Pay Attention To Taylor Swift. Really.

 

taylor-swift-vance-joyA friend reached out this week to ask if I’d ever read Viktor Frankl’s classic book Man’s Search For Meaning. I told her I had, it remains one of the most important books in my life and it’s formed much of my approach to living. We had a sparkling dialogue about it (I just love sparkling dialogues, don’t you?) and the next day I pulled my copy off the shelf and settled in for a re-read.

Frankl, a leading psychiatrist and thinker, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and other camps during World War II. Coming from that horrific experience, Frankl gained deep understanding of how people under tremendous physical, emotional and spiritual pressure react. It became his life’s work. In short, Frankl believed that people can endure nearly anything if they are deeply connected to something bigger than themselves, or are doing something in service to others.

This is why you might stay in a job you hate – it provides the income you need to give your children a great education. Or, it allows you to care for your aging parents. It might give you the space to write poetry, or raise rescue animals.

You do what you do – even if it’s hard – when you feel you’re serving a bigger purpose.

In the re-read, a key passage from Frankl’s preface stood out to me:

“Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. 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. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about 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.”

And that’s when I realized just how powerful Taylor Swift is.

You see, I recently saw Taylor sing on a British TV show called The Live Lounge. Now, the premise of the show is this: famous musicians sing songs that aren’t theirs. They cover other popular songs - a really fun concept.

So, Taylor could have chosen any song. She could have phoned it in – I mean, she’s an international superstar! She could have been silly or jaded or intent on preserving her famousness and make a boring choice.

But she didn’t.

From what I could see when I watched the clip, Taylor chose to sing a song that gave her joy, that she could be creative with.

She covered Vance Joy’s great song “Riptide.” Here’s the link: BBC Radio

If you watch it, you’ll see that at certain points Taylor is amused with herself as she sings certain words. She lingers on phrases. She doesn’t just cover the song – she interprets it.

And that’s when I realized that Taylor Swift is deeply, powerfully connected to her “why”. And it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with seeking fame.

Her why, in my opinion? She’s a musician. Plain and simple.

I am sure she faces a lot of pressure to be commercial and crank out hit after hit. There are probably people who suggest she phone it in and collect the cash. I’ll bet she has plenty of haters.

But I’ll also bet that despite all of that pressure, she feels compelled – yes, compelled – to do what she’s doing. And to do it her own way.

She’d do it even if she wasn’t famous.

Which, according to Frankl, is precisely why she’s famous.

Now to you. And to me. What can we learn here?

I think it’s this: whether you know it or not, whether you’re currently connected to it or not, you’re here to create something. You’re here to make meaning with your life – to do good – in service of something larger. The more you do it, the happier you’ll be. The more you do it, the more successful you’ll be.

Try as you might, it doesn’t work to only pursue fame – you live fully when you fully pursue meaning. 

Serve your creativity – whatever it looks like for you – and in so doing, you will succeed. It might be a long path, and the success may look really different than you imagined, you might even fail a time or two. But if you are deeply in touch with your “why”, you’ll get there.

And, if you’re at a place in your life where you feel disconnected, or things seem futile, or you don’t even know why you wake up in the morning – do yourself a favor.

Read Frankl.

 [photo credit: Time]

I Don’t Know What I Should Be Doing

 

Two Elevator DoorsSometimes there’s a lull.

A moment in-between.

You’ve focused, produced, attained, driven, strained. And you know there’s going to be another period of more of the same, soon.

But here you are, today, in a relatively quiet place with the past behind you and a little bit of time before the next thing starts.

There’s a chance you don’t even know if there will be a next thing.

Or what it might look like.

There’s that distinct possibility that you’ll completely shift your sights and do something altogether new.

So here you are, my friend.

And it feels…weird, to tell the truth. Because you have always thought of yourself as a doer. A high-achiever, even.

What’s with all this nothing going on?

It’s like, “shouldn’t I be doing something?”

Like, “I don’t know what the hell I should be doing.”

Like, “I always thought I wanted one thing but now I’m not so sure.”

Like, “I feel like a total slacker but, wow, I am exhausted right down to my bones.”

This.

This moment right now.

This one. Right here.

Is OK.

