Busy Is Bad

The need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.

– Stephen Covey

I got caught up short recently with a question about Journeys on the Edge: Living a Life That Matters.

The question: Doesn’t every life matter?

The answer: Of course.

But most of us want something more than simply to have existed.

Most of us want to make a difference, an impact on the world, however small. Most of us want our lives to really mean something.

In Abraham Maslow’s ground-breaking book Motivation and Personality, he suggests that, after our baser needs have been met, the need for self-actualization remains. Victor Frankl, who later contributed to Maslow’s work, calls it man’s search for meaning.

Meaning is what we seek.

Contemporary leadership expert Brendon Burchard says that, at the end of our lives, the questions that will remain are: did I live (did I REALLY live), did I love, and did I matter?

We want to have mattered.

If this is so, the work we must do is legacy work. And not just busy work.

Legacy work serves the greater good; it impacts the world in ways large and small. Just a few examples:

  • Teaching
  • Caring for the land
  • Advocating for justice and peace
  • Healing the sick
  • Protecting the downtrodden
  • Making fine art
  • Inspiring greatness

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does legacy work. Steve Jobs did legacy work. John Rockefeller did legacy work.

But fame and fortune aren’t required to do legacy work. Rosa Parks did legacy work. Paul Rusesabagina did legacy work. Oskar Schindler did legacy work.

Legacy work can be, as Mother Teresa said, small things done with great love.

Here’s a tip for deciding whether you’re doing legacy work:

  • Ask this question: will the outcome of this investment of time, this project, this effort, this negotiation, this argument matter a week from now, a month from now, next year?
  • If the answer is no, take some time to refocus and redirect your efforts.

Legacy work is like a pebble thrown into a pond.  It ripples outward touching distant shores we cannot see, and perhaps cannot even imagine.

Legacy work is work that makes a difference. It is what we all long to do.

Busy work depletes. Busy is bad.

Bees can be busy. You… not so much.

Of course, the garage needs to be cleaned, the closets organized, the laundry folded. But if our lives consist only of busy work, we end up feeling like a stunt double in Groundhog Day. We end up exhausted and empty and sad. At the end of the day, we fall into bed and ask, “Is that all there is?”

The answer is no. There’s so much more, if we but choose.

Those of you who read me regularly know that I’m a big fan of action.  Action. Not busyness. Action not for action’s sake. But action that leads somewhere. Action that is about significance. Action that makes manifest the essence of who you are in the world.

Bold action. Brave action. Mighty action. Creative action.

Legacy action.

Are you doing legacy work? Or busy work?


Journeys on the Edge: Living a Life That Matters

Available now at: www.walthampton.com


This is an encore of this blog entry, first published October 13, 2011.

Hairy and Audacious

There was an interesting piece in the Harvard Business Review recently. It’s message: large goals – stretch goals – at the corporate level weaken company morale, threaten integrity and invite decay. “Let’s dispense, once and for all, with the managerial absurdity known as ‘stretch goals,'” writes Daniel Markovitz. Markovitz postulates that stretch goals

  • Demotivate
  • Foster unethical behavior
  • Lead to excessive risk taking

“When stretch goals seem overwhelming and unattainable, they sap employees’ intrinsic motivation,” he says.  Better, he suggest, just to focus on small wins.

I think he’s wrong.

In mountaineering, we have a saying: Go big. Or go home.

Of course, there is a fair dose of bravado in that mantra. And yet, those high and lofty and difficult to reach peaks are what whisper to us in the darkness of the night; and drive us forward to achieve the unachievable.

I have many of my coaching clients make a bucket list: the things they want to do, be or have before they die. And I ask them to choose one grand goal from the list, and circle it. It is what I call the big, hairy audacious goal.

And my assignment to my clients is this: take one small step each day toward that grand goal.

Because it is the big hairy audacious goals that supply the juice for our lives. They are the great vision we hold for ourselves. They give meaning to our lives. They are the essence of who we are meant to be.

Our vision, our purpose, our raison d’etre, is the core of our humanity.

Sure, we need the achievable in our day to day lives. Sure, small victories feel great and build momentum in our lives.

