In the last part of this story, I shared the lead-up to the reset. In case you haven’t been following, the reset occurred because Angela (my wife) developed acute and debilitating anxiety, OCD, and depression as a result of a combination of medication and several years’ worth of unresolved grief and stress.
If you have been reading along, I’m aware that you may be emotionally overwhelmed by what’s been going on. No need to brace yourself for this part – it’s much lighter.
On September 30th, 2011, we had to put Angela on a strong cocktail of medications to get the anxiety overdrive to back off. On that same day, our business manager went on medical leave.
That’s because Angela was our business manager. Since November of 2010, she had been taken over more and more of the management functions of our company – coordinating with teammates, keeping projects on schedule, keeping us from overcommitting to projects, shepherding the schedule, working with vendors, handling insurance, and interacting with our clients, customers, and participants.
The reset would have been a lot easier on us had it just been that it was a personal reset, but it also meant that it was a business reset, too. She was managing so many critical functions that it wasn’t like it was just a decrease in capacity; it was a major blackout.
It’s easiest to explain my response as if our headquarters had come under enemy fire. I did what any field commander would do:
- Neutralize the threat with all available combat power
- Assess casualties and damage
- Assess operational capabilities
- Suspend all non-critical operations and allocate required resources to critical operations
- Inform friendly and allied headquarters of attack and decreased operational capacity
- Request additional forces and engineer support to repair damage
My course of action pretty much followed that template. Hey, training comes in handy.
We needed to pull Angela out of the business because a) her medications made her non-operation anyway and b) it was a source of anxiety for her. Our job was to focus on limiting external stressors during the reset so that she could focus just on her recovery.
I’ll note that this applied to the division of labor in our house, too. She couldn’t pay bills, check mail, make meals, do grocery shopping, run errands, or, well, a lot of things that I had to cover down on, too.
With Angela out of the management and coordination of our business, we immediately dropped down to a crawl. Let’s make this a bit less abstract: between the different members of Team PF, we cruised with around 100-110 ophours per week and might surge up to 160 or so. Our teammates are very good at what they do, so the mileage we cover in that amount of time is much more than you’d expect. We’d spent a good deal of 2011 getting our teamwork systems and processes in place and Angela was often the coordinative glue between the projects we ran.
And, of course, it wasn’t just that we lost that capability – I was also spending a lot of time being with and taking care of her. I was spending less time doing bizwork, too, which meant that we had both very little management and very little production. We went from 100 to 20 ophours all at once. (And here’s where Pam would remind me: that’s relative to the pace of our business – I was still writing, coaching, doing webinars, and connecting with people.)
Obviously, less capacity means you can’t do as much, so I had to assess which projects would go. As much as I didn’t want it to be the case, the reality was that I didn’t have the bandwidth to do much work on the book and keep things going, so that went to the wayside. The other project that really suffered was Lift Off, since Angela’s management and coordination of that project actually got it off the ground. (Note: the reset had no bearing on our choice to end Lift Off in 2012 – that decision was in the works before all of this came about.)
I also took stock of all the external projects we were involved with and saw that they just weren’t going to happen to the degree of execution that our colleagues were used to. We had already committed to them and I wasn’t going to back out completely and leave others hanging, but I also needed to let them know what was going on.
Practicing Being Vulnerable and Asking For Help
If something like this would’ve happened in the past, we would’ve just turtled up and not said anything; that was our natural response since we both are terrible at asking for help. However, one of my personal goals of 2010 was to learn to ask for and accept help, and, though I still have a long way to go with that, it kicked in. I knew it would be good for us all if I reached out to our trusted friends and colleagues.
Which led to one of the most unexpected and amazing events to happen from the reset. I sat down and thought about all the people in our business network who a) have met or interacted with Angela or we had a personal relationship with, b) would like to know, and c) that I trusted to tell. I reviewed the contacts in our CRM to make sure I wasn’t forgetting someone and was amazed at how many people I needed to write. (I inevitably forgot some people – sorry. I hate doing things like that because I hate forgetting people.)
The amount of love and support we got coming back from those people were just amazing. Many of them still don’t know how they helped us because they didn’t know they were helping. When times got hard – and there were plenty of hard times – I’d just think about some of them and what they’d say. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with Pam, Jonathan, Mark, Seth, Michael, Danielle, Tim, Michelle, Mollie, Jen, Andrea, Colleen, the other Tim, Molly, another Jen, Todd, yet another Tim, and others conversing and sharing counsel in your head. Special thanks to Pam, Mark, Jonathan, Michael, Johnny B. Truant, and Tim Brownson for actually being on the phone, too. (And, everyone else, sorry I didn’t call more often!)
