Character, Circumstances and Destiny

Chairman; Head Table parents, graduates, friends, good afternoon.

I thank Principal Whytely for his kind invitation and the opportunity to speak here today.  I have to say that I have thought about what to say with great care.  Addressing young minds is more like carving your initials into a tree than writing your name on a blackboard.  Now I am not even sure if you use blackboards anymore but I know that the day’s lessons, written with great care on a blackboard can be easily removed by the idlest of passersby.   But an etching on the bark of a tree can last for generations.

I assume, that you do not have the cynicism to dismiss as useless what I may have to say even before hearing it and that you have now near its peak a mind that wants to hear, assess, maybe learn, and perhaps even change.  I ask you to open for me, that fertile mind as I intend more to etch on your consciousness thoughts and ideas which I hope cannot be so easily removed as writing on a blackboard but which may somewhere, in intended, or unintended places leave nuggets that may be of some value on this great journey of life which lies before you.  I depend on the truth of Oliver Holmes’ words ‘A mind, once expanded by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions’.

Before making my main points I ask each of you to look around you, to your left and to your right, in front and behind, the persons you see will be your most trusted friends for the rest of your lives.  There is a trust that develops when you have nothing, that you will lose as you move through life, and begin to have things, begin to have influence, and therefore begin to question motives of those who would be your friends.  Those who are your friends when you are unsure as you are now, without anything to give in return but friendship itself, and who accept you with pimples, and bad fitting clothes and personal knowledge of your awkward maturing moments will be your best friends from henceforth.  Open your homes your hearts and whatever doors you can for these people as you go forward.  Take time to stop and say hello to them on the highways and byways of life.  Nurture and value these relationships.  They are hard to find.  Trust me on this – Good fren betta than pocket money.

 

I share with you therefore, and hold you to this, the words of Jesus in John 15:12.  This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.

 

As you leave these gates, perhaps for the last time for many of you, you do not know what you will encounter, you will feel unsure, many will have dreams and goals that you have no idea how you will achieve.  Life is neither straight forward, nor straight up, nor straight down.  It is a little bit of everything.  Where you end up is entirely up to you.  It’s important that you understand this and know it to the very core of your being.  It does not depend on where you were born, who your parents are, or where you went to school.  It depends completely and totally on you.

Let me share with you a case to make my point.  I listened to an interview with a man named Mohed Altrad, recently.  He started the interview by saying,’ I don’t know where I was born exactly, nor the day, nor the year nor the month’.  Mohed started life in a Bedouin tribe roaming the deserts of Syria.  His father was the head of the tribe.  He did not get to know his father though.  His father actually raped his mother twice, when she was only thirteen years old.  The first time she got pregnant with Mohed’s older brother and the second to Mohed himself.  His older brother was killed by his father and his mother died giving birth to him.  He was taken in by his grandmother who didn’t want him to go to school, advising him instead to learn to be a Shepherd that he did not need to go to school to learn how to be a good shepherd.  He knew intuitively that he did not want to be a Shepherd, that he wanted something else for himself.  He got up early in the morning every week day and snuck off to school, without shoes, without a uniform, just a simple cotton rag wrapped around his waist.  Mohed related – everyday when he came back from school, he had what he called ‘a terrible sanction’ from his grandmother.  In other words, beating.  He describes his so called school as a small building with a lot of holes in it.  He was not registered in the school so he looked through the holes from outside at the blackboard to learn.  The teacher at the school, after seeing him outside for months, committed to learning, invited him in to sit.  Before too long he proved to be one of the best students in the school.  Not only because he was bright, but because he was motivated to learn, to improve himself.  Tired from getting up early, sore from the beatings, he sat among the sheep and studied after classes were done. ‘Life in the desert he said’ has its own rules’. One of those rules was that if you are poor, if you are at the edge of the tribe, you have no rights.  One of the rights you don’t have is to be first in the class, which he was.  So since he was audacious enough to come first in the class, his fellow students decided to teach him a lesson.  So they dug a hole in the desert and threw him in it.  That he described as a Terrible moment in his life.  But he survived, he climbed out of the hole and kept climbing in life.