But the big hairy audacious goals are the ones that light our lives on fire.

Go big. Or go home.


When you’re looking for a doctor, lawyer, accountant, coach, psychologist, realtor, mentor, consultant, advisor, who’s the real deal?

And when you’re competing in the marketplace of services and ideas, how do you differentiate yourself, how do you stand out?

Who can you rely on? Who can you trust?

How do you know what’s real, what’s authentic, what’s true?

Ann has faced this recently. She’s been looking for a marketing consultant to work with her as she moves her business to the next level.

The talking heads, the pseudo experts are everywhere.

“Enroll in my strategy session.”  “Take my webinar.” “Work with me; you’ll have a $10,000 day.”

The cacophony is staggering.

How should you shop for your next consultant or expert? Here are the factors I consider:

  • Does she walk the talk?  I don’t want a fat doctor or a decrepit personal trainer. I don’t want an accountant who has had an IRS problem or a network marketer who has never built a team. If I have a running injury, I want to see a runner. If I need a realtor, I want someone who has survived the dark valley of real estate despair.
  • Is he referable? I want someone who is 100% reliable, someone I would want to refer to others. Strategic coach Dan Sullivan teaches the concept of referability. He says people are “referable” when they show up on time, do what they say, finish what they start and have good manners. I like that. I want to work with someone who is referable. And has been referred.
  • Is she present? How many of you have you been in a doctor’s office when you just as well could have been at a meat-packing plant? You know what I’m talking about: the doc comes in, looks at the chart, mumbles a few words, writes out a script and moves down the hall. I don’t want a professional who is distracted. I want my expert to be 100% connected with me; 100% tuned into what I need; 100% present. I want a relationship. Even if my professional has a dozen other clients that day, I want to feel like I’m the most important person in the world when it comes time to work with me.

And what if you’re on the other side of the fence? What if you’re trying to market your wares? How do you stand out from the crowd?

  • Give a lot. I recently re-read the Go-Giver, a wonderful business parable that teaches anew the age-old principal that it is in giving that we receive. And paradoxically, the more we give, the more we will receive. Frank Kern and Jeff Walker have talked extensively about the movement of the “free line,” the content that experts must share freely in the marketplace of ideas if they have any hope of developing rapport and credibility with their prospective customers. Seth Godin executes on this concept brilliantly through his Domino Project and suffers not for prosperity or success.
  • Say thank you. Common sense is, well, not all that common anymore. And manners seem to have disappeared with bell-bottoms. I had a client call me out of the blue recently to thank me for some work I did. It shocked the shit out of me. And set the man apart in my memory for all time. When we express gratitude, we not only deepen our connections with one another, but we also differentiate ourselves  from an entitled world and attract even more abundance and prosperity into our lives.
  • Just be you. Years ago in a photography workshop, ten of us lined our tripods up in front of a beautiful vista. You might predict that there would have been ten identical images. Not so. Ten very different photographs. Here’s the truth: Each of us see the world, touch the world, and impact the lives of others in our own unique ways. No one does it like we do it. And as long as we stand in our own authenticity, no one can compete with us.

It might seem as if you need to be a Jedi master to pierce through the noise of advertising, to look beyond the sizzle of social media, to see through the scammers, the illusionists, and the charlatans. But beyond the banality and the blather, there is truth. Just apply a few simple principals. Take your time. You’ll see it.

For real.


Do you have your copy of Journeys on the Edge: Living a Life That Matters? Order your signed copy today. Click HERE!




What Matters

“So what’s a life that matters?”

I must have looked as dumbstruck as I felt.

“The sub-title,” the man in the dark suit said, pointing to the slide on the screen. “You know, the sub-title of your book.”

Ah, my book, the one I’ve been talking about. Yes, of course. Living a life that matters.

Journeys on the edge, and all that… .

Hmmm. Haven’t had that question before… .

So with my usual grace, I punted.

“You already know the answer to that question,” I replied.

And the truth is, all of us do.

All of us know what truly matters. All of us know what makes our hearts sing. All of us know what feeds our spirits and nourishes our souls.

