Do Things That Don’t Scale

When I was at DoorDash, Tony Xu regularly taught a key lesson that was counterintuitive: Do things that don’t scale.

Want to know what challenges restaurants are facing? Pick up the phone and call a hundred of them.

Want to know why NPS has slipped in Omaha? Well, start reaching out to customers in Nebraska.

Too often we seek to optimize when in reality we don’t even know what we’re optimizing for. This has obvious application to building startups, but it’s even truer in our relationships. 

It’s taken me too long to learn that I can’t *scale* my relationship with my kids. Going to dance concerts, attending baseball games, and reading books takes time. Last night, we sat at the dinner table for hours playing card games, laughing, arguing, and making memories.

Whether you’re growing a startup or growing a child, you can’t optimize everything.

Do things that don’t scale.

Service Creates Sanctuaries of Belonging

Too often I fall in the selfish camp, but I’ve found that the best way to forget my worries and struggles is to set them aside and find someone I can serve.

In the words of Neal Maxwell:

So often what people need is to be enveloped in the raiment of real response.

So often what people need is to be sheltered from the storms of life in the sanctuary of belonging. Such a service cannot be rendered by selfish people, however, because the response of the selfish will always be that there is no room in the inn. Chronic self-concern means that the “No Vacancy” sign is always posted.

Often the best “self care” is to forget ourselves and focus on serving someone else. This doesn’t need to be through a service project or a grand display of charity. It can simply be accomplished by finding someone who’s struggling and being a light to them. A smile. An act of kindness. A helping hand.

We can all become sanctuaries of belonging.

Oceanside Ironman 70.3 Recap: How I Blew Away My Personal Best

My journey to Oceanside starts with the St George Ironman 70.3 in May 2021. I had trained for months leading up to St George, but my taper couldn’t have been worse. Three weeks before the event I got sick, a job offer led to lack of sleep as I evaluated what that would mean for me and the family, and then I smashed my middle toe on vacation just days before the event. 

While I rebounded from the first two, my toe was in serious pain. X-rays showed it wasn’t broken, but the pain was so severe I couldn’t run on it. I could barely even walk. A few days of recovery and a lot of ibuprofen got me to the start line. My former goal of beating my brother was long gone. I simply wanted to finish. 

Race day came and things went better than expected. I had to stop several times to tape my toe. I noticed pain on the bike, but had virtually no toe issues on the run. I crossed the finish line in 6 hours and 35 minutes. I was pleased, but knew I could do better. 

I signed up for the Oceanside half Ironman (I use 70.3 and half Ironman interchangeably) in October 2021, six months before the event. My young brother, who I often compete with, signed up too, but with a baby on the way I knew he wouldn’t be at his best. My Oceanside training had less to do with beating him and more to do with beating myself. I wanted to get faster. 

I created a rigorous training plan that involved more volume than I’d done before. I also shifted my intensity, spending more time in zone 2 (which for me is a heart rate between 138 and 153). This was a massive shift. Historically, when I’d gone out for a run or ride, I’d push the intensity, letting my heart rate go near max capacity on a regular basis. 

While this felt good at the moment, I didn’t have ample time to recover and was often left with nagging injuries that hurt my ability to train. My research had shown that spending 80% or more of my training in zone 2 would allow me to train longer, which would lead to increased fitness and speed. In essence, my mantra became “go slower to go faster.” 

I stuck to the plan for months, making sacrifices in other parts of my life to make time for cycling, running, and swimming workouts. Some days I woke up really early to get in a long workout. Other days I exercised after the kids had gone to bed. Once or twice a week I did strength training, knowing that weights were needed. I strived to eat healthier. All these things added up, and as the months passed, it was clear I was getting faster. 

I had set the goal of 6:10, 25 minutes faster than my St George time. That was a stretch, but I wanted to push myself. If everything played out perfectly, I had a distant chance at breaking six hours. 

Race day came and my training was complete. Things were looking good. I hadn’t gotten sick right before. I hadn’t jammed my toe. I didn’t have any excuses. The time for performance had come. 

The 1.2 mile swim felt great. It was an ocean swim and after fighting through the breaks I found my stride. The transition to the bike was rocky and one of my water bottles bounced out of its cage but I didn’t slow to pick it up. I figured I could grab a water bottle at the first aid station. 

