“I think I’m probably going to end up like a Tex Winter at some point. Maybe like a Pete Newell. Pete was on the sidelines for a number of teams for maybe the last 15-20 years of his life where he just encouraged people how to play. He sat with Lenny Wilkens in Cleveland for a number of years. He was a helpful consultant. That might be what I’m left to do — be a mentor of some sort.”
—Phil Jackson, 67-year old basketball
coaching legend on his basketball future
The end of May has arrived, month five of my self-imposed and hopefully temporary retirement. As I noted a few weeks ago, I have some clarity on some professional goals and even some ideas about how to achieve them. As expected, this whole process has been both exciting and scary. It’s also sometimes depressing. When you put your heart and soul and sweat and tears into something for ten years, it becomes a huge part of who you are. Unraveling that feels like therapy, in both good and bad ways.
Earlier today, I read the above quote from Phil Jackson, and I found it a huge downer. That guy won 11 rings. I know he’s 67 with bad hips and a bad back and that he doesn’t want to do the coaching grind anymore, but there are undoubtedly better ways for him to be contributing to the game right now. What’s worse is that I kind of see myself in his words right now, even though I’m 30 years younger and nowhere near as accomplished.
I still get consulting inquiries, all of which I’ve turned down so far. It’s nice to know that people still respect you. It’s even nicer that Groupaya is still around and that Rebecca Petzel is still working as a consultant, as I can point people to either of them and feel good about the referral.
But I find a lot of that hard as well. It’s hard to turn down great projects, especially when your bank account is going in the wrong direction. Chatting with people about this stuff gets the intellectual juices flowing. Then the ego kicks in, as I imagine what I’d do if I took on those projects.
When I inevitably refer the work to my peers, I’m sometimes deflated by what I imagine will not happen because I’m not taking on the work. A lot of that is pure ego, silly and wrong. Some of it is not. Either way, it can be hard to let go.
Sometimes, I see work happening in less-than-skillful ways, and I get angry and feel myself wanting to fall back into comfortable roles and patterns. “Hire me as a consultant, and I’ll show you how it’s done!” I think to myself. Maybe I’m right. However, if I’m honest with myself about what it means to make a true impact while maintaining my health and sanity, I remember why I’m trying to break out of that very mindset.
Earlier this month, I attended the wonderful Creating Space conference in Baltimore, where Esther Nieves shared her motto: “Slow the pace, stay in the race.” I try to remind myself of this constantly, and when I’m actually practicing it, I can see it working. I’m thinking about things in a methodical way, and I’m liking how that process is going and how balanced my life is feeling while I’m doing that. I’m talking to a lot of people, listening deeply, trying to challenge my own assumptions about what needs to happen in the world. I’m doing experiments systematically, and I’m learning a lot that way.
Still, it’s hard. It does not come naturally for me to go slow, even when I’m actually and literally running. I occasionally go on long runs with my sister, who is constantly encouraging me to slow down so that I can run longer. I just can’t do it. I get bored. I’ll end up stopping after five miles, completely gassed, and she’ll keep running another three or four miles.
When I’m not using all of my skills, I feel underutilized and unhappy. I just have to keep reminding myself that I’m going slowly right now so that I can figure out ways to apply all of my skills in a more strategic, impactful, and joyful way.
Which brings me back to Phil Jackson and the world of sports. Earlier this year, as I went through a process of personal visioning, I put together a list of role models. One of those people was Jon Gruden, the youngest coach ever to win a Super Bowl at 41. He’s been out of coaching for the past four years, to the constant surprise of many pundits, given that he’s still young and in-demand and that he’s a self-proclaimed football junkie who has never had (nor wanted) a life outside of football. What I love about Gruden is that he’s found outside-the-box and probably even more impactful ways to stay close to the game.
I know what I’m passionate about, and I know what kind of life I want to live. I’m in that outside-the-box mode right now, which is occasionally a struggle, but which has been great overall. I think good things are going to come out of this whole process, although I am impatient to figure out what those things will be. I’ll just have to keep reminding myself: Slow the pace, stay in the race….