The Art of Savoring

This morning I went to my favorite diner in Pawlet, Vermont. I had sausage gravy, something the cook rustled up for me simply because I mentioned it in passing yesterday. The coffee was extra strong, a good thing.

Tom Petty and Joe Cocker were playing on the stereo. I worked for a couple of hours.

I had been sick last night. One of those passing stomach bugs. Maybe sausage gravy wasn’t the best idea, but it felt good going down. It warm and salty and peppery with a hint of sweet Italian sausage. My stomach, despite my poor decision in foods, decided to let it stay down.

After I knocked off the first writings of the day, I went back to my home. Driving in and parking, I walked over to my little flower beds at the back of the house. I got a late start planting them this year so things were late in blooming, but now, right on the cusp of fall, the colors and fragrances are sweet and bright. Most nights they predict frost now, and sooner or later the weatherman will get it right and the color and aromas will be gone. I savored them for a few minutes.

I worked some more. It is warm enough that I can still leave the doors open in the daytime and be comfortable. But it is cool enough that a few wood stoves burn through the day and the light smell of wood smoke is in the air. I know it’s pollution, but I love that smell. I love living in a place where so many heat with wood.

I stopped for a few moments and offered up a prayer. It’s been a brutal few weeks with hurricanes, fires, political insanity, deaths, loss and actual insanity, ending in the killings in Las Vegas. I am still in the mourning and prayer stage, unable to make sense of it all – the losses are overwhelming still when I think.

It will pass. I will move to a “what can I do?” place soon enough. It’s how I work, overwhelmed at first, but only at first.

I went upstairs to pack. I have a short road trip ahead. The bed was a mess and I left it. The perfume of the woman I love lingered on the pillows. Why would I mess with that? My cat lay on her spot on the bed, defying me to move her. I pet her instead and felt the deep rumble of her purring as she nuzzled my hand.

It’s the little things. That’s what my therapist told me when I was in my darkest place. It is the little things, the good details in life that remind us when the big picture is a blurry mess, that life is a beautiful thing. I have a friend, Paula, who calls them “little scraps of magic.” And so they are. White magic that surrounds us, signs I believe, of a benevolent God. Tiny reminders that taken alone mean little.

But when added up, when we take the time to notice and count them, they are life-changing. When we take the time.

There was a fallen leaf on the black convertible top of my car when I went to put my suitcase in. A beautify thing. A simple thing. I tossed my suitcase in the car and the wind, warm and cool at the same time, blew the leaf away.  There will be more. There are always more.

And that is the lesson my therapist wanted me to understand. Good is around us. Beauty is around us. Even when we humans act like idiots and madmen, the good stuff surrounds us. It only we make ourselves look beyond the pain inside.

That’s hard to do of course. Pain makes us pull inward. We ball up, put up walls, retreat. It’s a safety thing. For some, it’s a survival thing. The more the pain, the stronger the need to move our heart to a fetal position. The longer the pain goes on, the harder it comes to look for that good. It’s not easy.

But it is powerful.

We forget the power of little things sometimes. I know I have at times. But when I am overwhelmed, again and again, I turn to the simple act of savoring. A touch. A taste. Smells in the air.

And I heal.

Always, I heal.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Spirit and Profit

bird in flight

Spirituality is no longer taboo.

Mainstream Publications such as the Washington Post and New York Times regularly write about spirituality in life and at work. Oprah and her empire has risen largely on a focus on spirituality that isn’t about religion at all. More and more often now, you will see pieces on spirituality in Forbes, Inc, or Fast Company.

Why?

As a nation, as a people, and as a culture, we seemed to have reclaimed the idea that what we do needs purpose. And that purpose, that spirit, needs to be about something bigger than ourselves. It needs to be part of a group of core beliefs that go beyond a mission statement.

Authors such as Steven Covey and Rick Warren have written books that moved the power of purpose, of spirit, into the mainstream. Daniel Pink’s masterpiece, Drive, speaks intimately to what moves us, what drives us, and what binds us together. I rarely have anyone I work with, personally or corporately, deny the potential power of spirit in their growth and in reaching their goals. And I almost always ask about purpose.

Yeah, I ask.

Knowing your purpose is a key to reaching your goals.

