“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
― Lily Tomlin
Life moves quickly today. We can do so much in little time. It is exciting for a Type-A person like myself who loves to be efficient and blast through the to-do list. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic on Highway 17, and view a live camera of Steamers Lane — all with a finger tap or two on my iPhone; while I am shopping for my grocery list at Trader Joe’s!
It’s fantastic. But like the groceries, it comes at a cost.
Dr. Richard Swenson puts it this way:
“… The world has witnessed almost continuous change, but never before with such levels of speed, suddenness, complexity, intensity, information, communication, media, money, mobility, technology, weaponry, and interconnectedness.“
(Let’s add “stress” to that list …)
The most important thing I have learned in my coaching profession is the need to slow down.
It is difficult to coach a client who is traveling through life at today’s pace. It’s similar to diagnosing car trouble with no dashboard to tell you what is happening under the hood. The speed and intensity of life seem to require that we lose touch with our inner being (we are too busy for that). I often prescribe meditation to help my clients Stop and Smell The Roses. It is amazing what our mind, body, and heart can tell us if we take the time to listen.
A close friend told me a story underscoring how the speed of life today is impacting our youth. His son hit a rough patch in life after high school and developed a serious alcohol/drug habit. It was not pretty, but he got himself into a long-term rehab center and is now doing great. With a dozen or so other young adults, the leader asked what they thought led to their addiction. It was their deep internal need to slow down. Each one of them agreed, life was moving too fast and they could no longer cope, so they began to deal with it by taking alcohol or drugs. I can sure relate to that. My coping mechanism just happens to be exercise.
For me, slowing down was what put me on the path to become a New Ventures West certified coach. After twenty-five years in Silicon Valley riding the Express train, I had been laid off from my job at the age of sixty-two. The train had stopped, so I got off and explored my options. It was like Surfing Without a Leash. Suddenly I was empowered to experience the freedom of who I was deep inside without being tied down to a career. Although painful at first, this new awakening brought about a sense of joy not felt in years. It is now my passion to coach others who struggle to slow down, and discover what is going on “under their hood”.
Surfing for Balance
Growing up at the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960s was an ideal environment for a young grom like me. We had a tight-knit community of friends who gathered daily at the beach, constantly anticipating the next big south swell. Best of all, my dad was a surfer from Malibu in the 1940s, and it was my time surfing with him on the weekends at San Onofre that most influenced my views on keeping work and life balance. As I grew into adulthood I began to realize that I felt at my very best when I was in the water on my surfboard. It became my identity.
When I first transferred to Silicon Valley in 1990 I wondered what everyone did when they weren’t working. It soon became apparent that when you were working for a computer company in the innovation capital of the world there was not a lot of time to hang out at the beach. The opportunities were endless, but so was the work! I found myself continuously fighting a battle to stay healthy and balanced.
Although it took a couple years to get used to the cold water (thank you, O’Neill wetsuits!), surfing soon became my relief valve from the hectic pace. I launched “Surfing for Balance in Silicon Valley” in 2014 to begin blogging about my struggle to stay afloat as a way to apply my voice to the work-life integration challenge in Silicon Valley.
Writing about the nonstop juggling act between work, family and self began to parallel my training for a triathlon. I was constantly balancing my time to make sure each event got its allotted time. I soon created the Circle of Life as a tool to provide my own emergency warning system when one area got out of whack (work, family, or self). A story from my early career with ROLM is an example when my work was taking over.
I Have Become That Man!
ROLM was a dream company to start a career, and they were led by one of Silicon Valley’s great pioneers, Ken Oshman, who established “Great Place To Work” (GPW) as a corporate goal at ROLM in the early 1970s. I was later managing a global product development team with Siemens ROLM in 1990 when this story takes place.
Our product teams were split between the U.S. and Germany, requiring me to fly to Munich quarterly to help coordinate development activities. Waiting at San Francisco International Airport to board my flight to Munich, I was strategically positioned next to the only power outlet in sight for my laptop. Typing out urgent last-minute emails to my team, I likely had veins popping out of my forehead as I raced against to call to begin boarding.
An older businessman suddenly approached me, clearly wanting to chat. Probably in his 60s with grey hair, he wore a smart suit and tie and patiently waited for me to pause from my furious pace. When I finally looked up he blurted out that I reminded him of whom he had been twenty years before. Then he paused, as if that needed to sink in.
He said he was stopping by to tell me to relax, to slow down; “Stop and smell the roses,” he said. He then assured me it all would be waiting for me when I landed in Munich. He said all this in a very relaxed and purposeful manner, looking me straight in the eye. He finished with,
“You’ll see when you’re my age, that it really doesn’t matter.”
I was aghast he had the audacity to tell me this when he had no idea who I was, who I worked for, or where I was going and why. Yet I had an immediate sense that he was absolutely right. I remember his words playing back to me over that long flight. I never saw him again. I believe he was an angel sent to help me slow down. Many years after that incident, I have become that man!
Thirty-five years into my life and launching my career in high technology, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Since then I have been on a walk of continual growth in understanding the plan God has for my life, realizing I am not actually the one in control.
Maybe I am losing some who do not believe the Bible, and I fully understand. Many in the surfing community are not followers of Jesus. Stick with me, as we all wonder at times about the truth of scripture.
As a life-long surfer who grew up without a church background, I became a student of Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) to better understand God’s word. BSF soon led me on a path to knowing God through my eternal destiny: heaven. Belief in the glorious wonder of what God has waiting for us has been a lightning bolt of change for me in my faith. In anticipation of heaven, I have found the perseverance to handle today’s challenges, and hope for what tomorrow brings. As crazy as it sounds, I believe we could be Surfing in Heaven when we get there!
“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”…
Matthew 5:12 (NIV)
** Resources **
What a story!
