Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Importance of Goals

I was planning to organize my goals into a list... I just never got around to it...

Why is goal setting important


  • Create a framework within which we can organize our lives.
  • Create a context in which we can understand how events in our lives relate to one another.
  • Allow us to harness our personal energy (and the energy of the universe) to reach a desired end (not by chance but intentionally).
  • Move us from the random to the intentional.
  • Help us to choose between conflicting options and to apply resources selectively, pragmatically.
  • Allow us to chart our progress and work toward closing the gap.
  • Allow us to have a clearer picture of ourselves and of our successes, and help us to take a stand against the rigid (and incorrect) messages of powerlessness that some of us carry by helping us to see how far we have come.
  • Give our lives purpose and direction.
  • Organize energy; and energy (like water) flows along the path of least resistance. Establishing goals is like creating a pathway through which energy or intention can flow.
  • The process of setting goals helps us to actually define what we want and the direction in which we want to head. It moves us from the passive to the active. From audience to actor.
  • Goals motivate us.
Does everyone need goals?

At its most basic, a goal is a stated need or want. Every human baby is born with an innate, hard-wired ability to awarely track and communicate their desires. When a baby experiences hunger, for example, she or he cries.  In this instance, the goal of crying is to communicate to mommy or daddy that the little one is hungry and needs to be fed. That is certainly not the only reason a baby might cry, but it is a fairly common one. The baby does not need to be taught what hunger is, nor does he ever need to be told “when you feel hungry cry so that mommy knows to feed you.” Baby does this instinctively. Of course, Baby is an extraordinarily quick learner, so if she does this once or twice and it works out, then she will have verified her instinct. If things don’t go so well, she will learn other lessons and over time develop alternative strategies.

As we learn and grow and experience more of life, our needs and desires become more nuanced, more complex, more specific. (“I am hungry... for pizza not spinach.”) But the mechanism that leads us to instinctively want to communicate and have our needs met remains. At some point, as we learn to take mastery over ourselves, our lives, the environment in which we live, we begin to take gratification at meeting our own needs or the needs of those around us (i.e. our own children.) Ultimately, we are able to derive great pleasure in using our intelligence to reshape the universe around us according to our personal vision.

When we are children, we are predisposed to have big dreams. In part, we have not yet fully learned the concept of “practical realities.” But, more importantly, we haven’t internalized limitations on our personal power. Of course, surviving in an imperfect world requires a certain amount of reality checking. Most children learn over time to manage the bulk of their feelings, and to communicate their “acceptable” needs in ways that maximize the chances of their being successfully fulfilled. Unfortunately, by the time we reach maturity, most of us have learned these lessons a little too well.

Again, this is understandable. Our parents and teachers, while well-meaning in most cases, had limited resources and were not able to always provide for our every desire. We learned to manage what must have been crushing disappointment the first couple of times we did not get what we wanted by teaching ourselves to want less, to have smaller horizons. But the full expression of one’s humanness requires a large horizon. It demands that we dream big and then strive to fulfill these dreams.

Goals help us to imbue our lives with a sense of purpose and direction. 2,400 years ago, Aristotle wrote something along the lines of: the definition of happiness is having the chance to pursue a set of goals of one’s own choosing.

It occurs to me that Aristotle might have been talking more about fulfillment than happiness. But it would be hard to argue that happiness and fulfillment were not intimately linked.

From the Zone...


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

CEO...? Really?

Some of you have asked why I decided to name the blog: The CEO Zone. You wondered whether it was because I wanted to become the CEO of a company? Or, perhaps, because I wanted to target folks who wanted to be CEO’s?

Sure… but not entirely.

When I started to think about the phases through which my life had evolved, I began with the obvious ones: Infant, Child, Teen, Young Adult, etc. Then there were other stages: Student, Intern, Senior Team Member, Subject Matter Expert, perhaps one day even Tribal Elder. But none of these seemed quite right.