Another surprising thing about all of this was how many people only met one or two of a, b, and c above. A reset like this also provides a momentous occasion for you to assess who you want to grow with and who’s no longer in your corner (and probably never was in the first place). Our social world got smaller but much richer.
I also had told our Lift Off alumns pretty quickly, too, since Angela is both a key part of the community and also kept things running smoothly. I knew they’d want to know and I also knew that they needed to know before something got messed up. We received yet another tide of love, support, and good will from them.
It took a lot of Resistance-fighting to tell my clients, though. The reality is that one of the things I provide for my clients is an emotional anchor and I was concerned that they’d be less likely to want to work with me. I was also concerned that I wouldn’t be able to be fully there.
All of this happened so quickly that I didn’t have much time for performance anxiety; I was on calls before I had decided what to tell them. I’ve had some of the best coaching sessions I’ve had in years during the reset. That concern quickly abated.
The concern about them not wanting to work with me was something that stuck with me but I let them know anyway. If my clients wouldn’t stick by me after all the times I’d been with them when times were hard, it was probably better to part ways there. I’m happy to report that I stayed as booked as I wanted through that period.
Are You Really Okay?
It’s often hard for me to talk about what I’m going through because I seem to process things differently. People who don’t really get me either think I’m too robotic or that I’m not really processing my feelings and what’s going on.
For years, I’ve practiced a mantra from the Dalai Lama’s The Art Of Happiness: “If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. If there is no way out, no solution, or no possibility of resolution, then there is also no need to worry about it.” Of course, my more shorthand way of saying it is “Find the solution and work it or let it go if there’s not a solution.”
We had a solution in place for Angela and we just needed some time and to work the solution. I had already factored in that I’d need additional time and patience with myself so I could make sure I was getting the self-care I needed, too. I intentionally scaled back our operations and plans to be something that wouldn’t require a lot of management or attention from me since it wouldn’t happen.
Between just sitting with and talking to Angela, being with myself, getting some exercise (not nearly enough, though), helping other people, and celebrating client and Lift Off wins, I had plenty of time to process, reframe, pivot, celebrate, and so on. To explain my process for doing so would be a book itself, but I was mostly okay.
I say mostly because I still spent plenty of time frustrated, anxious, melancholy, exasperated, overwhelmed, and everything else you might expect, but I approached it the same way I imagine a stablehand cleans a horse’s stall. Grab a shovel and bucket and get to work without worrying about how bad it smells and whether you’ll end up doing it again tomorrow – it does, you will, and it doesn’t affect the task at hand.
And there were plenty of times where I just sat on the couch, went for a walk around the block to get some air, or laid under my desk with the door shut because it felt like the only safe space in the world where I could collect myself. Ten minutes later, I’d be on a call, writing, answering email, seeing how Angela was doing, or eating lunch.
There was a lot of pressure for me to call and talk to people, but I didn’t know what to “talk” about, especially given how intense the real story could be. Smaller, safer parts of the story were too emotionally intense for a lot of people and it was awkward for me not to have the behavior people were expecting me to have.
The best thing for me was to be mindful, work the solution, practice self-care, and reach out when I could. And perhaps switch environments…
Time to Get Out Of The Office
Our company has been growing into new markets for a while now and I’ve known that we’d reach a point in which it would make sense for us to get our own commercial space to do business in. As you might imagine, that’s a big leap – not only does it add to your overheads in a way that can be hard to swallow, but it also adds commutes, staff, “open hours,” and a whole slew of other considerations that many entrepreneurs don’t feel like messing with. However, that’s where we’re going; why we’re going there will be revealed in time.
It was also true that, during the more intense parts of the reset, I was operating in 45-minute attention cycles. I’d get about 45 minutes before I needed to check on Angela, answer a call from her parents, make or eat food, run to a doctor, chase a sick cat down, or any number of other things like that. I simply wasn’t working effectively and it mostly boiled down to an environment that was both distraction- and anxiety-heavy.
If I was going to keep the ship from sinking, I was going to have to dig emotionally deep and harness that energy effectively. I couldn’t dig deep at home with everything going on and I’ve never been able to do well out of coffee shops. I had to find a place to reestablish our command center and time was of the essence.
