Former child soldier and now global music sensation, humanitarian and all-round epic humble human being, Emmanuel Jal has more than a few things to teach us all about humanity and teamwork.
I sat down with him recently to interview him for my monthly Learning and Development Roundtable (link to the interview is below).
1. Every moment is a moment to grow
That could have come out of the mouth of a saccharine sweet human trying to put a positive spin on things but when Jal says it, he really believes it. And you believe him. Far from syrupy sweetness, his words of wisdom are well honed from trauma so horrific that it’s difficult to imagine.
After being a child soldier in South Sudan Jal realized he needed to consciously avoid turning into a sadist and harming others, or a masochist and harming himself. He decided to be part of the solution, not allowing ‘hate and bitterness to occupy my heart.’
Here’s how he recommends doing just that:
- “Thinking about yourself isn’t motivating enough, we’ve got to think about others.” Encourage your team to lift their heads up and look beyond themselves.
- Use your imagination to literally take flight. Jal talks about watching the skies as a child and imagining what it would be like to be a pilot (this from a kid who’d never been in a plane). Sink into the field of dreams that our imaginations are a gateway to and imagine our way out of these difficult times.
- Get creative. When faced with starvation, this child soldier did the unthinkable (to him) and ate snails and tree bark. What resource is right around you and your team that you are overlooking?
- Realize “you’ve got to lose to gain.” Jal ditched heavy bullets to carry said snails with him. What do you and your team need to let go of so you can soldier forward?
2. Our life is art – find your purpose
Jal has gone on to become a best selling artist and musician. His life is art, figuratively and literally. He’s created a program called just that: My life is art, where he recommends taking a 360 degree approach to life.
Jal says the best pathway to a good life is to find your purpose. “When we walk in our purpose, we shed the pain that is attached to the past and which clouds the lessons lying there.” Past pain, including trauma, robs us of our dignity, our value, and it claims our minds if not dealt with. Jal asks, “Who owns your mind? Is it fear, worry, poverty, shame, trauma, mental poverty or stress?”
“These battles are fought in the mind but won in the heart,” he says.
Follow Jal’s wise advice and find and walk in your purpose. It will give you a good view of the path before you – which paths to take and which to avoid. Walking and working in your purpose allows you to mine life lessons from difficult times, including and especially now.
3. We’re all completely universal and utterly unique and it takes focus to realize our gifts and dreams
We’ve all been given gifts and dreams, with which to develop skills, habits and beliefs. Jal encourages us to do a deep analysis of our mental state and the state of our heart in order to uncover our universal humanity and unique selves..
Understand where your focus needs to be….
Focus, he says, is “like putting water to a seed. When you have it, the seed will be lifted, even when covered by a boulder.”
Focus even rewires our habits and beliefs.
And we can gain it through things like meditation and storytelling. Jal calls out to women, telling stories to babes in arms, as an ancient way to harness our focus.
And when we focus, we can take ‘incremental steps to action.’ In thirty days or so, with small repeated actions our brains release neurotrophins, grow new dendrites and thicken the myelin in our gray matter, all of which are super great things for the health of our brains.
Pretty impressive huh?!
4. Advice for thinking, doing and improving
Jal’s education pack (link below) includes tips and tools for thinking, doing and improving. When I asked him what advice he had for thinking, doing and improving for the globally minded, mission driven, social change oriented folks (like you) who are reading this post, he had this to say:
“When you walk in your purpose, with clear goals, success will follow you like your shadow.”Emmanuel Jal
- Thinking: We need to expand our space to think. Jal urges us to create space for thinking by doing things like dancing. Amen to that, says this dancing queen.
- Doing: Have a plan, for the next month, year and thirty years and then take action now on what’s important to you, says Jal.
- Improving: Jal recommends training our “monkey brain” (aka blender brain where disparate and jumbled thoughts and emotions batter around our brains incessantly) by paying attention to our habits and beliefs. He suggests building daily rituals around your spiritual, emotional, mental, social and physical needs and adjusting these rituals as you grow and change.
I hope I’ve managed to convey even a slice of the brilliance that is Jal. It was such an honour to sit down with him and jam about teamwork, humanity and navigating these trying times as individuals and teams.
Please do take some time for yourself and soak up his hard won lessons and see how you can implement them:
- Every moment is a moment to grow
- Our life is art – find your purpose
- We’re all completely universal and utterly unique and it takes focus to realize our gifts and dreams
- Advice for thinking, doing and improving
Now go on and learn, laugh and lead.
- Talk about focus! Check out these sleepy, unfocused pooches … until they’re not.
Find out more about Jal and his incredible work here:
P.S. Want to receive invitations to my free monthly online Learning and Development Roundtables, the same one where I interviewed Jal? Easy peasy. Sign up here.