Philosophy

Forgiveness – Letter, Structure, Guide, Ritual, Practice


I’ve tried writing letters to people in the past in order to help me process and organise my thoughts.

Some I’ve sent, others I haven’t. But each time I’ve found it useful.

At the end of last year I was introduced to the exercise of writing a Forgiveness Letter by Peter Barr, a Master Certified Coach of over 20 years and recipient of a 2022 Gold Award – Executive Coach at Global Coach Awards.


(As you’ll see in the structure and instructions below, these are not letters to be published or sent.)


I wrote one the following day.


The process was intense, challenging, sad and loving. Afterwards I was left with sense of peace and calm.


Along similar lines to what I wrote in The Mirror Is The Hardest Place To Look, my experience has been that forgiving myself can be hard too.

So today I chose to write one to myself to kick off the working year.


This experience was the same, with the resulting sense of peace and calm.


I wanted to document and share the structure and process here.

Forgiveness Letter

Structure

It’s incredibly simple:

Dear XYZ,


I am angry at you for…


I am sad that you…


I forgive you for…


I love you for…


Toby


That’s it.

Guide

  1. Find a private space and set aside some time. [I allowed an hour in my office each time. It probably took me 45 mins but other people spend hours on these. It’s entirely up to you.]

  2. Grab a box of tissues in case of tears. [I didn’t have them on hand for my first letter and ended up having to grab a roll of toilet paper instead.]

  3. Write as much as you feel like. There’s no need to force more, just let it flow. When you’re done, you’re done. There’s no minimum/maximum length. It’s solely for you, no one else. [Rather than handwriting, I also found it easiest to type into a document with those three prompts and bounce back and forth as thoughts occurred.]

Ritual

I called Pete afterwards about this part: What should I do once I’ve written the letter?

After a quick chat, I decided I’d print out the document, permanently delete the digital file and then burn the print out.

I really enjoy rituals so I did the above and burned the letter in a metal cooking bowl outside my house.

For my second letter, I added some music: Ludovico Einaudi’s Nuvole Bianche (like in my cold bath ritual).

Practice

I’ve thought about if or how this might become a practice.

For now, I’ve decided I’ll use it more as a tactical tool when I feel it’s appropriate rather than a regular practice.

Thanks again Pete for introducing me to it.


If you’re willing to give it a go, I hope you find it useful too.

[Podcast] How To Thrive As A Leader And Be Your Best Self – Olympics, 3 Questions, 4 Ideas, Crucibles, Buddhism

Toby, what was driving you back then?

I just knew I wanted to go to the Olympic Games. In reflection, I would say that I was trying to prove something to myself. I think that ultimately, I was trying to prove that I was enough.

It was great to be a guest on Jeff Bullas’ podcast recently.

Jeff is an online entrepreneur, influencer, author and speaker on all things digital. He has been featured on Forbes as a “Top 20 Influencer of Chief Marketing Officers” and ranked #1 Global “Digital Marketing Influencer”. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Inc., and Huffington Post. Having built a social media tribe of over 700k followers, he now advises startups on marketing and influencer strategy.

Jeff and I met back in my Bluewire Media marketing days and have become great friends, sharing highs and lows of our journeys both personally and professionally.

In this interview we cover a bit of ground:

  • The three questions that have guided my professional journey.
  • The rocky road to Athens Olympics and my physiological response to the stress and pressure.
  • The four business ideas that we assessed before starting Bluewire Media and our decision criteria.
  • The role of crucible situations in my development.
  • How death forced me to look in the mirror.
  • Why Jeff as a social media influencer has reduced his social media interactions.
  • The tweak in my understanding of a key Buddhism story that made me realise that acceptance is a never ending practice.
  • How an evidence-based triangle can help people work better with stress and pressure.

You can find Jeff all over the web:

Please enjoy!

How To Script Difficult Conversations – Getting Hyper-Tactical With Values.

I’m insanely busy. And I still have to do my work over and above our time together. So that means you need to give me something pretty special Toby.”

I was 5 minutes into a workshop. I’d asked: “What do you want to take away from our time together?”

This immediate challenge rattled me. But I had to respond.


“Thanks for being real with me. I’ll definitely use that to sharpen up how we work through this together.”


It was the best I could do at the time. I pushed my way through the slide deck.


I was pretty relieved to get out of there. And as I did, I could feel my frustration rising.


What the hell? Why wouldn’t they come more open minded about this? What kind of attitude is that?


It chewed me up over the weekend. I couldn’t let it go.


It took a few days to get distance, to regather my perspective.


The frustration remained, but I couldn’t fault their logic. They were right. Time is precious. It is non-renewable. Theirs and mine.


Now I really felt the pressure to deliver. How could I have any kind of impact at all? Let alone ever be invited back to do any further work?


The next workshop opening felt like a crux moment.


This was a group that I might have historically put on a pedestal. I knew this was going to be a difficult conversation for me.

What I said

5 days later, I opened the second workshop with mindfulness and then individual reflections around the group. I listened to them all.


“I have a few of my own reflections.”


I jumped in.


