Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tell Me, What Scares You?

As I write this article from the extreme comfort of my couch, I am 184 days – exactly 6 months - away from my next adventure.  My next adventure will begin in San Francisco and end in San Diego.  I’ll be riding my bicycle 620 miles between the two cities.  I’m doing this for two reasons; one reason is about me and one reason is about other people.

First, the other people.  I’ll be raising money for The Challenged Athletes Foundation and Operation Rebound.  You can read more about them here.  I know there are a million non profit organizations out there, and I used to really struggle about which ones to support. Then I just decided to pick a few that align with my philosophies about life.  Challenged Athletes does that, because they focus on helping people use athletics and racing to transform their lives.  They are all about overcoming obstacles and inspiring others. Their tagline is “Changing Lives, One Athlete at a Time.”  Operation Rebound is their specific program focused on helping our veterans.  I feel good about supporting these groups, and I feel positive about using my energy to raise money for them.

The second reason is more about me.  I know from the research about motivation that some people are motivated by things they want to avoid, while others are motivated by things they want to pursue.  I am both.  I want to avoid becoming a lazy complacent couch potato.  I want to become someone who has fabulous and fun adventures.  I want to create unique experiences and fabulous memories.  Really what I want is to sit in my rocking chair when I’m 80 and tell some great stories about the epic adventures I had when I was younger.  I want to think back on my well lived life.  Riding my bike 620 miles down the California coastline sounds like a great way to spend a week of my life and it sounds like a great story to talk about when I’m in that rocking chair. 

In my experience, adventures are inextricably connected with personal growth.  When we embark on adventure in our life, we embark on the hero’s journey.  Joseph Campbell is the preeminent expert on the classical elements of the hero’s journey – if you are curious you can read all about him and his research here on Wikipedia.  

What I take away from his research and writing is that each of us has a responsibility in life to find and express our truest, deepest selves.  It is up to each of us to discover who we are, and follow our bliss.  As Campbell summarizes:

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

From this perspective, the purpose of every journey is to shed the old patterns, the old ways of being in our life, so we may become more of who we truly are.  In essence, we must journey away from the typical status quo of our daily life, in order to explore deeper into our own true selves.  Adventure helps us gain perspective on our daily life and on the deepest elements of our own character.  Journeys help us figure out who we truly are.  

“The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”

We cannot grow if we stay on the safety of the couch all day.  We cannot experience the world from behind the television or the computer screen.  We must go out and experience our own growth, we must create the meaning we want in our life.  Beginning any sort of adventure will assuredly trigger insights, growth and change. 

“We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”

There is a lot that is troubling about the world right now.  There is a lot about the world I cannot change.  But there are many things I can change, and there are actions I can take.  What I want to do is create awesome memorable joyful experiences that make me smile.  Because when I am smiling I can share that joy with others.  When I am inspired, I can inspire others.  Less fear, more joy – that would be a great bumper sticker. 

When I think about embarking on this 620 mile bike ride that is only six months away, I feel a pang of panic in the pit of my stomach.  I am panicked because of all the training I will need to do, I am panicked because of the time I will need to commit.  I don’t know anyone else doing the ride, I have no idea what the weather will be like, I don’t know how hard the hills will be or how much my body will hurt. I don't even know if my body will hold up.  620 miles is a long way.  There is so much I don’t know about what lies ahead and the unknowing is what makes me nervous.

That is also what makes me excited.  Because it is exactly that fear that tells me I’m doing the right thing.  I need something that scares me in order to grow.  I don’t need a truckload of fear, I don’t need to be paralyzed, and I don’t need to be overwhelmed.  But I do need to be stretched beyond what is comfortable.  I want to live to the edges of my life, because the edges are where I feel most alive.

We all need this.  We all need something that scares us a little.  Not a lot, but a little.  We need something that will pull us away from the television and the computer, out into the world, out into our own adventures. 

I believe we are all heroes.  And every hero needs an adventure.  Your adventure might be raising your children or starting a new business or planning your retirement.  You might be scared to apply for a new job or a new promotion. I don’t know what your adventure might be, but I guarantee if you listen to your body and pay attention to when your stomach knots up, you will figure it out. 

When you get that feeling of panic in your stomach, stop and listen.  Listen to what scares you and listen to what excites you.  Listen to what grabs your attention.  Listen for where the edges are.  Lean into the edges, peer over the cliff.  There is a vast territory out there beyond the borders of your comfort zone.  Exploring that territory is what being a hero is all about. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Who Do You Really Work For?

For my day job that pays the bills, I work in a large corporation.  We have 12,000 employees in our Tucson location.  That’s a lot of people.  We have our own fire department and everything.  Since I work on a lot of different projects in many different departments, I am constantly meeting new people.  One of the most common questions I get asked when meeting new people is:  Who do you work for? 

I always pause a couple seconds at this question, because the question doesn’t really make sense to me.  I want to give the most obvious answer: I work for me. 