We need something bigger than ourselves to commit to. We derive power from it. We will work harder, with more focus, more effectiveness, and with more joy with that spiritual sense of being a part.

So I ask. If I know the spirit of a person or the spirit of an organization, there’s a way to get them there. But you would be surprised at how hard it is for people to answer that question.

Oh, they have an answer, but it’s vague. Or as we talk and I ask questions, their initial answer is almost a shapeshifter, taking on

Typically, when I talk with coaching clients, as we talk and I ask questions, their initial answer is almost a shapeshifter, taking on new form, new ideas, contradictions, self-arguments, soul-searching re-arranging itself again and again as we peel away the onion to find what really drives people, what really energizes and excites them and fills their spirit.

Organizations are not much better. A lot of them have mission statements, which were all the rage a year or so ago. But as I talk to leaders and others down the organizational chart, there is, once again, confusion. There’s often a disconnect, with the corporate culture being out of alignment with the professed mission statement.

Why is it so hard? 

It’s hard because a couple of things have to come together. First, we are not trained to look for what really moves us. Modern culture tells us what should move us. Culture tells us what is trendy, acceptable, and popular. But it can’t tell us our real hearts. That takes work. Real soul searching. Whether we are a company or an individual, digging for the truth is hard and takes time.

Let me tell you this. In all my work as a consultant and coach, I have never had a person or corporate group have the same purpose when we ended looking at it as the one we started with. Not once. And I don’t expect it to happen if I get to do this for another decade or two. It takes work finding the truth of ourselves.

The other reason is that having a spiritually-oriented life, being focused on doing what we say we are about is even harder than figuring it out in the first place. Inevitably, as people or organizations, we discover that our actions are out of alignment with our professed purpose.

When we are out of whack like that, when we are professing one thing and doing or acting on another, we end up confused, or angry, or dismiss that high-sounding purpose as just another lie. We become even less effective with a fractured purpose than if we had no purpose at all.

What makes a purpose, a spirit, work? 

  • First, it must be true. It has to be at the heart of what a person or company or organization is about. If it’s marketing, or if it’s a thing to say to puff ourselves up, it will fail. People will see through us. Our customers will and we will and (in the case of an organization) our employees will. And when you lie about your spirit, your credibility is gone.
  • Second, it must be wide enough to encompass all we do. It can’t be a narrow little idea. It needs to be a big idea. A big reason to be. Something that we can apply to everything. So for a person, it has to be able to work for our work, our relationships, our creativity and (if we have one), our faith.  If we are an organization, it has to be big enough to be useful in each and every division, product and job.
  • It must be achievable. We have to believe we can get there, truly be able to believe, or we can’t embrace it. And neither can our employees, customers or leaders. (Now that I think of it, this may be part of being true.)
  • Lastly, it only works if the people at the top not only embrace the idea, but live it, talk it, market it, encourage it, point out others that are living it. Leadership has the power to make it go or not go. That is true with individuals where self-leadership moves us, and it’s even more true in organizations, where leaders at all levels have the task of making that spirit real.

Why go to the trouble?

A wonderful article in the Financial Times points out that the paradox that the most profitable companies tend to be less focused on profit, and more focused on purpose. My experience as a coach for individuals has indicated the same thing.

When we have a purpose that is true, wide enough and achievable; and when our leaders (or ourselves) commit to that purpose, great things happen. Morale soars. People want to work with us. People want to buy from us.

And, oh yeah, we make more money. Hmmm.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

How long is it going to take?

Opportunity, rise and improvement concept

I am in the change business. I have been most of my life. In my work as a transformational coach, I help individuals move from where they are in their personal and professional lives, to where they want to be. As a business consultant, I help develop start ups and initiatives. I help my clients develop powerful, ethical, effective marketing that boosts sales. As a communications consultant, I help my clients become better communicators. As a technology specialist in the broadcast, AV and Media Centric IT world, I help clients built breaking edge facilities.

One of the questions that I am almost always asked is “How long will it take?”

When we want change, real change, we are often anxious to make that change happen, and happen now. The problem is, substantive change takes time.

One of my coaching clients recently challenged me on this. “But you can change a habit in 21 days!” he told me. And that is true. It just is not the whole truth.

