Workplace Flexibility in Flux

August 15, 2021

As organizations determine the best way to bring employees back into the workplace, it’s clear no one size fits all. Workers have found the virtues and drawbacks of working from home, and many prefer flexibility. Company leaders suspect something has been lost by not being in the office but haven’t been able to fully quantify it.

Many organizations are choosing to follow CDC guidelines on when to bring employees back, and due to the dramatic rise in the highly contagious Delta variant, timeframes have been pushed out to January 2022 and beyond.

Zoom Fatigue

Some organizations found workers to be more productive at least initially due to fewer interruptions and meetings. Yet our technology (Zoom, Teams, Slack, text messaging and email) found a way to overcome the physical distance and disrupt our re-found ability to focus. Staring at a computer screen is one thing, but using it to effectively communicate, collaborate, or manage others via camera is exhausting and often futile.

As an aside, I find it especially troubling during a video conference, our eyes are not looking into each other’s eyes, but instead looking down because the camera is located not in the middle of the screen but above it. Perhaps it would be great if we were all trained to look at the tiny green light like newscasters, but, of course, we would ultimately miss the reaction of our audience and that would also diminish real connection and effective communication.

While many workers have been able to reallocate the time saved by not commuting, others struggle with a lack of a clear definition between work and personal time. No longer is there a period of transition afforded by the commute. Further, we are challenged with the competing demands of home life (kids, pets, chores, etc.) while remaining focused on our work life.

Full Return

Companies that recently announced post-pandemic policies for a full return to the workplace include Abbott Labs, Archer Daniels Midland, Bank of America, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Comcast, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Heinz, Tesla, and Wells Fargo. This suggests they are expecting things to go back to relatively normal again. Most companies, however, plan to offer a hybrid or more work from home opportunities.

Fully Vaxed

Those requiring all employees returning to the workplace to be fully vaccinated include Amtrak, Cisco, CitiGroup, Delta Airlines, Facebook, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Netflix, Salesforce, Twitter, Tyson Foods, Uber, United Airlines, Walgreens, Walt Disney and Walmart. This is a list that will likely continue to grow, especially since many state and federal offices are now making full vaccination a requirement as well.

And those who refuse to be vaccinated may have to provide proof of a valid health or religious reason and, in many cases, subject themselves to weekly or twice-weekly COVID-19 tests.  

What can we learn from the past 16 months that can help us improve how productive and engaged we are in our careers? It seems that the pandemic has redefined the workplace and what it means to be “at work.”

In my work as an executive coach, I find I really miss meeting face-to-face with clients. There is no substitution for establishing trust, building rapport, and communicating in the most complete manner than by meeting in the same physical location. But I also know that once we’ve established this trust, rapport and understanding on how we communicate, we can often meet via phone or video conference and make it nearly as effective.

This kind of flexibility will be important going forward. While some jobs won’t allow for any remote work, many should enable some form of a hybrid approach. Giving workers and their managers the flexibility for how and when to work from home can raise productivity and engagement, but it should be done intentionally with measures in place for accountability.

The workplace we return to—physically or virtually—will likely be forever changed, and it’s important to recognize that this crisis can lead to a great opportunity for improving the way we work together.

Anxiety at Work

July 28, 2021

Do you feel anxious? You’re not alone. Anxiety is on the rise and blamed on everything from COVID-19 to political instability to economic insecurity to social media to unstable weather conditions due to climate change.

Everyone experiences anxiety and stress at some point in life. While stress is a response to a threat in a situation, anxiety is a reaction to the stress associated with it.

According to Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States.

Anxiety disorders are more than the simple anxious feeling you might get about an upcoming presentation or other relatively minor situation. Anxiety is a problem when it goes beyond logical worry into a more unreasonable or uncontrollable way when a minor event can be felt as thoroughly embarrassing or seems life-threatening.

Fear plus uncertainty leads to anxiety, according to Judson Brewer, MD, PhD and author of Unwinding Anxiety. He developed and tested novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including app-based treatments for smoking, eating disorders and anxiety.

