Lisa DeAngelis, Director

UMass Boston | College of Management | Center for Collaborative Leadership

December 15, 2017
by Lisa DeAngelis

Say What Needs to be Said Without Looking Bad: Difficult Conversations

difficult conversation photoThe following is a guest post by Dr. Amy Rebecca Gay of the Mediation Group. The center has been partnering with Dr. Gay for a number of years. She provides her insights and expertise on discussing difficult issues to fellows in our Emerging Leaders Program, and most recently to executives in The Kraft Group in our Custom In House Leadership Development Programs. We are pleased to share her blog with you and offer a Master Class on Difficult Conversations with Dr. Gay on January 3rd.

A difficult conversation moment can happen anytime throughout the course of your work day. Picture yourself at a meeting where the decision makers have decided on the “best” course of action and feedback is not an option. But, hello, there are number of issues that should be raised, vetted and discussed and they are moving ahead with the agenda. What do you do? I’m sure in this scenario there are a million thoughts going through your head, including “You’re creating more problems than you are solving” and “How do I say what needs to be said without looking bad?”

All too often we withhold our thoughts and feelings because we’re politically savvy enough to know that if we speak without a filter we’ll damage our relationships. So, we hedge. We sugar coat. Or we try to be diplomatic, but our disdain is written all over our faces and infused into our tone. We leave the meeting thinking that didn’t go so well, but we’re stuck for what else we might do.

Here’s the rub, though. Buried within these thoughts and feelings is crucial information and perspectives that need to be shared. For you. For your team. For the organization. Many strategically important conversations are difficult and ignite in us strong, almost visceral reactions. You’re probably right that it’s not beneficial to just dump it on the table in its raw form. And yet the ideas embedded within are an important part of the discussion. So, what do you do?

You need to shift what you’re thinking and feeling into a productive frame that facilitates discussion, problem solving and negotiation. One place we often go is right/wrong. How often do you find yourself thinking something like, “You’re so wrong” or “That’s the stupidest idea I ever heard”? That might be right, but it’s only one perspective. What does the other person see? What benefit do they see in the idea? You don’t need to agree, but you do need to get curious.

Blame is another toxic place our minds tend to go. We want someone to be at fault. And we feel better if that person is punished or somehow held accountable. Blame looks back to figure out who did what wrong. If we change our purpose and we look back to understand, we are better equipped to pivot toward the future to figure out what to do differently. Because it’s doing things differently going forward that’s going to propel change in an organization.

The cost of avoiding difficult conversations in any organization is too high to ignore – resentfulness, disengagement, missed opportunities and more. For practical, hands-on tools to make these shifts and begin raising the difficult, strategic conversations in your organization, attend our training on January 3. Information below.

Conduct Difficult Conversations with Ease and Confidence | January 3, 2018 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm @ Seaport Hotel Boston

register now buttonTo succeed in any organization, you need to share what’s on your mind – with confidence and skill so others can hear. You also need to receive what others say, especially when it’s hard to hear. The most successful teams and leaders are able to raise difficult issues, test ideas and hear multiple points of view. Learn to increase your ability and willingness to have candid conversations on important issues affecting your organization. Facilitated by Amy Rebecca Gay, PhD, The Mediation Group.

Email or call 617.287.3890 for additional information.








September 13, 2017
by Lisa DeAngelis

May I Have Your Attention, Please?

As the academic year gets underway, and I begin what I hope is my final year in the dissertation process, I’m experimenting with productivity techniques  – you know, so I can actually finish. For the fall, I am taking a vacation day each week to focus on my dissertation. Carving out this chunk of uninterrupted time was a significant first step for me. It required that I set boundaries and realistic expectations for myself and with my team, family, etc. (more on each of these topics in upcoming blogs).

Given all of the research on the effects of multi-tasking, I approached last week’s writing day with the Pomodoro Technique firmly in hand. However, given that I was spending the day writing and researching, rather than the 25 minute blocks of time suggested, I opted for 90 minutes. I blocked the better part of 6 hours into 90 minute segments with 15 minute breaks.

