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.

Time Unattended

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.

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.

Changing Seasons

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.

A Timely Reminder

This morning’s daily post from Seth Godin is called Without Reservations. Here’s an excerpt:

“Yes” can mean, “yes, I’m prepared to do the minimum” or it could mean, “yes, this commitment is something I wholeheartedly embrace and will devote myself to exceeding expectations at every turn.”

Life’s way better if we find partnerships that are the second kind.

This message was perfect timing for me. I’m deliberating a lucrative job opportunity that may require a soul-sucking commute. I realized I’ve been evaluating whether I’m “prepared to do the minimum” which of course will only set me up for misery. After reading Godin’s post, I’m reframing to evaluate whether I can commit to this wholeheartedly. If so then the commute won’t even factor in because I’m so excited about the work, the people, the impact, and what we can build together.

The latter will lead to opportunities for rapture: being all-in, being fully present with the people and problems we’re solving, becoming vulnerable to others who are also all-in on the same mission, and living a life wide open.

Being a Winner Is…

They say that winners have mastered good habits like waking up early, reading, exercising, meditating, creating multiple revenue streams, staying disciplined, and blah blah blah. You’ve read these types of lists hundreds of times. However, the real way to be a winner is to decide what you want out of life, how your business or career can contribute towards your overall purpose and goal, and to then march forward. Some of the cliché habits above may end up being part of your keys to success, but just going through the motions doesn’t do anything if you don’t know what you’re going after. Winners know what they want and are living accordingly.

Keep It Light

Keep it light. Whatever is happening, it’s really not that important.

Making it heavy makes it heavy for everyone. Heavy sighs. Heavy words. Heavy thoughts and heavy heart. No question that those emotions are real, and the hardships of life are real; and we need to shoulder them bravely; and we should ask for help when we need it; and help others when they need it. But no need to overdo it. Overdoing it is just a way to get attention for ourselves, or feed our ego subconsciously. Heavy sighs and heavy words put more on the people around us. They have enough already.

In the grand scheme of the Universe, whatever we’re about to complain about just really isn’t that big of a deal. Whether it goes the way we want it to, or not, a hundred years from now it won’t even be a whit of a memory in anyone’s mind.

Keep it light.

Past 7 Days

I recently re-read an old post The Rapture of Being Alive and decided to capture moments of rapture from the past week. For me, experiences of rapture are more than just feel-good moments – they are experiences that open us up, they invite vulnerability, and they make us more freely available to others.

From the past 7 days…

I felt it with Michelle yesterday, as we got deep into conversation about kids and sports and cell phones and growing up.

I felt it Thursday on the Boulder Skyline Traverse hiking with Bart Foster and 40 other amazing business leaders / outdoor adventurists.

I felt it when I texted Dad about the Chaos Walking movie.

I felt it last weekend when Joe and Jack and I were climbing in Boulder Canyon.

I felt it with Quinn at the coffee shop this week, talking about the photography on the walls.

I felt it with Luca this morning, hiking up to the Royal Arch in Boulder, discussing career and friendship and spooky tales of haunted houses.

I felt it last week at lunch with the CFO/COO of the Colorado Mountain Club. Jacob shared some inspiring mountaineering stories, interspersed with business challenges they’re tackling at CMC.

I even felt it playing fetch with the dog, and tug-of-war with a rag.

These are older than 7 days…

I feel it on every exec hike with Geoff.

I feel it every time the Zen Mustache crew takes the stage for a performance. And any time we get together to play music, even if it’s just in the garage.

I felt it riding my bike on paths through the nature preserves south of Chicago.

I felt it camping by myself in the back of the truck, listening to insects chirping and the wind in the forest.

I felt it visiting the Field of Dreams in Iowa.

I felt it laying flooring at my parent’s house, crawling around on my knees, moving appliances, and listening to country music.

Looking at the list above, trying to extract what’s in common. It’s not about the specific activity. Seems that rapture comes from two places:

  • It’s about who I’m with and the openness of that relationship, or:
  • It’s about being open to the moment at hand and immersing completely in the experience – not worried about other things – so the focus is completely present.

