Monday, December 31, 2007

NYC to DC Co-Pilot: Zig Ziglar

I just did the DC to NYC drive for the holidays and finally tried books on tape (CD). I went to my local library and looked around for something that was non-fiction and not too long. Since I've been into personal development books, I picked up a copy of Zig Ziglar's "How To Be a Winner".

I had seen quotes from Zig Ziglar before and the title definitely caught my eye, but something about renting these tapes made me feel a bit silly (...aren't I already a winner?? ...and who are the other weirdos listening to this??). I put aside the small naysayers in my head and tossed it in the car for the return trip to DC when I'd be driving solo.

His stories kept me entertained and did a good job reminding me how important a positive attitude is to being successful and feeling good about where you're going. Zig's quote:
"Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude."
As I learn more about success in business and in life, I find that this is increasingly true. What's surprising is that the idea of having the right attitude is hardly mentioned in the many years of our "aptitude-based" schooling. Don't you wish you had learned more "life stuff" in school or growing up? Where/when did you learn some of your more important lessons about life and success? Please comment!

Other reminders from Zig:
  • Motivation (positive attitude) isn't permanent - like eating and bathing, we have to make sure we do it everyday (we can all practice having a more positive attitude in our daily lives).
  • Positive thinking won't help you do everything (we can't all be pro baseball players, no matter how awesome our attitude is) but it will help you do things better than negative thinking will. (Why not think positively if it can only make you more successful?)
  • To develop a winning attitude, first you have to decide that you want it, then make a commitment to it, and find training/guidance to fully develop it.
A lot of people think motivational tapes are hokey. They are. But if they remind you to be a better person and keep a good attitude, it can only be a positive influence. I believe it's better to fill your mind with things that may inspire or challenge you instead of listening to the same Alicia Keys song over and over again on the radio.

You don't have to tell all your friends, you can just do it for yourself. Give it a shot next time you've got a solo trip planned and need an interesting co-pilot.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Pause for Reflection

I ran across this on YouTube and thought I'd share it. It's a great reminder of all the stuff we intuitively know about life, but sometimes forget as we're running through our busy day.

I'm not familiar with the coach who put it together and the plug at the end is a bit much, but the content and delivery were good for reflection. And I guess it motivated and inspired me to blog about it, so I guess it was a success!
  • What songs, vistas, or quotes inspire you?

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Unbearable Lightness of Late-December

Today I bought a new daily planner for 2008. This isn't interesting on it's own, but what is interesting is that, as an overachiever, it's unprecedented for me to not have next month already scheduled and overbooked.

My plans are usually penciled in at least a month ahead of time, with future To-Do lists already in place for certain days. But here we are, on December 23 (!), and January still feels far away. Where most months bleed into each other, the leap from December to January feels different. There's something about the new year that creates a momentary pause in our hectic lives.

We can attribute a lot of this to the break we get during the last week of December. Our attitude (for better or worse) is either "Let's finish it before the holidays," or "We can worry about that in the new year." It means that the mental space we reserve for daily fire-fighting is suddenly clutter-free for the week. Without the pressures of having to get things done, study for finals, or endure meeting after meeting, we feel a bit lighter. With this, we begin to think about "what could be" and what new things we want to see or create in our lives.

There's something about late-December that temporarily shifts our focus from the typical "small picture" thinking (daily routine, weekly plans, etc.) to big-picture thoughts of what we want in life. Like a deep sigh, we give ourselves the opportunity to re-set, re-start, and think more broadly about the coming year - what we'd like to do, things we'd like to change, and new avenues to pursue.

With an emphasis on goals, projects, and endeavors, it offers inspiration and a challenge that we don't get from our daily "To-Do" lists. It affords us the time and perspective to check-in with ourselves, see if we're on track, and make whatever changes might be necessary. New Year's resolutions are an obvious next step after this end-of-the-year introspection, and I think the ritual of setting goals is a result of the feeling we naturally get from changing our calendar.

With an empty planner for 2008 and the prospect of a quiet week, I'm excited to dwell in this "clean-slate" feeling. I'm a bit reluctant to open my planner, for fear that I'll get swept up again in the minutia of the day and week.

I don't think I can make it until Jan 1st with an entirely empty planner, but I'll give myself another few days to ruminate on the "big picture" of what I want in 2008. It's the vision of what "could be" in the new year that's heavy and light at the same time.
  • Do you get a similar late-December feeling? Please comment...
If you're looking for some help creating a vision for 2008, take a look at my workshop "YOU in the New Year" or contact me at

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Who is Your "Person of the Year"?

Every year, TIME names a "Person of the Year" and every year I think how inappropriate the title is for what they are trying to recognize.

Naturally, there will always be dissent when bestowing an award like this, but sometimes I think they purposefully choose someone who would be polarizing enough to generate "news" and sell more copies of their magazine. But the main gripe I have is that the characteristics they look for in their nominations don't match what I believe should accompany the title "Person of the Year".

From the TIME article that describes the criteria and how they voted Vladimir Putin as the winner for 2007:
"TIME's Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse. It is ultimately about leadership—bold, earth-changing leadership."

Hold on. Is it just me, or do you think "______ of the Year" SHOULD BE something positive and reserved as a title of honor? Whether it's "Employee of the Year", "Wine of the Year", or "Athlete of the Year", I expect it to be noteworthy because he/she/it is outstanding and excellent. If I were to meet the "Person of the Year" I would want to be impressed, wowed, and inspired (not fearful of polonium in my tea).

Of course, it's a free (and media-driven) country, so TIME can do whatever they want, but they've misappropriated the popular term "Person of the Year" and changed it to mean the most-powerful-and-potentially-influential-person of the year. We are fleeced into believing that the most powerful and influential person should get the respect and admiration associated with the title "Person of the Year" (even though the fine print from TIME tries to clarify their ).

When I think of the term "Person of the Year", I expect it to be someone who should be admired and esteemed for consistently is making the world a better place. Some could argue that this year's TIME Person of the Year, Vladimir Putin, is such a person (I wouldn't, but some could).

It brings up a similar argument of whether figures like Hitler, Stalin, Arafat, and the Ayatollah Khomeini (all fellow "winners") deserve such a title. Yes, they've successfully led people. Yes, they've been influential and powerful on a global stage. Yes, they were able to rally, persuade, and build toward their vision. But does that make them a "good" leader, worthy of the widespread recognition? Effective in achieving their objective, perhaps, but not "good" in the moral sense.

I believe we're doing the general public a disservice by sneaking these guys into a category that should be reserved for the "good guys". Younger generations or less worldly people might not be able to spot the incongruity between a prestigious title and TIME's subtle definition, and may naively believe some of these figures aren't that bad (of course, good and bad are largely determined by social mores, but I think we can all agree on some of the obvious candidates).

Personally, I would be more interested in having TIME review someone who could serve as a role model or best practice in leadership. Of course, all leaders have skeletons in their closets, but give us someone who is generally doing "good" in the world for us to look up to because they're making a positive difference.

