The Science of Success

the science of successI gave in to the temptation earlier this week to make an impulse purchase in the grocery store check-out line, Time magazine’s special edition on the science of success. I read the issue cover-to-cover immediately thereafter. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the topics covered line up with books I’ve already read and covered in this blog! Some highlights:

  • Stellar CEOs tend to be utility players; they have a range of above average skills rather than a single standout ability. Beyond above average intelligence, they exhibit: self-compassion to overcome setbacks and stay on track; an ability to control their attention; a stellar work ethic; and, a growth mindset.
  • Highly accomplished people are paragons of perseverance. They work at their craft. They model ferocious determination.
  • There’s a clear link between healthy bodies and high achievement. Exercise activates the prefrontal cortex, increases attention and focus, builds confidence, improves mood, and relieves stress.
  • Successful people understand that “finishing strong” isn’t about catching up at the end of a race to make a respectable showing. It’s about consistently focusing and doing your absolute best at every moment, from start to finish.
  • Each individual has a distinctive biorhythm that dictates when they’ll have their peaks and valleys of energy. Know your type (i.e., lark or night owl), identify the tasks to be completed, and determine the right order in which to pursue them given varying energy levels throughout the day.
  • Failure is an essential element of success. We fail until we find the right answer or approach. If you live cautiously, you fail by default. Expect setbacks. Feel your failures and learn from them. Then move on to what’s next.
  • Luck favors the prepared.

The issue closes with the principles that have guided some of or highest achievers:

  • Jane Goodall, leading expert on chimpanzees, received this advice from her mother: “If you really want something and you work hard and you take advantage of opportunities – and you never, ever give up – you will find a way.”
  • Steve Jobs, microcomputer pioneer: “You’ve got to put something back into the flow of history… [so that] people will say, this person didn’t just have a passion; he cared about making something that other people could benefit from.”
  • Helen Keller, one of America’s most inspiration figures: “Resolve to keep happy… and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”
  • Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, advises us to exercise restraint and practice humility. “You can tell a guy to go to hell tomorrow – you don’t give up the right. So just keep your mouth shut today and see if you feel the same way tomorrow.”
  • Shonda Rhimes, entertainment mogul, stresses swagger. “We all have something about ourselves to brag about, something that is amazing or special or interesting… I say we need to start a bragging revolution.”
  • George Washington Carver, agricultural scientist: “It’s not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank that counts. These mean nothing. It is simply service that measure success.”
  • Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State: “Whenever my father saw that I had to take on something difficult or do something that I might not have confidence about, he would say, ‘Strike it.’ That was his version of ‘go for it.’ To me that meant you have to believe in yourself and go after what you want.”
  • Pablo Picasso, Spanish painter: “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”
  • Maya Angelou, Pulitzer-prize winning poet, took her grandmother’s advice to heart: “If the world puts you on a road you do not like, if you look ahead and do not want that destination which is being offered and you look behind and you do not want to return to your place of departure, step off the road. Build yourself a new path.”

Feng Shui: The Art of Placement

In traditional Chinese thought, a life force or chi animates all living creatures and inanimate objects. This vital energy flows through each organ and system of the body and is influenced by neighboring chi. The proper movement of chi and blood within the body achieve health and balance.

Ancient China provides a practice to harmonize an individual’s chi with its surrounding environment: feng shui. Terah Kathryn Collins has adapted this wisdom for folks like me in her book, The Western Guide to Feng Shui: Creating Balance, Harmony, and Prosperity in Your Environment.

When friends first introduced me to Terah’s work, I was intrigued, but skeptical. How could placement of objects in my home, garden, and workplace have any bearing on my health? Then again, how could it hurt?

Feng shui creates space for energy to flow. When space has too much stuff in it, the chi can’t move freely. And when stuff sits around and gets dusty and unkempt (reflecting disuse), the chi stagnates. The solution? De-clutter! (I can definitely get behind that… and not just for Spring cleaning!)

