Being Busy vs. Being Productive

July 12, 2018

On any given workday I find myself continually distracted because I’m multitasking—constantly switching from one task to another: writing an email while listening to the radio, answering a phone call while responding to a text, thinking about a particular client issue while the kids bicker in the background.

It’s not unusual for me to have five browser windows open and I’m often reading three or more books at any given time. And, as someone who works out of a home office, there’s the dog, the doorbell, and various other interruptions.

Little wonder it’s so difficult to remain focused on the task at hand. With the implied urgency of the text alert, the phone ringing, the dog barking, what is urgent has surpassed what is important. And that is a huge problem.

Turns out it is possible to maintain focus if you can sort through what is important and urgent. Then decide what can be planned out, what can be delegated to others, and what can be dropped because it is neither urgent or important.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important,” according to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This quote has evolved into what is called the Eisenhower Box.

The most productive people I know and admire are not those who are super busy, but those who are super focused. Their ability to tune out the noise in order to concentrate on what is most important is truly remarkable and admirable.

These are people who are disciplined to make the time and space for important and urgent things. They schedule when to do the important yet not necessarily urgent work and they follow up on it. They are willing and able to delegate that which is urgent, yet not important for them to do themselves. And they are people who eliminate tasks that are not important or urgent.

Years ago I read Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek. I also learned that multitasking actually prevents us from being truly productive. Nevertheless, it is rare that I make the time and clear the space for truly focused work. When I do, however, I am rewarded with the accomplishment of completing urgent and important things. This takes a great deal of discipline to maintain.

No matter what you do for a living and who employs you, it is the important and urgent work where you need to focus your time and energy. To do this it’s necessary to filter out that which you can decide when to do later, delegate what others can do for you, and delete whatever is unnecessary because it is neither important or urgent.

I recently put into place a plan for those things that are important yet not urgent such as responding to emails, writing blog posts and walking the dog. As an independent consultant, it’s a bit more difficult for me to delegate, nevertheless, I now enlist family and friends to share in the responsibility for urgent tasks in my personal life. These include shuttling the kids, shopping for and preparing meals, and planning trips. And I’ve dropped my Facebook account, greatly reduced my internet browsing, and refrained from obsessively consuming news.

All of these have enabled me the time and space for work that is truly important and urgent. Of course, it takes discipline to maintain this and there’s a tendency to retreat back to other tasks because it can be very satisfying to be busy and to check off accomplishments.

The important and urgent work is often harder. It’s like work that is strategic versus tactical. Strategy is much more important, yet less likely to be appreciated and satisfying because the results and rewards are not immediately apparent. Tactical work is more tangible and evident to ourselves and others. Delayed gratification is necessary for strategic work.

If you want to be more productive, you need to first determine what things are important and urgent. Then by deciding, delegating and dropping the rest, you will find that you have created the time and space for the important and urgent work.

Stop being so busy that you are unable to focus on what is urgent and important in order to be most productive.

The Mid-Life, Mid-Career Slump Remedy

April 26, 2018

Milestone birthdays often serve as a reminder of the persistent passage of time. Whether it’s turning 30, 40, 50, 60 or beyond, reaching each decade threshold is a time to take stock of where we’ve been, what we’re grateful for, and where we still want to go.

And these milestones can either bring about dread or light a fire under us. For example, there’s a huge increase in the number of first time marathon runners who are age 29, 39, 49 and 59. Perhaps for many people running a marathon is an early bucket list item to check off before entering their next decade.

As I wrote in a previous post, happiness often increases after we reach middle age. This U-bend curve of well-being suggests that our happiness quotient continually declines from our early twenties until our mid-forties whereupon it then begins to rise well into old age. Little wonder since the mid-forties is when people are often heavily invested in demanding careers, raising teenagers and helping their aging parents.

By the same token, many people reach a career slump in their work when they are in their mid-forties and about halfway through their most productive working years. This slump can be attributed to many factors such as individuals are not seeing as many advancement opportunities, they no longer have the right level of challenge and satisfaction in their work, or they are no longer stimulated and simply working for a paycheck.

In the same way buying a sports car or starting an affair may not be the best choice in a mid-life crisis, so too might simply finding another job may not be the best choice if you’re in a mid-career slump.

Whether it’s entering a new decade of life or simply reaching a crossroads in your career, it helps to first take stock of where you are. This could include assessing what you’ve accomplished so far, how satisfied you are at this point in your life, and acknowledging what—if anything—is holding you back from reaching more of what you want.

Warren Buffett suggests when you reach such a mid-life slump, it’s worthwhile to make a list of your top 25 goals for the rest of your life. Then look at this list and circle your top five that are your absolute highest priority. Next, immediately begin planning how to achieve those top five goals and don’t even look at those other 20 until you achieved all five. By focusing on and achieving a few important things well is far more likely to move you out of a slump of many half-hearted and/or half-completed projects.

Daniel Pink, in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, suggests other ways to combat a mid-career slump. These include:

• Develop a mid-career mentoring program in your organization. This is a recognition of the U-bend curve of well-being that is something we are all likely to encounter. Making this a formal program will enable more experienced employees to offer strategies for dealing with the inevitable slump. Peers can provide camaraderie and support. And having others share how they were able to inject purpose into their lives can be inspiring and motivating.

• Mentally subtract positive events. To do this, you first think about something positive in your life—your marriage, birth of a child, major achievement. Second list all of the circumstances that made that possible, such as a seemingly insignificant decision of where to eat dinner one night or a class you enrolled in on a whim or the friend of a friend who happened to tell you about a person or job opening. Then remind yourself that life did go your way. Serendipity happens.

• Write yourself a few paragraphs of self-compassion. By nature, most of us are overly hard on ourselves. We are all too likely to focus on our faults and where we fall short. Scarcity rather than abundance. But we should also take time to acknowledge our strengths and be compassionate in the fact that—as human beings—we are all perfectly imperfect. By writing this down and owning it, we are more likely to internalize it and accept it in a healing manner.

No matter where we are in life or in our career, we are on a journey. And on this journey we celebrate accomplishments and suffer setbacks. How we respond to the inevitable mid-life and mid-career slumps depends on our resilience and our ability to remain mindful of our long-term goals and priorities. The remedy for these slumps is within your grasp.

An Attitude of Gratitude

November 21, 2017

Beyond football, eating a big meal, and gathering with extended family, Thanksgiving should be a time of, well, giving thanks. In that spirit, I want to express my gratitude for all that I am thankful for in my life.

First and foremost, I am grateful for my family, and the love and devotion they provide to help me be the best husband and father I can be. My wife and three children are the most important people in my life and, though I sometimes struggle to maintain the boundaries to honor this, I want them to know that I never forget they are my number one priority. I am also grateful to my mother, and my brothers and sisters—though we are scattered across the globe and span the political spectrum from Libertarian to Green Party—we share a common history and remain close in spirit if not in geography.

I am grateful for my friends, many of whom I have been lucky to count as such for more than thirty years. Though we are not always in sync in finding facetime, I know I can count on them to keep me from falling out of touch and becoming mere “Facebook friends.” In particular, The 728 Club has been especially meaningful to me as our tradition of semi-annual adventures have sustained and fortified our steadfast friendship. I hope all my friends understand that, although I am not regularly in touch, I am grateful for the continued love and companionship they provide me.

I am grateful for my clients, who continually astound me in the growth they achieve by courageously taking behavioral risks to reach their professional goals. The satisfaction in my work is derived entirely by the level I can help them grow to reach their full potential. As an independent leadership coach and consultant, I measure my success not only by the amount of revenue I generate, but by the level of success I have in moving my clients forward. I am thankful for choosing to work with me, choosing to trust in me, and choosing to take the hard steps necessary to move forward in the growth of themselves and their teams.

I am also grateful for my failures. I know that I would not be the person I am today were I not to have failed and learned by the process. In my previous career, I was once fired from a job and was devastated. I felt the debilitating shame of not being good enough. This was the culmination of previous smaller failures, which ultimately led to some deep soul-searching with regard to who I was and who I wanted to be. In the end, I redirected my focus and embraced the messages I was given in order to redirect my career. The result is I moved beyond career and into what I consider to be my calling, which is so much more satisfying. According to author Eloise Ristad, “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.”

I am grateful for my persistence and my patience. I am grateful for my resilience. And for following writer Anais Nin’s advice that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

I am grateful for learning to focus on abundance rather than scarcity. Grateful in embracing the somewhat paradoxical concept that true leadership requires the ability to be vulnerable. And learning that the three essentials of leadership are courage, clarity and humility.

Finally, I am grateful for you, my readers. I truly appreciate you reading these posts and hope you find value in them. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

(Precious) Time Management

November 9, 2017

There’s not enough time. Right? We’re all too busy in our personal and professional lives to squeeze in everything to make us feel happy and successful.

But what is sucking away our precious time and how much control do we actually have over it? Turns out the answers are: 1) distractions and 2) a lot.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about how to better maximize my time in order to accomplish more, reduce my stress, and increase my overall satisfaction in life. In this pursuit, I’ve read a couple of new books that help address this.

In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less author Greg McKeown writes that the way of essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time and it’s not about getting less done. Instead it’s about getting only the right things done and challenging the assumption of “we can have it all” and “I have to do everything” and replacing it with the pursuit of “the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.”

McKeown suggests the way of the essentialist requires doing less and doing it better, so you can make the highest possible contribution in your personal and professional life.

In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport describes deep work as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that enables you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Newport doesn’t argue that distraction is necessarily bad; instead he wants us to honor the massive benefits of focused attention.