Those are moments of rapture, and it turns out they are everywhere.

Burnout

My son, a college sophomore who is deeply entrenched in STEM classes this semester, called last week feeling overwhelmed. He had just finished the first part of a two-part physics exam, and felt crappy because he’d left 2 out of 4 questions completely blank, and wasn’t confident on the two he did answer. The second half was coming tomorrow, and he had so much studying to do; he just wasn’t getting the concepts. But he also had calculus homework due the next day (mostly completed over the weekend, but needed to be finished off), a computer science assignment due the following day, and some drawings for his technical drawing class. That was all just in the next two days. Plus his hourly work at the events center, practicing his music for weekly lessons, and his climbing team commitments. Somehow this was only week 4 of the semester. He was asking me, rhetorically, how he would ever be able to keep up?

Here was a perfect moment to lay on the wisdom, to bring my years of life experience into focus. Surely I could craft some insightful advice that would help my son in his moment of despair.

“That’s so hard. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this.”

That was basically the gist of my message. Yep, the editors of Parenting Magazine will be calling me any day now.

My son mentioned during our conversation that he wanted to find the right work life balance. That he had seen me working so hard and being terribly unhappy (prior to me finally making a peaceful transition out of my start-up company), and he knew he didn’t want that for himself. But he did want to work hard enough to feel good about his work, and he did want to build a responsible life for himself.

At one point during the conversation I told him something along the lines, “College is a different season of life than anything else you’ll have when you’re in the work force. College isn’t about work-life balance, it’s about work-work balance.” He laughed and said, Yeah it’s not about whether or not to get it done, it’s only about when and how to squeeze it all in, and with what level of effort.

This HBR article reinforces something many of us have already instilled in our lives: making time to recharge. It’s more than unplugging, or breaking the routine. Both the body and the brain need recovery time. Not just rest, but recovery. I’ve been out of the workforce for a little over two months, and I’m just beginning to feel recovered.

Reading this article makes me think it’s not about work-life balance, it’s about engaging in work that is meaningful to ourselves, and then doing things that truly recharge. In that model, we don’t really have an opportunity to burn out.

https://hbr.org/2016/06/resilience-is-about-how-you-recharge-not-how-you-endure?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=LinkedIn&tpcc=orgsocial_edit

A Parent’s Gift

“To trust who our child is, and not who we think he should be or what the world wants him to be – that perhaps is the single greatest gift a parent can give. Faith in our child’s destiny, in the destiny of her soul – that’s the one ingredient that will make the biggest difference in our parenting.”

– Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open

Colorado Trail Segment 2

I’ve been scoping out the Colorado Trail for many months with the idea of hiking & biking one segment at a time. This week I took my first steps toward completing the 486-mile CT as I tackled Segment 2. Now I know you’re asking, “What about Segment 1?” I chose to start with Segment 2 because among the segments nearest to Boulder, it’s the shortest (12 miles each way) with the least elevation gain (2,500 feet). It was a place to test myself and rediscover how well I function on bigger day-long outings. It’s been at least 7 years since I tried anything like this distance/elevation and I wasn’t sure what to expect from my body, which is not getting younger. Thankfully, all my parts held together. I took breaks, brought plenty of calories to maintain energy, and slowed down my pace to take pleasure in the experience. I was very tired by the end but I loved the whole thing: following an amazing trail through incredible changing scenery.

I started early, leaving Boulder at 5am and driving my truck to the other end of the trail (my turnaround point) arriving at dawn, with just enough light to find a hiding place in the woods to secure my mountain bike. With the bike stashed, I jumped back in the truck and navigated the dirt roads that took me to the start of Segment 2, located near the confluence of North and South forks of the South Platte River. I began hiking a little after 7am.

Conditions were HOT, above 90 degrees from 11am onward. I brought over 140 ounces of water (36 oz in a Nalgene bottle stashed with my bike at the turnaround point, so I didn’t have to carry all the water all the way). By day’s end I drank all but about 16 oz.

