When leaders are robbed of their health, wealth and success
I am sitting on the shuttle between Albuquerque airport and Santa Fe on my way to a “Girl-Twirl” in Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, north of Santa Fe. It is August of 2015, and my long-time girlfriend and master teacher on “Transformational Speaking,” Gail Larsen, has insisted I show up for time-out, relaxation, and fun while getting to know better three amazing women leaders in my field of Conscious Leadership. She promised I wouldn’t regret it. And she was right. The fearless leaders, Diana Chapman and Grace Clayton from the Conscious Leadership Group, and Alison van Buuren (soon to join that group) have all become precious friends and fellow–travelers in the Conscious Leader’s tribe. But that’s another story…
On the shuttle ride, while taking in the desert landscape all around us, I had a lively and meaningful conversation with the woman sitting next to me — let’s just call her Nancy. Nancy is an author, and like me, she had lived in Santa Fe earlier in her life and since then also moved to California. What was different was that she was born in New Mexico and spent her formative years there, and I am a transplant all the way from Iceland. She shared with me how it had been, living in a more primitive Santa Fe — before the great influx of people from all over the world brought so many changes during the last few decades. And we shared what we loved about living in New Mexico and California, two very different places.
When Nancy learned that, among other things, I work with founders, CEO’s, and business leaders who are looking for more than the surface success that comes from just building successful businesses and making a lot of money, she told me the story of her son. Let’s call him Peter.
Lost In Overwhelm In California
Peter is a creative and founded his own creative agency that has become one of the most successful and celebrated agencies in Southern California. Awards, prizes, media attention, and high-flying clients have been a big part of his success story. But that has all come with an unexpected cost. Now in his early forties, Peter has formed a lifestyle that is all about his company — Work! Work! Work! Go! Go! Go! He is jeopardizing his relationship with his fiancee by repeatedly postponing their wedding plans. His health is breaking down. His moods have become dark. His life-force has become weaker. His days have become a struggle, in spite of all the external successes. What is going on?
It didn’t matter what Nancy, Peter’s mother, suggested to him about slowing down. Only when he was forced to visit the doctor for his health issues did Peter start to understand that slowing down wasn’t just something nice to do — it was literally a matter of life and death. And he found it excruciatingly challenging to slow down — something I see in leaders all the time. Their focus is always on producing, producing, producing. For them, the concept of just being equates to non-existing.
Peter’s story is just one of countless stories of “successful” business people whose focus is on the success that comes from the high–strung and straight-arrow trajectory towards ONLY goals, milestones, expansion, competition, profit, power, and fame, to name a few.
The Dance Of The Opposites — Feminine & Masculine Energies
Before going into more story-telling, let’s just slow down here and have a look at what I consider to be some very important and foundational information — the difference in energy behind the two forces that Peter was encountering.
First, the constantly forceful, pushing, controlling, goal-achieving forward movement — which society sees as a positive virtue in a dedicated and hard–working person, and the business world values and rewards with high dollars, promotion, and prizes — is demonstrating what we call masculine energy. The opposite of that, and what Peter found so unfamiliar and hard to practice, is the yielding, softening, slowing down, relaxing, healing, allowing forces of the feminine energy. But what’s important to understand is that for each person BOTH ARE NECESSARY — masculine energy is not exclusive to men nor the feminine energy to women. All humans hold both these energy perspectives within us, and we all need to understand them and how to use them, in balance and when appropriate. Masculine energy works well in certain circumstances, and the feminine is far more effective in others.
But as society has for so long called for and valued the masculine energy above and at the cost of the feminine, many women in business have fallen prey to the demand to ignore their feminine energy and become more masculine in order to be able to compete with men. Individuals leaning more heavily on masculine energy can be disconnected from their feelings, from vulnerability (a power!), from empathy, compassion, care, and the bigger picture — they are disconnected from their hearts and what some call the “softer skills” — but I say they’re anything but! I promote that we use both in combination — the masculine and feminine, the harder skills and softer skills — I call them simply human skills. That is what we need to be focusing on, men and women in both the workplace and in society, allowing themselves to be human and using all of their intelligence and the full richness of their energies.
We need to start educating ourselves about our inner workings and learn how to utilize our fullest human potential. Running on the masculine energy alone over a long period of time is a sure recipe for burnout, accidents, or even loss of life — and we are seeing some of those results now. As a society (at least here in the USA) we need to start slowing down in order to live regenerative lives — to recognize and realize all the gifts and dimensions of being human. And now back to story-telling…
Adrenal Exhaustion And Burnout In Australia
A few weeks ago I talked to Brad Ferguson from the new organization, People. Synergy. Purpose., who shared with me his story. He was in the financial industry in Australia, doing really well, making a lot of money, and making his clients very happy with his constant availability and can-do attitude. But his own adrenals weren’t as happy, and they went into exhaustion. Brad had to quit his job and take on the serious journey of putting his health back in order. That healing spanned a number of years and is ongoing. As you can imagine, that has drastically changed his lifestyle in all areas, including the financial. This experience was so traumatic for Brad and his family that it catapulted him into dedicating his life to educating and supporting business leaders and entrepreneurs. His guidance features the idea of designing a life that integrates all the parts of being a healthy human being in order to be a successful business leader — and then further educating the leaders to support their own people to do the same.
Car Accident And Head Injury In Sweden
The stories are endless, and here is one from my own personal life. My late husband, Jouke, was a CEO and business owner in Sweden before we met. He was the first one to show up in the office in the mornings before most people were even up, and he was the last one to leave in the evenings. From what he later understood, he was substituting a highly successful and fun career for a long-standing, unfulfilled, and unhappy personal life (before he met me, mind you!).
One night while driving home from work late in the evening, he had a car accident, caused by him. He was lucky that no one was hurt in the other car, but he received a head injury and sported a scar on his forehead as a reminder. That was his wake-up call. After that, he not only changed his own working habits but also put into place new working hours for the people in his company. No more overtime for anyone. Basta! People’s health and well-being have to come first.
And there is more. Jouke was later diagnosed with the Alzheimer’s disease and he later died in an accidental death related to his illness. Research is now showing that head injury, like boxers and football player incur, often seems to be the activation of dementia and the Alzheimer’s disease. We can never proof that that was the case with Jouke’s head injury from the car crash. But I often wonder…
How Are You Choosing To Experience Your Journey to Success?
Why am I sharing these stories with you? Because most of us can relate to them. I surely can, from my first career in Iceland as an entrepreneur and CEO and from which I later learned that I was a workaholic. That was my wake-up call; and it catapulted me into my own healing journey, which I am, like Brad Ferguson, now paying forward to my clients by supporting them to take charge of their lives before the breakdown happens. In my article ‘Shift Your Overwhelm To Well-Being: A Secret 15-Step Conscious Leadership Formula’ I share with the readers some of the tips, tools, and practices that have been helpful to me to honor the ebb and flow of my own energy and dance with the rhythm of the opposites of the masculine and feminine.
It is possible to be proactive in designing and creating the life you really want to live so that it becomes not only sustainable but happy, healthy, fun, and life–giving; and then your career naturally soars as well! Have you awakened to that infinite possibility? And if so, what are you doing differently in your personal and professional life because of it? And what are the results? Do share with us!
I share my own story in There Is More To Life
Image Credits: Shutterstock, Brad Ferguson/People.Synergy.Purpose, Runa Bouius – I The Author have permission to use this image.