But that’s not what people are really asking and that’s not how I respond.  What they are really asking is two things:  Where do I fit into the organization structure?  And secondly, how high in the organization do I report?  Because in a large corporate environment, people want to know your position, your title, and more importantly – who your boss is.  They want to know these things so they can figure out how important you are, how much time they should give you, and whether they should listen to what you have to say. 

I can’t tell you how many people new people ask me who my boss is.  And this just makes me crazy sometimes.  I realize this information matters to them – because hierarchy and bosses matters to people who value positional power.

I don’t really value positional power as much as I value other things.  Yes, I respect authority and direction and alignment, and all that jazz.  I am not a wild independent maverick going crazy all over the workplace. 

But I really value who a person is and what they can contribute, more than I value their title and their position in the hierarchy.   I develop and maintain relationships with coworkers whom I respect and value, regardless of their rank or position in the organization.  For many of my closest friends, I really don’t always know who they report to.  That doesn’t matter to me.  What matters is if they have integrity and if they follow through on what they say.  I care about people who are sincere and can be trusted and are authentic.  And I don’t stop caring about them if they get demoted or fired or they retire. 

Positional power is temporary and one dimensional and shallow.  Genuine power is a reflection of who a person is in ALL areas of their life.   Genuine influence comes from people who are self aware and make intentional choices in their life.  Genuine power is independent of job title.

When I am asked who I work for – I want to answer that I work for myself and I work for my customers.  Because my customers are who matter to me, and I believe it is my job to figure out how to provide value to my customers.    

I suspect that people who believe they work for themselves or their customers are more likely to demonstrate initiative and innovation in the workplace.  This would be interesting to research, to dig deeper into motivation and loyalty, to compare different workplace environments and mindsets about hierarchies. 

This reminds me of the story of the bricklayers:

The story goes, that three bricklayers were working side by side. When asked, "What are you doing?", the first bricklayer replied:

"I'm laying bricks."  The second bricklayer was asked. He answered,

"Feeding my family."

The third bricklayer when asked the question, "What are you doing?", responded,
"I'm building a cathedral."

Perhaps someone should have also asked the three bricklayers who they work for.  I bet all three would have given different answers.

In any case, I’m curious about you, and who you think you work for.  Do you work for your boss, or the person who signs your paycheck?  Do you work for your customers?  Do you have days when you believe you work for yourself?  Do you have a desire to work for yourself?  Do you think it's possible to work for yourself within a larger organization? Think about these questions and let me know.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What You Can Learn About Life From Your Muscles

Everyone I know wants to have strong muscles, but not everyone wants to do the work to build them. A muscle will wither from neglect – it needs nutrients to function well. A muscle will get stronger with training, but you need to train it regularly. At the risk of carrying a metaphor too far, here’s a few lessons we can learn from our muscles.

1. The more frequently you practice good habits, the more ingrained they become. If you lift weights once a month, you won’t make much improvement in the strength category. But if you lift weights three or four times a week, you will get stronger. The more often you do something, the faster you will improve. Sporadic effort won’t generate good results. Therefore, commit to weightlifting 3 times a week. Don’t just commit. Act. The beautiful thing about weightlifting is that if you do it, you will physically see results. There is a significant feedback loop in action here and positive feedback is a powerful motivator. In life, you need to practice good habits regularly and frequently in order to see results.

2. The more strength you build up, the more capacity you have. This sounds pretty darned obvious, but I just want to point out you can’t pick up 250 pounds of weights without sufficient muscles. You can’t just snap your fingers and have a new career or a new relationship. You need to build up the capacity to achieve what you want in life. You need a support system and enablers to the life you want to create. Similarly, muscles are enablers to other activities, and they provide the support system to your bones. Your bones might do the heavy lifting, but without your muscles, they won’t work right. Every successful life has a support system, so make sure you are creating a strong one.

3. You can't start out lifting 300 lbs - you have to work up to it. Start small and don’t expect you’ll be the strongest person in the gym. Better yet, don’t even compare yourself to anyone else at the gym. When you are a beginner, you can’t do anything other than start where you are. If you want to lift 300 pounds, but you can only lift 120 today, then start by lifting 120. You don’t start out with 300 lbs, you work your way up to it. This is relevant because in life, we need to have appropriate expectations. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t dream, it just means that you shouldn’t quit your job if you have no money in the bank and no new job prospects. If you lift too much weight too soon, you will get injured and then you’ll be sidelined. Life is the same way – if you bite off too much too soon, you will crash and burn. Put together a plan to get to 300 lbs, and follow that plan. But don’t try to lift 300 lbs on day one. That won’t work and life doesn’t work that way. Figure out the goal and then put together your plan. Change doesn’t happen overnight and muscles don’t grow overnight.

4. You get stronger when you rest. Yes it’s true, your muscles repair themselves INBETWEEN workouts. The workout creates the muscles tears that repair themselves when you rest. You cannot workout continually without rest because that causes illness and injury. The strongest people I know are skilled at recovery and recuperation and they value this aspect of their life. The smartest people know that interval training is incredibly effective. Effort + rest = gain. Enjoy your rest and know that you’re getting stronger even while you sleep.

What else can you add to this list? How else can we extend this metaphor? I’d love to hear your thoughts…