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The Superman Syndrome
by Kathy Paauw

"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 e-mail messages accumulated, in addition to a tall stack of mail and a full voice mailbox. Had I been here to respond to all of it as it came in, 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 was 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 e-mail, in-box, or the telephone. With great clarity and intent, 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. 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 own health and your family, but you are working too many hours to take care of yourself or to be home when 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 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."

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 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. That's why practices such as yoga, meditation, and working with a life coach have become so popular.

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 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."

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
* 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
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?
* 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.
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
* 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. 

Visit to see an interesting perspective on the Value of Time.

Kathy Paauw, a certified business/personal coach and organizing/productivity consultant, specializes in helping busy executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs de-clutter their schedules, spaces and minds. Contact her at





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