Julius Achon is my hero.
This book is an inspirational true story of how Julius went from being a 14-year old Ugandan boy soldier during the terrible Idi Amin era to an Olympic runner and then found his calling with an African children’s charity. I could not put it down!
The author of this book (John Brant) wrote my other favorite running book, Duel in the Sun. Brant is a longtime writer-at-large for Runner’s World and knows how to write about running.
A unique recommend on my part, but this book ties into my piece on Steve Jobs (Heaven Can’t Wait). It is the coming-of-age memoir of Lisa Brennan-Jobs, who was Steve Jobs’ first child, although he was not always willing to admit that. This was a well written and candid insight into the anxieties of a child who comes into the world as an inconvenience to her success-focused father.
“Next to love, balance is the most important thing.”
– Coach John Wooden
To me that it’s the simple things in life that can make the biggest difference.
This story starts with a bit of an epiphany I had one night while in graduate school at Golden Gate University in Los Angeles.
As I was launching my career in high technology with ROLM, it became apparent that my Sports Management degree was only going to take me so far. After successfully navigating the transition from tennis club into telecommunications, I enrolled into a Masters degree program at Golden Gate University to both learn about the industry and open opportunities for advancement in my career. Over the course of what seemed at the time like an eternity (eight or so years of night school), I completed a Masters Degree in Telecommunications Management.
One of those evenings in class as I was sipping a hot chocolate to wake up after a long day at work, I discovered something that was to stick with me for the remainder of my career in high-tech.
It was the first day of a Telecommunications 101 class, and the instructor walked into the room to begin. He proceeded to pass out something completely unrelated to the class syllabus. He called it the Circle of Life.
This caught my attention.
I sat back trying to understand why he was talking about “life” beyond telecommunications. Yet as he spoke, I realized that he was quite serious about this and in fact it made good sense.
“If you are able to keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person”.
What a novel thought. So simple, yet so true!
Best of all, he backed up his claim with a quiz he proceeded to pass out to test us on just how well we were doing in the area of life balance right now. We had immediate feedback on the life we were living. For me, it stuck.
Then he moved on to the class syllabus for Telecommunications 101 and I went back to my hot chocolate.
I’d like to tell you that my life changed that very moment as I reviewed the results of my Circle of Life quiz and began thinking about the areas where I wanted to focus to achieve better balance in my life. But in truth, that handout went into my class binder and did not come back out for many years later.
In fact, a marriage, two kids, and two jobs later.
When it finally did surface, I was working for Sun Microsystems in Menlo Park in 1999, riding the high-tech Silicon Valley bubble. I leveraged my telecommunications skills to join Sun’s new and emerging “Netra” division, and they were selling servers like In-n-Out sells hamburgers. We couldn’t build them fast enough.
As the story went, Scott McNealy provided a $1 billion credit line to a senior executive at Sun by the name of Neil Knox to bring a family of telecommunications grade servers (Netra product line) to market for Sun — FAST. These early days working for Neil and his Netra product team in Menlo Park were high-flying and very fun times. Sun had been labeled “the dot in dot-com”. They had invented Java. Scott had even coined the term, “The network is the computer”, and that was BEFORE we had the internet. It just didn’t get any better than this as far as I was concerned from a professional standpoint.
During this very hectic time at work, I received the highly coveted acceptance letter from Ironman Hawaii announcing my lottery number had come up, and I was accepted to compete in the 1999 Ironman Hawaii Triathlon.
Whoa…! How I would possibly find time to do the necessary training without losing my job or my family!?
Fast-forward four months down this path and things seemed to be working out Ok. Or, so I thought…
Then my wife said something to me, which really captured my attention.
We were discussing making family time a priority on weekends when she suddenly blurted out,
“If you put as much time into your family as you do into training for this triathlon, we would have no issues…!”
Now mind you, I am pretty good about that balancing act between work, family and play. But that one really stuck.
Enter the Circle of Life.
Clearly my life was revolving around my job and my triathlon training, and not much else, other than the necessary sleeping & eating to keep it all going. Family had taken a back seat. Once I pulled out the Circle of Life and mapped it out – it was clear as the light of day to me. And worst of all, I had been in a cloud of denial about seeing it.
Thank God my wife brought me to my senses.
This is a discussion much larger than just triathlon training, but it helps make the point to use this example. Just like the three events of a triathlon (swim, bike, run), I needed to equally balance the time and energy I was spending in each area of my life (Work, Family, Self) in order to come out with the best overall performance. But I also needed time to rest and have some inner quiet time (in the words of Dr. Richard Swenson, margin), to feed my soul and attain an optimum performance in the triathlon.
And most importantly, this was about not sacrificing my family. I truly believe that the family is the key to our future. There is a saying that:
“If things go well with the family, life is worth living; when the family falters, life falls apart.”
Whether it was work, sport, or maybe something else, keeping my family a priority is something that would be important to me for the rest of my life, as well as something I would model for my children.
I had to make some changes – right away.
Here is a 5 page document called the “Circle of Life” quiz (pdf file).
It is best if printed so you can fill it in and keep it with you.
Give it a try!
It has helped me several times get order back into my life. As my instructor stated in that Telecommunications 101 class many years ago,
“If you are able to keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person”.
He was right. I have experienced both sides, and I can tell you that a balanced life not only feels good, but it just plain works!
** Resources **
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2016: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard N. Bolles
Amazingly, Richard Bolles has been updating this book since 1975, when it was first written. In spite of the dramatic changes in the job market today – driven largely by the emergence of the Internet and social media tools like Linked-In, his principals pierce time and are life changing if properly applied. Most importantly, he does something that many of these job seeking books miss. Richard makes a strong case for taking a thorough inventory of who you are, before embarking on your job search. In other words, what color is your parachute.