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Discipline Two

Second Discipline of Six: Surrender

My spiritual memoir Spiritual Audacity is built around six spiritual disciplines of which the second is ego surrender.  Is this an important discipline in your spiritual life?

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows . . .

—Jalaluddin Rumi (Coleman Barks translation)

How and when does spiritual submission or ego surrender factor into your life today?

Ego Surrender: It is in surrendering the separate ego-self to the greater good of the broader community that we grow spiritually. Each person chooses where and when he or she wishes to be involved in any intentional community. Congregations are an intentional community. But a consumer approach to community seldom meets real spiritual needs.

You may not want to get involved.  You may not like teaching or greeting or singing in the choir or committee work. But when asked, your spiritual discipline could be: “Where does this spiritual community need me most?”

The Sufis taught me the joyous power of surrendering our ego-self to discover the seven richer, deeper selves, which can be discovered through loving compassion, connection, and community. If we bring our gifts for greater good into the congregation, are drawn into service wherever we are most needed, and sacrifice our ego-self through our service, we will be transformed in the process.

A spiritual community can confront, defy, and heal consumerism, classism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other sicknesses of community if we confront them as a faith community. We are more powerful as a community than as individuals. We don’t each get our own way, but we can do it together. This is the power of surrendering to community to discover how to do together what we cannot do alone.

 

Discipline One

Discipline One of Six: Resilience

My spiritual memoir Spiritual Audacity: Six Disciplines for Human Flourishing is built around six spiritual disciplines of which the first is resilience.  Is this an important discipline in your spiritual life?  How has it become or not become the basis of your flourishing?

Resilient people use a well-developed set of skills that help them to control their emotions, attention, and behavior. Self-regulation is important for forming intimate relationships, succeeding at work, and maintaining physical health.

The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté

How does spiritual resilience factor into your life today?

Resilience: The single most important spiritual practice in my life. Having lived with and through so many difficult circumstances in my life, I have needed to make resilience a core spiritual practice for myself. This is largely about transforming suffering.

One of my teachers compares transforming suffering through resilience to feeding a family from a spoiled dead fish. A dead fish stinks. You want to keep it as far away as possible from your supper. Yet if you compost it in the ground, with lots of water and sunshine, it can become a source of new life to make a meal for all.

Life grows forth from death. No matter how hard we fall or how difficult it may be to recover, even if we want to give up, resilience will always lead us to something good in the end. That dead fish can be transformed into food for the soul through the practice of resilience.

 

Lift up and tell the stories of resilience in your own life.  We all can practice this spiritual discipline, and with practice, we all become better at it.  All will be well.

 

 

October 1987 Crash

I had hungered to be wealthy even when I didn’t become a millionaire before the age of thirty. So after leveraging our debt to buy Genzyme founder’s stock from Sam, then taking Genzyme public in 1986, I borrowed as much as I could on margin to buy yet more Genzyme stock. I believed by taking on margin debt, and raising the value of our Genzyme holdings, though heavily leveraged, we could better reap the fruit of all my hard work.

Loretta asked me how low the stock could go before we lost it all. Genzyme had gone public at $10 per share and traded as high as $16 per share. I told her Genzyme had never traded below $7 as a public company and we could meet any margin calls as long as the stock was above $5.25 per share, which was less than half its current level, and 25% below its lowest price ever. On the other hand if Genzyme went to $30 per share as predicted by analysts we would become wealthy.

Then came the stock market crash of October 1987. For ten days stocks were in free fall with no apparent bottom, each day worse than the day before, Genzyme falling from $16 to $12, $12 to $10, $10 to $7.50, and then for the first time ever below $7 per share. I was deeply scared but there was little I could do. I called our major investors to try and lessen their anxiety.

Genzyme was fundamentally sound. Someone would step in at some point to begin buying again. One large investor said he had seen the reports of my buying stock on margin. He asked the same question my wife had asked. At what point could I not cover the margin call so I would go personally bankrupt? I gave him the same answer. I had given Loretta.

Three days later Genzyme traded at its lowest point, $5.75 per share, and he began aggressively accumulating shares. I called a few weeks later to thank him. He said no problem, he had made an extraordinary profit on Genzyme when the stock rebounded. He thought having a bankrupt CFO might hurt Genzyme and his investment going forward. So complete financial disaster was forestalled by a prudent investor. I learned from this near bankruptcy experience, but did not scale back my appetite for risk, just managed it a lot better.

