It’s A Dead End. And That’s OK.

They looked liked ants, even through the high-powered spotting scope.  Two tiny dots on the 6000′ sheer, icy face of Mt. Hunter.

They had been there for days, working to pioneer the new line. Up narrow runnels they would climb. Swinging their axes into the ice. Moving slowly, arduously in the arctic cold. For hours on end.

Then an impasse. A dead end. The route would go no further. The obstacle insurmountable. Retreat the only possibility. Back to the place of beginning. Back to start it all again.

The next effort sometimes would go better. And sometimes not.  Sometimes they would advance a few pitches closer to their summit. And sometimes, every route they choose would thwart them.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

In our businesses, our creative endeavors, our athletic pursuits,  our relationships, indeed, in all of life, obstacles abound. Sometimes we can muscle through them, forge the way. Sometimes not.

Sometimes it’s a dead end. Turn around we must.

And that’s ok.

To stand indecisive on an icy ledge is to invite catastrophe. The same is true in life.

We need to move. Even when we don’t know the way.

Perhaps especially when we don’t know the way.

We need to try. We need to act. We need to overcome.

We can choose to stand in indecisive terror. Or we can forge ahead.

Every way that doesn’t work is a lesson, a key to understanding a way that might.

Every way that doesn’t work is one step closer to the way that will.

The dead ends force us to face our fears and our frustrations.

Our darkest demons meet us there

Yet the dead ends make us stronger, wiser. More discerning.  More tolerant and patient.

And, often, what looks like a dead end is really a doorway into an new dimension of our lives. New opportunities. New possibilities.

We are called to practice what Jim Collins in Good to Great calls “The Stockdale Paradox”: Great leaders acknowledge the current realities and don’t pull any punches. But at the same time, they have an unwavering belief that they will ultimately prevail.

It’s curious to me that in the mountains, the dead ends are often just part of the grand adventure. Gathered later ’round the fire, they glow with epic valor and gallantry in the re-telling. Desperate measures taken. Dragons slain. Challenges met and overcome. Fresh courage hewn to meet the dawn to come.

Perhaps we need the dead ends in our lives as well, even though it doesn’t really feel that way.

As we watched our comrades through the scope, we so often wanted to cry out, “No! Not there! A waste of time! Turn back now! Go the other way!”

Of course they couldn’t hear us. But even if they could, would they have listened?

 

Are You In The Mood?

The bed was warm. She cozied closer.

“Are you in the mood?”

I looked at her, my eyes wide in disbelief.

“What are you, on crack?” I asked.  “Of course, I’m NOT in the mood.”

Who asks questions like that? It was cold outside, 18 degrees as I recall. And dark. Who wants to run in the cold and dark?

She was joking, of course. It’s not a question we ask… or entertain about our running. At least not often.

Because, for pursuits of any import, mood is irrelevant.

I’m rarely in the mood to go to the gym. I’m never in the mood to count my calories or sort my supplements. I’m only occasionally in the mood to run. Sometimes I’m in the mood to write. And sometimes not. I love to photograph. But I’m never in the mood to edit. I’m passionate about speaking. But the preparation is tedious.

Rory Vaden writes, “Simply stated, there are only two types of activities: things we feel like doing and things we don’t. And if we can learn to make ourselves do the things we don’t want to do, then we have literally created the power to create any result in our lives.”

Successful people do whatever they need to do to achieve their goals, regardless of how they “feel.”

“Successful people are successful because they form the habits of doing those things that failures don’t like to do,” said Albert Gray.

Form the habits of success. Dial in the gym, the run, the weekly planning, the healthy meals. Schedule and commit the time to write, to paint, to practice the instrument. Do what’s really important. Do it every day. Don’t think about it. Don’t analyze it. Don’t wonder about it. Don’t worry about it. Don’t re-consider it. Do it. Just do it. No matter what.

When was the last time you asked yourself whether you were “in the mood” to brush your teeth? What a ridiculous question to ask, you say. Make your habits of success like that.

The things that look effortless, the performances that are flawless, the achievements that astound (all those things you’re jealous of): they’re borne of countless hours of practice and preparation. Of doing. And doing again. And had nothing to do with mood.

So if the new business venture is on your list, or the MBA, or the 5k in the spring, now is the time to start.

I don’t care if you’re in the mood, or not.

