Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Interview with Sarah Piampiano: From Investment Banker to Professional Triathlete

Sarah Piampiano: Living Life Her Way

Sarah Piampiano: Living Life Her Way

Today I’m pleased to share with you an interview I recently conducted with Sarah Piampiano. Sarah busted her corporate idol, and made a dramatic career change – from investment banker to professional triathlete.

 

1.    Tell our readers about yourself

My Name is Sarah Piampiano and I am a Professional Triathlete.  I used to be a 2-pack-a-day smoker and an Investment Banker on Wall Street in New York City.  In late 2009 one of my friends from college told me he had signed up and was training for an Olympic distance triathlon in an effort to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle.  Over a few too many drinks I bet him I could beat him in the race.  My experience ended up being so overwhelmingly positive, I was immediately hooked on the sport (and yes, I beat him!!).  The community, the sense of accomplishment and the fact that I was doing something healthy for myself inspired me.  I was excited to take on a new passion – a feeling I hadn’t felt for a long time.

I quit smoking and started training a few hours a week.  When I went and competed in my next event I won the overall amateur title. I got the idea in my head that perhaps triathlon was a route I wanted to explore more seriously.  I continued to race as an amateur for all of 2010 and 2011, but at the end of 2011 I quit my job and began competing professionally full-time.

2.     What was it like for you to be working 90-100+ hours per week as an Investment Banker?

Working that much was hard.  Some weeks I was working even upwards of 120 hours.  Your life just isn’t your own.  You get home from work anywhere from 12 AM to 3 AM (and many nights not at all), sleep for 2 or 3 hours with your blackberry on your chest, in case some important e-mail from China comes through, and then get up and go back to work.  I loved my job so it made the long hours manageable, but it was also stressful.  Your job becomes your priority, and everything else takes a back seat.

I remember when my grandmother died I flew home for the funeral pulled an all-nighter that night.  On the way to the church I was on a conference call with a client because the call “couldn’t be rescheduled”.  Nobody really had sympathy or cared that there was something personal going on in my life.  And that was hard for me – always putting my job first – ahead of family and friends.  There were a lot of benefits and amazing parts to the job as well.  I had to the opportunity to work with some of the largest and most powerful companies in the world.  I was able to travel to some amazing places and do business in so many developing nations.  It was a fascinating experience to feel like you were right in the heart of globalization.

3.     What was the a-ha moment that inspired you to sign up for the triathlon that changed your life?

For a long long time I had been trying to find a reason to stop smoking and to start living a healthier lifestyle and nothing had inspired me to do so.  That triathlon was what I needed.  I didn’t realize at the time how much it was going to change my life, but the knowledge that I had found something that gave me the simple desire and motivation to have more balance outside of work was a very liberating thing.

4.     Tell us about the process for you to transition into being a professional triathlete from having a desk job.  What were some of the factors that made you take this life change?

As a kid, my dream was to be an Olympic athlete.  That was what I wanted to be more than anything.  But as I got older and that possibility seemed less likely, I had to give up that dream and turn my attention to other interests and to an alternative career path.

After I won that second triathlon, I sat back and believed that I had what it would take to be great at this sport.  And as someone who had wanted to be a professional athlete my entire childhood, to have that thought was one of the most exciting moments in my life.  My results didn’t suggest I could be great, but I knew inside of me what was possible.

HSBC, who was my employer at the time, was also incredibly supportive.  At the end of 2010 I went to them and explained what I was trying to do.  I felt that the hours I was working, and the travel was preventing me from really testing myself to see if racing professionally was an option.  They were incredibly receptive and were willing to work with me.  We agreed that for one year (2011), I would reduce my hours to 40 hours per week, working 4 days, I would limit my travel only within the US, and when I was out of the office, I would not be working – i.e. I could focus on my training.

It was what I needed.  I performed in 2011 and at the end of the year, I left HSBC, packed up my apartment and moved to Santa Monica, CA to begin training and competing full time as  professional triathlete.

In terms of the “factors” that made me take this life change – I guess I feel like so many of us get caught up living our lives in the way we think we “should” be living.  We get comfortable in our situation and we are scared of change.  We fear failure.  And so, rather than challenging ourselves to truly live life to the fullest – to take what is offered to us and give it a go – we pass up amazing opportunities.

As a kid all I wanted to be was an athlete.  That was my dream.  As an adult here I was faced with an opportunity to live out that dream and do something and be something that so few people in this world can do or have the opportunity to do.  Yes I had a strong, stable, very well paying job.  Yes I had worked my ass off for years to get to the position in my company that I was.  Yes, becoming a triathlete meant leading a life (at least in the beginning) with much less stability and certainty from a financial standpoint.  Yes the chance of failure was high.  But – I guess my view is that I would rather take a chance, LIVE my life, create my own path, and chance success (vs risk failure), vs settling because that is what is expected of me.  I don’t operate that way.

Some people may look at my decision and think it was crazy, but my view is:  I’m single, I don’t have a family to care for, I’m a smart, professional woman with good business sense – I have the ability to return to the corporate world at any time.  And maybe, just maybe, my story, can inspire other people to stop settling and start living their lives a little bit more – bringing them more balance and happiness than they thought possible.

5. What is your routine like now?  What were the overall life changes you had to make to adjust to being a professional athlete.

When I first transitioned from working in the corporate world full time to training full time, I thought I was going to have all kinds of time on my hands.  But I was completely mistaken.  I train 7 days a week, with seldom a day off.  I am up every morning at 4:30 AM to start training and my day ends at 8 PM when I get into bed.  I train anywhere from 4 to 9 hours per day (of physical training), and then you have to factor in time for massage, napping (yes, that is a key part of my recovery process!!), speaking with a sports psychologist, meeting with my nutritionist, seeing a chiropractor, rehab and PT, as well as the time needed in working with existing sponsors, trying to work to gain new sponsors and to building your brand.

Yes, my job is to compete as an athlete, but I very much view this as a business start up, and my business’ success is dependent not just on my performance results, but how well I am able to market myself, build a brand image, represent my sponsors, etc, etc.  I spend a lot of time outside of my training working on this.  I work hard at what I do.

With that though, I am constantly working to create boundaries for myself and my job.  For example, with the rare exception, I put work away on the weekends.  Outside of my training, I try to just let myself relax, have fun, enjoy time away from the sport and to shut myself off from work.  I also give myself a night off each week from my diet so that I can feel relaxed, spontaneous and not so regimented in that routine.

