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You Are Here: Home - Newsletters - "Get Organized" - Article

The Superman Syndrome

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

- John Lennon

While I was away on a business trip several hundred e-mail messages accumulated, in addition to a tall stack of mail and a full voice mailbox. I asked myself, "What's most IMPORTANT?" And my clarity and focus was much sharper as a result. Had I been here to respond to all of it as it came in, I would have spent much more time doing so. But when faced with the massive volume, I became much more efficient. And I deleted much of my e-mail 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. 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.

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

- Rod Steiger

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.

Kamm notes that the commitment to slow down and focus on things in life that really matter 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."

Change -- even good change -- is stressful for most people. 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 those 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.

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 breast? 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 e-mail. 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."

If you had more time, what would you do? 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.

Jot down the names of 10-20 people whom you ADMIRE and the QUALITIES that you admire in each person you listed. 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? Pick at least one value that you choose to honor in the coming week. How will you honor it? If you will honor it in the form of an activity, be specific about what the activity is and schedule time on your calendar to make it happen.

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? 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.


Kathy Paauw is an organizing and productivity consultant, certified professional and personal coach, and speaker. Visit her website at or contact her at .

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