You: A Fraud

Not.

But chances are that you’ve felt like one from time to time.

I had dinner recently with a high-ranking foreign official. She was appointed to her position by the president of her country, the first woman to hold it in over 700 years. Trained as a trial lawyer, she is bright, savvy, shrewd, articulate and attractive. And yet, she confessed, after every television and radio interview she does – and she does many – she comes away feeling like she’s making it up as she goes along, that she’s shallow and transparently inept, that she must have fooled someone to hold such an important job, that she’s… a fraud. images-1

She’s not alone. More than 70% of folks have suffered from the “Imposter Syndrome;” and it is especially prevalent among successful women.

I can’t remember a time that I haven’t questioned myself before going out on stage to speak to a group: There is a little voice that asks, “Who am I to teach these things I want to say; what can I share with this audience that is of any use whatsoever; and what veracity does any of it have especially when I’ve struggled and thrashed as much if not more than the next guy?”

But here’s the truth: Each of us has gifts and talents that are uniquely ours to share with the world; no on else is equipped to share them the way we can.

And it is our call, our obligation to do so.

There are folks on the path behind us who need to hear what we have to say; who want to hear. We can make their way sweeter and gentler when we have the courage to stand up and be heard.

Every third grader looks up to a fourth grader… each of us can turn around and share the lessons that we’ve learned.

With confidence and integrity… even when we’re scared; even when we feel we have no “standing.”

Marianne Williamson says, “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. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

No one escapes these feelings of inadequacy.

It’s what you do next that matters most: Will you shrink? Or will you step up and lead?

There is a great children’s book called Everyone Poops.

Yup, everybody does.

How To Avoid Going Over 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, to the monastery nestled on a remote hilltop. To rest; to re-create; to renew. (I set as my intention to do this four times a year; I don’t always do very well.)

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.

One of my favorite books is 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: Screenshot 2015-12-23 13.56.15

  • Turn off your electronics for a day (or even just an hour!)
  • Explore a regular meditation 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.

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Are you ready for the next step? Would you like to take your business and your life to the next level? I’ll have one rare opening in my Inner Circle Coaching program beginning in January. Email today me if you’d like to explore whether that spot might be right for you: walt@walthampton.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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This is an encore of a post first published on December 27, 2012. With thanks and gratitude for the wonderful words of wisdom from by friend Gregg Vanourek.

 

 

 

 

 

Where Are You Right Now?

Are you thinking about what just happened a moment ago… or yesterday? Are you pondering what’s next… the next call, the next email, the next meeting, the next…?

Doubtful you are here. Right here. Right now. In this present moment. Because it’s so hard to be right here.

Not because we don’t have enough in this present moment; but because we have too much: too much information; too much noise; too much stimulation; too much to do.

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.

We’ve become addicted, as Jim Collins, author of that wonderful business book, Good to Great, says,… we’ve become addicted to “the undisciplined pursuit of more.”

Perpetually distracted.

Untethered, unfocused, unproductive.

And despite our hyper-connectivity… isolated and disconnected.

I love the power of still photography; and yet I am aware that every time I put my eye to the viewfinder, I pull myself away from the moment as it is right in front of me; from the intimacy of the experience as it is.

I love the power of social media; and yet I am aware that when I am thinking about how much fun or interesting it will be share my experience, in that instant I have left the experience itself.

I love the power of technology; and yet I am aware that the very technology that allows me the freedom to live and work anywhere in the world also can enslave me.

Our distractions dishonor; and disempower.

So here are some simple things that have worked for me that you might do to reclaim the power of the present moment:

  • Avoid your email inbox first thing in the morning.
  • Turn off all of those annoying alerts on your smartphone and desk top
  • Don’t multi-task; it can’t be done
  • Work in block time; do just one thing
  • Let your calls go to voicemail
  • Don’t flit in and out of social media
  • Have a smartphone free dinner (or evening)
  • Carve out some (dedicated) time to read, write and reflect
  • Make (real) dates with yourself; and your loved ones; and honor them
  • Go off the grid entirely from time to time

Life unfolds only in this moment. Our power to impact, to influence, to make a difference, to touch a life, to do an act of kindness, to smile, to hold, to love, to leave a mark, exists only in this moment.Screenshot 2014-10-14 10.35.18

What is past is gone. And the next moment is promised to no one.

