Ever notice how the thing that turns losers into heroes is the knowledge that they CAN do something they were sure they couldn’t do?

Who can forget the Jedi-style arse-whoopin’ Luke took when Yoda showed him that with proper resolve and concentration, an X-Wing Fighter CAN in fact be levitated out of a swamp on Dagobah?

Luke’s defense? “I can’t believe it,” to which Yoda responded, “That is why you fail.”

Or, do you remember how through a combination of time-travel and renewed confidence, Harry Potter was able to defeat a cattle-rush of dementors? Once again, our loser-turned-hero reveals the secret of his success: “You were right, Hermione! It wasn’t my dad I saw earlier! It was me! I saw myself conjuring the patronus before!  I knew I could do it this time, because well, I’d already done it! Does that make sense?”

And then there are the superheroes. Spiderman (think Tobey Maguire struggling with his moral commitment to the Spidey suit), Batman (particularly Chris Nolan’s first where Bruce Wayne has to find “the courage to do what is necessary”), even the cult-classic Supergirl film where the words “You can” literally free her from the hands of a monster (see the 2:15 mark in the YouTube clip below)—all highlight the essential fact that belief predicates action. We can do something because we believe we can do it.

To do heroic things, to change our lives or the lives of others in seismic ways, we have to believe we can do it. Such belief requires total and absolute resolve. Likewise, to make huge changes in our own lives, to look and feel better no matter what’s happening to us at work, we’ll have to be resolved—purely, totally, and absolutely.

I can hear the objections already:

  • “Whoa there, tiger!  I have a job. I have kids.  What do you want me to do?  Drop in the middle of a meeting and do 20 pushups?”

  • “You’re nuts! There are expectations. I can’t start eating bird seed while everyone else is chowing down on a steak at Morton’s during a business dinner.”

  • “My company’s caving in around me and you want me to starve myself and run around the block a couple of times? I have things to do!”

No one’s talking about starving but yeah, the steak is out (for reasons well beyond cholesterol and the other usual suspects; I’ll explore these in subsequent entries). The point is that compromise and negotiation may be the tools of the trade when you’re structuring a strategic partnership or working a product through development but they don’t cut it when it comes to improving your health.

You either make the rules and do it full monte or you don’t.

The objectors break in again:

“No, no no, Mike. You don’t get it. You’re such an extremist. With you it’s always black and white. Listen, you can do little things. A little bit of exercise here, a little bit of dieting there—it worked for me before, it’ll work again.”

Oh, yeah? It worked for you before, huh? That means, at some point it stopped working which is why you’re considering doing something again. So, ultimately it…uh…wait for it… FAILED.

The cabbage soup diet is about as healthful and lifetime-sustainable as a BP oil line. Bon appetit! (Image via Wikimedia; Credit: Sloveniagirl)

If it worked for some time and then didn’t work anymore for whatever reason (your job changed, your life changed, the weather changed, whatever), it failed. Assuming the diet wasn’t some crackpot liquid or cabbage-type fiasco (which would fail for a host of reasons)but was a healthful intervention (such as Weight Watchers), why did it stop working? What changed? That’s right: RESOLVE. When we’re on a roll and doing well on a diet and fitness program, our resolve is strong but yes, things can get in the way. When that happens, we cease to believe in the importance or priority of the program anymore. We stop believing in the all-importance of our health.

One important footnote to this is that the diet companies themselves bear a great deal of responsibility for our decaying resolve (I’ll explore this in my next post) but regardless of who is to blame, it is we who stop believing in our own efforts to look and feel better.

So, Tip #12 is as follows:

  • Resolve to get healthy. Resolve completely, totally, and absolutely to do what it takes to look and feel better.
  • In our resolutions, we should focus on improving our health, not on weight loss. We all know that being overweight is a bad thing but it is not THE thing. If we do the things we need to do to make our bodies work better, then weight loss will go hand-in-hand with our improved health.
  • Resolve that we have no choice. Health insurance may or may not be optional depending on how political forces play out but good health itself should NEVER be optional.
  • We should make our commitment to good health part of our life, part of the way in which we identify ourselves. Far from being ashamed of it, we should wear it proudly.
  • Above all, believe. Believe that we can do it, and do it.

Because when we stop believing, that is why we fail.

(In my next entry, I’ll look carefully at why a diet such as Weight Watchers is a terrific diet—perhaps the best–but MUST ALWAYS fail unless we change the way we think about and deploy it).

Advertisements

In all his hand-to-hand matches with stealth government agents and terrorists in which he suffered minor knife slits across his limbs, did 24’s Jack Bauer ever hit the ER for an X-ray and stitches? In all their encounters with the Smoke Monster, or run-ins with the ‘Others’ across sideway-, forward-, and back-flashes, did the Lost castaways ever have to pause to tend to a simple but deep gash that wouldn’t stop bleeding?