The cycling course was beautiful and we spent a good chunk on Camp Pendleton, a marine base with rolling hills. 56 miles in total, the ride had a few steep climbs, but nothing too bad. A headwind made the final seven miles harder than expected but I was able to keep a strong pace throughout. 

After changing into my running shoes and taking a quick bathroom break, it was time for the 13.1 mile run. As expected, running off the bike left my legs feeling gelatinous but I knew from experience that feeling would go away. The course was mostly flat, with several steep inclines near the pier. A few miles into the run I was feeling great. My bike computer broke days before the race and I didn’t use my watch for the swim, so while I felt strong, I didn’t know how I was pacing. 

Everything was perfect until mile 8 when my right achilles and left hamstring tightened. I felt like I was one bad step from the race coming to an abrupt halt. My gradual run pace kept things at bay, but with five more miles I didn’t know how long I could keep it all together. 

One fun aspect of the run course was that the streets were lined with people cheering and music blaring. The environment was electric. 

And then with two miles left things got hard. Really hard. My hip started aching. The achilles tightness was consistent but the left hamstring pain was worsening. My longest training run was 10 miles and I was kicking myself for not training longer. 

As I passed mile marker 12 felt a rush of adrenaline hit me. One mile more and I’d be done. But every time my left foot struck the ground a shot of pain went through my hamstring. It literally felt like someone was punching me. I silently prayed that it wouldn’t give out. 

I didn’t have much in the tank, but as the finish neared, I gave it everything I had. The race announcer yelled my name and I pumped my fists as I crossed the finish line. A screen above my head displayed the final times of each triathlete. My run slowed to a walk and I turned my head 180 degrees to see the screen. 

Nothing yet.  

Then it flashed: Nathan Tanner – 5:55:23

You’re kidding me, I thought. 

A rush of emotion poured over me as I realized that I hadn’t just beaten my goal time, I had crushed it. My eyes filled with tears as it hit me that I had done something I didn’t think was possible. 

The tears continued and I started to lose my balance. Leaning against a fence, head buried in my elbows, I cried uncontrollably. I cried loudly. So much so that another athlete stopped to make sure I was okay. I thanked her for her concern and put my head back in my elbows. This was a full body release. I had left everything on that course and my body was releasing its last bit of energy through tears. 

Yes, I beat my brother by 15 minutes, but that wasn’t it. It was something more. I had set a big, hairy, audacious goal, I had trained harder than ever, and I blew the goal out of the water.

As I write this almost two months later, the emotion of the moment comes back to me. I’m not entirely sure what I experienced, but it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.

Many times it seems like things don’t go as hoped. The plans and goals and ambitions I have for myself fall short of expectations. But on that early April day in Oceanside, California, everything went my way.

And I’ll never forget it.

Daily Gratitude: Good Neighbors (Day 1,800)

In April 2017 I kicked off a gratitude challenge where I wrote a daily blog post for 30 days (more on my learnings here). When the challenge ended I decided to continue the habit but only occasionally share these gratitudes on my blog. 

What does it mean to me to be neighborly?

When we moved to a new house in California, my wife decided she was going to get to know our neighbors. She made a huge batch of cookies and we started making visits. Relationships were formed and over the four years we lived in that house we developed meaningful friendships. 

Next door lived a women and two of her adult children. After eating my wife’s cookies, they wanted to do something nice. So the next time they went to the movies, they brought us back a tub of popcorn. My kids made paintings to say thank you. They then bought toys for our kids. This cycle went on and on.

When we had new babies, they came over to welcome them and looked for ways to help with the transition (that baby is almost 6 now!). We didn’t live near family, so it was special feeling that kind of love.

Had it not been for my wife deciding we were going to be good neighbors, we would have missed out on these relationships and memories.

To me, being neighborly means serving others when they’re in need. But it also means letting others serve YOU. Everyone wants to feel useful and filled with purpose. Everyone wants a sense of connection.

What does being neighborly mean to you?

Why Neighbor Rejected an Unlimited Vacation Policy (And What We Did Instead)

Let’s talk vacation time.

For most startups, “Unlimited PTO” is the default. I put that in quotes because we all know it isn’t ACTUALLY unlimited. You’d be fired if you worked one week and took off the other 51.  

