Before he saw the smoke, he felt it in his throat. It tasted foul. It curled into his nose, his mouth, his lungs.
He looked up from his computer. His colleagues were tapping at their keyboards. The smoke hovered around them.
He walked to his manager’s door.
“This office is filled with toxic smoke,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “Don’t worry. We have a plan.”
“What will you do?” he asked. “Install new ventilation? Move us to another space?”
“No,” she said. “We’ve hired you an executive coach to help you develop strategies for dealing with the toxic smoke.”
Astro Teller runs a moonshot factory. As CEO of X, Alphabet’s futuristic technology lab, he oversees projects that strive to crack some of the world’s biggest challenges.
X, where I work as a consultant, has developed cars that drive themselves safely. It’s invented robotic buggies that roam crop fields to make agriculture more resilient and networks of balloons at the edge of space that beam high-speed Internet to remote areas.
The technology and business challenges of launching moonshots are endless, especially during the pandemic — which is why it’s notable that, during a recent company all-hands, Teller chose to focus…
A couple of years ago, desperate for fitness and community, I joined the master’s swim program at my local pool. I churned up and down the lanes a few mornings a week, and I grew faster and faster, especially on the sprints.
Turns out these big feet of mine, size 13 with fallen arches, propel me beautifully through the water.
“What a great kick you have,” my teammates would say. And on the next lap I’d kick even harder, arriving at the wall panting and grinning.
My coach moved me into the fast lane, and my ego swelled.
In late July, I broke five months of sheltering-in-place sameness and headed for the wilderness.
My girlfriend and I spent six days backpacking in Northern California’s national parks. We could hardly stop chattering about our relationship, our careers, our dreams. We greeted each hiker we passed on the trail. When we jumped into cold mountain lakes, we yelped like kids and compared our swimming strokes.
And yet, I’m most grateful not for the trip’s conversations, but for its silences.
I connect most deeply with myself, and the world around me, when I shut up and invite in the quiet.
I felt sure I’d put burnout in the past. I’d quit my high-stress job at Apple, started my own executive-coaching business and found balance in my life.
Then, with shame burning my face, I had to cancel a GreenBiz workshop I was leading about how to take care of yourself. Why? Because I hadn’t taken care of myself.
That’s the thing about burnout: It creeps back in as soon as you stop paying attention.
I began discussing burnout with GreenBiz leaders in early 2019. Yes, my own, which came at the end of four years helping Apple become a model…
Earth Day, when we remember the planet’s fragility and resilience, was when I finally understood that I had nothing left to give.
It was April 2017. After two decades of striving in my career, I had risen to a role of great impact: a director on Apple’s Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives team. My boss, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, had entrusted me with orchestrating the company’s annual Earth Day celebration.
And, wow, had we stepped up our game that year.
We have a troubled relationship, writing, and I.
When writing regularly, I see the world in new ways. I draw connections. I notice beauty. I attune to bits of poetry that float through my mind.
Time stalls as I play with word combinations and sentence structures. Discovering new insights sends energy surging through me. My heart glows fiery red, like E.T.’s when his companions return in their spaceship to fetch him.
I am honoring the voice that, since I was a child, has quietly and stubbornly whispered to me: You write to know yourself. …
Here is something I am afraid to say out loud: I can’t stop forgetting my white privilege.
Not long ago, I checked in with the senior leaders of a corporate team I support. In each one-to-one video call, they told me about their struggles to balance family and work, their anxiety, their fatigue. They felt like they should be more grateful for their health, more focused, less out of sorts.
Time to coach!
I reminded them how unusual this time is for us.
Thousands of years ago, I explained, our ancestors’ brains evolved a potent threat-detection system. That system kept…
If you’re an executive, your calendar is probably a disaster right now. Video and phone calls stacked from dusk to dawn. Constant new requests. Double- and triple-bookings. No time to take a deep breath, let alone reflect and prioritize.
Nearly all the leaders I coach are facing unprecedented demands on their time, as their companies grapple with the economic, social, and employee-wellness implications of the COVID-19 crisis. There’s a lot of suffering, and few existing playbooks to guide our thinking. This has spun everyone up into “busy” mode. “There’s a fine line between urgency and panic,” one corporate VP told…
When I emailed a nonprofit leader the other day, this is the automated reply I received:
“I’m currently unable to put in the usual hours of work due to childcare duties, and will take longer than usual to respond. I will however be screening my emails daily for urgent matters.”
It’s brave to say, automatically and to every single person who emails, what so many of us are too afraid to admit: I am stretched too thin right now to handle everything. I am going to let some things drop.
Whether we’re men or women, whether we have children or…
Executive coach to environment and social-impact leaders and teams. Seeker of wisdom and inspiration. Former Apple, Google, LA Times, Boston Globe.