8-9:30 Work on Intro chapter

9:30-9:45 break

9:45 – 11:15 Work on Methods chapter

11:15 – 11:30 break

11:30 – 1 pm Work on Methods chapter

1 – 1:15 pm lunch

1:15 – 2:45 pm Assemble Lit Review reading list

The first 90-minute segment started off laughably. I sat down, with the best of intentions, to focus on the Introduction chapter of my dissertation. I don’t think it had been three minutes before I was doing a ‘quick scan of email.’ And, of course I had to read and respond to the text message that buzzed on my phone. I literally had to shut down all of the apps, other than Microsoft Word, on my computer, and place my phone in another room. It took me a good 20 minutes to settle into the chapter. Once I did, however, I found that I was able to move through it quickly.

I had ‘planned’ my breaks as a way to make progress on a bunch of smaller tasks that I’d been letting pile up. In other words, while it was a break from the cerebral work of academic research and writing, it was not really a break!

By the end of the day, while I’d made significant progress on all of the topics I’d planned to address, I was mentally exhausted. I was so exhausted, in fact, that it wasn’t until the middle of the next day that I began to feel like myself again – not the best testament for productivity when you are ultra-productive one day but pay for it the next…

What did I learn from this experiment?

  • I’ve created a habit of distraction. My mind has gotten used to not being able to focus for any extended period on a single topic. And so, when no distractions present themselves, I will create them.
  • Conversely, when I get into the groove of productivity, I am able to get quality work done.
  • I tend to set unrealistic expectations for myself. This was evidenced both in my approach to the method and in the work product I intended to accomplish.

What will I do differently this week?

  • I will ratchet it back and follow the method as it was designed.
    • Scheduling 25 minute blocks of work.
    • Taking breaks as breaks.
  • I will plan the blocks of time in advance and work with an accountability partner to determine if they are reasonable.

I believe that much of what I do, whether it is setting the strategic direction for the center, or engaging with the team, alumni of the Emerging Leaders Program, or clients, will benefit tremendously from my ability to be fully present. Therefore, I am dedicated to building new habits of mind that allow me to be more focused on the task – or person – in front of me. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going!This image requires alt text, but the alt text is currently blank. Either add alt text or mark the image as decorative.

July 31, 2017
by Lisa DeAngelis

Reframing What We Tell Ourselves about Being Laid Off

Over the past few days, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with several talented individuals who have either recently been laid off or in the process of being laid off. Having had this experience not once, but twice, in my career, I am acutely aware of the psychological toll this turn of events can take.

The first time I was laid off, I spent a good deal of time ruminating over what I could have done differently. This lay-off had a conscious and subconscious impact on me. Consciously, I worried about how the job market would receive me. Would they think me a poor performer for having been let go? I worried about job security. How could I insulate my family from having this happen again? And, I didn’t know who I was outside of my job title. How would I answer the question, “So, what do you do?” as I began networking.

Subconsciously, I placed a lot of blame and shame on myself for doing this to my family. Just take a moment to take in the power of this sentence, I held myself wholly responsible. I did this. Ouch! While I hadn’t actually said those words to myself, my actions certainly exemplified it. My next role was in a large, well-established organization and I worked diligently to prove my worth to my bosses and business partners. It wasn’t enough to meet expectations, I needed to exceed them. And, by the time I took the job after that, I had a well-earned reputation for not only being a strong performer but for being a workaholic. What I didn’t understand at the time was that this was my way of trying to make myself indispensable, not from an egotistical perspective, but rather for the safety and security of my family. The irony is, this ended up being the position from which I was laid off the second time in my career.

So, what have I learned? Far more important than what the marketplace or those you are networking with think of your having been laid off, is how you think about it. The language we use when we talk to ourselves (both aloud and in our heads) has power. Are your words compassionate and constructive? Or are they critical? One litmus test for this is, if your best friend had been the one who had been laid off, would you say these things to them? I am not suggesting a rose-colored glasses, ignore reality, view of the situation, but rather that you are able to look at it with a bit more objectivity.

