Today, I’m sharing an interview that I recorded with Richard Sherwood. Richard was born in Detroit, Michigan in the US and now lives in a village next to the capital of Prague, Czech Republic. His work has many dimensions including being a solutions architect, business analyst, programmer, Excel guru. His official title is Service Excellence Expert, working in the technical operations and quality IT function. He spends his time solving problems.
Richard and I have a wide ranging conversation where he shares what his learned through life, especially the importance of action towards your goals.
We recorded in a busy mall in November 2019. We had some issues with the recording at the time but I finally cleaned it up and am happy to are it with you today.
Without imagination, nothing can be accomplished, but imagination is only the first step because without action, nothing is realized.Tweet
Timeline of the Chat
00:34 – Richard introduces himself
04:05 – Living for 4 months on a boat
06:13 – The Biggest Change
08:48 – Radiant Acquiescence
13:18 – Deciding on change
23:29 – Take action
26:24 – Challenge/Invitation
If we don’t act, if we don’t do, if we don’t try, if we don’t explore, if we’re not curious, we’re not really living.Tweet
- Drive, Daniel Pink (recommended after the recording was done)
I believe very much in the power of attraction and good karma but on the other hand, action is needed. So nothing actually can be accomplished without effort.Tweet
Transcript of the Episode
Richard introduces himself [00:34]
Richard:  Thank you, Damianne. My name is Richard Sherwood. I was born in Detroit, Michigan in the US and I live currently in a small town or village next to the capital of Prague, Czech Republic.
I pay the bills by working as a solutions architect, business analyst, programming, Excel guru, basically solving problems.
Damianne: [01:00] Wow. That sounds very interesting that you get to do so many different things. What is your actual title called? And does it typically encompass all these roles or is there something special going on right now?
Richard: [01:14] So the company I work for has gone through a process of standardizing all the it roles and functions to be the same in all of our locations, across the world, we have something like 65 manufacturing sites and support hubs. So my role is Service Excellence Expert working in the technical operations and quality IT function.
Damianne: [01:43] So you started off in the US and you now live in Czech Republic. Did you live anywhere else along the way?
Richard: [01:51] Not really. I travelled quite a bit. So I had work location jobs in Alaska and also in Japan, but for, let’s say more than three months at a time, I’ve lived only in two places, in the US and in Czech Republic. I must say I’ve lived now in the Czech Republic longer than I have in the US so more than 25 years.
Damianne: [02:13] I picked up on two very interesting locations from your last answer, Alaska and Japan. I’ve been to one of those two places, but still I’m curious. What were you doing in those places?
Richard: [02:28] I often refer to my previous experience in the US as my previous life. I studied zoology and worked for several years as a Marine biologist. Detroit has very limited opportunities. There is at the Detroit zoo where actually I did apply, but I decided that doing something more in the field would be more interesting. I had an opportunity to work in Alaska fisheries for the US government as it’s called an observer, basically monitoring the fishing stocks to ensure sustainability. And that led to a second contract for about four months in the high seas somewhere between Tokyo and Seattle, North of Honolulu, but South of Dutch Harbor so really in the middle of the sea. It’s hard to find a map actually with this place, we spent four months catching squid or sepia or Japanese ika.
The UN wanted to understand the environmental impact of this fisheries so I had the opportunity to work as a biologist on a boat with 16 Japanese men who didn’t speak English, monitoring a very unique ecosystem.
Damianne: [03:40] That’s fascinating. So did you speak Japanese then?
Richard: [03:45] As part of the training, we had two weeks before we were put on the boat. So we had a Japanese lecture who gave us some very basic vocabulary. And then I had a dictionary and I had a lot of time with the crew to figure out some words, but I can’t say that I became anything close to proficient in Japanese.
Living for 4 months on a boat [04:05]
Damianne: [04:05] What is it like living for four months on a boat? Is that how long you ended up living there?
