Monthly Archives: September 2012

Is Taking It Easy a Good Thing?

As Ferris Bueller said in the 1986 movie, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” This was true then and is even more true now. Over the Labor Day weekend, I took it’s purpose to heart and did some thinking.

Our lives as professionals (or otherwise) are full of meetings and emails, commitments and distractions. For many, striking the balance between work and play can be a hard line to walk and something that is never quite mastered.

For me, this is especially true. Besides a full time corporate job, writing books, and managing my entrepreneurial ventures, I want to make sure to spend time with friends, travel and volunteer in the community. In the process of having to take care of a lot of business, the byproduct is generally busyness. With spouses, kids, aging parents and more, there is not much time left for anything else.

Recently I was cleaning out some files at home when I came across an article that my godmother had sent to me a couple years ago. It was a brief prose by Alexander Green called In Praise of Idleness.

This essay really made me think.

Looking back, I have seen how busyness has adversely affected both my concentration and decision making ability. A couple years ago, I was balancing a full time job and running two businesses, not to mention a number of other personal and community involvements. I found that my mind constantly jumped from one commitment to the next. Because of the shear number of things on my mind I found that I was looking for fires to fight. I would prioritize the most important thing with the nearest deadline and would focus on completing it as soon as I could to go on to the next thing. This was good in terms of getting many things done fast, but it affected the quality of my work. My judgment was clouded and I made some decisions that, in hindsight, were pretty stupid. They led to some failures in my businesses.

I needed to remember what Green states, “downtime is an energizing force.” He continues to reference how “idleness leads to contemplation, creativity, and inventiveness.” Taking this time creates clarity.

While it is something that I do still struggle with, I have been able to see the benefit. Whether it is setting aside 15 minutes in the middle of the day to take a walk (or at least get away from my desk) or if it is keeping one weeknight or weekend day free from commitments to have some downtime, I continue to see benefits from this. Create that time, maybe not a siesta or afternoon tea but a break at some point during the day

As Green references, there are many examples of how down time is a good thing. From Churchill’s “economy of effort” to Mark Twain, even these successful people understand the benefit.

The second step in the right direction (after setting time aside regularly) is to simplify. Think about why you are doing something, and don’t just take on commitments for the sake of being busy. Focus on what is important, and be excellent at fewer things. Steve Jobs made Apple amazingly successful through simplicity.

So remember, it’s ok to be a “loafer,” “slacker” or “bum” every once in a while. This idleness can create the clarity you need to be to reach your goals.


When do you think being “idle” is a good thing? (if at all)




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You Gotta Hit the Curveballs

As we reach the latter end of the dog days of summer, as a baseball fan, I think about the impending pennant races and excitement to come as the fall approaches.

Recently, I was at a baseball game and watched as one of the players from my home team (the San Francisco Giants) battled against the opposing team’s pitcher, fouling off 7 or 8 balls before getting a solid hit to left field. These types of at-bats happen all the time in the major leagues, but for some reason this one stuck with me.

I realized how the type of mentality this batter had was exactly the mentality of those who are successful in their careers (and I would venture to say, in their lives in general).

For those not familiar with baseball, hitting a moving ball thrown at you from a little over 60 feet away at speeds as fast at 100mph is not easy. In fact, it is considered by some to be one of the hardest things to do in all of sport. With something coming at you so quickly, it is important to anticipate.

Not all balls that pitchers throw are fastballs straight down the middle of the plate. Many are curveballs (that change directions on their way toward the batter) or are change-ups, that look like fastballs but are as much as 20mph slower than the same pitcher’s fastball. As a batter, if you use the same swing and believe that every ball thrown would be a fastball, then a large portion of the time you would be swinging and missing.

In our careers, things aren’t always straight forward (fastballs). Many times things quickly change (change-ups) or something unexpected happens that we have never experienced before (curveballs). To be successful, we can’t always assume that things will be straightforward. We can’t assume that we will always get the next promotion opportunity. We can’t assume that if we always consistently produce the best results that rewards will flow to us in-kind. To be successful, we must anticipate curveballs and expect the unexpected.

What good baseball players (and this particular batter from the game I recently watched) do is strategize and look for a specific pitch. Depending on the count (number of balls and strikes), the game situation and the pitcher, the batter will make a plan for the pitch he thinks will be thrown. He will prepare for a low or high ball, a ball thrown inside or outside. This is analogous to goals that we set and opportunities that we look for. Often, however, the pitch you guess is not the pitch thrown.

Good players not only make a strategy according to where they think the ball is going, but more importantly, they make sure that they have a way to make contact with the ball even when what they anticipate is wrong. In the game I watched, this batter defended against the unanticipated pitches by “fouling” them off (where he would make contact with the ball but would hit it off a sub-optimal part of the bat, making the ball land outside of the field area).

Pitch after pitch, he received balls that were either unexpected or not what he was looking for. Yet he kept his at-bat alive, waiting for the pitch he really wanted.

The career equivalent is patience and resiliency. We will all face adversity and obstacles (i.e. the unanticipated or undesirable pitches) and it is important that we are able to persevere and wait for the moments where we can be truly successful. Yet we must get through all the other obstacles before we are faced with the right opportunity. For this batter it took over 10 pitches for him to find the one he was looking for, and he still needed to foul-off the others to get to the right pitch.

Finally, the batter connected with the ball and got on base. Eventually the batter ended up scoring and represented the go-ahead run that won the game for his team.

Remember to strategize to determine the opportunities you want (the pitches you are looking for) and more importantly, be able to persevere and be patient through all the obstacles you face (the pitches that are hard to hit). Eventually if you keep your at-bat alive, you will find the pitch you are looking for and will get a hit that may very be the success that defines your career.

Do YOU think being able to hit the curve balls matters?



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