The Superman Syndrome

Nov 25


Kathy Paauw

Kathy Paauw

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"Life is what happens while you are busy making ... --John LennonI just got back from a business trip to the East ... I was away several hundred email messages ... addition


"Life is what happens while you are busy making other
plans." --John Lennon

I just got back from a business trip to the East Coast.
While I was away several hundred email messages accumulated,
in addition to a tall stack of postal mail and a full voice
mail box. Had I been here to respond to all of it as it came
in,The Superman Syndrome Articles I would have spent much more time doing so. When faced
with the massive volume, I became much more efficient. I
asked myself, "What's most important?" And my clarity and
focus were much sharper as a result. When I returned from my
trip, what I really wanted was to spend time with my
family... not with my email, inbox, or telephone. With great
clarity and intent, I deleted much of my email without even
reading it.

While on my trip I came across a book titled, "The Superman
Syndrome: Why the Information Age Threatens Your Future and
What You Can Do About It," by Robert Kamm. In his book, Kamm
notes that Americans are working an average of six weeks to
three months more per year than they did just a decade ago.
Additionally, more than 70% of people in offices work
weekends and more than 70% of American parents feel they
don't spend enough time with their kids. Kamm says that the
Superman Syndrome is characterized by an inability or
unwillingness to throw the off-switch... whether on a cell
phone, the computer, or in our own brains. We are the most
distracted generation in the history of the human race. And
distracted people make for distracted and unavailable
parents -- perhaps one of the biggest threats our growing
generation faces in the 21st Century.

Clients often come to me feeling overwhelmed. They want more
control and balance in their lives. I explain that the
control comes from within. Shedding the Superman cape is the
first step! I tell my clients that they must be willing to
bypass the external distractions and demands on their time,
look inside to their own values and priorities, and then
make choices so their focus and activities match these
values and priorities. For example, if you truly value your
health and your family, but you are working too many hours
to take care of yourself or to be home while your family is
still awake, then you've lost control of your life.

Kamm notes that the commitment to slow down and focus on
things that really matter in life must be made at the
corporate as well as the individual level. He states that
"the Superman Syndrome is a dangerous workplace success
formula that forces men and women to leap tall buildings and
outrun speeding bullets -- at the expense of personal lives,
families, children and even business productivity. This
represents a major hypocrisy implicit in nearly every
boardroom in America: The belief that we should be
accountable to work but not to our families."

This begs the question, "What does it matter if you win the
rat race?" You're still a rat!

Change -- even good change -- is stressful for most people.
And today, the speed of change is doubling exponentially
every 18 months. The deafening roar of change is the reason
that 70% of illness is due to stress, and the top six
leading causes of death for American adults are stress-
related. It is not change itself -- but our inability to
adapt to change -- that creates the rub for most of us. We
are creatures of habit, and old patterns are hard to change,
even when they no longer serve us well. Health care
professionals note that we are so addicted to our fast-paced
lives that it often takes a life-threatening crisis such as
a heart attack or cancer to slow us down. Making the changes
necessary to leave the fast lane behind is not quick, and
for most, it is not easy. That's why practices such as yoga,
meditation, and working with a life coach have become so

Time to Graduate: Get a Life!

As we approach the time of year to celebrate graduations, I
find it particularly fitting to share excerpts from a
commencement address made by Anna Quindlen. As she began her
speech to the graduating class of Villanova University in
Pennsylvania, this novelist told the audience, "My work is
human nature. Real life is all I know. Don't ever confuse
the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of
the first."

Quindlen went on to share some important life lessons that
all of us can benefit from:

"You will walk out of here this afternoon with only one
thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of
people out there with your same degree; there will be
thousands of people doing what you want to do for a
living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole
custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire
life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus,
or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your
mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank
account but your soul.

Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next
promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you
think you'd care so very much about those things if you
blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your

Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you
love, and who love you. And remember that love is not
leisure, it is work. Pick up the phone. Send an email.
Write a letter. Get a life in which you are generous. And
realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you
have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply
about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Take
money you would have spent on beers and give it to
charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or
sister. All of you want to do well. But if you do not do
good too, then doing well will never be enough. It is so
easy to waste our lives, our days, our hours, our minutes.
It is so easy to take for granted the color of our kids'
eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and
disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead
of to live.

I learned to live many years ago. Something really, really
bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways
that, if I had my druthers, it would never have been
changed at all. And what I learned from it is what, today,
seems to be the hardest lesson of all. I learned to love
the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not
a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee
you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world
and try to give some of it back because I believed in it,
completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part,
by telling others what I had learned. By telling them
this: Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz
on a baby's ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your
face. Learn to be happy . And think of life as a terminal
illness, because if you do, you will live it with joy and
passion as it ought to be lived."

Just Do It!

"Time is the most important currency, but once you spend it,
it's gone." -Rod Steiger

If you struggle to "get a life," here are some concrete
action steps you can take, beginning TODAY!

==> Action Idea #1: Identify what you love to do.

· If you had more time, what would you do? (Or, if you had
a terminal illness, what would you want to do with the time
you had left?) Write down your response.

· What is holding you back from doing this now? Do you
choose to wait for a terminal illness to come along before
you make time for what you love most?

· Get your calendar out and schedule time to do some of the
things you wrote down.

==> Action Idea #2: Identify your values.

· Jot down the names of 10-20 people whom you admire. They
do not need to be living, and you may have never met them or
known them personally.

· After you've completed your list, write down the
qualities that you admire in each person you listed. For
example, if I listed Mother Teresa, I might describe these
qualities: compassionate, generous, unconditional love,
lived with meaningful purpose. The qualities that you admire
in others are YOUR values.

· How do you honor your values regularly? What is getting
in the way of you honoring your values?

==> Action Idea #3: Identify your priorities and passions.

· Pretend that you are attending your 100th birthday party
and your closest friends and relatives have gathered to
honor you. What would you want them to say about you? What
would represent a life well lived with no regrets?

· What matters most to you? What are you most passionate
about? Write it down.

· What one thing could you do, that if you did regularly,
would make the biggest difference in your personal life? For
your professional life?

· Get out your calendar and begin planning to do these
things regularly.

We get what we settle for. It's never too late -- or too
early -- to settle for more. When you are ready to settle
for more -- professionally or personally -- contact me.

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