“When my students or patients are suffering under the weight of never-ending anxiety, a stubborn habit, or out-of-control addiction, I encourage them to see if they can envision these experiences as teachers,” writes Brewer. “Teachers help us learn. When we learn something, we feel good (it is rewarding).”

Brewer identified a reward-based learning process that includes first identifying the trigger that leads to a specific behavior, which then results in some type of reward. Analyzing this reward is key to understanding how to change your habit or your control anxiety.

Raising your awareness and staying curious can be vital. Brewer suggests the following: “Instead of asking why something is the way it is, get curious. It doesn’t matter what triggers worry or anxiety, but it does matter how you react to it. What thoughts are you having? What emotions are you feeling? What sensations are showing up in their bodies?”

In the workplace, anxiety can prevent you from being your best and—at a minimum—can be disruptive to feeling relaxed and under control in how you go about doing your job. When anxiety becomes a problem at work, it can be associated with any number of types of anxiety. Among Americans, these can include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects some 6.8 million, yet only 43% are currently receiving treatment for it. And GAD often co-occurs with major depression.  
  • Panic Disorders affect 6 million and women are more than twice as likely as men to have it.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects 15 million and can begin as early as age 13.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) affects 2.2 million adults and often begins before the age of adulthood.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects 7.7 million and rape is the most likely trigger for PTSD. Some 65% of men and 46% of women who are raped will develop the disease. PTSD and OCD are closely related and many experience them at the same time along with depression.
  • Major Depression Disorder (MDD) impacts more than 16 million adults, is more prevalent in women and the average age for onset is about 33 years old.

If you find your anxiety is impacting you more than it should, it’s important to get the help you need. Anxiety disorders are treatable, and you should seek professional assistance rather than ignore it or go it alone.  You can quickly assess your overall mental health and find resources at Mental Health America.

To be your best at work, you need to look after your health and wellness: physical, emotional, and mental. Pay attention and take action. You deserve it.

Right Job: Intrinsic Motivation & Creativity

July 14, 2021

After an extraordinary time working from home, many of us are nearing a return to the workplace. Seems like a good time to check-in with yourself to see if you are in the right job: One where you find intrinsic motivation not only to feel engaged, but also to be most creative.

This creativity is vital for both your organization to survive and for you to thrive.

Teresa Amabile, psychology professor at Harvard Business School, studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance and found that extrinsic motivators such as financial rewards that make people feel controlled can often stifle creativity.

While extrinsic motivation is primarily about external rewards such as money or recognition, intrinsic motivation means you are incentivized to do the activity for the enjoyment itself rather than for the external benefits that may result.

“You should do what you love, and you should love what you do,” says Amabile. Doing what you love means finding work that “matches well with your expertise, your creative thinking skills, and your strongest intrinsic motivations.” Loving what you do means “finding a work environment that will allow you to retain that intrinsic motivational focus, while supporting your exploration of new ideas.”

This means when you are in the right job you can leverage your core competencies, including the things you do best and enjoy as well as having autonomy and are regularly challenged to stretch your abilities.

Amabile found that external rewards can also boost one’s intrinsic motivation and creativity when they these rewards are unexpected or unchosen, especially if these extrinsic rewards support what you are already intrinsically motivated to do.

“My experiments have shown that extrinsic motivators that make people feel controlled or driven only by that motivator drain intrinsic motivation and stifle creativity,” writes Amabile. “But extrinsic motivators that either allow a person to be more engaged, or confirm their competence, in something they are already keen to do, can synergistically add to intrinsic motivation and creativity.”

According to Amabile, support from an employee’s manager is crucial. When a manager provides clear and honest communication, values individual contributions to the overall team, and sets clear goals, this results in the most creative projects. Further, creativity is optimized when the organization supports the free flow of ideas and an opportunity to develop new ideas.