Large granite outcrop. It extend for about 1/3 mile. The trail curved to the right and traversed the top of the outcrop.

I don’t know if it was the time of year or that I was out there on a Wednesday but I saw virtually no one on the trail all day. In one sense it was invigorating to feel so alone and remote, but I was also found the experience startlingly eerie. Maybe I just need to get reacquainted with being alone in the wilderness. I saw one couple on their bikes at mile 8; one woman on her bike at my turn-around point at the Little Scraggy trailhead; and that was it for 5 hours hiking and 2 hours biking. At the very end, when I got back to my start point, I saw about a half dozen hikers in two separate parties who were just getting started on Segment 2. I believe trail magic is a real thing, but it requires other people and was not available this particular day.

This formation is called Chair Rocks. I had the views all to myself.
Stats
Sept 7, 2022East-to-West (hike)West-to-East (bike)
Distance11.7 miles11.7 miles
Elevation Gain2,564 feet806 feet
Moving Time4:382:05
Total Time5:052:14
Stats: CT Segment 2 — South Platte River Trailhead to Little Scraggy Trailhead
My field notes
Fire and Scars

In May 1996 a human-induced fire burned nearly 12,000 acres of the Pike National Forest, including most of the western half of Segment 2. The fire torched a campground that had been located here, and it dramatically changed the character of the landscape. Once a walk through a pleasant pine forest, today large sections of Segment 2 have expansive views, but no shade. Now 26 years later the forest still has a long way to go. These areas are revegetating with small grasses and plants, and I did see some new young pine trees in lower-lying places. I’m not a forester, but my guess is it’ll be at least another century before this place begins to feel like a forest again.

Burn scars remain from the fire 26 years ago.
What I Liked Best About Segment 2

Quartz Stones. One section of the trail passes an old quartz mine. Parts of the trail was littered with pink and white stones. Totally unexpected and beautiful.

This was a neat spot for a breather
Pretty
What I Liked Best: Close Runner-Up

Judy Gaskill Bridge. Segment 2 starts by crossing the south fork of the South Platte River. The bridge is a steel truss pedestrian bridge. Super cool. When I finally returned to my starting point, I enjoyed hanging out beneath the bridge splashing cold river water over face, neck, arms and legs. I felt mighty positive vibes emanating from this bridge.

Now that’s a way-cool bridge!
What I Liked Least About Segment 2

The trail itself is nearly 100% single-track, which sounds awesome for biking except the trail quality is very sandy and loose. Fine for hiking but more treacherous for biking. Even though most of the biking was downhill, it was not often comfortable because I was usually sliding in the loose dirt.

Loose trail. Sun coming up through the trees!
Biggest Learnings

Bring moleskin! Having this in my pack saved the day (or at least, saved my heel from a painful blister).

Slow down! Giving myself permission to take breaks, even on the bike ride, made a huge difference in the quality of my experience.

So, will I attempt another segment?

The romantic side of me says, Heck Yeah! That was amazing. The pragmatic side says, Heck No! That completely worked me. Between the heat, the distance, and the elevation, I’ll need at least a week to recover before attempting another segment. (wink)

Looking downhill toward the river
Blueberries! (I wasn’t brave enough to try them.)
Pink quartz
An old and abandoned quarry for pink quartz
Loads of this quartz are all along the eastern section of Segment 2
End of the bike ride. Glorious cool river water beneath the Judy Gaskill pedestrian bridge.
Colorado Trail Marker
No idea what these signs were warning me about.
Crossed these roads around mile 6 of the hike, but the roads are closed to nearly all vehicles.
(The signs look nice though.)
Chair Rocks. No real views of this cool rock formation except from the CT.
This was the approach to a neat rock outcrop. The tree center-left in the image protects a 4-ft wide gap between two giant boulders, and through the gap are great views of Chair Rocks.
Burned trees
This whole landscape was denuded after the 1996 fire.
More leftovers from the fire
Loose trail, but nice to see some green pines in the lower section of that valley.
My turn-around point. Little Scraggy marks the end of Segment 2 and the start of Segment 3.