I’m packing it in.
Yup, this is my final post…for the year.
And I want it not to be about productivity or the speaking business—I want it to be about living.
This time of year the drill is to get out paper and pen and map out our future. Lose weight, save money, travel abroad, less ice cream – it’s all up for grabs.
And then there’s living
Living is what happens between goals, making deals, and doing the laundry. Or, in the immortal words of John Lennon (Beautiful Boy), “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Where are the gaps?
In my presentations, I often ask folks to rate themselves on four aspects of their life or work – depending on the nature of the talk. The purpose is to help audience members self-identify their area of growth (I admit it’s self-serving – nobody scores themselves a ‘5’ out of ‘5’)
For you, I have 4 questions (it only takes 2 minutes):
Thinking about this year, on a scale from 1 to 5 (where ‘5’ is consistently effective), rate your effectiveness in:
- planning (made plans, followed them and revised them as needed)?
- people (new relationships, nurtured old relationships, faced the ‘tigers’ in your life)?
- performance (habits to perform at your best each day)?
- personal (spiritual, diet, nature, exercise, sleep, reading)?
When I do this exercise I see the gaps. They’re not Grand Canyon-size gaps, but they’re there – calling out for me to step up and do better. What about you?
Next, decide which of these four areas you most need, and want, to improve in the coming months. Another way of asking this is: which one would make the most difference to all of them? Put a big star beside that one.
Now that we have focus, let’s move to choices.
Live as if you were living a second time
Once we know our “gap” and where to put our attention we need to get honest. Honest about choices.
Life is all about choices – we make “good” choices that move us forward. Like honesty. And we made crappy choices that set us back. Like tearing a strip off your co-worker for not returning your stapler. Or sending that 800-word email treatise lambasting your team about tardiness at meetings.
We can’t get those choices back.
But there is a way to stop them happening in the first place. Celebrated Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl often asked his patients to make their decisions as if they were living their life a second time.
“Live as if you were living already for the second time” he would instruct, “and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”
When I look back at my day, all the lame decisions, half-truths, and wasted time become blatantly obvious. It’s like watching a movie and cringing every time the protagonist screws up.
Frankl is suggesting you don’t wait to screw it up – assume you will – but then live as if you were living a second time and had the choice to do it right.
It’s like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, leaping ahead to his better self and doing what he knows is right. It would make for a very short movie, but a lot less pain for everyone else.
That brings me to letting go.
Don’t aim at success
As a parent of small children, you learn pretty quickly that saying “be happy!” falls on deaf ears – nothing changes, except you feel even more incompetent.
In a similar way (without the puffy face and full diaper), putting all your attention on what you want might not get you an iota closer to what you need.
In fact, the greatest life-hack I’ve discovered is that sometimes you have to let go to grow.
Before you head back to Facebook, shaking your head, mumbling about new-age mumbo-jumbo, hear me out.
Any modicum of “success” I’ve enjoyed happened because I attracted it – not because of sheer effort.
There was no way I could have fought to join Adventure Network and built the world’s only business in Antarctica. My partners came to me.
There was no way I could have worked hard to attract my wife, Kirsten and the most incredible 25 years of living, loving and learning I could have ever hoped for.
Just as it’s not possible to ram your offer down some unsuspecting prospect’s throat or strong-arm your way into a dream job.
“Don’t aim at success—” says Frankl, “the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it.”
Sure, you have to get your ass out of bed, have a dream, make goals and do the work – that’s a given. But to have a fulfilling life you can be proud of, you need to let go.
“For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” – Frankl
Which leads me to happiness.
Happiness must happen
Seven years ago I’d had enough of scrambling to build a business. My girls were still in high school and I was falling back into work overwhelm and priority-neglect. So I let my downtown office go and moved into a second-floor, 220-square-foot office with a skylight, but no windows.
The reduced cost of no staff and less rent meant my top end didn’t have to cover as much bottom end and I could be home more.
About that time, I started a summer ritual of individual adventures with my daughters (kayaking for Claire, hiking for Kate) and annual family adventures (Nicaragua, Ecuador, Kauai, Florida, California). I also found time to finally write a book (Give Me a Break) and to start a blog.
I didn’t abandon my business – I just shifted priorities to what I wanted and I knew was right. And then a strange thing happened. Almost mysteriously, my business grew.
“Happiness must happen,” Frankl once wrote, “and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”
Within two years I’d shifted a big part of my work to helping speakers grow their business; my income was beyond where it was pre-downsizing, and I had more freedom.
One kick at the can
When I sat down to write this, I didn’t intend to write a 1,400 word post and I certainly didn’t set out to scribe a lecture. But, if you’ve made it this far, I have one parting wish for you…
My hope is you make great choices (as if you’re living a second time), enjoy all the success you deserve (without aiming at it), and allow happiness by listening to your conscience.
We get one kick at the can—it’s completely up to us how we take it.
“I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.” – Frankl