It turns out that what drives creativity in the workplace comes down to simply making progress on meaningful work, providing a sense of moving forward on something that matters. When people felt this experience, they were both more productive and more creative.

And highly-creativity projects have environments that are more intellectually challenging, sufficiently resourced, plenty of autonomy and encouraged innovative thinking.

Do you feel intrinsically motivated and are you able to be creative in your job? If not, is there something your boss or organization can do to change that? Obviously, it is not entirely up to your employer as you also need to take responsibility. Don’t neglect this important aspect of job satisfaction as there may be no better indicator as to whether you simply remain employed or really thrive.

This is the perfect time for you to assess whether the job you’re returning to in-person is the one that enables you to bring out your best.  

2020: A Stoic Adventure

December 28, 2020

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
― Viktor E. Frankl

Here at the end of a very challenging year due to a global pandemic, it may be difficult to see the bright side. One lesson we might take away from this year is that it’s not the situation, but how we respond to it that matters most.

There’s an ancient Chinese story about a man who raised horses for a living, and one day he lost one of his prized horses. Hearing of the misfortune, his neighbor felt sorry for the rancher and came to comfort him. The rancher simply asked, “How could we know it is not a good thing for me?” After a while, the lost horse returned with another beautiful horse. The neighbor came over and congratulated the rancher on his good fortune. But the rancher simply asked, “How could we know it is not a bad thing for me?” The next day his son went out for a ride with the new horse and was violently thrown from the horse and broke his leg. The neighbor again expressed his condolences to the rancher, but he simply said, “How could we know it is not a good thing for me?” One year later, the Emperor’s army arrived at the village to recruit all able-bodied men to fight in the war. Because of his injury, the rancher’s son could not go off to war, and was spared from certain death.

The ending of this story suggests that every misfortune comes with a silver lining. Or what first appears to be good luck can come with misfortune.

Similarly, the Stoic ancient philosophers, which included Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, took the perspective that if you want to have a happy life, you need to take responsibility for it. When bad things happen, it is not the event itself but your reaction to it that can do the most harm.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment,” according to Marcus Aurelius.

William B. Irvine, author of The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer and More Resilient, says that much of our suffering is due to the response we have to life. “When someone says something disparaging to you, it is just words, but how you respond to them can continually harm you. The response is usually worse than the event itself.”

When you think of the word stoic, you may be thinking of some unemotional Spock-like character devoid of feeling. However, while stoicism refers to a person who takes whatever life throws at them without expressing emotions in the process, Stoics (with a capital S) don’t suppress emotions but try to avoid expressing negative emotions. Ancient Stoics were actually considered to be cheerful individuals.

Anchoring & Framing

How would Stoics suggest we respond to this COVID experience? According to Irvine, you could practice a concept called anchoring, which involves comparing this situation with one that could be much worse. For example, whether you experienced it or not, you could envision being stuck in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, which would obviously be much worse.

Or you might try framing to provide a different perspective. Think of the hypothetical situation of your doctor saying you have a serious illness and a choice between two procedures: One has a one-month survival rate of 90 percent, while the other has a 10 percent mortality rate in the first month. Many will choose the first option due to its high survival rate, however, the perfectly rational person would see the two as equally attractive. As humans, we are not perfectly rational and we are influenced by how the exact same situation is framed.

Irvine also sees it important to develop your “emotional immune system” in the same way you boost your physical immune system. This means deliberately exposing yourself to things that would make you emotionally uncomfortable, so that you are more likely to overcome future setbacks. This ultimately makes you more emotionally resilient to handle whatever you encounter. The social isolation of the past year has certainly been an emotional challenge for many of us.

This is not to suggest that you resist all negativity, but only that you don’t let your response to challenges and setbacks make things worse. Choose to see the bright side. Be optimistic. And seek to respond in ways that bring you closer to getting what you want.

Here’s to a brighter, healthier and more resilient 2021!