Absolutely OK.

It’s OK to be between. It’s OK to not know. It’s OK to rest.

This is precisely what the space in-between is for.

And if you fully stretch into the moment you’re in, and relax, and free yourself to consider your options unbound by the rules of the past, you might just find that the in-between time becomes the most productive time you’ve ever experienced.

 

Making A Plan (That Works)

I woke up this morning in a planning mood. Rather than start from scratch, I decided to look back at a popular post I wrote earlier this year – 7 Questions I Asked Myself – and sit down with some paper and my favorite pen to answer the questions. I thought that you might enjoy taking a look at them, too, so here’s the post in its entirety:

Even coaches need coaching.Large collection of metal bowls full of herbs and spices

Maybe you find that amusing, or even startling. But the truth is: Growth never stops.

I will never, ever be finished understanding, knowing – and surprising – myself. It’s a life’s work.

And, to be honest, sometimes all the options available in our lives are a little overwhelming. How do we decide where to focus, and what to say no to?

To figure that out, a Friday ago I sat down and asked myself some questions which served to focus and streamline my energy. Maybe you can benefit from asking yourself the same questions, too.

1.  What do I no longer want to do? What no longer feels right?

Now, in my case, I made two columns – the left one was affirmative, and listed what I want to keep. The right column was a list of 14 things that no longer feel right, such as “stupid rules”, “my wardrobe” and “eating crap”. Your list might be a wee bit different. Or not.

2. What needs to be cleaned up? Literally, and figuratively?

Again, two columns: Literally and Figuratively. In “Literally”, I put down “hall closet” (tell me – how’s your hall closet, hmmn?), and “garden” – so feel free to identify those niggling areas of your world which physically could stand a good cleaning or de-cluttering. In the “Figurative” realm, I’ll bet you have a couple of areas to address. I know I certainly do.

3. What do I want that I don’t have?

Oh, boy. This is a rich area. Don’t edit yourself here – let your psyche run wild. Your inner knowing will tell you things that may suprise you – such as, “I want support” and suddenly you’ll find yourself looking for a new calendar, a cleaning crew, an assistant, and a pool boy named Paolo (even though you have no pool). It is amazing what comes up.

4. What are my beliefs around (work/love/money/life – whatever you feel is most troublesome in your day)?

This is a huge area that holds people back. We have hard and fast beliefs in the most stuck areas of our lives, and it’s really only those beliefs that hold us back. “Work must be hard”, for example. Or, “all the good ones are taken”. And, “people like us never get ahead”. Writing those beliefs down on paper is a great way to begin to examine them to see if they are at all true. And most of them…aren’t. They’re just in the way of our happiness and success, so collect them, examine them and drop ‘em like they’re hot – so you can get moving toward what you want.

5. How can I be more grateful every day?

Research shows that focusing on what is working and expressing gratitude about it creates a sense of well-being which powerfully impacts health, work and relationships. So I came up with five things I can do daily to be in the gratitude zone: set positive intentions; be mindful and notice good things; say it out loud to someone else or myself; smile; and, thank people. Easy peasy, huh? What will you come up with?

6.  How can I nurture myself better?

Sleep. Feed myself well. Stretch physically and mentally. Learn daily. See doctors as needed. Stand up straight.

That last one there sounds small, but when I stand up straight I feel better. Stronger. Like I’m ready for anything.

So I’m going to try to stand up straight more often, because I like feeling like Wonder Woman. [This is the sole reason I wear bracelets, sugar.]

I had a #7, too.

7. What books need writing?

Now, this may or may not be a question you ask yourself. But asking it in this way instead of “what book can I write that will make me a ton of money?” allows real ideas to come forward. Ideas that will serve people, have an impact and allow you to write a book that’s memorable. And might just make you some money. Of course, I came up with six ideas – you know me. And now it’s time for sifting and shifting, and something great will emerge (notice the positivity? Yay, me! I am already doing #6!).

Now comes the fun part. Having asked myself these questions, and answering them honestly and openly, I came up with a set of to-dos that feel focused, efficient and purposeful.

I have a vision.

A plan.

A purpose.

All from seven little questions.

How are you going to answer them?

