The gas or the brake?

Maybe you work for one of those companies that lists “innovation” as a core value or that has a CEO who is always going on about your brand’s commitment to  “market leadership.” Yet, somehow, your company is continually a step or two behind the competition. Or perhaps even facing extinction.

Maybe you are a team member or a manager who provides input on new ideas or recommended product, program or process improvements. But more times than not you are a defender of the status quo rather than feeling wired to say “yes.”

Maybe you regularly tell yourself that you are a creative person, full of great new ideas. Yet, it’s hard to point to many instances when you’ve actually exposed your concepts to your colleagues and contacts, much less the broader world.

What makes us think that the way to catch-up with the competition or to build an insurmountable lead is to ride the brake? Is the world going to become a better and more just place with us sitting there and watching?

Yet the stark reality is that is what most of us do.

If you are serious about innovation, about leadership, about bringing your idea to market, about making even the tiniest dent in the universe, you are going to need more acceleration and less coasting or braking.

Step on the gas.

Or relinquish the keys and let someone else drive.

A version of this post originally appeared at

Is happiness a zero-sum game?

Why do we often treat happiness as a scarce resource?

Why do we approach our capacity for happiness as if it’s constrained, instead of wildly abundant?

Why do we frequently behave as if someone’s else’s success, joy or good fortune has anything to do whatsoever with our ability to experience contentment or equanimity?

Why do we let someone’s social media exploits ever make us feel bad about ourselves?

Your happiness doesn’t undermine mine. Nor does it limit it.

It’s never useful to compete on happiness.

The fact is there’s more than enough to go around.

Happiness compounds and expands. And we all rise with the tide.

Conversely, I should never derive happiness from another’s misery. There is no joy to be found in knowing the hole is on your side of the boat.

We’re all in this together.

It’s time to act like it.

What better time than now?


h/t to Sharon Salzberg for inspiring this post.

Holy stuckosity Batman!

“Stuckosity” isn’t a real word. It can’t even be found at Urban Dictionary. Well, at least not yet.

But certainly most of us are familiar with the quality of being stuck. Perhaps you’re feeling it right now.

We get stuck telling the same old stories about ourselves that are familiar, but serve no useful purpose.

We get stuck trying to solve problems with the same level of thinking that got us into trouble in the first place.

We get stuck defending the status quo, even when we know it’s not working.

We get stuck in self-righteousness, which almost never changes the other person’s mind or behavior, but frustrates us to no end.

We get stuck fighting reality, re-litigating the past, trying vainly to predict the future.

We get stuck striving for perfection, when perfect is both impossible and, ultimately, only a recipe for suffering.

We get stuck waiting for precisely the right time and to be fully ready, failing to see that those exact conditions will never ever come.

We get stuck in relationships because we fail to speak our truth and ask for what we want and need.

We get stuck unleashing our full potential because we wonder how other folks will judge us if we were to go out on a limb.

And on and on and on.

The key to getting unstuck is to first see it for what it is. And most of the time our stuckness is merely our habitual reaction to an irrational fear; to a fundamental misunderstanding of risk.

Once we become aware that staying in our fear–and being unwilling to let go of our story, our need for control and our desire to be right–is actually the most risky thing we can do, the door is cracked open to change.

Once we we accept that our behavior is simply habit, the debilitating result of a lifetime of bad conditioning, we can work to establish new, more healthy and useful ones.

Once we are committed to take action, we are finally free. Free to start before we are ready. Free to embrace failure as a natural outcome of growth. Free to be okay with our imperfection.

And that’s good thinking Robin.


This post also appeared on my business blog at

Until we’ve started

Before we’ve started, it’s all just theory, concepts, wishful thinking, big talk, hopes and maybe a dream or two.

Before we’ve started, we are time-tripping, living solely in a fantasized future, instead of a realized present.

Before we’ve started, nothing is truly on the line.

Before we’ve started we can’t fail. Of course, it’s worth noting that we can’t succeed either.

But the goal is not to avoid failure–it’s to fail better.

I’ve had all sorts of brilliant ideas that never moved past a rhetorical flourish or even emerged from the confines of my mind. I’ve written a lot of great blog posts in my head. I’ve imagined quite a few heroic deeds, game-changing new ventures, noble journeys and wrongs I’ve made right.

The Resistance is real. Naming it is the first step. Confronting it is the second. Slaying that you-know-what is the third.

Thinking is great. Planning is quite helpful. Starting, however imperfectly, is better.

And there’s no better time than now.

Until we’ve started, I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t count.