An important step is to get out there. One response to a traumatic event, such as being laid off, is to retreat – to withdraw back into our shells to protect ourselves. Perhaps a healthier approach is to actively engage with others. You will be surprised at how vast and supportive your network really is. A few ideas:

  • Meet with those people in your life who can help you see how much bigger you are than any title that you’ve held; who can remind you of your true value.
  • Meet with those who have been through this so that you may better understand that you are not alone and to realize that you will survive.
  • Meet with those who work for companies, or do the sort of work that you may be interested in. They can offer valuable insight.
  • Join associations and/or volunteer for organizations whose mission and values align with yours.

I can tell you that both of my lay-off’s ended up being gifts to me that, ultimately, helped me to see more clearly who I am and how I can best contribute to the world around me, and for that I am most grateful.

March 22, 2017
by Lisa DeAngelis

Talented and Disruptive People: What’s a Manager To Do?

This guest ptraits of bad rebels vs good rebelsost is by Lois Kelly, co-author of Rebels at Work, and former marketing agency executive.  Lois is leading our upcoming Master Class Workshop, Be the Change Maker on May 10.

I walked into the office at 7:30 a.m. and found a mess.

Radical, half-baked creative ideas for a new client in the copying machine.

Upset people who felt they had been run over by domineering egos.

Expense charges that I hadn’t approved.

The most disruptive people in the firm had been up all night working, but many felt it was more of a frat-boy brainstorming party. Geez, Louise, this isn’t how we work around here.

As a young manager I knew that these team members were big-brain innovators, the kind that would help win clients and provide amazing new value to current clients.  But I had no idea how to manage them.

It was the most stressful period in my career. Probably for them, too. They wanted to do brilliant work, not be “managed.”  I wanted some sort of order and predictability.

What I learned from managing disruptive rebels

What I learned from my experience and co-writing the book, literally, on rebels (Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change From Within) is that these disruptive types are not a manager’s enemy or even necessarily a troublemaker. In fact, they may be our most valuable employees, helping us identify risks, solve problems, and create better ways to serve our customers and clients.

The second thing I learned is that many young, talented people coming into the workforce think that we as managers want new ideas.  They assume that part of their job responsibility is to find ways to improve things at work. Not take orders and obey rules. What they need from their manager differs from what we may have needed from our bosses 15 or more years ago. The world of work is being transformed.

That said, it can be exhausting to supervise someone who constantly generates ideas, asks questions, and challenges the way things operate. (And who occasionally gets angry and pissy when things aren’t changing fast enough.)

At the May 10 Center for Collaborative Leadership master class workshop, Be the Change MakerI’ll be helping talented people learn how to be more constructive Rebels at Work.  How to how to rock the boat without falling out, and do so in ways that feel inclusive and positive vs. defiant and negative.

8 things rebels need from their boss

Many managers like to take this workshop with their Rebels to learn how to be a better rebel boss and deepen their relationship in win-win ways.  But if you can’t come, here are eight things Rebels at Work want their boss to know:

  • We are not troublemakers. We’re motivated to make our organization better than it is.
  • We care more about work than most people. That’s why we’re willing to engage in controversy and be snubbed for pointing out the elephants in the room.
  • We need a work environment where it’s safe to disagree and ask questions that challenge the status quo.
  • Research shows that the more diverse a team’s mindsets and experiences, the smarter and more creative the team. We may not be like you and that is a good thing. Love our differences and quirks.
  • Challenge us. Give us the thorniest problems.  Let us prove that our “wild ideas” can work.  We want to be stretched, not do work as usual.
  • Don’t give us lip service. If one of our ideas isn’t important to our goals or it’s just too radical for the culture, tell us that, not something glib like, “there’s no budget or resources.”
  • Coach us on how to navigate organizational politics so we avoid making mistakes that could embarrass you and us.
  • Tell us what we’re doing right more than what we’re doing wrong.  Appreciation has been found to be the greatest sustainable motivator at work.  Give us more and we’ll move mountains for you.

