retirement1Retirement has always been used as a way for people in authority to induce behaviors in others for their own purposes.

Augustus Caesar, for instance, gave his former soldiers big pensions to prevent them from becoming disgruntled and overthrowing the government, and Chancellor Otto Von Bismark threw a wet blanket on socialist radicals in Germany by offering payouts to the elderly.

The common denominator in these and other examples is that retirement was a way of buying people off and getting them out of the picture. I think the modern idea of retirement, stemming directly from the industrialized workplace, is the same. The idea is that you can induce someone to do repetitive, soul-killing work with little emotional benefit if you promise a big enough carrot at the end of the stick. For people in my parents’ generation, it was the only way to keep the machine rolling.

Retirement-555799035-750x485This is a terrible and dehumanizing way to think of work. It assumes that workers have no real value beyond output. Once their productive years are over – however that’s determined – then we send them out to pasture. The only way to get workers to play along is to convince them that the pasture is lush and relaxing. Suck it up now because it’s going to be wonderful in a few decades.

The effect is that we’ve now raised a few generations to look for fulfillment in the pasture, not their work. Satisfaction is a future thing, not a present possibility. Joy is for later. Meaning and significance comes from checking out down the road. If you’re looking for a way to murder your heart, then congratulations. That’s it.

The cost of the trade is too high. It encourages alienation from our work. It wrongly assumes those who have lived the longest and experienced the most have the least to offer, and comes with significant health risks, including reduced mental function, heart attack, and stroke. Also, it often comes with feelings of purposelessness and loneliness and deprives our communities of the contributions we still have to give.

For those who look at life from the Christian perspective, think of people like Moses and Caleb. They were productive to the very end. Job’s best days were his last days. We would trade that? Not me.

86494288The best answer to the culture of checking out is to think differently about our calling in midlife and beyond. Here are three steps to doing that:

  1. Eliminate the word “retirement” from our vocabulary It’s an unhealthy concept. If we chose to use late life as an opportunity to change directions in our work, great. But it’s not retirement. Staying meaningfully engaged in the world is essential for a sense of purpose.
  2. Keep the door open to our own contributions If retirement has been a way to get people out of the picture, why do that to yourself? The more you know and grow, the greater potential contribution you have to make. Stay committed to playing full out till the end. How?
  3. Recommit to work we love When Duke Ellington was asked why he didn’t retire and live off his royalties, he responded, “Retire to what?” It wasn’t that home was so empty. It was that his work was so full. He lived his art. Retiring would have been like turning off his own soul.

If you’re doing meaningful work you enjoy, why would you ever want to quit? And if you’re not doing meaningful work you enjoy, it’s probably time to reconsider what you’re doing before your only real option is hoping for some shade in the pasture.

Thankfully some polling I’ve seen shows that people are increasingly retiring retirement. It’s an idea whose time is long over.

How would it change your working life now if you stretched your productive horizon out another decade or more? 



1 (1)You might be familiar with The Shawshank Redemption. Remember the storyline? Andy Dufresne, innocent of any crime, is saddled with a life sentence in Shawshank Prison. The experience nearly kills him and his hope for freedom.

I filtered the movie through my own experience. Stuck in my day job, I felt imprisoned from my potential. Although I loved the people I served and worked with, I felt captive from my creativity. Slowly over the years, I accepted my own life sentence. I thought it was easier to let my dreams die than to keep hoping for freedom. But that’s not what Andy did. He escaped. And eventually I did, too.

Watching Andy’s escape, I saw an interesting three-stage pattern emerge. He went from prison to plan to payoff. Studies show 86 percent of us feel stuck in our day jobs. If we want to go from day job to dream job and turn our passion into a full-time gig, we can learn from this pattern.

Stage 1: Prison

Many of Andy’s friends didn’t want to escape their situation. Initially they hated Shawshank Prison, but they grew to accept it. Similarly, many people accept the harmful side effects of their day jobs. Those side effects, according to Dan Miller’s 48 Days to the Work You Love, include:

  • Stress – Seventy percent of American workers experience stress-related illnesses.
  • Burnout – Thirty-four percent think they will burn out on the job in the next two years.
  • Heart attacks – There is a 33 percent increase in heart attacks on Monday mornings, according to the Los Angeles Times.
  • Injury – There is a 25 percent increase in work-related injuries on Mondays, according to Entrepreneur magazine.
  • Death – According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people die at 9 a.m. on Monday than at any other time.
  • Suicide – Male suicides are highest on Sunday nights with men realizing their careers are not where they want them.

