Setting targets is important for teams. Yes, picking attainable yet stretch goals is important. Yet we’ve all heard it’s the journey, not the attainment of the goal, that brings fulfillment. The process itself has power. Why? I think it’s because of the bonds we create with other people in the pursuit of shared goals – those bonds are the magic that connect and fulfill us.
Paraphrasing a lesson from Oliver Burkeman
‘Smoothness’ (aka ease) of life is not a great target. The ‘roughness’ of life comes from places where we humans rub against each other. When we remove all the friction from life, we rob it of meaning because we remove the opportunity to interact with other people. Convenience leads to emptiness.
The smoother life gets, the more we feel like weirdos amongst each other. We never take the time to get to know each other, because technology takes away the need for us to interact. To make time for what matters, we need to give up things that make life easier. And that can feel radical and even misguided in a world that seems to value convenience and speed and efficiency.
I’m not recommending to throw away all your appliances or cutting up your credit cards to pay in person with cash. But maybe there are a few opportunities in your life. Going to a restaurant versus ordering food online. Working face-to-face versus all-day zoom meetings.
Employee: “Boss, I don’t understand why you want us to handle this customer issue that way.”
Good Boss: “Great question. It’ll take 10 min for me to explain. Please take notes so you/we can train others after today.”
Good Boss: “Great question. I have a meeting in 10 min that I need to prep for. Let’s schedule time later today or tmrw morning to go over this, because I want to make sure you’ve got it.”
Bad Boss: “I don’t know why this is so hard to understand?” Without another word, turns away from Employee, opens computer and sends a message directly to the customer. Then dismisses Employee saying, “There. Problem solved.”
Later, Bad Boss complains that Employee cannot solve problems on their own. Deeply frustrated, Bad Boss seeks to remove Employee.
—> The impact of such an exchange on Employee, Team, Culture, Company and especially the CUSTOMER feels so black and white to me. Interested in comments or thoughts. <—
Paraphrasing some insights from Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens:
Nietzsche said, if you have a why to live, you can bear almost any how.
Happiness is not the surplus of pleasant over unpleasant moments. Rather, happiness consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile.
A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.
Over the holidays I spent time in a developing country, and my observations matched Harari’s. I witnessed life, love, gratitude, singing, laughter, support, forgiveness, and a willingness to always be helpful, despite daily physical difficulties and challenging living conditions. Also despite virtually no prospect of seeing circumstances improve in this lifetime.
I returned to my home in Colorado looking around at my American lifestyle, truly an embarrassment of riches.
That’s why my intentions for 2023 have centered on seeing my life in its entirety as meaningful and valuable. All my work colleagues – past and present; all my family – first family, extended family, my life partner and my children; all my friends and acquaintances spread across the decades. You are my tribe, whether we are currently in contact or have fallen out of touch, and I enter 2023 grateful for what we have been to one another. I am excited for what is to come, liberated from my own expectations or preferences of how it ought to be, and ready to lean into the work and the play that makes it all a life worth living.
May we all prosper in the coming weeks, months, and year. Welcome 2023!
Hall Ranch Rock Garden
One night after work last summer, I joined my friend Leo for a mountain bike ride up Hall Ranch. Leo is a much stronger and more experienced rider than I am, but he’s also very kind and he never seems to mind riding with me even though he has to downshift several levels for us to stay together.
Unfortunately, the trailhead for the ‘easy’ route at Hall was full. To my chagrin, Leo suggested we head around to the main trailhead, which meant riding up (and down) the infamous Rock Garden.
I found myself battling fear. To understand why, go check that link above.
We rode up this technical section (frequently hike-a-bike for me) and then spent an hour on the beautiful flowing single track trail up on the mesa. Leo’s advice during the uphill and around the mesa was, “practice different skills even when you don’t need them.” He wanted me to develop experience and some muscle memory that could help later when I needed them.
I took Leo’s advice with a surprising result – I actually rode most of the way down! (Slowly!) And I did walk a few sections. But the real consequence of Leo’s guidance was increased confidence, satisfaction, enjoyment, and sense of accomplishment. That, and heavy use of the seat drop feature on my bike.
Bosses vs Teammates
People will work hard to avoid disappointing their boss, but they will do almost anything to avoid disappointing their teammates.
If you’re a leader, figure out how to help your team trust and hold each other accountable. It’s far more effective and fun.
