Life Lessons in the Rockies

Life Lessons in the Rockies

Incredibly emerald blue and full of energy. The elements of nature are so wonderful.
We are standing near the beautiful Kootenay River and Sequoyah Trueblood tells us in an inspiring way about the important  connection between humans and nature. We are all quietly listening and I notice that his words touched something deep in my heart. An intense feeling of peace comes over me. He is so right. Will our life lessons begin?

Sequoyah takes us out for a hike.

Sequoyah takes us out for a hike.

Together with my family I am a guest at the ‘Cross River Wilderness Centre‘ bordering Kootenay National Park, in the west flank of the Rocky Mountains. Coming from the highway, we follow the directions, turn off onto a small forest road which takes us along the Kootenay River to the cozy cabins near the small ‘Cross River’.
What a location!

A rustic cabin in the Cross River Wilderness Centre

A rustic cabin in the Cross River Wilderness Centre.

Rob and Marilyn Patenaude treat us on a warm welcome. Since 1996, they share this amazing place with their guests. They both speak proudly about the nature, offer educational programs, and offer 8 rustic cabins for overnight stays. These rustic cabins are tucked away in the forest and all have hot and cold running water, a toilet and shower, fireplace and solar power. This is an experience where Europeans can only can dream of.

TRUEBLOOD’S SPIRIT

During dinner we meet more guests and I can’t help noticing how ‘contagious’ everyone’s friendliness is. Brad, a very kind and motivated chef has prepared a delicious, organic meal for us and during dinner time we meet Sequoyah Trueblood, a 72-year-old First Nations elder who lives and teaches here.

Sequoyah Trueblood

Sequoyah Trueblood

Born in Oklahoma, his father is Choctaw-Cherokee-Chickasaw, and mother German-English. As a young Native boy growing up in the 50’s, like many, Sequoyah was separated from his family and forced into the residential boarding school system in an attempt to civilize the so-called ‘native animal’ in him. When Sequoyah left the boarding school at age of 17, he joined the army. He excelled quickly becoming a Green Beret in Vietnam, running Special Operations in connection with a First Special Forces Group and Military Assistance Command. Sequoyah is also the first to admit that his ‘glorious service’ is darkened by his many insights into the wrong doings of American policy makers at that time.

Since his time in the military, Sequoyah has worked extensively with First Nations youth wilderness programs as well as youth treatment centers for substance abuse. Through Native teachings and practices in the sweat lodge, pipe ceremonies, and vision questing, he is beckoned across this great mother earth to guide those who request his help. As a Choctaw Wisdom Keeper, Sequoyah has spoken at the United Nations, advised top business executives from prominent international companies, counselled numerous celebrities, government agencies, and has held council with the Dalai Lama.

The next morning, after breakfast, we follow Sequoyah to his Konkurra Medicine Lodge in the forest. He manoeuvres his tall and frail, but flexible body over a narrow trail and when you see him walking on his flip-flops you would’t give him 72 years of age.

One of the teachings he has shared with us is that of leadership – how to “work from the circle. In the circle, all are equal… leadership is then from within… all have a voice, no one is more important than another.”

Pipe Ceremony

Pipe Ceremony

He also explains to us that everything flows from the Divine. “Everything that comes through comes through in its own perfection. We human beings, with our intellect, try to divide it up. When we can get to that place in our lives when we can accept each thing that comes to us as just another opportunity to heal ourselves, we can be at peace with it all. Even though it may not look like that at the time, as soon as we are able to say “I don’t know,” that’s when we are able to allow Great Spirit to work in our lives,” he says.

We then leave the spiritual lodge and head out for a hike together through the rugged Rocky Mountain wilderness, wade through the Cross River and learn about edible plants and their healing powers.

Rob Patenaude prepares the hot tub.

Rob Patenaude prepares the hot tub.

Back in the wilderness centre, Rob asks us if we would like to use the wood fired hot tub. Of course we like that and by the time the first stars appear on the sky, the hot tub measures a comfortable 38 deg. C. And while we watch the bright galaxies above us, Brad prepares a bonfire, gets his guitar and plays a couple of songs for us.

Life is so wonderful and Joe Cocker’s lyrics ‘the best things in life are the simple things’ come to my mind. I then close my eyes and repeat Sequoyah’s mantra:
GREAT THANKS – GREAT PEACE – GREAT LOVE.

Thank you brother Sequoyah!

Thank you brother Sequoyah!

Be like a Flowing River

Be like a Flowing River

How beautiful are Manuel Bandeira‘s (Brazilian poet) words about a flowing river:

To be like a flowing river
silent through the night,
not fearing the darkness and
reflecting any stars high in the sky.

And if the sky is filled with clouds,
the clouds are water like the river, so
without remorse reflect them too.

flowing river

The flowing Illecillewaet River in BC, Canada.