The lesson of this stage is obvious: Day jobs kill people, and most don’t care. It’s time to get serious about breaking free.

Stage 2: Plan

To break free from prison you need a plan. Andy didn’t just jump over the barbed wire fence. He escaped because he utilized his team, his tools, and his time:

  • Team – Andy didn’t do it alone and neither will you. In my own escape, I relied on a physical team and a virtual one. I found support in people like my wife Kelly and my friend David. I also found wisdom from my colleagues and mentors, many within Platform University.
  • Tools – Andy didn’t simply use his bare hands to break out. Instead, he relied upon a tool, his handy rock hammer. In Day Job to Dream Job, I share the Dream Jobber Plan, the tool I used to escape my day job. This is the same nine-step framework I teach my Dream Job Bootcamp students to help them escape theirs.
  • Time – Andy used time and pressure. Each day he invested a little energy into his dream. Don’t discount a little energy invested over a long period of time.

With the right team, tools, and timeline, the Dream Jobber Plan works.

Stage 3: Payoff

Andy tells his friend, Red, about a little Mexican town right on the Pacific called Zihuatanejo. If he escapes, he says, he’ll buy a worthless old boat and fix it up like new and take guests out charter fishing. At the end of the movie – with Andy and Red embracing – we see his dream come true.

By breaking free from my day job I created my own Zihuatanejo. Though, thankfully, it doesn’t involve charter fishing – I know my limits. Regardless, my wife and kids will tell you we’ve designed a new life, igniting souls full-time.

The benefits can’t be beat:

  • Freedom, to go as we please.
  • Finances, to earn as we wish.
  • Fulfillment, to live as we like.

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really,” Andy tells Red in a classic line from the movie. “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

If you’re one of the 86 percent stuck in your day job, you have that same choice – living or dying. Which will you choose? What could happen in your life if you broke free? Is your team in place? Do you have the tools?

Think about it…


1415903765390Before starting my own business I made a great number of huge mistakes – who never did? – but I did some things right things too, but my missteps were legendary (at least in my own mind). When I look back on my 25 years of working, and the careers of the hundreds of folks I train, coach and teach, five blunders stand out from all the rest as the most negative, damaging, and irreversible in your career and professional life:

1. Speak, behave or quit out of rage or revenge

Most people spend more hours at work than anywhere else, so it’s normal and expected that we will experience the full gamut of emotions while engaged in our work. I’m all for bringing our whole selves to work as well, and being as authentic, honest, and transparent as humanly possible at our jobs. That said, I’ve watched the inevitable destruction of losing control of your emotions and acting out rashly and impulsively from rage or despair.

2. Backstab your colleagues

I’m astounded at how many people today feel completely comfortable ridiculing, disparaging or undermining their colleagues, co-workers and even their friends. I used to be that kind of person, talking behind someone’s back if I felt they were behaving poorly, meanly, or less than professionally – you never did? come on! I learned later that this is called triangulation – telling a third party about something that makes you anxious or upset instead of dealing with it head on with the individual in question. Why do we do that? Because we lack the courage and fortitude to address the problem directly, or we feel it just won’t work out if we do. It relieves our anxiety to share the problem, but it does nothing to resolve it.

You may call this “gossip” (gossip, by the way, is another “must not do” in the workplace). But backstabbing your colleagues is a special brand of negative behavior because it aims to hurt. And when you desire to hurt others, it will be you who suffers. In one job, I backstabbed a colleague because it seemed that he received all the accolades, promotions and perks because of his family name and his obsequiousness to our bosses. All of that might have been true, but trying to take him down behind his back didn’t work. That behavior never will, in the long run. You’ll only embarrass and humiliate yourself and it will come back around to bite you eventually.

3. Lie

We tell lies most often when we think that the truth will hurt us somehow, or when we want to avoid facing the consequences of our truth – this is the corporate world, no matter what you think! The problem with lying is two-fold: 1) When you tell yourself you’re not capable of facing reality or dealing with the consequences, you make yourself right – you’ll grow less powerful, capable, bold, respectable, and trustworthy over time, and 2) the lies you tell must be perpetuated, which is exhausting and drains you from vital energy you need to reach your fullest potential.