Something I’ve learned though: I don’t get to have an arms length involvement. As the leader I need to be in the thick of it with the team, too.
When It’s Time To Replace It
A growing organization must evolve. The requirements we followed yesterday may not meet the demands of today. Generation 1.0 can sometimes support our needs by improving to 1.1 and 1.2, but at some point we outgrow our existing (infrastructure, org structure, people, systems, processes); then it’s time to move to 2.0.
I’m learning I have the most fun working with people who work hard and play fair, and also have the humility and awareness to be willing to set aside what we proudly built yesterday and replace it.
The Hard Work of the Leader
The team is perpetually trapped in the whirlwind of activities that are required to keep the business going. Customers must be responded to. Invoices must be paid or sent. Requirements must be written, communications created, broken stuff fixed or replaced. Work has to get done just to hold the business together in its current state.
To move forward, responsibility falls to leaders to help the team focus. The whirlwind is always present, so only a percentage of time is available for the strategic work that advances things. There will always be more good ideas than there is capacity to execute. Pushing forward on too many initiatives means they’ll all be done poorly. To advance, the organization must focus on one or two things and do them very well. That is the hard work of the leader. To choose.
Good leaders choose a direction and communicate clearly with the team, in the midst of the whirlwind, despite uncertainty.
Let It Take The Time It Takes
My daughter is the primary user of the sink in our upstairs bathroom. It became clogged with toothpaste and hair and god knows what else. Drain-O was no longer effective; the drain pipe and trap needed to be cleared.
This project fell into the Totally Annoying category. So many other things to do with my limited time. However, there was nothing for it.
The funny thing is, I actually enjoy fixing things and building things. I like working on my house and making stuff better. But when I feel my time is constrained, these projects become annoying and stressful. Why couldn’t this have become a problem last month when I wasn’t working?
Okay. Take a breath. Relax. This is the thing that is happening now. Forgot the right wrench in the garage? Walk back out to get it. Wow, it’s cold today but see the sky is brilliant blue. Need another tool to clear away the gunk inside the trap? Another walk to the garage, play with the dog for a minute, throw some snow for her to jump around crazily. One of the plastic pipes has cracked and need to get a part from the hardware store? Enjoy a walk with my daughter to the store a few blocks away, have a chat with the store clerk, feel connected to my neighborhood and community.
In the end, the project took about 2 1/2 hours. If I had rushed the project, feeling annoyed and stressed, I might have been able to complete it in 2 hours. That was the mental trap. When I let go of the other things I might have done and chose to invest my attention here, now – it made all the difference for my mental health. Slowing the pace and taking 30 extra minutes, it turned out to be a lovely day. I’m happy and proud of the work completed.
Let it take the time it takes.
This line from Mary Oliver’s poem has haunted me for years:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I used to read that and think, ‘I’ve only got one shot at this, I’d better get it right!’; ‘Am I doing it right?’ (lyric from a John Mayer song); ‘So many things to experience in this world – am I blowing my one opportunity at life?’
Focusing on time, and how I am spending it, is the trap. Worrying about the infinite things I was giving up by choosing the thing I was doing now … that’s what robbed me of enjoying the thing I was doing now.
It’s taken me almost 50 years to realize it doesn’t matter so much what I’m doing. Almost ironically, letting go of everything else – confronting my own finitude and accepting the reality that I will never be able to do everything – was the key. Choosing to be here now turns this moment’s experience, however exotic or mundane, into something worth paying attention to. It makes it possible to simply relax. It’s going just as it should, in the direction it should, at the pace it should.
The only way to waste our time is to let it slip by unattended.
Life is finite. We have to choose a few things, give up everything else, and deal with the inevitable sense of loss that results.
By the way for anyone interested, Oliver Burkeman digs deep into this topic in his book 4,000 Weeks. He’s much more eloquent than me and I recommend taking a look. He also has a series of audio recordings in Sam Harris’s Waking Up app. Book and series have both been helpful on my journey.
Never Done Before
To achieve a goal we’ve never achieved before, we must start doing things we’ve never done before.
A more empowering variation of the famous quote: The definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
I have a goal to complete an Ironman 70.3 triathlon in my 50’s. That’s going to require doing some new things, like giving my body plenty of time to recover after any long workout, including active recovery doing things like foam rolling. (Ouch!) Also physical therapy to strengthen my knees and loosen my hips, to avoid injury. And finally a barrage of core workouts, long boring swims in the lap pool during winter, and some dietary changes I still need to research.
