Shedding Light on Shadow Values

One of the most revealing exercises that my clients engage in when we work together has them uncover and dig into their deepest, most important values. This work is one of the ways they start to better know themselves. It opens up an awareness of specific areas in which they can take action to start to change their daily experience at work and at home to be more aligned to what really matters to them.

While each person’s priority values and what they mean to them are unique, there are two values that show up more often and more consistently than others. Across age ranges and throughout professional levels, the values that are cited more frequently than other values including, family, health, or happiness are…

Security and freedom.

As we dig into what these words mean, people tend to have similar ways of defining security and freedom. Common phrases to describe what this means include some form of the following.

  • “Not having to worry”
  • “Knowing I’m safe”
  • “Being certain that I can provide for my family”
  • “Taking a vacation when I want”
  • “Knowing that I have a respected professional position against my peers”

The definitions start to reveal a definite theme around money, and a strong positive correlation between money and safety, happiness, and acceptance.

As we continue digging further into their definitions an interesting thing happens.

There comes a point in the process when we start to get see that definitions of and conditions for these values to be met seem to be sort of illusory.

Freedom becomes constricting.

Security starts to feel tenuous.

Many clients find that how they define these two values orients significantly toward particular conditions being met and specific outcomes being observed. They also find that this is restraining, restrictive, and setting them up to feel precarious and insecure; the opposite of what they want and value.

They start to see the conditions, assumptions, and expectations they set for themselves around living according to those values is compromising rather than enhancing their experience of them. They start to feel how that’s contributing to their dissatisfaction and lack of fulfillment.

From there, comes the question:  how are these values serving me to contribute to my happiness?

A range of honest answers may arise.

One answer might be, plainly, “they’re not at all.”

Another might be, “as I’ve defined them in the past, they don’t, but if I think about them differently now, they could.”

Still another might be, “there are other values that I hold more dear, that if I meet those every day, I’ll by default be addressing these desires for my life.”

This kind of recognizing that what we think matters in our lives may actually be shadows that have darkened our understanding of what truly does, opens up possibility. It opens up opportunity to make different decisions, to exercise powerful choices, and to be more confident in the process.

When we are clear about our deepest values we can actively live and work to express and align with those values.

I invite you to do a little values inventory for yourself. What are they? What do they mean to YOU? How are they supporting your most fulfilling experience of success? How are they holding you back? What might the answers to the last two questions suggest about what might be really important to you?

Step out of the shadows, the light of success and fulfillment will follow.

Happy? Under What Condition?

Last week I experienced a tremendous disappointment. I learned that I wasn’t accepted into a program that I was really hoping to participate in. It sucked.

When I got this news the feelings rushed in: sadness, rejection, anger, uncertainty about what this meant. My confidence took a pretty serious blow. I most definitely was not happy. I wanted to blame the impersonal review process for having caused me to not realize an element of my vision for the year. I felt the urge to blame the people who made the unfavorable decision for ruining my plans. All of it was so heavy and I just wanted to crawl into a hole and be wounded.

In the midst of this personal turmoil I was reminded of how many, if not most, of us unofficially but quite thoroughly hand over our actual or potential happiness to situations, outcomes, thoughts and whims that we don’t control. I recognized the pattern taking hold in me last week from my own habits of old, and I also recalled the times when clients have faced the same pull.

I remembered times when I felt like all of my opportunities to do or be happy at work (or in all of life, for that matter) were constantly shut down. I remember going through days on end feeling rejected and denied my chance for fulfillment in spite of how hard I worked. I remember that I’d sometimes get so fed up with trying so hard only to have things not work out the way I thought they should that I just go through the motions of working putting aside any aspiration for happiness. And worse, I recalled how with this attitude, I’d fan the flames of discontent with my colleagues in group gripe sessions.

I was in a pattern that many of us fall into. We have a goal based on a desire to experience a different level of success or achieve more. Somehow we start to depend on something that must happen to or for us thinking that will be the turning point; our reason to be happy.

This is something we almost don’t even know we’re doing. We often look away from any present state fulfillment and happiness, assuming that all the good stuff is coming in the future (if it’s coming at all). So we pile our expectations for satisfaction and happiness on things happening or being decided, often which are outside our control.