As an HR leader at some of the top Silicon Valley companies, I’ve found that managers AND employees struggle with the ambiguity of an unlimited policy. In an effort to clarify, additional rules and guidelines are created. This increases frustration (wait, you said it was unlimited?) and employee resentment.  

Moreover, hourly employees usually don’t fit in the unlimited policy so there’s a separate one created for them. Not cool.  

Additionally, I found that employees who have an unlimited policy end up taking FEWER vacation days. There’s no baseline on what’s appropriate so they err on the side of not taking too many.  

For these and other reasons, we do NOT have an unlimited policy at Neighbor. What do we do instead?

Every employee, regardless of seniority, gets 20 PTO (paid time off) days per year. On January 1, everyone at Neighbor is given 20 days and it’s up to YOU to use them how you wish. Go on vacation, stay home to take care of yourself or a loved one, take a personal day. Use them how you wish! There’s no second guessing on what’s appropriate. No concerns around abusing the policy.

Here’s your PTO. Take it. Recharge. Enjoy.

The Single Most Important Career Decision I’ve Made

At a recent lunch with friends, the question came up: what’s the most important decision you’ve made in your career? 

After thinking about it for a few minutes, my mind went back to spring 2006. I was a sophomore in college, unsure what I wanted to do with my career. One night I attended an investment banking club event and learned of a professor who’d be taking students to Wall Street a few weeks later. After a few days of internal debate, I went for it. I felt pulled to go. 

During that trip my eyes were opened to career paths I didn’t know existed. I met interesting, talented people who’d go on to become mentors. Walking the streets of New York, surrounded by skyscrapers, I felt alive. An energy pulsed through me. Those few days in New York made me feel like I could do anything I wanted to. 

The saddest thing is, I almost didn’t go. I had to pay my own way and between flights and hotel it was going to cost me $500. That was a TON of money for me. Also, at the time I held a “just study hard, get good grades, and everything will work out” mindset that limited my perspective. How could I justify the financial cost and time away from school? 

That trip led to a relationship that turned into an unpaid internship which turned into a paid internship which turned into a full time job (which later turned into the largest bankruptcy in US history and a spot in the unemployment line but that’s a story for another day 🤷😂). 

That Wall Street trip was a small but critical step in becoming the person I wanted to be. While I ultimately left the finance world entirely, deciding to go to New York changed how I viewed myself. It changed the trajectory of my career. And I almost missed out on it for a few hundred bucks.  

Invest in yourself. Put yourself out there. Experiment. Don’t let school get in the way of your education. 

Invest in yourself. Explore. Dream. Even if you fail, you haven’t actually failed because you’ll learn more about yourself and grow through the process. 

Invest in yourself.

No, You Don’t Have to Be Miserable. Here’s How to Make 2022 Your Year.

Scrolling through my socials last week, I stumbled on the following tweet: 

Typically I’d keep scrolling, but for some reason it kinda bugged me and I felt compelled to respond. So I retweeted and added this gif. 

The author came at me, calling me braggy, and a friend of mine dm’d me saying that my response was “literally violence”. 

I’m going to be candid–2021 was an incredible year for me. Even as I type that, I feel a tad guilty. Somehow with COVID and everything else that’s gone on, we’ve been conditioned to think that we’re supposed to be unhappy. We’re supposed to be depressed and downhearted. And if things ARE going well for us, well, we better just keep that to ourselves because everyone else is suffering miserably.

Well, I think that’s garbage. Empathy for the suffering is one thing, and we should all strive to have more of that. But being miserable because we’re “supposed to be” is a whole different thing. And that was the sentiment I got from the above tweet.

But let me take a step back to a time where I was suffering, when things were looking bleak. Let’s rewind to the end of 2019. My family and I had just moved to Walnut Creek into a rental home that fit our family of six. Prior to that, we had lived in a three bedroom home that was 1,100 square feet. (Note: technically it was a two bedroom because one room didn’t have a closet.) Three of our kids shared a not-so-large room. The best part was that you could vacuum the entire house while keeping the vacuum cord plugged into a single outlet. We were happy but as the kids started getting bigger, our home felt a little tight. 

We moved to Walnut Creek in December of 2019 and things were looking up. I had a shorter commute, the kids were going to be in great schools, and eventually, if we kept saving diligently, we’d be able to buy our first home. Walnut Creek is where we planned to raise our family. We had moved a lot during our 12+ years of marriage and we wanted to put down deep roots. 

