May 2012: Who Has Changed Your World?

by Brad on April 30, 2012

“A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.” Welsh proverb

Every now and then, our life’s journey is touched by the presence of another – someone simply walking their journey, yet in the process, changing ours forever. Rarely planned or anticipated, often unnoticed until after-the-fact, their presence one day leaves us aware that we’re somehow different.

This past weekend, I attended a retirement celebration for a man who uniquely made my world a better place. Tom has been a professor of Environmental Science at Antioch’s graduate school for the past 34 years. For two years of my journey, our paths crossed. I could write at length about Tom and about the impact he had on me, but here’s the snapshot view. Tom’s “everyday” work is teaching ecology – the study of systems and relationships in nature. In the process of teaching new ways of seeing the natural world, Tom actually taught me new ways of seeing my world – myself, others, my life, my work, “the” world. It’s easy to understand how learning something in one part of life can rub off onto other parts. But the unique thing about Tom is his ability to make this process “organic;” it happened on its own. He was able to do this, I believe, because he taught more through questions than through answers. Asking me to think about things was far more powerful than telling me about things. The remarkable by-product of this approach was that he left me believing I did it myself. His way of seeing nature has become core to the way I see my life, and in turn, to the way I work with my clients to help them see theirs, too.

It’s no wonder, then, that 250 people gathered to celebrate him. While this represents but a small fraction of those he has indelibly touched, either directly through his teaching, writing or friendship, or indirectly through how those people have touched others, the event was a beautiful expression of gratitude for one of the most gracious, humble and wonderful human beings I’ve ever known. Tom acknowledged dozens of accolades, largely by given credit for them back to those who’d offered them. Twenty years after the fact, I’m still touched. Thanking Tom this weekend made my life a bit richer; his turning the thanks back to me brought me to tears.

We live in a world that tells us we have to be tough and make everything happen on our own. Although we may think we actually do this, it’s never the case. We receive from others, depend on others, are touched and supported by others, often in ways we never realize or rarely acknowledge. As for me, I’ve found personal strength in coming to see how others have supported my journey. It may run counter to the “conventional wisdom” of doing it all alone, but realizing how all the threads of life are woven together into a network of mutual support is a gift all on its own. I cannot feel alone in that kind of world. Perhaps Tom would recognize this as ecology in its most pervasive form.

Exercise: Who has changed your world? Find a quiet place you love, a place free of distractions. Reflect for a while on the person you’ve become. Allow yourself to see without judgment, and acknowledge that, in many ways, you are a product of all that has touched you. Like rocks in a river, you’ve been polished by the flow of life, and by the connections you’ve experienced with others. Listen to whatever comes up for you. Eventually you’ll feel, then think about, the presence of those who have helped to mold you. You might choose to quietly name and remember them, and allow the energy of their presence to touch you once again. You might choose to find a way to thank them. (My way of saying thank-you was easy; they had a party for him and I showed up.) You may be surprised, as was I, at the “sense of self” this exercise offers you.

Those who touch our lives provide us with an invisible source of strength, a belief in ourselves, a sense of trust in a part of us that has always been there, but now feels free to come out and play in the world. By allowing ourselves to “be ourselves” in this way, we not only evoke what’s best inside us, but we also open ourselves to touch others in meaningful ways too. Authenticity is contagious.

A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

Rumi wrote, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will you ever be polished?” The world of nature has had four billion years to polish life on Earth to elegant beauty. There’s no such thing as “done,” so nature keeps on polishing. It does so, we learn, by pushing things to their edge, and “allowing” them to mold themselves into something even better. “Better,” in nature’s way, means more resilient, more diverse, more cooperative. If we were to step back and examine the processes at work here, we’d see that nature creates value in three ways: through replication – making more of the same thing, during times that are “easy;” through improvement – making what already exists better, during times of stress; through innovation – creating something new, beyond earlier conception, during times of chaos. It’s a process that never ceases, a process that proceeds without judgment or complaint. Creativity is the process, and creation is its reward. It sounds so simple; why can’t we live like that? Oh yes, we can. Tom does (see article), and so can all of us. Where’s the edge of your comfort zone? What kind of “polishing” is there waiting to mold you? Are you up for the challenge of being polished? Can you trust your own innate creative genius to guide you through? It will.


Openings to New Possibility


An invitation to bold possibility: Transforming the perspective offered in this month’s article into your own way of being could be a rich program of individual coaching. In writing as I do, I am under no illusion that the vast majority will not, all on their own, integrate these ideas into their everyday lives. The power old beliefs hold to constrain thinking is phenomenal. Having a “guide for unexplored territory” is as important as would be having a guide for a journey into nature’s wilderness. I’m here to help. I’ll meet you wherever you may be on your journey. Together we’ll challenge the thinking that holds you back, discover what matters most to you, and chart a course into the territory of your potential. Contact me, and begin to shift forever your view of what’s possible.

The Road Not Taken website: Visit my website, You can now gain access to more articles, blogs, and newsletters, so you’ll find “new stuff” on a regular basis. This newsletter will now also be found as a blog entry (under the category Purposeful Wanderings), along with several back issues. You can comment on anything you read; I see this kind of dialogue as an example of how we may all learn together. Coming soon: The Road Not Taken Community, a subscription offering free of charge, giving you the opportunity to stay connected, to be challenged, to interact, to learn and to grow. Stay tuned.

Book of the month Mentoring: The Tao of Giving and Receiving Wisdom, by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch. OK, on the surface, this is a book about coaching and mentoring. As such, it is one of my favorites. Yet it’s also so much more. Starting with its compelling look and feel (for me, always a sign of a great book), this is a very simple, yet elegantly written text on “ways of being” in the world so as to treat yourself, and others, with respect, reverence and compassion. From the way it integrates Eastern and Western thought and philosophy to the clarity of its teachings, this is a book anyone on a path to a meaningful life would enjoy reading and owning. A nice adjunct to the theme of this month’s article, too.

 Download May 2012 pdf

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather Flanagan April 30, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Brad, I am happy to count you as someone who has changed my life. 🙂 You have been a lovely model of a professional, on a life journey, who always puts his authenticity first! And you don’t pretty it up, either. You are *real* and I really appreciate getting to check in on you with your newsletters.

Keep it up!!!

Heather Flanagan


Arteduktr April 30, 2012 at 11:00 pm

If I’ve never told you before, let it be known, thank you for making a difference in my life.

Just as you put it, ‘as the river flows it shapes whatever comes into its path…’ ; in the Bible God says, “Behold, as the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My Hand…” (Jer 18:6) He shapes us as we allow Him to…I believe He puts people in our paths to influence us.

Let’s face it, YOU are a Life – changer! Thank you. >Hugs!<


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