Hi grandmother died and again he was alone and faced the terror of the unknown.  One of the members of his tribes was married but could have no children so he adopted Mohed and gave him a couple of meals a day.  Eventually he won a scholarship to France where he continued to struggle and eventually started his own business.

Over the years he built a multi-billion dollar business and on June 7, 2015 He was chosen as the World Entrepreneur of the year at an event in Monte Carlo. A Bedouin reject turned Billionaire Philanthropist.

He said at the function “My story should tell anyone that you can change your destiny,”

 

Let me share with you a few important lessons from this one man’s experience, an experience which has been told in many versions from the story of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers to stories that are here today, among you, thought of, experienced but yet untold.  It is part of the human experience.

 

Where you are from is not as important as what you are here to do.  Mohet was from a backward forgotten desert in Arabia yet he rose to be World Entrepreneur of the year, Jamaica can barely be seen on a globe, a spot, a speck, yet we have produced the world’s best musicians, artists, activists and sports men – from Garvey to Marley, Nanny to Shelly, we have given to the world leaders and achievers beyond what our size would suggest.  Do not say to yourself, I am only from here, therefore I cannot reach over there.  Here is yours, and there can be yours too.  Indeed the world is yours, grasp it with both hands and shape it.  You belong.  You are important, you matter.  Never forget that.  Again I turn to the book of John.

When told by Philip that he had found the one Moses wrote about in the law, Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph.  Nathaniel responded ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, Come and see.

The savior himself came from a place that people regarded as backward, Nazareth, often described as a backwater in the Roman empire, yet he was as John described the Lamb of God, Come to take away the sins of the world

Where you are from is not as important as what you are here to do.

The second learning I want to leave with you is that character matters more than circumstances.  Who you are as a person, to your core, is more important than the circumstances you find yourself in.  Mohed found himself, poor, abused and forsaken, destined to be a shepherd and live out his days in the deserts of Syria.  Those were his circumstances, but not his destiny.  That was not who he was.  From the foundation of his character he set goals, had dreams, persevered and suffered, he took his destiny upon himself and did not allow circumstances to define him.  Think of this for me.  Think on it in your own life now, and remember it for the circumstances you will find yourself in repeatedly through life.  You will always face challenges, great and small, it is an inextricable part of the human experience.  But your life’s rudder is in who you are.  And by the way, to be clear, character is as important, if not more important when you have success than when you have failure.  I have seen many a decent young man of strong moral bearing, lose his way because he had become financially successful and the lures and temptations of the world call his name.  Character is important.  It is not easy, some days are better than others, it’s not perfection its practice, list your Principles, practice them, live by them.  Learn to forgive yourself.  Learn to be gentle with yourself.  Learn to start over with yourself.

Like Joseph in Potiphar’s house, know when to leave your cloak and run.  You may pay a price, you may suffer, but God has a plan for each of you and God knows best.

The third learning I want to leave with you follows on this.  Looking back, Mohed could see where his suffering led to his success but it was not evident in the midst of his suffering, all he saw and felt was pain.  As the founder of Apple, Steve Job’s said in a commencement speech, ‘We cannot connect the dots going forward, only looking back.’  It’s hard to see where suffering is part of God’s plan for you.  To you it’s only suffering.  Consider Mohed, the troubles that caused the man who adopted him not to be able to have children, was a big problem for the man and his wife but it was part of God’s plan for Mohed.  Later when he wanted to be an Air Force Pilot, the Air Force stopped taking in new recruits, his option was to go to France to do anything he could find, so dejected he went, speaking not a word of French, but it was from France that he built his business empire.  He could not have known this as he slept cold and hungry in meagre accommodations he was afforded.

How would Joseph have known, as he lay in a pit that his brother’s dug for him, that this was part of a plan not only for himself but for an entire nation, Israel.  How would he have known that the path to becoming chief administrator for Egypt led through a dungeon?  He could not know, he could only have faith that some good thing would come from all that he endured.  That all things work together for the good of them that serve God.

