Sunday, June 18, 2006

Creating A Success Environment

I'm not a Car Racing Fan like a girlfriend of mine but spent one Sunday afternoon of my life watching the Indy 500. One of the drivers said over her headphones to her crew, "The track is coming to me. The track is coming to me!"

Having been a sports nut most of my life the phrase caught my attention. In basketball, a shooter gets "in the zone" or is "on fire". A baseball player will talk about the ball "looking huge"--like the ball is so big it can't be missed.

When running track one night, I remember feeling no pain, just floating. The running felt effortless. I was aware of the smell of the fresh hay, the orange and pink sunset glowed all around casting shadows across the football field. It was quiet. Peace rolled gently through me. Making the last turn, no monkey jumped on my back, no other runner intruded on my race. It was just me running as the world receded away.

The same experience happened while playing with a phenomenal orchestra. The piece the conductor chose was technically very difficult. She had busted on us for the week or two the music camp lasted. We were all playing our instruments six to eight hours a day. By the rehearsals, everyone was tired but "on". At the performance, we all just busted it. Pouring every ounce of energy into the piece the sum was definitely greater than the parts. Musicians who had struggled, pulled it off. Musicians who had been working it mechanically suddenly delivered a musicality that had been lacking. Music rushed from us like a roaring river. Amazing.

These experiences are transcendent and too often, rare. What are the magic ingredients that can recreate these successes? Abraham Maslow called them "peak experiences". Some people go their whole lives and never know one peak experience. I feel grateful to have had many--not the least of which was giving birth three times. Talk about losing track of time and place!

Is it possible in business, in adult life to enjoy these peak experiences? Yes. Here's how:

  1. Work hard--peak experiences don't happen for the unpracticed and undisciplined. Lot's of practice, hard work, breaking down the fundamentals and dedicated effort make supreme efforts look effortless. Michael Jordon worked out, shot baskets over and over. The fundamentals built into a body of work that when in motion looked effortless. That's an illusion. He worked hard to get there.
  2. Use your gift--peak experiences happen when you're doing what you love. I have yet to experience ecstasy cleaning a toilet. I wonder why. And yet, there is no doubt someone, somewhere (Martha Stewart or her even more anal daughter?) who doesn't just see a toilet but a noble piece of porcelain worthy of sweat and love. The person who loves and is gifted in the effort will more likely transcend the effort.
  3. Surrender--peak experiences don't happen when the pursuit is perfection of itself. The perfectionist who practices perfectly over and over and over must eventually let it go. The energy must be freed, the need for a specific outcome released. A certain amount of faith must be demonstrated: I have worked hard. I have practiced. I love this. I need to go out and "let it rip". Surrender.
These sweet successes don't happen in fearful environment. The athlete or musician or business leader or soldier or mother afraid of failing will never achieve a peak experience. All self-judgement, recrimination and condemnation must be left behind for the opportunity to present. Peak experiences only happen buoyed by love. And not just love of winning. The love has to be the thing itself. The doing must be intrinsically satisfying. The winning is secondary. It happens because of the love. Winning never causes the love.

Finally, some try to buy a peak experience. They try to end-around Chi, Energy, Love through drugs, alcohol, sex, falling in to romance. It is temporary. And then they need a fix. The "high" is addictive. It is fleeting and it exacts a toll on the person's mind and body, but most of all, his spirit. Zapped of strength, desperate for another "hit", disgusted with his or her own weakness, trapped in a need that cannot be met, attempting to get for free or with money what can only come by hard work, they suffer.

A true peak experience has no rebounding low. There is a conclusion, yes. A denoument. Exhaustion from a difficult or challenging task accomplished may be a result, but no low.

So create a success environment. Work hard. Use your gift. And surrender. Who knows what peak experiences are waiting for you.

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