Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Storm Surge: A Reality Check

Standing in front of these leaders in Tokyo all of a sudden means nothing to me. These leaders worry about delivering their quarterly goals or hitting their budget, while I'm worrying about the lives in danger in Hurricane Sandy. It's not the fault of the leaders in this session, they are far removed from the threat, as am I. But the threat is still too close to home for me.

As Hurricane Sandy barreled up the coast of the US, I was settling to facilitate a leadership workshop here in Tokyo. I hoped the forecasters were wrong and that Sandy would benignly head out to sea. But I was wrong and as Sandy took her westerly turn into New Jersey I began to worry. What happened to me was a a quick prioritization and a powerful reminder of what is important.

My first concern was that all my family and friends were safe. Though I knew none of us would be at home in Asbury Park and my parents were safe in Virginia Beach, I thought of all the friends I have in Asbury Park many of whom were still there as the storm hit. During every break I search the internet for news of how the storm is affecting the city.

So far, all my friends are fine and I believe the worst is past. However then I have my second level of concern. Is the house okay? When you purchase a house as close to the ocean as ours you always think of the worst case scenario and then hope it will never happen. The house was a dream come true. Now I await news about whether that dream was damaged or swept away.

Yet in all of this I can't help but reflect on the wake-up call that a storm or natural disaster brings. Immediately we realize our priorities. We seek safety for our loved ones and friends and then we secure our possessions. All of the small details that regularly clog our day and blind our vision are gone. In that minute of high wind, everything is blown aside and we see clearly.

So I pray for all those in the path of Sandy and I hope they are safe and their homes secure. Yet I also hope we hold on to this moment. Now is when we realize who and what is important to us. Perhaps we can learn to carry that with us rather than wait for the next disaster.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Personal Greatness From the Long View

It was just an intuition, a moment I realized I had to look. As I pushed up the shade on the window next to my seat on Air Canada I was greeted by a beautiful site. The snow-whitened mountains of Alaska! And I realized that from that high in the sky, there are no differences in people, countries and policies. But another realization dawned on me. All of the work that has been done on personal greatness is also not about comparing one person against another, it is so the whole world can unite and unleash everyone's personal greatness.

Flying to Tokyo I was reflecting that many people believe greatness is the comparison of one person against another and a tally of their goals, achievements, virtues, etc. Perhaps that is true for historical greatness. It is a "zero-sum" game. Only one person can be the greatest at anything. That is why there are record books and gold medals. However, personal greatness is not a zero-sum game. As a matter of fact, if everyone in the world achieved her or his personal greatness no one would be less for it, all of us would be greater.

We live in a world dominated by comparisons. One person is better at this, one country better at that. Yet, personal greatness is striving to reach the best of who each of us can be. We compete against no one else, we just strive to realize and unleash our personal best. As a matter of fact, the inspiration and motivation we have from someone else doesn't lessen us, but helps us to see that perhaps we can reach just a little higher or do a little more.

I'm a competitor, but as I research and speak about personal greatness I realize that when we work with others rather than against them we all achieve more. So perhaps we need the view from 37,000 feet. We are all human, basically striving for the same things. Working together will enrich all of us. So I know this week as I speak to these senior managers here in Tokyo I will work as hard as I can to help them unleash their own personal greatness. Because from the long view, we are all in this together and if they move toward their personal greatness, I will also.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Have You Experienced Achievement Post-Partum Blues?

Okay, I've never had a baby. I'm not physically made that way. And I don't have any children, so I've not experienced the waiting and birthing process. Yet, I wonder if I'm not experiencing some kind of post-partum blues. Of course I'm not comparing the experiences because I'm sure the emotions of having a child are massive. Yet have you ever worked very hard at something, brought it to completion and after the celebration of completing it, felt a let down? Yep, that's what I'm talking about.

Recently I finished a chapter for a book that is much more academic and psychological than I usually write. It was intense over the year doing the research and the months and months of writing up until the time I finished it. Then last week I pressed the send button on my computer and it was all over. Of course I felt the brief time of euphoria, but just as quickly I found that I couldn't write anything for a week (hence no blog). I'm finally getting back to a sense of normalcy.