There were so many life changes that took place.  My lifestyle has completely changed.  I lived a fairly luxurious life previously.  Where I had stable income, now I am financially much more strapped.  I live in a modest rental vs owning my home/apartment.  I used to party a fair amount, stay out late.  Now I am often in bed by 8 or 8:30 pm.  I used to eat out every meal and never cook.  Now I rarely eat out.  Cabs were my mode of transportation.  Now I walk or take public transportation.

There are times I miss my “old” life.  I didn’t leave a job or a life that I was miserable in.  In fact I loved it – so yeh – there are definitely things I miss.  But I love where I am at so much right now, that I don’t feel resentful about that at all.

6. How has making those overall life changes as a pro athlete made an impact on your life?

I feel as though I have learned so much about myself as person since I have made this change.  It may sound crazy, but I just feel like I have matured and the person I am becoming is actually someone I am much more proud of.  The world I was living in – I made tons of money, I was fairly materialistic, though I didn’t realize it at the time, I think I had this view that I was better than people – sometimes I feel like I didn’t really have a clear grasp of reality.  In the world I was in, I felt like I was larger than life.  And I’m not.  Not even close.

I’ve been humbled in my new life.  I’ve learned how live a more frugal and modest life, which has helped me to appreciate my environment and the people in it so much more.  I don’t take things for granted.  And I have learned kindness and teamwork go much further than contempt and a superiority complex.  I’ve learned that simple things like cooking a great meal with friends, or an afternoon in the park are some of life’s greatest pleasures – it is not about flying first class, or buying bottles at a club.

Making this change has just opened my eyes to how amazing the world is and how much it has to offer.  It’s been a pretty amazing experience for me.  I feel like my health has improved, my relationships have improved and flourished, my happiness has gone up, I know myself better and I am able to be truer to myself.  So many benefits!

The one other thing, that has sort of surprised me, is the way in which I need to manage my relationships.  When I worked in an office, I was in front of a computer and by a phone all day.  I could IM, e-mail, text, call anyone at any time.  Now, I am training all day and only in front of a computer at night, or by my phone in between training sessions.  I really failed my friends and family in my first year as a professional because I didn’t do a great job of staying in contact.  But from that, I’ve learned to communicate with them that when and when I am not available, and I’ve made changes in my schedule in order to regularly make time for them.  That was a true learning experience for me!

7. What are the things you do now to achieve life balance? Do you ever miss your “old life”?

As a pro athlete there are a lot of choices that we make to further our development. We may put ourselves on a strict diet, or go to bed every night at 8:00 pm, or rarely eat out or socialize. We train 7 days a week and we are “on” 24 hours a day because how we train, how we rest, how we eat – it all has an impact on how we perform. We put so many of our marbles into our jobs and we ask so much of ourselves – both physically and emotionally – and of the people around us. It is hard sometimes – particularly at the end of the season when fatigue and burn out are creeping in and we are ready for that much needed break.

But, pro athlete’s are not the only people who struggle with balance. In my prior life as an Investment Banker, I worked 120 hour weeks and had no balance at all – in fact, probably much less than I do now.

I’m often told how lucky I am to be able to ride my bike every day or swim in the sunshine vs in the dark morning hours. People see the sexy side of my job – I lead a ridiculously healthy lifestyle; I am in better shape than most people could even dream about; I get to run, ride and swim outside all day long; I get massages at least once a week; I get to travel to amazing locations to compete; I have an incredible set of sponsors whose products I get to wear, ride, and test. It seems so glamorous. And in many aspects it is. But like any job, it has its downsides too.

On the flip side, I can look at “normal” people and think – they only have to work 5 days a week. They can eat whatever they want, whenever they want. They can take vacations in months other than November and December. They can leave work at 5 pm and shut it off. They can stay out late and drink one too many beers. They can decide to go surfing one morning instead of to swim practice, or to that concert on Sunday night and get home at midnight  – the lack of sleep won’t really impact their job the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that.  They make a steady paycheck.

My point in all of this is that no matter what you do and how you choose to live your life, there will always be amazing parts to it, and there will also be not so amazing parts.

I absolutely love my job.  I have never been happier in my life than I am now. I feel lucky every single day that I have been afforded this opportunity, and the people I have met and the places I have been as a result of it are relationships and experiences that I would not change for the world. I. Am. Lucky.

But – part of loving what you do, and continuing to be fulfilled means also taking responsibility and recognizing what is important to you and what your needs are to keep you motivated and loving and living life to the fullest.

I remember when I was working in banking and had just become serious about triathlon. My life was either training or working. That was it. I didn’t have time for much else. And as a result, I began to resent both my job and my then-hobby. I wanted to go out with my friends and have more social time – that is important to me. And I wanted to have time to myself where I could just relax and de-compress. That is also important to me. I was pursuing two things that I loved, but the combination of the two wasn’t particularly fulfilling for me. I suffered through that year. And when I look back, I wish I had taken my training load down a notch, and allowed time for other things in my life.

And even when I first made the move to racing professionally, I went full steam ahead. I restricted myself in every way I possibly could and was so focused on achieving greatness that I never came up for air. By July I was fried. I was emotionally done. And once the World Championships were over I let loose in a big way. I needed to because I hadn’t had any balance in my life for so long. I think a lot of us are victims of that.  We aren’t honest with ourselves about things we need in our lives and outlets for release; we limit ourselves and the end results in a blow up of some kind that ends in a negative situation, versus a positive and healthy one.  For myself, I needed to learn that lesson though to understand that sometimes succeeding (for me) means not holding on so tight.

Today, when I look at what is important to me – I really enjoy that random glass of wine at night with dinner, or my beloved ice cream for dessert. I love being spontaneous versus always planned and calculated. I love spending time with the people that I love. I love spending time on my own to just be in my own headspace and think – to not talk to anyone. I need these and other outlets in my life to stay healthy, stay happy, and also stay motivated in my job and be the best person I can be for those around me. Yes – there is a time and a place to restrict yourself from certain things or where we have to make difficult decisions. But in general – always asking yourself what is most important to you, and being diligent in remaining true to yourself – the outcome hopefully will be one of great reward.

8. What is your advice for people who are struggling to achieve life balance?

I suppose simply to be honest with yourself and recognize what things are most important to YOU as an individual to make you happy.  And then make that happen.  Perhaps it is a run every day.  Or 1 hour of alone time.  Or a weekend of partying once a month.  Or a massage once a week.  Or time with friends.  Or yoga – who knows.  Being in bed by 8 pm.  Just recognize what makes YOU happy and make time to include that in your life.  If you don’t, you’ll end up resenting your job, your family, your significant other, and you won’t be reaching your happiness potential.  Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself and be selfish in your needs.