Gossip-is-badIf you have told lies at work – I’m sure you have – about your skills and talents, experience and background, about the status of work you’re overseeing, or about who you are and what you are capable of, I’d highly recommend taking a long, hard look at what you’re afraid of, and instead of keeping up the front, get in the cage with those fears and begin working through them.

4. Proclaim that you’re miserable

Just the other day, I was talking to a former client who had marched into her boss’s office that week and shared that she was miserable at work and volunteered for a severance package. I’ve done that myself – been so unhappy at work that I put my hand up for a package. I didn’t get it, and neither did my client. After sharing that news and not receiving the package, you’re stuck in a deeply unsettling situation of the employer knowing you’re a terrible fit for your role. There are a few specific instances where this might be the right move, but in general, sharing that you hate your job is not the way to go.

But what if it’s the truth? My father used to say that there are 10 different ways to say anything, and I think he’s right. Phrases like “miserable,” “unhappy,” “fed up,” “ready to leave,” and “need to go” are not helpful when you’re talking to your colleagues, bosses, or HR staff.

What is the better way? Talk about what you’re great at and love to do, what you’ve accomplished, and what you’re ready for. Share your work highlights and new directions you’re excited and committed to take your career, and discuss your plans and desires for growth and change. Open the door for new opportunities at your current employer that will expand our skills, your resume and your talents. Try to find ways at your current job (where you’re already getting paid) to grow, stretch and build yourself. Explore every option available to you for becoming what you want to without walking out in anger and disgust. Your employer might very well be able to sponsor and support your growth and change, but it won’t happen if you stomp in and say “I’m miserable and it’s your fault.”

5. Burn bridges

Literally the biggest lesson I’ve learned in business is that success is all about relationships. It’s truly about who you know, and how they feel and think about you (and how you make them feel). I’m not saying that your amazing talent and skill aren’t important. Of course they are. I am saying that we don’t thrive and succeed alone. We need other people. And these people are not just our former bosses – they are people who reported to you, teamed with you, shared coffee and drinks with you, took training sessions with you, got yelled at alongside of you, and weathered tough times with you.

Every single one of your relationships is vitally important to you and your future, so craft them with care. Avoid people you don’t trust or like, but don’t burn bridges. After 30 years in business I’ve seen that there are hundreds of people we interact with daily who eventually could become our strongest allies, advocates and fans, if we protect and nurture our relationships as the key, enriching asset they are.

And you? Yes, you! Could you share any of your mistakes?



traffic lightAre you waiting for someone to give you permission to lead, grow, or move in your organization? What if you already have all the permission you need?

I was recently invited to sit on a board and observed something there I’ve seen countless times in other settings. Some people around the table had no trouble making themselves heard, while others seemed hesitant, withdrawn, even sheepish. It was as if the quiet people were waiting for someone to give them permission to speak. But the truth is that their presence on the board was all the permission they needed.

The scene reminded me of a story I once read about a farmer who rented a donkey to take some produce to market. Along the way, a traveler joined the farmer and the donkey, and when they got tired the three stopped for a rest.

Unfortunately there were no trees around so the traveler reclined in the donkey’s shadow. The farmer protested that he’d only rented the donkey, not the donkey’s shadow. The traveler insisted that use of the donkey assumed use of the donkey’s shadow too. It wasn’t a perk, it was part of the deal.

It’s the same on a board or in a company. Unless you’ve been told only to observe, speak up! Act. Play your part. Whether it’s a seat on a board or a cube in the corner, the permission you need is assumed by your invitation. If it’s not, that’s a good sign you’re in the wrong organization.

It’s easy to retreat behind a kind of phony humility, as if not speaking were really a virtue. Some religious people might even twist a few Scripture verses to validate their sheepishness.