 

 

Not Worth The Effort

It’s good you didn’t bother. Wouldn’t have worked out anyway. A massive waste.

Those New Year’s resolutions.

Yes, it’s February. Time to get on with life, with muddling.

Those goals, those hopes and dreams and aspirations: too much work. Too much effort.

Way too busy.

And who makes them, anyway?

Turns out the numbers are fairly grim.

Statistics show that less than half the population bothers to set goals for a New Year. (In the audiences I have polled this month, it’s less than 20%!) And by the beginning of February, nearly 80% of those who do have given up.

(So whether you set some goals… or didn’t, you’re in great company!)

Of course, as the research shows, the problem is that we’re socially conditioned to the status quo; to think small; to underestimate our abilities. And we’re comfortable, even in our discomfort.

Change rocks our boat. (Even little change can mess us up: try brushing your teeth tonight with your opposite hand.)

And other folks: they don’t like us to change. It’s unsettling. Disturbing. Threatening. When our “friends” and family react to our “audacity,” we retreat to safety so as not to lose our place.

And those big goals are, well, big; daunting; overwhelming; scary. Buoyed by holiday revelry, they may have seemed exciting. Plausible. Obtainable. Now they seem impossible.

Too, there is that evil lizard – the lizard of resistance. (I know him well. He hides under my bed.) The lizard says, not today, not now. It’s not the right time. Tomorrow will be better, safer, easier. Put it off to another day.

Well, I’ve some bad news for you. The only constant is change. Whether you like it or not. And you don’t have time. There may not be another day. Today is the only day you have. Today is the day. If you’re too old, too fat, too tired, too poor, too unprepared, tomorrow won’t be better. (In fact, you’ll likely be older, fatter, more tired, poorer and even more unprepared.)

(And, oh, by the way, how long will it take to finish that project you never start?)

But I’ve got some good news too. Resolutions aren’t limited to the New Year. Every day’s a new beginning. Filled with possibility and promise. So, today,

  • Set a goal that really means something to you, that excites you, that jazzes you, that urges you up in the morning, that rocks your world.
  • Break the goal down into small, incremental, manageable steps so you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Take a little step every day toward your goal; small consistent steps over time lead to magnificent outcomes.
  • Surround yourself with positive, affirming people; fly with eagles; don’t hang with pigeons.
  • Know that the evil lizard always lurks; acknowledge him and walk on by.
  • Get a mentor, a coach, a partner, a fan. It makes a difference.

As Annie Dillard says, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” We can spend them muddling, hanging in there, getting by. Or we can co-create our lives as masterpieces.

It’s really up to you. Unless it’s not worth the effort.

“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.”

Marianne Williamson

 

 

 

Kryptonite Is Everywhere

Cardiac arrest. CPR. ICU. “It doesn’t sound so good,” the caller said.

We thought of him as Superman: tall, trim, fit, handsome, strong.

Meticulous in his diet; committed to his exercise. The epitome of health.

Invincible, we thought.

Then the day after his 50th birthday, he dropped.

A savage reminder of our vulnerability, our mortality; the tenuousness of it all.

All of us have hopes and dreams and plans and aspirations. About who we want to be. Places we want to go. Things we want to do.

We tell ourselves that we’ll get to them next week, next year, when the kids are out of school, when we retire.

We delude ourselves. We tell ourselves there’s time.

We  put things off.

We like to pretend: that we will live forever; that we’re invincible; that we’re immortal; that life is not capricious; that death does not exist.

And yet it does.

When someone like our friend is stricken – all of us have known that moment – we get the whack in the face: we know again that it all changes in an instant; that death is near.

And in its shadow, there is the urgency, a mandate, to live: deeply, fully, richly, intensely; without pettiness or waste.

Don Juan said this:

Death is our eternal companion. It is always to our left, at an arm’s length… It has always been watching you. It always will until the day it taps you.

How can anyone feel so important when we know that death is stalking us?

The thing to do when you’re impatient is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you.

Death is the only wise adviser that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do , that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.’

The legendary Steve Jobs lived with that intensity and taught the lesson well:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?'”

“And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

Here’s the truth: There is no time. Now is all we have. Live large. Play full out. Don’t waste a single moment.

Death, like Joe Black, lurks just beyond the shadows.

Our friend will live to celebrate another day.

But Kryptonite is everywhere.