Thank you Sarah for being so open. Your story is inspirational. Best of luck! I’ll check  in on your progress from time to time on your website http://sarahpiampiano.com/

Are You Pulling a Green Day at Work?

Tonight when I was cooking dinner, I put on Bullet in a Bible, Greenday’s 2005 concert DVD. The movie opens with an interview with Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead singer.
Question: What do you think of people who only like you because you are in Green Day? Answer:

I am Green Day. That is my life. – Billie Joe Armstrong

Interesting convergence of my favorite band and my work passion. I wonder about people like Armstrong. Is it ok that his work is his life?

Yes, I say to myself. It’s ok because it is not my place to say it isn’t ok. it is for each person to decide what their proper life balance is.

Later in the movie (after some amazing concert footage), Armstrong talks about going on tour as a cure all for life’s problems. You could be having a horrible day, and then you go and put on a great show, and everything is wonderful. And if you have a bad show, everything sucks. When the tour is over, you go home and have to face the issues again.

Going to work can be like going on stage, especially if we are good at what we do. There are times when work can become a refuge from stressors at home. Even the most unpredictable office can be more predictable than what happens in a chaotic home.

Armstrong was ~33 when the movie was filmed. In September 2012, Armstrong went into rehab for alcohol abuse, as well as addictions to pills for insomnia and anxiety. He was 40 at the time, the same age I was when I recognized my corporate idolatry, and cut back my working hours. As I’ve often said, I firmly believe that I would have had a major health issue if I had stayed on the same 90 hour a week track.

Stay sober Billie – I still want to see you in concert!

What do you think? Do people use the office to escape a bad situation at home?

This post originally appeared in the Idolbuster Update Newsletter. Subscribe now and get a free report “Who To Trust in the Workplace” 

Watch Out for this Workaholic Behavior

Dr. Greg & Steve Harrison at Quantum Leap

Dr. Greg and Steve Harrison at Quantum Leap meeting

I almost let a cool and flattering opportunity derail me from my most important deliverables. I was in Philadelphia at Steve Harrison’s Publicity and Publishing Workshop. As is generally the case at one of Steve’s events, I met amazing people. The second night, I had a chance to pitch literary agents about my new book.

New book? Yes I’m working on a new book, and this time I plan to write it quickly. The working title is Mussar: The Ancient Jewish Philosophy for Personal Ethics (A Beginners Guide). Mussar is a thousand year old spiritual practice that was almost lost in the Holocaust. Mussar teaches how to find those things inside you that always get you into trouble, and enables a series of small adjustments to bring your life into balance.

Two of the agents were excited about the book, and want to see a book proposal. I was so jazzed that I was ready to stay up all night and write the proposal. I’m really glad that I didn’t. In the morning I had a video shoot planned, and if I’d stayed up, I would have been a wreck. In fact, I left the event early to get to bed. But on the flight home, instead of sleeping, I worked on the book proposal.

Watch out for this workaholic behavior!

Sound familiar? A new exciting opportunity comes up and bam, off you go to make it happen.

I’m sorry to say this is one of my unhealthy workaholic tendencies. I tend to chase the shiny new object, especially if someone has given me a nice piece of personal validation to motivate me. “Amazing idea. I like it a lot.”

Not good Greg, you needed that rest. And didn’t you just make a plan last month to only work on your top 3 professional priorities?
You know, you’re right. Last month I did set my top three professional priorities:

1. Make sure my clients are successful
2. Write the book for a fall publication (see note below)
3. Line up speaking engagements

The agent who was most interested assured me it would only take me nine hours or so to get together a good proposal.

A small voice in the back of my head whispered I don’t see writing a book proposal on that list.
“No worries,” I told myself, feeling some anxiety. “You can squeeze it in, it may delay the book a bit…”

Thank goodness I have a writing coach (also through a Steve Harrison program). She set me straight. Mishael reminded me that the agent has a different agenda than I do. It’s no skin off his back if I delay the book. He gets paid under the old publishing model. I decided to independently publish my first book because I did not have a large enough platform to interest the traditional publishers. The same dynamic holds today. More likely than not, I would delay my efforts for months, only to go ahead and self-publish anyway. Plus, even if a publisher did buy my book, it would not be out for at least a year.
So, I’m back on track.

Sorry Mr. Agent, you’ll have to take a number and wait your turn.

Update I wrote the book proposal in December 2014, and submitted it to the agent in January 2015. He liked it, and I signed a week after sending it to him. 

If you like this post, you’ll like my book  Busting Your Corporate Idol: Self Help for the Chronically Overworked, a 5 Star Amazon Best Seller in the Work Life Balance Category. Learn more.

Writing a Book Nine Times Faster!

I have met so many interesting people as a writer. One of my favorites is Tracy Shawn, whom I met at a writers conference, which has grown to a multi-year correspondence. If you haven’t read her award winning debut novel Grace of Crows, you owe it to yourself to check out her website. Thank you Tracy for inviting me to participate in this blog hop about the writing process.

Each week, writers answer 4 questions, and then link to additional writers who will answer the questions the following week. Here are my answers:

1. What are you working on?

In my first public announcement, I’m excited to say that I am working on my second book. The working title is Guide for the Chronically Overworked: 13 Steps to Living Balance. Guide is based on a thousand year old spiritual practice that was almost lost in the Holocaust called Mussar. Mussar teaches how to find those things inside you that always get you into trouble, and enables a series of small adjustments to bring your life into balance.

I have been teaching Mussar for 2 years, and I’m thrilled to be writing a book that shares what I’ve learned.

2. How is this book different than others in the genre?

There are relatively few modern books on Mussar, and of the older books, many are not available in English. Guide offers some simple tools that I’ve developed to make Mussar accessible to a wider audience

3. Why do I write what I do?

My mission is to help people life more fulfilling lives. I’ve seen far too many people working too much, or living with pain or issues that hold them back. Mussar changed my life, and has changed the lives of almost every student I have taught. And, I would like to offer non-affiliated Jews a way to connect with spirituality that does not require a trip to the Synagogue.

4. How does your writing process work?

My first book took me 4.5 years to write. For this book, I am taking Ann Mcindoo’s class “Write your book in 90 days.” It is absolutely fantastic. She has a great method to organize your ideas, create an outline, and then to speak your book. So, instead of writing I’ll speak the book to get a first manuscript. I started in March, and I plan to launch the book at the end of the summer.