A lot of oysters but no pearls

It’s worth remembering that generating lots of ideas doesn’t guarantee an innovative one will magically emerge.

It’s worth remembering that we can collect social media followers by the droves, but chances are only a handful will engage in an authentic way.

It’s worth remembering that we can be plenty busy and not necessarily be working on the few essential things that truly make a difference.

It’s worth remembering that we may claim a large number of acquaintances, but when it really counts, it’s far better to have that one friend who has the courage to tell you the truth when it’s most difficult–or who will unconditionally extend compassion when you are profoundly hurting.

Sometimes you need many, many oysters to be certain you will find a pearl.

And maybe that kissing a lot of frogs thing helps some people find their prince–or princess.

Most of the time, however, if we constantly remind ourselves that our intention should be more oysters, not more pearls, we might just save ourselves a lot of time, energy, distraction and pain.

This post was inspired by a 2014 post from my business blog which can be found at  

HT to Counting Crows for the title inspiration.

The magical mystery powers of gratitude

For a long time the power of gratitude eluded me.

Sure, there were times when the position of privilege I was born into, or had attained, was obvious. I could appreciate a trip I took, a fancy new thing I bought, a great meal. I’d say “thanks” for a gift or a job well done or some little bit of kindness extended to me.

I suppose I mostly saw gratitude as transactional.

But if I’m honest, much of the time I was focused on what was lacking. The sense that I wasn’t achieving my potential at work and in my life was a near constant. My internal monologue was consumed by thoughts that I should possess more and sexier stuff, dominate my to-do list, achieve greater status, be in better shape, have everyone like me and on and on. I was feeling more than a wee bit entitled. I was rarely, if ever, satisfied.

In 2009, when I was still in the throes of a personal crisis that had rocked me to my core, the therapist I was seeing patiently listened as I recited yet another tale of woe. As I got to one of my favorite (and by then oft-repeated) complaints, he stopped me.  In that somewhat condescending voice all psychologists seem to employ he said “Steve, I wonder if would you be willing to tell me 30 things that you are grateful for right now, at this moment?”

I pushed back. “3o things? I don’t think so.” He encouraged me to just start.

The first few came easily. I had a nice house in a safe neighborhood, a decent amount of money in the bank, a great family. A few more things trickled on to the list with a bit more reflection.

When I stalled at about 8 or 9, my therapist made a few suggestions. “What about the way Charlie (my dog) greets you when you come home? How about the knowing smile on your daughter’s face when you make one of your dumb Dad jokes? How about the fact that you don’t have to worry for even one second whether you’ll have safe water to drink?

He paused to let that sink in. My throat grew tight. “Keep going” he said.

And I did. Spoiler alert: I had no trouble getting to 30.

I left that session feeling better than I had in months. I came, albeit slowly, to see how gratitude is the antidote to my habituated negative thought patterns, the kryptonite to feelings of emptiness and loneliness. I adopted “I have enough, I do enough, I am enough” as a mantra.

My list of things that I’m thankful for is now much greater than 30. The list also includes a lot of actual human beings. It turns out gratitude is relational.

It also turns out gratitude has the power to heal. It turns out that extending gratitude to another person fosters connection–and we all need more of that. It turns out that just waking up today is reason enough to be grateful.

I wish someone had told me that earlier, but I got here as fast as I could.


On this day when many are celebrating Thanksgiving I’m grateful to my friend Seth who generously shares his Thanksgiving Reader. Check it out.

I’m also thankful that I have one friend in my life who will tell me the truth even when it hurts and who constantly challenges me to be a better person. And I’m grateful that I’ve been willing to (finally) tell her how much that means to me.


The votes we cast

Without question–in the United States at least–tomorrow is a huge day. The votes that are cast will set the tone for the level of discourse that will predominate for the next several years. The fundamental direction on key policies, and important things like the selection of Supreme Court Justices, will be solidified.

Many have argued that Presidents don’t really matter that much anyway. And that may well be true. Regardless, it’s almost certainly the case that even if the electorate does something truly idiotic most of us are likely to remain largely unaffected.

Nevertheless we work ourselves into a frenzy about the candidate we despise.

We vilify friends and colleagues who extol the virtues of the other guy (or gal).

We mock those who are “throwing away” their vote on a third party candidates.

And, in the greatest exercise of futility, we use social media as a weapon of persuasion.

Sidebar newsflash: More people have gone from being dog people to cat people because of something they have seen on Facebook than have been convinced to change their opinion on Trump or Clinton by anything you or I have shared.

