Living in the Fast Lane

I'm honored to have Frank Sonnenberg guest post an excerpt of his Must Read book, BOOKSMART - which you have to get. See Frank's bio at the end of the post and again, get the book - it will change how you think, lead, behave, live. 

Living in the Fast Lane

In today’s wonderful world of time-saving technologies, you’d think we’d be beneficiaries of an improved quality of life. More time for friends and family, more time to pursue personal interests, and more time to follow our dreams.

Wrong!

Despite these continuing advances, time saved has become time filled. Bombarded with added responsibilities, working families are faced with greater demands and obligations, increased stress levels, and tough choices to make between personal and professional commitments. In many cases, instead of living life to the fullest, we’re living life on the edge — cramming as much as we can into a day, scrambling to get ahead, and running rampant on what sometimes seems to be a never-ending pursuit of the almighty buck.

This is life now that hyper-speed Internet communication has connected us to the demands of a hyper-speed world. One where tomorrow is not good enough for answers needed today. One where the pace of life that we once knew has changed forevermore, slamming us into high gear — full rev…with no time for idling. And often, no time for breathing.

Too often, our “must-do” lists do not include doing something for ourselves. Like hamsters, we live on a non-stop treadmill running pointlessly to nowhere, as moments pass us by. The scene of the “Norman Rockwell family” gathered together around the table has, in many instances, been replaced with that of working parents struggling to make ends meet. And children are being raised by others while we embrace a frantic daily work ritual. In short, we are becoming “absentee parents,” losing opportunities to spend quality time with our children.

This is life.

Or, perhaps better stated…this is life?

Sadly, we are losing the priceless things that we once treasured. An extra hour or two to putter around the house, the joy of watching a child’s first steps, or taking time to make our favorite chocolate chip cookies from scratch using grandma’s recipe. And — home-cooked meals? Who has the time?

Today, those home-cooked meals we once enjoyed have been replaced by take-out dinners or a quick stop at the drive-through window. Family meals around the table have been reduced to grabbing a bite with anyone who happens to be home at the time, rather than “being a family” at least once during the day. Family conversations are fast disappearing, and what once was quality family time has now evolved to a drone-like fixation on a mega-sized TV screen, fighting for possession of the remote.

Even those special occasions we once anticipated and celebrated have been reduced in significance. For example, many holidays have become over-commercialized, and we find ourselves looking at them as “days off,” rather than pausing to reflect on their true meaning and sharing them as a family, as a community, and as a united nation. And the care and time once spent thinking about buying, or making, just the right gift has, in many cases, been replaced with gift certificates — that is, if we can remember the occasion in the first place. These pleasures are often lost in the blur of living life in the fast lane, gone because we fail to hit the pause button and put our lives back into perspective. In many cases, we’re becoming worker ants with tunnel vision.

The sobering fact is that there will come a point in time when we sit back, or more likely collapse in exhaustion, wondering what we’ve gained from this frenetic race called life. And in those moments of retrospection, will we really regret that missed promotion, the rejected proposal, or not being able to buy the bigger house? Or will we ponder our failed relationships — the feelings left unshared with someone we love, or the precious time lost with our children? Sadder yet, will we find ourselves living in a society where future generations accept these values as the norm?

Attention, Fellow Homo sapiens!

This is your wake-up call before it’s too late — the early warning signal to get a perspective on the things that matter.

Make time for yourself — if only just a few minutes — to reflect and regain some perspective — where you can redirect, realign, and realize a better, more rewarding life.

As authors, we find that we, too, are very much a part of this hyper-speed lifestyle that we’re all living. We’re no better than the next hardworking parent or individual trying to keep it all together. But, in our quieter moments, we do realize that there is a need to slow down…to put on the brakes and consider those values that are most important in life.

So take a moment to replenish your energies, re-establish your priorities, and re-introduce yourself to those things you once held close to your heart. There’s more to life than increasing its speed.

This is excerpted from BOOKSMART: Hundreds of real-world lessons for success and happiness By Frank Sonnenberg © 2016 Frank Sonnenberg. All rights reserved.