Richard: [04:11] Yeah, so the whole voyage was 119 days from the time we left port and saw land to the day we saw land again. The original prospect was to be at sea for about two months. The fishing season was not very successful, so our stay extended almost double that time. What I learned at sea was a lot about myself. You know, there’s words of wisdom that I find very inspirational from Abdu’l Baha. He Says that the greatest prison is the prison itself.
Living on a boat, a three meter cubicle box with no sight of land being surrounded by people who didn’t speak my language and was difficult to communicate with, if the prison of self isn’t the greatest prison I know what is. But honestly, yeah, I learned really a lot about myself. I also learned what does land smell like, which is, I think quite a unique experience because we don’t realize how much soil and vegetation and animals, how much smell actually there is until you are so far that, that you don’t know that smell. For some time,
Damianne: [05:23] if land has a smell, this, that means that there is also a smell when you’re living on the water or is it then devoid of smell?
Richard: [05:33] I think most people who live near the sea know what the smell of the sea is. Now I live in the middle of Europe, so quite a long distance from any sea. But when I come near the sea, yeah I recognize its smell. There is some salty, I don’t know, aroma in the air, but it’s very bland in comparison to the smell of land.
Actually, you find that the smell of the vegetation and soil is really overwhelming to the senses when one has been separated from it. And I suppose that, you know, if I was an astronaut in space and I came back also, I would be surprised again at how things smell.
The Biggest Change [06:13]
Damianne: [06:13] So you’ve lived in the U S and in Czech Republic. You’ve also lived on the seas somewhere. You started off in zoology and you’re now work in IT. What would you say is the biggest change that you’ve made in your life?
Richard: [06:31] Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this question for some time. I mean, the reality is that life is all about change and so everything builds on what you’ve learned or what you’ve experienced and nothing stays constant.
So I think there’s an illusion that you reach some point in your life and you don’t change anymore, but maybe there are different times on the rate of change and also the impact a decision makes on your lives. Coming to Czechoslovakia in 1992 made a huge impact on my life. What was the foundation to that was actually in 1989, I encountered the Baha’i Faith in Montana. And when I started to read the writings of how long it struck a chord in my heart that I felt really like is a truth that would have profound impact on my life.
Becoming a member of the Baha’i community has really been, I think, the single biggest change, because everything since then has just been built upon that.
Damianne: [07:43] When you made that change in your life, what were some of the challenges that you face?
Richard: [07:52] It’s a very good question. You know, I grew up going to a church down the street because it was close to our house and because it was normal thing that one would go to Christian Church. When I became a Baha’i, one thing I realized that was a bit different, at least in my case is that Baha’u’llah doesn’t say that we come and believe and that’s it, but we come and we become transformed.
And so this process of transformation continues in my life and I find I have a sense of great joy, a lot of surprises. We make our plans, right and then we see the humor that God has and also the love. I don’t know if that really answered the question though.
Radiant Acquiescence [08:48]
Damianne: [08:48] There are some changes that are inevitable, that we don’t have any control over, but there are some changes that we choose to make. What is the process that you go through to decide if to make an intentional change in your life?
Richard: [09:03] So, change is inevitable. I mean, in the big picture we are born, we live, maybe we contribute to in our way, and then we die. So there is no guarantees or stabilities outside of that reality. When things happen contrary to my will or contrary to my best plans, my best intentions, I try to approach it in a philosophical way with one of my favorite terms that comes from the Baha’i writings. And this is what Baha’u’llah calls radiant acquiescence.
So rather than just being acquiescent in other words, saying, Oh, well that’s the way it is, Baha’u’llah says we should rise to a little bit more noble position of saying with joy “that is the way it is. God has a plan”, which takes faith and courage, but also it changes so many things in the way we approach dealing with our own ego. We all set goals; we all try to achieve things. And then of course, things contrary to our wishes appear.