We can change habits. We can change methods of working and workflows, but just making the changes does not create the full fledged change we want to happen. I don’t care if we are individuals or mega-corporations. Changing habits. Changing how we do things. Changing technologies is only a small part of gaining the substantive, transformative change we want.

The problem is human nature.

We resist change. Even when we say we want it, it’s hard. Part of us likes the comfort of the old ways. And if we as individuals like the safety of sameness, how much harder is it to overcome that part of human nature when we have an organization of ten, or a hundred, or a thousand individuals. We resist change even as we want it. And so we may change what we do, but part of our minds are still pushing back. We have to give change time. We can change everything, anything we want, but try and change too fast and something in us revolts.

The secret then, is to make the change in slow, steady steps. Give our minds and hearts time to absorb the changes, to internalize them. It takes time, not just for a habit to change, but to have that change become…. comfortable.

It also takes, consistency.

Too many clients, in all of the venues I work, stutter step their way to change. Two steps forward, resistance, one step back, repeat. They ignore proven processes that work. They get lazy, or afraid, or just plain stubborn. (I do stubborn really well, alas.). Because of that old friend, resistance, we self-sabotage. We find ways to be too busy to do what we need to do. And all of that slows the process down. Sometimes, it kills the transformation altogether.

It takes faith

It takes the faith to keep at it. Because at first, the going is slow. At first, there seems to be little progress. Transformation takes time and builds on itself. There is a tipping point, a point where everything starts to come together and suddenly, the changes transform us – people, organizations. Once that tipping point happens, it’s dizzying, exhilarating, and a little scary. But it gets us where we want to be.

Here’s what I have learned in over 35 years of being at the center of transformations in technology systems, companies and individuals. When someone asks me how long it will take, the answer is always the same.

Six months to a year…. If.

  • If we invest in the right pre-planning and defining the vision.
  • If we commit ourselves to the process of change.
    If we work regularly and consistently
    If we keep the faith and don’t give up.

Do those things and the answer is six months to a year. That’s what 35 years has taught me. Do the right things and that is how long it takes. Don’t and it takes longer, or it simply doesn’t happen. Which leaves us with the question of how we see that timeline. Do we moan and say that’s too long? Or do we say “That’s all? Let’s get going!”

Which way do you react?

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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Night After Night

iStock-517044090.jpg

This morning, as I was reading in (of all things) Sports Illustrated, I came on an excerpt from Bruce Springsteen’s biography, Born to Run and Peter King’s commentary:

“He’s 20 years old, everybody at the Jersey Shore loves him, but he’s unknown nationally, and a good friend and adviser tells him, ‘If you really want to be great, you’ve got to get off the Jersey Shore.’ And so they pile everything in a couple vehicles and head west to this sort of open mike night in San Francisco.

“As Springsteen wrote, the band was part of a four-band showcase; one band would get the chance to move on and perhaps get a recording contract. The Jersey guys went third and thought they killed it. The fourth band, though not as energetic, was very good. Via “Born To Run:”

“They got the gig. We lost out. After the word came down, all the other guys were complaining we’d gotten ripped off. The guy running the joint didn’t know what he was doing, blah, blah, blah.”

“That night, Springsteen reflected, sleeping on a couch in his transplanted parents’ home in the Bay Area. “My confidence was mildly shaken, and I had to make room for a rather unpleasant thought. We were not going to be the big dogs we were back in our little hometown. We were going to be one of the many very competent, very creative musical groups fighting over a very small bone. Reality check. I was good, very good, but maybe not quite as good or exceptional as I’d gotten used to people telling me, or as I thought … I was fast, but like the old gunslingers knew, there’s always somebody faster, and if you can do it better than me, you earn my respect and admiration, and you inspire me to work harder. I was not a natural genius. I would have to use every ounce of what was in me—my cunning, my musical skills, my showmanship, my intellect, my heart, my willingness—night after night, to push myself harder, to work with more intensity than the next guy just to survive untended in the world I lived in.”

Here’s what struck me, and it is something I have seen in my own clients and in my own life: Yeah, you have to take the first step, but without the long hike, the persistence, we’re never going to get “there”, wherever “there” is.