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Frank Sonnenberg is an award-winning author. He has written six books and over 300 articles. Frank was recently named one of “America's Top 100 Thought Leaders” and one of America’s Most Influential Small Business Experts. Frank has served on several boards and has consulted to some of the largest and most respected companies in the world. Additionally, FrankSonnenbergOnline was named among the “Best 21st Century Leadership Blogs” and among the "Top 100 Socially-Shared Leadership Blogs." Frank’s newest book BOOKSMART: Hundreds of real-world lessons for success and happiness, was released November, 2016

What The Boss Can Teach Us About Life, Harmony & Impact

I grew up in Rumson, NJ using my fake ID to get into the Stone Pony with a $2 cover charge to hear Bruce Springsteen (before we knew how famous he'd be).  Who knew? In his new book, Leading the Life You Want: Skills for integrating World and Life, Stew Friedman shares how The Boss has harmonized parts of his life to find a balance that works for him.  It can work for all of us - if we're willing to learn...because after all, we were all born to run!
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By Stew Friedman

Bruce Springsteen didn't get to where he is today with a well crafted 20 year plan for his life. It hasn't even been through a fully conscious quest for work-life balance but, rather, a continually evolving search for harmony among the different parts of his life.  But he is here - a globally adored artist, a proud father, and a catalyst for progressive social change. 

You can’t have it all: Complete success in all areas of your life, all at the same time. No one can. But, even though it can seem impossible, The Boss, and many others who’ve achieved greatness, prove that harmony among the different parts of life is attainable.

The most successful people harness the powers of the various aspects of their lives, bringing them together in the pursuit of what I call “four-way wins”--actions that result over the long haul in things like being better at work, at home, in the community, and for yourself. Skeptics, take heed: Anyone can do this. There are learnable skills that help you find ways to lead the life you want.

Three principles propel a life in harmony:

To be real is to act with authenticity by clarifying what’s important to you. It’s your answer to this basic question: What matters most to me?

To be whole is to act with integrity by recognizing how the different parts of your life affect each other. This means identifying who matters most to you at work, at home, and in the community; understanding what you need from each other; and seeing whether and how these needs mesh.

To be innovative is to act with creativity by experimenting with how things get done in ways that are good for you and for the people around you--taking realistic steps aimed at scoring four-way wins.

These principles come alive in skills you can practice every day, and Springsteen illustrates each of these skills.

HE IS TRUE TO HIMSELF, ALWAYS 

In the confusing warp of fame and wealth, many rock stars forsake their values and fall prey to scandal, artistic stagnation, or early death. Springsteen is grounded by his musical mission, his family, his community of origin and the world community of fans he’s created. This has also allowed him to remain at heart the same down-to-earth Jersey guy he was before striking it big.

Rather than conforming to external pressures, Springsteen relies on his values to guide his behavior. He’s not afraid to speak his mind. People relate to his music and lyrics on such a deeply personal level because he is consciously striving to be true to himself--a struggle to which all can relate. Springsteen wasn’t born with the ability to give voice to the truth of his experience; it’s a skill he’s refined.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Springsteen struggled to come to terms with the horrifying attack. In a way that was even more explicit than his previous albums, in "The Rising" he produced songs to express the grief and hope he found in himself, his family, and his community. Not only was this a way to articulate what was important in all aspects of his life, it was a turning pointp for him because it put him on a path to becoming more directly involved in politics.

Springsteen has since grown more fervent in his appreciation of how important it is to take political stands rooted in his family, societal, and spiritual domains. He tries to be who he is, wherever he is.

HE COMMUNICATES OPENLY ABOUT EXPECTATIONS 

The skill of clarifying expectations involves both advocacy for your own point of view and inquiry about what others want.

Springsteen has always been insistent and clear--with his band, producers, engineers, and audiences--about the sounds inside his head that he’s trying to recreate. It took days of trial and error, for example, just to find the right timbre for the drums on "Darkness on the Edge of Town," but the young Springsteen (still in his twenties) wouldn’t stop pushing until everyone grasped exactly the sound he was looking for.

