20 Questions in 30 Days. Q18. What happens to the human condition, leadership or love, when a person is in a state of frustration?

Today is Question number 18 of 20. Growth rings of a tree signify something that is witnessed in astrology, history, biology and psychology. It controls relationships, human growth, death, and emotions. Growth rings of a tree reflect what key aspect of the universal laws that govern all life. What do you think this all means in real everyday talk and why do people who avoid those growth rings, get fired and die young?

Imagine you launch a fire rocket up into the sky with the usual fireworks fanfare. Imagine if you tied an elastic cord to that rocket and sent it up into the sky and the further it got the tighter the cord became and finally the elastic reached its limit and either the rocket broke through the elastic and went higher or it was drawn straight back to earth at great rate, sort of like a yoyo.

I bought my first business, a bankrupt welding and fabrication workshop, for $50,000. The business had a debt of $500,000. In the purchase contract I made a deal with the creditor of the business to pay them back over a period of three years in return for transferring the debt to me and the time to repay it. There was no way I was interested in earning a welding and fabrication workshop, what I was interested in was the license to manufacture German air-pollution control equipment this company owned. This was also the main creditor.

Old Mr Hicks, who was then 85 years old was heartbroken. His entire life had been spent building this small business in North Melbourne. They had a reputation for working in difficult circumstances and constructing sheet-metal for multitudes of uses. Mr Hicks proudly drove his Jaguar to the front door of the building every day and arrived in his pinstriped blue suit. His business had gone bankrupt although he, as a wise investor, was not exposed to the businesses fortunes any more. Inadvertently, Mr Hicks had hired a general manager to take some of the load off his shoulders and this general manager had bought the German license and decided to build a bigger and better business over the top of the sheet-metal business. In doing so, this general manager had surpassed Mr Hicks ability to govern the business and Mr Hicks had lost control of the finances and the business tanked.

In the months before all this took place I have been dismissed from my first and only job. My wife and I had just purchased a burnt out ruin of an old house and were living with a single child in the only livable room in the house. We had mortgaged ourselves up to our ears and needed significant income to do the renovations ourselves in our spare time. So I was facing a very difficult financial struggle when, on the Saturday after having been dismissed on the Friday, I bumped into who was going to be, the new general manager of Mr Hicks business. Ron, had worked for Mr Hicks for some years and was responsible for driving the business to its new destiny. In so doing Ron had also sent the business broke. On that Saturday after my dismissal, when Ron and I bumped into each other, I explained my situation and Ron offered me a job.

I joined a sinking ship but I love the product, the air-pollution system and so when I found out that the business that was just about to employ me was going under I bought it. For the next three years we thrived. We moved out of the factory into a new factory, opened offices in Sydney and Melbourne and started to pave the way to be Australia’s number one environmental pollution control firm. Within 12 months of starting I have paid out the debt. Within two years of starting I had engaged a business partner to run the manufacturing side of the business to allow me to focus on the engineering and design. We undertook projects throughout Australia in every capital city and specialised in cement, steel aluminium brick and any other industries that required hot gas to be filtered and cleaned of pollution before being exhauste to the atmosphere. I felt 100% aligned with my values. And we were making an absolute fortune.

Within three years of starting at accumulated wealth beyond my imagination. We have moved home twice and finally we are living in paradise home with a swimming pool and significant acreage of land. We drove new fancy cars and took holidays in the best of places. My wife and I had another child and everything was, perfect. Well, sort of.

And this is where the conversation about frustration cuts in. You see, I was qualified as an engineer, good at that job, I was in love with the product and what I was doing, but nobody had ever trained or educated me in wealth management, ego containment, business growth for dealing with large numbers of staff which had grown exponentially since we had begun the business. The warning signs for my incompetence, was frustration.

Frustrated at home, frustrated at work, frustrated in my sport life. Frustrated was my middle name.

The more frustrated I was the more I tried to apply my skills to fix it. But frustration is a sign that I had reached the limit of my capacity to handle those problems as they grew. I needed new skills, new ideas, new benchmarks and different ways to assert myself. I tried hypnosis, I tried stroking my ego with an affair, I tried aggression, I tried being nice. I hired a company trainer who told us what personality types we were but all this was the same old stuff in different disguises.

In order to get past this frustration I went to university and studied more but the topics, like law and environment did not resolve it. I employed better people but the frustration grew. I drank Scotch Whiskey and the frustrations went away for a few hours but never forever. What was it that was needed?

I needed to evolve. And I had no option. But why did I resist doing that if it is, as of now, so conspicuous?

When I was 18 years old, if you’d asked me what I wanted to do with my life it was to own a business, save the world from pollution and create a sustainable planet (yes, I was a hippie), find a woman to love, make babies and have a home. I wanted to be wealthy and happy. I also wanted success in sport. So the frustration was, I’d achieved it.