Personally, I love these words. We often have the tendency to ‘fight’ against something or to ‘try harder’.
When the water [in the river] comes across obstacles, like rocks, it smoothly flows around them in stead of trying to push the rocks on the side.
Birds never try hard to sing, they just sing, and flowers never try hard to bloom, they just bloom. That’s the law of nature, or existence if you like.
And we’re part of that. No, we ARE that!
How perfect is this?

Maybe it’s worth trying to literally ‘go with the flow’. Pretty soon you will find that it’s not a matter of ‘trying’ anymore.
Please let me know how this feels to you.

Do it right the first time (because you’ll love it)

Do it right the first time (because you’ll love it)

That sounds like a no-brainer to me. Like ‘the Bike helmet law’ is a no-brainer (but that’s a funny one when you think about it).
My personal experience is that ‘do it right’, or ‘on purpose’ if you like, is not so much part of our culture these days. If you ask me ‘why’, then my answer is simple; ‘we are not proud of what we are doing anymore’.

Steve Jobs was always proud of what he was doing

Steve Jobs was always passionate and proud of what he was doing

Quality professionals know the importance of the phenomenon ‘do it right the first time’. And they often develop complex theories about this subject. We love to make things complex.

It’s not just a ‘quality issue’, as damage repair is usually more expensive than the cost of the original process.
Japanese companies like Toyota follow the Kaizen principle and are highly successful with this. The word Kaizen means “continuous improvement”. Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis.
In most cases these are not ideas for major changes. Kaizen is based on making little changes on a regular basis: always improving productivity, safety and effectiveness. And that adds up when you think about it.

Tourism is not any different
I am the co-owner of a receptive (incoming) tour operator in British Columbia. This means that we buy products and services, package them in a smart and consumer-ready-for-consumption way. We sell these travel packages to travel agents in Europe. So we’re right in the middle between the suppliers and the travel agents. Managing a smooth process here is key for the success of our business. I often like to tell our people that ‘the magic is in the process’. Although we can have full control over our internal processes, we won’t be able to manage our partner’s processes and work ethics. But I can tell you, there is lots of room for improvement.

Caring
If you are proud of what you’re doing, whatever this is, it also means that you care. That you are passionate and doing things on purpose and not merely see it as ‘chores’ that come with the job.
Actually, I don’t care so much about the cause, nor do I buy excuses like ‘this fast paced, ever changing world often outsmarts us’. We ARE the world and therefore we can’t outsmart ourselves. I rather concentrate on changing our personal belief system.
Passion and caring is something that comes from the inside. From the heart. For some this comes completely natural. But you can also learn it. And it’s fun!

It's never embarrassing to be passionate about what you do

It’s never embarrassing to be passionate about what you do

Pain & Pleasure
We as human beings are so transparent and so easy to fool.
Everything that we do, every day, every hour, every minute, is something that makes us comfortable and feel good. This is what I call our hang for ‘pleasure’.
We try to stay far away from something that makes us feel uncomfortable or generates pain. No-brainer? Sure! But it’s that simple.

So, here comes the trick.
If you like to see more passion in your employees and reduce the number of mistakes, then you will have to find out which elements will make them feel good, but also what they tend to avoid, because it makes them feel uncomfortable.

Example:
A person might have ‘taught’ himself that it is quite scary to deal with responsibilities. Something could go wrong and then he will be held accountable for it. This can be a cultural or family influence or he might have had a bad experience in the past. In one word, its ‘scary!’

So when you know this, it is really fun to do a brief brainstorm session together (or as a team) and try to come up with the positive side effects of taking responsibility. This could be:
1. that you feel really good when you know that your boss fully trusts you in working on a task
2. that it is pretty cool to come up with some possible solutions on your own and try them
3. by the time you finish the task successfully, you are so proud of yourself and so will your colleagues and your boss be
4. you want more of this!
5. and if you don’t complete the task the way you want it the first time, it is a great learning moment that will certainly help you to do it right thereafter.

Did you notice something?
You suddenly start to care about what you’re doing, because you feel good about working on this task. And when you start caring about things, you automatically WANT to do them right. It’s part of our pride. How cool is this? A sudden shift in your personal belief system.
It is of course very important that you encourage your employees to take initiatives and let them know that you value this highly. That you’re proud of them.
We all know that a compliment and a hand on our shoulder means so much than for example a single pay raise.
You can of course also apply this exercise to yourself.

simplify

Simplify
As you might have noticed, I like to simplify things and situations. It is easier and more fun to work with it and I know it works! Always.
When I was working for American Express in Europe, I used to manage a large team of experienced consultants. Consultants love to make things complex (and then they come up with their solution).
But I don’t believe in complexity. And the ones that were highly successful, were the ones that took a step back and just used their common sense.

I wish you good luck, lots of passion and caring, but foremost ‘fun’ in what you’re doing.
Drop me a mail when you have any questions or feedback. I appreciate it.