Since TIME is too caught up in the power/influence definition, I'll ask you to consider who you would nominate for the REAL meaning of a "Person of the Year" award. Someone who inspires you, impresses you, and is out there consistently doing the "right thing"? Tell us about someone you think embodies the true definition either in your life or in society.
  • Who is your "Person of the Year"? Please add a comment and share your nomination with us!
Btw, it doesn't go unnoticed that I fell prey to TIME's strategy of creating a buzz...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Gift vs. Present

A friend and former colleague used to make the following distinction that I often think about during the holiday season:
A present is something that you want the recipient to have. A gift is something that the recipient would want.
It's a subtle difference, but we give someone a present because we think they'll benefit from it, whereas a gift is something they have expressed interest in or would like to buy on their own.

An example of a present would be the Sonicare toothbrush I bought for my brother. I really enjoy the one I have and thought he could use one, but he would never have bought it on his own. On the other hand, the digital camera he wanted would be a gift that he really wanted.

Personally, I find it more difficult to shop for gifts and usually prefer giving presents. Although gifts are typically more well-received, I think presents have greater potential for broadening horizons and inspiring new thoughts (maybe that's why I like them better).
  • Do you find that you give mostly gifts or presents?
  • What's your present-to-gift ratio this year?

Monday, December 17, 2007


I was skimming through the NY Times online and found this recent article entitled, "How to Boost Your Willpower." It presents a few theories on how to improve self-control, citing that it's a limited resource within us but we can do a few things to increase our chances for success.

In summary, here's the advice:
  • Diet - Healthy glucose levels allow us to exercise greater self-control. The advice of eating smaller meals throughout the day is great for dieting, mental acumen, and now also willpower.
  • Mindset - Laughter, positive memories, and long-term thinking help with self-control:
“You want to look good in a bikini next summer but you’re looking at a piece of chocolate cake now,’’ said Dr. Vohs. “When we get people to think about values we move them to the long-term state, and that cools off the tempting stimuli.’’
  • Start small to gain practice - Just like most things, willpower can improve with practice. Practicing self-control with a few small tasks will help you be able to better respond to bigger challenges:
"A few studies show that people who were instructed for two weeks to make small changes like improving their posture or brushing their teeth with their opposite hand improved their scores on laboratory tests of self-control. The data aren’t conclusive, but they do suggest that the quest for self-improvement should start small. A vow to stop swearing, to make the bed every day or to give up just one food may be a way to strengthen your self-control, giving you more willpower reserves for bigger challenges later. “Learning to bring your behavior under control even with arbitrary rules does build character in that it makes you better able to achieve the things you want to achieve later on,'’ said Dr. Baumeister."
This article is a good follow-up to my post "Gumption for Good Things" that similarly discussed the difficulty of doing "good things." My suggestion is that one can increase willpower by reminding him/herself of how much they enjoy the outcome (e.g. "I don't like lifting, but I like having lifted"). By momentarily recreating that feeling, we're inspiring ourselves to exhibit willpower and do what we "should" do.

Of course, these are just theories and suggestions. And even though "theories" often change with the times (e.g. the USDA food pyramid), the suggestions above can't hurt; even if it turns out that these aren't "proven" to help self-control, they're beneficial habits for life in general.

Obviously, as with most mental challenges, one theory or tactic may work for one person and may not work for another. Either way, it's good to have an arsenal to pick from and learn tricks and best practices from others!
  • Your thoughts? Please feel free to comment...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Personal Finance: Holiday Spending

JLB: Make it Through the Holidays, Stress and Debt Free

Why are holidays stressful? Work, family, traveling, gifts for Mom, Dad, siblings, pets, significant others, bosses, Secret Santa, Billy, Bob, Joe and Sue..and the list goes on. How many people out there get all their shopping done, have a great holiday season and about 48hours after the New Year’s hangover goes away, get their credit card statement either in the mail or online? How many people wait a couple of days to open it and feel a pit in their stomach as soon as they see it ‘because they are scared of what they are going to see when they open it'?

If you know exactly what I’m talking about, YOU’RE NOT ALONE. Statistics say that the average American spent $1200 on holiday gifts last year. For most of us, $1200 is A LOT of money. How much do you plan to spend? Have you already saved for it or are you going to "make up for it" later?

Here are some tips to avoid that pit in your stomach come January:
  • Create a holiday budget - Before you buy anything, assess how much you want (and can afford) to spend on holiday gifts in total. If you’ve been saving a few extra bucks from recent paychecks, good job! You've got the right approach by preparing yourself for greater spending!!

  • Create a list of people you need to buy for.

  • Assign a dollar amount to each person – WRITE IT DOWN.

  • When you shop, stick to the amount you put down in writing (this includes, tax, shipping & handling and gift wrap fees). That sweater that you thought was $29.99 for Aunt Sue all of a sudden costs $46 with all of the above, without you even realizing it.

  • Keep your receipts and attach them to the list where you wrote down all of the amounts – it keeps you honest. That’s why you WROTE DOWN your list and amounts.

  • Don’t spend money before you’ve got it. Yes, its holiday bonus time… but don't let that fool you. Here’s the common internal monologue - "this means I can get the new ____ I’ve been wanting for months!! I get my bonus in the next paycheck, I’ll be fine.” Oops, your bonus and the amount taken out for taxes are FAR less than you anticipated (especially because bonuses are ALWAYS taxed at a higher rate).

  • Making gifts is an easy way to save money – make custom CD’s off of iTunes, knit scarves, make candles out of peeled crayons, or make a personal gift card to redeem for a home improvement project. Plus, you get extra points because handmade gifts really "show that you care."

  • Realize that people don’t judge you based on the gift you give or how much you spend. It really is the THOUGHT and meaning behind the gift that counts. SO MANY people overspend (not just on gifts) to give the impression they are making more money than they are and that “life is great”, when sometimes, it's not.

  • If this column got to you too late and you’ve already overspent – create a PLAN for paying off the holiday debt. On a piece of paper or in excel, write down how soon you want to have everything paid off and how much you are going to pay per month to get it done. Example – I want my holiday bills of $585 to be paid off by the end of February. This means that for the next four paychecks I will be paying $150 to my credit card bill. Interest and fees from carrying a balance on your credit card can add up fast – beware!

Remember, the only thing that really matters during the holiday season is showing that you love and care about the people around you. Money should never get in the way of that. They probably don't need more stuff anyway, and would rather you be happy without having to endure the stress or the debt of over-spending.

Happy Holidays!!

Personal Finance: Welcome!

First I'd like to thank Lee for asking me to be a guest blogger. I get SO many questions from SO many of my friends about personal finance, that I figured it would be great to start writing them down. Since many of the areas of life are linked to our financial situation, we both thought it would make sense to offer some of these tips to fellow overachievers.

My goal with this column is to offer informal advice (non-"professional" with no legal liability) on basic personal finance. The coaching that Lee offers can help you formulate and work towards goals in certain areas of life, and I'd like to offer some financial knowledge, skills, and best practices to help you make those goals a reality.

