Tag Archives: relationships

How to Beat Workplace Burnout Like a Marathoner

Hidden in the canyons of Mexico’s Copper Canyon lives a shy tribe of people called Tarahumara, or the Running People. The Tarahumara live quiet lives, growing corn and beans and living in family groups in huts and caves often perched precipitously on the mountain cliffs. They are also all ultra-runners.Marathon-Runners---Black-Silhouette-Sunset

At social gatherings and celebrations, the Running People will conclude the festivities with a friendly footrace. A footrace up to 200 miles, that is. For a guy like me that is out of breath after four miles on the treadmill, the thought of these people running through mountain passes in handmade sandals sounds more like a mirage than a reality.

In Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, he marvels that in the midst of a 100-mile ultramarathon they, “churned up the slope like kids playing in a leaf pile.” Laughing. Smiling. Somehow enjoying a 100 mile run. For the Tarahumara, running wasn’t a chore—it was a time to connect with their world and with one another.

Now lets step back from the Copper Canyon and into your city, your home and your workplace. You’re fed up with the job you used to love. Coworkers you’ve collaborated with for years are grating on your nerves. Projects that excited you in the beginning seem stale and dusty. Like the American runners racing against the Tarahumara, you’ve burnt out, and you’ve got 150 miles left to run.

How do you return to the blissful state where you began? Mental toughness.

I know, I wish I had a different answer too. But oftentimes the only element in our day that we can actually control is our attitude. And, when the boss is happy and the workload is light it’s easy to stay upbeat. Throw in an irate customer, a missed deadline and some extra rush-hour traffic, and then you have a training ground for mental toughness. Here’s a few tips from the Running People themselves

Take Shorter Steps—your burnout might be the result of overextending yourself. Instead of focusing on everything you need to get done this week, focus on the five things you need to get done today. Break larger projects up into small pieces and knock them out one at a time.

Lose the Shoes—After researchers studied indigenous groups like the Tarahumara, they discovered these groups experienced far less injury than Westerners with hi-tech and cushy running shoes. At work, sometimes the very things we think we need are the things creating problems. Have you gotten bogged down in party planning drama or chasing down someone by email instead of picking up the phone? Maybe it’s time to pick up speed by simplifying your processes. Lose the shoes.

Look to your elders—Would you believe that among the Tarahumara, the best runners are often the oldest!? Though it seems contrary to nature, it’s true. The runners with years of experience have honed their speed, footwork, diet, and strategy. The same is true of great leaders in any industry. If you want to avoid burnout, begin to note the habits of those a few years down the road, and a few rungs up the ladder from where you find yourself.

Never run alone—In Tarahumara culture, racing is a means of bringing the community together. How would our workplaces change if we viewed collaborative work in the same way? Sure you might feel like the project is about as fun as running uphill in the boiling Mexico sunlight, but there is some solidarity in enduring it together. Find at least one person at your workplace who you know you can lean on during a particularly tough day. But be prepared to return the favor.

Mental toughness is choosing these attitudes and practices over the feeling of burnout. It doesn’t matter if you’re running 100 miles or just trying to make it through the last 100 days of school with a rowdy classroom. When nothing around you seems to be changing, change your attitude. After all, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

What Donald Sterling can Teach us about Words

As the NBA reaches the end of its season, the news headlines center around a scandal far from the court, a recording allegedly of an argument between Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his former girlfriend. The ignorant and small-minded comments about race have players, coaches and owners calling for the league to remove Sterling.

The comments—whether they end up confirmed as Sterling’s or not—are unacceptable, and the entire episode casts a poor light on the sport, where other owners, coaches and players were some of the original trailblazers and boundary-breakers in the civil rights movement. As the story continues to evolve, I hope it will generate productive discussion about racism, privacy, and business ethics. But, with the information we have now (which is not much), here’s a few things to think about:

  1. Words are powerful—One of the main thrusts of my book, Sticks & Stones Exposed, is the idea that our words can do more damage to others and ourselves that we’ve ever realized. Whether spoken, emailed, Tweeted, or texted these little black scribbles can wreak havoc in an instant. In the age of “friends and followers”, it’s wise to be even more aware of how far-reaching our words can be. The words spoken in the recording have hurt plenty of the people in Sterling’s life and many that he doesn’t even know.
  2. Words have consequences—So often we blurt out something without considering the consequences. Or, without considering that our words even have consequences. This is a HUGE mistake! Our careless and thoughtless words can wreck relationships, poison corporate cultures, and sink innovative ideas and projects. It does not matter if you are in public or private, “in the heat of the moment” or “just joking around.” You may not stand to lose an entire NBA team, but your damaging words might put your relationships with employees, clients and family on the line—and isn’t that really the most important?
  3. Words create collateral damage—Maybe you know that sometimes in the heat of the moment, you tend to say some colorful things that might hurt others. Get over it, you think. What you don’t realize is that you’re also hurting yourself. Similar to a boomerang, the hurtful things you say DO come back to you—in the form of a bitter spouse, resentful and unmotivated coworkers, fed up customers that finally disappear, and friends that begin to avoid your phone calls. When your words hurt other people (even unintentionally!), their opinion of you, and consequently their treatment of you will change as well. Your life is the collateral damage.

Who is Your Person?

Have you ever had a day when it felt like the universe had conspired against you? Or like you were the statue the pigeons were using for target practice?

You know what I’m talking about. You were late to work, there were staff issues you didn’t have time to deal with at the office, your flight was delayed and then you presented to several hundred people without realizing your fly was open? (Ok, maybe that last one only happens to me.) But we all have days where catastrophe seems to follow us around like the paparazzi surrounding Lindsay Lohan on her first day out of rehab.

