The Real Guide To Avoiding The Cliff

In life itself, there is a time to seek inner peace, a time to rid oneself of tension and anxiety. The moment comes when the striving must let up, when wisdom says, “Be quiet.” You’ll be surprised how the world keeps on revolving without your pushing it. And you’ll be surprised how much stronger you are the next time you decide to push.”

— John Gardner

I pushed the throttle forward and hurtled even faster toward the cliff.

Then I stopped.

Not because I really wanted to. But because I had promised myself I would.

I returned once again, last week, to the Weston Priory, nestled on a remote hilltop in northern Vermont. To rest; to re-create; to renew. (I set as my intention to do this four times a year; this year I made it there three times.)

Going completely off the grid to a monastery, especially at this time of year, can be tough duty for an achievement and adrenaline junkie like me.

But what I know for sure is that the stopping is essential to the going.

We – all of us – are bombarded by inputs, and demands and expectations. We’re inundated with voice mails and text messages, emails and faxes. Everyone and everything competes for our attention. And with our “smart” phones, we’re always “on.”

One day melds into the next as we labor under our self-imposed illusions that if we can but accomplish just a little bit more, pack in just a little bit more, respond to just one more request, satisfy just one more customer, cart the child just one more place, buy just one more gift, send just one more card, then we’ll be able to rest.

Culturally – and individually – we’re weary. Add in the holidays – and societal tragedies – and, at the end of the day, most of us feel worn pretty thin.

We forget how important – how essential – renewal is.

Rest days are a key component of high-altitude mountaineering. Recovery is a critical piece of athletic training.

Bears hibernate; trees go dormant. The natural world knows how to rest. The seasons have a rhythm to them. We not so much.

We keep on pushing on.

I finished on wonderful book while on retreat: Life Entrepreneurs by Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek. It resonates so profoundly with the work I do: empowering extraordinary living.  Its essential message: “We can fashion a life that is purposeful, self-directed and aligned with who we truly are – providing us with opportunities for challenge, contribution, and fulfillment.” We get to design our lives. We get to choose.

It’s a hard-driving book filled with fascinating profiles of highly successful, remarkably creative leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.  It explores all of the nuances of extraordinary lives. And it captures a core component of success, one overlooked by nearly all gurus, coaches, and achievement “experts:” the need to stop; to renew; to re-create.

Speed kills. “We ignore the basics of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being at our own peril.” Make renewal “a cherished habit,” the authors say.

Not all of us need to go off the grid to a monastery for four days at a time (although I highly recommend it!).  But there are practices and “habits” that you could explore that might allow for some breathing room. Here are some things that you might want to try:

  • Turn off your electronics for a day (or even just an hour!)
  • Explore a regular mediation practice
  • Take a yoga class
  • Do some aerobic exercise every day
  • Walk in the woods or along the shore
  • Avoid your email in-box in the morning
  • Work in block time to avoid the interruptions
  • Don’t multi-task (it doesn’t really work anyway)
  • Take regular vacations, long weekends, and mental health days
  • Learn to say ‘no’ more often

Even though this time of year often feels frantic and out of control, even though we’re fond of telling ourselves that we’ll get to the important stuff after the holidays, there really is no better time to pull back to nurture yourself. No one else will do it for you. (Check out the recent talk I gave on this.)

The authors of Life Entrepreneurs remind us what John Muir once said: “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

When you go in, you’ll find how much more there is of you to step out with – to share with the world.

You can avoid the cliff.

All you need to do is stop.










The great “cliff” face of Mt. Hunter in the Alaska Range.






How To Succeed In Biz And…

When I was a kid, my folks would pile us into the car and we’d go off for a “Sunday drive.” There was no particular destination. Some days we’d end up “somewhere.” But more times than not, we’d just meander.

And  sometimes we’d get “lost.”

I thought about this after a coaching session the other day. My client was about to start a new business. I asked him about the “mission” of the business;  what he wanted the “outcome” of the business to be – other than just making money. He didn’t know.

That was “problematic.” We spent the rest of our session getting clear about his desired outcome, his destination.

Because knowing your outcome is mission-critical. Without an outcome, you’ll meander.

And surely get lost.

Not just in business. But in life as well.

It’s ok to meander from time to time. In fact, meandering can be good for the body, mind and soul. But if we spend our lives meandering, we most certainly will lose our way.

You need to know your destination, you need to see your target clearly if you’re going to get “there.”