For example: "I'm doing __insert "what you do now"__ for a living. In an ideal world I would LOVE to be doing __insert "your dream job"__ for a living, except the pay sucks and I don't think I could live off of that". Example #2 – "I've realized that while I love my job, one of my goals is to travel 2-3 times a year. The problem is - I can't afford it".

As a diagnosed overachiever, rugby player and busy professional, I know how money plays a big part in our lives. I enjoy the world of personal finance, so I want to share what I've learned to help you get more out of life by making your money work FOR you.

Additionally, I want to encourage young people (ages 18-30) to start saving and taking their financial health seriously. The one thing we do have on our side is TIME. And as this blog has mentioned in previous posts (Time vs. Money and Money, Money, Money), TIME IS MONEY!!! My goal is to offer an overview of various topics with easy money saving tricks, tips, and habits that you can put into practice now.

If there are specific topics you want covered, email Lee at and I'll make sure to blog about it. Please feel free to add your thoughts, suggestions, and personal tips to the discussion through the comments section.

For my first post, I'll do something rather timely because it is the first chance to practice one of my favorite concepts – budgeting!!! Stay tuned.


Guest Blogger: JLB on Personal Finance

As part of the vision for this blog, I'd like this to become a forum for sharing and discussing topics that are relevant to overachievers who are striving to get the most out of their lives.

With that in mind, we all know that money plays an important role in our lives (regardless of how much we have or don't have), so I've asked a knowledgeable friend, JLB, to write as a guest blogger on the topic of personal finance.

Having experience with asset management, hedge funds, alternative asset capital raising, and insurance, she will be penning a couple of posts each month with some great tips, suggestions, and practical applications for money in our lives. I'm happy to have JLB as a guest blogger and look forward to her posts!

If you're interested in "guest blogging", and are passionate and knowledgeable on a subject that might interest fellow overachievers, please let me know!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Paralysis by Over-Analysis

A few days ago, I got an exciting email from someone who attended the Nov 26th workshop.
"The thanksgiving session was awesome, and thanks so much for it and for everything you said. I really am going to throw my life in a backpack and go to New Zealand--I told my family about it and everything--probably right after next Christmas. A good friend might actually come too! So thanks for getting me to stop thinking about it and actually do something. I feel like that might be a common overachiever problem, overanalyzing to the point where you are paralyzed by the options..."
As a fellow overachiever, I completely agree. Even the best of us occasionally get stymied by our own "Paralysis by Over-Analysis." We find ourselves trapped in our own decision-making process... mulling over the pro's and con's, carefully deliberating on the best options, and trying to be sure make the "right" decision.

Most of us suffer from "Paralysis by Over-Analysis" at some point in our lives - Do I need a new job? Should I go back to school? Or maybe work a few year to save up money? Would I like to move to a new city? Do I want to stay in this relationship? Is it ok to spend this much money on this?

Since none of these have a "right" or "wrong" answer, we can waste a lot of time trying to optimize our decision. We don't have perfect information so we have to go with what we've got. But as overachievers, we always want to do (or have) the best, so when we're not sure of what that is, paralysis sets in.

Frozen in this state, we've temporarily lost our ability to make choices. We end up just "doing what we've been doing" as a default and become even more frustrated with ourselves and unhappy with our situation. And that's the last thing we want!

Since life is about being happy and creating the life you want, here are a few decision-making philosophies that I've come across that might help you in your next "Paralysis by Over-Analysis" moment:
  • Make a decision, and then make it the right one. (Wisdom from a former boss...whatever you decide, go with it entirely. Don't look back or second-guess yourself.)
  • If you make a decision to do something now, you can always make another decision later to change something if it's not working. (This way you're making a decision now, with the option of making another decision later... 2 decisions vs. indecision!)
  • Right or wrong, do it at 100%. (Wisdom from a former rugby coach...Even if you screw up, do it at 100%. People will see your courage and respect you for trying.)
  • Go easy on yourself if you do make a mistake. The world goes on and hopefully you've learned something from it. (According to Jack Welsh, it's how you recover from the mistake that's important!)
It's my firm belief that a few bad decisions are part of learning, and any decision is better than no decision. What do you think? Please comment...
  • Have you ever found yourself in a state of "Paralysis by Over-Analysis"?
  • What have you learned about decision-making that you could share?
Sometimes it's nice to have someone to gently nudge you out of the analysis phase. If you need a nudge, email me at and we'll have you making decisions in no time!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Free Workshops for Dec/Jan

In case you haven't heard yet, I decided to offer all my workshops for December and January for FREE. I didn't want to put it out to my entire newsletter audience, but I want my faithful readers to know! Here's the email I've been sending around:
Hi everyone!

In the spirit of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc., I decided to offer all my December and January workshops FOR FREE. I really want people to be happier about their lives during the holidays and figure out where they're going, so....... all you have to do is RSVP and show up! For those of you who already signed up, thank you and I'll see you there.

Check out all my workshops online and I hope you'll bring a friend or two. Please forward along to anyone you think might be interested!

Happy Holidays,

The next workshop is THIS SATURDAY and the topic is "Contemplating Your Career". We'll do a number of exercises that help you identify your skills, interests, and strengths. You'll walk away with a stronger knowledge of careers or avenues that would be a good match for you. If you're in the DC area, I hope you'll join me.

I hope to host more workshops in the near future, but I'd like your feedback:
  • What types of workshops would you be most interested in?
  • Where should I host these workshops? What cities or venues?
If you can rally a group of 10-15 people, I'm willing to travel!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gumption for Good Things

Why is it so difficult to do things that are good for us? Eating healthy, doing exercise, staying in touch with people, saving money, etc. We know these things are beneficial and will make us feel better down the road somewhere, but they require additional effort and gumption, which often keeps us from being fastidious about it.

Conversely, why do we continue to do things that make us feel less-than-amazing? Drinking, fast-food, staying up late, watching hours of TV, shopping sprees, etc. Are these options "too easy" and play to our temptations? Or maybe they lure us in by promising "short-term" happiness and instant gratification.

Logically, we know we should do more of what makes us feel good and less of what makes us feel like crap. Yet, we keep skip the gym and/or stay out late at a bar. Is it a willpower issue or lack of discipline? Or is it that we don't make it a priority to change our habits? Maybe we don't have a compelling vision or goal to help keep us on track.

I think part of it is that we quickly forget how much better we feel after doing something "good". I know that if I could bottle up the "post-biking" and "post-yoga" feeling and remind myself of it, I would be a lot more consistent at doing it.

As with most things, much of it is controlled by our perception; what we tell ourselves can either fool us or help us. I know many times I've convinced myself that I'd have more fun going home to relax than hitting the gym. It's in that split second where you can intervene in your thinking. Remind yourself about how you good you feel after a workout or how blah you feel sitting on the couch.

About a year ago, I was doing weights next to this guy in the gym and saw that on his weight belt, he had written the following inspiration:
"I don't like lifting, but I love having lifted."

I think this saying is adapted from writers who have the same sentiment towards sitting down and putting words to paper. Interestingly, his mantra stuck with me for a long time and I now think about it when I need a little gumption of my own.

