Pascal Dennis is an entrepreneur, engineer, and musician. He is the co-founder of Digital Pathways, a company that helps forward-looking organizations deliver sustainable innovation. Pascal is also a prolific songwriter and releases original music through Pascal Dennis Music. He has been writing music all his life, including his latest release, Crazy Angels.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Toronto. My parents were migrants who barely escaped WWII and the terrible Greek Civil War. My father was a dishwasher at Grossman’s Tavern and my mother a garment factory worker. Eventually, they saved up enough money to buy a small diner, the Imperial Grill, where I worked from the age of eight.
My parents’ lives were difficult. I gained an abiding compassion for migrants and refugees, and a respect for the healing arts. Kind and generous mentors helped me learn to channel my anger into productive and helpful directions. I learn the importance of ‘laughter and forgetting’, and forgiveness.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
Decision-making is a core skill in life.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Clarity of Purpose is the single most important thing in any activity, but we don’t emphasize it enough. Clarity of Purpose requires clarity around the core questions of life:
Who am I?
What do I believe in?
Where am I going?
How do I get there?
Living a good life means reflecting on these questions regularly. We need routines that build in such reflection.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
My childhood was difficult and I was an angry young man. Compassionate mentors helped me come to terms with my experience. I learned that reflection, laughter, and forgiveness are the keys to a happy life.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
A strong sense of who I am, a supportive family, and a droll sense of humor. “Lord what fools we mortals be – and this one (i.e. me) in particular.”
What is your morning routine?
I’m a night owl and typically work late. I typically wake up at 7:00 am. My morning routine comprises yoga, meditation, and reflection. I spend twenty minutes on ‘Planning & Solitude’ during which I reflect on purpose, plan, results, and next steps. Then I like to play the piano or guitar and sing.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Daily singing and meditation. Afternoon walks. Regular reflection on Purpose, life plan, and values. Who am I? What do I believe in? Where am I going? Am I having fun?
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Sing and meditate every day. Reflect regularly, and stop doing things that don’t contribute to your core purpose, or are not aligned with what you believe in.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Classical Chinese Poetry, translated by David Hinton: Du Fu, Li Bai, and all great Chinese poets wrote clearly and simply from a deep-rooted, heart-felt philosophy. Despite difficult lives, they never gave in to nihilism.
A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues, by Andre Comte-Sponville. The great virtues have helped me survive difficult times and remain my north star.
The novels of Phillip Roth, Saul Bellow, and Mordecai Richler: These authors helped me make sense of my experience as a child of migrant parents. I felt they were my Jewish uncles – funny, prickly, and wise.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“Difficulty shows what a person is. Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough antagonist. Why? So that you may become an Olympic conqueror, but it is not accomplished without sweat.” — Epictetus
A hard standard to live up to but we have to try. Doing so means accepting what we cannot change (which is most things), and focussing on what we control (usually, our thoughts and behavior).
As I get older, I’ve come to see that Epictetus is right. Difficulties, used in the right way, can help you grow and learn to laugh and enjoy life.
“Less is more.”
“Complexity is a crude state. Simplicity marks the end of a process of refinement.”
These are the cardinal rules of management, writing, and art. The strategy should be boiled down to one page. Good songs and poems are usually those that leave the boring, fake stuff out.