So be here now. In this one and only moment.

Excuses Are Good!

Excuses are good; really good. Because, if you’ve got a plausible excuse, then you’re safe… you don’t need to do anything; you don’t need to risk anything.

If you want to do, be or have something more for yourself; if you’d like your life to be different; if you’d like your health to be better; or if you’d like a job that makes you happy; or a relationship that makes your heart soar; and you’ve got an excuse… well, then, nothing really is required of you. Screenshot 2014-09-17 09.48.06

You can just sit tight. Stay comfy. And let the clock run out.

Or not.

The Biggies

Here are the excuses I hear most frequently from clients:

  • It’s not the right time. “I’m too old, too young, too fat, too out of shape. I need to save up some more money; I need to wait for the promotion or partnership or bonus; I need to wait until the kids are out of school; I need to wait until my partner retires or I retire; or… .”

The truth is: It’s NEVER the right time. There are ALWAYS obstacles. There are ALWAYS hurdles to jump; there are ALWAYS challenges to overcome.

Now is the only time you have. Tomorrow is promised to do one. Goethe says, “What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

  • I could never do that. I’m not brave enough; fast enough; strong enough; fit enough; smart enough; wealthy enough; creative enough; ___________ enough.

I could never do that. I’m not enough.

It’s one of our core insecurities as human beings: That I’m not enough.

It’s why we strive. It’s why we have the Sistine Chapel and rocket ships and the computer and smartphones… because we achieve, we strive… because we forever strive… for more. But the worry that we’re not enough also stops us short; holds us back.

But we’re already enough. All we need is within us already.

Everyone starts from the same place. A Mozart, a Picasso, a Marconi; and some even start from hugely disadvantaged places: a Lincoln, a Mandela, an Oprah.

No matter where you start, you have enough – you are enough – to go the distance.

  • It will take too long. It will take 4 years for the degree; 7 years for the residency; 6 months to train for the race; a year to lose the weight; 3 to write the book; and who knows how long to find the ‘right one.’

So what? Who cares? The clock is ticking. The time will pass; whether you take the next step; or not.

It may well take you three years to launch your new business; but the three years will come and go even if you never launch.

Greatness takes time. The overnight success has spent many a sleepless overnight. And while maybe you won’t need 10,000 hours to sharpen your skills, you still need to put in the effort.

Opportunity often disguises itself as work; and work worth doing – legacy work, generational work, world-changing work – often takes a long time.

  • It’s too big; too hard. It’s complicated, confusing, overwhelming, I can’t figure it out. I don’t know where to research it; I don’t know who to talk to; I don’t know what to do next.

Even highly successful, highly accomplished professionals labor with this excuse. The more expert we become in a particular area, the more daunting it is to venture into a new one. We like the familiarity of our own turf.

And even highly successful folks have ‘blind spots.’ They may excel in the business life and struggle in their relationships; their finances might be stellar and their health in the toilet.

Too, we live in a culture of overwhelm. There’s so much flying at us all the time. We suffer from information overload. We resist wanting to take in more.

But what we need to remember is that every journey starts with a single step. Every ultra I’ve run, every mountain I’ve climbed… no matter how long or how big gets finished by taking one step… and then the next.

We want to see the entire way. But we don’t need to. “Take the first step in faith,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said. “You don’t need to see the whole staircase; just take the first step.”

In every endeavor, every business venture, every fitness goal, every financial objective, every marketing campaign, every piece of research, it’s just one step at a time.

And the hardest one is the first one. So just take it!

