Beware of the Superman Complex

Was 2017 everything you hoped it would be? If not everything, did you accomplish at least one major goal?

The year began with the culmination of one of my biggest goals – to publish my first book. It was an amazing ride and worth the proverbial blood, sweat and tears.

Because I’m a fan of symmetry, I thought I would end the year as I began, by providing you with access to a full chapter from the book. The chapter below is fitting for the end of the year because it reminds us that we are, in fact, human. It reminds us that we not only need to set big goals for our businesses in 2018, but for ourselves. And it reminds us that when we do both, we have a greater chance of success.

As a thank-you for the extraordinary support over the last year and with the hope that 2018 will be a year of transformation, we’re taking the price of the book down by 40% through December 31. (You can access the discounted pricing via the following Amazon links: , or )

I wrote this book to provide a path toward a business that marries growth and fulfillment and that continues to be my hope for you into the new year.

The following is an excerpt from The Pursuit of Absolute Engagement. I go deep, on this fifth step toward Absolute Engagement, with a reminder that we need to invest in ourselves in order to nurture the creativity and energy we need to support great success.

You’re Human; Don’t Forget It

Renewal is about refueling and re-energizing. And it’s critical, because you can put on a red cape but that doesn’t make you invincible. Even Superman had to go to his Fortress of Solitude and regroup from time to time. If you’re an entrepreneur, or have an entrepreneurial role within a larger organization, you bear a lot of responsibility. You can’t engage if you drive yourself into the ground. It’s not simply because you get weak and tired (we all do) but because you can lose your creative edge.

Renewal acknowledges that in order to sustain momentum you need to refuel and recharge. It’s about recognizing (perhaps reluctantly) that none of us are super heroes, and finding the space to reflect on your vision and fuel your capacity to push forward. This is where creativity lives, because renewal provides you with the mental space you need to focus on the big picture rather than being pulled too far down into the weeds. Those who are Absolutely Engaged are as intentional about the time they take off as the time they are working. In this step you’ll set intentional goals to refresh and renew in order to create the capacity in your life to focus on your bigger professional and personal goals.

“I’m So Busy”

Let’s face it, we live in a world in which being busy is a badge of honor. When asked how we’re doing, we rarely focus on how we’re actually feeling, but tend to share the details of our schedule, all the time smiling because we’re just a little proud of operating beyond our personal capacity. Arguments have been made that this culture we’ve created is unhealthy and authors such as Greg McKeown, who wrote the best-seller Essentialism, have made compelling arguments that we need to cut back and focus on the right things. I don’t doubt for a moment that this approach is important and that we’d all likely be much happier if we followed McKeown’s advice.

There are, however two types of busy—one is structural and the other is self-imposed. You probably need to deal with the structural issues, at which point you may be forced to look yourself in the mirror and realize that you’re creating the problem.

  • Structural busyness is usually a capacity problem. If you’re operating over your capacity, this entire process will be in vain because you simply can’t deliver. You owe it to yourself to ensure that you have a clear picture of your own capacity. That involves doing the math on how much time you invest in delivering services to your clients relative to the amount of time you can invest in clients, while still leaving yourself the time you need to grow and manage the business.
  • Self-imposed busyness comes from a belief that we need to manage and control everything in our lives and that the world may very well stop spinning if we aren’t supervising it. If you noted a hint of sarcasm, it was intentional.
  • Renewal is very much about recharging but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about resting. For many of us, rest is the missing ingredient and sleep is the answer. For others, renewal is more about addressing an imbalance in our lives between work and everything else that’s important. In this case renewal may be very active, but it ensures that all of this activity isn’t focused on one aspect of our lives, while we ignore the rest.

    Get Intentional About Renewal

    There’s no one way to refresh, recharge or renew. The options are as varied as the readers of this book. One thing, however, is true: We need to be intentional about how we do it. Most of us allow everything else in our lives to take priority over our need to take care of ourselves. We squeeze our own needs around everything else, and our personal time is the first thing to go when we get busy at work. We tell ourselves that we’re doing the right thing and take a certain amount of pride in the role we play as martyr to the needs of others. It’s time to stop the madness!

    Time Off

    Something more and more great advisors are doing is setting a big goal for renewal, just as they set audacious goals for their business. Some larger professional firms have even started to mandate sabbaticals for senior staff that may go as long as 30 consecutive days every few years. In our research, only seven percent of advisors indicated that they had taken a sabbatical and the numbers were roughly equivalent across all types of advisors. Clearly, this is an idea more of us need to consider.