I remember once there was a trip I was taking by plane, was the first time I was going to meet my boss in Slovenia. So I got to the airport and they told me that there’s no flight. Actually they told me there’s not going to be a flight because the airline went bankrupt. So of course I was surprised and not very happy. And then there was another man on the same flight who came and started to argue with the poor woman at the counter, who wasn’t even from that airline but had to explain what happened. And I was thinking, you know, which behavior do I find more honorable to go and complain to this poor woman and make it her problem where she’s just trying to help or say maybe, maybe there’s also something to be learned.
I mean, definitely if your flight is canceled, you have to learn a little bit of creativity or innovation if you want to get where you were especially to go. You have to learn to be patient because you’re not going to go at the time you scheduled. It means everyone actually, including my boss, had to be a little bit more flexible.
And I decided that maybe if I took it with the spirit of being joyous with the fact that not my flight was canceled at the company went bankrupt, but that my plans are not going to occur in my way. So I can sit back and see which way the plans will unroll or unfold. And it was very interesting. I ended up flying to another city and having a connecting flight.
I got there late, but on the second flight out of Switzerland, I sat next to a gentleman who happened to live actually in Haifa, which is where the Baha’i Holy Shrines are. And it was really a wonderful experience to hear from him what life was like growing up in that community. He was from a Muslim background and so it gave me a completely different perspective on someone else’s reality. And I wouldn’t have had that experience.
So I don’t know if that was God’s plan or not. I mean, of course there are many things that were involved, so it wasn’t about me. But it was about how I dealt with the situation and whether I wanted to take it in a way to, to learn, to be curious, to share or whether I wanted to burden someone else with a problem, because I could, because I would justify my situation is the right to complain or to bring someone down. I’m glad I took the first approach.
Damianne: [13:01] Yes. That reminds me of the whole idea that you can’t control other people’s actions and you can’t even control the situation sometimes, but you can always control your response to it. And that sounds
Deciding on change [13:18]
Richard: [13:18] Yeah and then you asked me if I wanted to change, how that happened. So you decide, for example, you want to learn something new. Some people approach life waiting for things to fall from the sky. I don’t really subscribe to that. I mean, good things come, I believe very much in the power of attraction and good karma and that, but on the other hand, action is needed. So nothing actually can be accomplished without effort.
And so sometimes I get the luxury or the privilege to choose what I want to learn. So definitely when I went to university, I got to choose the subject and that required me to change. Sometimes it happens through work that my boss will ask me to do something which takes me out of my comfort zone. So that’s a different kind of change.
It’s not usually the easiest because being out of one’s comfort zone means of course, that you’re uncomfortable. It can mean a lot of sweat and tears and stress. Then you look back and you say, okay, was it worth it? Would you do it again? And I think for me many times, I’m really thankful actually for the people who have pushed me out of my comfort zone at the time, I wasn’t very happy, but looking back, I learned really a lot.
I gained really a lot. And then, you know, if we think we want to develop ourselves, you know, what is the purpose? So what is our goal? If we want to be of service, we want to help others, there are things we can actively do that will test us whether our intention is true or whether it’s just a nice thought.
I believe that if you set yourself a noble goal, God will give you confirmation that what you’re doing is in the right direction, but not as a finished product, but again, helping you along to grow, to develop, to help others. For me, that’s the big motivation to change, just to see what, what more can I do to influence people around me in a positive way.
Damianne: [15:21] In my experience, sometimes when you decide that you want to make a change or you decide that you’re going to make a particular change in life, you also get some tests. I’ve often wondered is this to help me confirm myself that this really is what I want, or is this to help me choose that I really am committed to this because sometimes all the opportunities are there and you get some offers in a comfortable place where you could stay.
So let me give a concrete example. When I decided to take a sabbatical year from teaching, and then I decided that I wanted to do a career change, I got people sending me all those interest in teaching positions or technology coordinator positions. And I thought, Oh, maybe I could just go back for a year or two or three because these jobs sound so interesting. And that was contradictory to my other plan of seeing what else is out there and choose a new path.
