Q1 Review: Reflections on Leadership & Business, Contemplative Practice, and Personal Life
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Apart from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been a great year. As I look back over the past few months, I’m proud of all that was accomplished personally and professionally, and the future has never looked brighter. Over the past few months, in an effort to better organize my day and stay aligned with my values, I give due consideration to three primary facets of my life: (1) contemplative practices, (2) leadership and business, and (3) personal life and relationships. Having used this framework for daily planning, I chose to reflect on the first quarter of 2020 in a similar manner.
Leadership & Business
This year my focus has been on leading as opposed to managing, which has paid off. Being more in tune with others' needs, I've been able to provide inspiration and motivation during the COVID-19 related uncertainty. The main distinction I make between leading and managing is simple: leadership is about looking into the future and developing a vision; management is making sure that the necessary steps are taken to make the vision a reality. Relinquishing the need to control details allows me to focus on crafting and effectively communicating a compelling vision to my team.
Focusing on Context not Content: Context focused leadership is a major theme for me. This mental model stems from my contemplative practices. In meditation and nondual practices, you learn not to identify with the ever changing phenomena within awareness but to abide in the awareness itself. How does that relate to leading a company? I am no longer trying to manage and control projects and deliverables (the content of work). Instead, I’m focused on the context of work -- the culture, the individual relationships, the resources, and the training which is the background on which the content of work rests. An organization consists of people, policies, procedures, projects, etc. -- those can be thought of as ornaments. It’s a leader’s job to focus on the latticework where the ornaments are arranged. In other words it is focusing on the background or context in which all the ornaments must hang.
Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries: It’s given me a new mental model for approaching business innovation (s-type and p-type). This has been useful as I analyze strategic initiatives for Green Hill. In the context of mental and behavioral health, a p-type loonshot could be the use of ketamine and psychedelics for treating chronic depression and addiction. On the other hand, an s-type loonshot could be developing a business model in which real estate is a core asset for a healthcare company. Maybe you could develop health care delivery system which serves as a loss leader for a company that profits in real estate. Here’s a good summary of Loonshots.
The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts: This is the first in a series of books that Shane Parrish, the creator of the Farnam Street Blog, is writing. The Great Mental Models covers nine of the most ubiquitous models employed: the map is not the territory, circle of competence, first principles thinking, thought experiment, second-order thinking, probabilistic thinking, inversion, Occam’s razor, and Hanlon’s razor. While most of the models are second hand to me, I was introduced to the concept of inversion, which has been extremely beneficial in my decision making at work.
Inversion: can be thought of as reverse engineering a problem. Instead of thinking about the steps you need to take from start to finish, you begin with the end in mind. There are two approaches to inversion: (1) start by assuming that what you’re trying to prove is either true or false, then show what else would have to be true; and (2) instead of aiming directly at your goal, think about what must be avoided and see what options are left.
Inversion Applied: We began Q1 looking for additional housing and larger office space. While we had enough cash for these growth objectives, I thought about what mistakes Green Hill must avoid over the next couple of years. The single biggest mistake would be to overextend ourselves and leave us in a weak cash position. We decided to hold off on the office space and delay our purchase of additional housing. Such a decision appears prescient from lens which now have a view of the coronavirus situation. Learning what mistakes must be avoided is just as useful as understanding what steps must be taken to meet your goals.
Looking Forward: We performed better in Q1 than ever before and I had best work-life balance to date. Are those two coincidental or a significant correlation? That’s what I’m pondering as we begin Q2 and live with the “new normal” of pandemic life. Experience is teaching me that my best work and the company’s performance don't directly correlate with my time 'on the job.' Since it's my responsibility to look into the future to make good decisions in the present, I can’t be overwhelmed with task completion -- I’ve got to do even better at balancing my relationships and personal life with a desire to be successful professionally. The work we did in Q1 was largely a setup, so I’m looking forward to the completion of some major initiatives: contracting with insurance companies, adding medical providers, and adding additional housing and office space.
The inner work, which I refer to as ‘the real work,’ has taken on a more significant but subtle role in my life. I’m dedicating more time to meditation and yoga than before and yet, for the first time, my contemplative practices are no longer to-do list items that remain siloed from the rest of my day. I’m finally learning how to take my contemplative practices ‘off the cushion’ and into life. Below is a recap of the events, insights, and resources that have been especially impactful.
Sam Harris’s Waking Up App: I’ve never done guided meditations but I’ve always had a respect for Sam Harris as an intellectual and in particular, his approach to the inner world has always resonated with me. So I decided to give his app a try and I’m glad I did.
Daily Meditations: There is an introductory course that covers the main types of meditation practices: deliberate mindfulness (such as focusing on the breath), body scans, and nondual awareness. I didn’t think that I would get much from an introductory course on meditation, but I was wrong. If you’ve never given meditation a try, he provides a great instruction for developing a practice and if you’re a seasoned practitioner, I feel confident that his methodology will deepen your practice. Once you complete the introductory course, a new meditation becomes available daily. I typically meditate for an hour in the morning and begin with a ten minute guided meditation before fifty minutes of silence.
Conversations: There are a number of excellent conversations with long-term meditators, teachers, and researchers that do a great job exploring the practice of meditation, which has often been made to seem more esoteric than it actually is. These conversations expose you to different traditions and practices. Through these conversations, I’ve been exposed to new methods of inquiry that have added depth to my examination of life.
Guest Teachers: In addition to the daily meditations by Sam Harris, there are short courses from a couple of teachers. I was introduced to both Loch Kelly and Richard Lang by conversations on the app, and I’m thankful for their contributions as guest teachers. Loch and RIchard both teach from a nondual or open mindfulness perspective which differs greatly from the “deliberate mindfulness” I had previously practiced.