I learned to better calibrate and diversify risk. To make sure the risks I was taking were well worth the risk involved. Joining Genzyme as CFO was an incredible career risk but through hard work and luck we made it work. Joining TSI as Chairman and CEO was another incredible career risk yet I set out to build a team that could make it work. I sold my Genzyme stock and took TSI public in 1989 in my 33rd year. TSI’s miraculous 800% rise in stock price over the next four years meant we were, at least on paper, already wealthy in 1993, when I was only 37, at least by our modest standards. But we stayed grounded in our values and our integrity.

http://www.jimsherblom.com

Beginning Again

Life has its ups and downs. As I was approaching age forty, having lost my job, most of our net worth, and much of my industry reputation, it was time to begin again. Fortunately Loretta’s business was doing fine, the kids were doing well in school, and I had learned much from my dozen years in international business.

Yet here I was in my late 30’s, having worked 70 or 80 hours a week for most of my adult life, with no job, no clear prospects, and my life in a financial shambles. Yet this was a time for deepening my practice of spiritual generosity. This could have been a time for succumbing to a scarcity mentality, but that is not my nature, so instead I focused on the sudden abundance of time in my day, time to spend with my wife, with my children, time to read all those philosophical and spiritual books I hadn’t gotten to read, time to think and re-evaluate my life. And thanks to Loretta’s and my financial prudence over the decades we had the financial wherewithal for me to contemplate and explore reality.

Approaching my forties, nearing midlife, it became important to me to change my way of being in the world. To change my sense of self and how I would engage with the world in the second half of my life. I knew how to work hard. In the early days of Genzyme I often headed to my office by 4:30 am and worked through to 8 pm. I seldom met our neighbors. Six weeks after we moved into our new house in Concord my daughter was playing with the girl next door who asked Loretta if Sarah had a Daddy since in six weeks she had never seen me.

For many of those early days of my career successes Loretta was the primary parent, had two kids at home under 5 years old, and was building her own business. Yet I chose that living arrangement along with her and willingly paid the price seemingly demanded for such success. We came from poverty and thirsted for material well being. But we always tried for something more as well. Now we could pursue it.

A Disturbance in the Force

A Christian scholar pursues enlightenment through studying Chinese Taoism, meditating with Tibetan Buddhists, practicing meditation with Hindu holy men, whirling with Islamic Sufi dervishes, and finally traveling with shaman using psychotropic drugs. Huston Smith was a huge influence on my spiritual path. He died this week at age 97.

I have taught “Introductions to Sacred Texts” using his book “The World’s Religions.” His studies with U U theologian Henry Nelson Wieman provided a context for much of his subsequent study of human flourishing through religion making him very relevant for U U’s. His life story became a very important exemplar for my own journey.

Reading his spiritual memoir, “Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine” both inspired some of my more esoteric spiritual adventures but was also partly inspiration for my spiritual memoirs, “Spiritual Audacity: Six Disciplines for Human Flourishing” and “Spiritual Pilgrim: My journeys with Christian, Sufi, Taoist and Shamanic Mystics.”

His calm wisdom will be missed, but the world is better for his having lived so long. Jim

New Hope

The week after the announcement of my termination as Chairman and CEO of TSI was in the WSJ a prominent Boston venture capitalist, who we pitched on numerous occasions but who had never invested, called to assure me there was life after public executions. He offered to invest $2 million from his fund in whatever I decided to do next.

I began watching Steven Spielberg’s movie Hook, where Peter Pan has grown up to be a clever financier who dabbles in mergers and acquisitions, and forgets the essence of his being, until his nemesis Captain Hook steals Peter’s children and forces him to return to Never Land to remember who he is so that he can save his children. I must have watched that movie 20 or 30 times, long after my wife and children grew bored with it, but this was my situation. The movie Hook became a Delphic oracle explaining my fall from grace. Now I needed to rediscover my true identity, decide who to truly be, and find my right occupation for the next stage of my life. From every failure comes new opportunities.