Well, as the great Mike Tyson said, we all have a plan until we get punched in the mouth. And 2020 certainly punched us in the mouth. A few months after the move, COVID hit and lockdowns began. Having just relocated we had very few friends in Walnut Creek and the wonderful schools we’d been so excited about closed their doors. School moved online. Hello Zoom. 

Day one wasn’t so bad. My wife set up an obstacle course for the kids, and while the girls quickly lost interest, our son decided to do it 100 times. This kept him busy for about two hours. 

I turned one of the bedrooms into a home office. While I worked, my wife made sure our 4th grader and 2nd grader stayed on task while doing preschool for a third kid and taking care of our fourth, an 18 month old. 

Each day was a grind. We hoped this temporary situation would quickly pass, but days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. The life we dreamed of had evaporated. There were silver linings along the way, but overall it was really, really hard. Some in our family struggled more than others. 

I’m sure many were impacted far more than we were, but that provides little solace when your family is spiraling. During Summer 2020 we kicked around the idea of moving but we still had a year left on our lease and we thought life would normalize soon enough. In October, it became clear there was no end in sight. Local schools signaled that remote school may continue well into the 2021-2022 school year. We hit a new low. I noticed a change in my wife and I knew we had to do something. 

In a matter of days we made the decision to move to Southern Utah, largely so our kids could go to school in person. When the December move date came, I felt sad. The life we thought we’d live was coming to an end. But I mostly felt pride. I had felt like a victim for much of the year. Circumstances were running our lives. We had no control. But in that decision to move, we took back control. As silly as this sounds, I felt like a hero. We were taking our lives back. 

In contrast, 2021 has been remarkable. The kids have loved their new school. They’ve made friends. They play sports, do gymnastics, act in plays, and do all the things that kids should be doing. They walk to school and play with friends in the street. 

There have been other highlights beyond the move. I took a VP of People role at a startup where I work with incredible people. I did an Ironman 70.3 with my brothers, ran my first marathon, and played a lot of pickleball. I watched my children gain confidence as they learned new skills and tackled problems. I spent quality time with friends and loved ones. 

It was by no stretch an easy year, and things are far from perfect, but they’re a whole lot better than in 2020. Leaving California was tough, but it was the right decision. We could have stayed but we didn’t. We took control of our lives. We were in a bad situation and we decided to make a change. We acted. 

Over the last few months I’ve reflected on this quote from Russell Nelson:

The pandemic has demonstrated how quickly life can change, at times from circumstances beyond our control. However, there are many things we can control. We set our own priorities and determine how we use our energy, time, and means. We decide how we will treat each other. We choose those to whom we will turn for truth and guidance.

2021 has been one of the best years of my life. But maybe it was an awful year for you. Maybe you’re happy to put it all behind you. But what are you going to do in 2022 to make it better? How can you control your circumstances? What do you need to do to take charge? 

I don’t want to be callous or flippant. You may have gone through a trial in 2021 that puts my 2020 to shame. You may have lost a loved one. Or lost your job. Or lost your purpose. But as you look ahead to the new year I invite you to ponder this question: Is it possible 2022 could be the best year of my life? 

As COVID concerns grow and other challenges only seem to increase, it’s easy to tell ourselves that things are bad and will only get worse. Maybe. But I challenge you to reconsider. Many of us are miserable. We don’t have to be. To quote Nelson again, “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”

As you enter the new year, I wish peace, joy, and happiness for you and your family. The world needs people who are striving to grow and improve and thrive. The world needs people who choose to act rather than being acted upon. The world needs you. Make 2022 your year.

Career Q&A with Nolan Church, CEO of Continuum (#15)

The next Career Q&A is with Nolan Church, who is the CEO of Continuum, an executive talent marketplace. Nolan and I were peers at DoorDash and he’s one of the most talented people I’ve worked with. He’s the real deal and someone I regularly go to as a sounding board. In this Q&A, Nolan offers great advice on taking calculated risks, surrounding yourself with people better than you, and the need to constantly push yourself. I hope you enjoy Nolan’s insights as much as I did.

Nolan Church is the Cofounder and CEO of Continuum, a marketplace for executive talent. Prior to Continuum, Nolan was the Chief People Officer at Carta and the Head of Talent at DoorDash.

Nolan graduated from the University of New Orleans and was voted captain of the baseball team. He has two kids, and a wife that is better than him at everything.