    There are two reasons why I believe sabbaticals can be a powerful driver of renewal.

    First, they provide perspective. After a while, the four walls of our office, our industry or our lives start to feel all too familiar. The lack of change can literally stop the creative juices from flowing—but flow they will if you can get yourself out of the familiar.

    Earlier I talked about Jon Jones, the co-CEO of Brighton Jones, and the success he has had in building his offer (legacy planning) to reflect his passion (charity). In my conversation with Jon he told me that his entire family took a full year and traveled the world. The children were home-schooled for the year and he kept in touch with the business. The vast majority of people would never even consider attempting this but it was a dream the family shared. Had they waited for the time to do this to magically appear, they would still be waiting. Instead, the goal forced Jon to make a lot of changes in his life and business, specifically as it related to structuring a team that could be accountable in his absence. Setting this “big goal” meant building the business and structuring their lives in very specific ways.

    Second, sabbaticals force you to organize your business so that it doesn’t require your personal touch each and every minute of the day. In order to make a year-long trip possible, Jones would have to be able to delegate and rely on his processes so that he could step away without everything crumbling. He had built the business with a partner, a strategy that supported this kind of adventure. He delegated everything that he could and found a process of staying in touch on the important issues. He communicated with the key stakeholders of the business to reassure them that everything would continue as normal. In short, Jones created a structure that supported his ability to execute on this significant life goal. This is a wonderful example of Absolute Engagement in action.

    Too many of us seem to think that vacation time is for the weak. A 2016 study from Allianz Travel Insurance highlighted the fact that over half (53 percent) of Americans had not taken any time off in the last year. Over a third (37 percent) hadn’t taken a vacation in more than two years.

    According to the study, this downward trend has been noticeable for the last 30 years. The reasons for the decline? We don’t believe anyone else can do our work, we want to prove ourselves and we fear the pile of work that might be waiting for us upon our return.

    The Absolutely Engaged take a different approach. In our study, those who are Absolutely Engaged are nearly two times as likely to take five or more weeks off each year as the rest of the respondents. What is also striking is that they are more likely to take multiple weeks off at a time. A quarter of the Absolutely Engaged had taken four weeks off at one time compared with 13 percent of all others.

    Renewal doesn’t require traveling the world. You might be refreshed by something much less dramatic like taking time off work to read, exercise, commit to time with friends or be present with your family. That takes us to the next discussion, about managing energy across different aspects of our lives.

    Focus on Energy

    As you think about renewal, you may experience this blinding flash of the obvious—we ask too much of ourselves. Jim Loehr is the author of an extraordinary book called The Power of Full Engagement . Loehr spent a good part of his career training elite athletes on how to improve their game. What’s interesting is that he did not train them on anything related to the technical aspects of their sport; instead, he focused on how they manage their energy.

    Loehr makes the great point that elite athletes spend 90 percent of their time training to exert themselves 10 percent of the time. And yet somehow we expect ourselves to be on top of our game for eight, nine or 10 hours a day. With this point he’s underlining the critical need for rest after periods of exertion. If you strain a muscle and then give it enough time to recover, you make the muscle stronger and more resistant. According to Loehr this same theory applies to our professional and personal lives. You need to push yourself mentally and physically with the important caveat that you need to balance that with sufficient recovery time.

    What’s critical to the concept of full engagement—and to this concept of Absolute Engagement—is that it reminds us that renewal is not necessarily a passive activity. There are two elements of Loehr’s work that I believe are significant in your pursuit of Absolute Engagement.

  • We can’t manage energy if we’re focusing all of it in one area of our lives. In fact, Loehr suggests, we need to be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned.
  • In order to renew and refresh we don’t need to plunk ourselves on the couch with a bag of chips and the remote. In fact, Loehr suggests that to manage our energy we need to create stress—but in a good way. He points out that energy diminishes with both overuse and with underuse of any muscle. He applies that same theory beyond our physical energy and suggests that we need to balance energy expenditure (stress) with renewal.
  • That holds true, he says, when it comes to almost every aspect of our lives, including our personal relationships. Stated simply, Loehr is asking you to push yourself outside of your comfort zone in all aspects of your life in order to create the energy you need for sustained performance—and in order to refresh and renew. That comes with the caveat that the “push” must be followed by recovery time.