When I was on top of the world, everyone singing my praises, Loretta would remind me: “I know you better than they do and you’re not as smart as they say you are.” When everything fell apart, and the WSJ wrote my obituary, Loretta could now affirm: “I know you better than they do and you’re not as dumb as they say you are.” My family understands me in a way that helps us navigate life’s challenges together. When recovering from my downfall at TSI, Loretta suggested that when school got out we go hiking and camping at Acadia National Park with another Concord couple with kids the same ages as ours. I went reluctantly, but being in nature and hiking cheers me.

The morning of the second day we were there I found myself awaken in the predawn by the singing of birds. So I got up and dressed quietly and made my way to the top of a nearby hill. Watching one of the most beautiful sunrises ever, alone on the hilltop, with the birds singing forth their harbinger of hope, and my family sleeping peacefully below me. I wept. No matter how difficult the fall, or how painful it feels, the sun also rises, and life begins anew.

This was an important further awakening of my spirit on my journey to spiritual maturity.
This is the key to the spiritual discipline of gratitude. When only good things happen to someone, anyone can be grateful for those things, even if people sometimes aren’t. But our joys and sorrows are woven fine together.

If we engage with life we will experience both. If we live life with audacity our joys and sorrows multiply. This is the nature of being human. This third spiritual discipline, which works best when built upon having learned resilience and surrender, is gratitude. Gratitude for life as it is. Gratitude for the good things we seek for ourselves and others. Gratitude for the pain and suffering we endure along the way. Gratitude that we feel, that we suffer, that we endure, and sometimes find new hope. We are not rocks. We are not islands. Because we love we will inevitably be hurt. But we are transformed in the process.

Prideful Fall

My 1993 Budget presentation to TSI’s Board ended with three definitions of success. The first Ralph Waldo Emerson’s definition: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” The second I called Bain’s definition: “A superior financial return for shareholders over an extended time period. Finding high growth sectors to maximize business opportunities; with a focus on relative market share, value creation, and high reward for high performance.” Finally one I called the Genzyme measure of success: “Building an important corporation faster and better than the competition; with great expectations, satisfying but not focusing on shareholders, stretching forecasts as far as you reasonably can, and then working like crazy to make them happen, because results are all that matter.” We wanted to succeed by all these measures.

Little did we know as we approved this budget that the newly elected President of the United States was creating a health care task force that would accidently destroy our company. The First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton chaired the task force and in March 1993 announced they would seek caps on drug prices in the United States. The Pharmaceutical Manufacturer’s Association immediately suggested its members discontinue their existing preclinical and clinical development contracts, and lay off non-essential research and development employees, in order to put pressure on the federal government. By April our revenues for 1993 had fallen to $34 million, less than half what we had on the books in January, our stock price was in free fall, and we were hemorrhaging cash. I called an emergency Board meeting because we were days from defaulting on our bank lines and needing to file for bankruptcy. The Board decided instead to go into executive session without me present, and after several hours of contentious discussion, mostly about whose fault this was, they voted to fire me. I was devastated. It seemed surreal.

Our stock had already fallen by two thirds, but upon the announcement of my being fired, it fell much further. My severance terms were set by my contract, but most of our employees were at will employees, so when the board voted to lay off half of them I needed to go to bat for them to ensure their families were not too badly injured. I spent the better part of the next six weeks assisting severance negotiations, exit interviews, and outplacement counselling for employees who TSI laid off. None of us had seen this coming. I was able to offer many of them some assistance in their unexpected transition. For my family it was an incredible blow. I had lost my position of honor and respect, my great salary and bonus, and my industry reputation. Our net worth declined by 90% over six weeks. My fame, fortune, purpose, and identity all destroyed in this unexpected cataclysm. Yet losing my company was never as bad as would have been losing my wife the year before. Life is precious. Fame is fleeting. I fell from the high wire but did not die. So gathered family and friends around me and licked my wounds.

The Worcester Telegram and Gazette devoted a large part of its business section to describing the morality tale that led TSI to take on too much concentrated business risk leaving us vulnerable to this temporary business downturn. The Wall Street Journal summarized my obituary in three short paragraphs: bright guy, brilliant plan, poorly executed, then accidentally destroyed. Suddenly people who had been chasing me for access for years would go quiet when I entered a room, or look away, or head the other way to avoid me, as if being fired could be somehow contagious. Other people who had never made time for me suddenly reached out with kind words of support. My self-identity was on a roller coaster. My self-esteem gyrating wildly.