People, situations, and results that are not in our sphere of influence therefore gain complete control over our happiness. It’s a subtle hand off, but it creates severe discontent. At the same time it makes us feel very out of control.

Last week, in my disappointment for having had a door closed for me, I had to sit with all of that. I had to see what was at play then I had to work through it. I let the emotion come out. Sadness, annoyance, and concern about what it all meant. I followed my instinct to get some alone time and cut myself off from the world for a few hours. Partly I wanted to hurt in private, but most importantly I knew that I had to find the source for my contentment and my sense of satisfaction with all that is within myself. I had to find the place from which I could decide to be happy and fulfilled even if something I really wanted wasn’t going to be.

In that time I remembered that my happiness is not conditional. It does not depend upon the decisions that other people make or the circumstances that come about as a result of factors outside of myself. I became reengaged with my will and ability to devise and take action to create new opportunities starting with exercising my will and ability to be happy and content with what “is” today.

This isn’t about giving up of aspiration, or throwing in the towel on growth and expanding success. Nor is it about putting on a happy face and just accepting that things will always work out the way they’re meant to in the end. It also is not about never being angry, sad, resentful, or disappointed.

Let’s be real. Crap is going happen to, around, and for us. Things aren’t going to go our way. We’re going to be rejected and redirected, and people and situations will annoy us and make us mad.

So, what is this about?

It’s about how critical it is that we remain aware of our tendency to be comfortable in blaming the company, the boss, other teams, the weather, the economy, leadership decisions (or lack thereof), our commute, and the list goes on, for bringing us down or holding us back.

It’s about letting ourselves respond in the full range of the emotional spectrum, and then knowing that our emotional response cannot be the end point of our process.

It is about reviving our will to do something about our situation, however little it may seem, and reclaiming the control we do have over our own happiness and fulfillment. Whether that’s a simple choice, or a large action, we can create our happiness in a way that it becomes a condition ripe for success not the other way around.

What Do You Mean?

Ever been asked the question, “what do you mean?”

It’s a question people ask to seek clarification. Whether about something you said or otherwise expressed, the question comes from a desire to ensure that your intention or purpose in the expression has been appropriately understood.

What you mean, what you intend, or what you desire is indeed important in your communication. We all want to be understood! We tend not to remember that meaning, intent, and purpose is also critically important in the goals we set.

In this season of (re)starting, (re)committing to, (re)setting, or (re)orienting to professional and personal goals and aspirations I’m going to ask you the same question. What do you mean? 

As you set your goals, now at the start of a new year or any time, are you clear on your intent, your purpose, or your meaning with each goal you set out to achieve?

Without this sort of clarity, the setting and checking off of goals becomes not unlike the creation and management of any other “to do” list. It can become rote, mechanical, disconnected, and without meaning altogether.

This is how it ends up that so many goal setters, achieve what they set out to achieve—start a business, get promoted, land a stretch role in a new firm, go on that long awaited vacation, run a faster marathon, etc.—and yet they remain dissatisfied and unfulfilled. Without a clear meaning or connection with what truly matters or means something to you in the goals that you set, it is quite possible that the goals you’re targeting aren’t of any real value to you. They may feel worth something in the recognition and value that working toward and reaching them brings from others, but that’s a far cry from meeting your true purpose or meaning.

Without clarity on what you mean and how your goals support that meaning, your goals may be adopted from others based on priorities, values, desires and meaning that aren’t yours. If you set goals that don’t truly connect with you, what are chances they’ll satisfy you in the end? It’s no wonder so many of us struggle, despite our amazing achievements—professional and personal—with feeling no meaning, purpose, or value in those achievements.

So let me clarify my meaning here. I’m not saying don’t set goals, I’m actually a big fan of goals. I set them myself and I support my clients in setting and working toward them. Goals motivate us and focus our effort with powerful effect. But pursuing goals that are not connected with what you mean or with your purpose lead to misapplication of energy and inappropriate channeling of resources. Worse, it’s a recipe for discontent, frustration, stress, and frankly, confusion about why all your achievement continues to leave you feeling empty.

So as you proceed with setting goals for the new year and honing your aim at your professional and personal targets, use these questions to gain a solid foundation of meaning, intent, and purpose.

