Personal Growth

The Inner Work

As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.

 Anthony Bourdain

I am enjoying lunch in my neighborhood coffee shop, and if it doesn’t start raining I am going to head down for a walk by the Mississippi River. It’s the perfect midday break in the action and a good time to pause for a little reflection. This is the first week in 2018 that I don’t have scheduled travel for business. It’s good to be home for a few days. I know the way of the road warrior comes with a cost, and some significant health risks.

The more time you spend on the road, the more you are at risk for obesity, alcohol abuse, depression and other health problems, according to research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. I heed that warning seriously. I exercise five times a week, watch my diet closely on the road and, upon returning home, put effort into maintaining meaningful connections. I didn’t always do the connection part so well. Turns out that making connections that count really matters.

On my trip home last week, I finally cracked the April issue of Psychology Today, where the cover story focused on “The Loneliness Cure.” According to the research, roughly 40 percent of Americans reported regularly feeling lonely in 2010, up from about 20 percent in the late 1980s. In the constantly connected world we live in today, it’s still easy to feel disconnected and lonely at times. When those feelings are chronic, it can cause real problems.

Chronic loneliness harms us. It’s characterized by feelings of worthlessness, emptiness and a lack of control, and it literally makes us susceptible to illness. It can exacerbate depression, anxiety — and even bring up anger.

Over the past week, I’ve had a number of open conversations about mental health and depression. The sudden and tragic loss of cultural icons Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain prompted the dialogue, and it seems very clear we need to move toward a better understanding of issues related to mental health. I’ve also considered my own approach to countering the effects of a life lived largely on the road, and the effect my own feelings of loneliness might have over time.

Loneliness can be deadly. “Insufficient social connection” is a larger risk factor than obesity in premature death, and is nearly equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, according to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University and one of the leading figures in loneliness research. And, she says, the epidemic is only getting worse.

Knowing those risks means I know that I have to take actionable steps to combat them. Talking about it helps. So does creating some needed separation from work. There is a psychological cost to building a business, and too many entrepreneurs struggle silently. Doing “inner work” and working on my own self-concept while simultaneously doing work that I am proud of has been one of the best adjustments I’ve made on my own journey.

Self-concept is your relationship with yourself. It shapes how you see and experience the world, fuels your belief system and defines your ability to connect with others. When you elevate your self-concept and embrace self-awareness, self-compassion and self-love, you can elevate the quality of your life.

That is precisely why I’m heading off the grid for few days at the end of this week. It’s time to check out — and check back in with myself. Doing a digital detox and a personal-growth retreat can be a great help, but also might not seem realistic for everyone. Additionally, I also know that it’s optimal when inner work is part of my daily routine, as opposed to only getting attention during the occasional moment of pause.

Growth requires change. Change requires consistent effort. It’s a process. Ideally, my process includes both “doing” and simply “being” built into each day. It’s easy to get sucked into an obsessive focus on the doing. When I do that, I also can feel out of balance. That is why I try and maintain a focus on the following:

Self-Care – The way I have learned to think about self-care is simply being kind to my future self. My morning routine and other daily rituals help safeguard some time to focus on both my physical and mental health. Right now, I am reading “Own The Day, Own Your Life,” which essentially serves as an owners manual for human optimization and performance. I am constantly tweaking and improving. I am already sleeping and eating better — while still trying to work ice-cold showers into my morning routine. I know that it’s hard to show up as the best version of myself in the service of others if I am not sound in mind and body. Time for self-care counts and gets protected!

Face Time – Two weeks ago, I found myself rolling into Chicago on a Wednesday afternoon, and it had absolutely nothing to do with work. Too much time had passed since my brother and I had logged a little face time together, so we simply scheduled a Chicago rally for dinner and a U2 concert. I call that a deposit into the relationship bank, and for those precious, important relationships in our life, they matter. Texting, social media, skype and phone calls certainly help, but for me personally, nothing is as important to me as face time with the people that count the most. It leaves you feeling fulfilled in a way that Facebook simply cannot.

Creating Community – There is something special about an old friend. I treasure my most trusted friendships. But collecting a few new friends on your journey is invaluable, even for the very experience of what cultivating a new, meaningful relationship teaches us. It’s a little work, especially for those of us not expressly extroverted, but I also know it’s worth it. The ability to insert ourselves into communities of like-minded people with shared interests is a gift. For my Mom, that means painting classes. For me, it’s probably a personal-growth or fitness experience. For you, it could be something entirely different — but finding a purpose-driven tribe you can connect with is essential to balance and well-being.

Paying Attention – I’ve learned how to pay much closer attention to how I am feeling. Having a safe place to express those feelings and receive unconditional love, support and perspective is an essential part of healing, cultivating hope and staying healthy. For years, I have championed the idea of staying in the learning lane to accelerate career and entrepreneurial success. I’ve always worked with a business coach. Gaining the value, perspective and wisdom of a life coach is a more recent endeavor, but one that I’ve found to be incredibly beneficial. It should come as no surprise that this investment has also had a very positive impact on my approach to business. They go hand in hand. Everyone needs a place to safely express their thoughts and feelings. Working through and understanding them is doing the “inner work.”

When things fall apart or fear is driving, we often default to our old habits and patterns, even when they don’t necessarily serve us well. Compounded over time, that can cause us to struggle and suffer a great deal. The good news is that we aren’t our patterns or decisions. We are so much more. We also have the power to course-correct our direction when we get off track, and at any time.

I’m going to keep pushing myself toward growth in an effort to be kind to my future self. The real gift isn’t arriving at the destination; it’s who we become in the process.