Behavioral Change & Social Distancing

March 29, 2020

Even in the best of times, changing one’s behavior to break a bad habit, learn a favorable one or develop new leadership capacity is hard and takes time. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our ability to change behavior is vital to the health and safety of everyone.

If you’ve ever struggled with changing your behavior in order to lose weight or workout more regularly, you know that it takes a lot of discipline and persistence. It’s helpful to break it down into smaller parts so you can see regular progress rather than have one all-consuming goal. Rather than lose 10 pounds by summertime, focus on losing three pounds in the next six weeks. It also helps to have a partner to help you stay motivated. And it’s helpful when you can be compassionate with yourself if you slip up or fall back into old behaviors.

Behavioral change comes into play during this time of social distancing. When we are forced to isolate ourselves, it can be traumatizing as we are biologically social beings. Those fortunate to have loving partners, families and housemates who can be supportive are at an advantage. For those who live alone or are living under less than ideal circumstances, it is important to reach out and find community in whatever ways possible. New behaviors may have to be developed and practiced quickly in order to maintain your emotional well-being.

As a leadership coach, I help my clients identify the behaviors that may be holding them back from becoming more effective leaders. For example, these could be in communication such as appropriately giving or receiving feedback, effective presentation skills or body language, tone of voice or other behaviors that may be reflecting poorly on them. Once identified and accepted that they need to change, the next step is to create a development plan and then execute upon it.

For those interested in changing their behavior in order to ride out social distancing during this health crisis, I offer the following suggestions.

  1. Identify what is bringing about the most anxiety. Is it food, housing, job or other economic insecurity? Try to get to the root of the anxiety rather than just an overall label of fear in what may happen. Talk to a professional or close friend about this.
  2. See if you can identify what behaviors are helping or hurting your current situation. If you are concerned about food, are you doing what you can to budget yourself? Since you can’t go to restaurants, are you reducing expenses by cooking?
  3. Connect with others differently than before. Since you cannot socialize face to face, don’t just rely on texting and social media. Use your phone to talk or FaceTime with others. I’ve been Zooming with friends and extended family to stay connected.
  4. Take care of your physical health. Just because you can no longer workout at the gym, doesn’t mean you can’t stay in shape. Get outside to take in fresh air by walking, jogging, running or biking around your neighborhood. Do this every day as it will lift your spirits, especially now that we’ve entered spring.
  5. Be compassionate with yourself. Recognize that we are living in extraordinary times and there is no playbook to follow. Give yourself the space and time to do what you need to do in order to get through this. There will be an end to this crisis, and you will be stronger having lived through it.

Life on our planet will be forever impacted by this pandemic and, hopefully, we will be better prepared for the next one. By practicing social distancing and taking care of ourselves as we ride this out, we will all help flatten the curve and save lives.

The success you have in changing your behavior during this time may also enable greater confidence in your ability to change other behaviors. Use this time to learn and grow in your capacity to change behaviors so you can thrive throughout the rest of your life.

Retirement and the Pursuit of Joy

May 10, 2019

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

With more than 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day in the United States, retirement is on the rise. However, old notions of the viability and the actual practice of retirement have evolved enormously. Retirement provides the opportunity to find meaning and pursue joy.

The nearly 75 million people in this country born between 1946 and 1964 will soon be surpassed by Millennials to represent the largest generation in the workplace. While Boomers are ending their careers, Millennials are just beginning.

More than half of these Boomers have retirement savings of less than $250,000 and can expect average annual Social Security income of about $28,000 per couple. However, the average couple ages 65-74 spends about $55,000 annually. That’s not good news.

On the other hand, about 31% of those over 65 have more than $200,000 in their retirement accounts. That’s good, but it too may not be enough to sustain the golden years.

If you don’t have enough, you are likely destined to continue working a while longer to prepare for when you are financially able to do so. For those with enough, you may find the ability and desire to move to Arizona or Florida and golf everyday not all that appealing.

Perhaps it’s time to consider what New York Times columnist and author David Brooks calls the second mountain. This second mountain is where you stop pursuing happiness and instead focus on joy.

