Making Your Job Even Better

Oftentimes we have to see all other possibilities before we accept what we have.

It happens a lot. I will work with a client to generate alternative career ideas. We’ll talk for a few hours, we’ll do assessments to come up with lists of hundreds of job possibilities, We’ll conduct informational interviews, we’ll read books, we’ll create ideal job descriptions… all the good stuff to break down walls and let the light in.

And then, upon crossing off the last item on our list, the client will start thinking about the job they already have. It’s like seeing a loved one at the airport after a long trip. And that loved one’s hair may be a bit longer and they may have different clothes but there is plenty that is familiar and the good parts are so much more obvious.

As with partners and friends, our jobs become part of our routine and we can lose sight of what makes them so great for us. But with a courageous departure and some distance, you get your Homecoming, and it becomes so much easier to understand what you have and what you can do to make it even better.


Two Ways to be an Entrepreneur

There is a metaphor people use to illustrate the non-stop action and exhilaration of starting up and running a venture: it’s like building a race car while you’re driving it down the freeway.

A client of mine one-upped this image and likened entrepreneurship to jumping off of a cliff and building an airplane on the way down.

As an entrepreneur and coach of entrepreneurs, I can say both are accurate. Entrepreneurship requires boldness, ingenuity, courage, and deep, unyielding faith in yourself because people will be looking at you like you’re freefalling when you know you’re flying (or about to be).

You know you’re an entrepreneur when people don’t quite get what you’re doing because that means you’re on to something new.

However, as exciting as these images are, starting a venture doesn’t have to be this way. You can, contrary to popular belief, build the car or the plane on the ground. To those that find this idea appealing: the best way to keep the ground under your feet is to not jump in the first place.

Start building while you already have a job. Or do some consulting on the side or walk dogs or sell real estate or whatever.

You see, that freefall, that need for speed, is usually due to the fear of running out of money (something investors call “runway,” appropriately enough). If you keep the money coming in, you stretch out your runway.

For this reason, you should never resent that “other job” you have to do. It’s your runway builder and it’s making your dream possible. A day job is like an investor who is relentlessly happy to dole out cash for you with no questions asked. Believe me, this is hard to find!

So, if you thrive under pressure, jump off the cliff with your sheet metal and rivet gun, but if you prefer to build with patience, create your own investment partner and take all the time you need.

We’ll wait.


The Most Important Hours In Your Week

I’ve yet to be invited to give a commencement speech to a graduating class… but if I did I’d give this advice, above all:

Set aside 4 hours a week that you will, under no circumstances, overwrite with some other activity, even work, even play, even your very favorite thing to do. If at all possible, build those 4 hours into your work schedule, your vocation. And guard those 4 hours as if your life depends on it.

Because it does.

Those 4 hours, whether on one day or spread across several, are the secret to survival. Those 4 hours make the other 108 waking hours of the week bearable no matter what the world throws at you, no matter if you like, love, or loathe the life you’re in.

Those are your alchemy hours.

It is the sacred time where you manufacture hope and inspiration, where you map out the next best thing and walk the line of dreams and reality, a professor of whimsy, a scholar of the sudsy division between land and sea. This is the time when you check in about what you’re doing and work on the tattered blueprints of your next invention.

So please protect those hours. Protecting them now is so much easier than trying to find them later underneath all of the beautiful things you’re going to fill your life with.

As long as you have those hours to stoke a fire and look to the horizon, you have eternity in your grasp. You can withstand the hard sun. You can become the sand or the moon.

You will be the envy of angels, for, in this commitment to giving your gifts fully, you shall truly be alive.


When Our Little Fires Become a Single Blaze

I’m tired of fighting. I wish I didn’t have to fight.

I wish I could live in my little corner of the world and create love and books and resumes and be a dad and a husband and a neighbor and nothing else. I don’t want much but I’ve come to notice that so many other people want it all and if I don’t stand on my ground with both feet every day, they will gladly take it from me.

Worse still. I may be tired but people around me are dying and the ones with the blood on their hands are wearing suits with little flag pins, slashing lives with pen and paper, perfecting their lightning, and calling it work when, in fact, it’s violence.

And I can’t reach them, not with phone calls nor letters nor dollar bills. I don’t have enough of any of these to earn attention.

So I wake up every day tired — tired when I look up, tired when I listen in, and the only hope I can muster is that the little friction I create on the ground will generate some light and heat for the day to allow people I never meet to see things differently and to care about keeping others warm.

And on good days, I have moments where I believe that our little fires on the ground, wrapping around the earth, will become a single blaze that will outshine the sorcerors’ blinding light coming down past the stares of our indifferent gods.


How To Avoid Sabotaging Your To-Do’s

I’ve noticed I sabotage my to-do lists. As I finish to-do items throughout the day, I mentally add more things to the top (so I can “get ahead” I presume). Silly rabbit.

As a result, the list never shrinks, indeed, it stretches out like a dark hallway in a bad dream. Eek. I’ll never get to the end.

Here’s how I deal with this. At the crucial moment of scoring a goal and checking off a to-do item… when my mind tries to counter, I deflect it away with the vigor and instinct of a goalkeeper blocking an unexpected slapshot from far down the ice.

Smack. Plink. Outta here. Tried to catch me off guard, eh?