When I talked about it with my friends I would say “you know, solidly adult.” I would turn my palms to face each other and then slice downward in parallel for emphasis, “Solidly Adult… Grown up!”

But this was confusing.

I was not referring to age or legal status. Also, most of us consider ourselves adults as soon as we are no longer children. Rather, I was referring to a particular sense of self. The feeling one has when one has become competent in the area of one’s intended interests. When one is ready to begin to fully apply his education, her skill set, and take action in the world. To step beyond the protective shadow of our parents, mentors, managers, and to follow our own intelligence.

Doing so requires that we begin to think of ourselves as leaders and to set expectations of and for ourselves accordingly. We will want to lead from the authority that stems from our experience and subject matter expertise (experiential) as well as from the authority that is bestowed onto us from the strength of our relationships (relational). (This is different from what we normally observe: people leading based on their positional power -- power that arises from the arbitrary (and often temporary) role they play in the hierarchy.) To, in effect, be the boss of one’s own self, the CEO of one’s own life.

This is not to say that mastery of the skills necessary to successfully take this on won’t also help one to achieve positional leadership if that is the goal. Having a vision for our lives and figuring out how to implement that vision turns out to be a highly transferable skill and will reverberate across all of the facets of our lives.

To occupy the position of CEO, and to be effective, requires a shift in the way many of us have been taught to live. Most people reading this blog are “tactically successful.” At the very least, you have access to a computer with an Internet connection. And you have carved out some “leisure time” for surfing the web and reading. It is probably safe to assume that you are not starving to death. You have learned how to take actions to successfully ensure your survival, and even more than that, to have a basically good life. If your life were a company, you would be the successful VP of Operations, possibly doing some side duty as the Senior Director of HR.

The CEO serves a different purpose. Her/His role is strategic. It requires holding out a vision of where to take the company. Of course, simply having a vision is not enough. The CEO must have an objective picture of where we are right now. What our strengths and weaknesses are. What are the opportunities. What are the threats. And then the CEO must develop a plan, a pragmatic approach, for getting from point A to point B. It is while managing and implementing this strategy that the CEO cuts his teeth.

The hardest part about this is the choosing from among an infinite set of options. It means that you need to know yourself well enough to know what you want. What you’ll be willing to fight for over the long-term. It also means that you will have to sometimes make sacrifices as you prioritize those tasks that will take you closest to your goals, occasionally forgoing other things that “look fun” in the short term. I am not suggesting that we need to have drab and gray existences, or lives made up of all work and no fun. In fact, because I use a system of Value-identification to help determine what is important to me, making these tough decisions is often far more fulfilling and leads to far greater and longer lasting joy than the instant gratification that tends to present itself in opposition to our triumphs.

To use a personal example, forgoing the Ben & Jerry’s and going to the gym might be a required decision. As to whether or not there will ever be an appropriate moment to choose the ice cream... well... that’s up to the CEO.

From the Zone…


Friday, February 10, 2012

Value: The Environment

All sentient life on the planet uses the environment toward its purposes. We eat. We build. We live. And in doing so, we effect and change the environment, organizing it around our personal and collective visions. Having a thoughtful, aware and strategic approach to the environment; thinking of ourselves as stewards of the environment; working toward keeping the environment clean and healthy, and helping it to heal in areas where damage has been done (regardless of whether that damage is a result of man, animal, weather, or geologic event) is important. The goal is to have the environment not be at risk and for everyone to be able to enjoy it fully and thoughtfully, forever.

When I think about this value two reference points come to mind. The first is the environment around me, my personal space. Where I am, where I live, work and play, where I spend time. The environment that I own and control. The second is the greater environment, the planet, and I suppose, increasingly over time, the Universe.

Our treatment of the space around us, and even how we think of that space, whether its an object to be controlled at whim, a canvas upon which to paint, or a living partner in the great circle of life, is, in general, a direct manifestation of the balance between our feelings and our intelligence.

