suggesting that you look for what turns you on.
What does make your eyes shine? Feeling fully alive, definitely, so let’s start there. One of the things you notice first about people with dead eyes is the lack of life. ‘Unbeingdead isn’t being alive’, quips the poet e e cummings. Run over in your mind some of your encounters with people on a daily basis. How many really engaged? How many really saw you? If you watch children, it’s often their aliveness that strikes you. They haven’t heard of conserving energy, a misunderstood concept in any case. Why would you walk along the pavement when you could hop and skip? Or stay on the pavement at all when you could walk along the top of the low wall running alongside? Children are 100% in the moment. And with lightness – light on their feet and with a light in their eyes as they contemplate their next play idea.
In “The Art of Communication”, I write:
I can hear someone protest that nothing at work is about having fun. But look around you and you will notice people who tread lightly even in the workplace, and often achieve more than those who carry a visible weight of seriousness on their shoulders. There’s no right and wrong in having fun; there’s no such thing as a mistake. No one tries hard at it either. This is a huge concern in conversation, where inhibition or ideas of ‘rightness’ can easily stunt the flow. We literally forget how to laugh and play. It’s interesting isn’t it, that a musical instrument is always ‘played’? It’s never ‘worked’.
And every great musical performance sounds spontaneous – another crucial word. I continue:
Spontaneous people seem more intensely awake and happier in their own skin than other people, and you feel drawn to their strong life force. The art of meaningful communication starts from this powerful source of relational energy, for it transmits to others and encourages them too to be awake, present, and alive…
For those who are truly alive, awake in body, heart, and mind, every conversation is the flow of a new adventure, with fresh unknowns offering new possibility, powered by a vibrant energy that springs from within – their life force.
No, it’s not being ‘woke’, whatever tortuous meaning that insult is meant to have. When we are alive we energise others. When we feel great, we can love others. The poet Rumi (in Coleman Barks’ wonderful English version) says it beautifully:
There are many whose eyes are awake
while their heart is asleep.
And what do they see?
But those who keep their heart awake,
will open the eyes of a hundred more.
If you’re in the business of leadership and influence, Rumi’s words speak especially to you.
Sometimes remaining in the game involves giving up something good. Does the energy of those your work with bring you alive, or drain you? If you are working in an environment that sucks in energy, it is doing you more harm than poison in the atmosphere, however golden the handcuffs that keep you there.
Notice what energises you. It might be a physical activity that tires you out but leaves you simultaneously energised with endorphins coursing through you, or a just-achievable challenge where you feel wonderful afterwards. Everything you love energises you. Music, fishing, Tai Chi or embroidery, sunsets and the full moon. The fourteenth-century Sufi poet Hafez found his ecstasy in dancing and wrote a timeless sentence: “If you think I am having more fun than anyone on this planet you’re absolutely right.” Sometimes you feel a glow of excitement after a deeply satisfying conversation with a friend or even sitting in silence beside someone you are close to. You are alert, but with an expansiveness and ease. There’s more room to breathe. Catch that feeling and notice how it nurtures you. Lucky the people who are energised by their work.
Collecting joyful energisers has been a useful practice for me. I don’t know about you, I confess I’ve always found it easier to filter for negatives – it was a habit I acquired early, and climate and Covid fears and chaotic politics have brought some of that back. Of course, we feel rotten sometimes, disappointed, let down, regretful. Bad stuff happens – it doesn’t need our constant attention. We need our store of endorphins to keep us afloat in bad times and to flourish in better times. It’s a matter of noticing the good bits – catching them on the wing, “kissing the joy as it flies”, as Blake says, instead of allowing one bad feeling to wipe all the good from your mind.
Try jotting down the good bits – maybe at the end of the day. It’s the perfect recipe for quiet sleep, and a pleasure to read again months later.
Out of the Ashes
Phoenix Writers’ Circle has just released an anthology, Out of the Ashes. Full of wonderful writing, brilliant story-telling and heart – both hopeful, and dark – it features poetry and prose from a selection of talented group members, and includes many pieces written during the Covid-19 pandemic. Okay, interest declared, I have dipped into creative writing and am a contributor. Out of the Ashes is available on Amazon and Lulu.
Also an event! As part of the Mole Valley Arts Alive Festival, Phoenix Writers’ Circle are holding a special evening of readings on Wed, October 27, 7-9 PM, at The Stepping Stones, Westhumble Street, Dorking, RH5 6BS.
Let’s say you’re not getting ahead as you’d like to; you’re stuck in some way; you feel there’s more to life than you get out of it; you feel generally scared about what’s next in your life? …
What to do? Send me an email about it, and then we can have a brief chat on the phone without commitment about possible ways forward. That alone might be just the catalyst you need. Or we can arrange a coaching session to explore further. If you find that coaching useful, we can set up a series of maybe 4-6 sessions. I cannot tell you how many people successfully achieve what they previously thought impossible, through a few coaching sessions.
“Abel came back bubbling with excitement around how much he had learnt in his coaching and how he enjoyed the experience. Thanks again for all you do for us. You really do make a tangible, positive impact on people’s lives and they are resolutely in a better place for it.” Richard Owen, Head of Global Real Estate & Construction, Lockton Companies LLP
My other Books
The Art of Communication – How to be Authentic, Lead Others, and Create Strong Connections. Relationships can be the hardest thing in life and also the most rewarding and fulfilling. This book explores ways to deepen your connection with others – an important topic for today’s world.
The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication –
My most popular book. It’s a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.
Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies – Contains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.
Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence – This is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information is tried and tested, and highly practical.
Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You – Now published in 9 foreign language editions! Acquire the voice you would love to have, and transform your impact.
You can get my books from all the usual channels and in e-versions and Audio. The links I’ve provided are to bookshop.org, an ethical source of books that supports local bookshops.