The Spiral Staircase

Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes life feels like a scene from that old Bill Murray movie: Goundhog Day. Every day the same thing. The progress we want to make, the goals we set… all seem to elude us.

What’s true is that, if we are mindful and earnest in our efforts, we really do make progress… it’s just sometimes difficult to see.

I am a fan of the religious writer Karen Armstrong who wrote a beautiful memoir entitled The Spiral Staircase. She likens her own growth (and the growth we all experience on this grand human adventure) as something akin to climbing up a spiral staircase… not necessarily repeating the ‘sins’ of the past… but turning back on those experiences, returning again and again, often from a higher perspective, to those certain lessons that continue to be necessary for us to learn. screenshot-2016-09-29-10-44-11

Places that feel like old ground; places that feel familiar… but are not the same.

Our journeys, lived deeply, sometimes – necessarily – take us through these places. In our relationships, in our studies, in our jobs.

Growth… maybe not in that linear way so many of us strive for… but growth none-the-less.

One of the great gifts of the coaching process is the ability of the coach to see across the stretch of the road, to see the grand arc… to see progress when it feels, in the moment, like quicksand. And to re-assure that the way is sound, the ground secure.

Fall can be a time of new beginnings. But, as we return to our routines, it can also be a time of re-assessment… and frustration.

If the road ahead looks uncertain, don’t despair. The twists and turns can feel quit daunting. And circuitous.

Stay the course. It’s the slow, steady steps over time that lead to those magnificent results.

Show Up Do The Work

I nearly missed it.

It had fallen to the bottom of the mail basket.

I fished out the tiny envelope.

It was addressed to me; blue ink; the forced cursive of a now unsteady hand.

I didn’t recognize the return address.

The note inside said: “Dear Mr. Hampton, I stumbled over your book Journeys on the Edge: Living a Life That Matters in my library. I so enjoyed it. It meant a lot to me. I’m 84 years old. Old people have dreams too, you know.”

I wept.

Just that afternoon, I had devolved once again into that self-loathing, that self-pity, that narcissistic hand-wringing that so many of us – writers, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, creators – indulge in: what’s the point of doing the work; does anybody really care; is anybody really listening; does the message really matter; maybe the message is screwy; is the work important; am I doing it right; maybe I didn’t rehearse long enough; maybe I’ll make a mistake; maybe I should have practiced more; maybe I already made a mistake; maybe I don’t have enough experience to be doing this; do I have the right system; maybe no one notices anyway; maybe I didn’t get the launch right; maybe the marketing is off; maybe the work looks stupid; maybe I sound dumb. Yes, dumb, so let’s not do that anymore.

“God, give me a sign that the work matters,” I had silently prayed that afternoon.

“Old people have dreams too,” the Universe responded.

You see, the work we do – the work all of us do – truly does matter. And our job is just to shut up – and do it.

Of course, occasional – or frequent – self-flagellation may somehow assuage some of us. But really, all that is ultimately required of us is that we show up; every day; and do the work of our lives.

George Leonard, who was an Aikido Master and a grandfather of the Human Potential movement wrote, “the master is the one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is one who is willing to try and fail, and try again, for as long as he or she lives.” The master, said Leonard, shows up every day on the mat.

Julia Cameron, author of the Artist’s Way said, “I learned to get out of the way and let that creative force work through me. I learned to just show up at the page and write down what I heard. Our only job, Cameron says, is to show up – and allow the work to move through us.

Tama Kieves in her wonderful new book Inspired & Unstoppable, says: The blank page teaches us to write. The stage teaches us to perform. Even surgeons have to learn on real-life patients with real life consequences.” “It doesn’t matter how you begin,” says Kieves. “Just jump in. Get moving.”

And stay moving, I say. showup

The problem with self-flagellation is that it often paralyzes us; stops us dead in our tracks; interrupts our momentum; stops the flow.

The world needs your gifts.

When we do our work – and put our work out in the great river of our lives – it takes on energy of its own. It impacts lives – and travels to distant shores – beyond our wildest imaginations.

Believe in your vision. Believe in your message. Believe in the music of your heart.

Get out of your own way; get out of your own head.

Show up. Do the work. Do it every day. Then toss it out into in the river of your life.