Once all the old junk is out of there, feng shui seeks to strike a balance between yin and yang energy in each space. Yin represents the feminine, soft, cool/dark, earthy energy. Its elements are curved, rounded, low, small, ornate, wide, horizontal, floral. Yang represents the masculine, hard, warm/light, ethereal energy. Its elements are straight, angular, high, large, plain, narrow, vertical, geometrical.

Feng shui also seeks a balance of five essential elements: earth, metal, water, wood, and fire. The elements may be represented themselves (e.g., logs in a fireplace), be a part of another object (e.g., wooden furniture), or be represented by another object (e.g., a work or art, or a mirror for water). These elements bear a relationship to one another that could be disrupted by imbalance. One of the ways I “balanced” the heat from our fireplace was to place a picture of a cool, snowy mountain scene above the mantel.
the five elements

When placing objects, each space (e.g., house, room, back yard) gets divided into 9 equal sections, or baguas. Each represents an essential are of one’s life. Objects placed in those areas draw attention to positive results that one hopes to achieve. For example, my garage occupies the lower right section of my house. Since I’d like some adventure in my life, I added travel posters to the garage walls. It makes me think of weekend getaways and proves to be far more appealing visually than blank walls.
the bagua map

When applied over the shape of a house or room, certain areas of the bagua may be missing or short-changed. That imbalance exerts a negative influence on that area of one’s life. To compensate, one either places an external anchor to “fill out” the square or amps up the associated baguas in other rooms. For example, if a house shortchanged the Love and Marriage bagua, one might place a bird feeder in the corner where the bagua would have come to fruition and place relevant photos of oneself and one’s mate in the Love and Marriage section of each room.

I followed the template when we moved to Oregon. At the time, the stock market had taken a nosedive, and we both needed jobs. So, I paid particular attention to the Wealth & Prosperity and Career baguas. Within months, our financial fortunes were moving in the right direction.

I’m still rather skeptical when in comes to conversations around the mystical aspects of feng shui. I’m far more pragmatic and down-to-earth than ethereal in my worldview. But I think there’s something to be said for intentionality in all areas of one’s life, and feng shui provides an outlet for its expression.

Terah’s book is chalk full of good information, concrete examples, and hints and tips for correcting imbalances and making the most of one’s living and work spaces. I refer to it periodically and find the content quite engaging.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2020As far back as the Babylonia Empire, human beings have been making agreements with themselves or their god(s) at the start of the new year. Some involved returning borrowed property. Some related to charitable or chivalrous behaviors that they intended to sustain. Moderns focus on self-improvement (e.g., eat healthy foods, lose weight, exercise more, quit smoking, improve finances, make career advances, be more spiritual.)

Studies show that despite our best intentions, we often fail to attain our stated goals. A 2007 study from the University of Bristol revealed an 88% failure rate among its 3,000 participants. A 2014 report from Australia showed a 66% failure rate. Typical reasons for getting off track include setting unrealistic goals, setting too many resolutions, failing to track progress, and forgetting about them entirely. Yet despite our poor track records, over 40% of us continue to make resolutions every year.

This topic struck a chord a year ago when I wrote about the top 10 mistakes people make when launching self-improvement initiatives. I’ve also written a couple of posts regarding the science of change management. (See The Psychology of Change and A Business Model for Change Management.) Here are a few quick pointers rooted in neuroscience:

  • Don’t wait for New Year’s Day to create the new you. Start your program as soon as you can make a bit of time to set realistic goals, define baby steps toward achievement, and hold yourself accountable by tracking progress toward your goal.
  • Recognize that will power is a limited resource. Don’t try to make too many changes all at once or amidst a particularly stressful period in your life.
  • Build in support systems that make it easy for you to stay the course. Enroll your family in your program. Get a friend to take the journey with you. Leverage professional help, where applicable (e.g., physicians, nutritionists, trainers, coaches).