What’s a book that has influenced your career or life, and why?

Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. I love this book because it perfectly describes the human journey. I’ve had so many moments in the last 10 years where I’ve felt overwhelmed, overworked, and scared of the unknown. But those moments are how we grow and build character. 

I’ve read the book 5 or 6 times. Strongly recommend!

Was there an experience you had before age 21 that shaped who you are? What was it?

I received a scholarship to play baseball at Kansas State during my sophomore year of junior college. They rescinded the scholarship two weeks before my JUCO season ended.

All of my plans vanished and my world was turned upside-down in an instant. Most D1 schools had allocated all of their scholarship money (I was broke and needed financial aid to continue playing). My JUCO coach connected me w/the coach at University of New Orleans. They offered me a 50% scholarship, but I had to make a decision within 24 hours. I had never made a decision that big, that quick, with such little information. It felt like a huge risk.

I took it, and New Orleans ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. It’s not what happens, it’s how you respond.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

I’ve failed so many times it’s hard to pick a favorite 🙂 

My college baseball team set the D1 record for losses my senior year (we went 4-50). At one point during the season, I went in a 0-27 slump. It was painful.

I realized my lifelong dream of playing professional baseball was over, and I needed to figure out a new direction. 

I re-focused on school and I got good grades. Those decisions ultimately allowed me an opportunity to crack into tech post-graduation. 

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

Two tactical pieces of advice: 1) Become a concise written communicator and 2) cold email relentlessly. These skills aren’t taught in school, but they’re essential post-graduation.

Advice to ignore: Fake it until you make it. Have confidence and be authentic, but never pretend to be something you’re not. 

What are the bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Bad recommendations usually come from people that don’t know something firsthand, but act like they do. My rule of thumb is to only trust the people closest to the ground doing the work. 

If you could go back in time to when you were entering the workforce and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Make your manager’s, director’s, and VP’s problems disappear. Someone gave me this advice when I first started my career, and it’s helped more than anything. 

What’s one of your proudest professional accomplishments? (while this can include an obvious accomplishment, feel free to include a more personal one)

Starting Continuum. There are very few VC-backed founders with a People Ops background, and I’m proud to be one.

What’s something unexpected that has happened in your career, and how have you responded?

In 4 years, I went from Recruiter, to Head of Recruiting, to Chief People Officer, to Founder. The amount of growth I went through — and continue to experience — in order to keep up the demands of my role(s) was/is insane. 

Early in my career I was constantly stressed. With time I came to appreciate that growth is supposed to feel uncomfortable. Now, I’m trying to enjoy the ride and have more fun.

Since entering the workforce, how have you changed or transformed?

As a kid, my parents always hated their jobs. They thought work was a necessary evil. It took me a few years post-college to realize that work could be fulfilling, fun, and a healthy part of my life. 

I learned that work becomes magical when you fall in love with what you’re building and who you’re building with. Life is short. Only work on things you’re passionate about.

When have you felt stuck in your career? How did you break out of it or push forward?

I hit a learning plateau after my first 2 years at Google. Nobody around me was pushing to get better, grow, or do big things. It was a very complacent culture.

I realized that I was playing it too safe. I needed to take a risk and push myself outside of my comfort zone. I left to join an early-stage startup (DoorDash), and I haven’t stopped growing since. 

Who is one person, dead or alive, who you admire? Why do you admire them? 

Teddy Roosevelt. I have the ‘Man in the Arena’ speech on my office wall.

Roosevelt experienced significant adversity. His wife and mother died on the same day. His son died in WW1. He became the youngest president after McKinley was assassinated. 

Yet he kept pushing forward. He’s remembered as a trust-buster and conservationist. He’s a model of perseverance. 

What habit or practice helps you manage stress? (the more specific you can be, the better)

Working out every day. Usually running (HIIT sprints on the Peloton Tread) 2-3x/week, strength training/climbing 3x/week, and yoga 1-2x/week. It’s the only way I stay sane.

For more Career Q&As, click here, or you can check out my monthly newsletter and podcast.

Career Q&A with Whitney Johnson, CEO of Disruption Advisors (#14)

The next Career Q&A is with Whitney Johnson, who is a CEO, author, investor, and executive coach. I’ve known Whitney for many years and she is one of the most gracious, intelligent people I’ve met. Whitney offers exceptional advice on the power of taking initiative, why everyone should get a coach, and how you can disrupt yourself to find career success. I hope you enjoy this Q&A as much as I did!

