If you see the mountain lion, it’s too late

I’ll never forget the time when the concierge at my hotel recommended going for a hike on their property’s private trail.

Sounded fun and scenic to me, so off I went.

But with one foot out the door, she gave me a warning.

Just watch out for mountain lions, they’re native to this region. Have fun!

Well okay then. Appreciate the warning.

Suffice it to say, my hike was short and careful. Kept my eyes peeled at every turn, running survival scenarios about what to do when encountering a predator in the wild.

Thankfully, nothing attacked me. Made it back to the hotel in one piece.

Upon my arrival, the same woman from the concierge welcomed me back and asked how the hike was.

It was tremendous. Didn’t see any mountain lions either!

To which she replied:

Oh, you’ll never see them. If you see one, it’s too late.

Duly noted.

That story always makes me laugh for so many reasons.

One of which is around the concept of, too little, too late.

Have you ever felt that way before? When somebody didn’t act soon enough to make a difference, and when they finally did, it kind of felt like a slap in the face?

Happens in the business world all the time. Particularly around employee relations and company culture.

One incident comes to mind. Year ago at my old agency, one of my coworkers, an extraordinary business strategist and leader, continually pleaded with the executives to make some long overdue operational changes. Kelly made several lucid, intelligent arguments about how our team needed to be structured differently for better client performance, and the rest of us agreed.

But for some reason, the founders weren’t willing to compromise. They basically ignored her requests and went on with business as usual.

A few months later, she announced to the team that she had taken a job with another company. Everyone was devastated. Kelly was arguably the most valuable employee we had, and we just could’t hold onto her.

Fast forward to the week after she left, our founders went on a communication crusade. Trying to make up for lost time and right the course, they started hosting weekly these leadership meetings to discuss ongoing company challenges.

Which is actually a brilliant idea. So glad we started doing that.

But in the words of the great wedding singer, information that could have been useful to me yesterday!

Turns out, it’s easy to care about things like company culture after your best person quits to work for a competitor. People should always try to make improvements, but they should be careful it’s not another case of, too little, too late.

The quick fix of doom. Take it from someone who has made this very mistake, multiple times in romantic relationship.

If you see the mountain lion, it’s too late. When it comes to communication, aim for too much, too early.

Communicate both proactively and prolifically with the people you serve.

Because the conversation you have today could be the relationship we save tomorrow. 

What important conversations are you avoiding right now?

Declare the pennies on your eye

My friend was once telling me how she received stock options from her previous employer.

Unfortunately, the ninety day period was closing in. And if she didn’t exercise her options, her shares would expire.

She wasn’t sure what to do about the situation, so my other friend, who has a background in accounting and finance, jumped in. Here was his advice to her:L

The emotional and psychological burden of having to think about this is very high. Holding the stock means that psychologically tied to a company that you don’t even work for anymore. You’re focusing on this thing that you’re not a part of anymore, and it’s not the healthiest way to think. And so, my recommendation is, take what you can get, sell the shares, take your bonus, go treat yourself to something nice, and close this chapter of your life.

His advice reiterates my theory about something called the sanity tax. It’s when we take proactive action to wipe a problem out of our life.

Even if that means incurring some kind of opportunity cost, it’s worth it for the privilege to not think about something ever again.

We all have things like this in our lives. There is some minor cost that is disproportionate to the massive value we get in return.

We pay more to get what we need rather than settling for less out of guilt, pride, consistency or frugality.

We spend money to save time, reduce stress and increase joy, not the other way around.

Unfortunately, for people who haven’t yet been schooled in the time value of money, the sanity tax won’t make sense. And that’s okay. Not everyone has achieved a station in life where they can abide by such a principle.

A game changing exercise that might help you is to calculate your hourly rate. Divide your annual salary by two thousand, and you’ll get an approximate number.

It’s not perfect, but it will help you become more protective of your time, your talent and your treasure. Keep that number in the back of your mind throughout the day, and soon you’ll train yourself to identify moments in which paying the sanity tax is absolutely worth every penny.

Life is already burdensome enough. There’s no need to psychologically tie yourself to more things than are necessary.