Adyashanti’s Teachings: Adyashanti’s teachings, like Loch’s and Richard’s, are focused on nonduality. Nondual practices seemed too subtle until recently and though I was introduced to Adyashanti almost a year ago, it wasn’t until the past few months that I dove into his books and teachings. So far, the worst consequence I’ve faced due to coronavirus is the cancellation of Adyashanti’s retreat, which I was scheduled to attend with my dad. In addition to his books, Adyashanti has a conversation on the Waking Up App. His book,The Way of Liberation is the most complete and succinct explanation of the contemplative path I’m walking and below are a couple quotes I’ve been pondering.
“The false self is the greatest barrier to the realization of our true identity of universal being. The false self is essentially a psychological process occurring within the mind that organizes, translates, and makes sense (or in many cases nonsense) of all incoming data from the senses. When this psychological process mixes together with the self-reflexive movement of consciousness, it produces a sense of self. This sense of self then pervades consciousness as a sort of perfume that causes the mind to mistake what is actually a psychological process for being an actual separate entity called one’s self.”
“Awakening is when we finally experience our being without the interface of any conceptual understanding. What we wake up from is the conceptual world.”
Zen Retreat: I attended a week-long silent meditation retreat in the Rinzai Zen tradition in January. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend the majority of the day in seated meditation and I’m thankful for the experience of a small, intimate retreat (there were only ten of us). This retreat changed my search for a teacher -- I no longer feel as though I need a teacher to continue my path (nor will I continue in the Rinzai tradition).
Looking Forward: I’m asking myself, “how can I act from a more intuitive, less conceptual place?” Over the past few months I’ve had glimpses of ‘headlessness’ (ala Richard Lang) or nondual awareness (Loch Kelly), and while those have been interesting experiences, I want to live from this more integrated experience. My ‘goal’ is to live my life without the constant presence of an inner narrator, to experience life directly and not through a lens of conceptualization or language.
Can I experience greater freedom by letting go of all the ways I construct identity around my affiliations and the roles that I play in life?
Personal Life & Relationships
I’ve been accused of many things in my life, but never balance. This quarter marked a turning point in my ability to balance competing priorities. Sure there is a lot of work to do, but I’ve made significant strides.
Fiance: I’ve spent more quality time with my fiance than ever before and I’m learning that like everything else, developing shared interests and hobbies takes work. It’s been useful for us to plan activities on the weekends so that we don’t get sucked into our unending to-do lists. Through the coronavirus situation we’ve enjoyed a number of longer walks with great conversations, played lots of board games (shout out Shobu and Tiny Towns), and we’re in the market for bikes.
Family: I have cousins that live within driving distance who have each had their first children in the past year and yet I’ve failed to see them. Other than that, it seems like my familial relationships are great -- I have an aunt and uncle nearby whom I visit regularly and I typically get to see my parents monthly and speak with them on the phone weekly.
Social: Other than my relationship with my fiance and my family, I have very few outside-of-work relationships. It seems like I’m just at a stage in life where the people I most enjoy spending time with are all busy trying to make things happen. I’m guessing this will change as more of us have children and make it to the next stage in our respective careers. If my best friend wasn’t also my business partner, maybe I’d focus more on my social life.
Fitness: It’s been about six months since I began running and I still find it beneficial. It’s one of the first times I’ve picked up a new hobby just for the sake of it. I’m enjoying steadily building up my running distance without any pressure to compete (even with myself). In addition to running, my yoga practice is physically demanding and while it’s not nearly as impressive as it was a couple years ago, my asana practice is progressing. The practice of yoga has finally become a moving meditation and it’s been a nice change to enjoy the first person experience of practicing without fixating on developing an advanced asana practice.
Food/Cooking: For the last year I was probably 80% plant based, occasionally eating eggs or dairy, and now I’m back to 99-100% plant based. Eating like this seems to align with what my body needs while also aligning with my philosophy. I believe that it’s important to live an integrated life, which for me means that my food choices should align philosophical outlook. After getting a few new cookbooks, my passion for cooking has been reignited. We decided to stop eating out a month ago and I’ve been surprised at how easy it is for me to adjust -- plus between work meals and personal dining, I’m saving a lot of money!
Journaling: I established a daily journaling habit last quarter. There is no doubt that journaling is a powerful practice for keeping me aligned with my personal and professional goals. That said, I did not regularly complete the weekly review section of my journal, and that seems like a missed opportunity. This quarter I’m putting a renewed focus on journaling and making time for reflections.
Reading: I read nine or ten books last quarter but I did not consistently read for my goal of thirty minutes per day. Of course there were days that I read for hours, but I’ve noticed that simply reading a few pages has a tremendously calming effect on my mind. If I’m feeling burnt out at work and I read a few pages from my book du jour, I immediately feel recharged. My reading also skewed heavily towards the contemplative side of things, which I deem most important, but I would like to read more this quarter to broaden my base of knowledge, not just dig deeper.
Looking Ahead: I can’t remember a time when my personal life felt as well-adjusted as it has over the past few months. It’s always going to be a balancing act, but it seems as though I’m starting to ‘get it.’ I’m going to prioritize reading, journaling (and specifically time for reflection), and cultivate a few new hobbies such as biking and maybe baking -- it’s fun for me to approach my personal life as I do my professional life: with curiosity and a desire to make it better year over year.
New Weekly Blog:
Given that my main reason for starting this blog was to encourage consistent reflection, I’m going to start a new series where I post weekly on the books, podcasts, mental models, and contemplative practices that I’m focused on. As noted above in the journaling section, I’m hoping to be much more intentional with my weekly reflections which (I believe) will help keep me aligned with my long-term goals. If you made it this far, thanks for reading.
Who are you if there is no problem to solve? -- Anonymous