Even knowing all of the foregoing, I still make a bit of a ritual out of the onset of a fresh calendar year. I start by making a detail list of the major accomplishments and events that transpired during the preceding year. (This task feeds into the authoring of our annual holiday letter!) I get a real sense of satisfaction looking at everything that my husband and I got done while reliving the joyful memories. I think about the ways in which I have grown over the past year. And I compare this year’s list with last year’s version to note material changes or trends.

With the results of those exercises in hand, I visualize where I’d like to be when another year has rolled by. I come up with lists of things I’d like to accomplish, experiences I’d like to have, things I’d like to learn, and areas in which I’d like to grow. These lists become my monthly guideposts as I plan activities throughout the year.

I’ve read compelling research that argues for the efficacy of translating such lists into actionable, measurable goals. But I’m at a stage in my life where I don’t feel compelled to put myself on that kind of program. Rather, I let my general inclinations set the course and give myself the freedom to simply enjoy the ride.

Merry Christmas!

A few years ago, I got up a head of steam and digitize ALL of the old family photos. There were hundreds of 35mm slides and an even greater number of prints. Thanks to the miracle of PhotoShop, I was able to restore the color to a lot of photos and correct some defects that had crept in… but it was major undertaking!

As I sifted through the photos, I was struck by how many pictures we had of the family sitting at the dinner table awaiting the serving of a holiday meal. There were dozens of them with the same faces and very nearly the same seating assignments. But for my brother and I aging through the years, you could hardly tell which picture went with which holiday or year!

christmas dinner

I love looking at the old photos and remembering the rituals that accompanied our preparations for the holiday feast:

  • Mom bought San Francisco sourdough French bread a week before the big day so that it could be dried out and made into breadcrumbs
  • Dad worked the meat grinder the night before Christmas as my brother and I took turns placing the ground pork, bread crumbs, onion, celery, and parsley into the funnel. That mixture would merge with a pound of butter on the stove top and be stuffed inside the turkey the following morning.
  • Mom made homemade cranberry jelly and a cranberry jello mold. (Yep – we all ate jello molds back in the day… and Mom’s version was pretty good!)
  • We got up early on Christmas Day to stuff the turkey and get it into the oven. Dad always insisted that we clean the kitchen thereafter.
  • Mom made the creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, and gravy to go with the rest of the fixings.
  • We had pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert.

Once I married and set up my own household, the Christmas feast moved to our place with Dad and Mom taking control of our kitchen to prepare the traditional meal. Spike’s family joined in the fun with gratitude for the delicious food and the break from cooking and cleaning up. I still helped out, but Dad and Mom were the chefs extraordinaire.

I’ve always meant to carry on the tradition once my parents turned in their aprons. But my packed schedule combined with the magnitude of the task have conspired against me. Besides, it has been so much easier being a guest at my folks’ continuing care community. The food is delicious, and someone else does all the work.

I’m a bit melancholy this year with the realization that my mother, brother, and I are the only ones left from all those years of family Christmases. I’m grateful to have lived near the extended family and had the opportunity to share holidays with them. I grateful for having parents who knew how to make those days really special. And I’m grateful for all those photos that captured the merriment… even when I looked like a total dork!

Here’s hoping you have a delightful holiday fill with joy, laughter, and memories that will last a lifetime.

Take Time for Self-Care

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about slowing down with a nod to Cheryl Richardson’s short essay on the benefits of boredom. That message still resonates loudly for me. Having just come through 2 straight weekends of performances (and all the rehearsals that go with them), I feel an intense craving for down time. Unfortunately, I still have a packed holiday schedule, so I may not satisfy my craving for a little while.

I’ve been thinking a good deal about what happens when my schedule gets congested. Chief among the outcomes is the noticeable absence of healthy self-care rituals:

  • rushingI didn’t make it to any of my yoga/taichi classes last weeks (and could sense how much my body tightened up as a result!)
  • I didn’t make it to the gym. Not even once!
  • I didn’t prepare my usual complement of healthy meals and had an unusual craving for salty, sweet, fattening offerings. Yep – comfort food was screaming my name!
  • I got home late several nights and was so wound up that I had trouble sleeping.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that these lapses are not good for my body or my immune system. And it’s an especially difficult time of year to put myself under this kind of strain given all the germs that are flying around. No wonder I’m feeling under the weather today!