  • What do I mean with this goal? What is my intent with it?
  • What does this goal mean to me? Why and how does it support my overall meaning?
  • Is this a goal that supports my broader purpose or what I stand for?
  • When I envision achieving this goal does the satisfaction come from external sources, or is it from within? (I.e. would I be thrilled about achieving this goal, even if I didn’t get to tell my colleagues or post it on LinkedIn or Facebook?)
  • Will working toward this goal give me a real sense of personal purpose and meaning in the sheer pursuit of it, whether or not I reach it?

If your goals are worth reaching they are worth the investment of the additional thinking and feeling about what you mean and how they support that. This effort put in up front ensures that you’re setting the right goals and targeting what’s truly important to you.

Here’s to your most successful, fulfilling, and meaning-FULL 2017.

Success Lessons From The Desert

Confession. I am a recovering over-doer. Well, I like to think I’m recovering. Sometimes, in truth, I’m just as buried in over-doing as I’ve always been, but I tell myself that I’m not.

My default MO is to commit myself to the extreme with tasks, obligations, friends, family, and work. Yes, I have a sneaky way to turn even the client work, volunteer engagements, and recreational activities that bring so much satisfaction for me—everything—into overload. All of this “stuff” gets all of me.

I imagine you know what I’m talking about. Most goal oriented, accomplishment driven people do. After all, it’s what we’ve learned about success and achievement. It’s what we do to earn, deserve, and gain.

We learn that it’s not enough be 100% “in.” We are conditioned that we must give 110%. We must not just work hard, to our capacity. Real success, we learn, is only possible in working beyond our capacity. The flip side of all of this is that nagging notion that if we let up we’re weak, lazy, or that we don’t really “want it” enough (whatever “it” is at the time).

We so like the taste of high performance that we strive to always better even our top performance. Our very value as human beings gets caught up in the idea that if we’re not contributing something huge or making a greater impact than before, that we’re not successful. Before we know it, we’re in overdrive.  

On and on we go, giving more and more of ourselves, exhausting ourselves. As we pour ourselves out striving for expected gains, we totally and completely lose sight of the cost of that gain?

I’ll tell you what it is for me. The currency of my gaining in that way is my best self. That me that makes me good at what I do. That me that knows, lives, and works on purpose. Essentially who I am is the price I pay when I get into overdrive. I lose all but the bare bones of why I do what I do. The values and needs that drive me—meaning, connection, expression, and growth—become like tumbleweeds blowing across a barren land; evidence of previously healthy, thriving life that has dried up and detached from its roots.

A few weeks ago, I noticed I was in this pattern. And I knew I couldn’t continue. I decided to do something different than my usual push onward. I decided to retreat. Literally. I blocked off three whole days. Amidst all that I had going on, personally and professionally, I deliberately stopped. I drove into the desert.

In a rented cottage in the mountains of New Mexico, I disconnected to reconnect. I stopped moving to regain momentum. I looked away, took my eyes off the road, so to speak, to clear my vision and refocus.

Sounds like running away and hiding, doesn’t it? Or like turning away from obligation and responsibility? But here’s the truth. This short FULL break from the busy, the overload, and the turbo pace of work and life positively impacted my productivity, focus, engagement, and ambition. I came back better than ever and I learned some valuable lessons about the importance of breaks. Here are just three of my most treasured lessons from the desert and a few questions for you to consider for a little arm chair retreat of your own.

Lesson 1:  I didn’t know how deeply worn out I was until I stopped. Yes, I was aware that I was going at a pace I couldn’t sustain, but it wasn’t until I had no choice but to surrender to the quiet of the desert that I realized how badly I needed the rest. What I didn’t know could have been detrimental to my ongoing effectiveness and success. Turns out real recovery was the only way that I was going to return to my full capacity and capability. No amount of new strategies to push through harder nor newfangled “get things done” efficiency hacks would have allowed me to recover like I needed to.

Arm chair retreat questions:  What is your real level of overwhelm, stress, and exhaustion? How do you know? What do you need to do to recover?

Lesson 2:  It was so hard to stop and let go of work in progress, shared challenge and possibility that I carry for my clients, and commitments to my partners. Wonderfully though, I had no choice. Because I did let go, I discovered that my mind seemed to be doing some sneaky background work while I was unplugged. Turns out a mind at rest is still processing ideas, possible solutions to challenges, and generating creative approaches to opportunities. Cutting things down to the basics, even for a bit, therefore allowed me to expand my capacity to address complexity and challenge.