Of course not but in my own little reality show, things work a little differently. In my own show, I can’t carry a bottle of Perrier up a flight of stairs without the thing falling through a paper-thin Stop & Shop bag (yes, Stop & Shop, you’re on notice), crashing to the ground, and propelling an arrowhead-like piece of glass upward into my left calf.  Now this didn’t actually hurt—much, anyway.  And it didn’t appear to be bleeding profusely—much, anyway. But it was hurting and bleeding and the problem was that it wouldn’t stop. So, off to the ER on a Friday night where all I could think about was that now I’d have to miss my evening run and worse yet, might have to miss a few more.

I just wanted to run. Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As the doc stitched it up, I asked if I’d still be able to run and he replied, “Well, I could tell you not to but you’re a runner. You’re gonna do it, anyway. So, I’ll throw some tape on and try to keep it stable for you. If the stitches dislodge, at least you’ve gotten a run in so no harm done, right?”

I wanted to hug this guy. “Right!” I affirmed.

There you have it: Engagement in its purest form.  All I cared about was making that next run.  And why was I so engaged? Put another way, why don’t I have the same passion for my work?

In my last post, I talked about how real employee engagement is about putting an employee to work on meaningful projects with meaningful outcomes for/with meaningful people that ultimately make a difference both for the organization and for that employee personally. What I implied but did not nearly emphasize enough in that mix is just how critical it is for employees to have a fighting chance to be successful at what they’re doing.

Let’s call this ‘Success Potential.’ If Success Potential is high, then employees become invested in what they do: they know they can get things done and that what they do will be valued. In such situations, employees are wholly and passionately engaged.

If Success Potential is low, if employees think they’re set up to fail, that what they’re working on may or may not be important but cannot or should not be accomplished given the organization’s (sometimes changing) priorities, we end up with a lack of engagement, even disenfranchisement.

Now, it’s true that some low Success Potential situations look high (e.g., for you Mad Men fans out there, remember when Joan is given a promotion in title only? Does she really have what she needs to be successful? Has the organization equipped her with the mindset?) and some high Success Potential situations look low (e.g., for your Project Runway fans, did you really think Michael Costello would go as far as he did; apparently, good designers DON’T need a ruler), but there’s no question about it: Passion, innovativeness, and yes, engagement—all those lovely buzzyworthy words business people throw about—are all tied directly to whether we think we can be successful at what we’re doing and make a difference.

I know I can be successful when I jump on the treadmill, when I flow through my Tai Chi form daily, and when I put good things into my body.  I look better, I feel better, and even better than all those betters, is that I am getting better and better every week.  Success Potential is high, very high, and I build on it every chance I get.

On the other hand, there’s my job with its odd, cold, mutable panorama of things in favor, where, returning to the Project Runway motif, one day you’re in and one day you’re out.  Certainly it’s hard to become engaged when I can’t jump into a project with the same outlook for success that I have when I jump on a treadmill.

So, 3 tips of the day (Tips #63-65):

  1. In the workplace, find stuff at which you can be successful. While this sounds like a ‘no duh,’ it’s anything but. Notice that I didn’t recommend attaching yourself to the boss you think will be the next CEO or looking out for the next big flavor-of-the-month project. My recommendation is actually a little more prosaic: Just look for the thing that you can do well, no matter how small, and which will likely hold its value at least through the next 6 months.
  2. Find personal sources of engagement—life passions, if you will. Within and beyond the workplace, within and throughout your life, find and do stuff at which you can be successful and that you’ll value over time. Good exercise and nutrition are great examples. Do these with gusto and look for other things, too. Engage in all these things relentlessly. Protect them relentlessly from the work-related things that want to diminish or poison them.
  3. Don’t sweat Tip #1. If you can’t find something to be engaged in at work, keep trying or find a different place to work. While you’re doing either or both of those things, always stay focused on your truest sources of engagement: all the life passions you’ll find in Tip #2.

With our focus where it should be—on finding true, personal sources of engagement, let me turn it over to you: What else are you good at the moment you begin doing it? What else can you be successful at as you continue to do it? What else gives you the satisfaction of knowing that it’ll be there to welcome you back, that it will grow with you, and that it will help you grow?

Looking forward to sharing…

All the best,

Mike Raven

Two stories.

The first occurred yesterday. I walked into a meeting with our head of operational marketing. He’d been asked to lead what I thought was a critical initiative aimed at understanding and segmenting the needs of the largest portion of our installed customer base.  The last reorg had shifted my responsibilities elsewhere so even though I’d had a great deal of experience with this sort of customer segmentation, I couldn’t be anything more than his armchair-general at best.

When I heard how few resources he’d been assigned, how little background research had been done, and how ambiguous his objectives were, I made an impassioned pitch for a reboot of the project plan. “You’re set up to fail, Pete,” I told him. “You’re going to need…” and I laid out everything in excruciating detail.

Running Out the Clock

Running Out the Clock (Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

He shut the door, looked me in the eye and said, “Mike, this is a run-out-the-clock situation.”