This deep work, according to Newport, requires following four rules:

  1. Work deeply – The trend of open floorplans to engage greater collaboration and serendipitous encounters is helpful only when it includes a hub-and-spoke model where individuals can seclude themselves or their teams in areas to focus for regular long periods of uninterrupted time as well.
  2. Embrace boredom – Structure your time to reduce multitasking and your addiction to the little dopamine hits from reacting to text messages, emails, phone calls, etc. Consider an Internet Sabbath or digital detox in order to recharge yourself regularly.
  3. Quit social media – When you analyze the benefits you receive from using social media, many of us will find it is not really supporting our long term goals for productivity and happiness. Isn’t this virtual form of connection more anti-social anyway?
  4. Drain the shallows – Reduce the amount of shallow work you are currently doing that is not essential. Email is a big component and needs to be managed more effectively. Non-essential meetings are wasteful to individuals and companies. Schedule your entire day into 30 minute blocks and stick to this routine to help you focus on what’s important and eliminate much of the shallow work.

Now as a blogger who actively promotes this post via social media, I cannot justify fully quitting social media. However, I can choose to regulate how and when I interact with this tool. Simply calling social media a tool provides an important clarification regarding its overall value to me.

As an independent consultant, I should have the ability to take control over my time. But I also want to be responsive to my clients’ needs, react to new client requests, and be able to shift my schedule in order to accommodate shifts by others. On the personal side, like many of you, I have the usual demands and desires with regards to my family and friends that often run counter to my efforts to control my time.

Nevertheless, managing my time is entirely up to me and I can be successful if I choose to be intentional and disciplined. I suspect whether you work for yourself or someone else, you also have this opportunity to a large extent.

For me, managing my time effectively requires:

  • Maintain my priorities. The health and well-being of me and my family comes first. All my work and activities stem from what helps support these, and this means I can then choose how and when to attend to everything else.
  • Important and hard things first. I make time in the morning to work on the projects that require the most concentration and focus. I try to remove or delay distractions and less important tasks until later in the day.
  • 90-minute timeframes for focused work. Much like the importance of complete REM cycles when sleeping, a minimum of 90 minutes is required in order to go deep into focused attention. Keep away from multitasking as it undermines focus.
  • Take breaks to recharge. This can include the shallow work of writing and responding to emails and texts, taking phone calls as well as eating healthy meals, exercising, and chatting with co-workers.
  • Reduce web surfing and social media. In this age of distraction, we have the choice to either rule over the tools at our disposal or let them rule us. Judge for yourself whether time on these activities is helping or harming your ability to reach long term success and happiness.
  • Setting and maintaining boundaries. This is perhaps hardest for me as I want to say yes as often as possible. The trouble is I am undermining my effectiveness when I let people and projects permeate the important boundaries necessary for me to remain focused on one important thing at the expense of many other possibilities.

The older I get the more precious time becomes. I want to make the most of it and therefore I choose to be more intentional and disciplined about my time. I hope you can too.

Positive Morning Routine: Why it Matters

September 1, 2017

How do you start your day? It may very well determine whether you reach your goals.

Maybe because it’s back to school time, but I’m seeing a lot of articles, blog posts and podcasts related to “what successful people do every morning.”

All of us currently have a morning routine and most of us follow it without questioning whether it is helping or hampering our efforts to reach our goals. Those who start each day with deliberate, disciplined and mindful practice could very well be more successful in life.

So if you want to realize your dreams, perhaps it’s worth the effort to begin each day with the right physical regimen, mental discipline and emotional attitude. But what should it be?

In a widely circulated video on social media, US Navy Admiral William H. McRaven says if you want to change the world, start off each day by making your bed. This little task provides you with the motivation throughout the day for accomplishing other tasks. And, even when your day doesn’t go so well, he says you will always have the satisfaction of at least going to sleep in a well-made bed.

Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, recommends the following tweaks to your morning routine in order to be more productive throughout the day:

  • Drink lemon water
  • Exercise or mediate before eating
  • Eat a healthy breakfast
  • Set realistic and achievable goals for the day

On this last one, Bradberry says research has shown that having concrete goals is directly correlated with huge increases in confidence and feelings of being in control. And it’s important that these goals are not vague, but specific to each day as it puts everything into motion.

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, practices these five items that help him win the day:

  • Make your bed
  • Mediate (10 – 20 minutes)
  • Do 5 to 10 reps of something (less than 60 seconds)
  • Prepare and drink Titanium Tea
  • Write Morning Pages or 5-minute journal

In these Morning Pages, Ferriss suggests responding to the following prompts: “I am grateful for . . . , What would make today great?, and Daily Affirmations: I am . . .“ In the evening, he suggests answering the following: “3 amazing things happened today and How could I have made today better?” This intentional practice can help you focus in the morning and reflect at the end of each day.

Whether you are prepared to switch from coffee to lemon water or Titanium Tea is really beside the point. What’s vital is that you embrace the importance of your approach to each morning in order to facilitate just how productive you’ll be the rest of the day. And you can choose to embrace a discipline that will help you reach your goals.

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect is to ensure you are getting a good night’s rest. This cannot be emphasized enough. If you are not getting enough sleep, you will not be motivated to stick to any routine and you will likely be depleted of the vital energy you need no matter how much caffeine you consume.

Healthy Breakfast
The next should be a given: the most important meal of the day. You must fuel your body with appropriate nutrition to sustain your body until your next meal. You may protest that you don’t have time to prepare and eat a healthy breakfast, and therefore are able to rationalize that at least that Starbucks organic scone is much better than a Crispy Crème glazed donut. The reality is some foods will lift you up and sustain you while others only give you a quick dopamine hit and then leave you flat. Making the time for and choosing the healthier option is your choice.

Exercise/Meditation
Though I don’t feel like exercising in the morning, I’m a strong believer that exercise needs to be routine in order for it to become a habit. Putting it first in the morning ensures it doesn’t get put off or neglected. And by getting your blood pumping in the morning, you will have the vital energy and positive attitude you need to be most productive throughout the day. Gentle yoga or meditation can provide a similar boost without the physical exhilaration you find with a more rigorous workout.

Mindfulness
This could be simply acknowledging what you are truly grateful for at this particular time. Rather than rushing into organizing your brain around your responsibilities and tasks for the day, take the time to acknowledge and, if at all possible, express your gratitude to those to whom you are grateful. Then contemplate how you would approach this day if you knew it was the last day of your life. How can you live more deliberately and mindfully?

When you first wake up you set the tone for how you will approach the day. The more this becomes a positive routine, the more likely you are to maintain it. You may not feel the full effects of it for weeks, but eventually you will begin to notice that your body feels better and your overall disposition is working in your favor rather than against you.

And it may be as simple as making your bed.

GRIT: Growth, Rigor, Integrity, Tenacity

February 21, 2017

Like any parent, I want my children to grow up to be successful. I also believe that success should not be measured merely in terms of a job or career, but in terms of satisfaction with all areas of one’s life.

To reach this level of success, I encourage my kids to fail early and often, build self-control and self-confidence, try new sports and extracurricular activities, be competitive with themselves and compassionate with others, and to follow their own interests.

I’ve learned about the importance of grit, and specifically the importance of grit over talent. Like many, I had grown up thinking some people were simply more talented than I was: whether this was in math, music, sports or just about anything where I witnessed a true professional demonstrate his or her abilities. I summed it up thinking, well, I didn’t win the gene pool lottery so I can’t do that.

“Mythologizing natural talent lets us all off the hook,” writes Angela Duckworth, the celebrated researcher and professor, in her book Grit. “It lets us relax into the status quo. That’s what undoubtedly occurred in my early days of teaching when I mistakenly equated talent and achievement, and by doing so, removed effort—both my students’ and my own—from further consideration.”

But Duckworth presents a compelling case with the research to back it up that grit and the power of passion and perseverance ultimately leads to achievement.

“Talent—how fast we improve in skill—absolutely matters,” she writes. “But effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”

Duckworth found that the psychological assets in “mature paragons of grit” have the following elements in common:

  1. Interest – Passion begins with intrinsically enjoying what it is you do.
  2. Practice – One form of perseverance is the daily discipline of trying to do things better than we did yesterday. And deliberate practice is especially important.
  3. Purpose – What ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters. For most people, interest without purpose is nearly impossible to sustain for a lifetime.
  4. Hope – Hope is rising-to-the-occasion kind of perseverance.

Each of these are helpful in overcoming a more fixed mind-set with regard to reaching success. Each can help you reach the success you’re looking for—whether that’s in your own professional growth or that of your children’s future. You can determine your own level of grit using Duckworth’s Grit Scale.

As I practice my own understanding of grit, I tend to hesitate more often before rescuing my children from their immediate struggles. I urge them to use deliberate practice in their efforts to improve skills. I encourage them to explore a new interest without regard to whether or not they are immediately good at it. And I try to set an example by continually trying new things myself because I know the more I demonstrate my own humility and acceptance of failure as a part of the path to success, the more likely they are to accept and adopt this as normal.

When I think about grit, I tend to see it as a combination of growth, rigor, integrity and tenacity. For me, these are the essential elements that help foster achievement.

Growth – Reaching any level of success requires a growth mind-set. Only with the notion of continually learning can anyone expect to really know and demonstrate any skill. Growth should be constant and an essential element of grit.

Rigor – Grit requires the rigor of discipline and precision in order to reach success. This is best exemplified in the deliberate practice necessary to achieve anything. Without rigorous effort, no skill can be fully reached.