Is it worth the effort?

People often ask whether managing a rebel is more work for a manager. Most definitely.

Is it worth the effort? Our research shows that rebels have the guts and courage to take risks amid uncertainty — and make tough decisions even when there’s a chance they’ll fail. These are the same characteristics as innovators and how many organizations define high performers.

The most surprising value of managing rebels, however, is that they push us to grow and become stronger leaders.

Being a manager of rebels was never easy for me and the business results were brilliant.  But if I had only known how to be a better manager of these creative and talented people, the work would have been so much more fun and meaningful for us all.

Please, learn from my mistakes – and send your Rebels to me on May 10. There will be a whole lot of learning and raucous fun.

To learn more about Lois, her points of views, and her workshops, check out and  She tweets under @LoisKelly and under @RebelsatWork with co-author Carmen Medina.

November 14, 2016
by Lisa DeAngelis
1 Comment

The Collaborative Leadership Model Offers A Pathway Forward

Addendum: For those looking for a tangible next step, a way to begin engaging in dialogue, I would strongly recommend your checking out this website designed by a Harvard Business School MBA student. This Washington Post article does a wonderful job explain the purpose of this initiative.

The universal tenets of the collaborative leadership model speak to the ability to act collaboratively, identify and rethink boundaries, build purposeful relationships and be a better leader and citizen. And, by definition, a democratic society is one in which individuals are treated equally and have equal rights.

One of the clear lessons that I think this election cycle has illuminated is the need for collaborative leadership. Individuals came out to the polls and, according to the political pundits, voted into office an individual who, for them, represented an upheaval to the existing system. A system that they believe offers them no voice and no representation in government. They chose, as Michael Moore shared, to use their vote to vocalize their discontent.

This radical departure from the status quo has left many unsettled as to what the future may hold for them, their families, their friends, their communities and their nation. I would submit that this is the time, as our President, President-Elect, and the Former Secretary of State have all called for, to come together; to engage in dialogue; to open the path to greater inclusivity.

This election has brought to the surface many biases, fears and beliefs, and while this country has endured significant upheavals throughout its history, I believe we stand at a precipice as a nation. The real opportunity lies in not turning our attention toward one group and our back to another, but in stepping back in order to encompass and include all. This is not easy as this involves being able to truly engage in dialogue; to listen to those whose views and experiences may radically differ from your own, and to do so from a place of seeking to understand rather than needing to be understood. To be clear, understanding does not mean that you need to agree with someone else’s point of view; rather, it is the act of deeply hearing them. And this is not the work of the President alone. The President, or any individual, cannot make this country great for every citizen alone. This election has shown us that we each have a voice, and that our voice matters. How powerful would it be if we used our voices to engage in dialogue, in civil discourse, recognizing that we cannot make this country better for ourselves at the expense of someone else?

For more than a decade, the Center for Collaborative Leadership has worked to inspire and challenge leaders in our region and beyond to act collaboratively, identify and rethink boundaries, build purposeful relationships, and be a better leader and citizen. We firmly believe in a collaborative leadership model that is a process built on teamwork, trust and respect for diversity of thought. The process enables people to lead while encouraging leadership in others.

The impact of collaborative leadership is that it provides a means to achieve far better results than any one leader can accomplish on their own. We are incredibly proud of our more than 600 alum who continue to work to bridge differences in an effort to address the issues we face. We at the center are committed to continuing to explore, expand, embody and imbue this view of leadership – for our communities, our region, our nation, and the world.

So many individuals are asking, ‘what can I do to?’ In the words of a good friend, I would recommend you consider a space for people to have their feelings, whatever they may be, and once they’ve been able to process their emotions, get to the business of participating in the democracy that was designed to facilitate participation of people with a variety of beliefs. I encourage you to engage in dialogue, in civil discourse, acknowledging the human being in front of you in an effort to find common ground and a path forward. This is the essence of collaborative leadership in a democratic society.

