Is it your Ambition to have an Extraordinary Life?

'Yes, have a quick flick through my autobiography..."

“I couldn’t bear to live my life as a normal person.” So said the artist Sean Scully in an interview recorded in the October/November edition of Cara, the Aer Lingus inflight magazine. On first glance, the statement seems somewhat arrogant but it raises an intriguing question. Will you live an extraordinary life? And the answer is that…most of us don’t know what extraordinary looks like.

Lotto Win: For sure we’ve all fantasized about coming into a ‘chunk of change’, what we’d do with a lotto win. After buying the Porsche, going on the Kruger Park Safari and spending a weekend with Cameron Diaz/Brad Pitt (delete as appropriate), what would you do next? Most people can’t answer because they have never thought about it.

Planning Permission: Some people believe that life is predestined; forces larger than ourselves guide us along a prescribed route. Others plan in a piecemeal way. They work hard to get promoted, focus on the kid’s education or squirrel away money for retirement. But few people ever plan an extraordinary life as a sort of long-term event for themselves. Indeed, the very concept sounds somewhat fanciful. Why?

Future Proof: Undoubtedly, there is a Catholic hangup about planning for a future which is ‘in God’s hands’. It’s not just an Irish trait. Fears of an ‘unknown future’ are common across many religions and cultures. The poet Robert Burns expressed it as follows: ‘The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
, gang aft agley’ (often go awry). Granted, we are not entirely in control of our destiny. But does that mean we shouldn’t invest any time planning our future?

Bob Fulmer: Professor Bob Fulmer was one of the most interesting guys I ever worked with. He was a specialist in Organization Behaviour at Colombia University in New York and had about 3 ‘normal’ brains. One day, during a joint presentation, I noticed Bob scribbling furiously at the back of the room. I asked him later how come he was not listening to my brilliant lecture? Turned out he was planning where he and his family would be on New Years Eve, five years into the future.

Whoa! I can almost see your reaction. What compulsive disorder was that guy suffering from? Only control freaks make detailed plans five years in advance, right? But, rather than thinking of it as deviant, it’s possible to interpret this as planful and goal oriented behaviour, a human version of the science of cybernetics. Fulmer later wrote a book about how he planned his retirement when he could choose to live anywhere on the planet (he eventually settled for California).

Full Headlights: So, what can you do with this idea? Well, it depends on whether you see this as being empowered or sort of nuts. If you like the idea, there are loads of possibilities. For example, you could plan your extraordinary life under a number of separate headings.

Financial Independence
Positive Personal Relationship
Self-Sufficiency in the Next Generation
Relationships with the Wider Family
Work: Staying in your current or another Business
Philanthropy – Working on the Giveback agenda
Personal Time/Space
Personal & Family Healthcare

Too Long? Perhaps planning for a lifetime seems too long for a first try. How about planning for a perfect year?

Skiing for 2 weeks in Italy (getting beyond the magic carpet & baby slopes)
Golfing for 2 weeks in the sun
Portugal for 2 months in the winter
Travel across South America for 4 weeks
20% of your time working in the not-for-profit sector (to save you from going to confession!)
Family time (working on what they want to do)
Guitar: Learn to play lead guitar (properly) and ask Louis Walsh to fix you up in a boy band!

Be Extraordinary: Perhaps the issue that’s holding you back is not a lack of control, but squaring up to how powerful you could actually be. Marianne Williamson (in A Return to Love) suggested: “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? … Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. … 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”.

Try It: Why not try planning for an extraordinary life? If all else fails, you can always fall back to dating Rosanna Davidson and winning the lottery – in your dreams. But when you focus on being extraordinary you directly address the question posed by Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Paul Mooney

PS: Know people who’d benefit from reading this blog? Please forward it on or get them to sign up by contacting me <>


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
This entry was posted in Executive Coaching. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s