Harrison had it right when he sang, now my advice for those who die, declare the pennies on your eyes, cause I’m the taxman, and you’re working for no one but me. 

What price have you earned the right not to pay anymore?

We can seek enough instead of more

Do you get lost in fantasies of future events? Are you constantly longing for something better to happen next?

You’re not alone. This is a profoundly human trait.

We just love avoiding the depth and joy of life right now. And one of the chief ways we do this is by thinking ahead. Trying to extend our certainties further into the future than this present moment.

Which can be soothing and enjoyable and creative, but unfortunately, it’s not particularly healthy from a mental health perspective.

My ability to obsess about the future made me anxious for most of my twenties and thirties. Still does from time to time. My mind has a cunning way of continually dragging me out of the present moment.

One of the tools for unlocking myself from this chaos grenade has been the pursuit of less. In almost every department of life, less isn’t just more, it’s magic.

Haines was writer from the late eighteen hundreds whose book on the victorian guide to good character showed up in one of my research quests. His perspective from two centuries ago goes like this:

Contentment consists not in adding more fuel, but in taking away some fire. Not in multiplying wealth, but in subtracting desires. Worldly riches, like nuts, tear men’s clothing in getting them, spoil men’s teeth in cracking them, but fill no belly in eating them. A quiet and contented mind is the supreme good, it is the utmost felicity a man is capable of in this world, and the maintaining of such an uninterrupted tranquility of spirit is the very crown and glory of wisdom.

If we are looking for a path back to the present, less is the sign pointing the way. Using that word and that idea as a filter for our decisions will prove to us that it is possible to live without a constant sense of anxiety that something is not right and complete.

Even though many of the powers are committed to making us feel like we’re not enough, less is a choice that’s always available to us. Instead of squandering more and more energy thinking unproductively about the future, we can seek enough instead of more.

Instead of demanding and shoulding and musting, we can grow in our ability to live without things.

Instead of pining for what we don’t have, we can remember that if we are happy without it, then maybe we don’t need it. 

Are you mortgaging your present joy and serenity for a wish of what your hope your life can be?

Sending my brain into a spiral of unkindness

During a particularly depressing low point in my unemployment, riding the subway was dangerous for me.

Not because of the poor air quality, germs on the seats, disease carrying rodents, slippery platform edges or potential assault and battery from mentally disturbed passengers, but because of my fellow commuters going to work.

That’s what sent my brain into a spiral of unkindness. Some regular guy would be sitting across from me, reading his newspaper, going about his typical workday routine, and the thought tumbling through my brain was this.

That guy has a job, and I don’t, so fuck me. His job probably isn’t perfect, but at least the guy has a building where he can go to, every day, surrounded by other people, where he’s useful and earns a salary and supports himself and his family.

Unlike me, who is utterly bored, lonely, hemorrhaging cash and has nothing to contribute to the world. Fuck my life.

These are the irrational thoughts that flooded my brain. My essential worth as a human being was determined by whether or not some company sent me a paycheck every two weeks.

Have you ever gone through one of those chapters in your life? Where everything around you was a reflection of how you’re a complete failure?

It sucks to high hell. And to make matters worse, you pollute your inner life with these unloving, unkind thoughts, berating yourself up for not measuring up to a societal standard of what it means to be a successful person.

Stutz epitomes this mindset in his book about courage and willpower:

The sun is still shining, but for the person under the cloud, it doesn’t exist. There is no joy, only negativity. He’s bent over by the heaviness of the dark world this thoughts have created.

Fortunately, there is a way out of this mental mess. We can choose to recalibrate our basic relationship with the universe and teach our brain that the world is more abundant than we thought.

In my case, that couldn’t mean never taking the subway again. Rather, it would have to mean changing my inner dialog anytime the ghost of comparison tried to steal my joy away.

Reminding myself that my inherent value is solid and unique, despite how my work situation matches up with the imaginary stories I tell about the strangers on the train.

