Embracing Death, Competing Agendas, and the Great Mystery

April 20, 2012 | By | 2 Comments

A forty-six-year-old gregarious and affable executive and member of Young Presidents’ Organization took his own life last month. He was married, with a twelve-year-old son. Everyone is trying to make sense of it. The event has generated feelings of shock, confusion, sadness, guilt, and anger.

Behind the feelings are many thoughts. The post-modern mind has a tendency to pathologize everything—especially things that are hard or impossible to understand. Why did this happen? What could have been done? What could I have done? What signs did we miss? How can it be avoided next time?

Whom Do You Know?

I was reminded of how few people I know well (and how few know me well). The measure of how well we know someone isn’t based on the amount of time spent with a person, but on how that time is spent. I can influence the way that time is spent but I can’t control it.

When I look at someone else, I mostly see my projection. I see a person through my bubble that’s filled with my beliefs, values and other distortions.

You can only guess what need someone is trying to meet when he or she does something. To judge it as right or wrong is to be trapped in your bubble—projecting your values onto others. You don’t know them; you only know what you would do.

The Power of the Shadow

We are all motivated by competing agendas. It’s our competing agenda that causes us to compromise our core values. I care deeply for my children but there are times when my mind goes to sleep and the unconscious competing agenda takes over. I yell at my kids, I work too much, I get selfish. That competing agenda is my shadow, the part that drives me because it operates without my conscious control. Shadows have enormous power.

Answer the Phone

There is a gift in everything. The gift in death is that it’s the ultimate wake-up call. It’s the call to connect with something bigger and more mysterious than our rational mind or reactive emotions. Something that’s in you and something that’s in everything. You can run around yelling about how loud the phone is ringing or how dare someone call at this hour or you can simply and courageously answer it.

One YPO Forum/small group ice-breaker I love is, “What do you do when you can’t think, talk or buy your way out of a situation?” It’s an invitation to see infinitely larger forces at play, to let go, to stop resisting, analyzing and judging and be present to what is without trying to fix it, reduce it or change it.

I can regret, rationalize or deny the things I have done when in the grip of my shadow. I can judge others when they act out of their shadows. I can decide if something is a blessing or a curse. But the pain doesn’t go away when I do that. In fact, the pain increases and is transmitted.

Alternatively, I can transcend my bubble. I can choose to appreciate the deeper reality of the Great Mystery by continuing to ask questions with no expectation I’ll get an answer. I can then give myself empathy for doing the best I could with the material that was in my conscious thinking in that moment. I can learn and see the perfection and the gift in what happened, and what is unfolding every moment since.

Who are we to say what’s supposed to happen?

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About the Author (Author Profile)

Executive coach, top team facilitator, author and speaker. I work with individual leaders and their teams to help navigate personal and professional transitions and to increase leadership capacity and improve communication and relationship skills. I founded my coaching firm in 2001 following 12 years as a CEO. Check out more on me and my coaching process in my book "The Business of Wanting More: Why Some Executives Move from Success to Fulfillment and Others Don't"

Comments (2)

  1. Martha Spence

    Brian —

    A few weeks ago I lost a law school classmate to suicide. We graduated almost 30 years ago, and he had, seen from the outside, a successful marriage, two lovely children, and a successful career. It turns out he also suffered from clinical depression, and most of us had no idea. Hundreds of his colleagues from the legal community, and lots of his classmates, came together to remember him, as he was well-liked and much respected. All of us were trying to grapple with it just as you describe. Your thoughts and observations resonated powerfully for me. Your words were a gift. Thank you.


    • Brian Gast

      Thanks for sharing this Martha. I’m sorry to hear about your classmate. Nothing takes away the shock and sadness and yet things are so much more complex (or at least incomplete) than what is in front of us.

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