Crash and Burn

Imagine peace.

— Yoko Ono

I arrived in pretty rough shape.

I had committed to coming every three months.

It had been nearly a year since I’d been back.

In the intervening time, I had run 1000 training miles and two ultra-marathons; I had launched a new book and traveled around the country on a speaking tour; I had ramped up my professional coaching practice; managed my law firm; climbed on the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere; developed and launched a new product; and begun an intensive training program to hone and sharpen my coaching skills.

I was spanked. And not in a good way.

Yes, the guy who talks the game of groundedness was wrung out. Again.

They say we teach what we most need to know. So forgive me if I teach this one once again.

Regardless of whether we are introverts or extroverts, regardless of our religious or spiritual traditions, regardless of our roles, our professions, our commitments: every now and then we need to stop. Really stop. Completely stop.

Most of us have lives that are pretty crazy. And although “busy” has become a badge of honor, studies show that nearly 80% of us feel overwhelmed and stressed.

We live for weekends and holidays; thirsting for some down time.  But we’re addicted to our smartphones, tied to our computers, inundated with voicemails, deluged with emails; obsessed with status updates.

We are torn in a dozen different directions by the demands and expectations of our businesses and our professions often at the expense of our personal and family lives.

“Vacations,” when we take them, are often thinly veiled excuses for going back to work to “rest.”

We become like hamsters on a wheel that cannot stop.

We need to stop

> To renew our spirits
> To refresh our souls
> To listen to our hearts
> To hear the Still Small Voice that calls us to what truly matters
> To connect again with the ground, and the Ground of All Being.

We cannot be fully present to others if we do not nurture and care for ourselves. We cannot share our gifts with the world when we are fried.

I go to Weston Priory nestled on a hill in the Green Mountains of Vermont with a centuries-old Benedictine tradition of hospitality and refuge. I go there to feel the ancient rhythms. I go there to soak in the silence, the stillness, the peace.  I go there to read and to write and reflect. I go there to walk the quiet roads, to sit in the Stone Chapel, to watch the afternoon light play on the hillsides, and to gaze at the stars in the inky blackness of the nights.

You don’t need to go to a monastery though. You can walk on a beach, hike in the mountains, sit by a brook, lay in a field.  You can nail plywood to your windows, pull your computer cord out of the wall, turn off your phone and sit on your sofa.

The point is to STOP.  Get quiet. Be still.

What my coaching clients seem to cry out for most is time management. Time, of course, can’t be managed. Time just is. We must manage ourselves. We are the only ones who can stop the wheel and step off.

Or we can crash and burn.

Stopping is a simple grace we give ourselves. We get to choose.

Uphill Through Waist-Deep Snow

When you are in a hurry, dress slowly.

— French Proverb

“How many of you feel as if you’re lives are way too busy?”

“How many of you fall into bed at night feeling frustrated that you didn’t accomplish anywhere near what you set out to accomplish in the day?”

Nearly all the hands go up in the audiences I speak to when I ask these questions.

Studies show that 50% of folks feel burned out by the end of their work week.

I recommend walking up hill through waist deep snow.

You see, the problem is that we’re overworked, underpaid, spread too thin; stretched in a hundred different directions; pummeled  by demands from every quadrant of our lives.

We are constantly responding to the urgent. Never getting to the important.

We try to do so much that nothing really gets done.

Many days it feels as if we are fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun.

That doesn’t happen when you’re walking up hill through waist deep snow.

Walking up hill through waist deep snow is hard. It requires focus and attention. You can’t be doing your makeup with one hand while balancing a cup of coffee with the other. You can’t be futzing on your iPhone. You can’t be updating your status. You can’t respond to emails or voicemails. You can’t Skype. You can’t tweet. God, you can barely talk.

It’s one step in front of the other. That’s all there is. That’s all that’s possible.

Tell the truth now: Do you check Facebook while sitting in a meeting? Do you read your email on your iPhone while watching TV? Do you talk on your phone while grocery shopping? Do you watch TV while you make dinner and mediate a fight with your kids while your spouse tries to tell you about her day? Do you text while you drive (perhaps even just once)?

Me, I’ll assert my Fifth Amendments rights.

But I’m betting that there are some days that you feel so overwhelmed by all that you try to accomplish (all at the same time) that you just want to scream.

