SERIES: 2016 is the tenth anniversary of Bill Jensen’s seminal book, What Is Your Life’s Work?, composed of legacy letters — letters from leaders and managers to their loved ones. Each letter describes a life’s work legacy they wish to leave behind. Each letter is published and attributed as it was ten years ago, with 2016 updates as postscript.   

Linda Stone

Work: Envisioning the future of attention, connection, and community

In April 2002 Linda Stone left Microsoft, where she was vice president for Corporate and Industry Initiatives, reporting to CEO Steve Ballmer. Seven weeks after leaving to pursue projects of her own, she lost her home in a fire. “How had I come to this place?” she wondered. “From a thousand miles an hour one minute to being homeless, with neighbors bringing me blankets and clothing the next. I remember how touched I was when friends brought flowers and plants. The powerful contrast between the burned-out, smoky structure that was my house and the stunning, sweet-smelling roses kept my imagination and spirit intact. In the last two years, I’ve moved seven times. Now, finally back in my rebuilt home, I am taking slow, confident steps forward again. Re-engaging.” She dedicates this letter to the many who filled her life with love and laughter.

TO ALL THE WOMEN I’VE COACHED AND MENTORED,

Your courage, passion, and persistence touch me. I’ve been blessed with mentors and I’m glad to be there for you through many of your challenging times and times of growth. There are so many things that we, as women working in large corporations, seem to have in common in our struggle.

The first is a dangerous one. Often in corporate life, our drive and desire to excel take over and we put our bodies and our relationships on the delayed maintenance plan. It doesn’t work for our cars, and it certainly doesn’t work for us.

I was so completely seduced by the excitement, the adventure, the possibilities. I often forgot I had a body, forgot that that body had limits, and relied, sometimes too much, on the patience and loyalty of friends as I traveled and worked too many late nights, showed up late or not at all for social gatherings when work demands pulled me off center. By now, I’ve forgotten most of the important projects and deadlines that kept me at the office so late at night. I have not forgotten taking Joey to the Winchester Mystery House for a school report, going to Abe and Zoe’s soccer games and music recitals, or flying to L.A. for Max’s plays.

The opportunity here is to set boundaries around the time we spend working and to schedule work-outs, time with family, vacations and sleep. If we don’t respect ourselves enough to take care of our bodies, minds, spirits, why should anyone else grant us the respect we feel we deserve?

Why work so hard for so many years? Is it all about being able to pay for first-rate medical help in order to survive whatever is left?

Why do you work so hard? What's the desired end game? Click To Tweet

I didn’t heed the loving warnings of friends and mentors on this front, and have been on a long road back to better health. I’ll get there, and, at the same time, I hope that my hard-learned lesson that delayed maintenance is not a great choice will help you not have to suffer in the same way.

For many women, power and exertion are related. I’ve come to believe in the truth of this anonymous quote: “Power is not having to make sense to be believed. Powerlessness is not being believed no matter how much sense you make.”

Also, as women, we are more inclined to take things personally, creating all kinds of stories around situations that impair our ability to see the facts. By making it personal, we can wind up having a lot more drama in our lives than is productive.

The Buddhists have a great way of looking at this. Notice it, but don’t be attached. When we notice ourselves creating a story, we have an opportunity to take a step back, observe ourselves, and let the story dissolve. We can focus instead on what outcome we are working toward. If we can stay out of the story, we can move forward in a more productive way for ourselves and for the organization.

On this journey, one of the most powerful tools we have is our curiosity. Whenever we feel defensive, hurt, personally attacked, confused, or afraid, we have a choice — we can get very curious. Rather than saying, “I never would have said that,” we can say, “I wonder what these people heard me say? I wonder what their perception is?”

People often ask me if it is important to create long-range plans in order to climb the corporate ladder. Some of my peers are committed to five-year plans. I’ve never had one. I’ve always followed my passions and interests and things have unfolded. This can be balanced with a long-term plan as long as you stay tuned in to opportunities.

Studies show that it doesn’t matter whether you create plans or make it up as you go along using your passions. The results are the same. For those of us with strengths in the area of innovation, following our passions is key. For those with strengths in procedural thinking, planning is both comforting and helpful.

My top ten rules for women:

  1. Engage in activities that show self-respect. Take care of yourself with sleep, exercise, nutrition, schedule. If you don’t, no one else will. If you’re willing to work around the clock, your peers and superiors will always expect that of you, and you’ll find yourself in a pattern that’s challenging to shift. One woman I coached argued that she only needed four to five hours of sleep a night. After months of coaching, she made time for more sleep. “Linda, I can’t believe how much better everything is with eight hours of sleep! This was so simple. Almost too simple.”
  1. Don’t take it personally.
  1. Curiosity is the most powerful tool you have. Curiosity is more powerful than a good defense.
  1. We can use our will in many ways. Will can be used to “push through” or it can be used for greater attunement and awareness. Pushing through will ultimately use every last drop of your energy. Using your will for awareness will support you in maintaining balance.
  1. Stories are good for books and movies. They serve to create drama, confusion, and distraction at work. A focus on facts and desired outcomes, on staying in the moment, can keep us on a productive path.
  1. Your passion can inform and energize you.
  1. “In school, first you get the lesson, then the test. In life, it’s first the test, then the lesson.”
  1. Learning is a vitamin.
  1. Attention is your scarcest resource. Use it with intention.
  1. Trust your intuition. If you overrule it, it will send out stronger and more painful warnings.

With love, Linda

2006: Linda Stone is now focused on her own creative projects, writing, speaking, and consulting. She is also on the National Board of the World Wildlife Fund and involved with the Philanthropic Collaborative for Integrative Medicine. Over the past two decades, she has been recognized as one of the top 100 leaders in today’s digital revolution.

2016: Linda is a widely recognized thinker and speaker on strategic trends, innovation, and the physiology of our relationship with technology.

About Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen makes it easier to do great work.

He helps companies and teams double their productivity and pursue their passions.

He has spent the past 25 years studying how work gets done. (Much of what he’s found horrifies him.)

Bill is an internationally-acclaimed thought leader who is known for extremely useful content, with a passion for making it easier for everyone to work smarter, not harder.

His first book, Simplicity, was the Number 5 Leadership/ Management book on Amazon in 2000.

His last books — Disrupt! Think Epic, Be Epic and The Courage Within Us — reveal the secrets of success through bold ideas and by unleashing your own greatness. His new book, Future Strong, was published October 2015.

Bill holds degrees in Communication Design and Organizational Development.

He is CEO of The Jensen Group. Among his clients are Bank of America, Merck, Pfizer, GE, L’Oréal Italia, Genentech, NASA, The World Bank, BBC, Philips Lighting, the US Navy SEALS, the government of Ontario, Singapore Institute of Management, Guangzhou China Development District, and the Swedish Post Office.

Bill’s personal life fantasy is to bicycle around the globe via breweries.

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