4 Questions to Help You Grow Strong and Succeed in the Seasons of Life

I was about to jump right into the next post of this series on social and emotional intelligence (S+EI) series but decided to interject this one instead.  Several milestone events in the past few weeks, including the passing of my father-in-law on Christmas day, prompted some significant reflection on my part that I chose to put to the “page” here.

Another was coming across a daily devotional book during my annual end-of-year home office sweep. The title is Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life by Chuck Swindoll and was given to me by my in-laws back in the early 80’s when Diane and I became engaged.

Leafing through the pages and re-reading selected portions spurred a lot of memories, thoughts and emotions that had been about nearly as dormant and unturned as the pages of that book.  So did reading the mark-ups and notes I made when I was 20 year old young man and new husband.

Aside from discoloration, he book hadn’t changed over the last 30yrs but I certainly have. Both the book and my own experience brought home full-force the fact that there are seasons of life that seem to have a natural pulse and rhythm that are just as real as the seasons of the calendar.  I think the same thing can be said for our professional and business endeavors…they have their seasons as well.

Each of the four seasons offers insight if we take time to look and think.  Winter is often seen as season for reverence and an ideal time for slowing down. Amidst the drab and gray there there can also be found beauty and excitement, as the avid skier knows. Spring is a season for renewal when new things are come into being all around us as well as a revival and budding of what has already been…lot’s of rain showers though.  Summer brings with it lazy, hazy days for the young and can be characterized by rest and recreation, despite the sweltering heat waves we endure. Finally, Fall is a season of reflection when even the busiest and margin-less among us can’t but help and take in and appreciate all that has passed in a year. In fact, were sometimes mesmerized by it all. But we also know it can be a melancholy time for many who are missing the company of those no longer with them.

The common theme with each of the four seasons described above is that it cycles and has positive and 0291 SeasonsIInegative facets. The other is that how we experience them is determined more by our own perspective, preparation and choice than it is due to environment and external conditions.

Much of our enjoyment and success in the events of the calendar seasons is because we recognize, anticipate and prepare for them. Why would we expect it to be any different for the personal and professional seasons of our lives as well? Most of the time it’s not that we don’t know these times are coming or when they’re here……the signs are usually all around us. The real reason is because we usually don’t take the time to look and think, or we don’t want to, or we’re just trying to survive the whirlwind of life that seems to be constant.

What season are you in right now, either personally or professionally (perhaps both)?  If you can’t answer that question then the first step would be to take some time to reflect, think and figure it out if you want to grow strong and succeed.  The signs signs are there, often right in front of you, but your going to miss them if you don’t simply to take some time to reflect and become aware.

Once you know what season you’re in, the following four questions will help you gain perspective and prepare in a way that serves your best interest as well as grow strong in that particular season:

  • What do I really want for myself?
  • What do I really want for others?
  • What do I really want for my relationships?
  • How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

Like many of the most important things in life, it’s simple….but hard to do.  Knowing what season we’re in and shaping our perspective on it often gets lost as the urgent displaces the important and the daily whirlwind picks up speed with each passing year.  

But you do have a choice. You can be an Essentialist and exercise your choice to become aware and answer these questions for yourself the way you want. On the other hand, you can just forget you have a choice, give it away and let others choose for you.  Either way, how you grow and succeed is your choice.

As Mary Oliver said, Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”


Who Else Wants to Hit Their Target?

Although the mercury is still climbing into the 90’s here in Central Texas, a lot of signs make it clear that we have moved into the fall season.  It started subtly a few weeks ago with cooler evening temps, change in some of the vegetation, and slightly shorter days. Now the signs are obvious, like deer who’ve shed the velvet on their antlers and the cacophony of gun fire in the evening from hunters who are “warming-up” and getting ready for opening day.  You can’t miss it.

Life is a lot like that as well. We’re usually about our business and often don’t notice the subtle changes taking place around us that signal things have changed. In fact, sometimes we’er so preoccupied that we miss the obvious signs as well.  When we do finally get our head up and look around, the landscape has totally changed, the real prize we were after is no where to be seen, and all too often we find ourselves out in the cold (figuratively but sometimes literally as well!). The first step to being intentional is being aware. The other is reflection.

Being intentional about what you are doing allows you to stay focused on the specific goals contained within your overall trajectory and pattern for your enduring success.  Intentionality is the process that maximizes the probably of actually hitting what you’re aiming for instead of something else. John Free of Currey Creek shared the story of Colonel Townsend Whelen whose analogy of rifles and intentionality really makes the point here:  “Only accurate rifles are interesting. The reason being is that accurate rifles are intentional tools that do what is asked of them. The right load in the right rifle produce predictable, expected results. An accurate rifle is a precision tool that engenders confidence in the shooter. The shooter believes and knows he has the right tool to do the right job. Therefore when it comes time to perform, the shooter gets expected results.”    In other words, to be successful there has to be intentionality to what you are doing. When you couple the right tool(s) with intentionality you have success. If intent is lacking, you should have no expectations for success.”