Almost without exception, everyone of us, on some level, feels discouraged. We feel small. Powerless. This is because when we were children, we were small, and we were often prevented from expressing our power. It was interrupted. We were interrupted. People and events that were larger than we were, exercised power over us, often thoughtlessly. We were not happy about this but there was nothing we could do about it. These experiences have left us with confusions. Places where we cannot see ourselves clearly. Places where we cannot tell that we are powerful and can make a difference.

Many of us feel overwhelmed when we think about the environment. It feels like the effort to create positive change, to keep the planet clean and healthy, or the Universe free from clutter, is going to be too hard. That it will require the cooperation of too many people. People we don’t know, or don’t like, or can’t control. People that we can’t or don’t want to cooperate with.

These are feelings.

To be sure, “the environment” is a big place. Infinitely large. But, as it turns out, we, aside from the spots where we have surrendered, are also infinite, and more than enough to tackle the tasks we have set for ourselves, whatever those tasks may be.

I think of the decision to prioritize the environment as similar to creating a sculpture that celebrates our own life. Living in an “intentional space” reinforces the message that we are in control, that we are powerful. If we are particularly thoughtful and we “design” our personal space keeping our other values and goals in mind, then this space can become an extension of our entire value system, helping us to more effectively live our dreams and reach our goals. Extrapolating out, tending to the larger environment becomes a celebration of all life and history (past and future.)

Personal Space

Whether I am working, playing, resting, creating, hanging out or simply being, I want my personal space to be optimal for that experience.

Clean and orderly
Physically comfortable – w/r/t temprature, lighting, sound, sights, tastes, smells.
Thoughtfully designed
Aesthetically Pleasing
A celebration of “where I have myself”
Energy efficient w. a neutral or positive carbon footprint
A place where I want to be and enjoy being. A place that inspires me and excites me and rejuvenates me.

The greater environment

I want to have a relationship with the natural environment (and to be able to tell that I am connected to it). I want to enjoy nature. I want my life to have as minimal a negative impact on the environment as possible (i.e. small carbon footprint, increased recycling and composting to limit my personal share of what goes into a landfill.) I want to spend time outdoors; to find places where, simply by being in them, I am reminded of the sanctity of all life, and the importance of my personal connection with the planet and the universe. I want to participate in the effort to clean up the environment and to help the planet to heal in areas where it has been damaged.

From the Zone...


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Value: Work, Play (... & Financial Security)

The difficulties that I had writing this section were significant. I have struggled to understand what the concepts of work, play and financial security mean, in general, and to me, personally. I pushed myself to suspend pre-conceived ideas and prejudice’s and to consider the goals toward which I ultimately want to strive, free from these limitations. Finally, I have done some deep soul searching to try to determine if having “a value to do work” was actually important or if it was simply an irrational meme, acquired from the dominant culture via contagion and constant repetition.

I was raised with the belief that “work” was something that you did so that you could earn enough money to retire. This was the paradigm that was handed down to me by generations of working-class Eastern-European Jews; each generation adding its unique flavor and perspective before moving it along through history, until, most recently, it arrived on the shores of New York City, on the shoulders and in the minds of my immigrant fore-bearers. People who came to this country in an attempt to carve out a better life and more hopeful future for themselves and their families.

“Work hard and earn enough money so that when you are not working, you can relax and be comfortable.” Words of wisdom from a smart, hard-working people, who, against all odds, had survived centuries of pogroms, brutality and oppression and were committed to working as hard as was necessary in order to avoid “being sent back.”  

Work vs Play?

But what IS work? And, conversely, what is play? And how can we tell them apart?

The answers to these questions may seem so obvious as to negate the need to even ask. After all, I’ve had a job since I was 16 and playing since I was born. But I can assure you, that even after weeks of to trying to formulate an answer, the closest I can come is to quote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart:

I shall not today attempt further to define [what] I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description... But I know it when I see it...

But in truth, I am not sure that I do know it when I see it...