October 5, 2016
by Lisa DeAngelis

Four Ways to Develop a Strategy that Doesn’t Sit On the Shelf | By Greg Collins








This guest post is by Greg Collins of Collins Consulting. Greg focuses on both individual and organizational change as the means of delivering results and is leading the first in a series of master classes focused on change management. Register now for his November 2nd workshop, Creating and Implementing Strategy Amidst Change, which will be held at the Westin Copley in Boston.

As I prepare to lead the upcoming Master Class Workshop on Strategic and Organizational Change Management, I reread John Kotter’s 2012 HBR article “Accelerate.” His view that strategy is a “dynamic force that constantly seeks opportunities, identifies initiatives that will capitalize on them, and completes those initiatives swiftly and efficiently” is in lock step with the way I have approached strategy development and implementation over the last 20 years as both an operator and a consultant.

When I think about developing strategies that actually make a difference, these four components are essential:

  1. Start with purpose and vision: Why the organization exists and what the organization will look like at a specific point in the future
  2. Make sure the strategy development process is on-going, not episodic, and disciplined
  3. Be Inclusive: Include people at all levels throughout the organization
  4. Engage people’s hearts as well as their heads
  1. Start with Purpose and Vision:

Stephen Covey said, “Start with the end in mind” in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  The same statement is as relevant for organizations as it is for people.  When we think about organizations, “vision” is what we’re going to look like when we get there; “purpose” is why we felt it was worth bothering to get there in the first place.  Why start with purpose and vision?  Because they’re the anchors for strategy, and because they excite people– more on that topic toward the end of this blog.

As a friend once told me, “If we don’t know where we’re going, any train will get us there.“ It’s essential that we know where we’re going, our vision, before we start to think about how we’re going to get there.  And that’s what strategy is. It’s how we’re going to get to our destination, our vision, our desired future state.  The essence of strategy is making choices – do we take the train, bus, or Uber?

  1. Strategy Is Ongoing, Not Episodic:

Strategy, when done well, is a way of thinking that permeates an organization from top to bottom.  It’s a mindset that says, “There’s always a better way to do whatever it is we’re doing.”  Far too often, organizations – whether private sector, nonprofit, or government – approach strategy as an episodic obligation that once “completed” can be put on the shelf and revisited in a few years.   Strategic thinking is a continuous cycle, not a line with a beginning and an end.  And strategic thinking, like any discipline, follows a couple of rules:  it’s fact based and it questions everyone’s unquestioned assumptions.  If we use data, both qualitative and quantitative, challenge our assumptions and beliefs, and keep repeating that cycle – we’ll surprise ourselves with the strategic insights we generate.  And, looping back to the Kotter quote at the beginning of the blog, strategy is done continuously.

  1. Be Inclusive:

Adapting to change is the responsibility of the whole business, not just the top echelon.  Unfortunately, that’s not the way change is typically addressed in most organizations.  Responding to change and developing strategy are often the responsibility of an organization’s senior managers, who then delegate the implementation to those lower down in the organization.  And because the implementers weren’t involved in crafting the strategy, the first speed bump they hit generally causes the strategy to be put on the shelf while the organization reverts to what it’s most comfortable doing. To be effective, strategy development needs to include people from throughout the organization.  It’s essential that we collect and incorporate the knowledge and insights of people with multiple perspectives.

  1. Engage People’s Hearts as Well as Heads:

While inclusivity is important, there’s still one more step – engaging our colleagues’ hearts in addition to their heads. People want to know in their hearts that their input into the strategy matters and they want to feel that where they’re going matters too.  That last thought brings us back to the importance of purpose and vision that we talked about at the start of this blog.  It’s essential that we engage their hearts, their passion, and their spirit.  It’s the fire that comes from that level of engagement that enables us to overcome the inevitable roadblocks that we confront as we implement any strategy.

