You’re sitting shoulder to shoulder with a dozen friends, crammed into the small fuselage of a quick and nimble aircraft. A glance over your shoulder reveals some of the most spectacular vistas ever, something those who have flown coast to coast across the United States have likely seen from even higher. It’s a sight to behold, let me tell you!
The plan is to reach jump altitude as we traverse from north to south along a stretch of canyon carved out by the Colorado River about a 25 minute drive east of Arches National Park. The landscape is breathtaking, truly unlike anything you’ve ever previously experienced.
The green light goes on, and the door is opened. With a quick shift of your body, positioning yourself directly into the line of flight of the aircraft, you lightly leap softly into the abyss. A few seconds pass, as you glance up and watch yourself drop away from the plane. You toss your pilot chute into the whipping wind and in a moment, you feel that familiar feeling of being pulled into a sitting position, the fluttering of your opening parachute above your head. And in an instant, everything is silent…wonderfully silent. It’s just you, completely alone 5,500 feet above the slowly winding Colorado River, your only companion the towering mesas and pockmarked canyon walls through which you’ll be slowly descending.
It’s hardly a setting that most people imagine when asked about their “happy place,” a place of reflection and relaxation in which all other challenges of a “life well spent” fade away for a few minute’s time. And for me, it’s not the only “reflection” space, to be sure. There have been solitary times spent on the Great Sand Dunes of southern Colorado, just me, my tent, and the stars. There are even more frequent evenings spent sitting around a crackling fire in my backyard, just sitting and contemplating.
The importance of finding a place for true reflection, and actually going to that place (or places) on a regular basis, shouldn’t be undervalued. Establishing and maintaining a reflective practice is critical for any leader. Yet, it remains one of the most elusive and underutilized aspects of leadership development programming in our fast-paced, distraction-laden workplaces and individual careers. So, I would like each of us to take some time today for semi-reflection (i.e., a thoughtful pause even where extended pondering may not be possible). And ask yourself the following questions:
1. When was the last time I really reflected on personal or career-oriented issues, e.g., leadership (developing ourselves or others), career direction, personal development, work-passion balance?
You may be surprised to realize how long it’s been since you truly sat and pondered your life or your career. Oh sure, there are momentary thoughts about these things that flit into our minds on a daily basis. But I mean really reflected on things…too often in the hustle and bustle of everyday lives, it’s the reflective practices that get pushed out and deprioritized. “I’ll get around to that later…right now I need to (fill in the blank)!”
2. What would my ideal setting for quiet, uninterrupted, solitary reflection look like?
We all have different personalities and different ways of relaxing and getting into a reflective mindset. You have to figure out what works for you. Experiment with different ideas and settings. Perhaps a walk around the pond near your office gets you into that contemplative mood. Maybe it’s simply dimming the lights and listening to Vivaldi in your home office (or Metallica in your man-cave). But find it, we must!
3. What barriers exist to establishing a regular 30 minutes a week of personal reflection?
Let’s face it. We all have barriers to reflection. The kids have soccer and baseball games. There are chores piling up on your “honey-do” list at home. Your list of operational tasks at the office is never-ending. But the first step in overcoming barriers is realizing what the barriers are. After all, if you don’t have a clear picture of what you’re facing, how can you possibly address the hurdles that get in your way?
4. How will I overcome such barriers to actually make it happen?
This is the fun part, the problem-solving phase of figuring out how to circumnavigate or at least mitigate one’s personal barriers. Do I need to calendar time for active reflection to ensure it doesn’t get bypassed by other meetings? Can I enlist others in carving out time for contemplation and reflection, to hold distractions at bay? Should I attempt my reflection in the office, or will it only work for me outside of work hours? (Incidentally, your coach can be a tremendous help in working through the barrier mitigation strategies!)
What works for me may not (likely, will not) work for you. Your own reflective practice may not involve skydiving, solo treks in the wilderness, or a glass of wine by the backyard fire table. Yours may be found simply in your office, the door closed and lights dimmed (but somehow managing to avoid the often inevitable interactions that occur there). For you, perhaps taking a 30-minute drive down a country road might work, or with a cup of java at your local coffee shop.
There’s no set prescription for how or where you reflect…and I mean really reflect. The only requirement is that you simply do it, wherever, however, and regularly, eventually becoming habitual! Establishing reflection as a critical (perhaps the most critical) part of your development as a leader will pay dividends in your self-awareness, your ability to anticipate changes and challenges in your roles, and will make you more effective overall in your everyday tasks. Sometimes, taking a step back to breath and think is just what is needed to press onward, even when time feels it is slipping away. Reflect, reflect, reflect!
So, take some time this week to sit down and think through these questions. Make a plan for building in reflection into your week. And then work your plan!