The kitchen sink is no place to seek enlightenment, but mine came right there. Blissfully ignorant and after 5 years of domestic struggle my marriage came to an abrupt end. Call it naive, call me bull headed, call me the ultimate optimist but I thought “it would never happen to me.” Oh, how wrong I was.
On that day, something spectacular happened. My trust in my self, life, love, money, work, health, friendship, relationship, eternity was smashed to bits. I was 34 and had never once considered the possibility that life could collapse with just two simple words: “It’s Over.”
It took no short time to rebuild. Literally I was nuts. I had no anchor, no compass, no identity and no sense of self. My outer wealth was shattered. And because I’d never paid a single gram of energy to explore my Innerwealth, I was left stranded like a shag on a rock, or a seal on an icebreaker waiting to be picked off by an Orca.
The ensuing years were fabulous. Immersed in excruciating internal pain, I spent every waking moment trying on new clothes, new identities, new philosophies. I went to Zen, I meditated for weeks without much food and certainly no talk. I yoga’d until I could tie myself in knots. I climbed the Himalayas to live with great wise ones and I did all the Western modalities of therapy, counselling, ra-ra workshops and fire walking. I went to indigenous cultures and immersed myself in sacred rituals that defy description. I even did an MBA to study why people (me) do what they do. Frankly, at the end of it, I had recreated a new suit, a coat of armour, I had a new relationship, business and home. But I had avoided the one thing I needed most.
Innerwealth was born on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne. I met a guy I’d bought a child care business from years earlier. He spent the whole flight (1 hour) telling me how much money he’d made (during this phase of my life I’d lost most of mine by living in caves and hibernating in ashrams). As we landed, and just before the seat belt sign came off, he asked “and so, Chris, what have you been up to these past years?” I was dreading the question and the answer just came straight from my gut. I shared the journey I’d been on. He replied “oh, so while I’ve been building outer wealth, you’ve been building inner wealth. I wish I’d done more of that.”
Innerwealth started small. In the final months of my two year full time MBA I started a management consulting business. I already had 16 years running my own business’ and dealing with the diversity of Asian markets. So I put it together with some colleagues and Innerwealth consulting was born. Initially we did rapid turnaround for mostly manufacturing business looking to export into Asia. Then it evolved into a training and leadership development consultancy as this was the real core turning point of most of the sixty companies we’d worked with who were in distress.
But I was still dealing with Innerwealth on the surface of it. I still remember coming back from months in a Zen retreat sitting in the back of a taxi heading to the airport. We were in traffic and there became a significant probability that I would miss the one and only flight I could catch back home. If I missed it, I’d lose my money and what was waiting for me at the other end. I looked down and my palms were sweating, I realised that months in Zen had simply blown out the window in the realities of real life. I wasn’t in an Ashram here, I needed to meet deadlines and schedules. I needed something that could stand up to the most rigorous of stresses in the sport, business and personal world. But where was it and what would it look like?
The answers didn’t come all at once but through a series of inadvertent mistakes.
Mistake 1. Thinking it was in doing something different that life would be different.
I went to Nepal and climbed a mini mountain. I did well, for a person who dislikes ice, I managed to overcome my fears and do it. However, sitting on the top of that summit, I discovered something so damn obvious it’s embarrassing to mention. I discovered that I was the same arse at the bottom as I was at the top. Standing on the top and standing at the bottom, are just a change in altitude. It bought me home to the realisation that life, the enjoyment of it and success within it are completely changeable only by attitude. Instead of altitude sickness, I had attitude sickness: the inability to see things in a different light.
Later, with more study, I discovered that we always put our shoes on to the same foot first. Just try putting the left instead of the right first. Breaking habits is so hard because most of those habits are unconscious and hidden from view. Just like when we experience emotion, we look for ways to handle it that feel right but I wonder whether that’s really making change or just trying to ease the discomfort.
Real change happens through both the conscious and unconscious mind. Consciously we need to seek a different viewpoint. Unconsciously we need to inject a new paradigm and cause a shift in the way we see things.
Mistake 2. Thinking that temporary changes are permanent if they last 6 weeks.
I heard, over and over again, “if you change something for 6 weeks it will become a habit” well, I changed thousands of things for 6 weeks and they didn’t become a habit. I stopped eating sugar for six weeks and on the 37th day, ate a family sized block of Cadbury cheap chocolate.
What changes a habit is the language we apply to it. For example “always and never” are words that guarantee old habits stick. Even if we say “I’ll never do that again.” it guarantees, through language, that we will. Similarly, if we say “Got to” do something or “Have to” do or not do something, our brain becomes primal, highly emotional and we’ll trigger the polar opposite eventually.
Real change is driven by, reinforced by and sustained into habit by a complete change in language.
- Mistake 3. Thinking that I could change something about myself
I now know that “what I fear comes near.” or “what I think about I bring about.” Which pretty much suggests that if I keep wanting to change something about myself, the best way to do it is to forget the very thing I want to change. If I keep thinking about it I’ll keep going in that direction. Applying this to a past relationship is the perfect example:
My ex really did run my over with a concrete truck. So, it was tempting to try to find a new partner who lacked all the qualities of my ex. What you think about, you bring about. What you judge, you breed, attract or become. I was attracted to people who looked and acted the opposite to my ex and yet, when I got to know them, the public face was hiding the private face and the private face was the opposite to what I was attracted to, in other words, in private, they became exactly like my ex.
What I discovered in the end was that to let the past go, you must stop judging anything or anyone in it as good or bad. Whether a person had a life changing accident, lost something or was messed up by someone, there’s no escaping that past unless there’s an appreciation for it. This is the most confronting piece of Innerwealth work but it’s essential for change.
Mistake 4. Thinking that I could convince people not to do what I had mistakenly done.
When I patched up my life and got back on the road, i had a wealth of wisdom I thought I’d love to share. I packaged it into a “thought leader” script and travelled the world, I even wrote a book or two about living the good life after a tragedy. What I discovered after 15 years on the international speaking circuit is that most love to try what I wanted to suggest they don’t do. Ultimately, don’t isn’t helpful. What we need is a tantalising reason to do things that work rather than painful reasons not to do what doesn’t work.
Mistake 5. There are no mistakes
Making strong sense of life – putting things that can’t be changed into context means that the word mistake is a real block, a bummer a terrible disconnect between the possible solution to and the humiliation or pain of a difficulty.
I am an engineer at heart. I love putting things together, knowing how they work, pulling them apart and then building something new. So, when I learnt that there’s order in the chaos of life I was shocked and in awe. Is it possible to have the secret code that unlocks the structure of the entire existence of life, business and humanity? is it possible to pull a situation apart and put it back together again ordered rather than chaotic? And the answer is yes.
When something isn’t going right, a person is in pain or a community isn’t functioning, or even a business is not profitable there are thousands of ways to reposition or re-market it. But if the basic thinking, structure or intention is disconnected, then all change will be temporary. The solutions are best found by dismantling the structure to find where there is unstable ground and then remounting everything in a way that will both turn things around and be sustainable.
This secret code is the work of my life and it is the foundation of Innerwealth. The ability to experience, witness, use and apply this code turns “mistakes” into opportunities, “pain’ into growth and “stress” into the future.
So, the time I spent learning this secret code was, shall we agree, not a mistake after all?
Thanks for tuning in.