As you take on this great adventure of life, there will be times you will wonder, why me lord, you will feel stagnated, there will be times when nothing seems to be working in your favor, remember you are only on one page of a very long book, have faith, in yourself and in God, that he has written for your life a grand and beautiful story.  Enjoy every moment of the ride.  It’s is your life, it’s your gift, the greatest gift you will ever receive.

The world lies before you, the journey lies before you, with strong character and sure faith, strike out with all the enthusiasm and optimism of youth, make your dent in the universe, make yourself better, make your family better, make your community and your country better.  We are depending on you. This is in your hands, empower yourselves and be the change you want to see around you.

I close with the words of Maryann Williamson

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

 

Congratulations to each of you, I wish for you God’s richest blessing, and Godspeed.  I leave with you the admonition and blessing that my fathers left me.  Walk good.

Thank you all very much.

My Yoga Purge

Something was awfully awry.  I left the toilet seat up (again) and my wife did not repeat the diatribe, one of many, IMG_0020to which I had become accustomed and which had been slowly sizzled into my memory, such that I could repeat it, as if the words were the thoughts of Longfellow, Kipling or Shakespeare, punctuated with the colloquialism, ‘how yu head so tuff’.  Nothing came.

I did not witness the calm that overcomes mass murderers as they are about to do their deed, but rather the calm of a centered person, breath and body in synchronous undulation, the calm of an emerging Yogi.

When it comes time to work-out my wife had taken on the insane habit of heading to Bikgram Yoga Jamaica while I, trying to hold on pathetically to the inexorable ebb of my testosterone headed to the gym to pump iron with real men where we shout and scream, veins popping, muscles bulging, and look askance at how much the other guy is lifting.  This is the world I was accustomed to.  In my head my body could still devour the track with huge graceful strides to win the 100m Class 1 event at Boy’s Champs, or propel a 390 kilo bobsleigh from zero to fast in little seconds at the Olympic Games.  In truth my body had been trying to have a heart to heart with my head for some time but alas, ‘mi head tuff’.

Out of curiosity, I decided to try the practice which had produced this strange woman walking around in my house.  The first few times I went to Bikram Yoga I prayed after minute 1 that I would make it to minute 90.  After minute 90 I swore on the honor and courage of my African forebears that I would not set back foot in that place.  But I went, or was called, drawn, back.  Something strange was happening.  I started to make connections.

It was not the heat in the room that frightened me so much at first, but my fear of the heat.  I had then, not to overcome the heat, but to overcome my fear.  I knew from a lifetime of challenge that beyond fear lies courage, beyond courage lies challenge, and beyond challenge lies change.  I began to breathe.

I am now over half way into a 40 day challenge.  I take what I experience in life into my practice and what I learn in my practice into my life.  What was left of my ego went first, high level athletic credentials matter little in the studio.  A young lady, who calls me Uncle Chris, hits a perfect standing bow pose in her second class, and holds it for 20 seconds, feet visible above her head in the mirror.  I spend the twenty seconds stumbling about like a drunkard making his way home late on a Friday night payday.  But even that is Okay.  I was trying.  ‘To stumble is to be human, to try again is to be a Yogi.’ 

I am reassured by the teacher, and I understand deep in my consciousness, that the benefit is in the effort not in the result.  So different from the ethos that only winning matters in my outside worlds.  One day I will get the pose, but by then I would have learned what I needed to.  Another practice aphorism echoes in the back of my mind as I am in Awkward Pose and feel as if I am going to fall backward ‘trust the process’ and I try, even as my legs tremble as I squat beside a fifty something mother who has done little more than PE in high school but is holding the pose steadily, head up, arms reaching, elegant.  The struggle is never against the person beside you, it’s always against yourself.

