Since 1977, I have been sending out a newsletter called LEARNINGS. Here is how I began the first issue:
This newsletter—LEARNINGS—is my way of sharing with you what I am learning. Often I learn something with one client that would have been useful with another client the day before. In order to bridge that gap of time and also to bridge the gap of space that separates me from clients and other friends outside Cleveland, I will share my learnings with you regularly in this newsletter.
That statement feels amazingly accurate more than 35 years later. The only real change is that I moved from Cleveland to London and then on to the Crook of Devon in Scotland.
In the earlier newsletters, I shared one or two learnings each time. Then I read a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. He describes the Taoist approach to creating Seven Laws about anything.
I like that approach except that instead of announcing Laws, I prefer to share Learnings. I’ve now discovered Seven Learnings about all sorts of things, including Journaling, Love, Retreat, and Diversity. The latest Learnings starts here; the rest are in the Learnings Archive.
LEARNING: Attics and reunions remind me of things I learned long ago.
Last July I went back to Lakewood, Ohio. I lived for a weekend with my parents in the house where I grew up. I spent the weekend attending my 25th high school reunion and then I spent Sunday evening and Monday morning in the attic. On Tuesday I led a one-day course in life and career designing.
It was an amazing five days and it has taken me five months to understand some of the connections. The reunion began long before the weekend when I had to prepare an eight-line statement describing my past twenty-five years. When I later read the statements that other people prepared, I was struck by the way some people described situations as problems while others described situations as victories over problems.
At the reunion I saw people that I had not seen in twenty-five years and we began talking as if it were just yesterday. It was wonderful to share past memories and even more wonderful to hear about current successes.
I listened to my best friend (when we were six) talk about his successful business and I remembered how he had said to me one day as we walked to school: “I figure if a day starts out this badly, it can only get better.” That philosophy has helped me through a lot of bad mornings since then.
I listened to my girl friend (when we were nine) talk about her exciting new job and I realised that I admired her now as I had admired her then – for being independent, powerful, and intelligent. And that is the kind of woman I have chosen to be with every since.
There were some people that I wanted to talk to but we never connected. And there were also some people – I was startled to realise – that I didn’t really want to talk with.
That didn’t make sense until I went up to the attic Sunday evening. Up there I looked through the boxes where I have stored old books, files, photographs, and other things.
My intention was to find more things to take back to London and then throw out the rest. And I did throw out quite a lot. I also filled two boxes to send to London. But I left a lot of things up there.
I have always put pressure on myself to clear out the attic, but I begin to see the value of a place where I can just look at things that bring back good memories.
I don’t need to have those things with me always but it is good to know where they are when I want to find them. And that is how I feel about the people at the reunion. I don’t need to have them with me but it is good to know where they are. Some I will write to regularly, others I won’t bother about, and some I will just see at the next reunion.
When I started the life and career designing workshop on Tuesday, I found myself once again surrounded by attics and reunions. The whole idea of the first stage of life and career designing is to gather as much information as possible about past experiences.
So I sent people to imaginary attics and imaginary reunions. Just as some of my classmates had described their past twenty-five years as a series of disasters, many workshop participants remember more easily the various failures in their lives. So we have to look around the attic again for the successes.
Sometimes we can just re-frame the picture – or change the perspective – so that a failure is seen as a success. From all these memories of successes we construct a huge database of skills, of values, of dreams, and of preferences for kinds of people, ways of working, and ways of living.
Then comes the difficult part. We can’t spend our lives with everyone at the reunion and we can’t live in the attic. We have lots of possibilities but I keep reminding my clients – and myself – that we can’t have everything we want. In fact, trying to get everything can prevent me from getting anything.
So I have to throw out a lot of things. We even have to throw out connections with people. It is difficult to throw out things and even more difficult to throw out connections with people. I still hand on too long and learn the hard way that some things and some people are simply not good for me.
But what I have realised is that it is not just a choice between taking it with me or throwing it out. There is a third option: the attic and the reunion. I can leave things and people there and go back another time.
I have gone through the life and career designing process three times already and will do so again. It is not a final decision but a continuing creation of who I am and what I do. And each time I move forward it is the attics and reunions that remind me of who I was, who I have become, and who I can yet become.
LEARNING: Attics and reunions provide a solid past from which to design my future.