They say that cats have seven lives. Could it be the same for humans? Personally, I feel I’ve had at least five so far. I don’t mean I was about to die five times. I say it in the sense that each of my “lives” took place in different country where I had to start everything from scratch in completely new circumstances. And every next time had a totally unique scenario as if somebody pushed a “reset” button or like in a computer game moved me to the next level once I passed the previous one.
Since we always try to find logical explanation to everything, I kept wondering WHY did I have such disconnected experiences? What does it lead me to? Is there one particular purpose or reason behind everything that happens?
I hope Steve Jobs was right saying that “You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path”.
Recently I met a person with a very unusual life journey. It is impressive how many different roles he tried including being a philosopher, Zen Buddhism practitioner, writer, film maker, teacher, musician and entrepreneur. Seems totally random and disconnected at first sight but a deeper look reveals one very logical theme behind all he did.
Read my conversation with Justin Follin where we “connect the dots” in his life story and find out how to learn “a way of life that feels free, easy, happy and deep”.
About Justin Follin
Justin is a Partner in a BLUECASE Strategic Partners, a consulting firm that specializes in developing entrepreneurial, innovative and visionary leadership cultures in large organizations. In his job he prepares organization leaders for a fast change, for being innovative and for building a company where people can realize their full potential. He brings in a tone of insight and experience in performance psychology and provides techniques that serve high performing ways of executing in high pressure situations.
Justin holds degree in philosophy and has experience in writing, film making, teaching and in corporate world. During his free time, he plays music with his band in Austin. A schedule of performances is available in Facebook or dedicated website justinfallen.com
Justin, today you are an entrepreneur. Do you feel it being your highest achievement that gives you a sense of contentment with who you are?
I believe my highest achievement is that I have learned the way to live that feels free, open, easy, happy and deep. My life has been very exploratory and experimental and I lived with a lot of curiosity about human experience and varieties of perspectives. That allowed me to be very open and caring person that has a sense of contentment with who I am. This is not as much kind of tangible achievement. That’s a way of live I was interested in at a young age, and I have followed what I was interested in.
“It seems so obvious now that it all worked out, and it felt completely random at the time”.
What were you interested in?
One was about how to live with a self-realized human being, how to be a full expression of myself as a person. I did not know what that meant and I had different explorations. I studied philosophy in college, then I studied Zen Buddhism, I lived as a writer for a while and was interested in film making, I got into music and coaching people and entrepreneurship. Just different things. When they become an interest I follow and explore.
How did your previous experience help you to get into your current profession?
I guess from early on wherever I was exploring there was always a similar thread of my own personal development. My work in arts, as a teacher, in former consulting firm followed the thread of people development, development of your greatest capacity as an individual and working in collective groups. I became very passionate with how to perform at high levels, whether you are performing on stage or in a project, or school environment. I started coaching public speakers, stage performers, CEOs, anyone who would be speaking visionary statements. I was also teaching CEOs on how to bring their vision into life within the organization.
“I trust that the little serendipities or synchronicities have a way of leading to the next thing”.
It is very impressive how many completely different roles you have pursued! How did each of these activities come into your life? And what was their contribution into who you are today?
It seems so obvious now that it all worked out, and it felt completely random at the time. I had no idea what I was doing, how I got doing what I was doing, why I was doing what I was doing. Following my interest was a thread. And the key to following interest was that I also completely threw myself into whatever it was I was doing, and always had a relentless drive for excellence. Everything I do, I want it to be the best it can be. And by engaging with what came along when following my interest, usually a vision of what excellence looks like comes to mind. It’s kind of like Michelangelo said about the sculpture: the sculpture is already there, you’re chopping away the stone to get to it. Often the vision shifts and morphs as I learned new things, but I always had a sense of what was next-even if I didn’t know exactly what that was. I trust that the little serendipities or synchronicities have a way of leading to the next thing.
This is how it all happened…
“Following my interest was a thread”.
From Philosophy to Zen Buddhism
When I was really young I liked to think about things a lot. But it was all in my head. I was thinking all the time trying to figure out why am I here? Why am I alive? Sometimes it felt like I was driving myself a little crazy doing it all the time.
Studying philosophy there is a big encouragement for thinking. I found it so unsettling to question everything I believed. And I remember taking a philosophy class in college and asking a teacher, who I thought was really a genius and I still think he is, why we were doing this. And he said: “To get to the truth”.
“That doesn’t sound right”, – I thought.
This answer made me feel very disoriented. For some reason this conversation just hit me and I was thinking, and thinking, and thinking.
And I had an idea of sitting down and letting thoughts pass by, like clouds in the sky. I practiced meditation for the first time and achieved a period maybe of 3 or 4 seconds when my mind was at ease. I realized I should definitely continue doing that, and got pretty serious about meditation and learning how to unwind the tension, which was in my mind and to know a more complete way of experiencing the world. It was my new focus, understanding something deeper than my own thoughts.
From Zen Buddhism to writing and film making
I graduated from school and went back to live with my parents for a year, trying to figure out what was next. I had interest in the arts at that time and not really much else idea of what I wanted to do as job. So I got an internship in the place called “Americans for the arts”.
I had imagined it to be filled with a lot of artists but what it really was is arts administration which was something I was not as interested in.
“I started to explore acting and I learned correlation between being present, meditation and creative expression. Being an actor you can’t live with the past or future. You are on the stage and you are performing at this moment, there is no other moment”.
One day I was walking through a lunch room. There was a woman talking about her experience with people who did not seem to be interested in listening but did it just to be polite. I thought what she was saying was actually interesting, cause she was a poetry performer and I had never heard of that. So I picked up the conversation, everybody left and we talked more seriously about writing and about what she did.