It’s just that we forget. It’s just that we get buried in the minutia. We lose ourselves in the urgent rather than tending to the important. We get sucked into other people’s agendas rather than our own.

Lost in rabbit holes of “busy,” glued to glowing screens, torn by technology run wild, assaulted by emails, inundated by updates, and addicted to the ephemeral connections of social media, we find ourselves running so fast that we forget where we are going, or why; caught and overwhelmed in a pace that both challenges and diminishes our humanity.

We lose touch with what matters.

Leadership expert Brendon Burchard suggests that at the end of our lives the questions we will ask of ourselves are these: Did I live, really live? Did I love, really love? Did I matter?

At the end of our lives, none of us will wish that we had spent more time in the office, sold more product, seen more customers, billed more hours. What will matter will be the experiences we have had, the lives we have touched, the love we have shared.

What will matter is whether we have listened to the deepest longings of our hearts.

The measure, according to Buddhist scholar Jack Kornfield, is regret. Will we be able to say that we have lived without regret?

The Carmelite mystic William McNamara says that “Drivenness and crowdedness scatter our perceptions so disparately that our lives become helplessly fragmented and we are inexorably reduced to uncollected dispersion and spiritual torpor. He suggests that “[m]ost of us will have to stop doing half the things we do in order to do the other half with the liveliness of faith and the contagion of love.” “[I]nsightfulness grows in stillness and tranquility,” he says.

In silence, with life stripped bare, we discover again what matters.

Clayton M. Christensen, writing in the Harvard Business Review shares these thoughts:

“This past year I was diagnosed with cancer and faced the possibility that my life would end sooner than I’d planned. Thankfully, it now looks as if I’ll be spared. But the experience has given me important insight into my life.

I have a pretty clear idea of how my ideas have generated enormous revenue for companies that have used my research; I know I’ve had a substantial impact. But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is to me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.

I think that’s the way it will work for us all. Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.”

As young philosophy students, we were challenged with the assignment of writing our own obituaries.

That will get you in touch with what matters.

In The Zone

Meet this transient world with neither grasping or fear, trust the unfolding of life, and you will attain true serenity.

— Bhagavad Gita

I love it when I’m in the zone.

It’s effortless.

It just flows.

You know what I’m talkin’ about.

  • You’re working on a project and everything just falls into place.
  • You’re writing and the words spill onto the page.
  • You’re painting and it’s as if the canvas paints itself.
  • You’re having fun; you lose track of time; and the hours become like seconds.

I experience it sometimes when I climb. The moves reveal themselves and suddenly I’ve topped out. Or sometimes when I’m running, it feels as if  I’m being transported across the ground, like pure fluid motion.

It’s our natural state: Flow.

Why is it then that we fight it? Why is it that we make things difficult? Why is it that we choose to struggle? Why is it that we feel a need to wrestle everything to the ground?

As if we could really control any of it.

You know I’m not saying “Que sera, sera.”

I believe that we are called to pursue our dreams, to train hard, to take the risks, to push the edges, to grab the ring; to transform ourselves; to transform our world; to make our lives a masterpiece.

But, why can’t we believe that the Universe conspires for our success? Why can’t we trust that an Infinite benevolence wants for our good? Why can’t we rest in the natural order of things?

Life unfolds as it unfolds.

Struggle is optional.

“Sometimes I have to remember not to struggle,” said Ann breathlessly. We were running downhill after a long run up.

How true that is. We get caught in our struggles. And it’s so easy to stay stuck.

It’s so easy to stay in that state of struggle rather than to allow the magnificence that is.

“We are rather like whirlpools in the river of life, Charlotte Joko Beck writes. It’s when we try to dam up our whirlpools and cut them off from the larger flow, that we struggle. We suffer. We stress. We self-isolate. We cut ourselves off from one another. We cut ourselves off from the perfection that is the unfolding. We forget our true natures; we forget that we are part of the stream of life.

When we step into the flow, we allow for infinite possibility.

There’s a reason for that old round: Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.

It’s so much easier to be the river than to row against it.