But not speaking up, not acting, not leading cheats everyone in at least three ways:

  1. It cheats your superiors. It’s a disappointment to the people who wanted you there to contribute. No one gets invited to suck up the room’s oxygen.
  2. It cheats the group. Important learning is on the line. If you speak up and your ideas are good, everyone benefits. If you speak up and you get corrected, there’s still a benefit for everyone. The truly humble are capable of serving the team regardless of the outcome.
  3. It cheats you. Holding back might feel like a benefit to you, but it’s a cheap win: The only thing you buy is your comfort. No personal improvement. No esteem in the eyes of your colleagues. No contribution to the organization.

I’ve been at this a long time, and so I’ve developed some confidence. But the only way to develop that confidence is to step out and speak up. Assume permission and go.

The traveler was right. If you’ve got the donkey, you’ve got permission to use his shadow. If an organization has entrusted you with a position, assume you have permission to use it. If you’ve been invited, that’s all the permission you need. Just go.

Have there been times you’ve held back in important meetings or events when your voice could have made the difference? 


mentor (2)Whenever an organization rolls out a major change, clarity and alignment are essential. Without those two things all the best intentions amount to little more than heartburn and headaches.

As a leader responsible for a medium company, I have experienced the difficulty of getting clarity and creating alignment with my team. In one instance, we shuttered more than a dozen division of our publishing operation and restructured the entire business. But I’ve also found myself on the other side of things – outside of the leadership seat and in the role of observer. Only in this case people were making decisions about my brand!

As an example, I remember when the National Speakers Association announced a significant change to their name (about 2 years ago). They announced that they would adopt the name ‟Platform”.

They noted that their members do a lot more than public speaking and their initials are far from popular right now. I sympathized. “NSA” was tarnished brand, regardless of what you think of the federal government’s operations. Within a ten days they’d reversed course and abandoned the name. As the whole situation played out, I was reminded of five key steps for any organization before rolling out a major initiative. Each of these steps is designed to achieve either clarity or alignment. Both are essential if an organization wants to avoid a backlash to its proposed changes.

These apply to the NSA, of course, but they also apply to all of us seeking to lead in the world of social media, where everyone has a microphone and everyone is connected to everyone else.

  1. Determine what you need to communicate. This is the single most important step. You need to get crystal clear on your message. Distill it down to one sentence. What’s the headline? That’s all most people will take away anyway. Part of this step requires answering the why question. You need to provide the rationale. This where NSA got it right and wrong. They did a great job of communicating why their brand needed an update, and I’m sure we could all agree. But they didn’t explain why taking platform was the right course for their organization.
  2. Commit your message to writing – in advance. My introduction to the NSA rebrand came through watching a video recording of a public address, so I’m not sure how this worked beforehand inside their shop. But I always start by writing a press release, talking points, and FAQ document. Not only does this step bring tremendous clarity to my own thinking, it also enables me to enlist others and keeps me from having to formulate communication in the midst of a public relations storm.
  3. Secure alignment with your leadership team. It’s crucial that you give your key team members information, time to process, and space to discuss. It’s hard to overemphasize this step, and the importance increases with the magnitude of the change. Individuals may express disagreement, but they can still get behind the change if they feel like they’ve been heard. If they feel ignored, however, they may well work against the new initiative.
  4. Contact key stakeholders – personally. You cannot afford to surprise your key constituents. This is another area where NSA might have stumbled. In the blowback of the initial decision, it seemed as if there were key people in the dark about the change. It’s essential to enroll your key stakeholders, determine who will contact whom, and then start making visits or calls – in advance of the public announcement. The information should quietly cascade within the organization. Then take it to select VIPs outside the company before the public revelation. You’re doing more than communicating about the change. You’re also conveying your respect by informing your VIPs before you go public. Then, once you go public, they are able to say, ‟Yes, I knew about that change. They contacted me in advance of the announcement.”
  5. Go public through all available media channels. Now take it to the world via press releases, blog posts, and social media. This ensures you control the narrative. Without a narrative, critics will create their own. And that’s when things begin to unwind. Part of going public is staying public. Keep the channels open for public dialogue. Interviews, blog conversations, Twitter exchanges – they’re all key for managing the public response. The NSA did this well. When the backlash came, the leadership owned the problem, solicited responses, and were quick to respond.

No change is easy, especially big organizational changes like a restructure or a rebrand. But clarity and alignment through good communication are critical components of initiating major change without blowing up your business.