Marianne writes about this phenomenon in her book about divine compensation:

The universe registers your true substance, your true seriousness, and your true purpose. Your life has no less value if you’re not employed as the world defines it. If you’re kind to people, if you’re compassionate, if you pour your excellence into whatever you’re doing, then you’re doing the job you were here to do. From that will emerge the next form that’s needed to host the energies you’re bringing forth.

Next time you start comparing your unemployed self to somebody commuting to work on the train, consider the fact that they might be staring at you thinking, that guy doesn’t have to go to work today, and I do, so fuck me.

What’s your favorite way to be unkind to yourself?

Making friends with your weaknesses

Here’s a common fear when switching careers.

What if you have become so conditioned that you won’t be able to function anywhere else?

It kind of makes you wonder if you’ll be able to thrive in your new working environment.

My biggest fear of transitioning from entrepreneurship to the corporate world was similar. What if spending the first ten years of my career working alone in my living room has crippled my capacity to play well with others? Those hiring managers will probably reject my application before they even get a chance to meet me.

Or worse yet, they’ll hire me, but quickly realize that my fiercely independent spirit is a disruption to the company.

Now, my worries were perfectly rational and normal. There’s no doubt that same fear has occurred to plenty of other transitioning professionals.

But life has a funny way of proving us wrong about our perceived limitations. Sometimes the perceived negatives we back away from are the very traits that land us the gig in the first place.

Many startups, for example, are skewing the scale towards the privilege of autonomy. They offer loose oversight rather than micromanaged handholding.

And so, they’re not hiring team members who need permission from the authorities before they are comfortable taking ownership. They’re seeking employees who initiate. People can essentially onboard themselves, ramping up quickly without the direct supervision that large corporations are fond of using.

In fact, one of my startup employers literally told me on man first day:

Sorry, but you’re going to have to onboard yourself, it’s crazy around here this week. Welcome to the team!

Well okay then.

But strangely enough, that process was enjoyable for me. Having somebody sit down to train me would certainly be helpful, but the experience of overwhelming myself with a massive, diverse amount of information, taking notes and trying to make sense of it, in a compressed period of time, that was pure bliss for me.

It’s one of my favorite things to do, in fact. And only because working alone for all those years honed that skill.

My background in having no choice but to do everything myself give me permission to take initiative in the absence of direct management. 

Lesson learned, make friends with your weaknesses. Let the world prove you wrong about your limitations.

Your awareness of your downside might actually prompt you to make it part of your value creation process.

After all, every weakness has a corresponding strength.

Whatever it is you think is going to hold you back, see if you can’t flip it on its head and find people who would value the kind of work you do. 

Which of your perceived liabilities might be valuable to a team?

It would have been nicer to feel better sooner

Ellis’s research on irrational thoughts warns us to beware of the following assumption:

Perfect solutions exist for every problem and we must find them immediately.

His theory was that if we wait for perfect solutions, we often will miss the whole trip. And doing so will only lead to stagnation and frustration.

Have you ever gone down that mental road before? Twisting your guts into knots with this false notion that there was something out there in the world that would solve your life?

If only it worked that way.

Therapy is a common example. People sit down with shrinks and attend support groups and undergo treatment, demanding that those tools become overnight solutions to their soul’s restlessness.

For two hundred bucks an hour, this better work, we demand to ourselves.

But the reality is, we don’t do all these things to feel better, we do them to get better at feeling. None of our efforts alone will provide a psychological silver bullet. Only when we synthesize this overall portfolio of personal development capabilities do we begin to heal. Only when we strengthen the emotional muscles of noticing, naming, taming and reframing our feelings do we raise our psychological floor.

Moore’s book on the aging soul describes it beautifully:

The purpose of is not to come to a rational, logical solution to a problem, but to explore it in different ways so that eventually a new perspective arises and a solution appears out of the intense reflection.

Personally, it took me years of daily hypnosis meditation before my nerves finally loosened their grip on my racing brain. And that was only one of about twelve different habits in my anxiety management toolkit. Would have been nicer to feel better sooner, but like anything we do, it’s about the process not the result.

Believing that our little silver bullets are our saviors doesn’t actually help us grow. Embarking on another mission to fix ourselves isn’t the answer.

