Growing up on a farm, my big brother, Lee, and I filled our days playing with cows and horses, riding our dirt bike, fishing tadpoles out of the creek, and making forts from hay bales that filled our big red barn…the structures soon to became territory for our slingshot battle. The fact that neither of us is blind today truly is a miracle.
As thrilling as all these activities were, they paled in comparison to the work we did in the treetops. If we were to account for our total childhood handy work, we’d have a considerable tree house village! We could make an entire lumber pile and 500 nails disappear in a day or two. In the summers, we practically lived in our rickety tree dwellings, carving our names in the thick branches and telling stories, all with our Daisy BB guns never far from our sides.
When I think about what matters most to me today – things like nature, adventure, creativity, and freedom – it takes me back to my childhood and how much those experiences have shaped who I’ve become. I’m thankful for parents who gave us this beautiful space and so much freedom to explore and play. When I consider all the risky things we did, it gives me proof that kids are surrounded by a pack of angels! I mean, in this photo, we’re about to jump a stack of concrete cinder blocks with a ramp built of plywood and 2X4s and I’m riding that dirt bike in shorts and am barefoot!
I feel these values alive in me today – mostly in my spirit and essence in how I show up in life and work, and in the particulars of my behaviors and decisions. For example, even though I live in the city now, I’m never too far from the woods, a stream, or a trail. My windows are open to feel the breeze and hear all the sounds of nature. Although my “farm” animals now are Hendrix and Fred, my Labrador and Beagle, I love a horseback ride whenever I get the chance. And three years ago, I bought a Triumph motorcycle. I love my riding and camping adventures. It’s through these experiences that I’m most fulfilled.
How have your roots shaped who you are today?
Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, and coach, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation.
I’m sitting on my back porch today enjoying lunch surrounded by what sounds like a tropical aviary – ahhh, the benefits of a home office. I brought with me some rich lunchtime reading material, “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon, one of my all-time favorite books.
I randomly flip it open to the section “Practice Productive Procrastination.” I swear it’s true! (Just two days ago I posted a blog piece on being frustrated with my procrastination.) This, naturally, piqued my interest…giving me hope and maybe validation in support of a personally plaguing condition.
“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” – Jessica Hische
Ok. I’m really not sure I can convince my husband that I should sit daydreaming all day long. “Trust me, baby, it’s good for my business.” Or go trail running and never come back. Or curl up in the hammock with my Labrador, Hendrix. “Bye honey. Have a good day! – hours pass – Back already? Wow, I’ve had a great day, how about you?” That would go over splendidly in my house.
Austin offers up “It’s the side projects that really take off. By side projects I mean the stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff. That’s when the magic happens.”
I completely relate.
When I started my business four years ago, that’s how it began. I just started doing the kind of work that I love to do – the kind of things I would do whether I got paid or not. And at first, I didn’t – offering my services pro bono to a key organization or two. Before long, my business pipeline was full (yes, with paying clients), and I’ve never looked back.
I’ve since sharpened the focus of my work, honing my niche and services more and more around what feels ideal and fun for me. For it’s in this space that I’m my most true, authentic self. And I am concerned far less with what others think, how ‘perfect’ the result is, or how ‘good I am.’ Here, I lead with natural instincts and tap into my skills, strengths, and passion. Isn’t that what play is?
This sounds so simple and straightforward. But its simplicity is its complexity. Every day, I have to be conscious and purposeful with this, otherwise I can get ‘wrapped’ quickly. Client priorities and deadlines build tension. I over-think and analyze things. I work and drive too hard.
To help combat that tendency, I have a few ‘structures’ and people who help hold me accountable to play, fun, and creativity…to procrastinating and finding joy in those side projects and hobbies. For example, I keep my guitar in my office. Part of my desk is covered with art supplies and funky objects that inspire me. I’ll spontaneously go for a run or workout. My son is a great instigator too and has been known to drag me out to play basketball mid-day.
It’s been said, “When I get busy, I get stupid.” Isn’t that the truth! When I find myself in overdrive, my performance actually goes down. I make careless mistakes. I send emails I wish I never sent.
Can you relate?
I was on a trail walk the other day with my daughter and she commented that it was boring. I smiled and thought to myself, “Exactly. It’s boring. That’s what is so beautiful about it.” For me, getting in the woods – and doing anything – is a complete escape. I take in the smells, sounds, textures, the peace. And it becomes a meditation…melting tensions, dissolving barriers, and creating flow. Boring? Bring it.
As Austin says, “Take time to mess around. Get lost. Wander. You never know where it’s going to lead you.”
So, let us hear about your wandering and wondering. How do you practice productive procrastination?
photo credit: pennstatenews via photopin cc
Have you ever dreamt of taking time off? I’m not talking about just a week’s vacation, but longer – a month, two months, six months, a year? What would it be like to wake up at your own pace, spend the day doing exactly as you please, and sleep like a baby through the night? Sounds blissful, doesn’t it?
For me, time off had always been postponed indefinitely to ‘someday’ until November 23, 2009. I had arrived at a sense of completion with my tenure as President & CEO of the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro (a post I held for nearly seven years), having achieved the goals I had set for the organization: debt elimination, significant revenue growth, focusing of organizational priorities, creating a new business model, and shoring up board and staff leadership. I knew the moment was right for me to depart, unplug, and give my careful thought and energy to shaping what came next.
It was then that I began a one-year sabbatical – a luxury of time and space to hit the pause button, play, explore some creative pursuits, and see what possibilities would emerge.