“I know that you all have an enormous amount on your plate. We spoke about a lot of externalities last week – covid, floods, conflicting priorities, conflicting stakeholders.


I’m really grateful that you were willing to be so real with me. That’s super important and I’d like you to continue to be.


I also realise that I can’t really help you with those things. I’ve never been in your roles. But I can empathise with how that might feel – I’ve had to work with pressure too.


The one thing I can definitely do though, is help you explore a different way of working with stress. I’ve used it for myself and I’ve helped others use it to navigate and deliver in high stakes situations.


It’s also really important to me that I make a contribution here. I’ve added up the time and it’s 76 daylight, non-renewable hours that we are all committing to our work together. Including me. That’s a lot. So I’d like your help.


What is it that you truly need to take away from this program?


What are the specifics so I can tailor the work accordingly and maximise the impact?”


The intensity in the room had dialled up. I could feel the tension.


The challenger spoke up.


“I need these two things and as quickly as possible…”


We agreed amongst the group that these would be the focus. The pace quickened, the tension lifted and we were away.


The only thing missing was the slide deck. It never came back out.

Why I said it

As the stoics say, the obstacle is the way (great book titled the same by Ryan Holiday on this).


The challenge on this occasion was a gift that allowed me to get to what truly mattered to this group.


Once what matters becomes clear, I’ve seen huge shifts in energy and focus in myself and in others. It certainly worked this time.

Here’s how I arrived at the specific script above.

Planning

Having five days between the workshops gave me a chance to respond rather than react. Another stoic lesson from Seneca: The greatest remedy for anger is delay.


I’ve been given advice recently from James Charlesworth, founder and CEO of MakerOps: Know your opening line. And know your agenda. By thinking at this tactical level, it forced me to get concise with my approach.

Writing I didn’t just think it through, I wrote it down. Writing forces clarity for me. The night after the workshop, I reflected and wrote down everything – good, bad, ugly. The day prior, I wrote my script and practiced it.


Values

I find my values most useful when I get hyper-tactical with them. The more specific the better, especially when a situation gets tough. I use them to plan my exact opening lines for challenging meetings, for key note presentations, for difficult conversations. In this instance it was the opening lines of the second workshop.


My values are: Love, Gratitude, Humility, Exploration and Contribution.


I used each of them to script a part of my reflection back to the group. Using them acted as the cues to prompt me as I spoke and as key words throughout. Here’s a deconstruction of the script by my values.

Love

[For me, Love in a work setting means recognising and acknowledging the suffering of others.] I know that you all have an enormous amount on your plate. We spoke about a lot of externalities last week – covid, floods, conflicting priorities, conflicting stakeholders.

Gratitude

I’m also really grateful that you were willing to be so real with me. That’s super important and I’d like you to continue to be.

Humility

I also realise that I can’t really help you with those things. I’ve never been in your roles. But I can empathise with how that might feel – I’ve had to work with pressure too.


Exploration

The one thing I can definitely do though, is help you explore a different way of working with stress. I’ve used it for myself and I’ve helped others use it to navigate and deliver in high stakes situations.


Contribution

It’s also really important to me that I make a contribution here. I’ve added up the time and it’s 76 daylight, non-renewable hours that we are all committing to our work together. Including me. That’s a lot. So I’d like your help.


What is it that you truly need to take away from this program?


What are the specifics so I can tailor the work accordingly and maximise the impact?”

 

Acceptance

I also knew I’d be nervous before this conversation. I had to practice acceptance and expect the nerves, the sweaty palms to show up. They did. I had to accept that all of this was the price of entry to this conversation and me making a contribution with this group.

Mindfulness

I open nearly every workshop with a very simple mindfulness activity. It’s a 4-7-8 breath: breath in for a 4 count, hold for a 7 count and out for an 8 count. Do that three times and come back to the room in your own time. (You could try it now if you like. It only takes a minute.) This was an easy one to include in the flow of this situation.


I’ve come to learn that I don’t need to lose my eyes and breathe though. Some people wriggle their toes in meetings and notice the sensations. Others mindfully take a sip of water. Another time, when my father was dying, a Zen Master Mary Jaksch told me that I would know I was present in conversations with him if I could tune into the sounds around me.


I see mindfulness as the scalpel between my reaction (which I can’t control) and my response (which I can choose).


In the end, this script and process worked for me. I recovered the situation and found consensus on the exact items that would make this time most valuable. I feel immensely grateful to the challenger. As uncomfortable as it was, we were all substantially better off.

 

Practice

I was taught early the value of difficult conversations. Growing up, my mum insisted on us having them. Often prefaced with “This might be an uncomfortable one, but I have to ask you…”, she continues to be one of the people who challenges me most directly.

The nuance I’ve added from this situation is that I now have a repeatable process to practice. By getting extremely specific with the application of my values, I know more precisely how I can step into difficult conversations. And with practice, hopefully it won’t take me 5 days to respond.

I’ll still inevitably “fail” in these conversations at times. For sure. But I also feel now that I’ll walk away from them at the very least having tried to be the person I want to be in the process.

And that matters to me.