We live in a culture that venerates hard-charging “warriors” who’s active in all kinds of things and gets lots of thing done. We look up to leaders who carry substantive responsibility for the world, their organizations, their people, and themselves. I like being someone who can run with the “big dogs” and carry a big load. And yet I recognize the toll that it takes … and I have had that flash of insight many, many times over the years! It’s time I either lighten the load or get others to help me carry it.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m incredibly blessed to have all of the wonderful opportunities that have come into my life. I love being active; I relish the relationships that come with membership in my various groups. It’s just long past time that I practiced moderation and delegation.

One of the side benefits of following a predominantly whole food plant-based diet is all the time spent in the kitchen chopping, slicing, dicing, and cooking. It forces me to step away from the hustle-bustle of life – generally with my husband as Sous-Chef – where I’m in a somewhat meditative state while basking in the aromas that waft through the air. It just takes a little bit of planning and a commitment to my role as Head Chef. And, of course, I get great food in that bargain.

Perhaps I should follow the sage advice of personal coaches everywhere – put self-care on my calendar and declare that time sacrosanct!

8 Guiding Principles Behind My Career Choices

While winding down a career that I’ve pursued for the past few decades, I’ve had occasion to reflect on my journey. My thoughts have found their way into a set of blog posts that I’ve authored this Fall. I’ll be adding to that collection today.

go this wayAs noted previously, I’ve had an unconventional career path… at least relative to the trajectories that my parents’ generation pursued. (My uncle worked for the same company for 43½ years before retiring at 65!) While some of my decision points were foist upon me by corporate upheavals and geographic moves, I can look back and see a few patterns that guided my choices.

ONE: I had a very good handle on our household finances and made sure that our income was sufficient to fund our lifestyle. I never wanted money to be the overarching factor in my job choices. To my way of thinking, all of the money in the world wouldn’t be helpful if my day-to-day experience proved miserable. Fortunately, my husband and I were on the same page. We adjusted our spending as needed to ensure that our respective work lives were fulfilling and reasonably pleasant.

TWO: I made sure that I worked with good people. Working relationships played a major role in my professional happiness as well as the quality of my work. I’ve had several occasions where I’ve gutted it out and worked with difficult folks. But such stints were short-lived. I generally maneuvered my way into circumstances where I both respected and liked the people with whom I worked.

THREE: I worked within or with organizations that operated in integrity. Not all of them managed to live into their stated goals consistently. But I needed to feel that they made the effort to attain high standards of conduct with their partners, suppliers, customers, employees, and regulatory agencies. When I sensed a fundamental disconnect between stated policies and behaviors, I opted to move to a different environment.

FOUR: I thrived in learning environments where I felt challenged to stretch my capabilities. I’ve often said that I could have been a professional student if someone paid me to attend classes. I find lots of things fascinating. There are few things that are better than taking classes from passionate professors who love their subject matter and open new avenues of knowledge for me. I suppose that’s why consulting has always suited me well. Each assignment brings new challenges, and the range of industries that I’ve covered made me feel as though I’d taken a series of “field trips.”

FIVE: I chose positions that were aligned with my personal preferences. Chief among those preferences was my desire to do the work rather than manage people who do it. When push comes to shove, I can serve as an able manager and delegator, but I don’t enjoy those roles as much as being in the trenches. That’s another reason why consulting proved to be a good fit for me.

SIX: I was attentive to building and perfecting marketable skills that would enable me to secure employment readily. I’ve stayed current on the technologies pertinent to my industry as well as those that fuel marketing, collaboration, and customer support. And I’ve also worked on the fundamentals – leadership, communications, project management, change management, writing, etc. It’s a pragmatic approach to career management… and an outgrowth of being the daughter of Depression Era parents.