Another episode, much further down the line, occurred during a live performance of "American Skin (41 Shots)." The audience was noisily rustling during the introductory refrain and Springsteen demanded quiet. Hush ensued. He is good at letting people know what he wants.

But communication about expectations must be a two-way street. Springsteen’s capacity to hear the rumblings around him has enabled him to stay current with the culture. A great storyteller must be a great listener.

After 9/11, Springsteen offered condolences to families of local victims and honored first responders with new versions of his songs. In his 2012 South by Southwest keynote, Springsteen said he got the inspiration for "The Rising" a few days after the attacks, when a stranger in a car stopped next to him, rolled down his window, and said: "We need you now.” Staying closely attuned to his audience’s changing interests is a crucial element in Springsteen’s repertoire of leadership skills.

HE ENCOURAGES INNOVATION IN HIMSELF AND OTHERS 

Springsteen looks for opportunities to show others how he’s learning new ways of doing things and encourages them to innovate. Leading by example, he inspires others to be creative. His enthusiasm for learning is contagious.

A main ingredient in Springsteen’s recipe for success, personally and professionally, is his thirst for useful knowledge; his desire to change the world--to create something new that makes things better--and to change himself. He talked to the 2012 South by Southwest crowd about his hunger to learn and how he had to step out of the mold to discover his own musical style.

But not only has he been on a lifelong search for better ways to express his ideas in music, Springsteen has been seeking to better understand his inner life. Here, too, he has used his own experience to inspire others.

His use of psychotherapy demonstrates his belief in the value of disciplined self-discovery. Therapy helped Springsteen work through the scars of his childhood and learn how to appreciate life beyond work and especially real intimacy and the family he’s created.

Talking about this pursuit of self-knowledge turned him into a role model, helping to de-stigmatize therapy and open doors for people, especially men, who might not otherwise seek such help. It wasn’t easy to talk about these things publicly, but Springsteen mustered the will to do so. He crafted an analogy (going to your auto mechanic to check under the hood) to convey what he was doing. He showed others there are practical means available--tools they can use--to heal their own scars. Springsteen is a teacher.

His mega-star success as a performing artist has come as a consequence of, and not at a cost to, his investments in his family, his community, and his private self. His music is greatly enriched by these other parts of his life, and his music is the vehicle through which he is able to live a rewarding life beyond it.

While most of us won’t reach the dizzying heights of public renown like Springsteen has, we can all learn how to pursue four-way wins and create a greater sense of harmony in our lives.


Since 1984 Stew Friedman has been at Wharton, where he is the Practice Professor of Management.  In 1991 he founded both the Wharton Leadership Program – initiating the required MBA and Undergraduate leadership courses – and the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project

Stew’s most recent book is Leading the Life You Want:  Skills for Integrating Work and Life (Harvard Business, 2014).  In 2013 he published Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family (Wharton Digital Press).  He is also author of the award-winning bestseller, Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life (Harvard Business, 2008).  It describes his challenging Wharton course (originally produced at Ford), in which participants do real-world exercises to increase their leadership performance in all parts of their lives by better integrating them, while working in peer-to-peer coaching relationships and using an innovative social learning site. The Total Leadership program – which marries the work/life and leadership development fields – is now used by individuals and organizations worldwide, including the 57K+ students in his recent Coursera course.  The Total Leadership Web site was chosen as one of Forbes’ best for women.  Stew also publishes at Harvard Business Review.

 (This article is adapted a Fast Company adaptation of Stew's book, with his permission) 

I Don't "Have it All" - Yeah!

After some tweet and email discussions with Anne Marie Slaughter and Cali Williams Yost about Anne Marie’s article on The Atlantic, and the uproar about Marissa Mayer becoming Yahoo’s CEO while she is pregnant, I decided to weigh in.  Finally, we are having an honest discussion of “having it all” instead of perpetuating a fairly tale.  While this has mainly been viewed as a ‘woman’s’ issue, it is a very human issue.