Most are familiar with the adage, “If you aim at nothing that is exactly what050Intentional2 you’ll hit.” But Col Whelen’s description above makes it clear that a lot more goes into being on target…your target…than just aiming at something. You have to make sure you are aiming at the right thing, with the right thing, and at the right time. To do so requires the steps of both awareness and reflection.

The fall season isn’t the only time to be build awareness and be reflective, but it certainly is a great time to give those two things some extra focus and attention. It doesn’t matter whether your discipline in this area is already good or whether you find yourself derailed and needing to get back on track, being intentional requires the ongoing pursuit and practice of both.

What’s your best next step here?

How To Switch And Link Like a Pro

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get so focused on the task at hand that I simply can’t seem to pull my head out and move on to what I need to do next.   Part of my problem is not being able to recognize when I’ve reached “just enough”. The other part is that even when I do recognize it, I don’t always act on it.  Knowing is not enough, you have to also do something about it. Sometimes things work out for the better, but a lot of times they don’t. I know not everybody has that struggle, but I bet there are more than a few OCD challenged folks reading this who can relate.  If so, read on.

Our multifaceted lives and unending pursuit of enduring success effectively results in a landscape full of moving targets we deem essential to our success; the targets can appear unexpectedly and are often unpredictable. If part of success is being able to hit these targets, then how do you effectively go about it?  One way is to use the same strategy employed by highly successful professionals called “switch and link”.  “switch and link” is the ability to switch the focus your full attention with lightning speed among activities and people in different realms.  So the approach is simple:049 Link2

  • Focus on one task until you get a specific sense of satisfaction (just enough)
  • Move on to the next priority that then receives your full focus and emotional energy

Unfortunately, activity boundaries in life aren’t clear cut and while a just enough/switch-link approach is simple, it can also be very hard.  The good news is that we know it’s a learnable skill that gets better with practice. It also turns out people can exercise this ability within a particular task (the caring component of helping someone while also learning a new task) as well as between tasks (focusing on writing and then quickly shifting to engage with your grandson when he pops in your office).   The approach even reflects knew information about “multitasking” in the common sense of the word. That is, you can multitask but you can’t multifocus.  What we call multitasking is actually “time-slicing”.  In order to time-slice effectively, you have to know when you’ve arrived at “just enough” so that you can then “switch and link”, or move on to the next best thing with lightening speed and focus.

Two core productivity principles underly the critical skill of “switch and link”.  The first requires personal leadership the other personal management

  • Know what’s important (your priorities)
  • Putting priorities first

In addition to the approach above, asking myself the following 5 questions  has been extremely helpful for making practical application and maximizing my forward movement:

  1. “What’s the Priority?”
  2. “What’s the Trade-off (what are you going to give up)?”
  3. “Where is the Leverage?”
  4. “What is the Synergy?”
  5. “What’s best next”

Knowing what’s important isn’t always as easy as it sounds, but its easier if you’ve started thinking differently about success by using a Kaleidoscope strategy or framework.  As with all frameworks this one isn’t perfect.  What it does provide is a reality-based perspective from which to better view and size-up your options and in turn enables decision-making to be much more effective and manageable.

We all have an approach to decision making, whether we are aware of it or not.  But only when you are aware are you able to to do something about it.  How’s your’s working for you?  Please comment and share your wealth, I would love to hear about.


The Secret of Knowing What To Do and When

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been interested and involved in a lot of different things. Those things span a broad spectrum of both work and personal interests and sometimes include things that are antagonistic to each other (for example, wanting to build a business and also wanting to spend quantity and quality time with my family).

As an admitted chronic “overcommit’er” and over-achiever, on more than one occasion I have found myself asking “in making a life, how can I get all this stuff done and still have a life?!?” Maybe you have as well. As it turns out, knowing what is “Just Enough” is part of the secret.

What is “just enough?” According to Nash and Stevenson, “just enough” is the amount you need to accomplish in one area or thing and achieve a specific sense of satisfaction before moving on to the next thing. Recognizing what is “just enough” will allow you to achieve a balanced slate of wins in a sustainable way that contributes, over time, to your picture of enduring success.