SEVEN: I opted for flexibility on work hours as much as possible. To be sure, I’ve needed to accommodate other people’s schedules, commitments, and deadlines. But I’ve also had a great deal of freedom to attend to personal responsibilities – e.g., “The plumber will arrive at your home sometime between 9 and 4 on Tuesday.” I’ve been able to pick the times of day when I’m most productive or inspired. My home office was a BIG help… although a bit lonely for this highly extroverted person!

EIGHT: I made adjustments to balance my personal and professional interests. My home life takes precedence over all professional aspirations. I’m far prouder of my blissful 36-years-and-counting marriage than I am of anything that I’ve achieved in my career. But I also have artistic sensibilities for which I’ve needed breathing room to express.

Slow Down!

Nearly 20 years ago, seven other ladies joined me in a year-long discussion group centered on Cheryl Richardson’s Life Makeovers: 52 Practical & Inspiring Ways to Improve Your Life One Week at a Time. Each week’s reading includes a short essay, a Take Action challenge, and a list of resources for further study. It’s a manageable way to effect change in your life even if your schedule is as congested as mine always seems to be.

Our little group was cobbled together by pairings of associations. We each knew at least one other person in the group, but we met others for the first time at our first luncheon. Within six months, we’d formed a tight-knit association that provided a solid base of support as we each experienced substantive life changes. It has remained intact over the years despite a scattering across the country.

This year, I decided to go through the weekly lessons one last time on my own before sending it off to the library resale store. (I’m gradually thinning out my bookshelves as part of my long-term downsizing effort.) Most of the lifestyle adjustments she recommends have been integrated into my life. Some are active long-term projects. And some stubbornly refuse to yield to her good advice.

slow downAs a case in point, I just finished reading the chapter entitled “The Benefits of Boredom.” She notes that in an adrenaline-fueled society, it can be really challenging to slow down and do nothing – especially if you’re someone who has become inured to being on-the-go all the time. Sitting still and doing nothing can be really uncomfortable. And yet it’s that quiet time that promotes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

I’ve written posts previously on the deleterious effects of sustained stress on the body. I’ve also written several posts on the positive impact of a regular practice of meditation. I understand intellectually why it’s not helping me to operate with such a congested calendar all the time. I really notice it when I’m in the thick of an overbooked schedule and make promises to not let myself get caught up in it again. And yet, I find myself in that position repeatedly. A good friend has told me that she’s going to partner with my husband and call for an “intervention.”

Clearly, I don’t like the do-nothing feeling. That’s why I’ve had such difficulty settling into a meditation practice even though I know it would be good for me. But my circumstances also arise as a function of excitement over opportunities that present themselves. For example, I’m presently singing in two choirs and have a small role in a musical theater production… on top of work, parent care, book group, entertaining, and the usual household responsibilities. But I’d kick myself if I didn’t take advantage of them while I’ve got the energy and resources to do so.

That being said, life managed to give me a wake-up call last week. I received a traffic citation by mail for exceeding the speed limit in downtown Beaverton. In fairness, I didn’t realize that the 4-lane road on which I drive repeatedly has variable speed limits depending upon one’s proximity to the main downtown area. (Lesson learned!) But the message that I’m rushing around entirely too much has gotten through loud and clear. It’s time for me to take a step back and make more intelligent decisions regarding how I spend my time.

In truth, I have plenty of time for self-care and quiet contemplation if I would just pay closer attention to how I spend it. I can say “no” to things that are low priorities. I can watch less television. I can put placeholders in my calendar for soul-nourishing activities for which I do not feel rushed in their pursuit. I can pace myself with respect to performing arts opportunities so that I’m not booked solid in the evening. And I can opt for activities that might be fun for my husband and I to enjoy together… now that he is retired!

The holiday season brings both joy and a bit of craziness to most of our lives. This year, I’m giving myself the gift of peace and a promise to take things a little easier next year.

