Panting is Not a Strategy

I remember years ago, when I worked for CMP and had first one and then two kids in the company’s daycare center. I remember leaving whatever I was doing—even if we at the magazine where I worked were on deadline—to run downstairs to feed Sam and Emma lunch. My friend Rob and I would often bump into each other in the hallway, the skin on our faces plastered back, our mouths slack and open like those guys strapped into land-jets in the Bonneville Salt Flats trying to break the speed of sound, racing to meet the deadline, relieve the caregivers, and feed our kids mashed peas.

It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now.  Talking to a client this morning, he reminded me that running faster often feels like working harder. “If I’m not panting,” he said, “I don’t think I’m working.”

It’s a lousy strategy: It feeds the anxiety of never enough; it gets in the way of thinking clearly; and it convinces you to mistake motion for meaning.

I understand where it comes from. First, the adrenaline is addictive; it’s such a rush to, well, rush from task to task. Moreover, it can also feed a sense of superiority: “Geez what I’m doing must be so important, look at how fast I’m moving. Look at how slowly you’re moving.”

More deeply, it’s also fed by the enmeshing between work and identity. I am what I do and if what I’m doing is fast and, therefore, important than I must be worthy enough to have earned your respect, your love.

While everyone—myself included—can fall prey to using work as a prop for self-meaning, I find that founder/entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible to this loss of self. This despite the fact that the ultimate expression of the trend is a narcissism that borders on socio-pathology; think of the many, many asses in business whom we admire precisely because they have a single-minded focus on execution, causing everyone around them to pant their way through the workday.

Of course we don’t put it that way. We admire them, we say, because they are successful.

Unfortunately then we never get around to debating the meaning of that word: successful. We too infrequently pause and consciously, and with all of our adult awareness, define for ourselves success.

Months ago I wrote about Disappearing into the Fire…the seductive lure of losing one’s self in work. This enmeshing, this panting, this forever chasing higher and tougher goals is yet another form of Disappearing.

But, but, but…there is a power in reaching; “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” said Browning, “or what’s a heaven for?”  There’s an audacity in reaching, in dreaming of a new way to change a light blub, search for something on the internet, connect people across time and space. And we should never lose that audacious reach.

But to lose one’s footing in the reaching serves no one.

Earlier this month, I stepped on a subway at the 42nd Street station. It was the uptown No. 1 train. I felt myself shoved and looked up, angry and startled. This was no ordinary jostle.

The next thing I remember, I’m laying on my back, my head cradled in the lap of a cop, my body covered in blood. Cold-cocked. Without provocation, without warning, I’d been knocked unconscious, the soft tissue of my nose damaged, my cheek lacerated, and one tooth broken. And I couldn’t remember my name, where I was headed, or who’s the President.

Laying on a gurney at Bellevue, as my mind re-gathered itself, I considered how lucky I was to not have been pushed in front of the train or stabbed by the obviously sick and hurting guy who’d done this. In the weeks that followed, I thought often about how fortunate I was to have been able to handle taking time off from work or have the resources to see good doctors and get my body back together.

And while I’m still recuperating, still in a process of healing and pulling myself together after all this, I realized this morning that the most important thing to come from the random, senseless attack was the reminder that panting doesn’t work. That disappearing into the motions of life, losing touch with those inner worlds that define true success, is a lousy way to live.

Next month a good friend and terrific coach, Ann Mehl, and I will be running a one-day workshop on just this topic (Disappearing into the Fire—not being sucker-punched on the subway…that’s a different workshop and I think I’m particularly skilled at teaching it.). It’s a bit of an experiment. For me, it’s a chance to work through material I’ve found so powerful, so life-altering. For our clients, both current and prospective, it’s a chance to dive deep, and ideally find strategies to come home–with each other as well as with both Ann and me.

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  • JanetReid

    My great fear is being knocked on to the tracks in the path of an incoming train. I’m SO glad you landed on the platform.

    I too have to remind myself that I may have ten new ways to read things, but I still read at the same pace. And think at the same pace. And I have to remind myself of that almost every day.

    • jerrycolonna

      It’s awful, frightening image. And the only thing worse than the shock of the attack, the randomness and it’s reminder of just how fragile all of THIS is, was the loss of memory.
      Honestly, I don’t know where I landed, per se. I know somewhat where I was when I woke–in the lap of a cop.

      But again, there’s so many powerful lessons in that one event. Not the least of which was the reminder to slow the heck down (I say that, btw, in all deference and honor to Brad Feld and David Cohen’s great new book, Do More Faster.)

  • Abhay Vardhan

    Sorry to hear about the attack, I wish you a fast recovery.

    I see that if I do not keep some “slack” in our routines for personal reflection and some good family time, the stress levels increase and I almost become a different person. I have to remind myself to take some time off.

    • jerrycolonna

      “I almost become a different person” This is the part that always scares me.

  • kirklove

    I’m sorry and shocked to hear about your attack. Here’s to your recovery.

    I’m also happy to see you post again – a wonderfully powerful and moving post at that. All the best.

    • jerrycolonna

      Thanks for both sentiments, Kirk.