Exhausted, I collapse into dead body pose.  Will someone please turn on the fan, its hot, how many poses left, what time is it? Lawd Jeezas help mi!  I am about to have a panic attack, but I breathe.  The teacher, in tune with the class, says, ‘own your breath. If you own your breath, nothing or no one can steal your peace.’  I calm down, like the hollering baby I saw in the airport last week who was only calmed by its mother’s breast, I breathe and am comforted.  The breath connects me to the milk of the universe and I am at peace…’heels, toes, together…sit up.  I am renewed.

I am getting dressed to go to a meeting; my clothes no longer fit.  My waist is now what it was in high school, having been lost somewhere in the yoga studio.  I tighten my belt and smooth out the wrinkles in my pants waist. I am accustomed now to the various comments, ‘how yu so mawga’ from my mother to ‘you look so good’ from a passing stranger.  My wife is smelling the roses and causes me to be late for the meeting.  She is anticipating my own diatribe, I breathe, and it’s all good.  My head may not be that tough after all.

Power Eating for Executives and Entrepreneurs – Reducing Stress (4 of 4)

The source of many illnesses - Stress.

The source of many illnesses – Stress.

In explaining to me the nature of stress, a medical doctor friend of mine gave me the following example as I sat is his office about to have blood drawn. ‘Chris’ he said ‘stress is a matter of stimulus and response. You for example are sitting here with a lady putting a needle in your forearm and we are having a conversation. On the other hand we spent most of this morning reviving a strapping man who drop, bapse, on the ground when he saw the needle. Same stimulus, different response.’

Stress can only effectively be dealt with when we fully understand and address what our stimuli are and how we choose our responses. Here, I want to deal briefly with the nutritional aspect.

For sure there is a chemical component to stress. Some years ago I was heading to a major event to make a speech. This was in the midst of the usual assortment of business and health challenges which life routinely serves up. As many speeches as I make to as many people as I make them to you would think it would be easy. The truth is I’m a nervous wreck in these situations. Normally I would breathe and carry on but I was not doing well this day. So a friend of mine broke off a half of a Xanax and gave it to me. All was good. The world started to move in slow motion

Olive Oil

Olive Oil

and I was ready to jump out of planes and run into flaming buildings. I spoke without barely a heart flutter and slept like a baby that night. Aware of my suspected genetic disposition to various addictions I shortly thereafter began to explore a more holistic approach to attaining that same state of mellowness.

Bananas, peanut butter, sesame seeds, oats and milk are all sources of tryptophan which produces chemicals in the brain that support relaxation and improved mood. The B vitamins which are so effective in improving cognitive performance are also helpful in combating symptoms of stress and anxiety. Almonds, beans, whole grains, and kelp are good sources of B vitamins.

Reduced levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the brain are related to a variety of cognitive disorders. Adding oily fishes, flaxseed, nuts, and my favorite, olive oil, to your diet can help relieve the symptoms of anxiety. If you know anyone who starts to shake once they get hungry then you would have seen the effects of low blood sugar on the nervous system. Adequate and timely

Stress impacts heart health

Stress impacts heart health

intake of complex carbohydrates can improve the levels of glucose needed to prevent these and other anxiety type symptoms. Complex carbohydrates also improves serotonin levels which leads to a feeling of relaxation and calm. Good sources of complex carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Eating high-protein snacks can be particularly helpful to individuals who tend to experience low energy and high anxiety during the day.

As important as eating foods that help relieve the symptoms of anxiety is avoiding foods that enhance these symptoms such as fried food, high glycemic carbs, unrefined sugars, and alcohol.

So let me end with some quite pleasing information, chocolate, particularly pure dark chocolate is a great anti-stress snack as it reduces the so called stress hormone, cortisol, in the body. You may want to consider using that next time you are looking for a reason to rationalize eating the chunk of chocolate that is in front of you.

Bon apetit

Conclusion

Sustaining high performance for the executive and entrepreneur involves complex psychological and physiological processes. To be truly successful in this endeavor requires a holistic approach. What we have covered here is one aspect, and an often overlooked aspect, nutrition. Athletes have always understood, and executives and entrepreneurs should too, that what you eat can give you more energy, help you think better and manage your stress. Don’t just think about eating, but think about eating your way to success.

