Friday, February 23, 2018

The Busyness of Business

... and how to not let it devour you

My cousin’s son called me last night about 8:30 as I was leaving a meeting. He’s never been to New York City, and for the past few years he and I have been trying to find a weekend to meet there so I can give him the insider tour … and I can’t wait to do it! But we just haven’t been able to find time. Every Thanksgiving we talk about it, always apologizing to each other about how busy we’ve been, and are never quite able to settle on a date. We decided on our call last night that we would make it happen this winter, one way or another.

Everyone is always so busy. Whether your job is in an office, in a classroom, at home, on a plane, in the field, or in the trenches, life and its responsibilities have a way of filling up every last crevice of our time with one pressing need or another. We get so caught up in getting through each day that we often forget to take a beat and see the big picture; we often forget to simply take a breath.

Busyness is our culture. It’s a never ending, overwhelming, spiraling cycle that we’re expected of others and ourselves to follow and that we expect everyone else to be caught up in too. It’s our normal. But, when it gets out of control, it becomes too much.

I had a great question come in this month to Ask Uncle Marty™ from a business owner who had lost her drive. She was exhausted and, rather than plugging through what she needed to do, she instead felt paralyzed by overwhelm. It’s a topic I’ve tacked a few times before in my column, and one that just keeps coming back. It’s defining our generations.

So, what do we do? Do we just give up and throw in the towel? Do we disappear for a month and go on a cruise to the Galápagos? Do we change our name to Leslie and live in leisure in Lima with our pet llama, coincidentally also named Leslie? Or, do we just keep plugging along, getting more and more stressed out, digging ourselves deeper and deeper into sleep debt, and just resolve ourselves to live with the consequences?

Frankly, all those things sound good at times (at least the first three do). But we can’t just quit our lives. We can’t up and leave all of our responsibilities behind; we can’t just give up. However, we surely can take steps to make things more manageable…

- We can ask for help. There comes a point in nearly every successful business where the owner needs assistance. And there comes a point in nearly every successful life where partnerships are necessary. So, get help! Find someone—or a team—who can take some of the load off of your shoulders. Hire an assistant. Outsource some of the stuff that takes up so much of your time to a professional that can do it better and faster. Learn to empower and trust your team.

- We can release our stress in a healthy way. Join a gym, take a kickboxing class, or start a yoga practice. Find a good counselor or therapist and make a point to make regular appointments a priority. Set up a regular date night with your better half, or make an effort to go on more dates if you’re single. Meditate, discover a breathing practice, and clear your head regularly.

We can broaden our horizons in hopes of seeing the big picture more clearly. Read more, listen to podcasts, and feed the part of you that’s hungry for new ideas, new information, and new discoveries. If at all possible, travel to places you’ve never been, or at the very least take an extra day after that next conference in Orlando to spend some time with Goofy and the gang.

- We can smile. I know this sounds entirely too simple, but it’s a studied phenomenon that, just as our mood affects our facial expressions, our facial expressions can also affect our mood. Essentially that means that we can force a smile and, in turn, force a mood change. Turn that frown upside down!

- We can add one more thing. Seriously, add one more thing to your routine. And make it a fun thing. What have you been wanting to do, but just haven’t even considered because you’re “too busy?” What if that thing became more important than something else that you do regularly that would take up the same amount of time? What if that thing moved up the priority ladder so that you actually carve out time for it? Whether that thing is joining a local theatre repertoire company, gospel choir, hockey team, ribbon dancing troupe, or book club, what if finding the time for it was as simple as making it important in your mind? Well, it actually is that simple. Try. You’ll see. And the endorphins that that thing releases will make the rest of your week brighter!

A great and enlightened sage of our age, Dolly Parton, once said, “Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” So, friends, take steps to relieve some of the busyness from your daily business. Take a breath, take a beat, and take a break. Then make changes to make things better.

Originally published in MBC Today Volume 20, Issue 1, on February 5, 2018.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Be Still...

My good buddy Mary passed away today.

The last time I saw her, I walked into her room on the skilled nursing floor of Good Shepherd Village and found her standing by the side of her bed. I could tell by the look on her face that she was trying to either remember or find something.

We sat down and Mary asked me if I could show her a verse that someone had recently printed out for her.

I found it flopped over on the shelf opposite her bed, printed as large as possible to fill up a full size sheet of paper. I propped it up so she could see it, even if her failing eyes couldn't make it out too clearly.

She had been thinking about this verse and knew it well, but since she couldn't see it and, with moments of clarity coming and going, she wasn't able to recall the words quite right that day. So, I read it to her: "Be still and know that I am God."

She kept repeating the word "still." Then she'd forget and ask me again what it was.

I told her, "Be still."

"Still, still," she said over and over. "I guess that means I should just be quiet."

She went on to tell me about all of the commotion she saw around her daily on the floor where she now lived. She said that everyone there was always so busy and the staff was always trying to keep the "inmates" (as she fondly called her fellow residents) entertained. But she thought she must have a purpose in being there … and maybe that purpose was to just be quiet and wait, hoping that if someone needed help she'd be able to say the right thing. She was sincere in that desire.

In December, Mary celebrated her 100th birthday. In her century of life, she had seen and experienced more things than most of us could ever hope to witness. She had lived through eras of history that seem so distant to us now, but to her were just a moment past.

She started her career working as a message carrier, taking memos between top executives at IBM decades before computers were a mainstream thing. She had a true spirit of adventure and traveled the world, visiting dozens of countries, lands, and people on six continents, choosing to sail on freighter ships instead of luxury liners where she and her husband would get to know the crew and experience the world in ways everyday tourists wouldn't think of. She decorated her apartment with countless trinkets from her travelsmasks from Africa, a statue from Burma, a mini kangaroo from Australia, scarabs from Egypt, brass plates from Greece, a miniature Viking from Norway, and a replica Tommy gun that she hung over her computer deskevery surface cluttered with memories, photo books, and journals. And, of course, she had her pilot's license, flying small planes and soaring free ... just for fun; just because she could.

It was my sincere privilege to have known Mary my entire life, and she's known my family since she and my grandmother were friends as teenagers. When my siblings and I were young, Mary would always bring seemingly bottomless tins of cookies for us when we'd travel together on long car trips. Reminiscing tonight, my sister and I remembered our favorites: the big round ones that looked like white and red tires with icing circling raspberry jam filled centers. Oh, they were delicious.

Over 30 years later, Mary still always made sure we were well fed. When she was able, we'd go out on our special dates to her favorite restaurants, and in recent years when she couldn't get out as much we'd sometimes just grab a late Sunday breakfast together in the dining room at her retirement home, inevitably stopping at every other table in the joint to say hello to her friends. She knew everyone, and everyone loved her.

Mary had done everything and been everywhere. She'd lived a long, full, impactful, trailblazing life. And now, after 100 years of adventure, she just wanted to "be still."

As I left her room for the last timenot knowing it was the last timeshe simply said, "I love you."

I love you too, Mary. You were a dear, dear friend. Thank you for everything.

Be still.