Most of us wouldn’t show up at the Delta ticket counter and ask for a ticket without knowing where we’re going.  Most of us don’t venture off to an unknown city without downloading directions from Google Maps or programming our GPS.

But a lot of us start our days and our weeks… and our years without a clue as to where we’re going… and why.

In our businesses, we want to get clear on lots of stuff like:

  • What is the purpose of my business?;
  • What do I want its impact to be?
  • What is the culture that I intend to create?
  • Who are my customers, where do they live, what do they look like, what do they want?
  • And what do I want the experience of my business to be for my customers?

These are the types of questions we need to answer even before things like revenue and expenses.

In our personal lives too:

  • What are we called to do?
  • Who are we called to serve?
  • What are our game-changing hopes and dreams and aspirations?
  • What do we want our legacies to be?
  • What do we want to be the experiences of our lives; how do we want our lives to feel?

When we’re focused on where we want to go, we’re much more likely to get there.

What we focus on expands. What we measure, we improve upon. And while the holidays are here again and there are lots of things to distract ourselves with, this is the best time of year to reflect on what went well over this past year, to evaluate where we were challenged, and to cue up the plans for an exciting year ahead.

Did you know that most folks don’t even bother making New Year’s resolutions anymore? That’s because they’ve discovered, by default, that most “resolutions” don’t work out anyway. In fact, less than 10% of folks actually make them; and nearly all of those who do have abandoned the effort by the first of February.

“Resolutions” tend to be fuzzy. And not terribly sexy. (Really, who get’s really jazzed about lowering their cholesterol?) The reality is that most of us don’t take the time to create a compelling, inspiring, joy-filled vision for the year ahead. We don’t get clear. And without clarity, one week blends into the next… and before you know it, another year has blown by. We wake up wondering where the time went… how another year passed… and why we’re in the same place we were a year ago.

To succeed in business… and in this one and only life we have, it’s absolutely critical to get clear about where we’re going.

Clarity is power. 

I’ve created a template to guide you through some reflections on the year that’s coming to a close, together with a framework for getting clear (and jazzed) about what you will accomplish in the year ahead.

Download your template HERE. Print it out. Settle down by the fire and spend an hour (or two) with it. Share it with your partner, spouse or significant other. Get excited about the possibilities. Get excited about what you will create and enjoy. It will be fun. It will give you immense clarity (and power). It will make a huge, huge difference. Seriously.

Enjoy these beautiful days ahead. Rejoice with family and friends. Celebrate all that is good.

Revel in the possibilities. Enjoy (perhaps even get lost in) some restful meandering.

And then get ready to rock an awesome year ahead.


If Ya Wanna Be A Go-Giver

I had the privilege this week of speaking to an amazing group of human resource managers, folks who spend their lives in the service of others. I wanted to share with you the words I shared with them, because the challenge they face is one that many of us struggle with, regardless of the work we do.

One of my very favorite business books is Bob Burg’s “The Go-Giver.”  If you don’t have it in your business library, run out and get it. It’s a wonderful parable about a struggling young salesman. The lesson is: The more you give, the more you will be open to receive. Or as Zig Zigler said, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”

To be truly successful, the giving comes first.

But that’s not want I want to talk with you about tonight. Because being go-givers is not our challenge. If you’re standing in this room, you are a go-giver: every day of the week, all year long. You give: To your teams, to your staff, to your personnel, to your clients. You give, and you give and you give some more.

Being go-givers is what we do.

No, our challenge, as we come to the end of the year, is something much more daunting. Our challenge is something that many of us are not very good at; something that seems to many of us to have a dark and forbidding underbelly to it. Our challenge is this: To take care of ourselves. To nurture ourselves, to invest in ourselves, to re-create ourselves so that tomorrow…and the next day… and the day after that… and when we wake up on January 2, we can do it all over again.

When I spoke about this idea at a recent training workshop, one of the attendees, a parent, a mom, raised her hand and wondered aloud whether taking care of herself was selfish.

It’s not. In fact, failing to replenish ourselves is the ultimate in selfishness. Because – here’s the truth – if our tanks are empty, if we have nothing left – then what is there to give?

Most of you have flown, I trust. You get on the airplane. And just as the plane is being pushed back from the gate, the flight attendant comes out for that safety schpeel. And one of the things that he or she says is that in the event that the cabin loses pressure, an oxygen mask will drop down. And whose mask are you instructed to put on first? Yes, your told to put on your own mask first – before helping others.