Integrity – Most often thought of as doing the right thing when no one is watching, integrity in this sense has to do with following your own internal compass and following through on what is essential to who you are and not who others may want you to be. This is about purpose.

Tenacity – The idea of courage of mind as well as fortitude and resilience in tenacity are vitally important in grit. No one can fully reach their success without tenacious effort in the face of so much resistance coming both internally and externally.

As you reflect on your own efforts toward success, how does your grit scale impact this and what are doing to overcome it?

Presence in the Age of Distraction

January 25, 2017

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but never before have I felt it so difficult to be present. Whether this is about mindfulness, grounded or being in the moment, the ability to stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time has become harder to do.

Technology certainly enables us to do many things simultaneously in the belief that we are accomplishing more, staying better informed, making higher quality decisions, and being more connected to others. And while that potential is certainly there, I would argue that for most of us we are not using technology to do this. Instead, the very technology we embrace is no longer serving as a tool, it has actually contributed to keeping us from being present.

You don’t have to look far for examples:

  • Screen Time – In 2014 Americans spent an average of 7.4 hours staring at screens (TV, computer, smartphone, tablet) each day, according to Kleiner Perkins Internet analyst Mary Meeker.
  • Cell Phones – We now check our cell phones on average 46 times each day and this is up from 33 times each day in 2014, according to a study by Deloitte. For 18-24 year olds, that figure rises to 82 times per day. In total, we spend an average of 4.7 hours each day on our phones.
  • Email – The average office worker receives 121 emails per day, according to a report by DMR Stats in 2015. Not nearly enough of us control how these incoming emails are managed and how often the messages interrupt our focus on the task at hand.
  • Text Messages – According to a Forrester research study, more than 6 billion text messages are sent every day in the United States. And 90% of these messages are read within three minutes, according to ConnectMogul.
  • Social Media – Americans on average check their social media sites 17 times each day. While it is tempting to believe this is all about teenagers, it turns out the highest reported usage was among those 25 to 54 years old.

So what’s the big deal you may ask. Aren’t we being more present in more places and with more people? Presence doesn’t work that way.

Being present means you are fully engaged on the immediate task or the person in front of you. The notion of parallel processing is fine for computers, but we humans cannot optimally function when our brains are tasked with multiple processes. The more fragmented our focus, the harder it is to concentrate on any given thing.

This is not to say you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. It is not the things that require little concentration or focus, but the ones that do. And by not exercising this focused attention, we are likely to fail at it when we need it most.

“Optimizing your presence is about learning how to flourish during stressful moments,” according to Amy Cuddy, author of Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Opportunities. Accessing your personal power can help you achieve presence—the state in which you stop worrying about the impression you’re making on others and instead adjust the impression you’ve been making on yourself.

“To be present, it’s not enough to know who you are and express it to others,” writes Cuddy. “You need to act on it.”

In 1992 psychologist William Kahn studied psychological presence in the workplace and he identified four critical dimensions: a person must be attentive, connected, integrated and focused.

“These dimensions collectively define what it means to be alive, there in the fullest sense, and accessible in the work role,” Kahn wrote. “The result is personal accessibility to work (in terms of contributing ideas and effort), others (in terms of being open and empathetic), and one’s growth (in terms of growth and learning). Such presence is manifested as personally engaged behaviors.”

Perhaps Cuddy, the Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist who became famous when her Wonder Woman pose 2012 TED Talk went viral, sums it up best:

“Your body shapes your mind. Your mind shapes your behavior. And your behavior shapes your future. Let your body tell you that you’re powerful and deserving, and you become more present, enthusiastic, and authentically yourself.”

Telling the Truth to Yourself & Your Boss

July 29, 2016

Sometimes the most difficult part of being fully present and connected in the workplace requires simply speaking the truth: to yourself and to others.

Because we are often reluctant to be emotionally vulnerable by expressing our thoughts, wants and feelings in the workplace, we sacrifice our ability to fully connect and be most productive. This authenticity requires that we tell the truth, even when it is easier to stay silent.

Truth telling is currently in short supply throughout our society, but perhaps most destructively in our workplace. It takes courage and is essential to becoming a strong leader.

This is not to suggest we wear our emotions on our sleeve, but it does mean we should express—in an appropriate and professional manner—when we feel angry, disappointed or treated unfairly. We should be fully honest with ourselves and others in service of improving all our workplace relationships.

In The Courage Solution: The Power of Truth Telling with Your Boss, Peers, and Team, author Mindy Mackenzie offers a formula on how to courageously speak the truth in the workplace. She offers practical steps that require vulnerability and courage to improve your impact on the job and increase your happiness. It basically comes down to the only thing you can reliably change or control in any situation: yourself.

Mackenzie, an HR and organizational development veteran in senior leadership roles at Beam, Inc., Campbell Soup Co., and Wal-Mart, recommends four key areas to focus on beginning with yourself, followed by your boss, peers and team.

The techniques she offers require that you first take ownership and accountability for creating a work life AND personal life you love. This is a life that brings you increased fulfillment, greater sense of purpose, and more joy and energy to every day. It is your responsibility, and cannot be outsourced or provided by someone else. Accepting and owning this is vital.

“Changing the one thing you can change at will—your own habits, ways of thinking, attitudes and behaviors—will begin to positively transform your experience on the job and the results you achieve,” says Mackenzie. “But it’s not easy and will require you to be courageous. It will require you to tell the truth to yourself first. And that can be uncomfortable, but the upside is definitely worth it.”

You also need to lead your boss, which might be the most daunting part of the solution as this may require a mindset you’re not used to having with your boss. Because you likely report to a boss who may be the most instrumental in your advancement, it is very important that you manage this relationship well. And Mackenzie goes a step further in suggesting you lead rather than manage your boss. This leading requires that you:

  • Intensely study your boss to get to know the human being behind the mask. Be curious and establish a dialogue where you can better know how they operate.
  • Understand the company you work for: the business you are in, how the firm makes money, who the end customer is and how what you do fits into the company’s strategy.
  • Get the boss-employee relationship basics right. Always strive to keep your boss informed and when you make a mistake, be sure to own up to it and provide a plan for fixing it.
  • Make a concerted effort to elevate your thinking to an enterprise-wide perspective. Frame your ideas with a focus beyond your own domain, which will make you appear more like a leader and your ideas more likely to be implemented.
  • Get in tune with your boss by knowing exactly what he or she is wrestling with on a weekly basis. By knowing what your boss is working on, you are more likely to be an asset while doing your own work.
  • Provide honest, positive praise and affirmation to your boss. Be on the lookout for behavior or traits you admire and express that to him or her. Like any good relationship, you need to regularly make positive deposits in your relationship bank account.
  • Be smart by preparing your boss for your pushback, challenges and disagreements. Use the LCS (Like, Concern, Suggest) method to frame your differences so your boss can hear them and positively respond to you.

Throughout all of these it is essential that you tell the truth. Without being truthful, you will undermine their effectiveness and may ultimately sabotage the relationship with your boss.

Showing up and telling the truth in the workplace is not easy. It is certainly not common. If you choose to do so, you will stand out in a good way. You will ultimately be respected. And you will become more of a leader.

Achieving Work-Life Balance

April 13, 2016

One of the biggest reasons for stress is the inability to find balance in our lives. Perhaps the focus on seeking work-life balance frustrates many of us because the equation is all wrong.

Work is not simply one thing. It may be intellectually stimulating, but may not provide any physical stimulation and in fact may be counterproductive to good health. Or your job may be physically exhilarating, but not provide any emotional satisfaction. Perhaps it does satisfy your heart, but it doesn’t lift your spirit.

Even the notion of when we are at work has changed because technology enables and employers expect us to be within reach all the time. Gone are the days when doctors, IT professionals, and firemen were the only people with pagers to make themselves immediately available. Smartphones enable us all to be “on call.”

It’s clear that work and life are no longer separate the way they used to be and this undoubtedly adds to our stress. However, there are ways we can find balance and reduce the stress.

Let’s first acknowledge that work is an integral part of life, and the more you try to separate it from family life, the more frustrated you may become.

There are also four component parts in each of us: body, mind, heart and spirit. Each of them are equally important and, for balance, should be fully integrated in our lives—both in work and separate from work.

Body – This is your health and well-being nourished through physical activities that bring you energy and vitality. It includes the fuel you ingest to stay fit and healthy, and the rest you get to be at your best.

Mind – This is the mental and intellectual stimulation you need to keep you engaged. For many, this is where you are focused while at work, but perhaps not entirely. You may also have or should have hobbies and other pursuits to keep you cognitively stimulated away from work, which may ultimately result in you being more engaged while at work.

Heart – This includes the people and activities where you experience the highs of love and joy as well as the lows of sadness and despair. It is our emotional selves that are every bit as present at work as they are everywhere else in life—only some may want to deny this. Every relationship, both at work and away, requires that our emotional selves to be present.

Spirit – The spirt is perhaps the least tangible and understood of the four as it can be the people, activities, groups, communities, religious practices, time in nature, meditation or many other things that put you in touch with something greater than yourself. It is no less valuable than the other three and requires our attention.

Each of these components is important in order to find balance and reduce stress. In fact, if you feel stress in your life right now, it is likely that one of these areas is being neglected. Figuring out which it is and then filling it will help.

So, you may be saying I don’t have time for the body or spirit. My life is too busy to workout, eat right or get enough sleep. Oddly enough, perhaps you do make time to binge watch Netflix while eating fast food late into the night. And you may say the spirit part might be important, but you’d rather watch sports than go to church, volunteer at a food bank or take a walk in nature. That’s certainly your choice, but it’s not that you don’t have time. You don’t make time.