  • The act of  learning or earning. Chores. Errands. Things that need to be done (laundry, dishes.). Making money;

  • Deadline-oriented;

  • A set of tasks, often of someone else’s choosing, engaged for the direct and immediate benefit of someone else, in exchange for an indirect (and often future) personal gain (i.e. doing your job and collecting a pay check);

  • In school, work involved sitting through boring classes. Cramming the night before to pass midterms and finals. Spending hours at the library doing research for term-papers. Even for my interesting classes, my chosen electives, it was pretty dreadful stuff;

  • Exercise. Dieting.

  • Fun stuff. Entertainment. Playing games. Reading books. Make-believe;

  • Stretching. Relaxation. Getting a massage. Sleeping;

  • Hanging out with friends;

  • Walking. Swimming. Bike riding;

  • Free-flowing;

  • Spending money;

  • Eating.

While this list is personal to me, I am guessing that most folks would have an equally random assortment of disconnected ideas about work and play.

The through line that has emerged as I have thought about this topic is that work and play somehow exist on opposite sides of a single spectrum, each pulling in an opposing direction and that, in order to be successful, we have to find the right balance between the two, managing the extraordinary tension that they create. I can’t help but be reminded of Freud’s ideas about the Id & the Super-Ego.

In this paradigm, work becomes a required chore. A necessary evil. A dreaded task to be achieved through pure will-power. At best, if you happen to have a job that you like, work is a means to an end. That end, of course, being material wealth which you can use to buy the type of “play” you desire.

Play, in turn, becomes the thing we do when we are not working. It becomes about “taking the edge off.” Not a huge surprise then that the “after-hours” entertainment of many adults generally include sex, drugs, alcohol and gambling. Others spend hours alone, shut away from friends and family, playing video-games, reading books, watching television. And let’s not forget sweets. What could be more “fun” than a pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk?

A Brief History of Play... (and work)

When I was very little, playing was about doing something joyous. It often included other people and generally had some component of imagination. And when I was fully engaged, it often filled me with delight.

I have an early memory of playing “Dolphins” with my dad. I was about 5. We were in a swimming pool. I held onto his back while he swam the width of the pool under water. At one point, my head broke the surface, and I shrieked at the top of my lungs: a single, high-pitched note of unadulterated happiness, too great to contain.

As I grew older, I experienced this level of uncontrolled enthusiasm less and less frequently. Play morphed into a training-ground for how to be a grown-up, pretending what my life would look like when I was older. As I hit my early teens, I discovered  role-playing games, Science-Fantasy novels, and Comic Books. It was the 80’s and Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, and the X-men were all the rage.

Early on in my life, I decided I wanted to be an actor, and so, in school, the play-acting that I had been doing turned into actually acting in plays. Interestingly, this was my first inclination that work and play could overlap. All through elementary school, junior and senior high schools and college, I worked to refine my craft as an actor. Unfortunately, what had originally been fun, actually started to feel like a job. Faced with critical and often disapproving evaluations of my professors as well as the growing concern that if I continued, I would have to be able to earn money in a highly competitive field where more people waited tables than actually worked in their chosen profession, I added a second major in my senior year.

It was around this time that I decided to become a massage therapist. I had always liked having my shoulders rubbed and when a mild car accident in my sophomore year of college left me in the care of a massage therapist, courtesy of my PIP Insurance, I realized that it might be a viable option. I went on to have a massage practice for almost a decade, and, at least in the beginning, I could not have told you whether doing massage was work or play. It had always been a way to connect with folks. I was a theatre geek so we were allowed to give each other back rubs. Now that I was getting paid for it., I was completely delighted.

My massage career overlapped with my publishing career which embraced another set of activities that straddled the fence between work and play. As a writer and a designer, I got to be very creative. As an entrepreneur, I got to sell advertising and promote my business.

Of course, “financial realities” have a funny way of corrupting, and, as we have seen, as activities moved from the optional to the required, I tended to feel trapped and started to loose interest.