Besides, when did we decide that solving all of our problems would automatically mean that we’d have everything we want?

May as well focus on getting better at feeling and trust the process to do the rest.

If you were smart enough to fix yourself, wouldn’t you have done it by now?

It’s not that hard to fool people

Some companies are not real companies.

For a variety of reasons.

Maybe the company is a total scam and has legitimately shady business practices. Maybe the company is operating with no profit because it’s just a play toy for some trust fund kids. Maybe the company is just a creepy guy who owns a truck and sends random people to your home.

Maybe the company doesn’t sell anything, but has millions of dollars from investors and has to placate the board. Maybe the company is merely a front for funding a family’s expenses. Maybe the company is a bunch of minimum wage workers running around controlled by the top brass behind the curtains.

Reminds me of my first agency job, which felt like it wasn’t a real company. About a year into my stint there, it occurred to me that we didn’t have actual clients, we just came up with innovative ideas and pitched them to large organizations who never actually paid us for real work.

We once spent six months doing a market research and rebranding project for a huge skincare company. They paid us hundreds of thousands of dollars, and never even implemented a single goddamn thing we did. It was maddening.

And yet, it kept our agency in business, preserving the illusion that we were a legit shop doing meaningful work in the world. My whole experience could be summarized with perhaps my favorite song lyric of all time.

It was just true enough not to be a lie.

Because we weren’t not a company. There was an office, employees, a whiteboard and even a dog. That counts for something, right?

Maybe it’s just a reminder of how much some people can get away with in this life.

Myself included. It’s actually not that hard to fool people. And in fact, there is value in the process of doing so.

Rand, the great magician and investigator of psychic and miraculous claims, did a whole documentary about this. He said magicians are professional fakes. They are honest liars who are deceiving us. But it’s okay to fool people, as long as you’re doing it to teach them a lesson which will better their knowledge of how the real world works.

Reality is a funny thing, isn’t it?

It’s not about deceiving people, it’s about distracting them. It’s not about duping the audience, it’s about misdirecting them. It’s not about dishonesty, it’s about capturing people’s imagination through selective perception. It’s not about sneaking up on people, it’s about transforming them through the power of the unexpected. It’s not about manipulating people, it’s about wielding power through the advantage of being underestimated.

And the best part is, people want to be fooled. They loved being fooled. They can’t wait to be fooled.

Sure beats the truth. 

What are you grateful that you’re getting away with?

I’m the psychologist here, so leave the googling to me

If we’re a bit screwed, then we are not going to simply unscrew ourselves on our own.

Healing is a team sport. We may have operated as islands in our past, and that might have even been successful.

But now that we’ve committed to living differently, the future needs to be one of connection. Even if that only means reaching out to one other trustworthy person, that’s enough.

The context for healing that which has screwed us in the first place is always going to be the relationship. With self and with spirit, for starters, but also relationship with another living, breathing human being.

Buber, my favorite existential philosopher and psychologist, called this relational space created by the encounter the between. The idea came to be known as the healing relationship model, which has been adopted by therapists and doctors worldwide.

Having reviewed various studies and studied many books, let’s take a look and some of the powerful tools that clinicians use with patients. Each of us can adopt the same ideas with people in our own lives who are suffering, including ourselves. We may not be psychologists, but we can certainly learn to use our relationships as a context for healing.

And so, imagine you’re sitting in a room with someone you love who feels like they’re screwed. Here’s one way to think about it.

The first level is called valuing. This includes a nonjudgmental stance in which you accept everyone as a person of worth, giving your full attention in the encounter and actively listening to their story. It also means accepting and recognizing their subjective experience of illness, and empathizing by connecting the other person’s experience of suffering with your own life experience.

The second level is abiding. This includes the interpersonal continuity of reconnecting over time and the accumulation of caring actions that allow people to know we care. And finally, not giving up even when we feel like we have nothing left to offer.

Being inspired by this framework will require confidence, emotional intelligence, mindfulness and wisdom. Doctors spend years mastering it, so it’s not just some technique you can pick up over a weekend.

But it’s a deeply useful way to think about the healing journey. 