I was eager to see what the NSA leadership was to develop for their new brand. I wanted them to succeed. Though they stumbled on this recent initiative, I think they had the opportunity to achieve even greater clarity and alignment within their organization. This would serve them well as they serve their members and the world at large.

What good and bad experiences have you had with major organizational change? 



mentor (2)

I’ve worked with several executive assistants over the years, and I have found it is a make-or-break relationship when it comes to my success.

Think about it: None of us can do it all on our own. We need to bring others into our work to help us succeed in it. And the bigger the dream, the more help we usually need.

In my corporate days, I had some very effective executive assistants, and I couldn’t imagine doing the work without them. The same has been true since going on my own again in 2011, though at first I thought I could just operate as a one-man show. I was wrong. I couldn’t.

It wasn’t long before I was completely buried in email, speaking requests, travel details, calendar complications, expense reports, and more. I knew I needed help. Fortunately, I found a virtual executive assistant who enabled me to dig out of my pile, offload the stuff I hated, and get back to the essentials.

I now have two virtual executive assistants working on my team, and I can’t imagine it functioning without them. But that doesn’t mean an executive assistant is a silver bullet for all our big hairy problems. An executive assistant is only as good as the working relationship.

There are a lot of ways to blow it with your executive assistant, and I have identified the top-ten mistakes leaders make with their executive assistants, regardless of whether they’re virtual or sitting right outside your office. If we can avoid these, we can amplify our chances for success:

1b30– We undervalue our true worth. How valuable is your time? Most of us don’t know, which is why we keep wasting so much of it on activities that don’t really matter. Without a doubt this is the No. 1 mistake people make with their executive assistants.

Take your total compensation and divide it across your available work hours. Now ask yourself: Is mailing that package, scheduling that meeting, or processing those invoices really worth that much? I bet not. If we really understood how much we’re worth, we’d hand off far more to our executive assistants.

2- We undervalue our executive assistants’ true worth. Some of us don’t appreciate the competence, talents, and skills of our executive assistants. We don’t trust them enough to delegate the important but time-consuming tasks that take us off mission. It’s like we’re stuck in an old­-school “secretary” paradigm. The truth is that an executive assistant is really a full partner in achieving our goals.

3- We don’t communicate enough. Communication is key to working with an executive assistant, and yet I constantly see executive assistant relationships that suffer because leaders fail to provide necessary details about their work and even their private lives. If an executive assistant is a partner in achieving our goals, they will only be as effective as they are dialed into what’s happening. Keeping them in the dark only hurts our ability to succeed.

4- We don’t give the why behind the what. No. 4 is related to No. 3. A good executive assistants can fill ­in the blanks of tasks and projects if they know the rationale behind a task or project. When we don’t communicate adequate background and reasoning, we’re hampering our executive assistants’ ability to help us win.

5- We just don’t know how to delegate. If there’s a magic sauce to leadership, it’s delegation. Nothing will sink a leader faster than the inability to assign priorities and responsibilities.

But many of us don’t properly delegate to the one person working closest to us, our executive assistants. That’s a recipe for disaster. One executive assistant was straightforward about the problem: “If you don’t ask for something to be done and then explain how you’d like it accomplished, I’m no good to you!”

b256- We refuse to surrender our email and calendars. Some of us actually like managing our inboxes and schedules; others are just control freaks. Either way, it sucks up tons of time. Leaders who don’t delegate these two functions are killing their productivity.

7- We don’t open up. Some of us don’t share our lives enough with our executive assistants, but we could delegate so much more if we were more transparent about both our work and home life.

A good executive assistant will see where they can plug in and take things off our plates we’re not even aware of – but that only happens if we give them access. How many unnecessary tasks and low-payoff activities could you offload if you only gave your executive assistant permission?

8- We don’t play fair. Executive assistants get used to extraordinary requests; it’s sometimes part of the job. But if we are hypocritical about things, we can really undermine respect. For instance, to demand that your executive assistant be hyper responsive and then sit on a request ruins your credibility. We have to work toward the same standard we expect from our teammates.

9- We’re lousy about feedback. It’s easy to get caught up in the grind and miss opportunities to give our executive assistant insight into how they’re doing or what they could do to improve. Not only does this hurt our working relationship, but it’s also like shooting ourselves in the foot. Who benefits if our executive assistant improves? Who suffers if they don’t? Regular feedback is a must.