When I was 31, I enrolled in an MFA program in Studio Art. Up until that time, school, except for the early years of actor-training, had always been solidly in the work category. Obligational. Difficult. Never-ending. But now, suddenly, I was an artist; once again dedicating my life to creative pursuits, free from the requirements of financial success. (I had taken out student loans and so did not have to worry about cash flow.) For two years I dedicated myself solely to thinking about and creating art. Some days, I spent 18 hours in my studio. It was not easy. But it was awesome.

Fast forward a dozen or so years: relocating to NYC, a second masters degree, a successful career, and a full life built on thousands of decisions, the vast majority of which I am happy with and would not change.

But play continues to be muddled in my life. It has started to look more like weekend brunches, the occasional Broadway musical, or taking vacations: a hiking trip in Machu Picchu, a cruise across the Mediterranean. I enjoy these activities to be sure. But there is something that needs to be reclaimed. Some piece of unadulterated joy and enthusiasm that I long ago left behind.

So what have I gleaned from all of this introspection? A few observations...

1. Self-imposed requirements for financial success tend to obfuscate the other rewards of work, leaving me confused and diminishing the joy I might otherwise feel when I do things I love.

2. The current commonly accepted paradigm that work and play are opposites does not work for me.

3. The feelings that you have while you are doing something tend to determine if you experience the activity as work or play. The most difficult thing, climbing a mountain or reading the encyclopedia, can feel like play if you are joyous, happy, connected while doing it. Conversely, something as easy as taking out the garbage or flossing before bed can feel like work.

Something is in need of a reset.

The Artist’s Way

When I adopt the perspective of the artist, the distinction between work and play blurs. The conversation ceases to be about the tension between “how I make money versus how I spend it” and shifts to: “How do I want to spend my time? What do I find fulfilling or interesting?”

It occurs to me that it may not always be clear as to whether I am working or playing because, hopefully, the activities I engage in won’t leave me feeling drained or used-up. Rather, I will feel fulfilled, uplifted, connected.

Moving forward, I want to engage in activities that have some combination of the following 3 components:

1. An opportunity to expand my intelligence and grow as a person (learning);

2. Value Creation: in that the whole will be worth more than the sum of the parts as a result of my contribution of time, intelligence and creativity (work);

3. I will derive deep joy from my participation (play).

This is not to say that everything should be easy or simple. Or that I will never be tired or need to rest. There is nothing wrong with “working/playing hard” or “giving it your all,” even to the point of exhaustion if that is what is required to accomplish the task. But these kinds of expenditures will be by choice and not by necessity.

Financial Security

While I want the ways I spend my time to be rewarding, financial remuneration may or may not be associated with any specific activity or engagement. Rather, financial stability and having enough resources to engage in chosen projects or participate in activities of interest (and to be prepared for sudden and unexpected events of all sorts) will simply be a part of the definition of my existence. (i.e. lots of cash piled high under the mattress and a regular, predictable, more-than-adequate flow of money slipped under the door each week.)

My only stipulation here is that this cash flow stem from the least exploitative method I can figure out. That it be obtained ethically and with integrity.

Rest & Rejuvenation... and Relationships

My final thought is about the importance of finding time to return to center: rebalancing, recovering, relaxing. This section could easily fall under the value of Health & Well-being but I include it here because it is in this part of my life, where things start off so hopeful, where there is so much passion and initiative, that I am most susceptible to loosing my way: a decision to exercise leads to my back going out; an exciting project becomes all about deadlines and milestones. Finding time to refocus, to recommit to the original intention, is essential. It can help us stay the course ensuring that as we cross the finish line we are able to celebrate our victory and not simply cross another chore off of our list.

I often forget to remember this. A reminder from the outside could be helpful. Someone, or more realistically, several someones, who are watching and thinking, and willing to gently ask questions and make suggestions when I’ve gotten a little meshuga.

Having people in my life who are willing to do this for me, and for whom I am willing to reciprocate, will increase the chance that I am able to successfully live this value.

From the zone...