I think it was especially memorable because the guy was totally ripped. It's nice to see that even the people who look like they don't need motivation, still need a little help to get 'er done.

  • What are some of the "good" things you'd like to do more of?
  • Do you have any sayings/mantras you use to help yourself do it?

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Most Powerful Motivator

I've been reading John Maxwell's book the 25 Ways to Win with People and came across this sentence that is important in so many areas of life - business, leadership, relationships, parenting, coaching, mentoring, etc. It's such a simple piece of wisdom, with incredible value:

The most powerful motivator is "I believe in you."

Letting someone know that you believe in them is so important, yet overlooked. That phrase alone has the power to change people. A little support goes a long way. People naturally want to do a good job and are able to rise to challenges more effectively when they know that someone is in their corner. It makes all the difference.
  • Who in your life has done this for you?
  • Is there someone in your business, team, or life that might benefit from having a vote of confidence from you?
Please share with your comments...

Thursday, December 6, 2007

One of My Happiest Moments

As overachievers, we often jump from challenge to challenge, without giving thought to those moments of happiness that come along with our achievements.

Certainly, in my rugby career most of my time was spent going from matches, tournaments, and tours without much reflection. But one rugby event was memorable when it happened and still amazing when I think about it now. It's one of the happiest memories of my life so far, and I'm thankful just to be able to have experienced it.

I've played rugby for 10 years now and the 2006 National Championship Tournament stands out as the moment that makes all the training and sacrifice worth it. Being part of the NY team (NYRC) for 5 years, I saw the team during high and low moments. We had climbed our way to be one of top clubs in the country, but plateaued at 3rd, not being able to beat the Minnesota Valkyries. We knew we'd face them again in the semi-finals, but entering 2006 Nationals, NYRC was again hopeful.

Minnesota has been a consistently great team because of their ability to play hard and keep their opponents fighting until the last minute. In a difficult but exciting game, I remember hitting a lull at min 60 (out of 80). We pushed each other to dig deep and play hard to the end, resulting in a much-coveted victory against the Valkyries (32-15). The victory was ours to celebrate for the rest of the afternoon, but we had to quickly focus on the next day where we would meet the 9-time National Champions, the Berkeley All-Blues.

The finals seemed like a complete blur. I actually don't remember much except not being able to breathe after running support across the whole field. Berkeley has been consistently the best in the country for a reason, but we played good "team" rugby and really connected with each other; at the whistle we were victorious on the day (22-17)!

The pure happiness and joy that came next was overwhelming. Everyone ran onto the field - hugging, crying, cheering, congratulating. We had never won a National Championship before; but what we were really celebrating was each other and the satisfaction of having worked hard as individuals and as a team to achieve a shared dream.

Sabrina Asch, former teammate and amazing photographer, was there to immortalize the love and excitement on the field. Her caption was perfect and poetic:
"a moment to indulge in for the rest of our lives and the look on our faces is the grandest reciprocal for hard work"

If I ever need a pick-me-up, I flip through pictures like these from Nationals. I'm transported back to that moment and I can't help but smile and feel an immense joy for having been part of it.

As we go through our lives accomplishing things big and small, overcoming challenges, and striving for more, it's important to appreciate the happiness and joy that our hard work has brought us and be thankful for how far we've come.

  • What's your happiest moment or achievement so far? Please share...

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Money, Money, Money

In my recent newsletter, the section called "Thoughts to Consider" offered a perspective from one of my blog posts entitled "Time vs. Money".

A friend of mine emailed me back with the philosophy and approach she's trying to put into practice in her own life. I haven't read the book she mentions, but the advice is great.

I am moving toward Joe Dominguez's solution ( I hope and aspire to it anyway): Your Money or Your Life.

Summary: Know what you need. Know what you spend. Need less. So you're not dependent on earning money and spending tons of time earning money but you spend time on what matters to you most, or you have time to figure out what that is.

Speaking of money, I've been traveling quite a bit and am starting to realize the dent it's been making on my finances. When I told my friend I needed a break from the jet-setting to let the coffers build back up, her response (left in "quick email speak") had a great metaphor -
yeah you are probably having a cash post buzz. sometimes it feels like you spend more than you do just cuz you have so much fun. also sometimes you really do spend that much, lol. but I know what you mean. its like when you've run a red light that was really red. you're like ok, I got away with it but I need to calm down for a while before my luck runs out.

It's also interesting that in the first few workshops, the topic of money and financial stability came up repeatedly. Many of us still have debt from school (or are still in school), have struggled to climb up from the bottom of the totem pole, and have started thinking about the future.

Maybe we want to buy an apt/house, a new car, pay off our credit cards and bills with no problem, or invest more in our 401k. Maybe we want to have enough to take a long backpacking vacation through South America, or create a financial safety-net to eventually start our own business, or just have the ability to go out with friends and not feel guilty for spending so much.

Why is it so hard to save money? Is it that we don't have a unifying money strategy or approach (like my friend who's motto is "Know what you need. Know what you spend. Need less."), or maybe we don't have clear financial goals to inspire us and keep us focused. If we have both a money strategy and a clear financial goal, maybe we need help with the daily discipline of resisting the temptation to buy those shoes or that new DVD player. It's starting to sound like any other area of business or life that needs attention - values/approach, strategy, action plan. If you'd like help with this, check out my coaching services.
  • What's your philosophy or approach to money?
  • What would you like to improve about your financial situation?
  • Would you attend a workshop that focuses on setting and achieving financial goals?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Today in a NY Times article entitled "Unhappy? Self-Critical? Maybe You're Just a Perfectionist", there is a great description of 3 different types of perfectionists. The first one sounds quite similar to being an overachiever, although I don't think our primary risk is "self-critical depression", but rather stress, imbalance, and burnout.

Some researchers divide perfectionists into three types, based on answers to standardized questionnaires: Self-oriented strivers who struggle to live up to their high standards and appear to be at risk of self-critical depression; outwardly focused zealots who expect perfection from others, often ruining relationships; and those desperate to live up to an ideal they’re convinced others expect of them, a risk factor for suicidal thinking and eating disorders.

“It’s natural for people to want to be perfect in a few things, say in their job — being a good editor or surgeon depends on not making mistakes,” said Gordon L. Flett, a psychology professor at York University and an author of many of the studies. “It’s when it generalizes to other areas of life, home life, appearance, hobbies, that you begin to see real problems.”

The article goes on to say that perfectionists may suffer mental health problems because they can't handle when things aren't completely in order or under their control. In a study mentioned in the article, researchers forced perfectionists to slack off to prove that the world would continue and they'd even be happier if they lightened up a bit.

I'm not sure that it warranted research, but it would have been interesting to monitor the stress levels they felt when something wasn't getting done perfectly. I bet the perfectionists in the study may have said they were happier after the fact, but they probably were less happy (more stressed and anxious) during the experiment. Which poses a bit of a catch-22: happiness to a perfectionist is perfection, happiness to an overachiever is achievement. I guess the wisdom is that we shouldn't drive ourselves crazy going after it.