Here’s the rub: We think that multi-tasking increases our productivity, makes us more efficient. That’s what society tells us will work. It doesn’t. What’s true is that dividing our attention actually decreases our productivity by as much as 25%. When we try to accomplish everything at once, we actually accomplish less. And we do burn ourselves out.

Here are some tips:

1. Set aside some morning meditation time to get clear about your intentions for the day.

2. Decide each day on what’s truly important… to you.  Do that first, to the exclusion of everything else.

3. Do just one thing at a a time, giving it your full focus and attention. Use “block time;” blocks of time devoted to returning calls and emails; blocks for your creative life; blocks devoted for your family and friends.

4. Don’t access your email first thing in the morning; your in-box contains only other people’s agendas.

5. Say “no;” yes, I said “no;” I know it’s not fashionable to say no, but remember what Gandhi said: “A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

If these ideas don’t work, try walking uphill through waist deep snow.




It Can Be Fixed

Success without fulfillment is failure.

Anthony Robbins

It was 4:00 p.m., long after I should have turned around. It was snowing and blowing and thundering and lightening. And I was alone.

I had planned it for years and trained for months. I had spent 18 arduous days on the mountain, 5 above 20,000′. Now I had climbed to the highest point in the Western Hemisphere.

And there was nothing there.

Oh, sure, there was a small metal cross and some prayer flags and the various memorabilia that climbers leave behind on big peaks.  And there was a (fleeting) sense of accomplishment. But there were no trumpets, no marching bands, no accolades, no “atta boys.”  There were no trophies, no certificates, no awards. Just a cold wind… and an empty summit.

That’s the problem with success, of course. It’s often empty. When we finally get “there,” we’re not quite sure why we’ve worked so hard. And the success for which we long still seems to be over the next hilltop.

You see, the model is broken.

We’re taught: go to school, get good grades, work hard, get a good job, put in long hours, get promotions, make lots of money, buy lots of things. THEN you’ll be successful. THEN you’ll be happy. We parent, manage and motivate with this paradigm. And it’s wrong… by 180 degrees.

Psychologist Shawn Achor says that the main problem with this model is that “every time your brain has a success you change the goalposts for what success looks like.” This is prevalent in how we do our work, and it’s prevalent in our personal lives and consumerist lifestyles. There always seems to be this sense that on the other side of something (a new thing, a completed task, someone treating you a certain way) is where happiness lies. “If only I had this, I’d be happy.” “Once I reach this goal, I’ll be happy.” “As soon as she tells me she loves me, I’ll be happy.” And when we’ve achieved the big goal, the target is set still higher.

Success can never be achieved.  Happiness can never be attained.

They are always beyond our reach when we live like this.

Happiness constantly pushed beyond the “cognitive horizon;” and thus eternally unavailable.

But there’s good news. It doesn’t have to be this way. Happiness can be taught. And it’s happiness that leads to success. NOT the other way around. Happiness and success are actually found in the valleys; not on some distant high summit.

Achor suggests some very simple practices:

  • Feeling Gratitude – Making note of three new things that you are grateful for every day.
  • Journaling – Recalling a positive experience that occurred over the last 24 hours, allowing your brain to re-live it.
  • Exercise – Getting physical teaches your brain that your behavior matters.
  • Meditation – Sitting still trains the brain to get over our “cultural ADHD,” and helps bring focus.
  • Random acts of kindness – Emailing one person in your social support network, praising them

Gretchen Rubin though her year-long Happiness Project also explores some fundamental ways in which to get in touch with what really makes our hearts soar. She says,

  • Let go
  • Lighten up
  • Remember that there is only love

I’m not saying “don’t worry, be happy.” God knows, there’s plenty to worry about. But what I am saying is that happiness is the most fundamental element of our success. And it doesn’t just happen. You can learn to do it.

Don’t wait. Start now.



No One Gets A Pass

“You always seem like you’re good.”

The woman I was talking with was facing some significant challenges in her life.  Her face was tear-streaked and she was clearly exhausted.

“Not always, “ I said. “No one gets a free pass.”

When we look at “successful” people, people who seem to have all their “shit” together, we imagine that their lives are perfect: free of stress, free of torment, free of sadness, free of challenges.

It’s not true.

