Rivers & Swamps

A river flows.  A swamp stagnates.  

A river gathers strength.  A swamp generates stench.

A river provides energy.  A swamp fuels decay.

A river identifies a path much traveled.  A swamp invites aimless wandering.

A river has boundaries that provide direction and generate power.  A swamp is a featureless morass that easily entangles and consumes.

Building Boundaries in my Life & Business

As a strategy leader for a multi-billion dollar business and now a mentor to embryonic businesses at a local startup incubator, we coach leaders to define the boundaries of their business.  Personal mentors–authors, pastors/priests, coaches/bosses–often urge us to do the same in our personal lives.  This exercise is both superficially simple and deeply difficult. There is a tendency to define ourselves and our business by what we do (i.e. our professional vocation, community role, the products we sell or the services we provide).  However, highly successful businesses dive below the surface to define why we do it and often think in terms of the desired outcome in the lives of family, friends, colleagues, customers and suppliers.  

Even if we can get below the surface to develop a richly fruitful understanding of what we do and why we do it, we face continual challenges in living up to what we believe defines us.  

Why is it so difficult?

I touched on part of the challenge in  Beliefs, Behaviors and Branding.  Beyond that, human nature instinctively resists the imposition of boundaries.  Boundaries restrain our freedom to explore.  Boundaries confine us to the mundane.  Boundaries limit our options.  The idea of going anywhere, doing anything and being anybody sounds seductively liberating.  But, in most cases we simply don’t like being told what to do.  

Why boundaries matter?

Whether we like it or not, individuals and businesses remain subject to natural laws.  One such reality is that every individual and business faces the reality of limited resources in every dimension.  Well defined boundaries for our businesses and lives avoid the wasteful spending of our limited resources.  Aligning our beliefs and behaviors provides the focus that generates exponential returns from our investments of time, talents and treasures ($$$).  Consequently, it becomes crucial to define who we are, what we do and why we do it so that we are equipped to recognize and rebuff ideas and invitations that fall outside our boundaries.  We must reframe those crossroads questions; not can we do it, but should we do it.   

Putting it into Practice.

  • Create a written list of your own resources
  • Carve out some reflective time to define (or update) your boundaries in writing — things you will (and won’t) do in life or business; this might be in the form of a mission statement, a list of values you cherish.
  • Periodically test the alignment among your beliefs, boundaries and behaviors (at least annually)
My present period of voluntary unemployment creates the luxury of more contemplative time.  Those reflective times have variously challenged, frustrated, and encouraged me.  It has forced me to consider the need to define some new boundaries in my life and build up the levees in other areas to prevent the chaos that occurs when a river overflows its banks.

Thanks to @BuddyHoffman for the reference to rivers & swamps that got my mind moving down the track of this topic.

Assets, Inventory & Giving

     The 14-Apr post on Lessons from Networking generated some interesting dialogue with those I’ve met in the intervening ten days or so.  A couple of those dialogues made significant impressions on my outlook.  Over the past decade or so I’ve mentally toyed with the idea of writing and sharing more frequently, but I’ve always been reluctant to dive in.  Two reasons would usually stamped out any thoughts of committing to regular sharing.  One, maybe some folks can sit down and rapidly capture meaningful thoughts, but for me it’s a time-consuming and deliberative thought process.  And, two, I was afraid of having little, if anything, to share that others would find interesting or meaningful in their lives.
     The past week has been another example of God intentionally lining up people to hammer a common message into my head like ammo in a gun on full automatic.  As my heart and mind have continued to chew on how to make regular deposits to the emotional bank accounts of the relationships in my life network, I keep getting drawn back to the notion of writing for the purpose of giving.  
     Once my mind headed down this path, I quickly realized that we cannot give something we do not already possess.  On the balance sheet of a business, we categorize things we own as “assets.”  One of the periodic activities of successful people and businesses is that they periodically step away from doing and take an inventory.
     So, what assets do I possess (you will need to conduct your own inventory)?  I narrowed my list down to five big categories.  I do not pretend this list is comprehensive (it ignores tangible assets–monetary or physical assistance); however, this inventory represents elements crucial to any effective relationship–gifts from both the head and the heart.
  1. Time — In this fast-paced world, time for many of us is our most precious asset
  2. Talents — Those traits inherent from birth that make each of us better at some things than most people around me
  3. Training — The lessons life has and continues to teach me
  4. Transparency — Being real and vulnerable with others
  5. Truth — The Natural Laws, designed by our Creator, that govern the affairs of mankind
     I still do not know if anyone will consistently find value in what I share, but that barrier, which previously kept me from starting down this path, is falling in the face of several truths.  First, since I believe that God owns it all, “my” life assets are really His assets to use and hoarding them is a disingenuous lack of faith.  Second, any gift involves relinquishing control.  The outcome is in the hands of the reader/recipient, and not my concern.  Third, I am left with this simple, yet deep question… am I giving (writing in this context) for the best interests of the reader/recipient?
     So What (can I do now)? [Since I’m a huge believer in action-oriented learning (i.e. applying the lessons we are trying to learn), I will usually include in these posts a few suggestions on practical steps you can take to apply the concepts discussed in the post.  Otherwise, it’s just an intellectual dialogue firmly anchored in mid-air.]
  1. Conduct your own periodic inventory of life assets (life is dynamic; so it will change over time)
  2. Decide how you will share those assets into the lives of others in your circle of influence
  3. Put that plan into action
  4. Return to Step 1 and repeat