Since being a perfectionist is seen as a good thing in many circles (especially at work), it's difficult to acknowledge it as a problem, or "dysfunctional" as the article suggests. I think for most of us, our tendency to strive for perfection isn't dysfunctional or debilitating, but it's important to be aware that it can impact our mental health even on a small scale.

  • Do you identify with any of the "perfectionist" descriptions in the article?
  • When have your perfectionist characteristics had a negative impact, even just on a small scale?
Please comment!

Friday, November 30, 2007

My Recent Workshops

I've been hard at work planning workshops in DC and NYC on a number of different topics. I just hosted 2 workshops in November ("Who Do You Want to Be?" and "Inquire Within") and have another one planned for this weekend ("Life Approaching 30"). If you haven't seen them, please check out my upcoming workshops!

  • The "Who Do You Want to Be?" workshop on November 19th was designed specifically for the high school students (boys and girls) from the Under 19 NYRC Rugby Team. As mentioned in an earlier post about them, these kids are from the South Bronx and are struggling to get on the right path (thankfully, through rugby and NYRC many have found a positive community that they can identify with). This Under-19 Team had the opportunity to come to DC to play a few matches, take in museums and monuments, and attend my workshop entitled "Who Do You Want to Be?" In our hour-long session, I asked them to think about the positive impact one person can have in someone else's life, in the community, and in history. Then, in a series of exercises, each of them were asked to write out who they wanted to be in terms of career, values, and impact. As they shared their goals with the group, it was inspiring to hear these high school students talk about how they wanted to become an astronomer, open a dance studio, and end the violence in their community. At the end of the session, one of their coaches came up to me and said "I've never seen these kids so engaged for so long, with something required so much internal thought!"

  • The next workshop, "Inquire Within", was hosted the Sunday after Thanksgiving at a friend's house (who graciously made brunch to accompany our introspection). With the help of some Bloody Mary's and plenty of bacon, a group of friends got to know each other on a more personal level. We discussed our current and future priorities, what we wanted written on our tombstones, our ideal jobs (based on our skills and interests), and how we spend our time and money. I received some great feedback from the attendees and everyone agreed that something like this is challenging, but incredibly valuable.

I hope that you'll be able to join me for a workshop soon. Also, if there's anyone you know who might be interested, please pass it along!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Importance of Consistency

I think that one of the most important things when working as a member of a team (or when leading a team) is consistency. It's more important to be consistent in your effort, results, and quality because then the people around you know what to expect. Being inconsistent creates more tension and anxiety because it keeps everyone guessing. Consistency creates trust, regardless of whether their quality or results are amazing.

If someone produces mediocre quality, but consistently, other team members will know what to expect. Maybe their draft will require a few revisions or they need someone to double-check their work. The danger comes when someone who produces high quality work drops the ball or cuts a corner; because no one expects it, the double-check is bypassed and it often leads the team to scramble at the last minute or disappointment.

It's even more difficult when a leader is hot and cold. One day they could be really understanding and mild-mannered, but the next day they'll fly off the handle at a small mistake. It's tough for a team to know how that leader will respond to a given situation or question - will it be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

Consistency is also important in other areas of life because people worry less if they know what to expect from you. If you're always on time, call home every week, and show up when you say you will, others begin to count on that. The moment that you show up late without a phone call, others get worried.

If someone is consistently negligent (always late, never call or email, flake out on plans, moody, etc.) no one really worries about them because "that's just the way they are." People know not to depend on them or have high expectations in that area, so when they don't come through it's not a big surprise.

I used to think it was better to be unreliable because it's easier to impress when expectations are low. But by now I've realized it's best to repeatedly produce excellent work and be responsible both professionally and personally.

  • Do you agree that consistency is more important than quality?
  • How consistent are you? Do people know what they can expect?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Time vs. Money

I hosted a well-attended and exciting brunch+workshop in Brooklyn on Sunday. In one exercise, I had each person draw 2 pie charts – one for how they spend their time and the other on how they spend their money. After talking about current and future priorities, it was interesting to see how much of our time/money was being spent on non-relevant activities.

It got me thinking about the trade-offs between time and money and how difficult it is to balance these two commodities. Those who have a lot of one are usually lacking in the other. For most overachievers, though, I think that time is the bigger limiting factor, which naturally leads many of us to “outsource” elements of our personal lives.

Most overachievers are involved in demanding jobs, which keeps us incredibly busy. Every free hour outside of work is precious. Outsourcing allows us to pay for services that we would otherwise have to do on our own. These time-saving services include: wash-and-fold at the Laundromat, ordering take-out, not standing in line, or hiring a wedding planner, mover, nanny, dog-walker, landscaper, etc. Of course, the things that shouldn't be outsourced are the things that are important to us, things that we enjoy, or things that only we can do.

For those people with less money (but more time), these tasks are not a big deal. It's not that their time is less precious, but they have more of it and usually prefer saving money. They will do just about everything themselves, from basic things like laundry, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and bargain hunting, to more complex things like major home improvements and car repair.

But, of course, most of us fall somewhere in between the complete outsourcer and the DIY'er. We have enough money to pick the few “outsourcing activities” that are worth it, based on our personal preference of tasks we like or loathe. In my own personal realm of trade-offs, I'm perfectly willing to pack a lunch, but you'll rarely find me trying to install a new sink or cabinets.

  • Which is your more precious commodity – time or money?
  • What task do you wish you could pay someone else to do?
  • What task do you wish you had more time to do yourself?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Leadership Development

My work in coaching overachievers actually grew out of my work as a Strategic Planner at a Global 500 company where I became incredibly interested in the subjects of employee engagement, corporate culture, and leadership. I still enjoy reading about companies that get it right.

A recent Fortune article "How Top Companies Breed Stars," discusses how top companies are becoming increasingly focused on building top talent through leadership development. It's a great article and worth reading it in it's entirety. Here are some excerpts (emphases added):
Of the many powerful forces driving companies to develop leaders more effectively, the most important is the world economy's long-term shift from dependence on financial capital toward human capital.

Hewitt global-practice leader Robert Gandossy, who oversaw the Top Companies for Leaders study, says, "Organizations need talented people a lot more than talented people need organizations."

It's interesting that when you think of a CEO, the image you have is of someone making decisions, negotiating, running meetings, and keeping the place going. In reality, it looks like some of the best leaders are the ones who are investing in the development of the executives around them.
You don't build leaders on the cheap, and you don't just bolt a development program onto existing HR procedures. Indeed, the biggest investment involved may be the time of the CEO and other executives. At McDonald's, CEO Jim Skinner personally reviews the development of the company's top 200 managers. At GE, Immelt reviews the top 600. Bill Hawkins of Medtronic spends 50% of his time on people issues, and many of the other CEOs report similar percentages - making it the largest commitment of time they have.
It seems like it has become evident that learning leadership is a very hands-on endeavor (note the importance of mentoring and coaching):
John Lechleiter, president and COO of Eli Lilly, offers a typical model: About two-thirds of leadership development comes from job experience, about one-third from mentoring and coaching, and a smidgen from classroom training.
These executives also place high value on difficult times to learn many of their valuable lessons. Seems like it's true just as much in life as it is in business...
Executives consistently report that their hardest experiences were the most helpful. P&G chief A.G. Lafley was in charge of the company's Asian operations during a major Japanese earthquake and the Asian economic collapse. That's when he discovered, he says, that "you learn ten times more in a crisis than during normal times."
It's no surprise that GE is #1 on the list of the Top Companies for Leaders in 2007. I'd love to model my future leadership workshops on what they're teaching in Crotonville, NY!