We must relish our wins but stay aware of the counter-attack. Our mind, always seeking productivity, is sneaky and will try to slip one past us to interrupt our celebration and keep us from enjoying the view of the scoreboard.


Fixing Your Memories So They Don’t Haunt You Anymore

I’ve gotten rid of all my recurring nightmares — the big snake dream, the naked dream, the skunk dream, the homework dream.

My trick?

I bring the real me into the dream world. It’s like showing an architect a house they built. They know all the rooms and doors. They instinctively know the way out.

I’ve found this technique works well with memories too. We can time-travel back into a situation – a missed opportunity, a regretted comment, a traumatic experience – by recreating it and watching it unfold. And we can make it unfold in any way we want to. Remember, we are the architects.

When I go back and find my young self and watch the things that happened to him, it’s immediately sad, but then something happens: I sit with him, I lift his chin and look him in the eyes, I place my hand on his shoulder, and I can’t help but love him. There is no need to talk, no need to come up with the perfect thing to say, which is such a relief because most of the time I don’t know what to say.

The truth is, neither of us, the big Cliff, nor the little Cliff, know what to do…

But I have another trick, one that works extremely well in the awake world as well — no matter how hard the pain, just being in the same place together, close enough to touch and not forcing anything, seems to make things better.


The Leader We All Need

Seems like every election cycle is more and more pivotal. Or perhaps we just care more and more as we get older…

Whatever your cause or case or situation, you probably believe, like the rest of us, that this election is going to make or break the country. We’re all hoping for that stand-out candidate to come along and bring us all together, a leader at the level of MLK or JFK. Some of us have given up hope, others continue to hope, but we all wait…

I don’t know… maybe we’re putting too much stock in this “great leader” thing. It’s disempowering to place our hope outside of ourselves, like 300 million soldiers all laying down their weapons at the feet of a single one. In storing up our mighty vote for the big four-year play, we release our control and become as narrowly hopeful and desperate as a sweating, fidgety roulette player betting it all on ____.

We’re alone in our wagers. A win this time doesn’t guarantee immunity.

Rather than wait for a great leader to emerge, each one of us needs to bring a little greatness out of ourselves, something greater than the guns at our feet and the shields in our fists. We shall surprise our enemies, not by attack, but by lowering our guard to reveal the scars on our face until we notice one by one and state to state that the same jagged lines run across us all.


Trading Sleep For Inspiration

My phone lets out a nice little charming beep, like a tap on the shoulder. It’s telling me I need to go to sleep by 10:15 pm to get a full 7 hours of rest.

But I’m on a phone call – a great phone call. I can tell it’s great because my voice is loud and I’m vigorously wagging my foot in my velvety blue swivel chair. There’s plenty of laughter and interrupted sentences too.

So, I let the minutes tick past 10:15. Soon it’s 11, then 11:15. No matter, I’m making an investment…

An investment in tomorrow. A great call tonight puts me to bed in a great mood, which helps me wake up in a great mood. With a little back-of-the-envelope calculation, I figure it costs me an hour of sleep to gain a full day of inspiration. That’s 1 less hour under the covers to feel more alive outside of them.

And before you call me out as a master rationalizer, let me tell you that I’m serious about this equation. You can only invest a half-hour or an hour at a time and certainly not every single night. Otherwise, your debt will catch up to you and your inspiration won’t hold up. You’ll be tired and then everything falls apart.

Time is valuable. I recommend low-risk investments.

Be intentional about what you do with it and make your decisions based on what you get back, not on how much you can store up.


The Problem With Doing Things The Best Way Possible

The older couple next to me does their ritual. One man unfolds the plastic wrap around a single sandwich and puts each half on separate plates. The other guy uncorks a bottle of wine and fills 2 plastic cups to exactly the same height. They sit in low-back chairs with their bare feet on the blanket in front of them, shoes neatly to the side with socks tucked in little balls.

I get the sense they’ve done this before.

That’s part of the joy and pain of getting older. With time, you learn how to do lots of little things the best way possible and so you do them that way again and again… but that can create stagnancy and keep you from growing. And It will start to wear on you, like a weight sitting on your chest that won’t go away.

You know that feeling…

To get lessen the weight and break up the burden try changing a tiny little detail in your day, even if it means being less efficient or less accurate. Step off the blanket and get your feet dirty. Go with mustard instead of mayo. Take a different way home.

Every once in a while, shoot for what’s new, instead of what’s best.


I Got It On Video

Video is not enough anymore. Objectivity is gone. There is only storytelling, and the storytellers rarely work with what’s in front of them. They care more about what’s inside them.

We do whatever is necessary to keep our own beliefs intact.

Two people can watch the same video and pick different villains. It doesn’t matter who is holding the weapon and who is falling down. There is always something to interpret. The slightest shift of an elbow, the corner of the mouth, the twist of a head.

And if nothing in the video will suffice, then something outside the video will certainly do the trick, even something no one else has seen, something that happened weeks before, or something that should have happened right after but didn’t.

And when we can’t find a story line to underscore our own truth-beliefs, well, then we just throw out the video.

There’s no winning this game with evidence. It’s not the videos that are going to change our minds. (We’ll always side with the same actor.)

It’s knowing the heart of someone who could have played the other role.