I was back to my desk and few hours later she popped her head and said: “Are you a writer?”.
“I guess so”, I replied. It’s not something I’ve done a lot of but I studied some in college and I thought it was enough to give my positive answer.
“We are making a 48-hour film for a 48-hour festival if you want to join?”
“Sure!”, – I said, having no idea what it was. It turned out that they gave us a subject and we had 48 hours to make a film form beginning to the end!
It was great fun! We were four writers and we worked so well together that after this festival we formed our own production company called Straight No Chaser production. We won a competition and got to be a production company for a year. I realized: “That’s what I’m going to do, I want to be a film maker!”. I explored that for a while and then moved to a next thing.
This production company is still alive. I am not part of it anymore but they are still making documentary films.
It was a really great experience. It taught me a lot about how to communicate ideas and how important it was to work with actors. They needed to be present. So I started to explore acting and I learned correlation between being present, meditation and creative expression. Being an actor you can’t live with the past or future. You are on the stage and you are performing at this moment, there is no other moment.
From writing to teaching
“There is one way of teaching which is about giving a bunch of knowledge. The other way is about bringing out something that is already there in another person…to help people see through their limitations”.
I came to Austin to be a writer. I did my own business as a freelancer, did film classes and then found my way into teaching.
How did it happen? I threw a birthday party which was set up as a surrealist kids’ birthday party for adults. It was based on the idea of surrealist movement popular in the first part of the 20th century when they played games like exquisite corpse and parlors game – one person would write a line, then next, then another and it made surrealist poems or stories.
A woman that ran arts organization that did educational outreach in Austin heard about my party and said: “You should work for us”. Following my interest, I went to work for them. This experience helped me to see new about teaching: there is one way of teaching which is about giving a bunch of knowledge. The other way is about bringing out something that is already there in another person, helping to facilitate that, so they experience life fully as a result of that interactions.
I ended up developing my own curriculum after that project and became a full time teacher at a small private school in Austin. And that was cool opportunity. There were a lot of different theories that I was exposed to, like “Pedagogy of oppressed” by Paulo Freiri and “Theatre of the Oppressed” by Augusto Boal. They were talking a lot about teaching and the role that you have as a teacher to help people see through their limitations.
From teaching to corporate
Having learned these teaching theories I started to see the connection that I could coach adults in a same way. So I started to work on the side with professional speakers like professors, academics, corporate people. Then joined consulting firm which was working with cultural transformation inside of large companies and leadership teams. I spent a number of years there and learned the ins and outs of consulting and leadership development. And then I started BLUECASE firm with my partner.
The reason I’m doing the consulting work that I’m doing now is that I believe fully that the world needs a new kind of leader: leaders that understand how to adapt, to move with high speed complexity and change, and who aren’t attached to doing things the old way just because that’s how it’s been done. We’re entering a new time on our planet with a whole lot of uncertainty. Being able to lead through uncertainty, tapping into collective potential and having the curiosity and confidence to ask “how do we move forward we don’t know how?” There’s a lot of potential when organizations have leaders that listen to each other, keep open minds, and are willing to experiment and (sometimes) fail to find new, better ways of doing things.
And how did you get into music?
Music is my form of performance and my form of art. Because I am doing that I feel more integrated. Music is something I do personally. Work requires different aspects of myself. As a whole expression it is important for me to do all of that.
I played drums. I didn’t want to play other people’ songs so I started to write my own. A friend of mine was moving away from Austin and she gave me a guitar and I learned to play a guitar when I was 28. I had a band, and then this band dispended and I recorded album with other musicians. Now I have a new band and we play shows sometimes in Austin.
“A lot of people are afraid of things in themselves. There is a real fear of who you are. There are things about you that you like and you don’t. But nothing is excluded. There is a way of relating to dark aspects of yourself instead of fighting, resisting, and getting rid of them. They can be transformed into light.”
You have a very unusual ring. May I ask what it means?
“My ring is a reminder that I’m comfortable with the darkness because being peaceful is actually being ok with the way you are”.
I guess I wear it as a reminder that I want to always be in touch with dark aspects of myself so I am free and available to life as it is. The darkness and the light are all a part of life.
A lot of people are afraid of things in themselves. There is a real fear of who you are. There are things about you that you like and you don’t. But nothing is excluded. There is a way of relating to dark aspects of yourself instead of fighting, resisting, and getting rid of them. They can be transformed into light.
There is a Buddhist story about one monk meditating in a cave alone. Meditating deeply and intensely he was experiencing the most horrifying monster coming to his meditation. And it wasn’t just when he was meditating, it was coming in awaking hours too. He was trying to run away but the monster would be everywhere he went. He just couldn’t get away.
Finally he met with a teacher and the teacher said: “You’ve been running from this monster all the time. How does it work?”
“I can’t get away!”, – he replied.
“Instead of running try to face the monster and offer a tea”.
So he goes to the cave, prepares a tea, sits with a monster and at that moment the monster transforms and becomes a beautiful friend. And this was a realization and welcoming the dark aspect of himself.
So my ring is a reminder that I’m comfortable with the darkness because being peaceful is actually being ok with the way you are. There is plenty of darkness all over, so if I want to bring a light I need to be comfortable with that.
I hope that like Justin one day I’ll figure out where all these “random” experiences lead me to. I just need to follow my interest and have a faith that if I do it then right things will happen at the right time opening new opportunities and guiding me on my way to finding my true self.
About the author:
Oxana believes that every person’s life can make an intriguing story for a book which can teach a lot of wisdom. Life in Russia, England, France, Hungary, USA and lots of travelling around the continents introduced her to exceptional personalities. She loves to share stories about people and destinations which bring new ideas and help to find a way to your true self. This is why she started her blog “In search of the genuine”