A Healing Balm for the Holidays

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the day on which the holidays officially begin. (Yep – I ignored the Christmas decorations that were already going up in October!) We’ll spend time with my mother at her Memory Care facility and enjoy a (small) bite to eat while we watch a DVD together. Then we’ll share a meal with friends who were gracious enough to include us in their family gathering.

I’ll confess that I’m having trouble putting myself in an appropriately thankful spirit. On a conscious level, I am well aware of the many blessings in my life, not the least of which are family, friends, purposeful work, and the good health and resources to enjoy them. However, I’m overbooked for the umpteenth time in my life and wonder how I’ll get myself through the next few months. I can’t scan the headlines without getting a knot in my stomach.

As I was flipping through an old notebook in search of inspiration for this week’s post, I came across a poem that I first read in high school. It is timeless and good medicine for what ails me… and perhaps you, too.

Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

peaceful gardenGo placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

What Do You Want To Do?

I’ve written several posts recently that speak to transitions in one’s professional life – including the transition to full- or partial-retirement. My latest guidepost in this line of inquiry is Dorothy Cantor’s book, What Do You Want to Do When You Grow Up: Starting the Next Chapter of Your Life. Ms. Cantor comes to this subject as a counselor who has worked with lots of folks in their forties through mid-sixties, and her book provides ample case studies to illustrate her main points.

 what do i want to doThe book starts by identifying the six dimensions of adult well-being: (i) self-acceptance – i.e., being at peace within oneself and one’s life journey; (ii) positive relations with other people; (iii) autonomy – i.e., thinking and acting based on one’s own sensibilities and moral compass, not in response to peer pressure, (iv) environmental mastery – i.e., competence in managing one’s life; (v) purpose in life; and, (vi) personal growth – i.e., changing in ways that reflect greater self-knowledge and effectiveness. The author believes most older adults fare well in the first four dimensions but may falter in the latter two once they leave the workforce.

The book guides the reader through a series of exercises to provide clues to fruitful avenues of exploration in the future. Key questions include:

  • What captivated your attention and colored your daily life from childhood through your school years?
  • What became your strongest, most useful asset(s) in adulthood? What did you enjoy? What did you love? Hate? Where did you display mastery? Less than stellar competency?
  • What good things came out of your professional life? (List 15 or more.)
  • What gets your juices flowing these days?

As you reflect on your responses, possibilities for future action may start to emerge. These opportunities can be evaluated through the dual vantage points of Motivators (i.e., what I want and what I need) and Activators (i.e., how I’ll get there):

The Motivators (Wants/Needs)

The Activators

Identity: Complete the phrase “I am a _______” with as many descriptors as resonate for you.

Intellectual activity to stimulate the mind

Physical activity to sustain health

Spiritual attention to the extent that it provides personal sustenance

Friendships

Family attachments

Applause and recognition to the extent that external rewards matter

Generative efforts to pass along one’s knowledge, experience, skills, and talents

Preferred level of activity

Risk tolerance

Making choices that are true to oneself

Initiating action (a.k.a., being a self-starter)

Setting reasonable goals (challenging yet attainable)

Proceeding independently

Overcoming obstacles

Changing courses as the need arises

Striking a balance between work and play, solitary and communal efforts, family and friends, etc.

Following through

Experiencing a sense of achievement

Finding pleasure in one’s endeavors

However much planning one might undertake in advance of retirement, the author identifies three distinct phases of activity:

  1. The Honeymoon during which the individual simply revels in the break from routine that has been followed for years on end. It might include taking all those trips for which one never previously had time. It might include taking care of all those household projects that have been languishing on a “To Do List.” And it might include a lot of lazing around and simply enjoying life!
  2. Testing New Waters during which the individual explores new terrain. Be curious. Gather information. Find people with whom to play or get assistance. Proceed by trial and error. Find a role model or mentor to encourage and inform you along the way. Follow your heart. And don’t berate yourself if an activity doesn’t turn out to be your cup of tea.
  3. The Second Wind during which you learn to set your expectations and efforts to sustainable levels as you move forward. Let the goals be “to try new things” without worrying much about success. You don’t have to be great at everything you enjoy. Be content with “good enough” if that’s where things wind up. Combat resistance to large endeavors by taking small steps toward the larger goal. Just do it!

