Twice every year, in spring and fall - usually about the time the clocks are springing forward or falling back - my thoughts turn to purging. Not the all-out bodily purges some people go in for (although those may have their merits, too), but the kind of cleaning up and cleaning out that a change of season seems to warrant. For some weeks now, as temperatures drop and days shorten, an almost instinctual need for nesting, comfort, and along with that, order in our lives, has come to many of us. I like to think this is an aspect of our biological beings, a reminder of our connection to the natural world, at a time of the year when the animals are preparing for the long, cold winter months.
For me, anyway, this nesting instinct calls for a lightening of the load, and that's what I mean by purging. Getting rid of excess "stuff" before settling in - physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. I usually start with the physical, with cleaning out closets, the garage, the basement, and yes, even my office. Out goes all the detritus of the last half-or-so year. How it all accumulates is a mystery to me, but accumulate it does, especially paper, large stacks of it. I like the satisfying thud of piles of paper, notebooks, magazines, catalogues as they hit the bottom of the recycling bin.
The physical environment influences my thoughts and moods from season to season as well. I move through the house like an editor with a red pen, removing all the things that have crept in and are spoiling the view, detracting from the simple beauty of home and office that is so important to maintaining a sense of calm and presence. To me, that's the essence of home, and my workspace, too; it's a place where I can find refuge from the overwhelming busyness and turbulence of the outside world.
The mental purge follows from the physical, so once the space is swept clean, I find myself wanting to clear my mind in a variety of ways. This is the time of year, before the holidays beset us, when I like to reaffirm a practice of pausing, usually through meditation, to help build the mental muscle to stay clear and focused. There are probably as many ways to pause as there are people who practice pausing, and I like to vary my own practice as well. Sometimes a quiet seated meditation, sometimes a guided meditation, sometimes a long walk by the water or in the woods - they all serve the same purpose, to empty out the mind of all the chatter and background noise - the equivalent of all that "stuff" that came out of my closets.
An emotional purge is somewhat more delicate, and I like to think of it as a lightening up or a letting go of feelings and moods that can only add to the darkness of the winter months ahead. Although I'm not afflicted with "SAD" - seasonal affective disorder - many people are, to varying degrees, including some close to me, and so I think this kind of emotional housecleaning is good preparation for dealing with some of the low moods the season can bring on. It's a good time to reflect on what emotions you're hanging onto that are keeping you off-balance, and what relationships you want to set right with the turn of a new season.
Finally, a spiritual purge might be in order, too, and by spiritual I mean whatever it is that gives you meaning in your life and in your work, and in your world. Do you need to get quiet in order to reset your personal priorities? What's been getting in the way of achieving your most important goals? What will it take for you to live the life you really want? How can you find and sustain balance and lightness as you move through the world in the dark season ahead? How will you connect with your own deepest sources of meaning in the midst of the holiday distractions of the next couple of months?
I'd prescribe the purge for just about anyone, but I do think it's especially important for busy, overworked, and overburdened leaders who tend to take on all these dimensions of life in the organizations they lead. It's a lot like what the flight attendants tell you just before takeoff - put your own oxygen mask on before you try to help others with theirs. If you, as a leader, don't have the capacity for clear and focused thinking, or emotional balance, or physical and spiritual health, you won't be of much assistance to the people who are depending on you for your leadership in difficult times.
What do you do to lighten the load at this time of year? A coach can support you in designing and doing it. Let's talk. Call (410)626-6008, or email email@example.com.
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The Why of Work, by Dave Ulrich and Wendy Ulrich. What I like about it: In a time when job insecurity seems to rule people's lives, it's still good to be asking the questions about what makes work meaningful and what makes people happy at work. The authors want to help leaders create "abundant" organizations where meaning, purpose, hope and pleasure both empower people and create value for customers and investors.
Executive Coach, Strategy Consultant
Principal, Bloomfield Associates
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"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials."
-- Lin Yutang
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