Arm chair retreat questions: What might you be clinging to in a desperate attempt to solve or force an outcome around? Could it be that your effort is having a counter effect? Could you literally step away from the problem briefly, retreat from it, and deliberately not think about it at all for a while?

Lesson 3: When I left, I was in a mode of jumping from task, to phone call, to half written article, to life management tasks around the house, etc. My attention was spread thin and wearing away even further. I was shifting into autopilot. My high standard of performance was at risk. A few days of quiet, singular focus, whether on reading, cooking, or on the heavy rain that pounded the roof more times than seems possible in the desert, had near miraculous effect on my attention. It was like a hard reset for my focus. Without divided attention I experienced again what it’s like not to strain to maintain focus. When I came back and reengaged in work and commitments, I was laser focused. I noticed that I complete work more efficiently, at higher quality, and that I am more attentive to clients and family.

Arm chair retreat questions: Is your focus divided? What is efficient about that? What is inefficient about that? What is the effect on your work if your attention continues to be split?

To be clear, I’m not saying that everyone must go offline for days or go out to the desert alone—although I highly recommend it. I am, however, making a case for stopping; stepping away fully in some way at any time that seems to be the worst time to do so. I’m making a case for trusting and knowing that you’re not shirking responsibility, nor setting yourself up to fail by resting. I know that you know that’s not who you are or how you work.

Give yourself a chance to be successful and fulfilled. Give yourself a break.


Swimming Off Course: A Success Lesson

Do you ever feel that you have a goal or target, that you’re clear on what you need to do, and that you’re working super hard to get there?

Ever feel simultaneously like you are working your butt off to reach your goal and that everything seems harder than it should be?

Have you pushed through fatigue, only to find that despite your effort, and the capacity to succeed, that your goal seems to never get closer?

I’ve sure been there!

Those are the times when I was expending so much energy—mental, physical, emotional; when I was giving my all, and yet it never seemed like I was getting anywhere. It felt like rather than moving forward toward my goal that I was going in circles or even backward. When this would happens to me, my will and desire to succeed continued to burn which drove me onward. I’d put in more effort. I’d dig in. I’d push and drive harder. And it would suck!

I’m sure you can relate. I mean, this is how we the ambitious and goal oriented, the disciplined and tenacious make stuff happen. Right? It’s how we’ve become what we are. And it seems like it works, even if it is really hard and exhausting. What’s crazy is that we seem to have come to a point of accepting that this is actually how we’re supposed to create success.

As much as determination, relentless hard work, and persistent drive all serve us well in creating success, that same committed grind, exertion, and striving can wear us out and pull us off course. That makes things WAY harder than necessary. Hello overwhelm! Hello burnout! 

So if working harder isn’t working like it ought to, what’s there to do about it?

One of the most important tactics that we can employ when we’re in the throes of effort that lacks REAL momentum is to lift our heads, refocus on, and reconnect with where we’re heading. This proverbial keeping our eyes on the prize, or looking where we want to go is something that many people understand intellectually, but don’t actually do.

Many of us will stop at the point of setting a goal or establishing a target up front, at the start of an effort. Then, we get to work, not stopping until we get there–if we get there. This approach misses two things. First, the importance of maintaining your commitment by refreshing your view of your end goal, keeping it in your sights. Second, the value of setting intermediate goals, or milestones, to keep you on track.

I like to illustrate this point with a little reminiscence from my years racing triathlon. I learned this lesson concretely over several seasons of swimming off course, having to swim harder to make up for it, and wearing myself out in the process.

You see, even though I was a strong and confident swimmer having done so competitively through my childhood and teens, my swim times weren’t where they could have been. I wasn’t as successful as I knew I could have been in the water, and I was coming out of the water pretty spent given my level of fitness.

It was during 1.2 mile swim at half-iron distance race in Galveston, TX, when I was sprinting myself back to the main pack after taking a solo tour of Offats Bayou that I realized what was happening. I wasn’t sighting! Something I knew I needed to do, but wasn’t actually doing. And I was paying for it!