As I study greatness, I believe I've seen similar things. When any of us prepare diligently for a significant period of time, putting in vast amounts of energy, we experience a let down when it is done. I'm speculating on what happens, but I believe the energy and emotions to complete something big (a degree, a book, a deck), put us in a different space. Pushing ourselves in new directions, or having the discipline to move toward completion of a project is almost like a high. When it's over we come down.

I'm learning two things from this experience. The first is that I have to give myself the time to experience the post-partum. There is a natural ebb and flow in life that makes the highs worth it. When we complete something, we come down off the high and it feels very different. Typically in the past I would immediately engage in something else and deny myself the time to realize what I had done. We need to give ourselves time to savor our achievements even when it gives us an emotional let down. Yet the second thing I've learned from this experience is that by letting myself experience and live through the post-partum I am now excited and ready to engage in something brand new with more energy than before.

So when you finish something you've diligently striven for and you finally put it to bed know two things. You will probably experience a period of feeling emotionally down. Live with it, because is really instructive about how much work you've put into something. And then be ready to experience renewed energy. It will come and you can re-engage fully.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Death Be Not Proud: Our Life Legacy - In Memory of Chris Peterson

Chris Peterson died yesterday. For those who did not know him, he was a brilliant scientist, a very humble man, and someone who changed the world around him. Those of us who knew him could not leave his presence and be unchanged. Learning of his death this morning saddened me. Yet I cannot claim any special relationship to Chris. I was one of his many students. But he had an amazing ability to make any of us feel incredibly special and unique when we were in his presence.

Over the years, in front of many audiences, I've challenged people to examine their lives and wonder what legacy they will leave. So many of us (myself included) think about the things we've done, the work we've created, or the achievements we've accomplished. In the end, that's not the legacy we leave, not really.

We change people by how we make them feel about themselves and Chris did this in a big way (it helped that he was a big man with a big heart). The memory I will always treasure about Chris happened at the First World Congress of Positive Psychology. It was early afternoon on the second day of the Congress and I was giving my brain a break from all that I was learning when I spotted Chris in the lobby sitting by himself. I walked over just to say "hi" and then move on so I wouldn't disturb him. He greeted me by name (I was stunned he remembered my name) and invited me to sit down. For the next two hours we talked about positive psychology, his work and what was next. Yet what I remember most was his interest in my work; the focus on greatness and bringing positive psychology into the corporate world. He made me feel like an equal (which I clearly am not) but listened respectfully to what I had to say and liked some of the ideas. It was an amazing moment for me.

At that moment it was not his degrees, nor all the articles and books he had written, nor all the classes he had taught that made him great. What Chris did so well was transform other people because, to quote his words "Other people matter" and he lived that motto with every fiber of his his being. That is the legacy I think of when I remember Chris. And it challenges me to wonder about my own.

So death be not proud, though you've taken someone renowned in his field, a leader of science. Sadly death you've taken someone who left a legacy of tenderness, humor, compassion, humanity, and yes I will say it greatness.

In the end, Chris, you are and always will be a great teacher. Thank you.

I've attached a link to Chris' last blog post in Psychology Today for those who would like to read it.  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/201210/awesome-e-pluribus-unum

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Ebb and Flow of Life Can Help You Achieve Greatness

This morning the fog is San-Francisco-thick here in Asbury Park New Jersey and it seems to have affected my computer. Of course all you techies will reply that there is no way for fog to affect a computer, but for a non-techie like me, it happens. As I watch the misty fog drift down 2nd avenue my computer seems to drift in and out of connectivity, or cooperation. My fingers try to fly on the keyboard, only to have the computer choose to pause and then eventually spit out my typing with machine gun effect onto the screen. Yet, I'm learning that this is part of life and shouldn't inhibit me or any of us as we move through our day and achieve our potential.

Yep, life ebbs and flows. If you don't know that by now then you've lived your life in an amazing bubble. Yet, we live in  an age that demands constant attention, speed, energy and focus. It's impossible to maintain. No one can go forever 24/7/365. Sooner or later, something or someone will crash. The key to success is to embrace the ebbs and flows that life provides,  especially if you aren't disciplined enough to establish your own.