The Universe will take care of the rest.

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Are you ready for the next step? Are you ready to create the work and the live you love? Email me: walt@walthampton.com

Falling To My Death

There I was, a thousand feet above the valley floor on a tiny rock ledge; cold and wet and shivering.

My climbing partner, Sam, unfurled the rope that we’d be using to protect one another as we scaled the thousand feet of granite that towered above us. I pulled my climbing harness out of my pack and stepped into the leg loops. My puffy down jacket that had tumbled out with the harness looked especially appealing as the fog settled in around us. I pulled it on over my wet shirt. There was a candy bar in the jacket pocket. Damn if that was not a find; we’d been moving up this mountain since 5am and I was famished.

Sam set the anchor for the rope and then tied in. I put him on belay. He stepped off the ledge onto the sheer rock face and disappeared quickly into the mist. screenshot-2016-09-12-19-36-33

Twenty minutes later I heard Sam call “I’m off belay.” And just a few moments later hear him yell, “you’re on belay, Walt,” signaling that it was safe for me to climb.

I repacked my pack, stepped off the ledge onto the wet rock face, and looked down at my harness.

It was open, unbuckled, dangling around my waist. I had never finished putting it on.

I looked down into the void beneath me. My head swirled.

The end flashed before me: falling the thousand feet to my death.

I steadied myself; stepped back onto the ledge; and took a deep breath. Carefully, I finished what I had started: buckling the harness that would keep me safe.

Inattention in the mountains can be fatal. It can have pretty bad consequences in business and in life as well.

Ours is a culture of overwhelm.

We’ve become addicted to the stimulation and outside input, checking and re-checking our smartphones and our tablets and our emails; responding incessantly to the phone calls and messages and notifications and alerts. Overwhelmed and inundated by the expectations and the deadlines and the demands, endeavoring to pay attention to everything and succeeding only at a continuous partial attention.

Partial attention is inattention in disguise.

When we’re not fully present, we’re scattered, error-prone and inefficient.

We dishonor our loved ones, our work and the people we serve.

We dishonor ourselves; and this gift that is our lives.

Steve Jobs of Apple fame once said that he was as proud of the 1000s of things he said no to as the few things he said yes to. “Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best,” leadership expert John Maxwell teaches.

Be fully present in each and every moment; refuse to entertain the myth of multi-tasking; work tasks to completion.

Your focus is your superpower.

Doing fewer things well is the secret to sanity and success.

And, oh, don’t forget to buckle your harness.

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When you’re ready to claim your superpowers, email me: walt@walthampton.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

In A Creative Rut? Try Taking A Nap

It’s 2 p.m. and I just woke up from a nap.

No, it’s not the weekend. And no, I’m not on vacation. It’s just a normal workday.

A year ago, I would have been embarrassed to admit this. After all, I live and work in the United States where sleeping in the middle of the day is practically stigmatized. In my 20s, my friends and I proudly proclaimed (as we downed cases of energy drinks) “Who needs sleep? There’s plenty of time to sleep when we’re dead!”

Today, I’m more embarrassed by that admission than I am of saying I regularly schedule power naps into my days because, the truth is, it was that kind of twisted thinking in my younger years that left me feeling perpetually irritable and exhausted — not exactly qualities that inspire creative thinking.

As a writer and creative, I was sabotaging the very things that fuel my best creative work: a rested mind, a relaxed body and a refreshed spirit.

I realized there was nothing noble about being sleep deprived, or denying I needed more shut eye. So I started getting to bed earlier.

At first, the motivation to get more sleep was purely vain. I got tired of looking in the mirror and seeing a sallow complexion and dark circles around my eyes. After watching Arianna Huffington’s TedWomen talk, How to Succeed? Get More Sleep, I realized not only did I need more beauty sleep, I also needed more Creativity ZZZs if I wanted to get better at my writing craft.

Creativity ZZZs, as I call it, are 10- to 20-minute power naps that I work into my schedule a few times a week, usually between noon and 3 p.m.

In South America, where my family’s from, it’s not unusual for people to take a “siesta” in the afternoon. But in the U.S., naps have become the domain of the “lazy”, the “unproductive” folks who either don’t work or don’t want to work.