  • Do you think your organization is attentive enough to your development as an employee? Please comment...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Encouraging Change: Do It With Them

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and instead of doing the typical “What I’m Thankful for” post, I decided to share a lesson I learned in encouraging others to change.

I have 2 members of the family that are exercise-challenged – my brother and my dad. As an athlete and someone who values a healthy lifestyle, it’s been hard for me to not to judge about their lack of exercise and poor eating habits.

For the past few years, I’ve wanted to encourage them to workout and eat healthier. Like most of us, I had honest intentions but hadn’t really thought of an effective approach. I tried using humor, but found that it was just too mean. No one likes being greeted with “Hey Tubby!” or having their love-handles grabbed in front of others.

Then I tried to have serious conversations with them about why it’s important to exercise and eat better. Obviously, they knew they should be doing it but I went so far as to say “Dad, I don’t want you to have a heart attack. Don’t you want to live longer and enjoy your retirement?” I tried to work the “Don’t you want to look good for the ladies?” angle with my brother, but neither of them seemed inspired.

At some point, I know I became a nag. Every time I saw them or spoke to them on the phone, I would ask if they’ve been exercising. It didn’t make for very fun conversations and no one was happy. I felt like a nag, our conversations went nowhere, and I felt my relationships with them were getting weaker. I'm sure they were annoyed by it (I certainly would be), but I was caught in the age-old dilemma of how to get someone to change if they don’t want to.

I guess through trial and error, I stumbled on the idea of being a "facilitator" for their change. Maybe they didn’t know what to do next or have the tools to change, so I softened my approach and offered specific help:
  • I wrote up easy workouts they could do at home (on commercial breaks)
  • I bought my dad a jogging suit and sneakers for Christmas
  • I got my brother personal training sessions at a gym near his house
  • I sat down with my dad to review his daily diet and offer some healthy substitutions or alternatives (i.e. wheat instead of white bread, smaller meals more frequently, more veggies, no meals after 7pm, etc.).
  • We bought my brother an iPod shuffle to help him stay entertained while doing cardio
It had some effect. I could tell it was starting to get through and they were at least beginning to think about changes they could make. But they still weren't motivated or excited about it.

Then one day, my boss had lent me a DVD of a leadership conference and Dr. Henry Cloud spoke about how to encourage change in people. It’s been a while now since I’ve seen it, but the message he offered was “Help them create new patterns in their life by doing it with them.” Make the activity tangible by getting into the trenches and holding their hand through it. Don’t just call them to see if they’ve been doing it or have done it yet. Dedicate some time to do it WITH them.

In that spirit, I’m proud to say that yesterday my whole family ran the 2007 Port Washington Turkey Trot. Both my dad and my brother jogged the entire 5 miles and surprised themselves with their achievement. We spent the rest of the day sharing stories of the race and eagerly making plans for next year.

Although it took some planning and email campaigning to get everyone’s buy-in, I realized it was the right approach (and totally worth it) when my dad or brother would call to tell me they just went running and were ready to beat me on Thanksgiving Day.

So if you’ve got someone in mind who has been putting off their filing, hasn’t been to the gym lately, or has trouble studying for the GMATs, and you really want to help them, I offer you Dr. Cloud’s suggestion –


It makes all the difference.

  • What do you think about this approach?
  • Have you had a similar experience?
Please comment!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Randy Pausch's Last Lecture

I blogged about this in a previous post (Sept 28), but it seems like it's getting a lot more follow-up press. A friend pointed me to a recent NY Times blog post about Randy Pausch, the computer science professor who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only a short time to live. See the original WSJ article and video here.

What I really liked about his lecture was that it was focused on getting the most out of life. Apparently it's become a widespread hit and "big media" is getting involved:

Dr. Pausch had spoken of his belief that people ultimately will impress you if you wait long enough and his view that kids should be allowed to draw on their bedroom walls. A video of the talk quickly spread over the Internet: the lecture was translated into German, even Mandarin. Dr. Pausch was asked to appear on “Oprah” and “Good Morning America.”

Apparently publishers are convinced the public wants to hear more. Today, the New York Post reports that in a frenzy for rights to a book based on Dr. Pausch’s lecture, co-authored by Mr. Zaslow, bidding has reached nearly $7 million. The proposed book reportedly will tell the stories behind the wisdom Dr. Pausch dispensed that day.

It's great that his wisdom will be shared widely...think about all those people whose insights never get passed on! We each have lessons that we've learned along the way, and it's exciting that his lecture has struck a chord with so many people. Maybe it's because his message about getting the most out of life is so inspiring!

  • What lessons have you learned that you would you include in your last lecture?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My New Logo

I haven't even put it up on my website yet, but I'm excited to share it with you!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Toastmasters: If you were...

I've been working on my public speaking on the side, attending meetings of Toastmasters; for those of you not familiar with the format, half of the meeting is dedicated prepared speeches (I had to give my 2nd speech last night) and "Table Topics" where members are randomly called upon to deliver an "off the cuff" 2 minute speech on a topic chosen by the Table Topics leader.

I like when the Table Topics are fun and creative, and last night's meeting had some good questions that I wanted to share.
  • If you were king of the world, what would you do? (assume you're the same person you are now, with no additional superpowers)
  • If you could be any professional sports figure, what sport would you play and who would you be?
  • If you were 20 years old again, what would you do?
  • If you had the chance to teach one subject of your choice, to any age, what would it be?

I often use the last one in my coaching sessions when helping clients get back in touch with their passions. I also ask a variation of it with the same goal - "If you had 30 minutes of prime-time TV, what would you talk about?"

These are great questions to get any crowd talking. Here are my answers:
  • If I were king, I would help people fulfill their potential, be happy, and become good leaders/role models for others (either through education, loans, mentoring programs, promoting good people to lead in government and other public areas, etc.)
  • Pro sport: I would be a tennis player - minimal injuries, good to stay in shape, easy to do into old age, lots of tournaments, and good money!
  • Repeating life at 20 (knowing what I know now), I think I would drink less and learn more in college.
  • Teaching a subject: I'd like to help college/post-college people think about themselves, their goals, and their mindsets.
With Thanksgiving coming up, these questions might come in handy when you run out of conversation. They're also just interesting to think about how you'd answer them.
  • How would you answer these questions?
  • Which of these do you like best?
Please comment!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Have I Been at the Same Job For Too Long?