He continued, “By the time they realize this thing’s a loser, IF they ever do, we’ll be two or three reorgs in the future, and I’ll probably be working for someone else. This thing was dead on arrival.“

A ‘reorg’ or company reorganization, for those who haven’t had the first-hand pleasure of experiencing one, is where a company decides to move some people around and some people out. While each is certainly oodles of fun on its own, they’re tons more of a hoot when a few of them are strung together 2-3 months apart.  My fellow geeks out there will appreciate the following analogy: If you’ve ever seen that episode of Battlestar Galactica where a ship keeps jumping through space and the colonial president, Laura Roslin, is forced into a trance during each jump, it’s a little like that. The only real difference is that during a reorg, pretty much everyone including management is thrown into a fog.

Though I couldn’t find a clip of the BSG scene I referenced in this post, I did find one of the best jumps of the series. Take a look…

The fact is that Pete was spot-on.  Not only couldn’t I argue with him but I had to admit that I’d been playing the same game for longer than most. And while you might think it’s liberating to be able to zip fluidly from one puck to another, always changing the game just before you’re about to lose any one particular volley, think again: any game you’re not committed to winning is one depressing waste of time.

Second story.

I was sailing up the steps at work when from the top of the flight of stairs, I heard, “Whoo-hooo!” It was Nancy, one of our senior leaders from HR, who was also giving me two thumbs up.  When I reached the top, she clarified, “I haven’t seen YOU in a while. You look GREAT!”

Nancy?

This could easily be Nancy. Really. (Image: Stefano Valle / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

A bit embarrassed and more than a little hesitant to have any body-focused conversation with someone from HR, I chirped a weak, “Thanks.”

Then came the stump question: “What’s your secret?”

“Uh, uh…” Secret? “Well, it’s not exactly a…”

She cut in, “Last time I saw you was when? About a year and a half ago? You were looking better back then but you’re looking fabulous now. You must be doing SOMETHING right. What is it?”

I couldn’t answer that question. All that kept racing through my mind was that there wasn’t A single secret and that those things weren’t really secrets at all. I was doing a whole bunch of things, hundreds of which had been percolating in my head for years, and all of which could be grasped and used by anyone wanting to get healthier.

But though I couldn’t throw down a top-10 list a la Letterman, I knew that all these tips, insights, ideas, and reflections amounted to my own 50-pound weight loss, a much healthier body, a happier calmer mind, and continuous, sustained improvement over the last two years in a wildly volatile corporate environment at a Fortune 500.

And that is where the stories mesh. While I can’t seem to find my game let alone succeed at it in a company that lost its mojo and market at about the same time we skidded into a recession, I have found something else—a different game, a different passion, if you will.  Despite the multiple rounds of layoffs, the reorgs, the job shifts, the ever-expanding vacuum in which I and dozens of others like me float every day as we search for purpose within the chaos—despite all these things, I am still here surviving and with a passion for, of all things, myself.

Poet, Walt Whitman, 1872

Certainly, Walt Whitman knew a thing or two about the self. Check out his poem, 'Song of Myself.'

It was that realization that ultimately prompted this blog. I’ve learned a lot over the last few years about taking care of myself, about staying healthy in spite of all the very unhealthy things going on around me.  Yes, it’s hard to watch your colleagues drop like flies in waves of downsizing scarcely understood even by those who wield the axes. But what’s harder is the anxiety—anxiety triggered not merely by the recurring realization that you may be the next contestant thrown off the island but by the realization that you may NOT be, that you’ll have to continue to fool yourself into thinking that what you’re doing matters (or ever mattered).

So, what matters? You. I. Our selves. If we’re going to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous [corporate] fortune, we’re going to have to take care of ourselves. Yes, that may sound a little trite but triteness doesn’t make it any more obvious or achievable.

I’ve tucked away a ton of thoughts, reflections, and insights that have helped me get and stay fit both physically and mentally. My plan is to share them here so we can all consider and discuss them in terms that are the most meaningful to all of us.

Some caveats: I don’t have a degree in anything related to physical or mental health.  I’m not a doctor or a dietitian. If you like some of the tips in this blog and want to try to make use of them in your own life, please do so in full consideration of your own personal life conditions and medical circumstances. I’m also not an expert in exercise, nutrition, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, or organizational psychology so please evaluate everything you read here rigorously and intellectually. I don’t KNOW anything, really.

BUT, neither do a lot of so-called experts.  The science around nutrition and exercise is evolving and so a voice from 25 years of well-reasoned, highly reflective personal experience may not be such a bad thing. Moreover, the fact that I know I know nothing, may be our greatest asset in the struggle to stay healthy: the more questions we ask, the better.

Finally, though I’m not a doctor, I’m not a slacker either. I’ve got an MBA from Dartmouth (Tuck School), a Master’s in English from Stanford, and a 10+-year record of doing high-level strategy work for Fortune 500s. So, while none of this qualifies me to tell anyone what will work for them, it does qualify me to tell you what has worked for me.

In that spirit, I’ll be blogging to share the stuff that has worked for me, that has helped me lose weight, keep it off, feel better, and find some peace, despite the odds.

I would very much welcome and appreciate any and all comments from any and all readers, the hope being that the more we learn from each other, the better.

Talk to you all soon,

Mike Raven

Image Credits:

‘This could easily be Nancy” (Image: Stefano Valle / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

“Running Out the Clock” (Image: Salvatore Vuono/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net)