Same goes for completing the Colorado Trail. It’s more solo time than I want to spend, so I’ll need to find a hiking buddy. And instead of jumping in the car when a last-minute hiking window opens up, I’ll need to plan ahead and coordinate.
I suppose there’s a choice here to just keep doing what I’ve been doing (which admittedly has been completely awesome … I am so fortunate!) and let go of those new goals. That doesn’t feel right, though. Even if those goals are never attained, the working-toward-them is rewarding all on its own.
Today I accepted a job offer. After four months of what some jealously dubbed my ‘life of leisure’, I’m headed back into the working world. I feel many mixed emotions, in part from agreeing to shoulder a new set of responsibilities. Laying down the burden of responsibility for multiple months created a special space – a space I’ve coveted – for other mental activity and rebuilding emotional resilience. I also grieve the loss of freedom now that my schedule won’t be entirely under my control. These past months I embraced the gift of time. I traveled out of state, completed home projects that required more than an hour or two, trained for and completed a triathlon, hiked a piece of the Colorado Trail, played a lot of music, did some volunteering. I’ve had more quality time with my daughter in four months than perhaps the entire previous year. When my son calls home from college I can pick up and chat with him, even if it’s the middle of a workday. I’ve been able to hike and bike in the beautiful Boulder mountains, avoiding the much more crowded weekends. Perhaps most potently, I’ve had time to simply relax, to sit, to journal, to meditate, to daydream, be bored, be alone, breathe. It’s been a period for my mind to disengage – not to stop or to take a vacation, but to soften and reconnect with the activities that are my unique blend of healthy mindfulness.
I will miss this time, but two truths are buoying my spirits.
First: I’ve observed there are seasons to our lives. As summer flows into autumn and autumn into winter, so do we flow from one chapter to the next. We live in a great river of change, and every day we’re given a choice: we can relax and float in the direction that the water flows, or we can swim hard against it. If we resist the river, we feel rankled and tired as we tread water, stuck in the same place. But if we relax and float with the river, the energy of a thousand mountain streams is with us, filling our hearts with courage and enthusiasm, even when we turn headfirst into the rapids.
Second: with seasons come cycles. I believe this is not the last time I will live a ‘life of leisure’. In fact, I negotiated and built in those expectations with my new employer – that they will get the best of me and I will help them accomplish a very big vision over the next 12-18 months, and once that mission is complete I will likely leave the company.
The world is filled with opportunity, and this particular job is not an opportunity I thought I wanted. I was (and in fact I still am) leaning heavily toward a future in which I serve clients as an independent. Call it consulting or contracting or fractional, but the work of an independent can touch many lives because it isn’t confined to a single company. And it offers the flexibility of lifestyle that I most desire. I am heading that direction.
So why take a full-time job if I want to be independent? Here is where the mystery and magic of the Universe humbles me. To be successful I’ll need a pipeline of potential clients. I don’t have that today and I’m starting from scratch. Building and maintaining pipeline requires investment and time. If I start today, it will take many month to build a client list, and during that time I need to resume an income, so I will inevitably take clients out of desperation that may not be a good fit for me.
Taking a new job, especially one that has a fixed time horizon, is an unbelievable benefit. This season of my professional life will sustain me financially, challenge me intellectually, and perhaps allow me to fill out some skill sets, all while I build a consulting network and pipeline that I can lean into in the future. This next chapter isn’t just about the job, it’s about the collection of activities across my life – within the job and outside the job.
One last thought before I close this post. As I mentioned I wasn’t looking for a job. This one landed in my lap very unexpectedly. The universe presented it, and each step of the process has been surprisingly frictionless. Everything has just flowed, from the interviews to the proposal I presented, to the salary and negotiation process. Where other opportunities in the past four months met resistance or unresponsiveness or other difficulties, this opportunity was like following a route where the lights are all green. I want to trust that. I choose to trust that. I trust that moving in this direction where life just seems to flow, where the green lights lead, is in fact the right direction. Perhaps for reasons I cannot see right now.
Inside my mind, I confess feelings of fear, uncertainty and doubt because my personal preferences don’t want to give up the freedom I’ve enjoyed for the past four months, yet I choose to trust this forward motion will continue to lead me on the path toward rapture.