I have writing appointments three times a week on my calendar. From 9 to 9:30 MWF, I am 100% focused on my project. I usually add in one or two additional sessions during the week. I never miss these appointments, and I’m super productive during those times.

My “talk day” is June 16th. I have a lot of work to do to finish the detailed outline, or “Trigger sentences” as Ann calls them. Send me your Karma – now that I’ve publicly announced, it has to happen!

On May 25th, check out the blog of the amazing Dr Felicia Clark.

Dr. Clark, a graduate of Pepperdine University, is a coach specializing in body acceptance.  She works with women to get beyond body shame and step into their feminine essence. She has over 11 years experience leading a team of high performing coaches. She is author of the “I Like My Body Journal” and author of the upcoming “Body Shame BS” book. Dr. Clark, a former college professor, researches the math and science of happiness and speaks at conferences, colleges, and community events. Formerly with Ford Models, Inc., Dr. Clark appeared in multiple national media outlets modeling clothing for Just My Size, Jones New York, and several designers. On May 26th, please visit her blog at  www.ebooklifecoach.com

Five Books For Overworked Corporate Moms

Mother’s day is almost here. Wondering what to get that career mom who is working all the time, and wishes she could have more time with the family without quitting her job? There is no reason why a woman can’t have a career she loves and at the same time a fulfilling home life. Here are five books that can make it happen.

  1. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington. Huffington’s main message: there is more to life than getting promoted and making money. She argues that our well-being is a key third metric for living a successful life. Many women are in the habit of thinking of the needs of others (at both work and at home) before taking care of themselves.
  2. Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success by Madeline Levine. Teach is follow up to the Price of Privilege, in which Dr. Levine reminds parents that overworked kids from affluent parents are in trouble, with high rates of cutting, suicide, drug use, and have trouble with attachment to people. Dr. Levine’s main message is that values and coping skills are more important for a child’s long-term success than grades or a fat envelope.   In my experience, overworked parents have a tendency to put pressure on the kids to get into top schools and to overschedule their lives with activities. This is a thoughtful book full of solutions.
  3. Busting Your Corporate Idol: Self-Help for the Chronically Overworked by Dr. Greg Marcus explains the root cause of overwork, and offers a series of small actionable steps to work fewer hours and spend more time at family without consequences at work. Dr. Greg shares his personal experience of cutting his hours by a third without changing jobs, as well as many stories and anecdotes to illustrate how anyone can make a similar change.
  4. Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation–and Positive Strategies for Change by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. Main message: stacks of research and personal accounts from hundreds of women show that women don’t ask for what they need at home or at work. This book teaches what to ask for, how to overcome fears and guilt, and then teaches how to negotiate without being a jerk.
  5. Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel. Nice Girls is newly revised, and has been instrumental in changing the careers of several amazing women I know. Many of the same mistakes that limit a woman’s career, like avoiding politics, also will lead her to work longer hours. The more senior you are, the more leverage you will have to set your own schedule and boundaries.

The Cure for an Uncaring Boss

Today I went to a webinar where Matt Kohut and John Neffinger gave a Q&A about their book Compelling People. Really interesting book. Kohut and Nefflinger define strength and warmth as the two attributes that define how people judge you.

During the webinar, they made reference to psychology studies that show that powerful people care less about the less powerful. The more powerful person laughs and nods less when the less powerful is speaking, and they are more likely to overtalk the less powerful. And in general, research shows that powerful people are less attentive to interpersonal relationships, because they don’t have to be. On the flip side, less powerful people are better at forming alliances, because they have to in order to survive.

Have you ever thought that your boss doesn’t care about you? Maybe they only seem to pay attention to the people above them in the hierarchy? This research suggests that your judgement is correct. It’s not that the boss is against you. They literally are not paying attention – they don’t notice you. What’s more, they also are less empathetic with the less powerful. In other words, they discount the suffering or negative consequences to people “below” them.

Don’t despair! Knowledge is power. By starting with the assumption that the boss doesn’t care, you no longer need to waste your breath complaining about how stressed you are. Have you ever gone home totally frustrated that complaining to the boss did no good? Those days are behind you.

Instead, you can focus on a different strategy – finding a different lever to pull to get what you want. The boss does care about what his or her boss thinks of them. Therefore, couch your requests in a way that will help them make good. For example “I’m going to focus on A&B, and make C&D a lower priority. By not doing C&D, I’ll do a better job on the first two, which will reflect better on our team.”

To be even more precise, classify your boss as a Scorpion, Fox, or a Wolf to dial in your business case to their particular priorities.

Don’t get me wrong, I do find the results of the studies chilling. However, I’d rather know and adjust my behavior than to sail along under an illusion. I’ll take the advantage in alliance making any day for long term success.

More info on Compelling People: http://compellingpeople.com

Special thank you to Matt Kohut for sending me the link to this article:

Daniel Goleman article in NY Times called Rich People Care Less http://nyti.ms/1pQgdHp

Beware the Visionary in “Silicon Valley”

In the new HBO show Silicon Valley, Mike Judge sets his sights on, you guessed it, Silicon Valley. Judge is a comedic genius at nailing and exaggerating the small details. Who can forget “Is this best for the company?” from Office Space. In fact, its cousin “You Need to do What is Best For the Company” helped me recognize my corporate idolatry, and changed my life my life for the better. So it was with great excitement that I watched Silicon Valley. The show is about some nerds in a startup that suddenly gets hot. It started slowly, with a lavish party to celebrate someone selling their company for $100 million. Kid Rock performs, and the new millionaire toasts changing the world through better software hierarchy. Sounds like the valley I know. My favorite characters where the two visionaries who get in a bidding war for Richard’s super hot algorithm. Gavin Belson runs a company called Hooli, and at one point is asking his spiritual advisor why programmers always travel in clumps of five? Peter Gregory, a venture capitalist, gives a teary-eyed TED talk explaining why people should skip college and just go to work. HBO has put the show on YouTube for free. Ever work for a visionary? I worked in two companies run by

visionaries. In my first company, the president talked every Friday afternoon, and I was inspired. I loved the Kool-Aid. I’ll say this – he was genuine, and has a track record of founding companies that really have changed the world of healthcare. It was quite a shock for me when he left. It wasn’t soon before I thought this was a good thing, to let us get past vision and on to execution. Well, let’s just say that good execution cannot save a flawed business plan. But that didn’t stop those of us in the trenches from working like crazy through the never ending reorgs and new strategies. In my second company, we also had a visionary. I just didn’t realize it because he rarely spoke to us. It wasn’t until I had been there for five years that I realized that his vision began and ended with the widget he invented. Software, usability, robustness were not perceived as valuable. The company has super highs, which led to super lows as new technology came about to displace what they stubbornly stuck to. We wouldn’t have successful entrepreneurs if they were not visionaries, people who can see the world as it could be. But too often, the vision comes at a high cost to the people asked to carry it out. After all, the destination does not come with a map on how to get there. What do you think? Would you choose to work for a visionary? You might also like this post about a visionary CEO who was a nightmare to work for

How To Say No to Darth Vader in the Office

Darth vader office spaceThis is the third and concluding post in the series about how to escape the volcano of an overscheduled life, without becoming Darth Vader.