Most every client, whether it’s an individual or a company, has all the smarts, talent, ability, quality products or services to make it. I’ve never taken a single client on that I did not believe had what it takes.

Some made it “there”, some didn’t.

The difference? Some were willing to be persistent, to give it time, and to work diligently, day in and day out towards their goals. They accepted the fact that they were not going to turn around their life or their company or their marketing with some quick fix miracle cure.

Every day.

Some gave up after a month or few when they had made progress, but hadn’t reached the promise land yet. Some gave up after a start and stop and start again approach. One or two gave up just as they were about to make a breakthrough.

Night after night…

That’s the line in Springsteen’s excerpt that jumps out at me. Night after night. Day after day. Doing the work. Claiming and living our best. Finding a process that works and sticking with it. Persistent consistency. That’s what works.

We live in an instant world. We expect results fast. Ads promise a complete turnaround in short order, tomorrow or at least the next day. See enough of those ads and hype and we start to believe it.

Only it’s not true.

A turnaround takes time. It takes work. It takes unlearning and relearning. It takes changing the inertia of life or work or business or whatever it is you want to change. Give it that time. Do that work, day after day, and what you want, whatever that is, happens.

I have seen this in startup businesses or businesses that wanted to break out the middle of the pack. I have seen it in individuals, artists, executives, managers and more. That principle seems to work no matter what it is you want to accomplish.

How long?

My experience, both in the companies I was a part of and with my clients, is that it takes between a year and eighteen months of consistent work.

That is not to say that there is no progress before then. There is. But to get “there”, to whatever “there” you want to get, a year to eighteen months seems to be how long it takes. So I often ask my potential clients – can you give it that long in exchange for what you want to accomplish, to reach your dream, to change your life and business?

Some are. Some aren’t.

Which are you?

Tom

Magnetic compass on a world map
Magnetic compass standing upright on a world map conceptual of global travel , tourism and exploration, with copyspace

The Work

The woman in my life, the woman I love and is now my bride, has been after me to write something about “doing the work” for ages. I have some time between appointments today to write, so here we go…

I am a creature of habit.

I am not certain if I always was, or if this is something relatively new, a creation of the past decade. Certainly, for the first 25 years or so of my career, there was nothing resembling a schedule, nothing resembling normal.

Working in the Television industry, even on the technical side, is like that, a life of constantly changing deadlines and demands careening from crisis to crisis like a drunk riding a bicycle. Add to that the normal wackiness of life, family and church, and you got me, never sure what I was doing an hour from now, much less a day or week ahead.

I thought I thrived on that chaos. Certainly, by most accounts, I did the juggling thing fantastically well. I seemed to be able to keep a never-ending array of madness in the air with that “never let them see you sweat” attitude my mother instilled in me at a young age. People used to tell me, all the time, that they could not understand how I could do so much.

Looking back though, I am not sure it was so good for me. I was an adrenaline junkie, living off the high of “making it work”, no matter how crazy “It” was. Adrenaline has a purpose – it gives you that extra “mph” you need in a time of crisis. To do that, it uses a tremendous amount of energy that is stored up to carry you through the day to day. You can only run on that energy sapping miracle adrenaline so long before it drains you dry.

That’s science.

I got away with it so long, I think, because I had what I thought was an exceptional marriage. That was my foundation. And when that came undone, so did I. But the truth is, I have come to understand, that I was coming undone even with that foundation. I was likely muddling my way into depression already. Without rest, I was draining any reserves I had – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

I came undone. Regular readers know this. It’s history. And they know it was a long journey back.

That journey involved work. Developing habits that not just helped me understand where things went off the track, what I was responsible for and what I wasn’t, but also the building of new habits and the reclaiming of old ones.

The old ones centered around rebuilding my spiritual life and and my creative life. These has been two sustaining parts of my life that, as life got busier and busier, got crowded out. I thought both of them were optional somehow.

I was wrong.

When you cut out the things that sustain you, whatever they are, you begin to shrink, to wither, to set yourself on a downward path. It may take a year, or five, or more, but you are driving yourself over a cliff. Cutting off those things, whatever they are, is like moving your house plant into a dark room. It lives for a while, but eventually, starved for light, it will die.