I've learned this lesson the hard way. I'm driven, or was. There is no question about that. When we were setting up our business and I was writing on the side it seemed there was nothing I couldn't do. I had a ton of energy. But I could only keep that up so long. Looking back I can see how my creativity and my performance suffered. Then I started using the ebbs and flows of life to create some balance. Let me give you some examples.

I travel quite a bit on airplanes and was one of those intrepid warriors who scribbled on notepads until they allowed me to open my laptop, then tapped away for the flight balancing my computer, water and stale peanuts. Now I use flights to relax and rewind. I take good novels or choose to watch some of the in flight entertainment. It is part of the ebb and flow of my life that causes me to pause. And I've found I'm just as productive, even more so.

When colds hit, I used to push through them, saying that they didn't bother me and I could continue on track. Yet I weakened my immune system and sometimes the cold lasted longer. What I've come to do is accept the cold and at least take one day to just rest (okay I've got to work on this one). But admitting that I need to let my body heal is a good way to embrace the reality of life and take a break.

Finally I've found that when computers crash, phones die, or some technological glitch occurs I call someone for help and in the waiting time, I try to exhale (I'm still working on this one too). Yet I can't do anything except get upset, so why not just enjoy the moment?

Many of us are driven to achieve, work, be present for family and just push ahead. Yet life can't be lived continuously at a hectic pace. Individuals like me have a tough time scheduling down time (I'm getting better).  The ebb and flow of life, when we embrace it, allows us to take a breath, get our bearings and focus. We will be better for it. So, the next time you are in a traffic jam, the electricity goes out, your computer is slow or you have a cold, maybe life is telling you it's time for a breather. Exhale, because the work will be waiting for you when you come back. Enjoy the breather and you will be even better when you come back to what's waiting.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Positiveness Needs a Warning Label

This past Friday I was speaking to a room of approximately 70 financial service professionals about achieving their personal greatness. I told them that the workshop should have a warning label posted on it. I cautioned that if they were more positive, energetic and passionate about their work and life, some people would not like them. Some were surprised at my warning, but most of them agreed. We live in a society that speaks about positiveness, energy and passion quite a bit, but people who have those characteristics often don't seem normal to others.

I have been told in the past that I was "out of touch," "not real," and "too positive." My first reaction to these statements was just to ignore them and dismiss the speakers as negative. However when I heard those comments from different people at different times I started to listen. What I realized was they were telling me how I was being perceived.

People saw me as a high energy, always positive and upbeat person who (they thought) couldn't see the challenges and difficulties of life and work. They experienced me as moving through life in this positive bubble while others struggled, got depressed and became angry. What they never saw or heard was my experience of the negative emotions of life.

There was a brief period that I forced myself to be less positive, less upbeat, less optimistic. I wanted people to see me as "real." But I wasn't being real to myself and I wasn't being fair to others because I was fake.

I've finally learned that I have to meet people where they are. No, that doesn't mean that I will get negative and depressed. It does mean that I have to listen and communicate that I understand their emotions rather than responding with positive affirmations and cheery outlooks.

The most difficult part for me is not trying to "fix" the person or the problem. I want to help everyone feel better about themselves and their lives and I'm finally learning that some people need to stay with negative feelings for a while before they can move on. I can't judge that, I just accept them as they are.

I'm still working on this, but I'm learning to listen carefully to people's challenges and emotions. Now I communicate what I'm hearing from them and empathize with what they say. If they want help, I will try to help them, but if they want to stay in that emotional space for a while I will let them. But when I walk away, I am as positive and upbeat as ever. I don't need to take on their emotion and negativity.

Being positive, energetic and optimistic is wonderful. But it can drive others crazy. When you encounter negativity or challenging emotions from others, listen carefully, respond with compassion and help them only if they ask for help. Meet them at their emotional level. This helps others know you are real. Later you can be your positive, energetic self. Just realize that even if you follow this strategy, there will still be people who will not think you are in touch with reality and that's why positiveness needs a warning label.