We have always had 24 hours in each day, but the advent of electricity enabled us to stay awake much later resulting in a reduction in the amount of rest we get. The invention of the TV enabled us to passively watch instead of actively read reducing our intellectual stimulation. And the availability of email and social media reduced our actual face-to-face interaction, which cut back on opportunities to connect more deeply and emotionally.

Rather than seeking more waking hours in the day, rethink how you spend them. If you find your spirit bucket is the one that is empty, making time for a quiet 30-minute walk by yourself can help. You may complain that this is not “productive” and therefore you run instead. But this is counterproductive. While it may help fill your body bucket, your spirit bucket will remain depleted.

Spirit is probably the part that is most difficult to quantify and easiest to ignore, and maybe it becomes more important the older you get. Whether you are young or old, your ability to nurture the spirit will enable you to become more calm and centered to handle stress.

The body needs exercise, the right fuel and plenty of rest in order to function properly. We can’t innovate and imagine if our brains aren’t stimulated by what interests us. The opportunity to regularly connect deeply with other people at a heartfelt level is equally important. And our ability to unplug and be alone with our thoughts is vital to the soul.

To achieve work-life balance, seek to nurture the four component parts of your being. When these are equally tended to, you will find balance both at work and in life.

Misguided Notion: Pursuit of Happiness

August 6, 2015

“The Constitution only guarantees you the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” — Benjamin Franklin

Most parents when asked will tell you that all they want for their children is for them to grow up to be happy. However, happiness is elusive and ephemeral. What makes us happy one day will not sustain us the next.

So much in life is transitory and we fail to accept that what we want, what brings us pleasure will continually evolve. Despite the fact that most of us claim our favorite foods, movies, music, books, etc. will remain consistent over time, research has shown that even our taste in these things change as we grow older.

A life in pursuit of happiness is like a life in pursuit of wealth—one of the results perhaps, but it should not be the focus. Instead, the focus should be meaning.

A for-profit company’s mission should not be about making money, but it should certainly be one of the results. Their mission statement should instead include something meaningful such as delivering a product or service that enables customers to do something faster, better or cheaper than ever before. If the company is successful, profits will result.

The same is true for individuals with regard to happiness. A meaningful life is one that is in some way in service to others or in something larger than oneself, and this will likely result in happiness because happiness is a byproduct of a life that has meaning.

“Feeling happy is not enough,” says Paul Shoemaker, author of Can’t Not Do: The Compelling Social Drive That Changes Our World. “People need meaning to thrive.”

“There is a tension between a meaningful and a happy life,” says Shoemaker. “They’re not mutually exclusive, but if you are going to tilt one way, tilt toward meaningful because, done with sustained commitment, a meaningful life can eventually lead to a happy life. I’m not sure about the other way around.”

According to research conducted by the Journal of Positive Psychology, there are key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. These are:

  • Happiness is considerably more short-lived and fleeting than meaningfulness.
  • Happiness is largely present-oriented, where meaningfulness involves integrating past, present and future.
  • Having sufficient money to purchase objects of desire is important for happiness, but makes essentially no difference as to whether a life is meaningful.
  • Challenges may reduce present happiness but are linked to much higher future meaningfulness.
  • Happiness is linked to being a taker rather than a giver; meaningfulness is the opposite.

The research also found that those with a purpose—specifically meaningful goals having to do with helping others—rated their life satisfaction higher (even when they felt personally down and out) than those who did not have any life purpose.

Another study found that people who put the greatest emphasis on being happy reported 50 percent less frequent positive emotions, 35 percent less satisfaction about their life, and 75 percent more depressive symptoms than people that had their priorities elsewhere.

Feeling happy is not enough because meaning is essential to a valued sense of one’s purpose in life and in community.

The great leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith, author of Mojo: How to Get it, How to Keep it, How to Get it Back if You Lose it, says there are five things that really matter in the lives of successful people. In no particular order these are: health, wealth, relationships, happiness and meaning.

Goldsmith suggests that in order to find more happiness and meaning in your life, both at home and at work, you need to spend less time on activities that are simply surviving, sacrificing and stimulating. And you need to spend more time on activities that are considered sustaining and succeeding. These provide both short-term satisfaction (happiness) and long-term benefit (meaning).

Perhaps Victor Frankl, author of the best-selling Man’s Search for Meaning, said it best: “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to be happy.”

Whether it’s finding your “Can’t Not Do” or your “Mojo,” meaning is essential. Meaning is required for sustained happiness. Change your focus from yourself alone to something bigger than you. Change from short-term satisfaction alone to include long-term benefit.

You will catch sustained happiness only when you attach meaning to your pursuit.

Power Napping for Increased Productivity

June 4, 2015

It’s early afternoon and the yawning begins. That’s when many of us reach for an energy drink or another cup of coffee, both containing caffeine—the most-used drug in the world.

What if instead we actually accepted what our bodies are telling us? We’re tired and we need rest. It’s that simple.

Research shows that when we’re tired we get into more disagreements, not just because we’re less patient, but also because we are less able to read other people. And caffeine doesn’t help.

The solution is a nap. Don’t laugh. Power napping could be the best way to increase creativity, enhance decision-making, promote better understanding, and improve overall productivity.

Unfortunately, many of us have a mindset that napping is slacker behavior. Many napping misconceptions exist, including:

  • We associate afternoon drowsiness to having eaten too much at lunch. Blaming your “post-lunch dip” on the meal is silly. If the mid-day meal makes you drowsy, then why doesn’t breakfast? You’re tired because you’ve been awake for seven or more hours and your biology calls out for rest.
  • We have a biological need for rest that is just as strong as our need for food and water. Productivity suffers when we’re tired because there is less blood flowing to areas of the brain that are critical to thinking. Our long-term memory also suffers.
  • Many believe that if you take a nap you will wake up feeling groggy, or it will disrupt your nighttime sleep cycle. This is true if you sleep too deeply, but power napping requires waking before descending into a deep sleep.
  • The biggest reason we frown on the idea of napping is the pervasive belief that hours on the job is equal to hours of productivity. While this may be true on the factory floor, most of us do jobs that require quality thinking, which is directly tied not to our time in the office, but our overall energy level.

David Dinges, a professor and sleep scientist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, says a short nap can help maintain your energy level and, the older you are, the less time you need for a nap to be beneficial. Twenty minutes can provide an enormous boost to our mental acuity.

The best time to take a catnap is between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. according to MayoClinic.com. This is when your energy slump is most likely to occur and the nap is far enough away from your nighttime slumber to interfere.

Sleep researcher Sara Mednick in her book Take a Nap! Change Your Life says twenty to thirty minute naps have been proven to:

  • Boost productivity
  • Increase alertness
  • Quicken motor reflexes
  • Raise accuracy
  • Heighten perceptions
  • Strengthen stamina
  • Improve decision-making
  • Elevate mood
  • Enhance creativity
  • Bolster memory
  • Lower stress
  • Reduce dependence on drugs and alcohol
  • Less the frequency of migraines and ulcers
  • Promote weight loss
  • Minimize the likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, an cancer risk

Companies like Google, Cisco, P&G, AOL and others able napping on the job by providing Energy Nap Pods in their offices. These futuristic capsules furnished with reclining leather couches that tilt so your feet are higher than your heart to improve circulation, and designed with dimmed lights and ambient sounds to lull you to sleep. Twenty minutes later, a gentle vibration wakes you feeling refreshed.

Other companies outsource napping to local spas where employees can recharge in private rooms. Sometimes simply providing a quiet and private space is all that is necessary for one to take a break.

If it’s simply impossible for you to take a nap at work, there are still ways you can improve your productivity during the day without resorting to caffeine. Most importantly, take a break from what you’re doing to refocus and recharge.

You can also keep your most creative and important tasks for the morning hours and leave more mundane tasks during the early afternoon. It’s also important to stand up from your desk every so often and walk around. Exercise, take a walking meeting, and get outside for some natural light and fresh air.

Each of these will help you be more productive in the afternoon even if you can’t get in a nap.

But if there’s any way you can incorporate getting a quick nap as an alternative to a quick jolt of caffeine at mid-day, you may find it will make you much more productive in the long run.

Charge Up Your Career & Life

May 22, 2015

Ever feel as if you have no control over your life? This is when you may feel you are a victim of circumstance, either at work or at home. It’s an awful time because you can feel helpless and powerless.

It may seem impossible to get out of this condition, yet it’s imperative for your sanity and overall wellbeing that you do. Taking back control means you no longer give your power away because you are stronger in who you are no matter the situation.

When you are in charge of your career and life, you are actively making things happen. You are not waiting for opportunity to knock, but instead doing the knocking yourself and fully engaging when those doors open.

It means springing back up when you get knocked down. It means using negative feedback to fuel your improvement. It means embracing the gift of resilience and understanding that your ability to continually get back up is an indicator of just how strong you are.

To have more control requires taking responsibility for your condition and doing the behavioral things necessary to maintain control. It means developing habits that help you bring your best self to your workplace and your life.

In a new book titled Are You Fully Charged?, author Tom Rath draws on recent research in health, psychology and economics pointing to specific changes you can make to take more command of your life.

Rath suggests you stop pursuing happiness and instead create meaning in your career, seek out more positive interactions in your relationships, and make deliberate, positive choices to improve your physical and mental health. By focusing on these three areas, he says you will be fully charged and at your best for work and life.