  • It’s too risky. I don’t want to fail; I don’t want to lose my job; I don’t want to lose money; I don’t want to get hurt in another relationship; I don’t want to get injured. It’s too dangerous.

This is the most pernicious excuse of all because it seems to make so much sense. Why take unnecessary risks… why put yourself in harm’s way?

Guess what? Life is dangerous. None of us gets out alive.

I have a buddy who has been on Mt. Everest twice; summitted once. He shattered his leg cleaning out the leaves from the gutters on his one-story house.

We like to believe in stability; in constancy. But the only thing that is constant, the only sure thing is that things will change.

Businesses collapse, partnerships fail, marriages come unraveled, layoffs happen, people get sick, markets crash. And as much as we like to maintain an illusion of control, we really don’t have very much at all.

Our comfort zones are called comfort zones because, well, they’re pretty damn comfy. But what’s true is that the magic happens just beyond.  Our greatest breakthroughs… our very best lives… are just outside that place of comfort. Life rewards those who risk.

What’s Next?

So excuses are good; in fact, they’re great… if you want to stay stuck. Not so much if you want a big life. The stories we tell ourselves are just that: stories. It’s as easy to make up a small story as it is a grand one.

Grand is better.

What are your favorite go-to excuses? And what will you do now?

Do You Do This During Sex?

He leaned in and whispered. Conspiratorially. I thought, perhaps he was going to tell me that he had taken up with his secretary; or that that he had fallen in love with heroin.

“I’m going to leave my cellphone behind,” my colleague confessed.

Dangerous. Foreboding. Uncharted.

Imagine, a vacation without a cellphone! (And he’s a lawyer!)

But likely difficult for too many of us to imagine. Really

Our phones have become like appendages… Indeed, without them, some of us actually experience phantom ringtones or vibration. We check them continuously: Studies suggest, on the average, 150 times a day; 6 to 9 times an hour; every 7 or 8 minutes.

Eighty percent of folks sleep with them. We grab them first thing in the morning. We look at them right before going to bed.

Twenty percent check their phones during sex. Some actually take calls during sex; or even update their Facebook statuses. (Seriously? During sex?)

The consequence is that we live in a constant state of distraction and overwhelm.

We find it difficult to focus; to listen; and to be truly present.

We miss the time to think, reflect, create, and be.

It’s impossible to be mindful.

Our productivity suffers; our intimacy too.

We dishonor our work; we dishonor our relationships; we dishonor ourselves.

We lose touch with that still point within us, that place of quite where our power dwells.

Experiment with giving yourself the luxury of some time away from your cellphone. Maybe just for a dinner, or a day? (Or during sex?)

My lawyer friend will likely feel a bit antsy for a time. Cellphone detox can be an unsettling thing. But, without that constant stimulation, think of the quiet, the deep relaxation… the peace and the chance to re-create.

Will you give it a try?

KISS

Why do so many of us have a love affair with the iPod™, the iPhone™, the iPad™?

Because Steve Jobs believed so passionately in elegant simplicity.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” Jobs said.

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Simple is powerful. Simple is good.

And yet, for so many folks, complex is their place of default.

We see it frequently among our coaching clients when they confront business challenges. They immediately want to:

Add personnel
Build out infrastructure
Supplement their technology
Create more layers

Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with leverage or growth. The problem is the potential for the complexity they cause.

Small businesses and solopreneurs often have great advantage over larger enterprises because they are more efficient, fleeter of foot; more able to bob and weave and adapt to change.

They’re clearer about their visions, their missions, and the problems they solve.

They can craft their cultures and engage their teams more mindfully.

They’re more deft at nurturing passion and focus, which brings with it clarity of outcome.

Larger organizations, because of structural constraints like committees and policies and procedures, have the propensity to be less creative, more cumbersome, and rote.

And with layers and structure come fixed cost and overhead.

With big, the business model can become complicated. You need to be able to describe your business to your 8th grade daughter or your nephew in a way that he or she can understand it. Because, if they can’t understand it, how will your customer?