By regularly assessing the picture of success you are creating using your Kaleidoscope strategy , you’ll have the perspective you need to make critical decisions about “what’s best next?“. It allows you to identify where the gaps are within your four components of success, know which are are full, and recognize those in which you have “just enough”.  Being able to identify the gaps isn’t too048Enough2 difficult if you take time to reflect and become aware.  However, it takes a paradigm shift to accept that “just enough”, not full,  is really the functional sweet spot.

In order to analyze your picture of success from a Kaleidoscope perspective, Nash and Stevenson suggest asking yourself the following four questions:

  • Are some of the four component chambers empty?
  • Are others too full?
  • Where am I devoting most of my time?
  • Is that in line with the goals I want to achieve?

By answering these questions from a big-picture perspective first, you can then focus on a given activity in order to determine what’s “just enough” for you in a given category at a given time.  You can then move on to something else, knowing you’ll come back to to get “more” later.  Just exactly how you do that is called “Switch and Link” and the topic of next week’s post.

Of course the big assumption here….and it’s a big one…..is that you’ve already taken the time and done the heavy mental lifting to reflect, contemplate and construct your own picture of enduring success.  If you don’t know or don’t have an idea of what enduring success looks like for you, then you probably won’t know what “Just Enough” looks like for you either.

At this point, what’s your “best next step”?  What’s working and/or what’s not?  Drop a comment and share the wealth. Lord knows we need all we can get when it comes to this topic!

New Model For “Balanced” Living

I remember playing on the playground as a young kid. This was back in the day when all the equipment was made from metal that was riveted, bolted or welded together. Those works of art were usually placed on a pad of black asphalt or concrete; if it was on pea-gravel then you were really living large! Some you reading this may remember those days. The see-saw was my favorite, until the first time the person on the other end jumped off while I was suspended in air. Can you relate to that one? See-sawing for me after that experience was never quite as much fun and always a bit anxiety producing.

The myth of work-life balance is a lot like see-sawing. In both, balance is a core concept but you are never really balanced! Instead, it’s a constant up or down with an occasional, unexpected let down that can be painful (and sometimes harmful). Balance implies something static and life is anything but. Instead, our lives are dynamic, have a rhythm and are lived out in chapters and seasons.

So, let’s “get real up in here” and get rid of the wishful notion that work-life balance is a workable model we aspire to. Have you ever seen it? I don’t think so. When you see someone who appears to have a handle on work-life balance, it’s most likely someone who experiencing and building enduring success. Striving for work-life balance and building enduring success could not be more different.

Although we know that enduring success has 4 irreducible components, is there a model, framework, or heuristic of some sort that can make it workable and applicable?

Yes, it’s called the Kaleidoscope Strategy and is based on the extensive work Nash and Stevenson have done with high-level executives, professionals and achievers who have achieved enduring success. As with much useful knowledge, the Kaleidoscope Strategy has been around for a while (over a decade) but most haven’t heard of it. That’s one reason why it hasn’t been touted as a workable model for “balanced” living, but it should be.

A kaleidoscope consists of a single lens within a tube along with a number of different chambers that contain a lot of different and varied pieces of glass. These peices then get moved around either intentionally or unexpectedly. Each time the glass pieces are moved, new and beautiful patterns of symmetry and variety are created that can then be seen when reflected by mirrors in the Kaleidoscope.

A Kaleidoscope Strategy for living is similar. The Kaleidoscope would be your own vision or picture of a successful life consisting of 4 chambers. The chambers would be the 4 irreducible components of enduring success……..Happiness, Achievement, Significance and Legacy. The glass pieces are all your “stuff” that is constantly getting moved around to create the actual patterns you see . Viewed in this way, your success is now becomes about being intentional with choosing all your “pieces”, how well you move them or respond to the unexpected, which pieces you need where and when they need to be there. Your picture of success will look different at various chapters and seasons of life and viewed from different angles, but when you step back and look at the integrated whole it is indeed a thing of beauty and work of art.

The successful people in Nash and Stevenson’s research who achieved enduring success used a Kaleidoscope Strategy. It seems they intuitively know that life was about “give and take”, or knowing “how-much-of-what-to-do-when”. In other words, in addition to knowing what they wanted they also knew you could have it all, just not all at the same time.

To simplify it further, the people Nash and Stevenson found to particularly successful shared two characteristics:

  • Success wasn’t attributed to a single event or aspect of life; they viewed it as a broad, dynamic experience of accomplishment that factored in all 4 categories of enduring success.
  • What they counted as “real” success included a wide range of accomplishments of varying magnitude (they didn’t have to “blow it out” in every area). It also wasn’t about a specific number or amount of activity and rewards in any one category, but rather a proportionate mix.