Lately, I have come face to face with some friends and colleagues – wildly successful people,  folks at the top of their game – who have suffered horrific, unimaginable losses and devastating challenges: the death of a child, the loss of a parent, the dissolution of a marriage.

When Ann and I were at Date with Destiny in December, Tony Robbins shared the epic that he and his son’s mother faced as their boy struggled with substance abuse and an eating disorder. Tony Robbins with a struggle. Imagine that!

No one gets a pass.

In college, I was one of those odious students who feigned indifference about studies and grades and still produced A’s. The truth was that I studied for hours and worked like a dog. The “act” was pure ego.

We serve our teams, our colleagues, our friends, our loved ones best when we are able to be “real,” when we’re able to drop the “act” and reveal the challenges that we face. When we’re able to do this, others can say, like I did when listening to Tony, “well if he can get through that challenge, I can face mine too.”

I am reminded of the old Buddhist story: A young mother appears at the door of the Enlightened One with her dead infant in he arms.  She begs the Buddha to restore the life of her child. The Buddha tells her that he will grant her wish if she will bring him a mustard seed from the home of a person who had never experienced the loss of a loved one. She searched and searched from house to house. When she returned to the Buddha, she understood.

No one gets a pass.



Fireflies and Really Dirty Socks

Ideas can be life-changing. Sometimes all you need to open the door is just one more good idea.

Jim Rohn

Ideas are like fireflies. If you don’t catch them, they disappear into the inky darkness and are gone forever.

So many of our ideas, our thoughts, our dreams, our aspirations, come and go, arise and pass away, without ever being tried and tested; most never see the light of day.

When I learned to photograph, my mentor, the late great Galen Rowell,  said “never edit in the field.”

What he meant by that was “keep on shooting.” Don’t ever over-think a scene. Don’t evaluate it. Don’t make a judgement about it. Don’t decide in that moment that it is or isn’t worth photographing. Just shoot. Just keep shooting. Just capture the moment.  There will be plenty of time to evaluate and edit later on.

When we would come back from the field, he would have ten rolls of film for every one of mine. And when we reviewed our slides together, his percentage of “keepers” would be astounding.

He captured more. And had more to show for it.

We need to capture our ideas. All of them. And then we need to play.

This requires that we have a means to capture, and the time to play.

I carry a notebook. Everywhere. In the car, to the office, out to dinner, to the movies, running, climbing, hiking.

Yes, even to the bathroom.

Write down the crazy, the far-fetched, the brilliant, the inspired, the weird. Especially the weird.

Jim Rohn once said,

If you’re serious about becoming a wealthy, powerful, sophisticated, healthy, influential, cultured and unique individual, keep a journal. Don’t trust your memory. When you listen to something valuable, write it down. When you come across something important, write it down.

I used to take notes on pieces of paper and torn-off corners and backs of old envelopes. I wrote ideas on restaurant placemats. On long sheets, narrow sheets and little sheets and pieces of paper thrown in a drawer. Then I found out that the best way to organize those ideas is to keep a journal. I’ve been keeping these journals since the age of twenty-five. The discipline makes up a valuable part of my learning, and the journals are a valuable part of my library.

Rohn used to carry his notebook journal to church. I do too. You never know where the next idea will come from.

The evolution of the 3M Post-It note is a great example. Endeavoring to develop a strong adhesive, a 3M scientist ended up with what looked like a failure: an adhesive that stuck but then pulled off easily. Four years later, a colleague was struggling in church (yes, see!) to keep his hymns marked in the choir hymnal. He remembered the adhesive, slapped it on his markers and, today, the Post-It is one of the most popular office products available.

Of course, if you never look at your ideas, play with them, think about them, expand and experiment with them, test them, try them, see where they might go, the exercise in writing is just pedantic.

It seems as if brainstorming in business and in our creative lives has become a lost art. Maybe because we’re moving so fast, maybe because it seems that everything needs to happen now, it seems like a wasted effort.

Ideas need time. To marinate. To incubate.  And they need expansive, playful space.

If you capture them, if you nurture them, if you act, many will be keepers. Some will soar.

Allegedly, the manner in which male college students determine whether their socks (yes, and their underwear) require washing is to throw them against the wall to see if they stick.

Do you have an idea for a book, a business, a painting, a play, a movement, a mission, an empire?

Write it down. Work with it. Throw it against the wall.

Maybe it will stick.


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