overthinking the human condition on a friday morning

Two of the most powerful human emotions are fear and hope. Interestingly, they are both future focused. Fear and hope are always about situations that might not exist or events that have not yet played out.

Pain and pleasure are the two great motivators. Whether we’re talking about the physical, emotional, or spiritual, us humans are always trying to organize our lives to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. Paradoxically, the choices and actions that create near-term/immediate pleasure often lead to long-term/future pain. And vice versa.

Pessimism and optimism are the filters and philosophies through which we take in and interpret data. Pessimism seems to focus on fear and pain while optimism concentrates on hope and pleasure. Pessimists tend to see pleasure as fleeting and temporary. Optimists view pleasure as the natural state, pain as a brief interruption. Fortunately, both approaches are useful.

Fear and a healthy desire to avoid pain helps keep us from making terminally stupid decisions. It drives us to plan ahead and save for the rainy days. Hope and a healthy belief that “this too shall pass” and tomorrow will be better than today has kept us moving forward through some really bleak, horrible, and desperate times. It is the inspiration and vision of tomorrow that keeps us going when things get overwhelmingly, crushingly bad.

Yet, pushed too far, both are crippling. Pessimism can convince us to never try, never strive, always suspect, always fear. The world looms big and we see everything both beyond our control and against us. Optimism can convince us we can do anything, to jump and leap without thought, preparation, or contingencies. We see everything and everyone as good: we trust those we shouldn’t and take on responsibilities we can’t handle. When we make blatantly irrational decisions, one of these mindsets has a bigger hold on us than it should.

Fear/pain/pessimism and hope/pleasure/optimism are hardwired into us for survival – it’s a part of the human condition and always operating in the background. It is so constant that it’s easy to overlook, to forget about, to think that us humans are now too sophisticated for such primitive drives. Yet, when we look for it, it’s pretty easy to see how fear/pain/pessimism and hope/pleasure/optimism shows up in business and our daily lives. Every product or service advertised, everything you’ve ever purchased, every career choice you’ve ever made has been out of fear of pain or hope of pleasure – likely both.

Ok, I’m not a psychologist – these are just observations and ideas I’ve picked up over the years. I don’t know for sure that it’s true or not. But if it’s true, how does that change how you sell, lead, dream, or decide? If it’s always there whether we give it’s due or not, how can you use it to your advantage to improve your communication, inspire others, and get out of your own way to play bigger?

year end unreflections

Year end is a time for reflecting, reminiscing, and summing up. I don’t know what kind of year you had, but I hope:

You learned something about yourself that had been holding you back.

You shared more of your true self than ever before.

The people in your life are better because of you.

You have the pride and satisfaction of digging deeper within than you thought possible.

You chose happiness despite, not because of, your circumstances.

You were challenged in new ways, pushing you sickeningly beyond your comfort zone.

You lived – truly lived – a new year and not just repeated the same year you’ve been living for a decade.

You had the torment of having to choose between too many options rather than not enough.

Your children or friends overcame their challenges, not because of the help you gave in the moment, but because of the lessons you taught them in the past.

You learned to give up on the idea of control and put your heart into communication and influence.

You intentionally tried at least one thing that terrified you.

You got to connect with and meet a rockstar in your field. And you discovered they were just as human and real as you.

The family, friends, peers, and colleagues you have surrounded yourself with push you and challenge you and inspire you.

You gave your absolute best, failed, and created even better from the ashes.

You found or deepened your passion for something, anything.

You have more and better relationships today than you did 365 days ago.

You shed a bit more of the fear of being authentically, vulnerably, powerfully you.

You left the comfort of being a victim and took on the unyielding double-edge of full responsibility.

You discovered you fear the certainty of the way life was far more than the unknown of the future-now.

It’s an uncertain world and, as much as we try to convince ourselves otherwise, there are no guarantees. Natural disaster, disease, loonies, poor decisions, and freak accidents conspire to remove us from the planet before we think our work is done.

Our choice, our obligation, is to live, learn, and move forward with all our heart, soul, and sloppy-messy humanity. What other choice is there? What other obligation more noble?

I hope that all the pain, joy, challenges, learning, fear, laughter, tears, and acts of courage in 2012 have positioned you to do more, to be better, to play bigger in 2013.

Celebrate and rest well tonight my friends for there is significant work to be done tomorrow!


Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone. ~ Pablo Picasso