So, the good news is there is a workable model for “balanced” or successful living. But how do you practically move from the Kaleidoscope metaphor to making it an applicable tool for your life….or business? It turns out there are two key skills:

  • Being able to recognize “Just Enough” and act on it
  • Knowing how “Switch and Link”

I’ll discuss both of these in the next couple of posts. In the meantime, what model are you using in your pursuit of success, whether that be life in general or business? Please leave a comment, I would love to know how its working for you, what needs to be better, or what’s missing.

4 Irreducible Components To Achieve Success

Enduring Success is getting what you want, sustaining it and having it produce rewards for you and those you care about. The emotional by-product is one of renewal, not anxiety, stress or depletion. Having tasted both enduring success and short-lived success, I know I definitely prefer the former and those closest to me are better served when I achieve it.

So is achieving enduring success simply a crap-shoot or is it something possible to intentionally pursue? Not only is it possible, it’s been studied by Nash and Stevenson. After reflecting on people who by just about anyones standards had achieved enduring success, they initially proposed the following 5 common characteristics:

  • High achievement
  • Multiple Goals
  • Ability to experience pleasure
  • Ability to create positive relationships
  • Valued accomplishments that endured

As it turned out, their initial guess was close. Following interviews with 150 successful professionals and top executives, over a dozen testing sessions of 50 – 110 executives from notable business organizations, and reviewing numerous data sources from the general population in every walk of life and at every stage, Nash and Stevenson arrived at the following 4 irreducible components of enduring success: 046 SuccessComponents2

  1. Happiness (feelings of pleasure or contentment about life)
  2. Achievement (accomplishments that compare favorably against goals others have striven to achieve)
  3. Significance (sense of making a positive impact on people you care about)
  4. Legacy (a way of establishing values or accomplishments to help others succeed)

These four components form the basic structure of what people seek to gain as they pursue “It All”. The problem is that even if you are successful in one area but neglect and lose perspective on any given component, then whatever you did loses some luster and no longer feels like true success; the satisfaction of your win, pleasure, accomplishment and altruistic effort fades almost as soon as it occurs. For example, if you continue growing a massive power base but lack being there for others or if you garner millions but take no time for pleasure then you aren’t going to experience success….a big black hole maybe, but not enduring success. Trying to compartmentalize these four components of enduring success into various aspects of your life doesn’t work either (i.e. achievement is for what you do at work, legacy with your family, or significance to relationships, etc.). In fact, people who fail to touch on all four categories at some point and in some form or fashion are served a helping of “wince factor” along with their success. The “wince factor” is defined as doing something you know is right but still feeling like you’ve had a loss. Been there and done that? I know I have, and I bet you have too. Ouch!

On the other hand, success that encompasses all four components is enriching, renewing and enduring……it fully satisfies. The interplay between these four components can occur in a single event, but more often than not it occurs across a variety of activities over time and over seasons in the whirlwind of life. Satisfaction and enduring success in a particular endeavor, activity or area of life is realized as you accomplish something distinctive in each of the four categories for what it is your doing or seeking to be. Because doing that typically takes awareness, intentionality, time, focus, and patience, it’s easy to see why so few people obtain enduring success. We arguably have more “stuff”…including education and opportunities…than any nation in the history of mankind yet have become less and less satisfied with our lives. What’s up with that?! More importantly, what do you do about it?

The first thing to do is ask “What’s Best Next?” for your own situation.  After that would be to leverage the following practical steps and seek to integrate the 4 components of enduring success in your pursuits:

  • Acknowledge there is no “Silver Bullet”- no 1 thing will yield it without a synergy of the 4 components
  • Understand and keep the 4 components top of mind- they can serve as a good diagnostic with difficult decisions
  • Be Aware- you have to know yourself, who you want to be and what you want to do
  • Plan and Prioritize- sometimes there are competing priorities and goals
  • Set your expectations- acknowledge it’s hard to touch on all 4 components with regularity
  • Categorize correctly- is it legacy or achievement you would expect from solving a perplexing problem? Set expectations accordingly
  • Keep your Principles, Values and Talents top of mind- The key to making tough individual decisions and sacrifices for the sake of the larger whole

While it may seem a bit trite and even presumptuous to boil things down to 4 components in regard to something as important and multifaceted as enduring success, it is arguably a great place to start.

What is and isn’t working for you? Please leave a comment, I would love to know more.

How You Can Have It All!

Its hard for high-achieving people to accept that they can’t have it all. However, given the reality of trade-offs, we just can’t…at least not all at the same time.

High achieving people also usually have to learn the hard way that they are no exception to the reality described above; I know I have, and multiple times at that. It wasn’t until I asked myself “how much more of that pain do I want?” that I realized I had to start looking at life…and choosing….differently. Coming to this realization sooner is better because the damage done by the 2 x 4 you end up getting hit with is deeper and longer lasting as time goes on.