Granted, in most cases the swim finish in a triathlon, the ultimate end point for that leg, was not in my direct line of sight. That’s not dissimilar from goals that we set professionally, really. We can’t always see exactly what we’re heading for. We have to head toward the vision we have for the end state, without really seeing it.

In the water, I wasn’t thinking about how I would maintain awareness of and orientation toward my target even though I couldn’t really see it. Learning that I could use the buoys along the way as “check points” that would keep me on track was a big help. They became my intermediate achievements until my real target took shape ahead of me. Great! Sounds like a good, almost no brainer approach?

Here’s what’s interesting. Even once I’d learned that approach and started applying it, in many races I’d get in the water, put my head down and swim…and swim…and swim. I’d swim until I’d find myself off course again! There I’d be, swimming deliberately and diligently toward a destination that wasn’t the milestone I’d set, or the end goal. I was working really hard, and had the desire and commitment to get where I wanted to go according to my plan…but I wasn’t checking in to be sure that I actually WAS ON PLAN.

And there went a lot of effort, valuable energy, and precious time. The big lesson? Sighting only works if you do it. And do it often.

If you’re feeling like you’re “swimming” hard but not getting closer to your goals, it’s probably time to lift your head, look around, and refocus on your target. If you can’t quite see your ultimate target, what intermediate ones are there that you can work toward for some immediate success? If you have milestones identified already, when was the last time you checked in to confirm that you’re on course to meet those?

Just having a target and a plan will only get you so far. Your skill and confidence will work to a point. Checking in and confirming how you’re tracking to plan (maybe even deliberately changing your planned milestones, if needed) is essential to your success.

More on Vul-ner-a-bil-i-ty: The Willingness to be Wrong

If you were paying attention to my message yesterday you will have noticed that the title, your first point of contact with that message, incorrectly listed vulnerability as having five syllables. In actual fact, it has six syllables. I was wrong; publicly wrong. That’s vulnerability in action!

As risky as it was to do that, I was willing to see what happened as a result. I didn’t panic, my world didn’t end. In fact, work and life continue to thrive just as before. I survived, so did everyone else.

There’s an important lesson here about vulnerability.

You can’t be vulnerable if you’re not willing to be wrong, to make a “bad” decision, or sometimes look like you don’t know what you’re doing. But so many of us, especially when it comes to our careers and jobs, are reluctant, unwilling, or paralyzed by the very notion of that kind of exposure. So we stay in companies, roles, relationships, and habits that either aren’t serving us in a meaningful way, or worse, that drain and deplete us of the very life we think we’re maintaining.

We keep on keeping on with what is, with what we’ve always done. We claim it’s because we value security and stability. We lose sight of the possibility and potential for enhanced success that might come from even a little foray into the uncertain and slightly unstable.

Being unwilling to be truly vulnerable, to take a real risk (not a false one), to really untether your boat and row into the waters of uncertainty will keep you stuck in the status quo and ensure that any change you might wish or hope for will remain just that. Nothing’s going to happen.

Letting go is necessary to open up your view, your perception and your awareness. And that opens up the opportunity for action toward change and improvement. Yes, letting go may suck at first. You may hurt, you may feel defenseless, you may feel stupid and lost, and you WILL be scared.

Remember though, this doesn’t have to be a large scale letting go. It could be something small. Start by being willing to be wrong, to not be perfect, to not have it all figured out. I know personally how hard that can be, and I also know personally about the growth and expansion of success and fulfillment that comes as a result.

Taking risks like this, being vulnerable even in small ways lets us rediscover our true capacity and capability. We see how resourceful we are. We become more resilient. Taking risks that expose us builds and strengthens relationships, connecting us as human beings. When we’re even a bit vulnerable and step into uncertainty we get feedback and “data” that helps define our paths forward and refine our vision and direction. Being vulnerable could be the initial move that builds into real momentum toward your next big decision, your next success.

The space we create when we are vulnerable is where learn happens. That’s where we confidence, grow and expand our possibility.

What small ways might you open up, be vulnerable, and take a risk this week? What’s the worst thing that could happen if you do? What do you gain by not doing so?

