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December 11, 2014

The Art of Stop: A Lesson in Conscious Leadership from one of San Francisco’s Finest

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I support my clients—many are workaholics—to create more balanced and fulfilling lives. Recently, it took more than one reminder by the same fine gentleman in blue for me to realize that I’d joined my clients’ workaholic ranks. This year I revved up my pace to launch a book, website and consulting firm. I worked longer hours, stayed up later, checked my devices more, created lengthier to-do lists, researched all sorts of topics, and filled my days with meetings. I simultaneously watched as interest in other areas of my life waned. Seduced by the excitement of creative activity, my mind didn’t seem to slow down anymore.

For months there was an internal voice whispering, “Pssst…Diana. You sure are sprinting lots without recovering.”  This is the voice of our commitment 9, “I commit to maximizing my energy by honoring rest, renewal and rhythm." As my workaholism kicked in, I dropped more and more below the line. My rhythm of walking 10,000 steps a day dropped off. I created less time to be with friends and family.  My garden, which I dearly love, was showing ever-increasing signs of neglect. There was a moment—one of those moments—when I began to suspect that I was acting from a more unconscious place than I’d realized or been willing to admit: I noticed my bird feeders were empty. Instead of taking a moment to refill them, I chose to handle the next item on my list. This was the first time the feeders had been empty in ten years, let alone empty and neglected. Ten years. Before this year, moments of silence and days of pause came as naturally as they did regularly.

I walked in the woods, attended to friendships and gardens, and kept my bird feeders full. I noticed my balance was off, and yet, I didn’t listen. I didn’t slow down. I was committed to seeing play and rest as distractions. I had great excuses from my mind’s point of view: I was doing important work. There were deadlines to meet and investments on the line. That play and rest could wait made perfect sense to my work-addicted mind. You might imagine what’s coming next: That moment when we face the game we’re playing that keeps us from knowing what we already know, but don’t want to admit. So there I was a week ago, high on the progress of our very important work, driving merrily up the coast to facilitate an offsite retreat. Approaching my destination, there was a stop sign. I stopped. Or rather, I kind of stopped. One of San Francisco’s finest, Officer Shannon, pulled me over to point out the difference between “kind of stop” and “really stop.”  Instead of giving me a ticket, he looked me straight in the eye, and with a voice that was as deep as it was clear, he said, “I want you to know that stop means stop.” I immediately knew that his message wasn’t just about the stop sign, it was about my life. Finally—or so I thought—I was ready to listen.

Ha! I was yet to see just how slippery a workaholic mind can be. Two days later, I was headed back home. The first stop sign I came to I heard Officer Shannon’s voice in my head, “stop means stop.” Not only did I come to a full stop, I felt proud of myself for remembering. I was so busy being proud of myself that I rolled on through the next stop sign. I kid you not. On come the lights, and I pulled over.

Who walks up to my car, but Officer Shannon?  His first words: “Didn’t I just pull you over a couple of nights ago at this same intersection?”

I was laughing uncontrollably at this point. Here he was again reminding me that results reveal what I’m truly committed to. Pride be damned, I still wasn’t actually committed to what I thought I was committed to. Officer Shannon gave me 30 seconds to convince him why he shouldn’t give me a ticket.

I told him it was okay if he did. I wanted him to know he’d given me the gift of “stop means stop,” that it extended to all areas of my life, and I was ready to listen. He must have liked what I said because he gave me a second pass. After my misstep in blowing two stop signs at the same intersection, and knowing that a third reminder may not be so humorous or friendly, I’m taking the message to heart. I’m taking action. In this case, taking action means STOP.

I’ve been home for a week now and I’m grateful for my renewed commitment to rest.  I’ve found many ways to turn down the volume on my work and to reconnect to other areas of my life. I’m finally letting the reality sink in that “stop” is a verb. And without it, I won’t get where I want to go. I’ll just be sitting at the side of the road laughing. It could be worse, but I’d rather be moving forward, wind in my hair with a full tank of gas…and laughing. There’s no way to refuel without stopping. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Take it from me and Officer Shannon, “stop means stop.” Are you ready to join me? Are you ready to stop?

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