Three key conditions are necessary to be fully charged:

Meaning – Do something to benefit others. Ultimately, satisfaction in your career is not about money or status, but about the meaning it brings to your life. Being fully charged requires finding the nexus of your strengths, your interests, and what is needed in the world. Don’t let money or job title trump meaning.

Interactions – Create far more positive than negative moments with others. Research shows we need three to five positive interactions to outweigh every negative exchange. Invest in the wellbeing of the people around you and this will pay greater dividends than anything you do for yourself alone.

Energy – Make choices to improve your mental and physical health. Recognize that every time you put something in your mouth, you either add to or deplete your energy tank. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and fewer refined carbohydrates. Incorporate more movement by seeking the equivalent of 10,000 steps each day. And get more sleep each night.

The biggest changes for daily wellbeing begin with small steps. Don’t try to alter all your habits at once, but instead seek out little things you can do each day that will pay off in the long run. Here are some suggestions:

Meaning

  • Ensure that your life is meaningful by asking the hard questions with regard to how you spend your day. Is this the life that uses your talents in a meaningful way?
  • Stop the upward comparison. After a certain level of income ($70,000 or so), once you reach basic financial security, making more money is unlikely to produce greater levels of happiness.
  • Ask yourself how you can best combine your expertise and passion with something the world needs. Then figure out how to bring that to your life.

Interactions

  • Seek out opportunities to interact with co-workers by choosing to talk to them face-to-face rather than sending yet another email. Rather than updating your Facebook page, call your friend and have a real-time conversation. Better yet, set a date to see them in person.
  • Give others the gift of your attention. Listen fully and allow the speaker to finish before responding. Keep your cellphone out of sight so you are truly present with the other person.
  • If you must make an assumption, assume that others have the best intent. Look to find the good in others before anything else.

Energy

  • Rather than eat a sugary breakfast that may bring about a quick rush and subsequent crash, begin each day with a nutritious meal that provides continual energy throughout the day.
  • Find ways to incorporate regular exercise into every day with the goal of 10,000 steps or an equivalent amount of exercise. At first you may find this makes you more tired, but after a few weeks, you’ll be more energized than ever before.
  • Get yourself to bed each night early enough to get 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. K. Anders Ericsson’s landmark studies regarding elite performers, found that they not only had 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, but also, on average, slept 8-and-a-half hours each night.

Finally, recruiting a partner in this effort will help not only provide you with support as you navigate these new behaviors, but will likely ensure that you stick to it and are successful over the long run.

Energizing your career and life in these ways will lead to greater satisfaction and wellbeing. Invest in yourself so you can be your best at work and home.

photo credit: N00/14347784″>DSCF2180 via photopin (license)

Resilience: A Recipe for Success

July 9, 2014

We all face adversity in life and, like the proverbial hand we’re dealt, the most important thing is what we do next.

Effectively bouncing back (or forward) from a failure, tragedy or loss determines our resilience, and that resilience may contribute directly to our ability to succeed.

In David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, author Malcolm Gladwell investigated why so many people at the top of their profession were found to have deprivation and struggle earlier in their lives. Could it be that the very adversity they faced was in fact the catalyst to help them reach such heights?

Among other things, Gladwell found that those who struggle early in life may have an advantage at taking on challenges others shy away from.

And in a new book titled Supersuvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success, authors David B. Feldman and Lee Daniel Kravetz illustrate how people who have suffered great trauma and tragedy are able to accomplish extraordinary feats.

These “supersurvivors” are people who dramatically transformed their lives after surviving a trauma by “accomplishing amazing things or transforming the world for the better.”

The authors learned through interviews with these supersurvivors that certain delusions can be healthy, forgiveness can be good for the body, and reflecting on death can ultimately help lead to a better life.

The authors provide five key characteristics of these supersurvivors:

1. Have a sense of “grounded hope”
Better than positive thinking, supersurvivors adopt a way of thinking called “grounded hope,” which the authors describe as “an approach to life involving building one’s choices on a firm understanding of reality.” This provides for a foundation for supersurvivors to bravely ask “now what?” rather than wait for something to happen.

2. Are delusional, but in a good way
Great ideas are often considered delusional at first and yet those who are determined enough to persevere through ridicule or skepticism are the one’s we hold in such high esteem for bringing great ideas to fruition. Supersurvivors often need to push back on those well-meaning people around them in order to thrive. Without some delusional thinking, these supersurvivors may find recovery intimidating or even impossible.

3. Are willing to be helped by others
Trauma can create feelings of isolation and may make survivors reject the very people who most want to help. Remaining open to the support of friends and family can result in positive emotions, which can ultimately make you stronger. “The people in our lives really matter,” Feldman and Kravetz write. “Many studies have shown that aspects of social support appear to provide a buffer to the emotional effects of trauma and other negative circumstances, helping to protect some people from mental health symptoms that haunt others.”

4. Know the power of forgiveness
Though many traumas are man-made, moving beyond feelings of hatred, anger and resentment can help people move on with their lives and rebuild inner strength. It is this ability to forgive that enables us to fully accept what has happened and move forward. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “Without forgiveness there is no hope.” Supersurvivors don’t hold grudges, and they forgive themselves and others.

5. Find strength in something larger than themselves
For several supersurvivors featured in Feldman and Kravetz’s book, faith was a determining factor in helping to overcome trauma. Some feel God literally called out to them, while others find a set of beliefs help ease suffering. Whatever their belief system, these people are able to tap into the power of a connection with something larger than themselves. “For some, religious beliefs and practices are comforting, buffer the damaging effects of trauma, and galvanize personal growth,” Feldman and Kravetz write. “Faith seemed to help people cope and to strive for better days, even when a logic dictated the opposite.”

Resilience is an extremely important leadership quality as it determines how one responds after a crisis. This resilience can indicate whether a leader truly has what it takes to lead an organization through challenging times.

Is there some setback, trauma, failure or loss that has held you back? Or did it propel you forward instead? Don’t underestimate the power and transcendence of resilience.

Happiness Through Work

December 17, 2013

Social scientists have boiled down Americans’ level of happiness to three major sources: genetics, events and values. The first two are largely out of our control, but the last one is where we have a great deal of control with which can ultimately determine our happiness.

According to a University of Chicago’s General Social Survey of Americans conducted since 1972, it found that about a third of Americans reported they are “very happy,” about half say they are “pretty happy,” and 10% to 15% report being “not too happy.” And these ratios have stayed about the same over 40 years.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece titled “A Formula for Happiness” and in similar content on a YouTube video, Arthur C. Brooks explains how research has determined that 48% of our happiness is inherited and another 40% is based on events that have occurred in the recent past. Much of that may be beyond our control. This leaves just 12% that can help us alter our happiness quotient.

Many people may think there is direct relationship between money and happiness. And this is generally true for the poor.

But Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman found that once people reach a little beyond an average middle-class income level (about $75,000), even big financial gains don’t bring about much more, if any, happiness.

So that brings us to the 12% of which all of us have some control over our happiness. And this is in our values.

According to Brooks, these values come down to four things upon which we have a great deal of control. These are: faith, family, community and work.

Faith does not necessarily mean being religious, but is more about the interior or spiritual life. Family is obvious, but may require a new perspective with regard to how integral these people are to our overall happiness. Community means cultivating important people into our lives and being charitable. This includes the friends we choose to associate with and how generous we are to those outside of our immediate family.

And then there is work.

“Work can bring happiness by marrying our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others,” says Brooks. This secret to happiness through work is what Brooks calls earned success.

“This is not conjecture; it is driven by the data,” says Brooks. “Americans who feel they are successful at work are twice as likely to say they are very happy overall as people who don’t feel that way. And these differences persist after controlling for income and other demographics.”

I should point out that Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C. public policy think tank with an obvious free market perspective. Its mission is “to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism.“

His perspective is that free enterprise is the right approach to reaching happiness through work. He says that if you want happiness not only for you but for others around the world, then you should work for free enterprise everywhere.

I won’t debate the potential political and economic argument here, but instead stay focused on the element of pursuing work that matters to you which can help determine your happiness.

What about you? Are you happy? Are you very happy? Is there something you can do to alter the values upon which determine your level of happiness?

Here at the end of another year, perhaps it’s time to take stock of where we are. Since our faith, family and community is ultimately under our control, it comes down to whether or not we choose to take responsibility for them or not. The same is true for work.

Do you believe you are creating value with your contribution at work? If so, the research says that you are more likely to be happy with your life.

As I’ve written about on a number of occasions, the work we do is a lot more than simply a paycheck and a way to provide for us monetarily. In our work, we have the opportunity to find fulfillment, a sense of purpose, and a reason for being that can ultimately help determine our overall happiness.

Don’t we owe it to ourselves to find and make ourselves happy by pursuing work that joins our passion and skills to provide value to us, and to the world?

What will you do for an Encore?

December 22, 2012

“I won’t retire, but I might retread.” – Neil Young

Just as the baby boom generation is entering retirement age, Americans are living much longer lives. For many, the idea of no longer working and retiring from a career simply does not make sense—philosophically or monetarily.

Back when a typical life span reached only into the early 70s, it made sense to stop working at 65 and take time to relax, travel, play golf or Bridge, spend time with the grandkids, and retire from the stress of a long career.

But with lifespans for many expected to reach into the early 90s, many are reconsidering how they will spend these golden years. Part of this decision is necessitated by the need to earn more money in order to pay for these additional years, but another part is the opportunity to perhaps change careers and pursue something beyond what you did for the bulk of your life.