10- We expect too much access. As leaders, most of us are always on. We’re thinking about our business all the time – probably too much, actually. And we assume that everyone on the team should be on as well. The result is that we assume 24/7 service from our executive assistant is reasonable. It’s not. Especially if you’re working with a virtual executive assistant who is giving a set number of hours, going beyond that strains the working relationship. In the end, the executive assistant will be less effective, not more.businessman-in-boardroom1

Our work it too important to go it alone. It’s also too important to undermine the very people responsible for helping us reach our goals. Having an effective working relationship with your executive assistant will enable you to achieve your core objectives while minimizing the clutter and distractions that sets you back.

What goals could you accomplish if you could make the most of your relationship?


mentor (2)Ever since I began blogging, productivity has been one of my most popular topics. But I’m convinced we’re not always productive for the right reasons. Maybe this is why many people are productive but miserable.

Over my career I’ve been entrusted with a lot of responsibility. At one time, I was responsible for the well-being of over one hundred employees and a company legacy twenty years in the making.

I found unplugging difficult. I couldn’t rest because I was always on. If I didn’t perform well and efficiently, disaster loomed – lots of people would be hurt. At least, that’s how it felt. But that meant my focus was sometimes on the wrong thing.

Make It Happen, Faster

This mindset didn’t just happen. It is deeply rooted in the history of the productivity movement.

When industrialization ramped up in the twentieth century, factory owners hired experts to improve efficiency. Armed with stopwatches, these experts roamed factory floors trying to spot needless activity and waste. The faster someone fashioned one thing and assembled another, the more profitable the business could be. Henry Ford is the classic example of what greater productivity meant for a business.

It used to take workers half a day to assemble a car. After installing the first full automobile assembly line in his plant in 1913, he cut that down to two and half hours! The benefits were massive. His profits soared. But there was an unexpected trade off, too.

A Wrong Paradigmbusiness-meeting-1_91130032

Instead of work existing for people, people began to exist for the work. The most famous of the efficiency experts, Frederick Winslow Taylor, said it this way in 1911: “In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.”

Can you see what’s underneath that statement? The person needs the system, but the system doesn’t always need the person. As a result, we accidentally created an anxiety machine where fear became the driving force of productivity. Corporate life became like running from the wolf. The faster you moved, the better your chances for survival.

By the time I entered business this mindset was well engrained. Its influence was pervasive. I adopted it unconsciously. Sadly, though my commitment to excellence usually drives my productivity, many times, I’ve found myself motivated by fear – when, for instance, my business failed; or when the Great Recession threatened my company.

Whenever I started thinking of the wolves, I saw more wolves. Pretty soon I was more consumed with running from them than running my business. Not the best paradigm, right? Fortunately, there is a better way.

Productivity Is About Stewardship

I believe Universe has entrusted us all with certain ideas, talents, and resources. We’re responsible to improve and increase what we’ve been given. If we shrink back from this in fear, seeing it only as an opportunity to fail, we’ve embraced the wrong paradigm. But if we embrace it with gratitude, seeing it as an opportunity to grow – to step into our abilities and exercise our gifts – then we’ve embraced the right paradigm.

It’s like trying to beat a personal best on the race track. Instead of running from the wolf, we’re running toward a goal. Anticipation, not anxiety, pushes us forward. To view productivity this way involves a conscious change of thinking – one from scarcity to abundance, from fear to hope. But it’s worth it.

Unplugging finally becomes possible. Rest, too. And the unexpected bonus is that this paradigm actually enables more productivity because it’s finally for the right reason.

5 Questions for Self-Evaluation

So how can we discover our primary motivation? As I think about increasing my productivity, I use these five questions. They work best when I can apply them to particular circumstances. See if they help you:

1- Do I feel proactive or reactive in this situation?

2- Do I feel that my self-worth is tied up in the outcome?

3- Do I dread the outcome, even if I win?

4- Do I feel like victory will be short-lived?

5- Do I feel energized or drained?

To be truly productive, we need to have the right focus. Productivity driven by anxiety is unsustainable. But seeing productivity as a chance to grow what you’ve been given can radically change what’s possible in your work.

So say: Did you start this week running toward the goal or away from the wolf?