Opportunity or Emptiness

Several years ago, my husband and I began an annual tradition of welcoming the new year by purging, shredding, scanning, throwing away, and donating stuff.

For me, less stuff opens up possibilities. Less stuff gives us the freedom to choose to go where we want, now or in the future. As I see it, getting rid of stuff opens up space to expand and more easily see and access the things that bring me joy and, in some cases, exchange the old for the new.

For others, stuff is what connects them to the past. They see a void rather than an opening without stuff tightly filling a space. They feel a loss to mourn or a fear of what the future might hold.

Opportunity or emptiness? Abundance or scarcity? These are questions to ask ourselves as we choose to lighten our collection of stuff (or not).

The Fresh Start Effect

Temporal landmarks inspire us to reflect on our lives in a big-picture way motivating us to set goals for better behavior. 

Researchers describe this phenomenon as the fresh-start effectAccording to the fresh-start effect, people are likelier to take action toward a goal after temporal landmarks. Psychologists studying the fresh-start effect show that it works because highlighting meaningful occasions creates a clean slate for people to make better decisions. 

This week is one of those important temporal landmarks. A new year, a new beginning, an opportunity to choose:

  • What matters to me? What am I willing to change or stop so that what matters to me gets my attention?
  • What important thing have I been neglecting? Health perhaps?
  • What actions am I willing to take to turn my resolutions into actions and my actions into habits that extend beyond Valentine’s Day?

It’s That Time Again…

For many, perhaps most of us, the end of a year is a time for reflection. Last week I posed some questions to consider while Sitting By The Fire

This week, as my last story of the year, let’s talk about resolutions. In business, we call it goal-setting, and in our personal lives, we call them “new year’s resolutions.”

Here’s how Webster’s defines each of these:

  • Resolution: to make a definite and serious decision to do something.
  • Goal: something that you are trying to do or achieve

Resolution sounds much more committed, but common lore is that most of us break our resolutions soon after making them. 

Why is that?

Here’s the process most follow for business goals:

  • we set goals for the period
  • we prioritize the goals and focus on the most important
  • we identify the steps we, and our team, need to take 
  • we identify the dependencies that exist and order the process accordingly
  • we establish monitoring systems and milestones so we know how we are progressing toward the goal

In short, for business goals, we have a process, and for those who follow the process, results follow.

In my experience working with business leaders, some follow a similar process for personal goals, and many do not.

For some, a health scare reminds us that life is short and our families depend on us, which leads to getting serious about health and fitness goals, for example.

While most of us require a catalyst to inspire change, I wonder what other, perhaps less severe, motivation we can each find to inspire personal goals or resolutions that are definite and serious and treat them with the same level of importance as our business goals?

Perhaps this is the first resolution to consider for the new year.

Happy Holidays. Thank you for honoring me by reading my Sunday Stories each week. See you in the new year. 

Happy New Year, L’Shana Tova

Tonight begins the Days of Awe in the Jewish religion. Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the New Year in the Hebrew calendar, marks this period’s start; Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, marks the end. It’s a time for reflection, which I enjoy, even though I do not consider myself religious.

The prayer we read at the opening of the service goes something like this, ” On Rosh Hashanah, it is written, and on Yom Kippur, it will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that everything is pre-ordained, yet the Stoics remind us of the same thing, Amori Fatal, Momento Mori. The message of the ancient rabbis and the ancient Stoics is the same, make today matter, it may be all you have.

For me, this reminder causes me to pause, reflect, ask and affirm that what I am doing today, and each day, in the words of Steve Jobs, is what I would be doing if I knew today was my last. L’Shana Tova, Happy New Year.

What Is Your Personal Strategic Plan?

September is the time of the year most companies begin their strategic planning process. But what about your personal strategic plan?

As part of my You Pivot™ Program, I suggest that my clients write a personal strategic plan. And I further recommend that they apply the techniques they have learned from business planning to this personal plan; frankly, most find it challenging. 

Business people are comfortable with and adept at business planning but rarely do these same executives choose to define their mission, vision, and strategic plan for their lives.

If you want to give it a try this year, here is a suggested approach:

  • Begin with your mission, your personal Why? Listen to Simon Sinek discuss finding your Why here
  • Then spend some time getting clear on What Matters to You, what really matters. 
  • As you reflect on your personal Why and your What Matters together, you should be able to craft your life vision. 
  • Finally, begin to draft your strategic plan, the actions you want to start, stop or continue so that you can achieve your life vision. 