It’s been reported that we often discover our true passion between the ages of 8 and 12, and then many of us try to rediscover what these passions are in career counseling when we find dissatisfaction in our careers. That’s because we chose a career that made economic sense rather than fed our soul.

So what if during these senior years, when the economic need for raising a family, sending the kids to college and building a retirement nest egg no longer outweigh what we are passionate about? What if we decided to pursue doing what we love, giving back, or working for social good rather than individual goods?

In Marc Freedman’s The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, he says we need to accept the decades opening up between midlife and old age for what they really are: a new stage of life, an encore phase. His organization encore.org wants to help make it easier for millions of people to pursue second acts for the greater good, and provide information so people can transition to jobs in the nonprofit world and the public sector.

“Millions are already in the midst of inventing a new stage of life and work—the encore years—between the end of midlife and anything resembling old-fashioned retirement,” writes Freedman. “We’re envisioning this chapter as a time when we make some of our most important contributions, for ourselves, for our world, for the well-being of future generations.”

A philanthropic organization called Social Venture Partners is built around the venture capital model to provide non-profit organizations with both funding and expertise. In addition to strengthening non-profits, SVP connects and engages individuals to provide greater philanthropic impact and collaborative solutions. Their partners are in various stages of their careers and life, but all are seeking to make a difference in their lives.

Founded in Seattle 15 years ago, SVP has more than 2,000 professionals in 29 cities around the world working to make the world a better place.

Sometimes staying in your chosen career a little longer can also be satisfying, but this may require a different role. Perhaps moving into more of a mentoring or consulting position will enable you to extend your working years. Maybe there could be more flexibility with regard to when and where you do the work. Or maybe it means moving to part-time, so you can pursue other interests and yet still keep involved in the work.

Encore.org’s Freedman has proposed some pretty radical ideas such as enabling those in midlife to quit their jobs and take a year of social security payments in order to go back to school or begin a new and possibly lower paying, but more satisfying, career. You would then delay the time when you begin taking social security payments, and thereby reduce the government’s overall cost.

The idea is to begin thinking about what you’ll want to do in these later years long before you reach them. Retirement planning should take into account that not working at all may no longer be an option or even desirable to you.

Rather than a firm end point to the work life, you may want to consider a transition time when you are free to follow what feeds your soul and eases you into non-working retirement. Your encore years could very well be the crowning achievement to your life.

Getting Along to Get Things Done

November 8, 2012

The election is over and it is time for our elected officials to get to work. The American people have spoken so our leaders can stop campaigning and start governing. And governing means doing what we elected them to do, which is to get things done.

Our politicians need to follow the lead of President Obama and New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie who recently overcame ideological differences to work cooperatively and deal effectively with the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. The so-called looming “fiscal cliff” now has the same immediacy and perhaps greater severity to more people’s lives.

Living in this especially contentious time, we as a people seem unable to have a meaningful and respectful dialogue in order to better understand each other’s position.

In their book You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought, But You’re Still Wrong by Phil Neisser and Jacob Hess, the authors present how a stanch conservative and a die-hard liberal can appropriately converse and agree to disagree.

“We have thus reached a point where conservatives are more interested in what Bill O’Reilly says about liberals than what their own liberal neighbors say about themselves,” write Neisser and Hess. “Likewise, many liberals ‘know’ about conservatives from reading updates on Huffington Post as opposed to getting to know actual conservative acquaintances.”

Rather than seeking to truly understand each other, we look for shortcuts from partisan media, make assumptions based on stereotypes and all too often take as fact what the pundits pontificate about. This leads to further misunderstanding and deeper resentment.

Authors Neisser and Hess explore the notion that despite political differences of people on the left and the right, many share a deep desire to work for the greater good of society. In a divided congress, it is essential that our politicians are able to do this.

It is also necessary for the rest of us to stop thinking in terms of competition between the blue and red teams, and start working together to build bridges of understanding. This understanding should demand that our elected officials no longer persist in simply holding firm to their positions, but instead find ways to compromise for the benefit of all.

Divisiveness cripples our politics, but also the rest of our lives. Only through working together in spite of conflict can we get to a shared place of understanding and growth. This requires being open and trying to really appreciate the other’s perspective. It requires having respect and taking responsibility for maintaining a positive relationship.

These traits of being open, listening for understanding, and working hard to fully appreciate the other’s perspective are vital to all our relationships. At work, assumptions you make about your colleagues will continue to keep you divided and conflicted. If instead you try to find common ground and see others for who they really are, you will be rewarded with a more congenial workplace where things are getting done.

Do the Work to be Lucky in Your Career

June 25, 2012

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  — Seneca

I often encounter people I admire who seem extremely lucky in getting a great job, regular promotions, and seemingly unlimited professional success.

For the most part, I believe these people earned this fate through taking responsibility for their luck. What I mean by taking responsibility is that they are doing the work necessary to be lucky in their careers.

In psychologist Richard Wiseman’s book “The Luck Factor,” he studied thousands of exceptionally “lucky” and “unlucky” people. What he found was that those who considered themselves lucky tended to exhibit similar attitudes and behaviors. And those identifying themselves as unlucky tended to exhibit the opposite traits.

His 10-year study revealed that good fortune is not primarily due to talent, hard work or intelligence. It is the attitudes and behaviors you have that can help determine how lucky you are in your career.

Wiseman identified four principles that characterize lucky people. They:

  1. Maximize chance opportunities and are especially adept at creating, noticing and acting upon these opportunities when they arise.
  2. Are very effective at listening to their intuition and do work—like meditation—that is designed to boost their intuitive abilities.
  3. Expect to be lucky by creating a series of self-fulfilling prophesies because they go into the world anticipating a positive outcome.
  4. Have an attitude that allows them to turn bad luck into good. They don’t allow ill fortune to overwhelm them, and they move quickly to take control of the situation when it isn’t going well for them.

Wiseman recommends listening to your gut, being open to new experiences, remembering the positive in situations and simply visualizing yourself as being lucky. By actively practicing these principles, he says you too can find more luck in your professional growth and development.

According to a survey from the professional networking site LinkedIn, 84% of professionals believe in career luck. And 48% consider themselves to have better career luck when compared to other professionals.

These LinkedIn professionals attribute their luck to having strong communication skills, being flexible, acting on opportunities, compiling a strong network, and having a strong work ethic.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says 70% of all jobs are now found through networking. It seems obvious that the more you pursue the sort of people who can help you in your career, the higher the probability that you’ll meet them.

So what exactly is the work necessary to bring more luck into your career? I believe you can position yourself to be lucky in advancing your career by the following:

  • Become more aware of what’s going on around you. The first step in any change begins with awareness. Not only of where you are, but who you are, and what you want to be. Practice mindfulness to be more conscious of the abundance all around you.
  • Follow your passion and pursue those who fascinate you. Just because you’re doing one type of job, doesn’t mean you can’t talk to people outside of this niche. Don’t limit yourself just because you don’t have any experience or education in a certain field. If you’re passionate about something and have some talent in it, then find those who can help you nurture this.
  • Open yourself to serendipity. A chance encounter is how so many great innovations and breakthroughs occur. Serendipity is the ability to take a chance occurrence—a surprising idea, person or event—and make creative use of it. Connecting the dots and seeing patterns can lead to novel ways of doing things and enterprising opportunities.
  • Always be on the lookout and be ready to pounce. This is all about the preparation necessary to seize opportunities. It means having your elevator pitch always at the ready. And it means being able to pursue your interest when the right connections appear before you.
  • Don’t count anyone out: see every encounter as potentially fruitful. You never know who you may meet who can help you take your career to the next level. Keep an open mind with everyone you meet to let them know what you’re looking for. Most people will want to help you if only given the opportunity.
  • Seek out and listen to advice. Keep an open mind to others’ ideas and suggestions so you can expand your thinking. Learning should be a lifelong pursuit no matter where you are in your career. Ask questions and really listen in order to learn.
  • Be nice even when others don’t seem receptive. Maintaining a positive attitude and showing appreciation is vital to attracting people and opportunities. People want to hire and work with people who are nice to be around. Make sure to demonstrate you are nice be around even when it may be difficult to do so.
  • Reframe the situation. Your perspective can influence events. Crisis can mean opportunity. Getting fired from a job that is not aligned with who you are can lead to your finding the job that is. I’ve always believed that if you raise any glass high enough, it will look half full rather than half empty.

While acquiring knowledge, skills and experience are important to any career, luck also plays a significant role. And though many people think of luck as something passive that either happens or not, the lucky ones know it is much more active and requires work.

So do what’s necessary to adequately prepare and remain open to see the opportunities in front of you. Then you’ll have luck on the side of your own career development.

Mindfulness in Leadership Development

January 12, 2012

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
–Shunryu Suzuki

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog, Polly LaBarre wrote about the wisdom of developing mindful leaders.

Much of the billions of dollars companies invest in leadership development fall short of success because the programs are so heavily focused on data/assessment gathering and so little on people and processes.

“What if, instead of stuffing people with curricula, models, and competencies, we focused on deepening their sense of purpose, expanding their capability to navigate difficulty and complexity, and enriching their emotional resilience?” ponders LaBarre.

“What if, instead of trying to fix people, we assumed that they were already full of potential and created an environment that promoted their long-term well-being?”

LaBarre cites the Personal Excellence Program (PEP) developed at biotechnology company Genentech in 2002 by CIO Todd Pierce and his coach, Pamella Weiss.

PEP begins with the premise that people are whole, not broken. By fully integrating the intellectual (head), emotional (heart) and somatic (body) intelligence, PEP is able to tap into people’s wholehearted engagement, helps them cultivate self-awareness, and supports them to develop mastery through embodied practice.