Whitney Johnson is the CEO of human capital consultancy Disruption Advisors, an Inc. 5000 2020 fastest-growing private company in America. Having worked at FORTUNE 100 companies, been an award-winning equity analyst on Wall Street, invested with Harvard’s Clayton Christensen, and coached alongside the renowned Marshall Goldsmith, Whitney understands how companies work, how investors think, and how the best coaches coach.

Whitney is an award-winning author, world-class keynote speaker, and frequent lecturer for Harvard Business School. She is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and the author of bestselling books Build an A Team and Disrupt Yourself. She also hosts the weekly Disrupt Yourself podcast whose guests have included John Mackey, Brené Brown, Stephen M.R. Covey, and Zaza Pachulia. Whitney is married, has two children, and lives in Lexington, VA. (See full bio here.)

What’s a book that has influenced your career or life, and why?

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. His theory of disruptive innovation––a Goliath-like legacy business could be overtaken by a silly little David––changed my thinking as a Wall Street equity analyst. It also revolutionized my thinking about growth. In 2004, I had been an award-winning equity analyst for nearly eight years. I loved it, but I felt like there was something more.

After an especially discouraging conversation with my manager, who wanted me to stay right where I was, I had a flash of insight. My current equity analyst self was the incumbent––Goliath. My future self was the upstart––David. To take up the giant, I had to disrupt myself. It was revelatory. Disruption wasn’t just about products, it was about people. As I write in the dedication to my latest book, Smart Growth: How to Grow Your People to Grow Your Company, “To Clayton Christensen, who made this S Curve possible.”

Was there an experience you had before age 21 that shaped who you are?

When I was three years old, after seeing The Sound of Music, I picked out Do-Re-Mi on the piano. I studied music throughout my childhood, and eventually majored in music. Piano practice brought discipline, accompanying vocalists and/or instrumentalists taught me to be attuned to others which informs my coaching, and the general sense of musicality informs my writing and speaking. Once, after a speech, I had an audience member say, “I felt like I was listening to you play an instrument.” Best compliment ever.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?

A few years ago, I delivered a keynote. The audience didn’t like it, they hated it––I have the comment cards to prove it. Because of nerves, I was focused on myself, not attuned to the audience. I had become the hero (like the accompanist who thinks they are the star). And if I was the hero, then who was the audience? It was my job to be the guide so the audience could be the hero.  This was the wake-up call that made the ‘musical moment’ experience possible, the failure that led to a success. For more on failure, listen to our Disrupt Yourself podcast, Episode 200.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?

Take initiative. Take initiative. Take initiative. Look for what you think needs to be done. Tell your boss what you plan to do and ask for input. Ask Does that work for you? If you are competent, and take initiative, you will quickly be labeled a superstar.

Also, take advantage of the fact that you are straight out of college. When a twenty-something asks me a thoughtful question––I will try to say ‘yes’ simply to reward you for taking the initiative. In general, those over 40 feel the responsibility to feed our young. Being in your 20s has its privileges. Use them before they expire. 

If you could go back in time to when you were entering the workforce and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Get a coach. Straight out of college I was getting the training that I needed to do the functional job, but I had no idea how to navigate the emotional job that I was being hired to do. I read a lot of books, but a coach could have helped me move up my S Curve of Learning faster. 

What’s one of your proudest professional accomplishments? 

I am proud of the fact that I disrupted my mindset about what was possible for me. When I graduated from college, I had a music degree, no idea what I wanted to be or do, except some vague notion that I would have children (was already married), and not a lot of confidence. That I was able to change how I was thinking about myself and move from being an EA to an investment banker, which rarely happens in financial services (still!). I am proud of that. (And grateful that I had a boss who believed in me and made it possible.)

What’s something unexpected that has happened in your career, and how have you responded?

I didn’t expect that one of my superpowers would be to apply business theories or concepts to the individual, like I have with both disruption innovation and the diffusion curve. Nor did I expect that the S Curve of Learning would be such a useful model for helping people think about what growth looks like. My response––instead of this being in the background like it was in Disrupt Yourself and Build an A Team, it is the hero of the story in Smart Growth.