What’s your experience with this? Do you tend to find that when you make a decision to change something there’s confirmation or do you sometimes get some tethers pulling you to your existing path?
Richard: [16:40] In my experience, life is, is a little bit more complicated because I don’t have the ability to know the future. I mean, even if I reflect on myself and say, okay, what are my strengths? And what are my weaknesses? What is my capacity? You know, if I took step A, would it lead me to step B? I don’t know, actually. I mean, I don’t have a crystal ball, so I set it the best I can.
So I decide, okay, is it right to pursue an education? And is it right to pursue the study in an area that I have interest in? Or should I pick an area which I don’t have interest in. Both will have consequences. So I think, you know, also looking at science, psychology, you know, these areas of understanding our reality can be helpful.
So say you want to develop your skills, you should look at your strengths because it’s much easier to take your strengths to the next level or excel where you’re strong and have interests rather than trying to develop your weakness areas. If you don’t have aptitude, you know, no matter how, how long I would try, being a world champion, being sprinter would never be possible.
I might get good at sprinting but it would take huge effort. But again, if I say since I work in IT, what is it that I’m good at and how can I take my, let’s say programming skills to the next level by looking at practical example, visual basic in Excel. So all corporations are using Excel. Most people don’t know how to do much more than the basics on it and I have already an aptitude for technical things, programming. So just a little bit different language, but it’s the same principle.
So I found that being pragmatic and practical can really help. Okay, tests and difficulties. These are also difficult things to know when something is a test to push you and advance you versus again, a wrong door.
You open the door, it doesn’t open. It’s locked. Should you give up or should you go look for a key? How important is it to get to the other side? We don’t know. So it’s a little bit of a mystery on that, but one thing is if you take nature, so you take a seed it’s in the ground, it has to push up through the soil when it germinates. If it doesn’t manage to get above the soil, it will die. But once it gets above the soil, it’s got to put up leaves. It’s got to continue to grow, to get the sunlight, nutrients. It has to fight with the wind and the rain, but it needs it as well. And if it’s fortunate, at some point it bears fruit.
So is the soil a test or a bounty. Is the wind a test which strengthens it stem so that when bigger storms come, when it’s full of fruit, it doesn’t get destroyed. That’s kind of a paradox. And I guess I look at life in that way. I don’t get too concerned about whether something is a test or a bounty, a challenge, or an opportunity.
I just, again, try to reflect to think what is it I would like to achieve, what is realistic, where are their confirmations that I’m moving in the right direction at the end of the day? I think all of us can only do the best if our intention and action, and we will find out if we’re right or wrong, whether we should have changed course or whether we should do things differently the next time.
Damianne: [20:13] I think it’s good to commit to a particular action because that also helps clarify if it’s the right course or not. And it gives you a chance to rework things if it’s not. Have you had any experiences where you’ve thought, yes, this is it. And then had to kind of step back and start again.
Richard: [20:35] One experience comes vividly to mind, and that was in 1992 when I came to Czechoslovakia for a two week visit.
I met some young men who invited me to their town, their students, and they were very excited to meet someone from the US and especially to practice their English. And what happened when I arrived in their village is I had this sensation, this feeling that that was where I belonged. I mean, that was like my home, that was the place I’ve been looking for. Then the next day I was offered a job and it seemed that the possibilities to stay there were real. So I decided to spend an extra week. So I extended my trip by another week and I traveled all around Czechoslovakia.
At the end of the week, I found that actually I never had the same feeling at any other place, but that village. So I came back and I said that if it could be realized, I don’t speak the language, I don’t have the papers. I’m not even a teacher; I’m a Marine biologist. So if there’s an opportunity to work and the opportunity was at a school, at a gymnasium, high school, then I said that they would have to manage everything, but I would be willing to do it.