Are you willing to reach out to at least one other person to help you unscrew yourself?

Our results are amazing, so tough shit

When your company is making money and business is good and enough of the team is happy, it’s hard to make change a priority.

Because why fold a winning hand? Why shake things up when they already work enough to be successful?

Companies are like people in that respect. If they don’t see a compelling reason to step outside of their comfort zone, they won’t just do it for their health. Organizations are primed for preserving the status quo, and if they don’t have to change, they won’t.

This stubbornness can becomes frustrating for the customers, since they are the ones on the front lines taking it on the chin.

Like when the fashion client at my old innovation studio complained that our service didn’t surprise and delight their team like some of the other agencies they worked with in the past. Our company founder told me, well, our results are amazing, so, tough shit.

He wasn’t wrong. That brand hired us to relaunch their product and activate their customer base, and that’s exactly what we did. Which is why we could get away with mediocre service. Scoreboard don’t lie.

Software developers have a running joke for this:

You can have it fast, good or cheap, pick two.

And understandably, running a company is extremely hard and exhausting, so the idea of not fixing something that ain’t broke is an attractive one. There are simply too many competing priorities.

But it does make you wonder. Will something big enough knock you out of your complacency? What has to happen for the company to realize they’re a victim of their own success?

When will the price of staying the same outweigh the cost of cha nge?

Working too much to obtain things that don’t make us happy

My coworker once told me that she feared people’s judgment anytime she left the office before six.

And so, she started coming in earlier and staying until seven or eight. Every night. First one in, last one out.

This dedication earned her a nice promotion, but her routine was not sustainable. People started casting sidelong glances at her for burning the midnight oil.

Because in our modern work culture, the team member who’s in the office the longest appears to be the hardest worker. Regardless of output. And nobody on the team wants to be shown up.

Problem is, that response only fueled her ambition more, and not for the better. Overly focused on the optics of her schedule, she burned herself out. To the point that she no longer had the time, energy or desire to execute the work that our company needed her to do, since she was the only on who could do it.

As you can guess, this situation ultimately prompted to her to seek employment elsewhere. As it is with many startups, losing her sent a shockwave through our organizational system.

But since it takes two to tango, there was no one person was to blame.

From the management side, it was our company’s fault for not saving her from herself. We should have seen the writing on the wall. We should have made bigger compromises much earlier in her tenure.

But that’s what happens when you hire extraordinary talent. You have to go out of your way to keep them happy and create the best possible environment for them to use their natural gifts. You have to find a home for all of their talents, otherwise another company will scoop them up with a more attractive offer.

From the employee side, this woman basically dug her own grave. Brilliant and inspiring as she was, her achievement orientation placed a higher priority on our team’s perception of her, rather than her own sense of balance.

Classic workaholic behavior. Her eyes were bigger than her stomach, she bit off more than she could chew, and with so much food in her mouth, it became too hard for her breathe.

That was naive on her part, but then again, when you’re in your early twenties, your brain hasn’t quite developed enough emotional maturity to comprehend that, so, it’s understandable.

Parkinson comes to mind, the management scholar who discovered that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Companies and employees alike forget this essential principle of time management.

We labor under the much that spending more time at the office leads to higher quality results. But there’s a difference between time spent and impact made. There is a diminishing point of returns where the length of work and the quality of work actually become inversely related.

Ford famously brought the workweek for his factory employees down to forty from forty eight after he realized they were making too many errors. He knew that a seventeen percent decrease in labor time was worth whatever the percentage increase in productivity.

According to his autobiography, it was an act of social justice:

We did it for our own satisfaction of mind. There is a pleasure in feeling that you have made others happy, that you have lessened some degree the burdens of your fellow men, that you have provided a good margin out of which may be had pleasure and saving.

It’s been a hundred years since he wrote that, and yet, we still haven’t learned our lesson.

And the irony of the whole thing is, we continue to work too much to obtain things that don’t even make us happy in the first place. 

What have you learned is not going to save you?

Sign up for daily updates


Daily updates straight to your inbox.

Copyright ©2020 HELLO, my name is Blog!