      • jerrycolonna

        btw…it feels great to be writing again.

  • Michelle Lynne

    Great reminder to keep our life in perspective. Thank you for sharing and best wishes in your full recovery!

  • Michelle Lynne

    Thank you for sharing – it’s a great reminder to keeping our life in perspective. Best wishes in your full recovery!

    • jerrycolonna

      Thanks Michelle. I’m nearly there. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t rush back to writing.

  • casinoman88

    Value every day. Thank you for the reminder.

    • jerrycolonna

      You’re welcome. It was a gift for me to get that reminder.

  • Peter Cranstone

    I think all entrepreneurs are guilty of panting. It’s part of why we do it – for the rush. The good thing about growing older (if you can survive) is that you start to comprehend what the panting is all about. You then learn to temper it so that it plays a useful part in your life vs. a destructive part. It’s all about balance – which comes into focus only with age.

    Glad to see you’re ok.

    • jerrycolonna

      Thanks Peter…as usually, you said it well. I love your analysis of useful versus destructive “panting.”

    • Scott Barnett

      This reminds me of some good advice I got early in my career – “Life is a marathon, not a sprint”. It’s ok to pant, as long as you give yourself time to rest and repair, and pace yourself.

  • davearkoosh

    Thanks for the insight, Jerry. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

    How do you structure time for mindfulness and catching your breath throughout the day?

    • jerrycolonna

      Thanks Dave. I try to make it a ritual. That’s the only thing I can do. I try to build it into my day. So I take a five minute break after every client session. In that break, I try just pause and check in with myself.
      Often times, as I’m working with a client, I pass close attention to how my body is feeling (and whether or not I’m breathing). It’s helpful because it can also be an indicator of what the client is feeling (unconsciously).
      But mostly it’s a habit. First it’s conscious and then it becomes routine.

  • Madhuri Yedlapati

    So very sorry to hear what happened to you. Glad you’re doing better and wishing you speedy recovery.

    Thank you for your insight. How do we accomplish this when it’s so competitive out there? I don’t speak in terms of business. Even kids these days seem to have to study multiple subjects and participate in multiple extra-curriculars, just to stay afloat – to secure a spot for their future even if the spot isn’t necessarily the top spot. I feel as it panting is starting to move from being a strategy to being almost a necessity. It’s overwhelming.

    • jerrycolonna

      Thanks Madhu…I think that’s the falsehood…it’s a necessity. The phrase “effortless mastery” comes to mind. Think about those we really admire…they make it look effortless. They do NOT pant. Where does THAT come from?

  • Charlie Crystle

    I’m thankful you got through that.

    I used to spend hours researching more than I needed to, deeper than I needed to, for things that were not yet or even ever relevant.

    And that push to do that one last thing, to push past 10, then 1 am. Believing I was doing more by doing more, but instead I was undermining my health, judgment. Grinding my teeth during the day.

    It’s tough to get out of that pattern. But these days I try to work early in the morning, finish by 3, take the dogs to the park for a run, and do stuff that ain’t work.

    If I need to gather my thoughts, I write instead of sitting down at the computer, where there’s always another thing to do, even if there isn’t.

    • jerrycolonna

      There’s always a reason to NOT walk the dog, rest your body, or take a deep breath. I like your strategy of shifting the ground…trying something different…to jostle things.

  • johnmccarthy

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece. Given the day I had and where/when I am typing this, I am grateful for the reminder

    Glad to hear you are on the mend after this scary episode.

    • jerrycolonna

      Thanks John

  • panterosa,

    Important events slow us down. Hopefully we take their many meanings. And heal from the event, while taking the message – as you seem to be doing, thankfully.

    I have been musing on the idea ‘addicted to struggle’ which seems to have infected so many things. I wonder how it got so drastic. You point to the identity though work thing as a big demon in this regard, a silly self-importance. Some things are struggles, somethings we make into struggles. The trick is clarity on that point, seeing things for what they are.

    I try to save panting for exercise now. I’m not always successful. But panting after physical work does help dispel the other panting. Making enough time for that is always rewarding, and perspective giving, hopefully not engendering a new ‘struggle’ to carve out the time for release.

    • jerrycolonna

      “I try to save panting for exercise now.” EXACTLY!!

  • David Semeria

    Wow Jerry, events like that test one’s faith in humanity. Glad to hear you’re ok.

    My kids have got the age where they understand money. They want to know how much we have, and whether we have more or less than their friends’ families.

    By using various analogies, I try to explain that the richest people in the world are the ones with most real friends.

    I think this is linked to your point about defining success…

    It’s only as you get older, I suspect, that you realize there many more important things in life than money.

    • jerrycolonna

      I think figuring that out, David, is one of the sweetest lessons of life.

  • zamees

    Thank you for sharing this post and a bit about your life… your advice is right on, and the real-world experience that confirmed your realization of it lends much power to your words. Cheers. Keep writing, dear Sir!

    • jerrycolonna

      I’ll do that, Sir! Seriously, thanks for the kind words.

  • Tehreem

    sorry to hear about that Jerry. Hope you are feeling better now :)

    by the way great article. I am sharing it with my friends.

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