What’s most interesting–and ultimately disturbing and disappointing–is that many of us will spend far more time, energy and social capital ruminating on an election that will likely not matter and on arguments that will make not a whit of difference than we will on the moment-to-moment decisions that clearly count and that we have a direct ability to influence.

We vote every day on being generous or stingy, kind or cruel, compassionate or indifferent.

We can embrace a world of possibilities or wall ourselves off in fear.

We can opt for acceptance or battle endlessly with reality.

We can choose a cycle of forgiveness or go down the path of revenge.

We have many opportunities everyday to decide which wolf to feed.

And here, without a doubt, our vote matters.



h/t to the Rev. Dr. Daniel Kanter for his sermon that inspired this post.

Get curious. Get proximate. 

If we’ve learned anything from this election cycle it’s that lots of people are long on opinions and short on facts.

We’ve also unearthed some curious theories.

That mere intelligence trumps actual experience. That promises to get tough are better than an actual plan. That most of success in life is about cutting “great deals, tremendous deals”. And that, when in doubt, let’s just let fear rule the roost.

Buy into these hypotheses and there are quite a few interesting things one is led to believe:

That those that have only flown over the battlefield know how to win the war.

That folks who have never suffered from institutional racism know exactly how to lift marginalized communities out of discrimination, poverty and violence.

That people who have won the ovarian lottery–and have likely never spent a minute walking in the shoes of those much less fortunate–can confidently say that “those people” just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Moreover, there is no need for further study, or to be even mildly inquisitive, because our minds are already made up.

It’s always easier to wage an air war, to be the critic, to shout encouragement from the stands. But then there’s that pesky little problem that it doesn’t really accomplish anything.

Much of the time, what we need–what I need–is to first get curious. Once we think we have all the answers there is a pretty good chance we’re wrong. A passionate curiosity releases us from ego and creates the potential for something far more spacious, real and connected. Most importantly, it gives us the information we need for good decision-making. It turns out facts matter.

The second step is to get proximate, to get out of our comfort zone and immerse ourselves not only in the facts, figures and issues, but the people, the emotion and, yes, our hearts.

As Bryan Stevenson reminds us “when people get proximate to the problems and the things they care most deeply about, not only does it help them do better work, be better problem solvers, I think it changes them.”



h/t to Dr. Heather Hackmann for helping inspire this post.


Just because you killed Jesse James . . .

“Just because you killed Jesse James, don’t make you Jesse James.”

– Mike Ehrmantraut to Walter White, Episode 3, Season 5 of Breaking Bad.

Just because you’ve attacked my idea doesn’t mean yours is better. Defending the status quo can be necessary, but mostly it’s an excuse to stay trapped in our fear.

Just because you sit in judgment of all the “idiot” drivers and “slothful” welfare recipients and “feckless” politicians, doesn’t actually do anything. Though your fragile ego may get a hit for a few seconds, putting others down isn’t a solution. And it certainly adds nothing to the level of discourse.

Shooting down something else isn’t remotely equivalent to creating something worthy or interesting. So instead of merely pontificating, let’s see your plan.

Being the critic is mostly a place to hide from the hard work of leading us to something new and meaningful. So instead of judging, let’s hear your ideas.

As Van Jones reminds us, Dr. King isn’t famous for saying “I have a complaint.”

It’s time to stop tearing down and to start building.

The universe is listening. And waiting.


A version of this post originally appeared at

Why try to change me now?

You probably have heard that Bob Dylan was recently awarded the Nobel prize for literature. You might also be aware that he has yet to officially acknowledge it.

At this point, it doesn’t seem likely he will turn up at the ceremony in Stockholm to receive the award. And if I were a betting person, I’d wager he won’t do the lecture that is a condition of receiving the $900,000 payout.

The powers that be at the Nobel Foundation are apparently aghast at Dylan’s silence, which one member deemed “rude and arrogant.”

Of course, this is all just Bob being Bob.

The other night Dylan performed a 90 minute concert in Oklahoma. He didn’t acknowledge the crowd when he took the stage and didn’t say “goodbye” at the end of the set. He didn’t pick up a guitar, but instead played piano most of the night. He didn’t introduce the band. There was no banter in between songs.

Just Bob being Bob.

Now there are a few things we know about change. Among them is the plain and simple fact that you can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change. Another is that we are only motivated to change when what we are doing no longer works for us.

Despite the protestations of the Nobel folks-and the broader lamentations of the public–I’m guessing a change is not going to come.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but it turns out Dylan has been closing recent sets with this.

American Masters: Bob Dylan