Provision #717: Zest Matters

Laser Provision

This week’s Provision comes to you while I am in Costa Rica, attending and participating in my daughter’s wedding. What fun is that! The inspiration for this Provision on zest comes from my daughter and new son-in-law, Bryn and Andr’s Rodriguez. The two of them work and play harder than just about anyone I know. They epitomize zest: hearty enjoyment, gusto, liveliness, vitality, and an animating spirit. What does this have to do with leadership? Everything! If leaders do not bring zest into the equation, then who will? People count on us to elevate not only their hope but also their confidence that things can and will get done. Zest will do that, which makes it one of the most important leadership qualities of all.

LifeTrek Provision

My wife, Megan, and I were married almost 35 years ago in the California redwoods, near Santa Cruz. By all accounts, it was the best decision we ever made. Even though we were very young at the time • 19 and 21 years of age, respectively • we have grown together rather than apart and we have realized our premarital vision of not only loving each other profusely but also of serving the world better together than either one of us could have apart. Little did we know at the time just how close our partnership would become. In every stage of our lives, including the most recent with co-authoring a new book and collaborating around the Center for School Transformation, we have found ways to support, enrich, and enhance each other’s lives.

Since our wedding in the redwoods included people from all over the United States, we decided to have a wedding weekend rather than just a wedding ceremony and reception. Why have people fly or drive thousands of miles for just a few hours of pleasure? Since these were our family and friends, many of whom we did not see regularly, we wanted to use the occasion to spend a good chunk of time with them. So we rented a church camp for the weekend and planned the wedding as if it were a retreat.

We started the event on Saturday morning with the ceremony, then had time at the beach on Saturday afternoon, followed by free time and then square dancing in the evening. The next morning we had a final get together, a service of celebration and thanksgiving, before Megan and I took off on our honeymoon: a night in Monterey followed by 2,200 miles of driving from San Francisco to Chicago. Along that route we included backpacking in the Grand Tetons and taking in other national treasures such as Yellowstone National Park, Mt. Rushmore, and the Badlands. The whole adventure was great fun.

Fast forward 35 years and our now almost-30-year-old daughter plans to get married tomorrow, April 18, 2011, to a wonderful man who hails first from Peru and then from Australia. We have really enjoyed getting to know Andr’s and we look forward to the many good times we will share together as members of one family. That starts today. Bryn and Andr’s faced the same conundrum we faced 35 years ago, only a quantum leap larger due to globalization. What’s the best place to hold a wedding if you want people to come from the United States, Peru, Australia, and Malaysia? Costa Rica! Especially since Bryn has been part of an adopted family in Costa Rica since she was a foreign exchange student there as a junior in high school.

Well, you don’t travel to Costa Rica just for a wedding ceremony and a reception. And it doesn’t make sense to go to such a wonderful place for just a weekend. So we’re here for an entire week, with all kinds of festivities including swimming, body surfing, catamaran cruising, canyoneering, zip lining, volcano trekking, and hot springs relaxing. What could be better than that! Another adventure has started.

This adventure certainly fits the personalities of my daughter and son-in-law. They are both incredibly active and filled with life. Living in Los Angeles, they have year-round good weather and they make full use of that opportunity with lots of hiking, sports, and an active lifestyle. Somehow they manage to fit that in around two very demanding jobs: as a fourth-year medical resident at LA County Hospital and as the manager of a luxury hotel in Beverly Hills. It would be easy, with jobs like that, to become workaholics with no rest, relaxation, or recreation. Not Bryn and Andr’s! They have the zest to work hard, play hard, and still get married in Costa Rica!

Perhaps that’s why more than 50 people have traveled from the far reaches of the globe to participate in this special occasion. Zest is infectious. In a world where far too many people are sick, stressed, addicted, depressed, impoverished, afraid, ashamed, undervalued, unemployed, sedentary, and otherwise fatigued, it is not just refreshing it is rejuvenating to be with people who are healthy, engaged, released, happy, focused, confident, content, valued, employed, active, and otherwise invigorated. People want to get close to that, even if it means traveling thousands of miles or kilometers.

So what’s the secret to zest? It’s really no secret at all. Did you read last week’s Provision, Laughter Matters? The same elements that generate laughter, also generate zest:

  • Positive emotion. How happy am I?
  • Positive engagement. How interested am I?
  • Positive relationships. How connected am I?
  • Positive meaning. How valuable am I?
  • Positive achievements. How competent am I?

Those are the qualities that contribute to zest as identified by Marty Seligman in his new book,Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Free Press, 2011), and those are the qualities that people have come to know and love in Bryn and Andr’s. They are happy, engaged, connected, passionate, and capable people. They feel that way about themselves, about each other, and about their way in the world. What more can two people want?