Since entering the workforce, how have you changed or transformed?

According to Jungian psychology, we have both masculine and feminine characteristics. The ability to get things done, to wield power is considered masculine, while to love and be connected are considered feminine traits.. To truly grow up, both men and women need to develop both. While home and family has been the vehicle for me to develop feminine characteristics, work has helped me develop masculine traits. It has been an important vehicle for helping me grow up.  Note: I write about this in detail in my first book Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream.

When have you felt stuck in your career? How did you break out of it or push forward?

When I was pregnant with my first child, my boss was fired. They probably would have given me the boot too, except that I had good performance reviews, and I was pregnant. I interviewed for a number of roles in investment banking, but there wasn’t a fit. Desperate, they pretty much shoved me into equity research. Once I got to research, there was a merger, and with it came a highly-rated analyst who covered the sector (cement and construction) that I was supposed to cover. I had now been disrupted twice. 

My only way out was a third round of disruption, but this time disrupting myself. There were a number of media companies going public and no one to cover them. So, rather than trying to knock on a cement door that was closed, I built my own door. I became a media analyst. By building a door for myself, I built a door for my company. My way through was personal disruption. 

Who is someone, dead or alive, who you admire? Why do you admire them?

Joan of Arc––I’ve been reading Mark Twain’s autobiography of her––she was so clear on her purpose and so courageous.

Diana Krall––I admire her musicianship and her voice––and how she didn’t start singing until she was in her late 20s because she thought she didn’t have a good voice.

What habit or practice helps you manage stress?

Exercise, running specifically, helps release the cortisol that builds up due to stress (whether good or bad stress).

Gratitude. Stress often comes because of a perceived danger––specifically that I won’t be able to get done what I need to do in the time that I have to do it. And ‘the wild bear will catch me and I will die.’ If, in that moment, I become hyper focused on what I am grateful for, my ‘upstairs’ thinking brain can signal to my ‘downstairs run away NOW brain’ that I’m not actually in danger. Which relieves the stress. And allows me to get done what I need to do in the time I have to do it.

Do the thing that I am avoiding which can lead to anxiety which leads to a stress response. If I am anxious about something (back to the wild bear), I might procrastinate, or avoid it, and then my brain will feel relief. Something I’ve learned from psychologist Emma McAdam is that in the moment my brain will reward me. Good job, you escaped the bear. But then when there’s another bear of a deadline, then my brain tells me to avoid it again. This creates an anxiety loop. So do the thing I think I can’t do––that’s making me anxious, that’s causing a stress response––now.

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The Calming Power of Three Deep Breaths

When was the last time you tossed aside your phone, closed your laptop, and just breathed? To be candid, breathing is something I’ve given little thought to for most of my life. It’s a natural, involuntary process, so how important can it be? That view has shifted over the last year.

I’ve long sought to master my emotions. Sometimes they get the best of me. There are times when I feel confident, intelligent, and at peace. I feel like I’m my best self. I feel like I can overcome whatever obstacles come my way. I call this expansion.

Other times I feel small. I feel anxious. I feel a lack of control. In these moments the obstacles in front of me look daunting. I’m overwhelmed. I call this contraction.

Physical exercise has been a powerful tool to help me move from contraction to expansion.  Intense bike rides, hard runs, and even long, slow walks have helped shift my energy. But I don’t always have 30-60 minutes to spare. I needed something faster. 

When I got serious about coaching, I hired my own coach. He introduced a simple exercise of taking three deep, intentional breaths. I start by sitting in silence with my eyes closed, then breathe in for five seconds, hold, then breathe out for five seconds. 

Deep breathing has a calming effect. It helps us relax our fight or flight response. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. And it’s an exercise that can take as little as 60 seconds. 

Shortly after learning the power of breathing, I introduced the exercise in my coaching practice. Every session now begins with three deep breaths, a practice my clients and I do together. We’re typically coming from other meetings and have a million things on our minds. Pausing for three deep breaths helps us get centered and present. On several occasions, I’ve been given feedback that the deep breathing exercise was the most impactful part of a coaching session.

Mastering our emotions and staying calm amidst the chaos can be the difference between success and failure. Spending more time in expansion helps us see new possibilities. It gives us the energy to sustain strong performance. There are many approaches that can shift us to a state of expansion. Taking three deep breaths is my new favorite and gives me the best bang for my buck.