    At a minimum, we know that those who are Absolutely Engaged push themselves hard on physical activity.

    Get Some Sleep

    A Gallup poll suggested that 40 percent of Americans are sleep deprived , which is defined as routinely sleeping less than seven hours a night. I can almost hear you laughing—if that’s the standard then call me sleep deprived. And while many of us get less than the recommended number of hours, we’re generally okay with that and don’t believe that more sleep would have a significant positive impact.

    At some point we need to realize that this issue is taking a significant toll on our ability to function, our health and our creativity. The concept of Absolute Engagement recognizes that if you need to suffer to achieve, you’re going about it the wrong way.

    Ariana Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post and author of several well-regarded books, has become the self-declared ambassador of getting more sleep. This became her focus after a personal experience when she, quite literally, fainted from exhaustion. What’s most striking about Huffington’s approach to sleep is how intentional she is. In her book The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time , she describes the ritual, the environment and the comfy jammies, all designed to support a good night’s sleep.

    So many of us have grown up believing that sleep is wasted time, something reserved for the lazy or unambitious. Huffington points out, however, that “sleep time is not empty time. It involves intense neurological activity that we can think of as cognitive maintenance or personal sustainability.” In fact, in her Ted Talk on the subject, How to Succeed? Get More Sleep, she refers to sleep as the one best performance enhancer.

    While I didn’t ask the Absolutely Engaged how much they sleep get, they did report that they were less likely to feel completely exhausted at the end of the day (1 percent compared with 12 percent of all others). They also reported that they were less likely to feel tired when they woke up in the morning (18 percent compared with 38 percent of all others).

    There’s also research that suggests more sleep will make you a better leader and that has important implications for both your team and your clients. In an article in the Harvard Business Review , Nick van Dam and Els van der Helm (respectively the chief learning officer and sleep specialist with McKinsey Consulting in Amsterdam) bring the connection to life. “Basic visual and motor skills deteriorate when people are deprived of sleep,” they say, “but not nearly to the same extent as higher-order mental skills”. They point out that the brain functions that take place in the prefrontal cortex (like problem-solving and reasoning) don’t do well without sleep. Despite the connection to effective leadership, I’m reticent to go down that utilitarian path because I believe that rest and renewal should be a gift that you give yourself. If we sleep to be better for others, rather than ourselves, we have probably lost the connection to Absolute Engagement.

    One of the clear impacts of renewal is that it helps us create meaningful boundaries in our lives. We love to be working and we love to return home. We’re energized and present in both situations.

    Why Is Renewal So Hard?

    At the outset of this journey I made the comment that the two toughest steps on the path to Absolute Engagement were the first and the last. The first step, Awareness, is difficult because we have a difficult time giving ourselves permission to dream and open our minds to the possibility of something more. The last step, Renewal, is difficult because we have to battle demons that tell us to focus on others to the exclusion of ourselves.

    For some this latter issue is a passing nuisance and can be easily overcome with some stern self-talk. For others, myself included, this runs far deeper. The reason that renewal is hard is the same reason that Absolute Engagement is hard; it requires us to prioritize our own needs. It’s no coincidence that the process is book-ended by steps that demand deep introspection. We all arrive at this place for different reasons:

  • We were told that focusing on our needs is selfish.
  • We’ve spent a lifetime building a business and raising a family and have forgotten that we matter as well.
  • We don’t feel we can stop, even for a minute, because we fear that things will come crashing down.
  • We like the fact, if we’re honest, that people need us so much we can’t take a moment for ourselves—we feel indispensable. In an interview on her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown talked openly about her own struggles and said, “I trusted my professional self, but not my personal self.” Many of you will understand what this means immediately and a lucky few will think I’m speaking a foreign language.

    We trust our professional selves and so we pour everything into perfecting that individual. That perfection comes at the cost of our personal selves because we don’t trust that that person is as worthy. And so while I struggle with this step, I’m a researcher at heart and I believe the data. And so I say this with all the humility that comes with past failures; we need renewal to make this work.

    The Decision

    As you complete Step Five, you’ll come to the next crossroads. Your decision is this:

    Will you set specific goals for personal renewal? Or, will you continue to try and squeeze this activity around everything else you are doing, leaving it at the bottom of your list?