To understand how this dynamic works, I would point you to a beautiful and true story told by my favorite poet, David Whyte. Before David became famous as a poet, he was serving as the executive director of a nonprofit corporation in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. As much as he valued the work he was doing, protecting the natural world, David remembers becoming increasingly exhausted. The problem was not just that he was so busy, although that was certainly true. The problem was that he was growing increasingly disconnected from the world he was attempting to protect.

The press and pace of the work was so great that David was in danger of losing not only his zest, but his very identity. I remember laughing when I heard David tell the story of hurriedly walking into a meeting, late, and asking, “Has anyone seen David?” Although he got a laugh with that line, it was a very real question. Because the David he once knew, the David filled with energy and zest for life, “had disappeared under a swampy morass of stress and speed.”

Fortunately, David received assistance from a Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast. That night, after his experience of losing himself at the office, David came home to find the monk sitting in a chair, reading a book of poetry. Suddenly, the monk’s eyes lit up as he discovered one of Rilke’s poems, The Swan. A native of Austria, the monk was reading in the original German, so David went to locate the marvelous English translation by Robert Bly:

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.

David could identify with “clumsy living that moves lumbering as if in ropes through what is not done” and of walking awkwardly through his days. “Tell me about exhaustion,” David said. The monk looked at him “with an acute, searching, compassionate ferocity for the briefest of moments, as if trying to sum up the entirety of the situation and without missing a beat, as if he had been waiting all along to say a life-changing thing.” The monk then posed a question that was at once an assertion: “You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest? The antidote for exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”

“You are so tired through and through because a good half of what you do in this organization has nothing to do with your true powers, or the place you have reached in your life. You are only half here, and half here will kill you after a while. You need something to which you can give your full powers. You know what that is; I don’t have to tell you.”

And David did know. He wanted his work to be his poetry, and yet he had been setting that aside for many years in favor of being reasonable and gainfully employed. “How do you tell your father-in-law,” David asks, “that you are going to support his daughter and grandchild as a full-time poet?” How indeed. You can’t, unless that decision is made out of the very fabric of one’s life, and the monk was challenging him to be both real and accountable at the same time.

“You are like Rilke’s Swan in his awkward waddling across the ground,” the monk continued. “The swan doesn’t cure his awkwardness by beating himself on the back, by moving faster, or by trying to organize himself better. The swan does it by moving toward the elemental water, where he belongs. It is the simple contact with the water that gives him grace and presence.”

It will work the same way for you. “You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life, and it will transform everything. But you have to let yourself down into those waters from the ground on which you stand, and that can be hard. Particularly if you think you might drown. That takes courage, and the word courage in English comes from the old French word cuer, heart. You must do something heartfelt, David, and you must do it soon.” (Crossing the Unknown Sea, adapted from pp. 113-138).

It is in this respect that marriage and leadership are a lot of like. They both require courage, wholeheartedness, and zest. To go through the motions is not enough. To put in the time without the passion is a formula for divorce and disappointment. Until we find that water, that place, that person, that element or environment where we can be fully alive, we will not be at our best and we will not attract the best on the strength of either our energy or our efforts.

So pay attention to the things that make you feel happy, engaged, connected, passionate, and capable. Those are things that make people flourish and fill people with zest.

In the Coaching Psychology Manual, which I co-wrote with Margaret Moore and my colleagues on the faculty of the Wellcoaches School of Coaching, we identify zest as one of the nine being skills of coaching presence. The other eight are calm, warmth, playfulness, affirmation, courage, authenticity, empathy, and mindfulness. We call them “being skills” because they are not inborn qualities or traits over which people have no control. They are ways of being in the world that can be intentionally cultivated, developed, and aligned.

The concept of zest, we write, is about “living and experiencing life as an adventure.” That is one of the three themes in Bryn and Andr’s’ wedding and it is an important part of evocative leadership. When life and leadership become an adventure, then zest is easy to come by • even in difficult of times. There is no “trial and error,” only “trial and correction.” There are no setbacks, only new adventures. There is no “win•lose,” only “win•learn.”

However you frame the concept, zest is a critical part of success in just about any area of life. We would all do well, then, to approach, assimilate, and enjoy life to the fullest.

Coaching Inquiries: How much zest do you have in life? What gives you energy? What drains you of energy? How could you spend more time with your energy boosters? Where could you go that would fill you with a sense of adventure? How could you make that a standard part of your everyday life?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

This was a wonderful Provision on laughter! I have always said that, at the end of every day, I have to answer two questions: 1.) Did I make a difference? and 2.) Did I have fun? Your article was really great! Also, I went back a couple of weeks ago and reread •Jesus Matters.• I agree with all you said. Thanks!

Another terrific issue of LifeTrek Provision. The article on Laughter Matters was very enjoyable to read, and the anecdote you included about Martin Seligman was wonderful. It reinforced why I like having my grandchildren around. I liked the way you made a case for paying attention to the five elements and how they can act as a catalyst for a conversation about well-being.

Love this!! 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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