Choosing your Board of DirectorsMarch 1 , 2012

As you practice listening to those voices in your head (Think we’re talking about visiting Crazy Town?  We’re not; read about how we all have voices in our head here. link), you’ll start to notice some consistent messages or themes.  One powerful way to manage those repeated messages from your mind is to externalize and personify those voices.  Think about them as your Board of Directors – helping you guide your life.

Give them a name and personality. 

Sometimes you might know the exact source of that voice – it could be Critical Mom or Judgmental Neighbor.  Or it could be a stereotypical caricature.  But pay attention: who is trying to influence your decisions?  Give them names and try to understand their biases.  Let me introduce you to two members of my Board of Directors:

  • Mr. MBA – Mr. MBA is a hard-driving perfectionist, the combination of the worst stereotypes of my Wharton MBA classmates.   “If you are going to do it, you have to do it right.”  “These opportunities don’t come along often, don’t mess this up.”  “If you can’t make a ton of money doing this, what’s the point?”  This is the voice that pushes me to constantly plan and revise and add more to every project I take on.  And it’s never enough.  When I let this Director take over the management of my life, there is no rest, no chance to recharge and no time for celebrating victories.
  • Everybody Loves Eric — This is the voice that is looking everywhere for affirmation of who I am and what I’m doing.  “That person in the second row doesn’t seem engaged. They must not like this talk.  Let me focus on them and see how I can get them to like it, too.”  “That was stupid thing to say!  No one is going to listen to you now!”  “What are my old work colleagues going to think of me leaving a well-paying career for this struggle?”  “I bet this guy thinks I’m just trying to sell him something.”  When I let Everybody Loves Eric drive the bus, I live in constant fear of being discovered as a fraud or needing to make everyone like me.  I spend inordinate amounts of time thinking through all possible reactions to my activities or my talks and end up significantly diluting my message.

Listen to your board of directors, but don’t take ALL their advice

So think about these characters as your Board of Directors.  Each is trying to help you in their way. They want you to be safe, successful or not get embarrassed.  Give them credit for the help they are providing and honor their intentions.  But remember that you are the CEO of your life.  Your Board is there to give advice, NOT to make all the decisions.

When I let these guys drive the bus, there is a constant buzz of ‘it’s not enough’ and I find myself sitting down to do work at every spare minute or thinking through possible situations ad nauseam.   That’s not what I went into my own business for.

So when I notice Mr. MBA or Everybody Loves Eric start to get excited and tell me all the things I need to do, I thank them for the great advice.  Their past ideas have helped me be very successful and connected in my life and career.  But then I consider my other needs and desires and make a conscious decision about what I want to do.

Add desired voices to your Board of Directors.  

If your team is full of voices that create stress and negativity, do what any healthy organization does and recruit some new members.

I recently brought on my friend, 80:20.  He’s constantly reminding me (and the rest of the team) that 20% of the work will get 80% of the benefit.   And that it’s infinitely better to push an imperfect project out into the world than work to optimize every detail and possibly give up because it’s not good enough yet.  No one benefits in that scenario.

Of course Mr. MBA’s got a strong voice from the long-tenured role he’s played in my head, so I have to actively encourage 80:20 to step up.  And each time I do, he gets a little more confidence.

Find new Directors to bring onto your team that push you in the direction you want to go.  And encourage their input whenever you can.

It’s your job to be the CEO of your life.  Allow your Board to have their say and to glean what you can from their advice.  But the buck stops with you, not with those voices.  You get to decide.  So slow down and listen to all the input.  Then make a conscious decision before jumping into action.  This simple idea can take you a long way towards living the life you want.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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