Once you’ve strengthened your people-first identity, and built a community of like-minded people, you will be ready to take on the chaos of the workplace. The initial steps of cutting back your hours are likely to go unnoticed.

At some point, however, you will be asked to go to a last minute meeting, take on another project, or to travel on short notice. And the additional work will take time away from the rest of your life. This is the time to use some Jedi Mind Tricks—also known as  political savvy—to keep your calendar from getting too full.

Saying no to the boss can be harder than asking the NSA not to obtain more phone records. But every time you say yes to the boss, you are saying no to something else. For example, a “Yes” to putting a few slides together by morning can mean a “no” to sleep.

Jedi Trick #1: Shift your orientation to focus on the yes to the people you care about, and not the “no” to the boss. In the example above, say yes to the sleep. In this case, the Jedi trick is on yourself, to help maintain your focus on what is most important to you.

Jedi Trick #2: Get your manager to agree to your top three priorities. Then, when the request comes in to attend a random last minute meeting, if it’s not in the top three, don’t go. “I’d like to help, but I have some deliverables due tomorrow and I can’t make it. How about next week?”

And if it is your manager making the request, the answer is “No problem. I’ll give so and so a call, and let them know their deliverable will be a day late.” You’ll be amazed at how many requests fizzle out when the manager has to take accountability for the consequences.

Sound scary? I understand. The first step is often the hardest. But trust me, putting people first is a virtuous cycle. When you start feeling better, and you become more effective at work, you’ll wonder what took you so long to get here.

The Second Step Towards a Life In Balance

Choose your date wisely

Choose your date wisely

The people you choose to be with are a strong predictor of what you value and how you live.

As I wrote in the last post, a shift in identity will start you down the path towards a balanced life.

However if everyone around you is bragging about how many events they missed because of work, eventually your hours will start to creep back up. To make the changes last, you’ll need a community of people to support you.

First and foremost, if you’re in a relationship, you’ll want to get on the same page with your partner. Does he/she support people-first values? Most of the time, they’ll be thrilled to have you around more. And if you are both on email till midnight together every night, you can start to make the change together. For example, checking email during dinner can be a pernicious habit. But, it is also is a clear behavior that is easy to modify if phone free time together is the priority.

However, if getting a new BMW every year is the most important thing to your partner, they may not support your change in priorities. Mismatched values like this are a red flag for the relationship. Some people work long hours as a way to avoid an unhappy relationship. Could this be you?

And whether or not you’re in a relationship, you’ll need people outside the family to support your change. One great place to begin is by finding a weekly activity to bring you out of the office. I’ve known many people who picked up a class or joined a team just as a way to get out of the office. There, they met their future spouse.

If you are at in Tuesday night volleyball league, everyone else there has decided not to work and to spend time on volleyball too. This is a great place to get to know people who don’t talk about work all the time.

Finally, be on the lookout for a community opportunity, meaning that if someone invites you to do something, say yes! A mindful approach to develop contacts outside of the workplace will increase your flexibility, and decrease any emotional dependency on the work pseudo-community.

What has your experience been with getting out of the office?

Previous Post: The First Step To Create a Life Of Balance

The First Step To Create a Life of Balance

Work Over People

Work Over People

We live in overscheduled times. The company  demands that you do more with less, and rewards a job well done with more job. Or,  maybe you are passionate about what we do. The job brings fulfillment, which gives an incentive to work more hours. At some point, it will get to be too much. If you are starting to feel like Anakin Skywalker crawling out of the lava pit, this post is the first of three that will teach you how to put things right without becoming Darth Vader.

Step1: Secure Your Identity as a people-first person.

What is the most important thing in your life? As you think about your answer, look to your day-to-day decisions and priorities. Do you:

  • Skip workouts to catch up on email?
  • Eat lunch at your desk every day?
  • Check email or take a phone call when on a date or spending time with your kids?
  • Feel guilty when not working?

The type of behaviors indicate that you have made your company/work the most important thing in your life, because in the moment, you are choosing to work instead of focusing on your own health or being present with the people you care about. Identity is a shorthand way of making decisions without having to stop and think about them. We all have multiple identities – marketer, father, soccer coach, author are a few of mine. The question is, which identity is dominant?

A mindful shift to a people-first identity allows you to change your priorities and decisions day to day. Which is more important: giving yourself two hours to wind down before you go to bed, or answering every email? A people-first person shuts off the computer and phone two hours before bedtime no matter what. It’s not about saying no to the work, it’s about saying yes to sleep and people in your life.

If the cell phone beeps during dinner, which of these people is more likely to answer:

  1. The person whose identity rests on being the always available leader
  2. The person whose primary identity is as a caring and present father.

Who will make a better impression on a first date:

  1. The person who is answering text messages or
  2. The person who turns off the phone after the first beep?

Which person do you want handling a crisis at work that pops up at 10 AM:

  1. The person who spent the date answering text messages, and then went back home and worked till 1 AM, or
  2. The person who turned off the phone, made a real connection, and whose date when home with him/her?

Even if you love your job, strengthening your people-first identity will give you more resilience to deal with the ups and downs that come with any company. Why? Because you’ll have people there to catch you when you fall.

Next Post: The Second Step Towards a Life In Balance

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Overworked People Make

woman in a hurry on emailMore than one in three people say that they are chronically overworked. And more than 30% of both men and women would take a pay cut to spend more time with their children. Here are some of the most common mistakes overworked people make when trying to achieve a balanced life.

 

Mistake Number 1: Not Having a Plan

Few of us get into an overworked lifestyle overnight. Usually it is something that builds up over time. We have to change the habits of overwork, and that all can’t happen overnight. Instead of trying to change everything at once, pick one area to make a change. Stopping work earlier at night to get more sleep is a good place to start.