Before I left the UAC, a good friend of mine offered some sage advice. It began with a question, “So, what are you going to do the day after…when you wake up and you’re not President of the UAC?” she queried. Then she continued, “You’ve been with the organization for twelve years. It’s a consuming, very public and high profile position.” It was true. I always felt ‘on,’ the work absorbing every available moment of time like water rushing over rocks, filling every crevice. And I had loved it. I silently realized that her question more specifically was “had I become the role?”
I let this question marinate a bit in my mind. “I don’t think I am the role,” I thought. “I surely hope I’m not.” But it did make me think. And it did make me a little more planful, especially with the first few weeks of my time off…if only to avoid the potential meltdown (or ‘breakdown’) that my friends worried about.
I can say that the initial transition was a non-event; it was just fine, even great. I woke up that first morning and treated it like the beginning of a lengthy vacation that it was. I stayed in my PJs all day…maybe even all week. I really don’t remember. What I do remember is that I knew immediately I was not ‘The Role’. I never – not once – looked back or felt any remorse. It was so reassuring and validating for me to realize that the time truly had been right for me to leave the UAC. I was indeed satisfied with what I had set out to do for the organization, and I had reached my professional goals.
I began to know then what I have now tested and proven to myself: It’s okay to slow down. I needed time to just be. We all do. To be still, to think, pay attention, be aware, actually stop and notice things. Anything. Everything. To look at people – really see them. To sit down and enjoy a meal – savor it. Read a magazine – every page cover to cover. Breathe. Do you ever pause to notice your breathing? Ever catch yourself taking those short, shallow breaths? Or maybe even wonder if you’re hardly breathing at all?
Like all those work goals I had targeted and endless to-do lists, I prepared and approached my sabbatical in the same purposeful way. But I was careful about it. I avoided the tendency to try to do too much…thanks to lots of coaching by family and friends. They knew me. My list was whittled down from 63 to 48, then 12 and finally about six items. After these early adjustments, I avoided the “do everything you ever wanted to do but hadn’t had the time to do” approach and set out to explore these priorities.
I had this bookshelf filled with books ‘collected’ to read one day. Well, one day was now today. It felt so good to stand in front of those books stacked to the ceiling and make my first selection. It felt even better to give myself permission to read…all day long, every day for a week or longer. To get into the flow and stay there for a while. Now that is living slow! It also fulfilled a “journey of the mind,” so to speak, to explore and learn new things.
All the “white space” on my calendar gave me time to tune in to personal health and wellness; while this had been a focus, I now had newfound time and energy to devote to it. I began running about three years ago, in 2008, participating in a few 5k events and built up to 10k’s the following year. Now, in January 2010, I decided I would train for a half marathon – only now, I didn’t have to work in my runs between sundown and sunup. I hardly knew what it was like to run in the daylight. This would require more planning. My bed head definitely would have to be tamed. And now, I could even relax and enjoy a cup of coffee before heading out. I was used to gulping it down as I raced to the shower then dashed out the door to work. Ultimately, I ran two half marathons that year and continue it today.
Days, weeks, and months were filled with these interests and others – writing, playing guitar, painting, and spending time with friends – relationships for which had previously been pressed short, squeezed out, or simply not possible with the once-hectic pace. I learned so much during the year, not even remotely limited to:
Become a student again. It felt so good once again to approach learning new things (painting for example) like a five-year-old. It was fresh, freeing, exhilarating. And I could relax, listen, and absorb myself into the experiment without being concerned if the outcome was right or wrong, good or bad.
Immerse yourself in the moment. Often, life is consumed by such intensity and pace that you seldom enjoy a moment for what it is. In playing the guitar, I relished the learning experience, and I began to hear music like I’ve never heard music before. Now, when I listen to a song, I enjoy it not only for the whole, but also for all the different parts and what they specifically contribute. Similarly, in learning to paint, I see – really see – all the dynamics of a piece: Where’s the light? Where does it come from? What’s in the background, foreground, and the layers in between? What tools were used to create the piece? What mood or tone do you interpret? It has affected how I view everything in my everyday. I literally feel like the Vaseline has been cleared from my windshield.
Live fearlessly. Much of my play and creative exploration over the year, like life, provided me with second, third, fourth chances. As with painting, ‘paint is only paint.’ If you don’t like it, take a do-over and just paint over it. Simple things like this reminded me to give myself permission, take a leap, and fear less.
Present your true authentic self. In her book What Would You Do If You Had No Fear, Diane Conway writes, “If I be you, who’ll be me?” My time off has helped me gain greater awareness and a truer sense of self. In our careers, we spend so much time answering to a boss and working with groups and teams that we can lose site of who we are – our true voice – in trying to please others.
Having had this rich sabbatical, I’ll plan for another one in my future, perhaps five, ten years from now. In talking with others who’ve had similar experiences, I believe that there is a great void in the American workplace for this practice. And it’s a hugely missed opportunity for re-energizing and re-engaging an organization’s greatest asset – its human capital.
Time off can take many forms and be for varying lengths of time. People can take a break for a few weeks or more extended periods of time, hours can be shortened, and employees can job-share, work from home, or take an intra-company transfer to a different post/division. The important thing is to discover what is right for you and commit to taking time off. My advice is to approach the idea as if it were your next biggest project: pick a date, plan for it, think through your approach and how you’ll spend your time, and allow the process and your experience to shape and inspire you.
My sabbatical was an opportunity to unplug, pause, and live slow. Through it all, I realized that the sky wouldn’t fall. And not only that, but also the playful, creative process ultimately ‘woke up’ cells that had been asleep for a very long time and ‘birthed’ new ones that felt fresh, alive, and infused with energy and enthusiasm. I gained clarity around my unique assets, particular passions, and the importance of flexibility, autonomy, and overall quality of life. Ultimately, it sparked my internal entrepreneur, and I launched a new business focused on helping individuals and organizations develop, navigate change, and realize their greatest capacity.