So all doors opened. So I went back to London – at the time my mum was living there – to get my things, the rest of my belongings. I got on the bus in the evening out of Prague. And in the early morning we stopped on the way, stretched. And then everyone got back in the bus and then another 15 minutes down the road, we crashed. The bus went off the road, flipped. Two people were killed.
I was a little bit injured, went to the hospital, flew back to the UK to get my things. Of course the thought crossed my mind like it was all too quick. Maybe I should just go back to the US as I had planned and start graduate school and just remember my three weeks in Czechoslovakia with nice memories and move on.
But something was tugging at my heart to say I was asking and praying that doors would be open and all the doors were open. So why now would I change course? I ended up coming back. The day I arrived, one of those young men had just been killed, was in an accident on a motorcycle and that was the day of the funeral.
So for me also, it was a confirmation that I made the right decision because he had asked me to come to his town to help his family and friends, to be a part of that community. And I just saw it as a confirmation, actually, that I should be careful what I asked for what I wished for that I don’t receive it and then turn my back on it.
Advice about making changes
Damianne: [23:30] You mentioned earlier about the relationship between prayer and decision-making are the course of your life. Some people believe that I’ve prayed for it so now I can wait. You seem to have a bit of a focus on action instead. If somebody is feeling a bit stuck and they’re not really seeing any signs in their life, maybe they’re not a religious person necessarily, what advice would you give that could help them have some action, make some movement in their life?
Richard: [24:08] I think that’s not such a simple question. The first thought that came was an Arab proverb, which says trust in God but tie your camel. In other words, you have to do something. I mean, whether you believe or you don’t believe, we still have to do something. We need to eat; we need to take care of ourselves; we need sleep; we need to watch our health. All these things take action.
Our body is constantly pumping blood. Our heart is constantly beat. It might be a nice idea, but it’s not sensible to think that we just don’t do anything. So the question is what are we doing? When we have an idea, you know, imagination, it’s very powerful. Without imagination, nothing can be accomplished, but imagination is only the first step because without action, nothing is realized.
So I think this is an interesting reality of man is that we have the power of imagination. And if there is action, what we have imagined is already reality. It’s only been a matter of time. If you believe something will happen, then you know it’s already accomplished. It just needs again to be followed through.
It doesn’t mean that our imagination is our reality, but I think that that utilizing this power is very important in our lives and maybe it’s underrated in society. Many people are thinking that really we are just animals or, you know, intelligent animals.
We’ve got the five senses, but actually we have also five spiritual senses and one of them is imagination. One of them is memory. These powers are what distinguish us from the animal. And of course we have three will, but if we don’t act, if we don’t do, if we don’t try, if we don’t explore, if we’re not curious, we’re not really living. And if we are, we make mistakes, but that’s the way we’re designed.
We’re not designed perfect. We’re designed actually as imperfect beings with the capacity to draw closer to perfection, but how do we do that? It takes volition. It takes will. It takes effort. It takes driving.
Invitation for ACTION
Damianne: [26:25] To finish up our conversation today. If you could give people one tip, one action that they could do today, what would it be?
Richard: [26:36] There’s a number of different techniques. Let’s say it that way. A lot of popular ideas and thoughts in psychology. If the most important thing actually about our reality is our happiness, then I think one thing we can do is when we look in the mirror, we can say to ourselves that we’re beautiful, we’re enough.
And we can do whatever we set our mind to. Nothing is impossible. I tell my daughter to say that to herself, that she is enough. She doesn’t have to worry about all the things that aren’t done, all the things that she doesn’t have time for. But she can just appreciate who she is and that releases capacity to be even more.
Damianne: [27:25] That’s beautiful Richard. Thank you for chatting with me today. It’s been great to be able to have this conversation.
[Ask yourself] what more can I do to influence people around me in a positive way.Tweet
[When we take action] we will find out if we’re right or wrong, whether we should have changed course or whether we should do things differently the next time.Tweet