A friend forwarded me this article from Business Week Online entitled, "Should You Stay or Should You Go?" Written by Jack and Suzy Welch, I think it's got some great (and simple) suggestions for helping you figure out if you've been at the same job or same company for too long.

Essentially, they say it's less about actual criteria, but rather how you would answer the following 4 questions:

  1. Do you want to go to work every morning?
  2. Do you enjoy spending time with your co-workers or do they generally bug the living daylights out of you?
  3. Does your company help you fulfill your personal mission?
  4. Can you picture yourself at your company in a year?

In my experience with career coaching, I find that Question #3 is often the trickiest. Most of us can answer the other questions if we gave it some thought, but the idea of a "personal mission" opens the uncertainty floodgates. Do I even have a personal mission?

As typical 24-35 year olds, the ideas of "meaning","purpose", "calling", "mission", "career" have all been floating around in our minds or lurking in the background. We know it's there, but many of us haven't given it enough thought.

Maybe it's because we're afraid we might not have one. Nothing jumps out at us, but we wish we were one of those "lucky ones" who know just what they want to do with their lives. We don't see an immediate "passion" for anything, so we default to thinking that one job is just as good as the other, as long as we're collecting a paycheck. But deep down, we know it's not true.

But there's a reason we can't shake that feeling... it's because everyone should have a personal mission. Our purpose doesn't have to be a bleeding-heart-save-the-puppies-cause to be important. What's important is that it provides YOU with personal meaning and can be used to steer your decisions. Your calling could be something straightforward like provide for your family, make VP, always feel like you're learning, help people, do something you enjoy, etc.

It takes a while to identify your personal mission, but it's usually a combination of the skills you like to use, your strengths and personality, the subjects that most interest you. It's not just about finding a cause, but rather finding a good match for who you are so that you can wake up in the morning excited to go to work.

For those of you feeling stuck in your job, definitely read the article!

  • What do you do when you're feeling stuck in a job?
  • How long does it take to realize it?
For more help in thinking about your personal mission or changing jobs, check out for my workshops and coaching services!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Look For Their Best

I'm currently reading "25 Ways to Win With People", by John Maxwell and Les Parrott, and came across a passage that I liked that talks about the importance of looking for the best in others -
"Anybody can see weaknesses, mistakes, shortcomings in others. That's no unique skill. Seeing only the good things is harder.

Hall of Famer baseball player Reggie Jackson said that the best major league baseball leaders possess that ability. He observed, 'A great manager has a knack for making ballplayers think they are better than they think they are. He forces you to have a good opinion of yourself. He lets you know he believes in you. He makes you get more out of yourself. And once you learn how good you really are, you never settle for playing anything less than your very best.'

That's true in any area of life: business, parenting, marriage, ministry, and so forth. Don't look for the flaws, warts, and blemishes in others. Look for their best."
Wouldn't it be awesome if we had someone like that in our corner? Someone who saw us as an amazing collection of potential and through their belief, we were able to grow into that potential?

That's basically what we, as coaches, strive to do for our clients. My goal in helping overachievers is to help them create the vision of what is possible and then take steps toward it. As overachievers, we're often our most difficult critics - expecting so much from ourselves that we focus on our shortcomings instead of our successes. A little coaching goes a long way in terms of encouragement, accountability, and seeing a world of possibility.

But you don't have to be a coach, or be coached, to look for the best in yourself or others. Is there someone you've been a bit too critical of lately? Maybe give them a break by focusing on the good things they bring to the table. What goes around usually comes around, so someday when you least expect it (and probably need it most), someone will be in your corner.

  • Who do you know that could use a break or a boost?
  • Why is it so hard for us to see the best in people?

Honey vs. Lemon

“You get more with honey than with lemon.”

It’s a saying my mom had for when you’re trying to work with someone. I’ve used both angles in the past, but personally prefer honey because it feels like a much better way to interact with people. I think it's just the best way to work with people but I’m curious to know, however, whether the saying is true and you actually get more or better results with honey than with lemon.

Psychologically, it makes sense that someone would want to help you out more after establishing an amicable bond with them, but in practice I’ve found that a little toughness goes a long way. Especially when dealing with customer service reps over the phone or trying to rectify an error by a big corporation, I find hurling a few lemons gives one more credibility. Admittedly, I’m not very good using the “lemon” technique, but I hate feeling like a pushover so I sometimes put on my “attitude” and get serious.

But I think the problem with lemons is that even though I might walk away with a marginally better result, both parties end up feeling worse after the conversation. It takes me a good 15-20 minutes to get out of the post-lemon funk. Maybe the saying actually should read:

“YOU get more with honey than with lemon.”

  • Are there specific situations that call for either lemon or honey?
  • Does it have to do with the type of person on the other end?
  • Do you think that honey is always better?
Please add your thoughts!

Coming back from Vacation

Vacations and trips are great for pulling us out of our patterns of life, for better or worse.

In a good way, we’re exposed to new perspectives and experiences. We’re in a different environment where we can sample a change of pace or a change of setting. Maybe it’s the much-needed relaxation or sense of adventure we're after, but regardless of the reason for the trip, it usually suspends our regular patterns of life. In most cases this is a good thing because it allows us to take a step back from what we’ve been doing on autopilot for probably too long and take a breather either to escape the stress or escape the monotony.

But sometimes it can have the effect of taking one out of a good weekly routine. Having just returned from a 12-day vacation in the Bahamas, I was surprised by my desire to get back to my life back home. Although I had a great time in both Freeport and Nassau, it was an interesting feeling to be excited to get back to “the daily grind”. I've never felt that way before, especially on a fun trip like this one, but I think it's a good sign that I’m happy with my everyday life.

It may also be that during this vacation, I found it difficult to do things that make me feel good like eating healthy, exercising, and staying in touch with people. I also felt the momentum of my business was put on hold for a week, which is a long time when you've got a few irons in the fire.

I also became more sensitive to, and appreciative of, the small things that make me happy – a good cup of coffee, having time to read, being hydrated, access to the internet (!), and being able to eat before I'm starving (I found I had more than my share of hangry moments this trip).

Compound it with the stress of switching hotels every few nights, planning activities for the day, driving on the opposite side of the street, and being harassed by time-share pushers and it really made me appreciate the amenities of home.

Maybe it’s that I’m getting older and tolerate less (or expect more?), but I like to think that I finally found a daily routine that I enjoy. Is this what being home-sick is?

  • What have you been excited to come back for while on vacation?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Law School Apps

I have a friend who has been dragging his feet on applying to law school. He's an overachiever, but has been out of the overachieving game for a bit, spending time traveling, having odd-jobs, and enjoying life. He decided it was time to buckle down, so he took the LSAT and started thinking about law school.

He did well on the LSAT, but not as well as he thought he should have, despite still having a score in the 90th percentile. Time passed and he still hadn't applied to schools. We found ourselves chatting last week and he admitted that he hadn't started the process yet because he hadn't come to terms with the fact that he won't get into a Top 10 school.