Big, too, can become confusing in terms of mission and purpose. As a business grows, it becomes harder to convey and sustain the founding vision, the original passion, and the fundamental cultural values.

Effecting change in a large complex enterprise, especially in times of crisis, can be like turning a supertanker from the crashing waves of a reef: laborious and slow and fraught with danger.

Big can also take on a life of its own, which may be good if you’re planning successive generations of management; or are creating a model for passive income; or are growing your business to sell it But if you envision wanting to escape someday, big may not be so good. One surgeon that I know would love to retire; but he has no clue how to disentangle himself from the equipment leases, the machinery, the phone systems, the layers of personnel and the crushing burden of malpractice insurance. He is a prisoner in his business, a hostage to the hungry “monster” he has built.

Often one of the fundamental reasons that business fail, according to Jim Collins, author of the business classic Good to Great, is because of “the undisciplined pursuit of more.” Greg McKeown, author of the recent best seller Essentialism, suggests that, in the alternative, success comes from “the disciplined pursuit of less.” Screenshot 2014-07-23 06.36.31

So next time you hit a speed bump, instead of automatically seeking to add something to the mix, why not ask instead,

• What should I be doing less of?
• What should I eliminate?
• What should I make simpler and easier?

Simple became an obsession for Jobs. It’s not a bad one to have.

Why I Can’t Talk With You Anymore

It seemed funny at the time: My seventeen year old son and his girlfriend, sitting in the back seat, side by side, texting each other, rather than talking.

It doesn’t seem as funny now.

The technology that is meant to connect us often doesn’t. Instead, we have become increasingly scattered and distracted, dwelling in a state of continuous partial attention. We tweet in 144 characters. We text in abbreviated words. We take in information in bullet points and sound bites.

We are expected to be always on, always accessible. We stand like players on a digital tennis court, waiting for a ball to be served over the net, not wanting to miss a play, and always wanting to be seen as available to volley back.

We have lost the capacity to sit still, to be still, and to know the beauty and the grandeur of quiet and solitude. We have lost the capacity to create space for creativity; and we have lost touch with the power of reflection.

At risk is our capacity to relate, really relate; to communicate deeply… to look each other in the eye and talk… really talk.

I participated recently in a mock networking event for graduating business students. Bright and driven; at the top of their class. And not a one could hold my gaze in conversation. IMG_5581

And last week, traveling through the Newark airport, we stopped for dinner. On each table – firmly mounted between the place settings – an iPad – to order our food and drinks and surf the net and update our statuses and… everything except a (real) connection with the person across the table… because that would require looking over or around that now sacred tablet.

Some studies have shown that stepping away from our smartphones and tablets can have the same physical and mental impact as going cold turkey from smoking or drugs. But what might it be like to put our tech aside for just an evening… or a day… or a week? What might it be like to reconnect with ourselves… and with those we love?

Disconnect to connect. Will you give it a try?

Why The Solution Isn’t The Problem

More and more, businesses and organizations are embracing mindfulness and meditation as tools to increase the performance of their people as well as a way to reduce stress and overwhelm. Which is a good thing, because these are powerful tools, and important objectives.

But there’s a shadow side to this sudden enlightenment; a disconnect. The effort treats a symptom and not the cause.

Ours is a culture of overwhelm. We’re always connected. We’re always expected to be on. Nights, weekends, holidays, vacations. No refuge. No means of escape. Everyone suffers. And, as Claire Cain Miller said in her recent New York Times piece, “The pressure of the round-the-clock work culture – in which people are expected to answer emails at 11:00 pm and take cell phone calls on Sunday morning – is particularly acute in highly skilled, highly paid professional services jobs like law, finance, consulting and accounting.”ProblemSolution

While mindfulness and meditation are great – I’ve been a practitioner for decades – the solution is to tackle the real problem: The truth is that the way we work doesn’t work.

The research is crystal clear: After 50 hours a week of work, our productivity plummets; multi-tasking robs of us our focus; and too little sleep saps us of our energy and our acuity.