Mistake Number 2: Not recognizing your true values and priorities

There was a time when I was working 90 hours a week. If you asked me, I would have told you that I was a family first person. In reality though, I couldn’t be family first when I was working so much. I was a work first person. Our values are demonstrated by what we do, not what we think. To work less, we need to recognize that we have made work our highest priority.

Mistake #3: Not taking stock of who you really are

All of us are many people. I have a career identity, and I am a father, son, friend, husband, soccer coach, football fan… When I was working 90 hours a week, my identity revolved around my job and career. Working fewer hours involved cultivating my other identities, which led to different decisions over time.

Mistake #4: Not enlisting help

An identity as a people-first person can help make changes in the short run. But without a community of people to support our changes, we will gradually fall back into our old habits. A good place to start is with a spouse or significant other. How can they support you to make a change? Friends, parents, and siblings are also great places for support.

Mistake #5: Not letting go

For many people, success to a certain point has come from hard work trying to keep all the balls in the air. But there are an infinite number of things that we can’t control. And in reality, we control far fewer things that we think we do. Realizing that busyness is not the same as effectiveness can be painful. “You mean that all this time I’m putting in has no impact?” That is exactly what I’m saying. I had more impact when I was working 60 hours than when I was working 90 hours. And I was more effective working less than 50 hours when I was working 60 hours.

Knowing these common mistakes and how to avoid them will surely change the way you look at your life balance. But it’s not enough.

Not only do you have to know what NOT to do, but you also have to make some positive changes to really cut back your work hours. After all, if having a balanced life were that easy, everyone would have more time for the people they really care about.

For CVS, Social Good Was Not a Factor

images-1

Social Good had nothing to do with CVS’ decision not to sell cigarettes

CVS announced that it will discontinue selling cigarettes by the middle of 2014.

It is tempting to think that social good played a role in this decision. After all, smoking is the number 1 cause of preventable cancer deaths, and by discouraging smoking , CVS is saving lives. Therefore, doesn’t that mean that CVS must have been motivated, at least in part,  by a wish to do the right thing. NOT AT ALL

Do you remember when Walmart decided to stop selling guns in 2006? It provided a lift to the anti-gun crowd as well as those who believe in the fairy tale of Corporate Social Responsibility. Walmart’s stated reason was a desire to focus less on rural areas. And in 2009 economic downturn, guns were put back on the shelves.

CVS has strong business reasons to stop selling cigarettes

  • Tobacco sales revenue continues to decline nationally
  • only 2% of CVS revenue comes from tobacco
  • CVS sees growth as a healthcare provider
  • Healthcare providers don’t sell products that kill people
  • The ACA has provided a bolus of people who will need additional health care, and CVS is beginning to provide medical services right in their stores.
  • First mover advantage by proactively stopping tobacco sales before they need to.

To the last point, the CVS marketing has been brilliant. Every article in the paper and news article carries their new message: “we are now a health care company.” Remember when Don “fired” a tobacco company in Mad Men? the company was going to drop his ad agency, and before they announced it, Don wrote a letter to the NY Times saying they would no longer create ads for tobacco because of the negative health impact. It saved the company.

CVS is a corporation, an entity created to make money for its shareholders. CVS is not capable of any moral volition. In other words, it can’t tell right from wrong any more than a deaf person can hear music. There is nothing wrong with a corporation making money, but we should not mistake a business strategy for a moral decision. In a few years, if the health care strategy tanks and revenue starts to go down,  the smokes will be back at your corner CVS.

In the mean time, clearance sale anyone?

How To Avoid Burnout in 2014

businessman bending spoon by mind force

If you are fortunate enough to work in a healthy and collaborative environment, there still may be an imperative to work more hours.

In fact, when things are going well, and everyone is having a great time, there is a powerful wave of positive reinforcement for putting in more hours. The trill of accomplishment and the halo of success are the sugar buzz of the corporate world. While it lasts, nothing feels better. But what are you giving up outside of work to keep it going? Balance requires that we learn to say no, even if it feels good to say yes to more work.

If you work in a more typical environment, or one that shades towards the toxic and chaotic, you are at the mercy of changing deadlines and priorities that can be hard to resist. As much as we’d like to get away from the day-to-day firefighting, the inferno seems to be constantly raging around us. The key once again is learning to say no, in this case combined with a recognition that it is ok to let the fires burn.

In the 1970 movie Beneath Planet of the Apes, mutant humans have mental powers, and at one point project the illusion of fire to prevent the ape army from invading their territory. But one ape, the nefarious Dr. Zaius sees through the illusion, overcomes his fear, and rides right through the flames, at which point they disappear.

In a similar way, the intensity of the fires at work are an illusion, in that they project a fear that catastrophe awaits if we do not attend them. And how do we overcome an illusion? It takes a clear head, and the willingness to take a leap of faith. Give it a try – let a small one burn. Don’t check email one evening, and see what happens. If you keep trying to fight every fire, you’ll be the one who burns. And that is the truth.

How Corporate Idolatry Negates a Rich Life

I can’t tell you how many people told me to drop corporate idolatry from my book title.

“People don’t want to hear about religion at work.” Or “Idolatry is a mortal sin, and I’m offended that you associate my hard work with idolatry.”

The most common objection is this: “Idola-what? I can’t pronounce it.” As a ten-year marketer, you’d think that I’d jump to modify the message in response to this feedback. Except isn’t that what Coke did when they developed New Coke in the 80s?

Coke’s rival Pepsi had a famous advertising campaign, the Pepsi challenge. It was a blind taste test, and people overwhelmingly picked Pepsi over Coke. The Coke executives panicked, and developed New Coke, a sweet soda like Pepsi. It was a disaster. Everyone hated new coke. It turns out that in a one swallow test, Pepsi wins. But if you ask people to drink an entire glass, Coke wins.  Oops. You need to be careful on how you interpret the data, and not to put too much weight on only one data point.

In the case of corporate idolatry, when I explain to people that corporate idolatry is a metaphor for overwork, heads start to nod. When I explain in detail, as I will below, people either smile or scowl. It is not unusual for arguments to break out, or for a discussion to go on for thirty minutes. Along the way, we’ve covered issues like missing family events for work, or the fear of a backlash if you say “no” to the bosses’ last minute request. An idea that sparks a deep discussion about priorities and values, by people who normally don’t think about these issues, is something to hold on to.

An idea that sparks a deep discussion about priorities and values, by people who normally don’t think about these issues, is something to hold on to.