I know to some, this may seem like a ridiculous woe-is-me argument, but overachievers who have been in his shoes can identify with the gravitas of the situation. We've been conditioned our whole lives to feel that achievement is everything. It's no surprise that my friend feels like the law school he goes to is a representation of his self-worth. Especially after being out of the game for a while, I can see how the internal (and external) validation would mean a lot to someone who holds himself to the highest standards.

I don't typically give advice in my coaching sessions, but if his true goal is to graduate from a Top 10 law school, I suggested the possibility of transferring if he can ace his first year and get great recommendations. Of course the important thing is that he understands why he wants to go through law school and how the degree is only a tool for accomplishing what he really wants to do in life.

It's interesting, yet unfortunate that our prior successes can set us up mentally for disappointment in an otherwise good situation.
  • Has this ever happened to you?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Couch Potatoes in the Parlor of Life?

I recently added a number of workshops as part of my business in coaching overachievers. In developing the content for these workshops, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research to add new exercises and concepts to my coaching arsenal/toolbox. One book I came across had a powerful introduction that caught my eye:

I have a theory: I believe that many – maybe most – people in the hurry-up, make-do, look-good culture we’re living in have settled way too cheap. A lot of us have given up our passion and let the colors fade out of our experience. We’ve settled for the appearance of an okay life instead of the substance of a great life. In the process, we’ve lost track of what is genuinely important to us. We’ve become couch potatoes in the parlor of life, overstimulated with input from the outside, and increasingly deaf to messages from the inside. We’ve gotten stuck in a ho-hum, “go along to get along” existence.

Now, you may be shaking your head and saying, “You’ve got it all wrong. My life never had the passion and color you’re talking about.” Maybe so. Or maybe you’ve let it slip away a tiny piece at a time – so slowly that you didn’t even notice that it was happening. Either way, you’ve lost yourself in the rush of the world. … Maybe you’re shaking your head for another reason. Maybe you remember the days when your whole life seemed exciting and passionate. Maybe you invest more time and energy reliving the old “glory days” than you do in creating new ones.
  • What do you think? Have you ever felt this way? Do you feel this way now? Please comment...

I’ll talk more about the author in my next post because I think it will spark an interesting discussion.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Low-Stress High Schools?

The NY Times ran an article on Oct. 29 entitled "Less Homework, More Yoga, From a Principal Who Hates Stress" about overachieving high school students and new programs to counteract stress in schools like Needham H.S.

I have mixed feelings about it; I would generally agree that it's a good idea to give students tools and tips on how to manage stress, but I don't know how effective it can be when overachieving students see it as just another mandatory thing they need to squeeze in with the rest of their activities.

Most of us can remember being in that situation - working hard in school, applying to college, taking AP classes, being on school newspaper, captaining a sports team, taking instrument lessons, trying to cram everything in, and make time to hang out with friends. An additional yoga class would definitely be compounding the problem.

However, it sounds like administrators might actually cut some of the standard coursework to make way for "de-stress" sessions, which sounds like a ludicrous idea.

“You run out of time,” said Max Hekler, an English teacher. “You can’t teach ‘The Odyssey.’ Something has to go."

I think students should spend their time learning things they might not be exposed to or learn later in life (ie, The Odyssey). It's a lot easier to learn how to deal with stress later in life than to take the time to understand the allegory in a major piece of literature.

I also tend to think that maybe "ignorance is bliss" when it comes to stress. Students might not feel stressed, but well-intentioned administrators may be labeling it as such and manufacturing it. It's like when a baby falls - it takes cues from the reactions of others to react and show signs of pain. If the adults are smiling and supportive, the baby is fine, but if the parents gasp and rush to their side to mollycoddle them, the baby senses something is wrong and starts to cry. Similarly, I didn't think high school was stressful because everyone around me (other overachievers) were also busy and on a path of achievement. I'm not sure if we knew it was stressful, or if that knowledge would have changed how we acted.

I don't know enough about these de-stress programs, but I hope they aren't inadvertently promoting a "wimpy" attitude. The article mentions classes that have no grades and not publishing the list of seniors and where they're going to college, both as a response to the stress that it causes among students (some of whom have lied about where they're going to college!?!).

But what about the kids that can handle the stress? Are they forced to take yoga instead of reading The Odyssey? Isn't high school a good predictor of how people will handle stress in the future? I feel like they might self-select out of situations if they don't enjoy it or can't handle it. What's next, athletic competitions where no-one keeps score?

My primary concern is that stress becomes an excuse for students and fosters the dangerous attitude of learned helplessness. I think healthy competition and busy schedules push students to learn valuable lessons like hard work pays off, discipline builds character, how bounce-back after failure, managing time and priorities, goal-setting, etc. I wouldn't want stress to become another "crutch" for students like some of the learning disabilities and ADD/ADHD have become in many cases.

Maybe I'm just being skeptical... After all, I think yoga is a great thing to teach young adults, and am a big fan of keeping things in perspective and taking a step back to reflect. Hopefully these programs become wildly successful at balancing achievement and stress, without softening these overachievers too much.

  • What do you think? Please comment...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Leadership Develops Daily

As some of you know, I’m an avid reader. I'm constantly reading books about leadership, business, personal development, and then a lot of other random stuff that somehow becomes relevant.

The book I’ve been flipping through is John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (actually, I was looking through the accompanying Workbook to see what exercises I might be able to incorporate into my coaching practice). One of the 21 Laws is the “Law of Process” which says "Leadership Develops Daily, Not in a Day". Here’s a quote from that chapter that really resonated with me:

“Champions don’t become champions in the ring – they are merely recognized there. That’s true. If you want to see where someone develops into a champion, look at his daily routine.”

As an athlete, I entirely agree with this idea. All of the practice and sacrifice that are put in every day allows that person to finally become the champion and fulfill his or her potential. It perfectly captures the idea that leadership (and success!) develops daily, not in just one day.

Another passage I appreciated from chapter was a quote President Theodore Roosevelt, who used a boxing analogy to describe the struggle and rigors endured in becoming a leader and rising to success:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

I was trying to find a specific part of that quote to highlight for easier reading, but the whole thing is inspiring. I especially like that it puts the critics in their place and acknowledges that although the people "in the arena" might triumph or fail, there is a certain gallant pride in "striving valiantly" and "daring greatly", and "spending ourselves in a worthy cause".

I know I don't want to be with those "cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat". Whether you win or lose isn't's that you're in the ring.

  • How do you feel about President Roosevelt's quote and the general idea that leadership develops daily, not in a day? Please comment...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Seize the Day (Scare Tactics)

I've always found myself drawn to movies and books that offer a "seize the day" message, although in a somewhat depressing way. Some of the movies and books portray pictures of missed opportunities and lost potential and "scare" us into remembering that life can, and should be, inspiring. If it's what we make of it, then we better make it enjoyable, right?

Here are some of the things that sometimes scare me into remembering to seize the day:
I don't know what it is, but something about tragedy and seeing lost dreams reminds us that life is precious and we should do everything we can with the moments we have.
  • Any other movies, books, music that paint a somewhat depressing picture but remind you to get the most out of life?