But here’s the rub: Profit is a siren call. Long hours have become a status symbol; busy is a badge of honor; and we actually get huge hits of pleasure-inducing cortisol from our smartphones, text messages, emails and alerts.

Organizationally, to boost the bottom line, it’s tempting to put a Band-Aid on these challenges by dialing in a bit of mindfulness (and by the way, I’d be happy to come in and do that for you). But better to encourage your people to adopt more sustainable work habits. Model and promote good boundaries; discourage 24/7/365; reward work completed within the business day and week; and honor the time and space outside of work.

And entrepreneurs – yeah I’m talkin’ to you – creating a more sustainable rhythm to your work is critical to your success. While it’s great that you have the freedom and flexibility to choose whatever 18 hours of the day you want to work, having a rich, full and deeply satisfying life requires that you nurture the entirely of your being, and not just that nutty, passionate, success-driven piece.

There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s just life. So we might as well get it right. And then, as Oprah says, we’ll meditate.

The Silent Killer

You don’t see it; and yet it lurks. Unfettered. Unabated. Rampant.

It kills everything you value: SilentKiller

  • Your productivity
  • Your creativity
  • Your attention
  • Your time
  • Your relationships
  • Your sanity

Distraction. Distraction kills.

Every three minutes of the day, you suffer an interruption; or you interrupt yourself. And every time you are interrupted or distracted, it takes (read this as ‘costs’) you 11 minutes of your precious time to refocus. You don’t need to be a math wizard to see the impact: Not only do you feel as if you never really get caught up; you never really do.

Here are 5 ways to beat the killer at its own game:

1. Work in block time. Science shows that you work most effectively in uninterrupted 60 to 90 minute blocks of time in which you do just one thing. The operative words: uninterrupted; one thing.

2. Turn off your chimes and alerts. You control these. And unless you’re working on a space launch or you’re on call to deliver the next royal princess, it’s not likely that every single message or piece of information in real time is absolutely necessary.

3. Schedule your social media time. Social media is critically important to the success of most enterprises. But it’s an easy place to hide out when you’re feeling bored or stressed or aimless. (Or suffering a FarmVille detox.) So schedule the block of time when you’ll ‘do’ your social media; then do it; and move on.

4. Turn off your smartphone. Barack and Vladimir have ‘people’ who field their calls. But your world will not lapse into darkness if you miss a few. And the respite you enjoy will yield a 100 fold.

5. Go tech free. For an evening or a day or a week. Get off the grid entirely. Soak in the silence. Read, write, reflect, create. Be – really be – with yourself… and with those you love.

Distraction kills focus.

Focus is power. Your power.

Protect it. Defend it. Take it back.

In A Foxhole

I didn’t see it at first. A small pin; on his left lapel; almost invisible on his dark blue suit.

“Bronze Star; Vietnam,” he said.Screenshot 2015-04-08 14.31.56

We were at a networking event of lawyers.

“That must have been terribly hard,” my wife Ann said empathetically.

“No… no it really wasn’t,” he said. “I realized very early on that I could be cold and miserable in a foxhole; or that I could be cold and happy. I decided to be happy. It’s a choice, you know.”

I do know…. At least that’s what I believe; it’s what I teach; it’s what I endeavor to practice.

But I’ve never had to do it in a foxhole.

We all have our stories; our tales of woe; the circumstances we suffer; the dramas we endure. I hear them from my clients. I’ve told more than my fair share to my own coaches. Of course, what we focus on expands. But, not only that, these stories dampen and imprison us. They keep us small. And they shroud us from the very happiness that is but a choice away.

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist interned in the Nazi death camps; his entire family slaughtered, his life’s work destroyed. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl said that our greatest gift – the greatest gift of our humanity – is the power to choose how we will be, regardless of the circumstances.

The power, in every moment, to choose how we will be.

If in a foxhole, if in a death camp, then most certainly in our businesses and our lives.