Have you ever heard a phrase like “you need to do what is best for the company?” Let me guess, it wasn’t in the context of giving a promotion, planning an office party, or giving everyone a week of extra vacation. We use the phrase “best for the company” to justify an action that is unpopular, like canceling a project, or a decision that is perhaps unethical, like shipping a product that you know will not meet customers needs.

Doing what is “best for the company” is not the same as doing “what is best.” Every time we say yes to a company request that results in long hours is a no to someone else in our life. I know for what I speak, for there was a time when I was working 90 hours a week, and I thought that I was a family first person. It was a sobering moment when I realized that you cannot be family first AND work 90 hours a week. For example, when my cell phone rang during dinner, I told my family I had an important call and left the table.

Doing what is “best for the company” is not the same as doing “what is best.”

Which brings me to the real reason why people don’t like the phrase corporate idolatry—it hits too close to home. It is far easier to complain about how hard we are working. It allows us to play the victim:

  • I didn’t have any choice.
  • The job market is really competitive, and I don’t know if I would even get an interview if I were to apply today.
  • I am having a big impact, and there is no one else who can do what I do.

This last point illustrates the most insidious thing about corporate idolatry is that it warps the way we see the world. We agree with the company’s definition of what is important, and we buy into illusions that are no more real than the belief that sacrificing a goat to a statue could make it rain.

The real reason why people don’t like the phrase corporate idolatry—it hits too close to home.

To accept corporate idolatry means that we are no longer the victim, but an agent making choices. I am choosing to answer the email that comes in at 10 PM. I am choosing to take the phone call during dinner. I am choosing to eat lunch at my desk instead of leaving the office and meeting a friend for lunch. I am choosing to be at the regional sales meeting in Europe instead of at home for my kid’s birthday.

Yes, recognizing corporate idolatry can be painful initially. But it also provides the path to a more balanced life. It opens the space to start putting people first. We choose not to answer the phone, or to accept the lunch invitation from a friend, even when a large deliverable is due the next day.

Just don’t tell your boss that the company is no longer the most important thing in your life. Instead, use your political skills to defer, delegate, or de-scope deliverable requests. No point getting burned at the stake just to make a point.

This post originally appeared on the blog Switch & Shift

Are You Working This Thanksgiving?

Twin Toms by eye of einstein

Twin Toms by eye of einstein

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It is a day to cook, eat, watch football, and spend time with family and friends. As a kid we’d drive from Syracuse to my grandmothers in the Catskills. One year we got caught in a snowstorm, and were forced to stay in a crappy motor lodge. They refused to give some milk for my baby brother. For years, my family gave them the finger whenever we drove by. Now, I can be a bit more understanding. Maybe they were pissed off because they had to work on Thanksgiving.

There have always been people who work on Thanksgiving – doctors, police and firefighters to name a few. These people provide essential, life-saving services, and part of the deal is to work on a holiday from time to time. Others, like the folks at the long forgotten three acres motel just had to work, because a motel never closes.

Retail is another matter entirely. No one’s life is depending on having Best Buy open on Thanksgiving. By now you’ve probably seen an article or three about retail stores opening on Thanksgiving to get a jump on the holiday season. As illustrated on this chart from the Inlander.com,   retail stores have been pushing their black Friday opening time earlier and earlier since 2006.

The pattern is clear. Every year a few stores open earlier, and the next year more stores open at that time, except for a few who push it even earlier. Why are the retailers opening earlier? It is a push to increase sales in a competitive market. Most retailers make 20% to 40% of their yearly revenue during the holidays. For a company in trouble like Best Buy or Sears, holiday sales may determine whether stores need to close or worse. As unpleasant as it may be for all involved, some would argue that staying open on Thanksgiving is what is best for the company.

As I wrote in Busting,  “best for the company” is a sign of corporate idolatry. Best for the company is usually measured in terms of the short term gains, and often comes at the expense of long term health. My advice is to put people first. Let the employees enjoy Thanksgiving, and come in fresh on Black Friday. A refreshed and relaxed workforce can outsell a tired and frazzled group of workers any day. Some companies like Apple and Costco seem to agree.

ifo Apple Store reported a detailed description of  Apple’s decision to keep most stores closed on Thanksgiving“Over the objections of the Market Directors, Apple CEO Tim Cook cancelled the plan to keep several stores open on Thanksgiving. Cook’s specific objection was that it’s important for Apple retail employees to be with their families on the holiday. On the other hand, the Market Directors were reportedly motivated by large potential holiday-quarter bonuses based on performance targets, adding to their $400,000 salaries. The last calendar quarter at Apple retail is always the busiest and generates the most revenue, leading to the largest bonuses.” Good for you Tim Cook!

Maybe those Market Directors will look for a job at Walmart, who is pushing the opening time earlier and earlier every Thanksgiving. Walmart is a company that consistently prioritizes money over people.  In a particularly perverse development, Walmart will be serving a free Thanksgiving dinner to it’s employees during their breaks. What has been a celebration with family is now being co-opted by the company. I can just imagine the managers having to parrot the company line about how much Walmart cares. At least they are giving the employees extra pay for working on the holiday. In an equally bizzare development, some Walmart stores are having a holiday food drive to support other employees who do not make enough money to buy food for their families.

One VP of marketing at Walmart said how excited employees are to come in to work that day. Stephanie Ritter who works at a Walmart in Colorado begs to differ. She started a petition on Change.org, asking Walmart to close its stores on Thanksgiving. Ms. Ritter writes

Most businesses are closed on Thanksgiving, I understand that Walmart is a staple in many towns, but everyone survives it being closed on Christmas. As a single mother, it breaks my heart to know that I won’t be able to spend that time with my son.

Support Stephanie Ritter’s petition .

What kind of company do you work for, a Walmart or an Apple? Share your story below.

Be Grateful for the Good and the Bad

Grandpa and Greg Thanksgiving 67

Grandpa and Greg, Thanksgiving 67

It was easy for me to be grateful last Thanksgiving.  There was good food, a nap, football, and time with family and dear friends.

But as a viral Facebook post showed, the holidays can be particularly difficult for some people. It read: “Some of us have problems during the holidays and sometimes are overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us. And, many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness.”

Is there a place for gratitude in those situations where the glass is only a quarter full? My spiritual practice has taught me to be grateful even for the bad things. Sometimes it takes work, but I have yet to find something I could not be grateful for.