But there’s a growing body of research that makes the case for getting more sleep. Sleep, it turns out, is not just good for your body. It also boosts your creativity.

Here’s what I discovered when I started taking more cat naps:

Ideas Flowed

It no longer felt like I was trying to pull thoughts out of cotton. At a certain point in the afternoon, usually around three o’clock, I hit a mental wall. In the past, I tried to climb over that wall with gallons of caffeine and sugar. But that did nothing to unlock ideas or creative musing that seemed trapped in dark, unreachable corners of my brain. The crash that inevitably ensued after my caffeine high only made me feel worse. But after a power nap, my mind is able to brainstorm and draw connections between seemingly disparate ideas because it’s clear and refreshed.

Got More Focused

Creative work requires uninterrupted stretches of time where you are immersed in whatever activity you undertake. It’s what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow. Power naps help me get more focused, and more “in the flow.” I stop reading the same sentence in an email, a book, a blog post, an article, even my own writing, over and over again trying to understand what I was reading. After a nap, I feel reinvigorated and ready to focus on something intensely for a longer period of time.

Became More Energized

As a kid, I spent my summers in Colombia, where my parents were born. On most days everyone took “siesta”, an afternoon nap usually taken after lunch. That makes sense, of course, since most people tend to feel sluggish between noon and 4 p.m., the time of day that coincides with the lowest point in our circadian cycles. My low point usually begins around 2 p.m. when my eyelids start to feel heavy and my brain starts to slow. A short nap can feel like a shot of espresso without the caffeine jitters.

Became Happier

There’s no doubt sleep deprivation can leave you feeling cranky, irritable and moody. In fact, studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood.

“People who have problems with sleep are at an increased risk for developing emotional disorders (such as) depression and anxiety,” says Harvard University professor Dr. Lawrence Epstein.

Feeling tired and run down is not just bad for your mood, it’s bad for creative endeavors because stress and anxiety feed creative blocks. But when you’re feeling good and rested, ideas flow which leads to more good feelings.

So if you if you want to be at your creative best, do yourself a favor:

Go take a nap.

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This is a guest post by my talented colleague and friend Brenda Barbosa. Brenda is a speech writer extraordinaire and story strategist.  The piece first appeared in the Huffington Post. You can find Brenda – and you should – at: http://www.brendabarbosa.com/

 

Is It A Labor Of Love?

It’s Labor Day weekend in the United States: A celebration of work and workers; an opportunity to honor labor; the chance to celebrate the fulfillment of our effort.

Or perhaps, more realistically, an escape from tedium; a long weekend away from the insanity of the office; with a beer… or two; and burgers and dogs on the grill.

Because, you see, nearly 80% of folks are unfulfilled in their work. (More than 90% among my lawyer colleagues.) Employee engagement worldwide, that is a worker’s investment in his or her employer’s vision and mission, stands at 13%, meaning 87% of folks couldn’t really give a damn about what their company is trying to achieve. (And, by the way, employers beware: engagement is correlated directly with your bottom line.)

Which is terrible: Because our work is the highest expression of who we are in the world. Our work is the opportunity to serve in the world; to share with the world those gifts and talents that are uniquely ours to share.

Our work takes up the majority of our waking hours. It takes us away from our homes and our families. It requires our attentions and focus; our blood, sweat and tears. And at the end of the day, if it is devoid of meaning, we are left empty and depleted and despairing.

Our work is not the entirety of our being; and yet it is a huge part of who we are. Screenshot 2014-08-26 09.51.30

“Isn’t work supposed to be a grind?” my young career-coaching client asked.

“No!” I yelled into the phone. “It’s not.”

It’s supposed to be rich and full and joyous. Not without stress or worry; not without effort. But filled with meaning and purpose and deep satisfaction.

Your work should be fun; your work should make you happy.

Steve Jobs said, “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… .”

If you find yourself filled with dread on Sunday night, then what you’re doing isn’t working. If you’re not waking up most days excited and on fire about your work, then you need to do something different.

Because when you’re in the flow, when you lose track of time, when your Monday feels as awesome as your Friday… that’s when you know you have the work and life you love. You deserve that; the world deserves that.

Because your work should be a Labor of Love.

Happy Labor Day.