What Speed is Your Life? Great Lessons from a 35-Mile-an-Hour Leader

By Carolyn Campbell, MA, CPPC

What’s the speed of your life? …Your personal life? …Your business life? Don’t worry, no one else will hear your answer…so, be honest.

For the last four months I’ve been coaching a woman who just moved here from a country where no one drives faster than 35-miles-an-hour. No kidding. The slow movement in her country is simply a way of life. She is learning how to drive American style and is stunned by how fast people go.

From the first meeting, I knew there was something different about her. When she met me at the door it was as if time were elongated. I could feel her uncertainty, but even that was slow and grounded. She was not saddled with the career fear that many seekers suffer from. The frantic push to “get a job, now” simply wasn’t there. And, as time went on, her pace remained constant. She pursued opportunities just like she drives, slow and steady. What’s amazing though is the time it actually took – only four months for her to find her “perfect fit” position.

The most telling moment was in her interview. When asked how she would pursue getting a story into the news, her response was, “I’d starting by talking to the person the story was about.” Her interviewers were stunned for a moment. They had expected her to list all the things she would “do” to accomplish the “goal.” Instead she had a much more thoughtful and more comprehensive approach. She did eventually demonstrate her knowledge and business savvy, but first she commented, “Before pursuing any specific actions, I’d find out how they felt about the story to be sure that the publicity wouldn’t negatively impact them.”

I believe this is what sealed the deal. Instead of trying to show them how fast she was, or how much media buzz she could create, she did what any 35-mile-an-hour driver does—she took in the whole picture, slowly. To her interviewers, it demonstrated her calm and directed leadership.

In a world where everyone seems to be moving at breakneck speed, it is a welcome relief to encounter a leader who will take a breath before moving forward.

Curiously, the next week I was working with a different client who was stressed about how fast decisions were made by the leadership team in their organization. When I suggested she pause and ask a clarifying question, she responded, “That would never fly, they want answers now.” Hmmm, do they?  Or are we so conditioned to the high speed chase for completion, that we don’t even know how to slow the traffic?

So, now back to you:

How fast are you going? How effective is it? What is the impact on you? If you’re like many folks who come to me, you’re probably finding your speed is quite taxing and not getting you the results you want. And like my other client, you may have some initial fears. Not to worry, it’s part of the package of slowing down. Those fears will want to rebel.

My invitation to you is this: Imagine living a 35-mile-an-hour life. Take the time to go slow for an hour, or even just five minutes if that’s all you can manage at first. Start by envisioning some specific ways you can slow down. Like taking a break to get up and walk. Like taking time away from your desk at lunch. Or perhaps taking more radical steps, like one of my clients—he makes sure that every afternoon he does absolutely nothing (really nothing) for 30 minutes. Trust me, this one can be a doozy if you’ve been driving fast for a long time. Many of my clients come to me so revved up that it takes a bit of probing to uncover how their speed is affecting their life. You might know right away. Great, perhaps write a list of the ways you drive fast. Writing them down can help stop the looping in your brain. When you actually see them written, your brain can slow down and begin to imagine a new way of operating. And, if you don’t know, you might start by just moving slower. Really, it sounds simple, but you might be surprised at how challenging this shift can be. Your mind has been so conditioned that seeing life move by more slowly can actually be alarming. On the other hand…it can also be charming.

I want to put in a plug for the 35-mile-an-hour life. When you allow time, it provides you the space to make stronger choices that are more grounded in clear, directed purpose. I think many of us travel so fast because we haven’t taken the time to create a strong, clear purpose for our work and our lifestyle. We are so busy reacting to the rapid pace around us.

If you are committed to living a slower, more potent life and want to be more effective in your leadership, find someone capable of supporting you in your quest. Often our friends and family are going as fast (or faster) than we are. Get yourself some “backup” to help you practice slowing down and feeling the power of doing so.

When you do slow down, like my client, I bet you’ll find that others also welcome the pace. Everyone wins. You get your life back. Your job or business feels more steady and successful. And the best part, you get more room to breathe.