Same, same, but different from your business plan. 

Who Is Right?

A few days ago, I was in conversation with a few like-minded friends about each person’s desire to make a difference in the societal challenges that matter to each of us.

One of our members asked, “what do you find is the common theme amongst people in leadership roles in the not-for-profit world?” My observation is these leaders are willing to accept that their impact may be small.

Another member expressed frustration, saying this is a defeatist attitude, “can’t we strive to do more?”

And another said, “for me, it’s most important not to be a bystander.”

This conversation reminded me of the following classic story.

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up, and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”

Who is right?

What Is Empathy, Really?

The dictionary defines empathy quite simply:

It’s the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

For most of us, this simple sentence describes one of life’s most significant challenges. We come at everything from our point of view, and our style, combined with our backgrounds and experiences, drives how we see things.

A few years ago, I attended a retreat for leadership coaches. The retreat began with a speaker from a local theatre group. His talk was about empathy. He gave us a peek into the life of an actor and drew a parallel between acting and leadership. From his perspective, a successful actor can empathize with their character and really get inside and understand their story.

Actors follow these three guides to becoming their character:

  • What if I were in their situation? What wants and fears drive who they are?
  • “What if” allows us to empathize even when we cannot sympathize.
  • And then, to truly empathize, we must listen with charity.

With genuine empathy, our speaker said, while we may not sympathize with a murderer, we can empathize and then become the character. We begin to understand the character by asking ourselves, what wants, fears and experiences drove them to take another person’s life?

Then, he challenged us, isn’t this the same with leadership? Or, for that matter, with all our interactions with others? If we can step outside ourselves, if only for a moment, can we see the world as the person sitting across from us sees it?

The Maxims of Delphi

Last week I was in Greece, and one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to Delphi. Inscribed, in ancient Greek, at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi are the following “maxims”:

  • Know thyself
  • Nothing in excess
  • Certainty brings ruin

In addition to these three, another 147 Delphi maxims provide a framework for an honest, worthy way of living. These “maxims,” short, pithy statements expressing a general truth or rule of conduct, are intended as guidelines and advice, not absolutes, and speak to the following:

  • character
  • worship
  • justice
  • knowledge
  • work
  • finance
  • family

One hundred years later, Confucious teachings were remarkably similar to those found at Delphi. Did Confucious travel to Delphi and copy them down? Doubtful. And, of course, modern religions are also based on these principles.

A few days after visiting Delphi, we visited Akrotiri, where archeologists uncovered a town from the 16th century BC. What was most stunning about this town was the level of sophistication of the inhabitants, including indoor plumbing!

As I left these two historic sites, it occurred to me that the only difference between humans today and in the past, no matter how far back in the past we go, is our technology.  

We have and probably always will strive to understand the motivations of ourselves and others and seek to understand the meaning of life.

No One Is Coming

Years ago, a friend said this to me. Her comment profoundly impacted me, and when I recently read this line in a book, I called her. After we talked about our memories of that conversation, she asked me if I would write about it, and I agreed.

No one is coming. What does this even mean? 

The great thing about this comment is that you can interpret it in your way. When I heard it the first time from my friend, the message I heard was that no one would fix this for me, and no one was going to rescue me or the situation. It’s up to me to choose to be a victim or choose to take action.

 I was at a career crossroads. My friend happened to call me one day when I was sitting on my back porch, ruminating. I was frustrated about my situation and wanted it to be different. Until my conversation with her, my focus was on how to change my circumstance. Instead of seeing a bigger picture and possible alternatives, I was narrowly focused on finding a solution to what was.

I shared the story with her, and she shared one of her own, and then she flatly stated, “no one is coming.” At first, I was taken aback by her comment, yet her words caused me to pause and evaluate. After some reflection time, I realized she was right, no one was coming, and it was time for me to choose. 

Embarking on a pivot of my own led to creating The You Pivot™ Program, which enabled me to continue my mission of inspiring others toward action so that they can achieve the results that matter to them. 

P.S. Today, whenever I feel frustrated and powerless in a situation, I remember my friend’s words and remind myself, No one is coming.