After a few weeks of searching, I settled on an executive office in downtown Portland. It’s not our endgame – it’s the launchpad I speak of in “No vs. Not Now.” It wasn’t the right time for us to move on our later plan; it’s something I couldn’t do by myself and, at that time, myself is all I had that I could rely on. Time flies, though, and we’ll be there soon enough.
I’ll be recording from that office in the future and I intentionally didn’t record before I shared all of this because I couldn’t not tell the story behind it. It’s important to understand the full context of the story, though: we didn’t get the office just because of the reset, although the reset definitely accelerated the need to get an external office.
Is This Worth Fighting For?
Since I had a lot of sitting and thinking time during the reset period, I started thinking about how I was showing up in the world. Much of it came as a reaction of my own guilt, regret, and frustration with myself for having things get so out of hand right under my nose, but it also came from the fact that we were in a tough time in our business.
We’re going through the Stage 3 growing pains and reinvested a lot of our revenue back into the business rather than ourselves. In less abstract language, we’d been paying ourselves less and it was getting tight. Too tight.
And then the reset happened. Too tight became “oh crap, we’re running out of fuel and might not make it.”
For 2011, I did what expert planners loathe to do but sometimes is required to get a big project done: we had a complex plan that depended on one thing to make it all work. That one thing was the book – it was the linchpin and springboard for so many other plans, and, without it, the house of cards started coming down.
Yes, we accomplished some amazing things last year, but the book is still in limbo, which means there’s a lot still in limbo. By my estimates, we’re now (at least) two quarters “behind,” and that makes a big difference when it comes to the revenue opportunities that are pending the book.
In hindsight, there were other operational alternatives to the book-or-bust plan and that’s yet another plane we’ve been fixing while flying it. But we’re here nonetheless.
What does this have to do with how I want to show up in the world? Easy, really. Life and resources are too short to be screwing around. (click to tweet – thanks!)
I took stock of all the things I wanted and needed to say, everything I intentionally wasn’t saying so as to keep the peace, and, importantly, how much I was writing and talking to the wrong people because I started placing more weight on pageviews and popularity than rigor and insight. That’s not a message I want to advance, and it’s for damn sure something I don’t want to model.
Would I fight for all of that? Nope.
And here’s the rub: during the reset, every time I shared something that continued that inertia, I had fought for it, even if unintentionally. Everything you do that’s not worth doing comes at the cost of what is worth doing, after all.
I ended up not-fighting with Janet about what the book is about; it’s now a better project that represents the way I want to show up in the world – it may not be a best-seller, but it’ll be a best-server for those who it’s for. And if I’m going to spend a few years on a project, let’s make damn sure it’s one that I want to wake up and work on.
When people asked me to talk just about productivity tips, I said no. If that’s just what they wanted, there are other people who’d love to do it. If they can get people to show up, I’m going to show up with the best of what I’ve got, which isn’t “7 Steps to A Cleaner Inbox.” We can be better stewards of people’s time and resources than that.
I’ve been lazier as a creative and leader than I could have been. That’s not worth fighting for – I’d be better off getting a nice cushy job if that’s how I wanted to show up in the world. The last time I checked, I gave up some of those nice, cushy jobs.
It’s time to be a better leader, creative, and changemaker – life and resources are too short to be screwing around.
Putting It Back Together In A Better Way
I’ve often compared the reset to Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall. No matter what you do, you can’t put something like this back together again the same way it was before.
It does, however, present a choice: since you have to put it back together, how will you put it back together?
While I’d never wish this on someone else, it seems that we need resets every once in a while.
We accept ways of living that aren’t in congruence with ourselves and our needs.
We accept people into our lives who may not need to be there and overlook the ones who should be there.
We accumulate activities, expectations, and a whole slew of other stuff into our businesses that don’t need to be there and forget our principles and vision.
We don’t take timeouts and take time to make sure we’re still living from the inside out rather than living from the outside in.
We lose ourselves, day by day, unless we recreate ourselves, day by day.
I’ve said all of these things before and I’ll continue to say them, not because I like them or because they make for a compelling marketing message, but because they’re true and require constant practice and vigilence.
We’ve decided to put our lives and business back together in a better way and we’re well into that journey. We’ve got a ways to go, but Angela and I are constantly surprised by how we have to put ourselves “back there” in October and November; it’s such a different world, though we’re still dealing with the second- and third-order effects of something that cataclysmic.
The darkness has passed and we’re no longer in reset. We’re in reintegration. And now you’re (mostly) caught up.