© 2001 David Irvine, www.davidirvine.com

I recently had a conversation with one of my clients, a funeral director, who founded and owns a family business here in Canada. “It’s a strange thing,” he said to me. “Whether prostitutes or CEO’s, everybody comes to me the same.”

This, man, like most of my clients, is as much a teacher as he is a student. After nearly twenty years in the consulting and speaking business, I have learned at least one thing. I have learned that I generally attract clients who teach me what I need to learn at the specific stage of life I am in when they hire me.

In my twenties and early thirties, for example, when I had a psychotherapy practice, clients came to me with most of the issues I was dealing with in my own life. As I helped them with addiction, depression and relationship difficulties, they helped me, albeit indirectly, with the same challenges in my own life.

In my thirties and forties, after I moved on to transferring what I learned about family systems into organizations, I was hired to do strategic planning and consulting with companies who were growing rapidly. As I helped them plan and position themselves in the marketplace, I found myself learning how to plan and position myself in the marketplace. After all, I too, was in a “growth phase,” proving to myself and to the world that I could be successful. This was a necessary stage in my own cycle of life and work.

Lately, my life, my work, and my clients have once again shifted. These days I am hired by executives, who have been successful, and now want to look at the deeper issues in their lives, who want to give significant lasting value to their employees and customers, are who are committed to improving the quality of their life, not just their standard of living. Issues of sustainability, meaning, significance, and legacy emerge. As these are the issues I am currently facing in my own life we are, again, able to collaborate and grow together along this path called life.

Upon reflection of my life and work, here are some of my insights:

  • People don’t buy my product. They buy my perspective.
  • Hard work, focus, goals, and strategy, are critical components to the perspective that has evolved in my work and life over the past twenty years.

This evolution of my perspective, like the evolution of my business, has come as much from an “emerging” process as it has from a strategy.

The component of “emergence” is critical if you are to respond effectively to the demands of a changing workplace and world. Emergence is trusting a force that is bigger than your current awareness. My awareness of the world today lay outside my imagination five years ago. And I hope I can say the same five years from now. How can I possibly plan for something I can’t even imagine?

Think back in your own life about the power of “emergence.” How many times have you had teachers appear in your life when the experience was never “planned for?” Have you ever had an unexpected visitor, in the form of a lay-off, death, or divorce, that was devastating at the time, yet it helped you to look inside and learn something you needed to know? Have you ever had the experience of slowing down around a blind curve, only to find when you turned the corner that you would have hit someone if you hadn’t had your foot on the break? How can you possibly “plan” for these events in your life?

As you look back in your life, you will probably confirm that the major turning points occurred not so much from planned events, as from a power beyond your awareness, that was working on your behalf.

I am learning to connect with and trust this “hidden power,” and to co-operate with it. When I integrate this power of “emergence” in my strategy, I am more able to “let things happen” rather than “make” them happen. Even though I still work too hard, I am more focused on my intentions and more relaxed. I am learning to working with life, rather than trying to control it. And the result is that I am having more fun and contentment and less need to drive myself so frantically. And the results come – as I need them, not always as I want them.

The challenge is to teach this new approach of “emergence” in a way that is relevant and helpful to people, without turning it into another “strategy.” By offering “clues” rather than “steps,” and telling stories rather than providing prescriptions, I invite a learning, collaborative environment that awakens the spirit, opens the heart, and brings needed trust and balance to the process of strategy.

So when we come to the end of our lives and face that funeral director, it is important to remember that we will take no material thing with us. We will not take one cent in our cold dead hands. The only things that we may take are the things we have given away. Maybe by learning to tap into that power that lies outside our awareness we will enjoy the short time we have here a little more and know, within ourselves, that we are living the life we are meant to be living. As a good friend reminded me once, “You’ll never see a hearse pullin’ a UHAUL.”

I look forward to being at the AYE conference and being a part of what “emerges.”

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