More than 800 Genentech employees have so far completed this program (primarily in the IT department) and it has dramatically improved employee engagement.

This includes:

• 10-20% increase in employee satisfaction;

• 12% increase in customer satisfaction;

• 50% percent improvement in employee communication, collaboration, conflict management and coaching; and

• 77% of PEP participants reported “significant measurable business impact” as a result of participating in PEP. This is almost three times the norm (25–30%), compared to dozens of similar programs studied.

In terms of a return on investment, evaluators found the program conservatively produced an estimated $1.50 to $2 for every dollar spent to deliver PEP.

“I thought PEP might be a strategy for people to develop a skill or quality,” said Pierce. “But what I see is that it is a strategy to help them be life-long learners and to increase their capacity for personal development and personal satisfaction in every area of their life.”

The PEP program takes place over a ten month period and includes three large group workshops, eight facilitated small group meetings, three individual coaching sessions and monthly peer coaching.

Participants choose a topic to focus on that is important to them, observe them selves in real time to gain insight and self-awareness, and then practice new behaviors to establish new habits and develop mastery.

Deliberate practice is the most significant indicator of success and this requires steady, consistent repetition over time, until new behaviors take root in the body as a new habit.

Mindfulness is about paying attention. It is about learning to observe one self in the context of day-to-day life to enable new insights and begin seeing yourself more clearly. The result is you can then make wiser choices. Increasing this self-awareness helps you cultivate the ability to act rather than react, enabling you to become response-able—even in the midst of high-stress situations.

“I think what makes PEP so successful is less about what we do than it is about the attitude we bring to how we do it,” says Weiss. “When we start from a place of beginner’s mind, and add a big dose of curiosity, patience and appreciation, learning happens because as human beings we are wired to learn and grow. In many ways, it comes down to doing less and trusting more in our innate capacities and vast potential.”

Leadership development programs should provide tangible, long lasting results and a program like PEP that engages the heart, mind and body is an example of one that appears to work.

Rather than seek a one-off, one-day solution for developing leaders in your organization, look for a longer term program with dynamic involvement that includes mindfulness and disciplined practice for changing behavior. Only then will you have a significant return on investment measured not only in dollars, but also in more engaged human capital.

Character and Success

September 20, 2011

Can you succeed in your career and life if you haven’t first learned how to fail?

This is the prominent question in a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine article titled “What if the Secret to Success is Failure.”

The writer suggests character traits, including the ability to overcome failure, may be just as important, if not more so, than intellgence in order to graduate from college and succeed in a career and life.

A list of 24 character traits come from a book called “Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification,” by Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Christopher Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. The 800-page book is basically the “science of good character.”

Seligman and Peterson settled on 24 character strengths common to all cultures and eras after consulting works from Aristotle to Confucius, the Upanishads to the Torah, the Boy Scout Handbook to profiles of Pokémon characters. The list includes traits like love, humor, zest, bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom and integrity as well as things like social intelligence, kindness, self-regulation and gratitude.

Many would argue that character traits don’t belong in the classroom curriculum and that this should be the domain of parents and not teachers. Let’s face it, teachers have enough to handle at a time when American students academic scores are failing to keep pace with many students around the globe.

My own middle schooler is currently experiencing a great deal of anxiety over the increased demands sixth grade entails, and my wife and I can see that this anxiety is not strictly about the academics so much as the increased homework, internal pressure to do well, and the lack of mature coping skills.

And as difficult as it is for we as parents to watch our child struggle and possibly fail, it may be fundamentally important to her success that we do. We all know at some level that kids need a little hardship or challenge they can overcome in order to prove to themselves that they can do so. This may be the best—if not the only—way to build confidence in oneself.

So if overcoming failure and having certain character traits are so important to success, what does this say about the workplace? How often do these traits show up in a job description or are even mentioned during an interview?

A successful interviewer should certainly probe a candidate for a time when he or she failed at something, and then look for what was learned or how that experience led to improvement. If the candidate is unable to provide an example of failing, that alone should raise red flags.

Character traits are more difficult to uncover yet they can be ascertained through repeated interactions and requests for stories from previous work experiences as well as through detailed conversations with professional references. Ultimately, character traits may never be quantified enough to fully measure, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be looked for in a potential employee.

Many companies have a list of corporate values that include character traits that are consciously or unconsciously sought after in the people they hire. Knowing what these are and choosing to deliberately look for them in hiring should be emphasized.

What if your company looked for character traits like zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity in the people it hired? Would these be a good predictor of whether that employee succeeded or failed? I believe they would, but would love to know your thoughts.

Take Time to Think Offline

July 16, 2011

Working professionals today all seem to want wider and faster internet access on their mobile phones. We expect our smart phones to do everything our laptops can do. The result is we’re rarely unconnected anymore.

Employers are coming to expect this too. But being connected all the time may mean we are losing the benefits of being offline.

Facebook is now the most visited website with more than a half-billion users who spend a lot of time documenting their lives and commenting on others. Do you feel like the important things in your life don’t really matter if you haven’t posted them on Facebook? What if you did post something and nobody “Liked” or “Commented” on it? Does your network determine whether it has value?

I don’t consider myself a social media butterfly by any means, but I know how compelling connecting in this way can be. I just think we need to temper our time on Facebook with actual facetime.

And I am as guilty as the next guy when it comes to needing my internet fix. I no longer read a “dead tree,” as my friend likes to call them, and I used to subscribe to three newspapers at a time. I no longer have a TV cable bill either. My news, my information, my entertainment, and much of my connections now come in large part via the web.

But I don’t want to be addicted to what academic researchers Edward Hallowell and John Ratey call a “dopamine squirt” for every email or text message I receive. Instead, I want time away from my devices to enable creative thinking and genuine human interaction that I find can only occur when I’m unplugged.

When television moved from three network stations to hundreds of channels via cable or satellite, this seemed like such a great thing. But, for the most part, you can only watch one channel at a time. The same is basically true in the internet age.

Yes I know that multitasking is now considered a basic job requirement, but we should also acknowledge that there are limitations in trying to do things in parallel rather than sequencially. Taking the time to focus thoroughly on one thing at a time enables you to dive deeper, and to better diagnose and resolve a problem or find an opportunity.

In a previous post, I discussed how multitasking or “switchtasking” is detrimental to productivity, and email is the biggest reason why. Email and other distractions on our computers and smart phones are constantly seeking our attention.

But just because we can attend to our computers and phones all day and night, doesn’t mean we should. Like any tool, the laptop and the smartphone have their limitations and organizations would benefit if they enabled and encouraged more time for focused work away from these tools.

The Economist magazine recently pointed out, “Most companies are better at giving employees access to the information superhighway than at teaching them how to drive.”

Time for focused thinking may be frowned upon at work because you won’t actually look busy when you’re doing it. We may, in fact, even feel guilty if we’re not facing our computer screens and simply gazing off into the distance or out a window, though that could sometimes be enormously more productive.

Making the time to unplug and focus your thinking without disruptions can go a long way towards increasing your productivity. Instead of emailing, tweeting or posting a comment, speak to someone face-to-face. There will be less chance for misinterpretation and greater opportunity for increasing trust and commraderie.

Email is our Biggest Distraction

May 24, 2011

We’re all beginning to learn and accept that multitasking is indeed a myth. Changing our multitasking behavior will lead to greater productivity, but it will also take time. Email may be the right place to begin.

Dave Crenshaw, author of “The Myth of Multitasking: How ‘Doing It All’ Gets Nothing Done,” argues that the most common kind of multitasking doesn’t boost productivity—it actually slows you down. While background tasking like watching television while you work out can be fine, what he calls “switchtasking” is trying to juggle two tasks by refocusing your attention back and forth between them, and losing time and progress in the switch.

I contend email is the biggest distraction and the thing we try to multitask with the most.

In 2006 more than 6 trillion email messages were reportedly sent everyday. Last year that increased to an average of 160 messages per day per office worker. More than 88 percent of these messages were considered junk—spam, commercial newsletters or other unsolicited messages. And though filters can help reduce the junk, email still consumes way too much of our time.

Two things may help: 1) reduce the number of email messages you send and reply to, and 2) read email less frequently.

I wrote in an earlier post that email messages can easily work against you in conveying information. What may seem entirely clear to you when you write and send a message, can be totally misunderstood or misinterpreted by the receiver. This is due to limitations of the written word as well as other factors.

You can find lots of advice on the web with regard to email etiquette and advice on when and when not to use email.

Jim Gerace, who was earlier vice president of corporate communications at Verizon Wireless, issued employee guidelines on the proper use of email. I think the most important are:

  • Email should bring closure to work, not create more work.
  • Before you write an email, ask yourself if calling or visiting the recipient will bring better communication.
  • Keep emails short. Pretend that the recipient isn’t going to open the email and you need to make your point in just the subject line or the space in the preview pane.
  • If just one person needs information or clarification, don’t send it to a group.
  • Stay accountable. Sending an email doesn’t transfer responsibility.
  • Don’t send another email asking why you didn’t get an answer to the first one; call or visit the person you need information from.
  • Don’t spend more than five minutes dealing with an email. When you go over this limit, stop and make a phone call.

Timothy Ferriss, in his best-selling book “The 4-Hour Workweek,” recommends looking at email only twice a day in order to focus on the job at hand. He does the same with phone calls so he can focus on getting things done rather than constantly losing time and productivity through what Crenshaw calls switchtasking.