Vulnerability: The Five Syllable Fancy Word for Risk

There is much ado these days about vulnerability. Seen and understood as that opening up of oneself, being raw, exposing messiness or uncertainty, even showing weakness. Leaders and icons of business, sport, entertainment, and public service are praised for it. And it is no wonder, that we too, drawn in by the realness and truth that we feel when someone is truly vulnerable, are compelled to experience it too. We’ve all collectively agreed that vulnerability is a good thing.

You may have noticed, as I have, that people among us are now wont to declare themselves vulnerable as a means of gaining favor or recognition or as a means of strategically positioning themselves with others. But is that it? Do we really know what it means to truly be vulnerable?

Real vulnerability is risk. Inherently. It’s five syllables and looks fancier, but at its root, it’s risk.

It requires letting go of the structures we rely on to keep us safe. It means being in the unknown, fully, and not explaining it away. It is uncomfortable, maybe even painful. It can be simultaneously sad and exhilarating; or just sad, feeling like loss. It means dropping boundaries and supports we are used to. It means releasing what we know to be safe and predictable, and allowing and abiding by whatever we don’t know that arises.

That’s risk.

Like any risk, real vulnerability presents the opportunity for upside, for gain. But here’s the thing: that upside won’t be fulfilled under false vulnerability.  

Surface level vulnerability won’t cut it. This is often spotted by self-proclamation on the part of the person who wants to be seen as being raw and open; by language and action that betrays fear, reluctance, and arrogance; and especially by the claim of a definite plan for how it’s all going to go.

No matter how strong the desire may be to open up and to take that risk, just talking about it, representing it as “true” externally without anything changing on the inside isn’t taking the risk. Maintaining protections and not truly letting go is like keeping your boat tethered to the dock but still expecting to arrive on the other shore. You’re not getting anywhere.

Make no mistake, talking about your plan to change and being honest with yourself and others (even just a few) about what you expect you’ll do or how you’ll be is an important step toward readying yourself and nearing real vulnerability. It is expected and understood that your final steps will come after preparation, contemplation, calculation, and decision (maybe repeated several times). The point here is that if you never get beyond the talk, if you never walk the proverbial walk, there will be no gain.

Not ever making the leap means you’re taking no real risk. For all the self preservation and safety in that, imagine the potential growth and opportunity that you lose as a result.  

If there is a risk you know you want—or more importantly, need—to take, what is it that you’re not letting go of? What is the opportunity cost in maintaining that “security” (which may be assumed and not real, by the way)? What would happen if you really went for it and let yourself be exposed, truly vulnerable?

It could just open up the space for your enhanced, never before imagined, fuller and more satisfying success.

Fall! The Season of Opportunity (and an announcement!)

Maybe it’s from all those childhood years of eagerly starting a new grade, or even a new school, in the fall. Or maybe it’s because as fall sets in we know the year is nearing it’s end, leaving us one last quarter to achieve what we set out to do for the year.

Whatever the reason, fall is an energized and inspired time of the year. As a coach, I’m fascinated by how, next to January, September is the second month in which people are most motivated and driven to create positive change or bring to reality ideas and aspirations they’d previously only thought about.

Fall is a natural time for starting new routines, recommitting to previously set goals, laying the groundwork for goals for the next new year, or seeing to an end and reaping the outcomes of efforts started previously but set aside.

Before the bustle and demands of the holiday season, September and October are ripe months full of opportunity. This is the time to refocus your vision, replenish your motivation, refine your plans and next steps, or reorient yourself to your priorities and shed what doesn’t align with them.

I can’t wait for the month ahead because I’ll be connecting with people who are eager to enhance their success and fulfillment and not content to slide listlessly into the end of the year.

And…I am REALLY excited that on Thursday September, 22 at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge, CO, I will be sharing tips and strategies for actively engaging in and deliberately claiming your success.

Join me for this free event, OWN IT:  The Secret to True Success AND Fulfillment. Let it be your motivation to plan a long weekend away from your usual grind. Let it be a chance to “retreat” to envision how you will reclaim ownership in creating the success and fulfillment you deserve, and make a concrete plan for how you will make it happen.

Going into autopilot as fall sets in, putting off decisive action, saying you’ll change in January, means you’re losing valuable time. This fall don’t let the sun set too early on your potential, don’t just admire that the leaves are changing into vibrant colors; shine on and be brilliant YOURSELF.