When you are mixing concrete, you must after adding water, stir it. Sometimes, if the batch is small it’s by shovel, if the batch is bigger by a mixer and if it’s huge batch you use a truck that stirs it up. Really important that you stir it before you pour it. Once you pour it, and scrunch it into all the cracks of the holding frame, either by stomping with your feet or with a jiggyjig machine, the concrete begins to dry and once set, you need to wait a bit. Then, you can live on it, drive on it, it’s so strong. To unmake the concrete path or whatever you made, it’s not like throwing out a cake that burnt, you have 20 times the effort to make the concrete to unmake the concrete. Sledge hammers and sharp jackhammers are needed. It’s painful work to unmake concrete. And that’s the equivalent process to evolving. The frustration is you made the concrete and it set. And there’s nothing you can do. The past has build the present, you are who you are, your thoughts are your thoughts, your failures are all set in that concrete along with all the decisions you’ve made, like who you married, where you live and what wealth, success or not, you’ve created. It’s fucking concrete.

Now, we get frustrated because that damn concrete is tough. It’s there, it is. We are the concrete, It’s hard to say to someone, you are not you children. They can’t see a way to be separate from them. And no need. You can’t say to someone “don’t worry, take a pay cut, you’ll be ok” because those children and the money income is all part of the concrete. It was well mixed and well stomped down. It’s fixed. So you can’t say to someone just be happy with the concrete because the concrete was build to put a barbecue on it and a garage and a basketball ring and a drive way and a house. The concrete wasn’t built just to be a slab of concrete it was built to allow things to be put on it or driven over it. It wasn’t the end result. It was the platform. But the person who built that concrete loves it so much that can’t put the garage on top or build the barbecue on it because they worked so hard to build the concrete they don’t even want to drill a hole in it. So the concrete becomes the thing and they can’t get past it.

So I was that concrete. I was like ‘hey, look what I built, I built a concrete. I built a house, a family, a business, a partner, a bank account and lots of sport trophies.” Wow, “look at me look what I built.” And I wanted that concrete to be exactly perfect. I even polished it sometimes. What a piece of concrete I built. But I forgot why.

Frustration number one was that cracks started to appear in my concrete. I was stressed, my house was never good enough, the business was hard work and chinks were appearing in my body armour. I began to doubt myself, “had I wasted my time building that concrete? Maybe I didn’t mix the concrete right in the first place or maybe I didn’t stomp it down right.” The metaphor of concrete is perfect because you can’t see into it. Just like the past and present. It is here. And trying to work out whether you built this life you have correctly, is nearly impossible. But once that seed of doubt creeps in you begin questioning whether the concrete is strong enough, and become obsessed with making it perfect or even worse, not doing anything that might break it. I became frustrated at the uncertainty, something I’d never had in my entire life and I thought it was me, and the wheels began to fall off, I became cautious.

But there is one thing you can’t build into concrete. There’s one thing that remains outside that slab, that thing we call me and mine and my. It’s called the human spirit and it’s a real shit.

There’s only one way to describe the human spirit, and that’s with the word, more. MORE MORE MORE MORE… And many a Zen monk has gone to their grave hating that word. I remember, trying to kill my human spirit, that part of me that isn’t part of the concrete slab we call life. I sat in Zen for months, meditated in caves, I went to ashrams and yoga retreats trying to kill that fucker, but that human spirit just said “MORE.” I knew it was the root of my frustration. If I could kill that spirit, I’d be happy with my family, my house, my job, my body, I’d be satisfied. That human spirit, shit head, it made me question, it made me judge, it made me insecure, it made a lifetime of building concrete slab a joke, it disrespected my business. It just said “so, and now what?” Evolve Ya Bastard….

With the journey of trying to escape the human spirit of appetite for more, I chased my tail up mountains trying to be satisfied, but I was the same dissatisfied bastard at the top as I was at the bottom. I changed business, I added product, I did workshops on how to win friends and influence people. I got the sledge hammer and smashed the concrete slab, got divorced, became healthy, a vegetarian, a spiritual guy, I wrote poetry for a living in New York, danced to drums in Santa Fe with Native Americans and worked with Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas, and Sting and a bunch of others on non violence. I was someone else, and that’s another story but I was still smashing the concrete slab, trying un be, me. In the process, I was building another one. Mixing and pouring more concrete and getting frustrated about that too. That bee in my heart, my spirit, was still searching.

Finally, it dawned on me. Well, not dawned. It was shoved down my throat. I built that first concrete slab, not as a foundation for a barbecue or a garden shed or even a house. I built that concrete slab, and the many thereafter, to cover something up. To bury something. To hide something I was ashamed of. To create a world in which a part of me didn’t exist. And the frustration was, I couldn’t enjoy the slab without that part I’d buried.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to smash the slab to find it. I didn’t need to build more of them either. I didn’t need to be ashamed of and therefore bury a piece of me. What I realised all that time later is that in building concrete slabs, all nicely mixed and stomped down, I’d also forgotten to step out of the concrete before it dried. Cement boots.

Frustration is the revelation that our identity has become attached to the past and that we don’t need to destroy that slab of concrete that is the past. We just need to let go of that concrete identity and find what we accidentally buried under that slab called ego.

With Spirit


End of Question.

    Subscribe to my newsletter and be inspired