“The goals on that first mountain are the normal goals that our culture endorses—to be a success, to be well thought of, to get invited into the right social circles, and to experience personal happiness,” writes Brooks in his new book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. “It’s all the normal stuff: nice home, nice family, nice vacations, good food, good friends, and so on.

“The second mountain is not the opposite of the first mountain,” he continues. “To climb it doesn’t mean rejecting the first mountain. It’s the journey after it. It’s the more generous and satisfying phase of life.”

This second mountain is about joy rather than happiness. While happiness is about victories for the self, joy is more about transcending the self.

“Joy is present when mother and baby are gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes, when a hiker is overwhelmed by beauty in the woods and feels at one with nature, when a gaggle of friends are dancing deliriously in unison,” writes Brooks. “Joy often involves self-forgetting.”

Brooks says that happiness is what we aim for on the first mountain and joy is a by-product of living on the second mountain. This joy comes out of an enmeshed and embedded life. While happiness happens when a personal desire is fulfilled, the more permanent moral joy emerges when desire is turned outward for others.

Whether this is in the form of a vocation, volunteer work or further engagement in your community, the idea is to keep moving forward. And to actively engage with those Millennials.

Psychologist Erik Erikson said that as we enter old age, we face a critical choice between what he calls generativity and stagnation. Generativity is more than creativity. It means turning toward the rising generation and offering whatever we know that they might find useful—and learning from them in the process.

Joy can be found when serving a cause, purpose or people beyond yourself. Joy provides meaning in one’s life that rises above mere material acquisitions or ego gratifying experiences.

In Brooks earlier book The Road to Character, he referred to “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” Resume virtues are what he calls the skills one brings to the job market that contribute to external success. Eulogy virtues are those at the core of our being like courage, honesty, loyalty and the quality of our relationships that contribute to real joy.

For those approaching retirement age with finances in pretty good shape, you may want to consider focusing on your eulogy rather than your resume. This will likely result in moving beyond seeking temporary happiness to finding sustainable joy.

You Decide: Job, Career or Calling?

November 20, 2018

No matter the profession you’re in, you likely have the opportunity for it to be a job, a career or a calling. Sure, the paycheck is important, but finding purpose in the work can make it so much more rewarding. In fact, much of our satisfaction from work comes from whether or not we find meaning.

You may be thinking surely this can’t be the case for all professions but think about it more as a mindset than as the actual work being done. Your perspective is extremely powerful.

Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski studied the position of administrative assistant and found that one-third of respondents employed in this role classified it as just a job, one-third as a career and one-third as a calling.

The called were not higher paid or more challenged than the others. They didn’t have more autonomy or feel more respected or face more interesting challenges. What made the difference was the way the administrative assistants individually perceived and engaged in their roles, whether it be a job, career or calling.

Wrzensniewski did a similar study of hospital custodians and coined the term “job crafting” to describe what she found among the happiest and most effective. These custodial workers focused intensely on serving patients, creating work they wanted to do out of the work they’d been assigned. They were able to craft work in order to find it more meaningful and worthwhile.

“In every vocation, the meaning of the work is less in the thing done than in the growth of the man through the doing,” wrote author Edward Howard Griggs.

In every position, we are assigned tasks to complete. The mindset we choose to apply while completing these tasks is completely ours to choose. Someone with a mindset framed in “just a job” thinking will likely find little satisfaction and probably be not as fully engaged and productive as one with a career or calling mentality.

“Working with a sense of purpose day-in and day-out is an act of will that takes thoughtfulness and practice,” says John Coleman, coauthor of the book Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders. “Purpose is not found, but built no matter the profession.”

Coleman describes how to build that purpose in a recent Harvard Business Review article: find ways to connect the work service, craft your work—and make work a craft, invest in positive relationships, and remember why you work.

In the same way you have control over whether you see the glass as half empty or half full, you also can choose to find as much or as little meaning in the work that you do. Take some time this holiday weekend to reflect on your mindset with regard to the work you do. Then see if you can adjust it as necessary and perhaps craft the work so you can find more meaning and more satisfaction.

