Thursday, July 22, 2010

Costa Rica Travels

I recently traveled to Costa Rica for a week of solo adventure – unlike many of my trips that are connected to client work somewhere in the world – this trip was strictly for fun and adventure. Central America has always been in my travel sights or as I now hear many people say, on my bucket list. I had an airfare credit that I wanted to use before it expired. I wonder how often we find ourselves way too busy to enjoy life and respond to that bucket list? For many, I believe they consider themselves too busy to even contemplate a bucket list, let alone actually do some things that may be on the list. I remember working with one executive that was proud of never actually taken a vacation day!
I know that my company could have kept me busy during the time I chose to be gone on this trip. We are trying hard to grow our business in these economic conditions and every effort is helpful toward achieving that goal.  And, I fully expect to put in many more vital years into the business that has been my life for 20 years. If I want to continue to be a significant contributor to the business I founded in 1991 I know that I need, rather want, to spend time revitalizing myself so that I can be a valuable resource for the people that are a vital part of our community. Time away to recharge is not only a desire, I fully believe it is a necessity for sustained health and business success.
Research has supported this belief for many years. What continues to concern us as we coach one senior leader after another, is that most continue to ignore the research. There seems to be some distinction between the leaders we coach in Canada compared to their American counterparts we work with. An annual survey shows that “short vacations are becoming shorter as Americans take fewer days off than ever before…at least 30 percent of employed adults give up vacation time they have earned, a situation that resulted this year in a total of 415 million unused vacation days.” And “nearly 25 per cent of Canadians aren't taking the full number of vacation days they've been allotted, leaving 34 million vacation days unused every year.”
The survey goes on to state, "There are incredible health and wellness benefits associated with time off from work. Americans should take a cue from their foreign counterparts and relish the vacation they earn." analyzed vacation habits among employed workers in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Germany, France and Australia. Compared to other countries included in the survey, Americans receive the fewest vacation days per year on average (14 days), compared to 17 days in Australia, 19 days in Canada, 24 days in Great Britain, 27 days in Germany and 39 days in France.
I was born and raised in New Jersey and moved my family to Canada in 1983 to pursue the coaching career that has become the calling I did not know it was meant to be. In the late 80’s the US government allowed duel citizenship with Canada and all members of my family took advantage of the opportunity. We have enjoyed the privileges of dual citizenship ever since. Since then I often think what it would be like if we could take the best of both cultures and create one that is more significant than the two I have lived and worked in for so many years. Taking time off to revitalize and create healthier and more vital workers is one factor I give credit to our Canadian counterparts and would like to see our American friends and clients adopt. The survey goes on to say, “Like many workers, Canadians benefit greatly from their vacation time. 44 percent of employed Canadian adults reported feeling better about their jobs and feeling more productive upon returning from vacation, while 55 percent say they feel rested, rejuvenated and reconnected to their personal life.” And we all still have more work to do in this arena.
As I find myself closer to 60 than 50 I spend more time finding myself thinking about what impact my life will have in this world (research now suggests that not leading a meaningful life has taken over the number 1 spot as the biggest fear people have in life displacing public speaking from the top spot), I hope to contribute to many of the leaders and executives we coach to living not only a more meaningful life but also a longer one.  In a nine-year analysis of more than 12,000 people, the researchers found that “men who didn't vacation regularly were 32 percent more likely to experience a fatal heart attack, while women were 50 percent more likely - and the rates of illness increased with the scarcity of vacations.” Many of the executives I have coached over the years have become friends. I hope to spend many years experiencing their company and friendship as we all enter the second half of our lives.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hot Yoga Pain

As a part of my new plan to dedicate time to my own health I decided back in May to start doing Bikram Yoga. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this particular form of yoga it is also called hot yoga. They heat up the room to 104 degrees and you go through a routine of 26 postures during a 90-minute class. Now this has been a great program to begin getting back into shape and to test my commitment level to regular exercise.
I also find this yoga practice to be a significant challenge. Firstly, my balance sucks. I work so hard to muscle my way through the one legged balance postures and rarely hold one through the allotted time frame of 60 seconds for the first set and 30 seconds for the second set. It is a constant process of falling out of the posture and working to get back into it. It is not uncommon for me to fall out and to work back in the posture up to four or five times in one set. By the time we get through all the standing postures I feel fully worked over and just hoping to then make it through the postures that make up the second half of the class on the floor. Secondly, the heat affects me and I can often find myself trying to stay upright and keep from passing out. When I see double or black spots in front of me I have to give in and kneel down until this passes.
Therefore, I have been asked several times by my family why I keep going.  And when I have sessions where I feel like a failure and have to take a knee, like the two in a row I had last week, I ask myself the same question. Then this week I have so far had two sessions in a row that I have completed with relative ease. Now that is breathing and not passing out ease, the balance stuff is still a work in progress.
I am challenged by the constant pull to give up this practice and move on to something that is simpler and less of a burden to master. I can feel a sense of embarrassment when I fall in and out of postures or have to kneel to keep from passing out when right with me classmates are nailing the postures with grace and no evidence of strain. And then I want to stay in the program as I have a small success and notice changes of flexibility and body tone. Who knows, maybe I can master this stuff some day!
I have been a leadership and executive coach for over 27 years. I regularly see leaders drop back into their comfort zones of technical expertise because the pain of developing leadership skills can only be achieved in front of either those they lead or others that are leaders, either skilled or on their own development path. Like the beauty and grace of yoga I see while struggling in yoga class, many leaders struggle to develop the skills necessary to successfully lead under the microscope of many observers. When I receive an appreciative nod from the yoga instructor acknowledging my efforts along with the occasional gesture from another participant signally their own struggle as a common cause, I recognize what is necessary for leaders to boldly step into the continuous practice of leadership development. I encourage all leaders to stay in the heat of leadership learning even when you feel you might look incompetent, out of balance or about to pass out!