If you’re one of those people who, like me, believes that clear, compelling strategy that actually gets implemented, and actually delivers results is essential to thriving in this world of increasingly rapid change – please join me, ideally with a colleague or two, at the Master Class Workshop, Creating and Implementing Strategy Amidst Change on November 2nd.

August 31, 2016
by Lisa DeAngelis

If Change is Constant, Why do We Struggle with it?

change_wordsOn my way into the office this morning I listened to a Ted Radio Hour episode on Shifting Time. One segment in particular caught my attention. It was a segment with Cesar Kuriyama speaking about the work he has done recording one second every day* for the past several years. His purpose for beginning this project was to capture the memories of what had transpired, to be able to look at the video and remember all of the moments – big and small, happy and sad, that he had experienced.

My reaction to hearing about this was slightly different. I thought about the amazing ways that this could be used to help recognize and celebrate the constant evolution that we all experience – individually and collectively; in ourselves, our communities, our organizations. I believe that nothing is static, that as one interacts with the world around them, they are changed. As an example, I am not the same as the person who began writing this blog – or even as the person who took notice of the segment in the podcast itself. Simply through the act of reflecting on and writing about this topic, I have begun to change. So, if each of us and the world around us are constantly changing, then why do we spend so much time and energy resisting change?

Often the language we hear around change is “fear of the unknown” and “loss of what had been.” What if, instead, we saw change as an opportunity? As a way of discovering something new about ourselves or the world around us? I am not trying to whitewash change by making it sound as though all change is positive. As an HR professional, I’ve done my share of corporate restructures, where not only are organizational priorities and org charts recast, but where the impact of restructuring is felt by employees throughout the organization. I’ve taken two distinct lessons from these experiences.

  • First, organizations must continue to transform if they are to succeed.
  • Second, individuals who have helped the organization reach its current success may not be the same as those enabling the next metamorphosis; however, each of them will continue to progress along their own path of who they are becoming.

For both the organization and the individual, these shifts in direction can act as a catalyst to realize that change is an opportunity for renewal and reinvention.

This leads me back to my realization when listening to Mr. Kuriyama. We have no idea of what we can achieve. How might we feel differently about change, perhaps coming to embrace, leverage, even drive change if we simply pause and reflect on the cumulative effect of each ‘one second every day.’

This fall, the Center for Collaborative Leadership will offer Change Management Master Class workshops to support individuals and organizations in advancing leadership skills necessary in today’s workplace.

*This link is to the original TedTalk not the Ted Radio Hour segment that prompted this blog.

July 26, 2016
by Lisa DeAngelis

The Impact Of A Good Book


While many of you are rightfully enjoying fantastic summer reads, my beach reading this summer has consisted of titles such as, Leadership by James MacGregor Burns, Leadership BS by Jeffrey Pfeffer, and The End of Leadership by Barbara Kellerman. As you can plainly see, I am still very much immersed in my PhD studies. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about the concepts these authors are trying to convey, and the way that the concepts effect their readers. Each of the authors I mention above has had a significant impact not only on the leadership industry but also on organizations, and leaders, themselves.

How often does something we read cause us to see something in a new way; or offer us a different way to approach a situation we are faced with; or simply give us language to understand and explain what is going on around us? And, how often does a publication leave you wanting a bit more; wishing you could engage with the author themselves? Well, the center is helping to make that happen.

This year, our online training series will introduce you to six authors who have written books across a variety of leadership topics, such as building high functioning teams, to engaging and embracing those rebels in your workplace, to reflection on who you are (and where you’re headed) as a leader. These interactive sessions will allow you to dive a bit more deeply into the topic with the expert who has written about it. I’d encourage you to sign up for one, two, or all six. And, slip some of these titles into your reading list. You won’t regret it!

May 4, 2016
by Lisa DeAngelis

Why build purposeful relationships?


In a schedule packed with networking events, meetings, email and social media, who has time to think about building purposeful relationships?! How many times have you been somewhere, met someone, exchanged business cards and/or connected via LinkedIn, only to later look at their information with a blank stare asking yourself, “Who is this person? Where did we meet? Why did we connect?”