Power Eating for Executives and Entrepreneurs – Enhancing and Sustaining Mental Sharpness (3 of 4)

Brainpower can make all the difference

Brainpower can make all the difference

Your brain is only about 2% of your body weight but uses about 20% of your calories to power itself. It is an energy hog. The brain functions by passing signals from one neuron to the next, between billions of neurons via neurotransmitters. Seratonin, dopamine and acetycholine are among the more common neurotransmitters. The chemistry of this process requires specific nutrients to work.   Any deficiency in these can lead to mood swings, disturbances in sleep patterns, mental dullness and confusion. Taken at its worst, it may be manifested as depression. So what should a brain powering diet look like?

Your level of glucose sugar available to the brain will significantly impact your cognitive abilities. Glucose is the brains sole source of energy. The same carbohydrates recommended to improve your energy levels will also power your brain. The low glycemic index carbohydrates such as those provided by fruits including bananas, oranges and apples are most efficient at fueling the brain. A mix of fruits at breakfast will provide the brain power to start the day right and to sustain focus. Low glycemic index foods do not create the peaks and crashes that high glycemic carbohydrate intake, such as from energy drinks, create.

While glucose will produce immediate benefits to the brain, we should also concern ourselves with eating for its long term health. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to brain health and improved mental sharpness and concentration. They help to regulate serotonin levels and prevent depression, mood swings and a feeling of lethargy. The primary source of Omega-3 is

Salmon, an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids

Salmon, an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids

actually marine microalgae and diatoms, but a more accessible source is fresh oily fish like salmon, herring, trout and tuna. Non-meat foods high in omega-3 include, flax seeds, walnuts, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, strawberries and avocados.

Mental stamina and memory are supported by an adequate intake of B-vitamins. Vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli or high protein foods, like meat, egg yolk or peanuts are excellent sources of B-vitamins. Whole grain foods are rich in vitamin B6, which plays an important part in synthesising some of the neurotransmitters. Bananas are often labeled as brain food because they are high in vitamin B6, contain potassium and provide glucose. Brown rice and bananas in addition to providing the carbs necessary for energy also supply B-vitamins to support brain function.

Antioxidants help the body guard against free radicals and hence the effects of aging. Memory and general cognitive ability may be improved by eating foods rich in antioxidants such as spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, raisins, plums, pecans, sunflower seeds, dates, red kidney beans and the cocoa bean.

By way of practical advice, invest in a juicer or become a regular at your nearby juice bar. Juiced fruits and vegetables provide the water, antioxidants and other micronutrients critical to your cognitive functions. While I am on the subject of what you should drink, this may be a good time to say what you should not drink particularly as it impacts mental acuity. Alcohol is widely derided as impairing judgment. I know that if I smell a vodka I can’t see straight and the rest of the day is best spent at home in bed; but the body of research on the subject actually supports a moderate degree of alcohol consumption to improve cognitive function. A study on alcohol consumption and cognitive performance carried on at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health reports that ‘Women who drank moderately (2-4 drinks/day) showed superior performance in many cognitive domains relative to abstainers. For men, superior performance was found within the range of 4-8 drinks/day, although fewer significant relations were observed.’ In all cases ‘heavy drinking’ degenerated cognitive capacity.

Branson BeerI pass on to you two of the more salient pieces of advice I have gotten in my life on the subject of drinking; first from my grandfather: ‘If you are going to drink, make sure you can hold your liquor’ and second from a mentor ‘never ever invest in a business whose active Founder or CEO is an alcoholic.’

Power Eating for Executives and Entrepreneurs (1 of 4)

Introduction

Athlete eating

Athletes have always understood the importance of nutrition

As an athlete, first in track and field and then in bobsledding, my intense physical training was complemented by an equally structured program of nutrition. Food and supplements, the conventional wisdom went, would enhance my ability to train and to perform at a high level. This started from as early as Port Maria Primary school, where I was given nutmeg to suck because it would supposedly give me ‘donkey breath’, and reached its apogee with the various concoctions of oils and minerals preferred by Sam Bock, an outstanding and innovative bobsleigh coach who led Jamaica to its best Winter Olympic finish in that sport.