Remember…It’s your career. It’s your life. Don’t leave success to chance.

Liv Sig

PS:  If you have a nagging suspicion that now really IS the time to get busy on creating change and no longer accepting success as others define it for you (and being dissatisfied and disappointed as a result). We need to talk! Reach me today at or 303.912.5726.


Own It_CMC_September 2016

Fool’s Gold: The Emptiness in My Athletic Success

Here’s a little personal story for you.

Many of you know that I have a long history in endurance sports. I’ve completed numerous long distance running and triathlon events, many of them with top of the top quartile results. Race after race I proved that I had the ability to set a goal, train hard, and demonstrate improvements. I was driven by an inner competitive spirit to do more, try harder, go longer, and be faster.

For more than a decade my performance in my training and racing was a massive component of my definition of success. I felt freaking fabulous about my achievements! And, as other people expressed awe and amazement at all that I achieved, I felt even better. I LOVED my success!

Over the years though, there was something stirring under the “hard core” surface. My inner compass for fulfillment and happiness was spinning and sputtering. I just didn’t realize it.

As I stepped up to and kicked the asses of new and bigger challenges, I was becoming more aware of what felt like a growing gap within me. In spite of my additional successes, I wasn’t any more satisfied or any happier. I was checking the boxes on my race list, collecting finisher’s medals. And I wasn’t fulfilled.

I dismissed all of this, though. I convinced myself that this was me being lazy, getting soft, or—horror of horrors—that I might be a quitter! I pushed through. I hardened up. Time after time I decided that what I needed was a bigger goal, or maybe more goals, anything to keep me pushing myself.

All the while, that compass was still trying to find purchase on true north. My needs were growing more acute. But I still pressed on. Turning away from that inner space of emptiness. Yet I continued to fill my pockets with fool’s gold.

It took years (and a significant trauma) to wake me up from the numbed out manner in which I was habitually seeking meaningful success in my life…and not finding it. I began to consider some key questions:

  • What if one more finish line won’t actually deliver the depth of fulfillment and happiness that I seek?
  • What if the goals that I need to work toward and reach are of a different variety altogether?
  • What if I continue to set these types of goals only because it’s what I’ve done for so long and I don’t know what else there is?
  • What if I’m not listening to what my inner drive really wants to achieve?
  • What if a true expansion of my success and fulfillment is only possible if I expand my possibilities and opportunities?

My point with this story is NOT to say that big fat athletic goals like these aren’t great motivators, that they aren’t a component of a successful and fulfilled life, or that they’re not fun. (Holy crap! There is hardly a better feeling than running down the last 50 yards of an Ironman to the cheers of hundreds of people. Seriously!) And there really is an amazing level of satisfaction that comes from committing to a goal so thoroughly and intently in training, and then realizing you can do something seemingly insane on race day. It IS gratifying. It IS fulfilling. Hell yes it is!

I bring up this story to draw a comparison. The same thing happens to us in our pursuit of professional success.

We get conditioned to seek growth in our success at work in ways that may actually stifle our full potential for fulfillment. We lose touch with (or never allow ourselves to know) what will truly satisfy our needs for meaning and purpose in our work. We burn ourselves out working harder and harder to be better, get recognized, land that next promotion, and we don’t recognize the discontent that bubbles under the surface.

Just like I had to, we all must be willing to look at the ways in which our current endeavors or potential future opportunities align with our requirements. (That, of course, requires that we know what we need in the first place…another topic for another time)

Just like I did, we must consider whether our greatest challenge and satisfaction might actually come through roles or opportunities that aren’t directly on the paths with which we’re so familiar.

Just like I had to, we must courageously face our possible outgrowing of what once served so well and accept the challenge of growth in new ways.

And, though I did not do this, we must be willing to act upon our most immediate inclination that we have stagnated in our success.

Take it from me. Running the race to “just finish” is not fulfilling. Sure you get a medal, and maybe a t-shirt, but beware:  fools gold doesn’t fool you for long.


Could your greatest success and fulfillment lie uncovered? If you have any sense that something–anything–is missing let’s talk. Don’t leave your ultimate, most meaningful work and life untapped! Get in touch today! or 303.912.5726.

Chef’s Table Menu: Success, Satisfaction…and Suffering?