The author’s final piece of advice: “As you write the best story for the rest of your life, designing days that keep you growing and infuse you with an excellent sense of well-being, never forget to look for the fun in it all.”

My Football Stadium of Relationships

I was never much into football in my youth. But when I joined a co-ed, intramural flag football team in college, I got totally hooked. All of a sudden, the Saturday collegiate and Sunday professional games made sense. In fact, during the first 25 years of our marriage, my husband and I were glued to the tube on Sundays watching football while eating mass quantities of popcorn. Those were the days!

So, when I started thinking about all of the relationships in my life, it was easy for me to think about them in the context of a football stadium and all the action that takes place on the field.

My “teammates” represent the most important relationships in my life. They’re the folks who’re on the field figuring out how we’ll reach our goals and doing the work to get there. They show up week-after-week, ready-to-go in all kinds of weather. We rejoice together when we make progress toward our goals. We keep one another motivated when we have set-backs. We pick one another up when we fall. And we don’t care how much mud we accumulate in the process.

I cannot do anything meaningful, challenging, risky, or great without “teammates.” And I can’t imagine relishing life as much as I do without them.

The “opposing team” might include challengers or challenges that we intentionally place on the field to stretch ourselves and perfect our skills and strategies. They might include “teammates” who temporarily fill that role to help us become better prepared to address the real thing. And they might include adversaries and adversities that we hadn’t anticipated and for which we need effective responses.

Opposition is not a bad thing. It creates opportunities to expand our horizons while making us smarter, stronger, more experienced, and more vibrantly alive. It also encourages us to deepen connection with our teammates.

My “coaches” are experienced teachers, trainers, observers, and subject matter experts who’ve played the game and know how succeed. They may excel at strategy, individual training, team building, or all of the above. They are passionately committed to crossing the goal line yet retain the professional detachment to render objective assessments and advice.

Having a coach is not a sign of weakness. It’s an indication that you take the game seriously and want to give yourself the right tools, training, and level-headed counsel to succeed.

In life and on the field, you need to be as adept at playing offense as you do defense. You may wind up having slightly different teammates and coaches to attain mastery in both disciplines. And these “rosters” will likely change many times over the course of lifetime.

Changes in lifestyles, circumstances, goals, shared interests, etc. have a ripple effect on everyone’s lives. If you’re lucky, a precious few will sustain key roles in your life over the years. Yet, you’ll always need to be engaged in community to attract people into your stadium (and be open to entering theirs!)

Everyone else hangs out somewhere in the stands. Some serve as a cheering squad to provide loads of encouragement during the game of life. Some occupy close-in seats so that they can keep a close watch on the action. Some sit farther afield and pay attention from time to time. Others sit in the end zone up in the second tier and spend most of their time talking to their friends while eating and drinking. They may plug in when something noteworthy occurs.

We all make varying investments in the people in our lives. And we all implicitly set expectations for how we expect folks to show up for us. We need to discern accurately where folks “choose their seats” in our stadiums and set our expectations accordingly. As such, we won’t work ourselves into a lather if someone doesn’t notice what’s happening on the field if they’ve opted to sit in the nosebleed seats and drink beer. Just bless them for showing up!

I reserve the right to deny access to my stadium. I’m good to go with constructive opposition that serves a useful purpose for all concerned. But I’ve come to a place in my life where I don’t need relationships that are chronically and incorrigibly negative. That’s my definition of a lose-lose proposition. And why go there?

As you look at your stadium of life, do you have all of the people you’d like to fill the positions you have available? If not, what are you prepared to do about it?