Why? Here’s the truth: If you don’t put on your own mask first, if you don’t take care of yourself first, no one else will; and as important, you’re no good to anyone else. You can’t do a thing for anyone else if you’re dead on the cabin floor.

But we seem to forget this. Or pretend it’s not true. Or we convince ourselves that somehow we’re being noble. We engage in endless giving, endless self-sacrifice, endless depletion; because we think we “should;” and we get to the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the year… and we have nothing left.

So our challenge – especially as we come to the end of this year and stand on the threshold of a new one – is to reclaim what is oxygen for us, to rediscover what lights up our hearts, what nurtures our souls.

Is it writing?

Is it painting?

Is it running?

Is it travel and adventure?

Is it getting in touch with your body again?

Maybe it’s a long walk in the woods with your dog; or sitting by the fire with the New York Times; or sharing a glass of wine with an old friend.

Whatever it is, our call – our obligation to ourselves and to those we truly love – is to heal ourselves; to get in touch with what feeds us again. And go and do it.

And we don’t really have the luxury of putting this off. Think how fast this year has gone. The sands run quickly through the glass.

The late great Steve Jobs once said, “For the past 33 years, I’ve looked in the mirror each morning and asked myself this question: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I do what I’m about to do today?’ And if the answer was ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I knew that I needed to do something different.”

There is poignancy and urgency to this.

Because, at the end of our lives, none of us is going to wish that we had spent more time in the office, billed more hours, made more calls, sent more emails, updated our Facebook status more frequently.  What will matter will be the experiences we have had, and the love we have shared. What will matter is whether we have fulfilled the deepest longings of our hearts, whether we have spend ourselves not on the urgent, but on the important; whether we have lived without regret.

You have gifts that only you can share with the world. But to do that well, you need to be whole and complete; you need to be vibrant and alive. You know that you expect that of your people. And only you can make that happen for yourself.

Your inbox will still be full when you’re dead.

So reclaim your dreams; reclaim the song in your heart; reclaim the grand vision for your lives; reclaim what is oxygen for you.

Reclaim the fun.

Reclaim the laughter.

Reclaim the joy.

If you can’t do it just for yourself, do it because you care so much for those you serve.

“And now,” as Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been.”

May it be filled with peace and all good things.




Do You Have A BHAG?

This is not some special rare breed of dog reserved for a select few.

No, everyone should have a BHAG.

And what an especially auspicious time of year to think about getting one!

A BHAG is a big hairy audacious goal.

If you don’t have a BHAG, you should get busy now.

You see, a true-bred BHAG lights up our life, sets us on fire; it’s one of those things that gets us up in the morning and drives us forward. A well-fed BHAG gives shape and meaning to our lives.

Everyone, yes everyone, needs a BHAG.

A BHAG can change the world:

  • Martin’s dream was a BHAG;
  • JFK’s moon program was a BHAG;
  • Edison’s light bulb was a BHAG;
  • Salk’s vaccine was a BHAG;
  • Mandela’s vision was a BHAG.

Abraham Lincoln had a big-assed BHAG; Mother Theresa had a BHAG; the Dalai Lama has a BHAG.

Thank god, for BHAGs, huh?

But BHAGs can be much more personal too, like:

  • Writing a book – that’s a BHAG;
  • Running a marathon;
  • Launching a business;
  • Composing a song;
  • Getting a job;
  • Staring a family;
  • Healing a wound

Anything with a grand arc, a big palette; anything that requires us to move and stretch beyond our comfort zones qualifies as a BHAG.

Get quiet; get still. Set aside some good quality time to think about your BHAGs for the year to come. Journal them out, write them down. Make a vision board, a mind map. Brainstorm with your accountability partner, your mastermind group, your coach, your buddy, your friend. Move it outside yourself. Make it real. Commit to it. Set a deadline. Put it in motion. Now’s the time.

Without our BHAGs, our horizons become flat; our existences vanilla.

BHAGs build muscle and resiliency. They bring us face to face with frustration and failure. They bring us tears and laughter; sadness, joy and exaltation. They change the face of who we are. And like ripples in a pond, touch distant shores in ways we cannot comprehend.

BHAGs require nothing less than the full dimension of our humanity. Indeed, they are the very essence of who we are.

Sure, some BHAGs can be messy like those special breeds of dogs. But every life needs a BHAG.

And the world is waiting. So, don’t wait another minute – find yours now.









This BHAG, climbing Denali, Mt. McKinley, occupied my imagination for more than three decades. If you need help bringing shape to yours, inquire about our coaching. It will change your life!