On days like that, I call my Person.

Just about everyone has a Person. The one you know won’t care that you’re angry or frustrated or upset. The one you don’t have to pretend with. Your person might be the only one who knows you’re having a bad day, or they’re the only one who knows why you’re having a bad day. It could be a co-worker, a dear friend, parent, spouse or supervisor. Mine is my wife, Tina.

Tina has the amazing ability to patiently listen to all my worrying, griping about my day, and woe-is-me-style statements, before gently reminding me that the sky is actually not falling just because I had a rough day. She acknowledges my perspective, but also challenges me to question my assumptions, and reframe my view of a situation. She keeps me in reality and in the present moment. I call that feeling  “being centered.” She’s a pro at it. After talking to her I usually feel better, calmer, and not a victim of my circumstances.

As you pursue big goals and tackle huge obstacles, it’s critical to have a Person who centers and encourages you like Tina. Your Person is more than someone you vent to, your Person is someone who is unafraid to shift your focus and give you a not-always-gentle shove in the direction of your goals.

Some of the most successful people in the world have a Person. You may not have heard of Don Graham, Ed Roberts or Gopal Krishna Gokhale, but you might be familiar with their “mentees” Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates, and Mahatma Gandhi. A Person understands the challenges of your day-to-day and the best ones will encourage you to create solutions instead of focusing on problems.

Sharing your goals and struggles with a Person can help you make huge strides towards achieving those goals.

When considering who might be a good person for you, outline what it is you really want from them—Stress management tips? Encouragement for a new idea? Insight on parenting? Spiritual growth? This will help you narrow down which people in your circles might make a great Person. Don’t restrict yourself to people in your school, company, or circle of friends. Your Person might be a CEO in another industry that you know from church, a neighbor who is very involved in a social project that inspires you or—gasp!—a family member.

Unsure if one of the people in your life is your Person? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Can I be authentic about what I am thinking and feeling with this person?
  • Do they listen to my point of view?
  • Does this person challenge me to think about a situation from a different perspective?
  • Does this person suggest taking steps forward, and celebrate when I do?

If you can answer YES to these questions, perhaps you have found your Person.

Bullies: Their Message Hasn’t Changed

BullyingAn article in The Atlantic called “How To Stop Bullies” caught my attention this week with a MIT professor’s insight on cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullying, has been described as a “new” kind of bullying using technology and including things like hurtful emails, texts, and embarrassing pictures or fake profiles. While the medium that bullies are using to spread messages of hurt and hate may be new, the messages are not, explains Henry Liberman. Using software designed to filter negative and offensive content by looking for key words in postings, he and his team discovered that 95% of bullying comments fall into 6 categories, post after post. Ready for them?

  1. Appearance
  2. Intelligence
  3. Race
  4. Ethnicity
  5. Sexuality
  6. Perceived acceptance or rejection

Humans have essentially been using the same kinds of insults since we came up with cave paintings.  In fact, in the past few years archaeologists have discovered that the ancient city of Pompeii is covered in graffiti.  Call it the Twitter of antiquity. And our austere Roman forbearers weren’t all debating the merits of democracy and coming up with epigraphs. Here’s a few of my favorite messages (and their English translations).


“Phileros is a eunuch.”


“Oppius, you’re a clown, a thief, and a cheap crook.”


“Epaphra, you are bald.”

Look around the web and you’ll find even more examples that would put a modern-day truck stop bathroom to shame. Amazingly, long after Pompeii was buried beneath lava, the Roman Empire was decimated by Huns and the original Latin ceased to be used, these words have been discovered, translated and analyzed. I wonder—if your tweets, posts and blogs were discovered 500 or even 50 years from now–what future researchers would say about you. Would your online persona reflect a more modern, enlightened being or a tech-savvy caveman, trading in his chisel for a keyboard?

Looking at the lasting effect of words, whether they are carved into a wall or posted in a digital space, I hope we can join together in a conscious evolutionary leap forward.  Can we begin to litter social media with positivity, encouragement and kindness? Imagine what would happen if we did.

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Did you see the recent Dateline NBC special about kids who have been so bullied for their appearances that they are seeking free plastic surgery from a nonprofit?

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of children and plastic surgery, the special gave a heart-wrenching look into the lives of several children and teens who were being tormented by their classmates. I am not ashamed to say that tears were rolling down my face as the cameras were there to capture the moment each child learned whether or not they would receive the surgery.

However, I thought the most profound moment of the special came in an exchange between 15-year-old Renata—who wants a nose job–and one of her friends.

“What does it feel like to be beautiful?” Renata asked.

After attempting to dodge the question, her friend replied, “You really want to know? It’s not that great.” She continued, “People will always find something to make fun of you for. If it’s not the way you look it will be something else.”

This preteen girl has realized something that many people never understand:

We cannot stop others from throwing sticks and stones our way.

If you don’t believe me, just search for the names of the most beautiful, successful, charitable and athletic on Twitter, and you will be amazed at the hurtful things that people have to say about them. You would think that the people our society holds up as the pinnacles of achievement in their various pursuits would experience less criticism from others—right? Oftentimes just the opposite is true.

In a social culture that seems increasingly engulfed in a tidal wave of snarky, hurtful and cruel words, it’s impossible to live, work and play without getting at least splashed with the criticism of others. Don’t let it surprise you. But never forget, that we can always take responsibility for our own words and actions. Your kind, caring, uplifting, and encouraging words may be just what the doctor ordered from someone else.