While there is considerable divergence on what diets and supplements lead to peak athletic performance, it is generally accepted that both, properly used, will yield significant positive results.

In a research paper, Nutrition for the Sprinter (Journal of Sports Science. 2009 Apr;27(6):667), the authors write that ‘Several supplements potentially influence sprint training or performance’. Training for sports involves a variety of routines to develop strength, endurance, explosiveness and sport specific skills, each of which places different physiological demands on the athlete. Elite sport athletes have high training intensities and volumes for most of the training season, so energy intake must be sufficient to support recovery and adaptation. The efficacy of these exertions have been shown to be enhanced by a multi-faceted nutritional strategy to support both general training needs–tailored to specific training phases–as well as the acute demands of competition.

Commenting on a recent Tweet by five time Olympic Gold Medalist Ryan Lochte, implying that he consumed 10,000 calories per day, Lewis James, a lecturer in nutrition at the UK’sLoughborough University said “Everyone should be working hard to make sure they have got the appropriate diet for their sport or their event, making sure they are well fed and have consumed the right nutrients at the right times so that we can really maximize performance…..Messing your diet up or not eating properly in a lot of events can really impair your performance.”

Having ‘hung up my spikes’ and on pursuing, first, my banking career and then my entrepreneurial life choice, I left behind any commitment to a nutritional program to support my various exertions. it was not evident to me that nutrition was as important in these fields as in athletic performance and perhaps even more so.

Problem

Executives and entrepreneurs need to choose how to eat.

Executives and entrepreneurs need to choose how to eat.

Executives and Entrepreneurs face demands for high performance which outweigh in scope, duration and consequence demands faced by athletes. The stakes are entirely different. Even in the high stakes world of professional sports, soccer, football and basketball, not considering the outliers, athletes compete at this level for a relatively short time. For example, the average career length for an NBA player is 4.8 years, 3.3 years for an NFL player, and a player in the English Premier League can expect to be active at that level for about 8 years. Now with life expectancy in the Caribbean in the 70s and increasing, we will all spend the majority of our days in some sort of professional or entrepreneurial endeavor.

The executive or entrepreneur will not perform for a few hours a day, for some months each year, for a relatively short number of years like her professional athlete colleague, she must perform on demand, 12-14 hours or more per day, without an off season for 40-50 years. She needs all the help she can get. If nutrition is important to the athlete it is critical to this group of people.

For convenience it is useful to consider the impact of nutrition for executives and entrepreneurs on three areas; energy levels, mental acuity and stress management.

The table below provides a useful reference point for what kinds of food can help improve performance.

Water Vegetables Fruits Grains Dairy Protein Other
Energy Spring Water & Coconut Water Sweet potatoes, Spinach, edamame Bananas, Oranges, apples, avocado, green peas, pumpkin, almonds Brown Rice, Quinoa(actually a seed) Greek yogurt, Steamed fish, Broiled Chicken, egg whites, Honey
Mental Sharpness Spring Water & Coconut Water Lettuce, calaloo, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, brocoli, tomatoes Bananas, Oranges, apples, walnut, strawberries, avocado, raisins, plums, pecans, sunflower seeds, dates, red kidney beans, cocoa bean Flax seeds, peanuts brown rice Omega 3 from salmon, herring, trout and tuna, olive oil
Stress & Anxiety Spring Water & Coconut Water Lettuce, calaloo, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, brocoli, tomatoes Bananas, oranges, apples, peanut butter, sesame seeds, almonds, beans, flaxseed, chocolate Brown rice, Oats Milk Omega 3 from salmon, herring, trout and tuna, olive oil
Eating the right foods supports energy levels, mental sharpness and stress management

Eating the right foods supports energy levels, mental sharpness and stress management