The other part of the rebuilding was developing habits. Routines. I had not had them for decades and I wasn’t sure I was made for them, but my therapist insisted I work at it. It turned out to be good advice. Life has enough craziness on its own that we don’t need to add to it. We need a foundation to stand on and com come back and rebuild on to keep us stable. And I was sorely lacking in foundation.

From that came my habit of writing poetry each day. Of starting my day with meditation and prayer. Slowly, I’ve migrated my work to something no less busy, but more predictable, no less challenging, but less prone to crisis management. I spent time being still, looking inward, at my own life and struggles and mistakes.

That sucked. (I know, “sucked” is not a preachery word, but sometimes it’s the only word that fits. It hurt. It was hard. I felt stupid sometimes. I felt weak sometimes. I felt vulnerable pretty much all of the time. I cried at times. I got angry sometimes. None of this is good stuff. I don’t have to tell you that. You already know. But that was the work. Without the pain of going through the hard stuff, there was no light at the other end. So I went through years of drudgery and work and all that sucky stuff.

And I am healthier for it.

I think sometimes we get caught up in being the fixer, the one who makes it happen, the miracle worker, the go-to person, that we don’t understand what a steady diet of that life does to us. It can suck us dry.

Towards the end, when I was sucked dry and falling apart, everything continued. I worked. And well. I did church work, and fairly well. The have-to-do stuff continued. I had a habit of doing. No matter what. Some people knew what I was going through. Most didn’t. I just plowed on, a shell, breathing, living, doing, with no life in me.

A lot of us do that, I think. At least I see it a lot. Sometimes, in my role as pastor or as a life coach, I see the coming apart, the lives without foundations. And the cost of that.

But here’s the flip side. I have also learned that no matter how undone we become, there is a path back. It’s hard. It takes time. It can be painful. There’s no miracle cure to our pain. No magic bullet that makes us all better and full of life and joy and personal power. The therapists and coaches and counselors out there know this. There is way back from everything, anything. It’s generally not complicated. But it’s work.

Did I mention it takes work?  It’s not easy. It’s not fast.  There’s no secret to it. There are people who can help us get from here to there, where ever we have been and where ever we want to go. Get their help (and few of us can do it alone. That’s just a fact.) and we can crawl out of our hole. We can reach for our stars. And we can get to a better joyful place.

But we have to do the work. Deal with the pain, not run from it. Face the fears down (and they always back down if we do.). It’s not a spring. It’s a slog.

Let me repeat myself. There is always a way back. Always. It is not a mystery. We know the paths. But it is never easy. Never.

Is it worth it? I think so. I was in my fifties when it came undone for me. It took years of work. Things got better slowly. But they got better.  New habits and reclaiming old ones have made my life something it had not been for decades – a thing of joy. Not perfect, but joyful, engaged, and fulfilled. If I died today, it was worth it. Fortunately, I come from long lived stock, so I am looking forward to a lot more years ofo good stuff. Not because I am wise or smart or anything special. I’m NOT anything special. Just a guy. So if I could slog my way to a better place, anyone can.

It just takes doing the work. Slogging through it. A habit of stubbornness to go along with a willingness to be vulnerable. No secret.

Just work.

That’s my take anyway. There’s always hope – to be more, to get out from under, to make change. To start a new business or to grow an existing one. I’ve lived it. I’ve seen it over and over again in my work and life. Excuses are easy. Work is hard. Running is easy. Work is hard. Doing nothing is easy. Blaming everyone else around us is easy. Work is hard.

But here’s the strange thing. At least I find it strange. Once I begin the work in earnest, it gets easier. No matter what the work is. Even the work on ourselves. We get a momentum. We see results. Because that is what work does.

It gets results. Completely without magic.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Magnetic compass on a world map

Free Class!

bright rainbow colored watercolor paints isolated on white paper

 

Last week I mentioned that I was going to be offering a free version of My “Reclaiming Your Creative Life” class free, on-line, in exchange for a little feedback on how well the webinar platform I am using works.

If you are interested in taking part, it will be on July 5th, at 7 PM. If you can’t make the live presentation, you can sign up anyway, and get a recording of the program to view at your convenience.

Interested? The details are here.

Tom