The phrase “having it all” is a huge part of the problem.  First, no human being can have it all, regardless of gender.  Second, as an advocate of Buber’s “I-Thou”, the focus of “having it all” is on I, not Thou.  I firmly believe that focusing on “I” always leads to disappointment (in ourselves and others), dissatisfaction with one’s life and an addiction to seeking satisfaction and happiness.  It leads to judging others and ourselves by what we don’t have but want, what we feel we are entitled to and what we did or didn’t do.  It leads to a treadmill of keeping up and keeping ahead.  It reinforces a binary world of it’s “me” or “them” - either/or – not “us”, not “and”.   Throughout my career, when I focus on the “Thou”, helping my clients’ solve challenges and innovate resulting in growth, jobs, philanthropy, the “I” takes care of itself.  When I focus on the needs of others, clients, entrepreneurs and students I mentor, my network, my own business grows as well, allowing me to do more “Thou”… a virtuous and incredibly rewarding (oh, “I”!) cycle.

My journey of work+life has been blessedly based on “I-Thou” + “AND”, very progressive for its time. Growing up in Bell Labs, I was very spoiled with a great deal of freedom, intellectual stimulation, and no sense of gender discrimination.  It was a discovery ‘factory’ that sought AND solutions.  My bosses were mentors who led with “I-Thou”:

  • One put his credibility on the line to promote me, a 22yr old ‘kid’, to a level that required a Ph.D. or at least MS, making me the first, if not one of, to get to that level without the required degrees;  
  • Another measured his success on his people’s success (output) and impact (outcome); he was one of the most admired, and loved, managers and had one of the highest promotion rates.

When I said I was quitting to move to Oberlin, OH to marry my husband in 1988, AT&T/Bell Labs offered to move me if I wouldn’t quit…another “I-Thou” moment.  My management made the case for paying to move me to Oberlin and pay for weekly commutes than lose me.  For 9 years I flew to NJ every week and to Europe or Asia monthly, was given a laptop with global network access, a cell phone and a fully equipped home office.  When I had children, with fabulous maternity-leave and benefits, I returned to work from home, no travel, part-time – keeping my same level and responsibilities. I was able to do very meaningful, impacting work because I demonstrated my talent and my management recognized my worth.

I love what I do. I am passionate (and blessed) about the impact my work can have on my clients’ business, employees and communities, my mentees, “portfolio companies” - professionally, organizationally and even personally.  I find it difficult to separate my passion for my ‘work’ from my passion for ‘life’ and hope to impart that to my children.  I pray they find an ‘avocation’ that integrates the various aspects of their lives.  I want them to know that they can impact the world in many ways – from career to marriage to parenthood to friendships etc.; that their solution is an AND, not Either/Or.  The workplace is evolving, in fits and starts as it fights the status quo, to make this goal more achievable than in the past. 

We’ve all make trade-offs in our lives.  It’s impossible not to.  Anne Marie Slaughter’s essay makes it clear that these are personal choices that require honest and straightforward discussion without judgment.  This is not to say that we don’t have an issue with women’s accessibility to influence and power in the ‘corporate’ world.  We do.  But we need to ease up on prescribing and focus on enabling solutions that meet the needs of the working person as a whole: as an employee, parent, spouse, sibling, child, community member, etc.   It’s messy – welcome to the 21st C!  Everything is a ‘mess’ – and what a blessing!  This messiness is the foundation of change, transformation and innovation.  Perhaps we needed to reach this point to finally create flexible, agile, nimble solutions that don’t discriminate between “work” and “life”.  This is the century of AND not Either/Or…of trying to ‘give it all’ vs. ‘have it all’.

So, what can you do to evolve to an “I-Thou” management style, culture, habit? How can you leverage that to help you and your employees create an AND solution? How can you avoid creating a false choice of Either/Or? How can you change your perspective and leverage the opportunity this ‘mess’ provides to create incredible outcomes for Thou’s?