The real world is messy and you can’t do everything you want to do perfectly at the same time; you can’t simultaneously pursue all your goals or satisfy all of your desires. To think you can is pollyanna and an emotional drain (at a minimum) and simply setting yourself up for frustrations due to unmet expectations.

In their HBR article “No, You Can’t Have It All”, Eric Sinoway and Howard Stephenson (former chairman of Harvard Business Publishing) identified 7 dimensions of life most people value and have to consider in relation to one another:

  • Family
  • Social and Community
  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Material
  • Avocational (i.e. Hobbies)
  • Career

As they rightly point out, the pursuit of a meaningful and multifaceted life requires ongoing and endless choices and trade-offs in these areas. In order to choose wisely and move your Needle in the right direction, you need an integrated vision of your legacy (that flows from essential intent) and what you aspire to in the present as a decision making guide. Both short-term and long-term considerations and consequences have to be considered.

Since trade-offs are a reality and by definition means you can’t choose to do or have everything (eg. do you want more pay or more time off?), then how do you best choose in a way that gets you closer to where you want to be? Sinoway recommends asking yourself the following 3 questions for each of the 7 life dimensions:

  • Who do I want to be in this part of my life?
  • How much do I wan’t to experience this dimension?
  • Given my finite time, energy and resources, how important is this dimension relative to the others?

The real question is not how can we  have or do it all, it is who will get to choose what we do and don’t do. Remember, no choice is a choice and when we forfeit our right to choose someone else will choose for us. Choose wisely.

As Howard’s mother often said to him: “Remember, that you may be able to have everything you want in life…just not all at once”.


Work-life Balance Is A Myth!

Trying to get all the “stuff” done in our lives and still have a life, much less a legacy, is something many call “Work-life Balance”. Let me be blunt: “work-life Balance” (Balance) is a romantic myth.

Like most, Balance was not only a destination I always wanted to reach, but I wanted arrive fully-loaded. I have indeed become at least semi-loaded by many standards: a PhD, several businesses, service to church, 6 kids, 2 grandkids and 1 on the way….I could go on with the professional and personal lists. But when I realized this trip had became a journey with no end in sight, an anxiety meter steadily climbing and gas tank getting really low, I had to stop and think about re-charting my course. Sound familiar? You may even have been-there-done-that.

I talk with a lot of people. Like me, no one I talked to who is striving to achieve so-called Balance seems to be making much real progress toward Camelot. Instead, they are finding:

  • A few enjoyable pit-stops along the way (fewer as time goes on)
  • A busy highway of life stretching out further than the eye can see.
  • The destination in the distance that turns out only to be a mirage
  • Another mirage just a few more miles down the road…..just a few more miles
  • The destination seeming to be the next stop, but never quite is

The truth is that if Balance is your destination, you never will arrive.

The FastCompany article of similar title  called Balance a “pipe-dream”. Unfortunately, the Balance myth has been become so deeply entrenched in our culture that we follow after it like it were the north star. However, Balance is anything but a guiding light. In fact, if Balance is your compass, your destination is anxiety, disillusionment, quite possibly despair or disaster.

Here is the problem: People aren’t really after Balance at all. Instead, people are after what they think Balance brings: enduring 044 Balance2success. In pursuing Balance, people pursue process vs product. Unlike product, process is never ending. In contrast, a product is tangible and achievable…..when properly defined. Enduring success as a product, unlike the myth of work-life balance, is emotionally renewing, not anxiety producing.

The concept of Balance has been challenged, tried and been found wanting. The good news is that there is a better way! Although I chased the Balance myth for many years, I was fortunate to not have totally run out of gas or have my wheels fall off (came close many times). In my case, I realized my biblically rooted contemplative practices and worldview had slowly but surely over the years unmesmerized me from pursuing a life of Balance to pursuing a life of passion and purpose. I say fortunate, because the shift in mindset wasn’t a conscious one at first. However, once I became aware I was able to become intentional about what I wanted, where I was going and what I need to do to get there.

Unlike Balance, realistic and actionable concepts for attaining enduring success have been studied and found to function quite well in the Whirlwind of life. The problem is that they haven’t been talked about much. That is going to change starting here. In the next several posts I am going to explore these concepts and associated concrete action steps so you can become more aware.

So, if your tired of riding the Balance myth and want to change, then hop on in and buckle-up. But just remember: while increased awareness can help dispel the illusions and sometimes stupor created by the Balance myth, you’ll still have to act on it if you want to change direction.