Is success a burden? Is there an element of torment in doing work that is deeply important to you?

I’ve been haunted by these and similar questions for months now. Ever since I watched the Dan Barber episode of the Netflix original series Chef’s Table

This episode highlights Dan’s work in the kitchen as well as his commitment to and investment in farming focused on the pure flavor experience of real food. He is clearly driven, focused, on a mission, and clearly someone who has created success and fulfillment on his own terms.

Like all of the Chef’s Table stories are for me, Dan’s success story is inspiring and intriguing on so many levels. On the basic level, I am drawn in by how food and the dining experience is for these chefs a true creative expression. I’m also attracted to what seems to clearly be success that’s born out of a drive from somewhere deep within these chef’s souls. And on a whole other level, I am captivated by the steps, decisions, and experiences that make up their path to success.

Every one of the chefs in this series have made bold and risky moves in the name of creating success in the ways that they defined it. They all zigged and zagged in their careers seeking to create the space to cook what and how they wanted to, to establish the dining experience they wanted for their guests, and to find ultimate fulfillment and satisfaction in their work. It’s truly the stuff of example and motivation for the rest of us.

But there was something more in Dan’s story that struck me. Almost hidden in the magnitude of his mission and purpose, and nearly covered up by the dramatic story of the early struggles that lead to his ultimate success, he made this one comment that frankly rocked my world. He said:

“I was attracted to cooking because it is so beautiful when you look at it from afar. What I didn’t understand when I was looking at the beauty is just how tortuous it is.”

That struck a chord with me. It caused me to question whether the work that I do, the very foundation of what I stand for in my work and life, could be setting people up for misery instead of happiness and fulfillment. It caused me to think about the role of struggle, discontent, even unhappiness in the pursuit of success—even the success that we define and pursue deliberately.

This months long internal debate has covered all manner of questions.

Could it be that by facilitating a deliberate engagement in the creation of success and fulfillment that I am actually spreading pain? Could I be participating in the further erosion of happiness and true success? Might I be leading the charge down a “no outlet” road that’s actually barren of fulfillment?

Alternatively, I also considered the possibility that Dan’s comment aligns perfectly to my work and that he could actually have a point that is supportive of the results I enable my clients to achieve.

At this point, after much deliberation, I’ve come to take this statement as an illustration of the inspiration and the drudgery that are both real elements of a conscious and deliberate engagement in creating success where and how you want it.   

I’ve come to see that what Mr. Barber is saying is not a denunciation of happiness in the pursuit of success, it’s a recognition of the full experience of creating success that contains the whole spectrum of feelings.

This statement has come to represent for me an honest and straight forward expression of what it means to:

  • Step up and actively steer our own course toward success rather than just see where we end up
  • Understand that as we take this driver’s seat we’ll sometimes have a headwind and at other times a tailwind and that because we’re driving we’re going to feel both intensely
  • Be aware of and responsive to what inspires, calls to us, or feels important no matter how daunting or exhausting it seems and be willing to do something about it
  • Recognize that when we’re deliberately plotting our path to success and truly owning the results the stakes are higher…which is that this can be exhausting
  • Accept that even when you’re doing work that you love, struggle and stress are still possible (even likely) but that when it’s satisfying some deep need for, say, meaning and purpose rather than just providing a pay check or a title, you know that not continuing is not an option
  • Stay the course in your effort, finding happiness and motivation even within the difficulties
  • Be consciously connected to the process and finding fulfillment in the process itself

The beautiful truth in Dan’s statement is that doing work in which we find purpose and meaning, and which gives us a level of satisfaction in the very doing of it, is both inspiring AND taxing. It’s realistic while also maintaining the promise of the possible. Ultimately it’s what I imagine the dining experience to be like at Dan’s Blue Hill Restaurants:  reverent of the pure integrity and potential of real food, in spite of the effort and attention it takes to produce it honestly.

What a delicious and nourishing metaphor!


Ready to step up, engage, and own YOUR full experience of success? Ready to create the fulfilling WHOLE life you know is possible? Then get in touch! Let’s have an honest conversation about what’s at stake so you can decide what your satisfying (even if somewhat tortuous) path to REAL success is going to be. Reach me at or 303.912.5726.