Focused Attention Through Intention & Discipline

October 10, 2018

In this age of intensified distraction, it’s hard to find time and space to concentrate on one specific thing to any significant degree. Yet if you want to be more productive, you need to focus, which requires both intention and discipline.

Productivity means different things to different people, but we all know what we need and want to accomplish. It just seems we are often stymied in our attempts due to the hyper-connected world in which we live. The solution is to deliberately manage your attention.

Take a look at just a few of the distractions in our workday:

  • We look at our cellphone on average 80 times a day (Millennials 150 times each day!)
  • We check email on average 88 times each day (11 times per hour)
  • Two-thirds (67%) of surveyed employees say they check social media while at work
  • Some 58% of surveyed employees want more privacy in the open office environment
  • And 54% said the open office environment is too distracting to concentrate

Even with the best of intentions, this combination of technology and environment make it difficult to focus on any given task. It should be no surprise then that the best way to manage our attention in order to concentrate is to first turn off all alerts (text, email, news, etc.) and create a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted.

Take Charge of Technology

With regard to technology, this means mustering up the discipline and courage to deliberately turn off all those alerts on both your computer and cellphone. It also means resisting the urge to constantly check email, news sites and social media. I know FOMO (fear of missing out) is intense, but I suspect you are currently unable to accomplish all that you want. Isn’t that more important than knowing the constant status of your virtual friends and followers?

Enter the Best Environment

If you work in an open office, this can be a challenge, but there are things you can do to make the best of it, such as using noise-cancelling headphones. You can also alert your colleagues of your intention to have “focus-time,” and that you would appreciate not being interrupted. Use a simple sign on your desk or cube to signal when you want this.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to declare your intention and develop the discipline in order to deliberately manage your attention.

According to Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus: How to be More Productive in a World of Distraction, directing your attention toward the most important object of your choosing—and then sustaining that attention—is the most consequential decision you will make throughout the day. Ultimately, you are what you pay attention to.

Bailey calls this attentional space the amount of mental capacity you have available to focus on and process things in the moment. He suggests the most important way to begin is to divide your tasks into the quadrants below. The bulleted items are mine; yours may be entirely different.

Intention-Setting Rules

With regard to intention, Bailey recommends three intention-setting rules:

  1. The Rule of Three: Everyday choose three things you want to accomplish by the end of the day. Keep these very visible, such as on a white board. You can also choose three things you’d like to accomplish each week.
  2. Most Consequential: Determine which of the three is most consequential by separating them into the four quadrants: necessary, purposeful, distracting and unnecessary. Out of the necessary and purposeful lists, which has the potential to set off a chain reaction?
  3. Hourly Awareness Chime: Have a chime on your watch, cellphone or computer remind you to check in to see which quadrant you are in at that moment and whether you are following your intentions. (I know this is counter to “turn off your alerts” mentioned above, but this is important and purposely distracting for the right reason.)

By following these intention-setting rules you will go a long way to accomplishing more because your intention drives your attention.

When it comes to discipline, you will need to find the motivation to keep this method of operating present in your life. Take three weeks and implement it every day so it becomes a habit. Then reflect on whether this has made you more productive or not. Perhaps enlist your supervisor to provide his or her perspective and to keep you motivated and engaged.

You will likely need to alter your current behavior and show up differently. And while your colleagues may at first mock or sneer at what they may perceive as “anti-social” behavior, they will ultimately respect you for your ability to provide the boundaries necessary in helping you bring your best self to the workplace environment.

Be intentional about where you direct your attention so you can be more productive and reach more of your goals.

Rebuilding a Sense of Community

July 29, 2018

In this age of constant distraction and limited face-to-face time, I decided to drop some of what I call “anti-social” media and join real-time groups to help restore a sense of community. I suspect this lost sense of community has contributed to many of us no longer fully engaging with others in real conversations and the opportunity for civil discourse.