Someone close to me once said – “How can I be grateful after all the tough things that have happened to me in my life?” And he did have many challenges in his life, like an unwanted divorce. My answer:

If those things had not happened, you would not be married to the person you are today.

I was met by stunned silence. He is happier in his second marriage than he ever was in his first.

The practice of gratitude was and is new to me.  And it is a practice – every day I try to remind myself of something that I am grateful for, even on the crappy days. It isn’t always easy, but when I do it often points to a way out of the mess.

And how about those times when the glass is 3/4 full – does that guarantee happiness, or even gratitude?

In his book “Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis points out that the world is full of an infinite number of things we’ll never have.  The question is, where do we focus our attention, on what we have, or what we don’t have?  Morinis doubts that all those rich celebrities in drug rehab are feeling like money and fame have solved their life’s problems.

A friend of mine, a VP in Silicon Valley told me how stressful it is to live in a big house in a wealthy neighborhood   It takes a lot of work to keep up on the clothing fashions, to be seen at the right places, and to keep the car ultra clean.  He has recently downsized to a smaller home in a quiet neighborhood and is loving life.  It’s not the small house per se, it is the attitude of appreciating what he has.  Once he started thinking about what was important to him, it became obvious that he had more house than he needed.

Being grateful for what you have is a guarantee to make you feel at least a little better.  This does not mean that you have to be satisfied with a bad situation, but looking to what makes you grateful is a clue to where to spend your energy to make things better.  One popular approach is a gratitude journal, to write down things you are grateful for every day to help turn your consciousness to the good that is already in your life.

Gratitude is a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it will become.  If things are going well for you, practice gratitude to  strengthen the muscle to help you through the tough times.  And if you’re in the tough times now, a dose of gratitude can be that ray of hope.

My model for gratitude is my late grandfather.  He graduated high school in 1932 – the height of the Great Depression, and he was not able to go to college.  Grandpa was a brilliant man, who knew as much history as some college professors I’ve met.  But never once did he complain to me about not being able to go to college.  He worked for the toll system of Connecticut, and I was always waiting form him to lament the missed opportunities in his life.  It never happened.

“As long as I get to be here with your grandmother, I’ll be happy Greg.”

Grandpa died two weeks after my first child was born thirteen years ago. In our last conversation , he said to me “Lots of people live to be grandparents, but very few get to be great-grandparents.”  Not a peep about his failing health.

I miss my grandfather, but I am so very grateful he was and is such a big part of my life.

What Does the Fox Say At Work?

What does the fox say? It’s a question 144 million plus have been asking on YouTube over the last few months. (And if you really want to know the answer, you can see it here.) The song describes what a fox looks like, and runs through a bunch of gibberish versions of what a sound the fox makes. Is it funny? Yes, a bit. (Although if you ask my tween daughters, they will tell you it is hilarious.)

When I hear the song, I think of a different kind of fox, the fox in Aesop’s fable the Fox and the Crow. This kind of Fox is a flatterer, someone who can convince you of anything. In this respect, the song “What Does the Fox Say” gets it right. When we are watching the video, we sing and laugh along, and we may even parrot what we hear to others. But if we stop and think about it, we say to ourselves Huh? It no longer makes any sense.

Have you ever had the experience at work of being talked into something that turned out to be really stupid, either for you or for the company? And then, the person who talked you into it is nowhere to be found. I write about the Fox in Busting Your Corporate Idol, because the consequences of trusting the untrustworthy are monumental.

The Fox is particularly dangerous, because he or she will say whatever you want to hear. The Fox is primarily out for him or herself, but unless you have dealt with this type of person before, you may not be aware.

I worked for years with a Fox, but didn’t know it until things got rough, and I was left holding the bag. In many respects, it was my bag to hold, BUT the Fox had advised me what to put in the bag, and where to carry it. So when the Fox went out of their way to point the finger at me, I wanted to cry fowl.

I stood up at a meeting to explain it all, and all that came out of my mouth was “Ring ding ding ding ding dingeringeding.” It made sense when the Fox said it to me. I should have known better.

Are You Anonymously Excellent?

Michael Jackson had plenty of recognition

Michael Jackson had plenty of recognition

“So You Think You Can Dance” is a reality show where would-be professional dancers perform, viewers vote, and judges judge. If you like dance, you’ll love the show. And like most Reality TV, we can learn interesting things about people.

One night, I tuned in late, and I didn’t recognize the guest judge. It was this sixty-ish man named Kenny. When Kenny spoke, the dancers were sitting on every word. And when he complemented a contestant or one of the choreographers, the dancer became emotional and thanked Kenny profusely. The reaction was far beyond how they reacted to others (like the esteemed Jessie Tyler Ferguson.) Who was this guy?

His name is Kenny Ortega.  And??? It still meant nothing to me. I looked Kenny Ortega: up on Wikipedia:

Initially known for working with dancer and choreographer Gene Kelly on the film Xanadu, Ortega went on to choreograph the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, and has won awards for choreography in music videos, such as Madonna’s “Material Girl”.

Together with Michael Jackson, he created and designed the Dangerous World Tour 1992-1993 and the HIStory World Tour 1996-1997. He has also choreographed events ranging from Super Bowl XXX, the 72nd Academy Awards, the 1996 Summer Olympics (Atlanta) and the 2002 Winter Olympics(Salt Lake City).

The list of achievements and accolades went on and on. Ok, this dude is a dance god, but to the average person like me, he is unknown. He is Anonymously Excellent––supremely respected by people in his field, but largely unknown to everyone else.

I wonder what it’s like to be Kenny Ortega? Is he happy and satisfied with the enjoyment of the craft, and the recognition he gets from people in the dance and entertainment world? Or, does he wish to become a household name like Patrick Swayze? Swayze’s achievements as an actor are nothing compared to Ortega’s achievements as a choreographer. I have no idea if Ortega lives a happy, satisfied existence, or if he is tormented by feelings of inadequacy.

How many Kenny Ortega’s are out there, people who are fantastic at what they do, but anonymous outside of their field. I can think of many people I used to work with who were great at their job, and were unrecognized by management. I don’t mean recognition like getting an award at the company meeting. I mean management didn’t know what they did. But their peers and people in the know would jump at the chance to work with them.

Across the world, there are millions of people who are Anonymously Excellent. The question to think about is this: How much recognition do you really need? Surely someone knows how hard you work, and realizes how good you are at your job. And those close to you will like you now matter what you do or don’t accomplish.

If you don’t feel good about yourself with the recognition you currently have, no amount of additional recognition will make you feel better.