One of the tenets of the Center for Collaborative Leadership’s purpose statement is to inspire and challenge you to build purposeful relationships. Two questions that we often receive as a result of this statement are:

  • What is a purposeful relationship, and
  • Why does the center care?

A purposeful relationship is one where people benefit from knowing each other. I’m not talking here about the transactional, reciprocal, quid pro quo relationship where I do something because I expect that you’ll do something for me. Rather, I am talking about the deeper, more meaningful relationships where I do something for you because I can, and because I know that the parties involved will be better off for it.

These are the people that, when you are in a conversation with someone and they mention something, you instantly think, “I’ve got to introduce this person to so and so. The two of you need to know one another.” The benefit, for me, is that I am able to make that connection; that I am able to put people together who can further each others work, thinking, and – hopefully – good in the world. This leads to the second question, why does the center care?

Ultimately, the work of the center is to help develop better leaders and citizens. We believe that no effective leader, now or into the future, leads alone. The best leaders are those who are expansive and inclusive, who build purposeful relationships with those whose experiences and beliefs differ from their own. This allows them to challenge their own thinking and, ultimately, to be able to come to better solutions.

Building purposeful relationships takes effort. First, you need to be curious, to genuinely take an interest in the people you meet. You need to build trust, such that you will give thoughtful consideration when their insights differ from your own. And, finally, you’ll need to stay connected.

Staying connected isn’t all encompassing, but it is deliberate. Send them an article you’ve read that you think may be of interest to them; acknowledge their promotion/board work/other PR that you may learn about them; introduce them to someone with a common interest to theirs.

So, as you head to your next event, conference, meeting, etc., I invite you to re-think your strategy for ‘working the room.’

March 15, 2016
by Lisa DeAngelis

Happiness is Not a Finish Line


Whenever my schedule permits, I thoroughly enjoy listening to podcasts. One that I am particularly fond of is the TED Radio Hour. I recently listened to the segment entitled, “To Endure.” As usual, they had assembled three compelling speakers to share their stories of endurance. The segment that I want to focus on in this blog is that of Ben Saunders. For those who may have never heard of Ben, he is a polar explorer. In this particular TED talk he shares his experience trying to replicate the Scott Expedition to the South Pole (Scott was first to discover the South Pole). While the entire interview is well worth listening to, one learning of Saunders caught my attention. As he describes it,

“What this long walk taught me is that happiness is not a finish line.
If we cannot feel content on our journey’s,
amidst the mess and the striving that we all inhabit,
the open loops, the half-finished to-do lists,
the could-do-better-next-times,
then we might never feel it.”

While many of us may never embark on a polar expedition, we all have goals – some we set and some are set for us. Take a moment, think about a goal you’ve recently completed. For the purpose of this exercise, the goal itself is less relevant – whether it be hitting a revenue target, saving for something special, quitting smoking, or getting a promotion. My bet is that you had that momentary exhilaration of, YES, I DID IT! And then you reflected, perhaps a bit in awe, of your ability to actually make it happen. And, even if you fell short of the goal, as Saunders asserts he did in this expedition, you are still able to learn so much about the person you’ve become along the way.

To illustrate, let’s explore the example of getting a promotion. Whether or not you got the promotion, my bet is that you may have explored one or more of these trails on your ‘long walk,’ perhaps raised your hand to participate on high visibility project teams, offered to take on new responsibilities, trained others on the team, and showcased your accomplishments differently. And yet we become so focused on attaining the goal that we lose sight of all that we are learning about ourselves and the world around us, simply by making the effort. The gift of pausing along the walk and reflecting is that you are able to see how far you’ve come, how much you’ve learned, and how you may be changing because of the journey.

As Saunders’ story illustrates, the goal isn’t the finish line, it’s just a guide post on your journey. It’s about discovering more of your self; more of what you’re capable of; more of your potential. So, how will you identify and work toward goals that bring you closer to realizing your best self?

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