Though I was not directly responsible for Facebook’s $120 billion loss in shareholder wealth last week, I did stop using the social media platform as part of my plan to disengage from such distractions and engage in more meaningful activities. (To those of you who followed me on Facebook, I hope you will continue to do so on LinkedIn or Twitter.)

When I witness a group of teenagers hanging out with each other while staring at their cell phones, I can’t help but think that they are missing out on important opportunities for meaningful and deeper connections. How will they establish real intimacy? Where will they learn to demonstrate empathy for others when their feelings and concerns are concealed with and misinterpreted by abbreviated text and emojis?

Perhaps I sound like a curmudgeon, but when an extremely useful tool such as a cellphone becomes a barrier to truly connecting with others, it is no longer a tool but a crutch.

“Our civilization, like every civilization, is a conversation,” writes author Jonah Goldberg in Suicide of the West. “Therefore the demise of our civilization is only inevitable if the people saying and arguing the right things stop talking.”

And David Brooks of The New York Times has written in a number of columns that “social fragmentation and social isolation are the fundamental problems afflicting America today.”

For me, I’ve chosen to monitor the number of times I check my cellphone and extract myself from meaningless and mindless activities in order to make room for more meaningful ones. In the past year, I joined two different groups and they’ve provided more meaning to my life. Though I didn’t join them with this specific purpose in mind, they have helped me engage in rebuilding a sense of community.

Round Table

The first community I joined is called Round Table and it’s a group of about 50 business people who meet for breakfast every Thursday morning at 7 am in order to support and learn together. Each week a different member or his or her guest presents a topic that would be of interest to the group. This could be about a company, a product or service, or—what has become increasingly popular and beneficial to all—an update on their personal lives along with lessons learned.

Many members have been meeting for more than twenty years and continue doing so because it provides them with something they can get nowhere else in their lives. One long time member refers to it as his “church” because he finds spiritual fulfillment from the regular discipline.

When I first joined Round Table last year, I expected it be primarily for networking and participation would be beneficial to expanding my business. However, I now also see it as a support system that truly feeds my soul in a way that has been missing in my life. It is so much more than social or business interaction; it is sharing and learning in a supportive community.

Better Angels

The second community I joined is an organization called Better Angels. It was formed in 2016 after the presidential election that made it clear “we’re becoming two Americas, each angry with the other, and neither trusting the other’s basic humanity and good intentions.”

Better Angels is a bipartisan citizen’s movement that was created to help unify our divided nation. By bringing red and blue Americans together into a working alliance, they are helping to forge new ways to talk to one another, participate together in public life, and influence the direction of the nation.

Earlier this month I attended a “Red/Blue Workshop” as an observer where seven conservative-leaning and seven progressive-leaning people participated in moderated activities and discussions that clarify disagreements, reduce stereotyped thinking, and begin building the relationships needed to find common ground. It was fascinating and encouraging to watch participants learn to fully listen and respectfully engage in civil discussions with those they oppose politically.

In sum, Better Angels aims to help Americans learn to engage in respectful real-time, face-to-face conversation in order to connect on what unites rather than divides us. This will hopefully serve as a counter measure to what is often the opposite in social media. And Russia will have a tougher time interfering.

I’m currently in the process of becoming a facilitator for Better Angels in order to deepen my engagement and encourage my fellow citizens to participate more fully in civil discourse.

These two groups—Round Table and Better Angels—are helping me to feel more engaged in a way that stretches beyond friendships and family. These groups are rebuilding the sense of community that I feel is missing not only in me, but also in American society. I am finding fellowship and this is rewarding because I believe I am engaging in a way that demands more of me and delivers more to me.

Rebuilding this sense of community may be the antidote we need for our distracted attention and lack of civil discourse.

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.

Being Busy vs. Being Productive

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 face time, 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.

Speaking Truth to Power

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.

Taking Ownership & Accountability

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.”

Leading Your Boss

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.