Ferriss ensures senders and callers all know his unavailability because he adds this to his signature on his email messages as well as his voice mail message.

Not everyone can follow this advice, but I suspect most of us probably can and should. Simply turning off the sound and pop-ups for when a new email message arrives may better enable us to stay focused on our task.

What about you? Do you measure your day by how many email messages you receive? If you made the choice to no longer be ruled by your inbox, would you be more productive?

Increased Happiness Begins at Middle-Age

April 1, 2011

With my birthday on the horizon, it is the time of year when I reflect on what I’ve done with my life so far and what I still want to do.

I try to take pride in what I have accomplished. I celebrate my good fortune at having a loving family, strong friendships, and continued good health. I also evaluate my overall well-being or happiness.

In an Economist magazine article back in December, I read that life may not be only a long, slow decline from vitality to incapacity. Instead, it is a U-Bend, which suggests that our happiness quotient actually declines until we are in our mid-forties whereupon it begins to rise again well into old age.

This is good news for those of us who have passed that point and are now growing older, wiser and, quite possibly, happier.

David Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College, and Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick Business School, looked at data for 72 countries. They found that the nadir varies among countries with Ukrainians at their most miserable at 62, while the Swiss at 35. The great majority of countries find people at their unhappiest in their 40s and early 50s. The global average is 46 years of age.

In theory, when people start their adult lives, they are pretty cheerful on average. However, things often go south from youth to middle age. This could be explained by the fact that when we are in our mid-forties we are very often dealing with many stressors, including demanding careers, teenagers in the home, and aging parents.

Some characteristics determine our happiness more than others. For instance, those who are married are often more happy, but those with children in the home are less happy than those without. Education makes people happy because this often enables them to make more money. And, in general, richer people are happier than poorer people.

The growing happiness that follows middle-aged misery is not the result of external circumstances, however, but internal changes.

Older people have fewer arguments and find better solutions to conflict. They are better at controlling their emotions and accepting misfortune. They are also less likely to get angry. In a study where subjects were asked to listen to recordings of people supposedly saying disparaging things about them, older and younger people were similarly saddened, but older people got less angry and were less inclined to pass judgment.

Older people also know they are closer to death and they grow better at living in the present, argues Laura Carstensen, professor of psychology at Stanford University. They come to focus on things that matter now like feelings and less on long-term goals.

Neurotic people who are prone to guilt, anger and anxiety tend to be less happy. And studies have found that neuroticism is a stable personality trait and a good predictor of levels of happiness. Neurotic people also are likely to have low emotional intelligence, which makes it hard to develop healthy relationships, and that can make them unhappy.

Extroverted people, on the other hand, appear to be happier. People who thrive by working in teams, for example, are happier than those who would rather work independently.

Oswald and two colleagues, Eugenio Proto and Daniel Sgroi, cheered up a bunch of volunteers by showing them a funny film. Then he had them perform a series of mental tests and compared their performance to groups that had seen a neutral film or no film at all. Those who had seen the funny film performed 12% better.

Should we conclude that happier employees are more productive employees? Would a group of extraverts make for a stronger team than a group of introverts? I don’t think there is any conclusive evidence for these conclusions at this point.

There are many things we can do to raise our happiness. These include strengthening important relationships, maintaining good health through diet and exercise, managing our stress level, and making time for things that bring us joy. And it’s nice to know that an important benefit of the aging process is that it may also raise our level of happiness.

A Resolution for Wellness

December 28, 2010

“When the body is weak, it takes over command. When strong, it obeys.” Jean Jacques-Rousseau

We are told of two certainties in life: death and taxes. I’m beginning to think it is the first over which we have greater control. We can not avoid our own demise, but we can certainly choose how to best spend the time before it arrives.

My resolution for 2011 is therefore beyond a new diet, exercise plan or even prosperity. This year I choose wellness and all that it encompasses. For me, wellness is about a healthy mind, healthy body and healthy spirit.

Healthy Mind
Reducing stress is a great way to calm the mind. Though you probably can’t get rid of all your stress, you can certainly choose whether and how to manage it. This is true both at home and in the workplace.

Maintaining a healthy mind means fighting back negative thoughts and choosing to see the proverbial glass as half-full. You can choose to see the good in others and provide genuine praise for what your co-workers are doing. Celebrate their achievements and promotions. You lose nothing by cheering on others, and do the same for yourself.

And if you stop viewing yourself as a victim you will no longer be one. Take responsibility for your situation and make changes to move on.

The easiest way to calm your mind and keep it healthy is to simply breathe deeply when you feel yourself getting upset. Drink a full glass of water. Take a quick walk around the office or the parking lot.

A healthy mind requires that we continually nourish it so it remains on our side. This nourishment is not expensive or time-consuming. It only takes discipline and focus.

Healthy Body
For most of us, a worthwhile goal for our physical health is losing a few pounds and working out regularly at the gym. I’ve always found that there is direct relationship between higher stress when I am eating poorly or not getting enough exercise, so for me a healthy mind and body are intricately connected.

But why not choose to lose these pounds by eating more of the right foods and eliminating more of the bad ones? And don’t suffer by starving yourself. Instead choose to eat right 80% of the time and then cut yourself some slack 20% of the time. You may not see results as quickly, but you’re more likely to stick with this approach by making it a lifestyle you can live with.

If you don’t enjoy working out, why not find a physical activity you really like and put more of yourself into it? You can keep your body limber and healthy many different ways, including by swimming, bicycle riding, kayaking, skiing, yoga, dancing, martial arts, or simply by taking brisk walks around the neighborhood. Again, the results may not show up as quickly, but you are more likely to make this a lifestyle change you can sustain.

Healthy Spirit
Though I am not a religious person, I believe there is more to this life than our own individual existence. This outer focus helps keep me humble, feel more connected to others, and enables me to appreciate the wonder in each moment.

Meditation has certainly been helpful in keeping me mindful and this is something I need to incorporate into my life again. With meditation I am able to still my mind and open myself to the spirit. For me, this results in greater awareness and inner peace.

I am certain other people are able to find similar benefits from prayer or attending religious ceremonies.

Like yoga, the benefits of meditation are in the practice so the more you look for some immediate reward from having done it, the more disappointed you may be. Again, try to focus on this as a lifestyle change that you can live with rather than a quick fix.

Wellness requires my constant focus and discipline so that it remains a way of life. It can’t be found simply in a new diet regimen or membership at my local health club. And if you are looking for a quick fix to your own wellness, you will be disappointed with this approach.

My resolution for 2011 is a wellness program in body, mind and spirit that can be sustained not only for the first few months of the new year, but for the rest of my life. I hope you too succeed in your own resolutions. Happy New Year!

Silver Lining of Dark Clouds

May 27, 2010

Here it is near the end of May and still rainy and cool here in Seattle. This dampens my mood, but it also reminds me how important it is to find a way to appreciate the rain rather than simply wish for sun.

The same could be said with regard to what we do for a living. How many of us claim we have the absolute perfect job? How many wake up each morning and commute to our workplace because there is no place we’d rather go?

I suspect few of us, but that doesn’t mean we hate what we do for a living. We may even enjoy it most of the time. I know I do.

My point is that we alone have the power to draw our attention to whatever it is we want. We can see our proverbial glass as half empty or half full. This is entirely within our power.

Given the state of our current economy, many people feel unappreciated in the workforce. They are working harder than ever, working two jobs, are underemployed, or unemployed altogether. This is a time when seeking to make lemonade seems impossible with these lemons.

Nevertheless, life is far too short to spend time lamenting what we don’t have when there is so much abundance to our lives. If only we could pause and take inventory with an appreciative eye for what we do have.

Consider this time of challenge as a wake-up call to determine what it is you really want out of your life. Is it money or the things and experiences money can buy? Look at all that you’ve acquired during the past year and assess whether they are worth the struggle you face in making your credit card payment each month.

Is the only solution a higher paying job? This is for each of us to answer on our own, of course, but I suspect it is not the case for all.

There are many examples of great companies that are launched during recessions. Perhaps this is a time when each of us should consider launching a new venture as well.

This doesn’t have to mean starting a new business, but it could. It might be learning a new skill, going back to school, pursuing a new hobby, or nurturing a neglected relationship. This could be a time for self-renewal: a time for reinventing yourself so that a recession doesn’t affect your resilience.

When I was in my early forties and out of work, I took time to rediscover who I was and what I really wanted out of my life. I took up the piano and creative writing. I went back to school and earned a master’s degree. I nurtured my relationships. And I changed my career to something that truly resonated with who I am.

This took a great deal of self-discipline and courage, but the pursuit of learning and focusing on what is important to me stays with me to this day.

In her book “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life,” Winifred Gallagher explains that we should continually engage in activities that arrest our attention and satisfy our soul.

“We’re accustomed to thinking of productivity in terms of career, but if you’re living the focused life, your free time should be just as generative or even more so—particularly if you don’t especially enjoy your work,” says Gallagher. “By actively choosing endeavors that demand your total focus and skillfully using attention to make even inevitable rote chores more engaging, you can blur the distinction between work and play—a hallmark of a focused life.”

The focused life cannot be attained by engaging in passive experiences such as watching television, playing videogames or surfing the internet. It takes self-discipline and it takes mindfulness in everyday life.

Complaining about the clouds that get in the way of our growth is not a solution. In the same way plants and flowers can’t grow with only sun, we must appreciate the abundance in our lives and focus our attention on getting more of what we want.

And as much as we may struggle on these dark, dreary late spring days, we should be mindful of what is really important and make the most of our lives.

Mark Craemer            www.craemerconsulting.com