 

 

The Simple Manifesto

Red-Tailed Hawk
Let’s make this simple.

And when I say that, I don’t mean just these words you’re reading right now.

I mean, let’s make everything simple.

Let’s stop making things hard just because we have an idea that anything worthwhile has to be a challenge.

Let’s stop complicating things in some misplaced effort to justify ourselves and affirm our right to be at the table.

Let’s be done with attempting to prove something by being difficult and inscrutable.

Because it really never works. That is, if you intend to get anything done.

Sometimes people complain to me that they send email and never get any responses. When I review what they’ve written, it’s easy to see why – they’ve very formally written right around whatever they have to say. And often they fail to clearly ask  for what they want the reader to do, so they never get what they need.

That right there is the definition of ”doesn’t work”.

And we want it to work, don’t we?

Here’s something to consider if you’re struggling with the idea of “simple”:

Wordy, flowery, clever does not equal smart, insightful, helpful.

Formal, complicated and incomprehensible does not help clarity, understanding and action.

1 + 1 does not need sine, cosine or tangent to solve.

When you have a choice, and you always have a choice – pick simple.

Make your presentation less about bullet points and more about a story.

Make your meeting less about catching everyone up and more about making decisions.

Make your email less about sparkling, witty repartee and more about asking directly for what you want/need.

Take one clear step forward instead of three steps to the left if you want to move ahead.

Always, always, always look for the simplest solution. You don’t need stress and friction.

Own easy.

Be easy.

And you’ll win, easy.

Quietly Desperate

 

 

It must have been in high school where I first heard the famous Thoreau quote:

“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”group of people waiting in line, back view

At fifteen or sixteen, I’m sure I had no clue what Thoreau was getting at. For one, I was not a man, and, for me, “desperation” meant calling that cute boy from third period and hanging up in a fluster the moment he answered the phone.

Today, although I am still not a man, I have a better sense of Thoreau’s sentiment.

And I see it quite often in people who come to me for coaching. They will tell me that things are stuck, or stale. That they can’t seem to make progress, can’t get a break, can’t overcome the forces aligned against them.

So, they stay where they are, hung up and quietly (or not so quietly) desperate.

When you think about the last hundred years in the developed world, there’s been such a seismic shift in the way most of us live our lives. Then, so many of us were union members who worked in factories at the mercy of time clocks and management bullies. The average worker learned to report, do his or her job and keep out of the cross hairs of the suits with their time-wasting “improvements”.

Today, with the shift to a more service-based economy, fewer and fewer people are making their living using their muscles and brawn. Jobs today are about knowledge, customer service and adaptability.

Yet, if you grew up the child or grandchild of a working person, you might just hold onto some of the working people vs. suits sentiment.

What’s harder today is that you’re probably more like ”them” than your grandparents ever were.

But the us vs. them dynamic lingers. So often I see people who still wait for permission from “them” to come up with a new idea. Who won’t dare act without approval. Who need to have a supervisor to blame when they’re stuck.

These are the truly desperate people.

And they don’t have to be.

Now, more than ever, you have to be the architect of your own career. Those who wait for an authority figure to step forward and bestow blessings and permissions will miss opportunities.

This, my friends, is guaranteed.

The other day I heard a story about a young woman who’s in her first job right out of college. She’s utterly entry-level, yet heard about a new project the brass was excited about. She did some thinking and came up with an idea, based on what she could gather about it. She wrote it up and sent it to the big boss. Who kindly wrote back to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

So, she thought some more. Brought in a friend who was also lower level and together they brainstormed another approach.

She submitted again.

And her concept is the one the very large, innovative organization is going to implement.

I told this story to someone recently who said, rather bitterly, “Millennials! They don’t know their place!”

But that’s not it at all.

No, that 23-year old woman knows that she’s not going to live a life of quiet desperation. Not her.

She’s in charge of her career, not anyone else. And to get where she knows she wants to go – she’s going to get herself there.

It’s an important lesson whether you’re twenty and just starting out, or sixty and feeling very stuck.

And the lesson is this: quiet desperation is a choice you can certainly make. But you can also choose something else.

You can choose to stop waiting for permission and start creating opportunities.

Because you don’t need anyone’s else’s permission to do that.