March 18, 2015

Trouble in Elephantland.

Waylon birthday staff in Boulder
Trouble in Elephantland, Part II.

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” ~ Iain S. Thomas

Read Part I here.

How are you, people ask me around town. I’m a character around town, a longtime “big man on campus.” It’s a small town, so that’s not saying much.

I shrug. I raise my eyebrows, and squnch my mouth. It’s been rough, I say, with a smile. Like waking up and getting punched in the eyes, every day, for a week or two, now. It’s hard being a “boss,” I say. I never really wanted to be one. I wanted to build a big mindful independent web site. Big so that we could reach beyond our choir, beyond those who already agree with us. Independent so that we can have integrity, and not be focused on the bottomline, but make our money ethically, and pay our team well, and do all the little things with intention and transparency—little things that may not be valued by investors, but that, added all together, add up to a generally happy, hard-working, empowered, communicative team. “Mindful” so that we can talk about environmentalism, and veganism, and Buddhism, and other isms without getting caught up in being right, or others being wrong. “Mindful,” for me, means that we can talk about anything! With a sense of heart, and empathy, and humor, and transparency.

Well here’s some fucking transparency.

When I’m tired, and stressed, and I don’t sleep enough (I’ve worked 100 hours a week for 12 years, with few weekends or breaks, and through most of that time I hardly paid myself, and my house almost got foreclosed, and my horse done run oft, and my girl done left me…yadayada…I enjoyed the journey. Why? Because it had meaning, it was easy to get up in the morning. Because it was one of the few things I might be any good at, I persevered. Because it was important, others were magnetized to help. Because we were genuine, and open, it flourished over time, through many victories and many defeats.

But now we’re big. Just today, I read this heartbreaking yet inspiring story, and was moved to share it all over elephant. And overnight her fan page more than doubled, even tripled. And orders came pouring in from inspired elephant readers. That’s the kind of moment that makes all the frustration I described in part 1 worth it.

Because, ultimately, I didn’t start this so I could have a big staff or be a big boss. I’m no good at it. I started this so that we could share the good word about the mindful life beyond the choir to all those who didn’t yet know they gave a care about yoga, organics, sustainability, education, arts, wellness, social good, bicycling, climbing, reading, etc…the endless list of small joys that makes up a more enlightened society.

But now I find myself at an impasse. How do we continue to grow, and hire, yet keep that sense of integrity and humor? The answer is all about training. If I and the other more experienced elephants enjoy training our newer colleagues, we can then let go.

A few mindful business lessons I’ve learned the hard way:

> Drive all blames into one. Accept responsibility. It’s magic—the game of blame is fruitless and drama-ful. This works in relationships, too. Last week I spent half my hours meeting one-on-one (mostly) with offended friend/colleagues and repairing situations. Whether it was my fault or no didn’t matter: the healing was the thing. Someone has to be the first to give an inch so, together, we can dig out of our hole. Being a boss is unforgiving: so is growing up.

> Touch in, and go out. An employee needs to first touch in—communication, learn. Then, they can go out and do in their own fun way—that’s the micro-management-free, entrepreneurial aspect of working as a team.

> Mentors. Find advisors, ministers, elders, friends to talk with who have perspective. The less bias they have about the situation, the better: otherwise we’re just finding a rosy mirror, a sychophant to echo our mistakes into empathetic storylines.

> Aim high—but focus, too. As they say in Buddhism, “Prevent too many activities.”

There’s a lot of romance around aiming high in business culture, and life generally:

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” ~ Michelangelo Buonarroti

But protecting oneself from one’s own ambitions and others’ ambitions is equally important.

“I have a limited intelligence and I’ve used it in a particular direction.” ~ Richard P. Feynman

> That last point—that others around us have their own insecurities and aggressions—is a vital point. Not to get all Godfather here, but cultivating “Consiglieres” in our lives is vital. Trust friends and advisors who do not agree with you, but who care about you.

> If you find yourself working with (or loving) friends or colleagues who make you feel lonelier than if you were alone, feel that loneliness. No need to fix anything, yet. First, take a bath. Or exercise. Or walk or bicycle instead of commuting as much as possible. Get outside—go for a hike. Breathe. Eat some real food.

Take care of yourself, leaders. No one else can do it for you. Please let me know here (in comments) if you have any advice for elephant or your fellow readers.


Read Part I here.

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