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Sara’s Secrets of Happiness

January 25, 2013

I have a deep interest in comparative religion. It’s fascinated me for years and I’ll often get up at 4 a.m. just to study, read and learn. I find it fascinating to understand what people believe and why. I love coming to see what different beliefs have in common (a lot.) This is a lifelong interest for me. When I was 5 years old and my family was piled in the car on Sunday morning going to the Presbyterian Church, we would pass the Methodist Church, Baptist Church, Catholic Church, Episcopal church. I would inquire of my parents,  “Who is right? What’s the difference?”

Recently this exploration led me to a new field of psychology called Positive Psychology. The traditional field of psychology, say Freud to modern day, has been focused on how we can be not-quite-so-miserable. This new field of Positive Psychology instead poses questions like: Just how happy can people be? Is happiness genetic? What portion can we control?

So that got me to thinking about my own happiness. I realized that for me, there are two important clues when I am onto something that makes me happy.

The first is enthusiasm. When I am enthusiastic, I am happy. I’ve learned to observe when I feel enthusiasm. I take note. The word “enthusiastic” comes from the Latin “entheos” which means “inspired of God.” Pretty good clue if the big guy is involved that would cause happiness. How cool is this? We all feel enthusiasm and if we can put aside our thoughts on what “should” make us enthused and instead be honest with ourselves about it, happiness will ensue. Studying comparative religion makes me feel enthusiasm – and happiness.

The second clue is energy. When something makes my energy go up, happiness is not far behind. Energy is related to enthusiasm, however there can be times when my energy is going up because I am mad about something – a wrong that needs righting, for example. Also, when I do things that take my energy down, such as eating foods that I know crash me or not getting enough sleep, my energy goes down and my happiness suffers.

For both enthusiasm and energy, I know when they hit and what I’m doing that causes them to soar. I observe what makes them plummet. The question I pose to myself is  – am I going to put this into work in my life or am I not? My life is a live experiment and that makes it fun. I really do this stuff.

Wisegate makes me happy. Whenever I am deeply engaged – talking to a member, brainstorming with the team about new ways to serve our members, painting the vision – I am enthused and energetic. Oh, and happy.

Enthusiasm. Energy.

Take note of these for you. And watch the happiness soar.

Go slow over the rough parts.

August 16, 2012

Last Sunday I drove to a local farm that’s about 15 miles from our house. There are two ways to get there – 70 MPH highway all the way, or turn off onto this no-name dirt road. Either way gets me there.

Sunday I took the dirt road. I immediately noticed how rough the road was – my car was shimmying and shaking and my first instinct was to step on the accelerator and speed up to get that awful, uncomfortable, shaking feeling to cease. Every bit faster I went just made it worse – it just got rougher. So I slowed down.

Soon I am tootling along at 10 MPH and I felt my blood pressure drop, I exhaled deeply. And I started to look around. I could see the trees, I could see the water paths by the patterns of tree growth on either side of the road. I could hear the crickets roar. I saw a deer and her fawn dart across the road. I got to wave to a little girl walking into the gate of what I imagined to be her grandparents’ farmhouse. I felt the wind and the heat. Oddly enough, I was deeply content going slow over that rough road.

So it got me to thinking about my rough roads in life and how, when I hit one, I want more than anything to speed up and get the rough part behind me.

As the CEO of Wisegate I have been in fundraising mode, talking with investors about Wisegate. I do not enjoy this part of the job. I don’t enjoy it because I’m anything but an expert at it, because I’m not focused on members or employees or strategy and, most of all, I’m uncomfortable because I don’t know the outcome. You could say I’m going over a rough part of my road. I long, I ache for a smooth patch where I can speed up and fly.

As I look back over my life so far, it’s the rough parts of my road that have honed me into present-day Sara. Unarguably those rough parts have made me who I am.  So I got to wondering about slowing down over this rough part. Seeing if I can observe what’s happening around me, what’s going on, what there is for me to learn.

 Let me encourage you – Slow down over the rough parts in your road, they just might hone you into the next version of yourself – and that’s something the world is aching to see.

Authenticity vs. Technique

July 26, 2012

 Do you know Harry Max? If you don’t, I recommend you find an excuse to meet him – fascinating guy who I now get to call my friend (i.e., I’m pretty sure he would come get me out of jail at 3 a.m., which as I’ve said in an earlier post is my definition of a friend ( One day I was visiting with Harry and he mentioned the idea that, when it comes to talking with people, it’s always preferable to approach them with authenticity vs. technique.


I get to interact with people a lot and there are occasions just about every day where I am not quite sure what to say. I prepare ahead of time, that’s my DNA. That said, when it comes to communicating with someone I care about, I often don’t quite know what to say.


Enter authenticity vs technique. When I quit worrying about doing it right and instead try my honest best to show up, say what I need to say in as straightforward and caring a way as possible, all will be ok.  I still prepare, I still worry, and then I let go – I trust that if I am as authentically Sara as I can be, and say what needs saying, all will be ok.


This works with my husband (whom I adore), with my business partners, with employees, with friends. It just works. I ask myself the question, “what needs saying here?” and let it flow from there.


Let’s consider the words for a minute.


Authentic means of undisputed origin or authorship.


Wow, what a definition. Being authentic, by that definition, is a monumental challenge in our mass consumer mindset that tells us to be homogeneous, be just like someone else. Wear, think, do just like someone else. Which is, by definition, un-authentic.


Technique means technical skill and the ability to apply procedures or methods so as to effect a desired result.


Wow, what a definition. Sounds a bit inhuman to me.


I know which I would rather be on the receiving end of.


Try letting your words be of undisputed YOUR-NAME-HERE origin.


Be you. Say that.


Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.

The 4 wisdom sentences (and the people who won’t utter them)

July 18, 2012

I’ve had a few conversations lately with people who tell me they have all the answers. That when it comes to asking questions, seeking counsel, getting guidance – that’s not for the likes of them. You see, they have all the answers. At first glance it might seem that people with all the answers would inspire me. Not so. They make me sad. 

They make me sad because they’ve lost hope that there is something left to discover, from a nuance to a whopping realization. They’ve lost that beauty of beauties – curiosity (and its subsequent exploration and learning) – that lights up our lives like the first dawning of sunrise.  That light guides us to our potential.

Human potential is an unending source of fascination for me. I believe every single being on the planet is here for a reason and has unique gifts and talents to offer.  Perhaps the reason this knowing-it-all bothers me is that it is anathema to potential.

Here’s the rub:

When you know it all you shut down. You don’t ask.

When you don’t ask, you don’t grow.

When you don’t grow you aren’t striving to your potential and your ability to contribute you to the world. 

Here’s what a successful life looks like to me:

  1. Struggle with something that matters to you.
  2. Gain a bit of wisdom.
  3. Notice something that lights a spark of interest in you, struggle to learn, grow with and explore it.
  4. Gain a bit of wisdom.
  5. Repeat until you die.

I’ve come across what I call the wisdom sentences* – 4 sentences to utter regularly in our unending quest for our wisdom and potential.

  1. I don’t know.
  2. I need help.
  3. I’m sorry.
  4. I was wrong.

With Wisegate, I don’t know that we have much to offer with the “I’m sorry” and the “I was wrong” sentences. Other than perhaps having to say those less frequently to your boss because you have better information to make decisions and won’t mess up as much. But then I’m advocating for saying those sentences less…Hmmm… let me stick to the point here.

At Wisegate we help people gain wisdom from tapping into the collective experience of expert peers. Every day our members tell us how much help they are getting and that they can’t this anywhere else. For them to get the help that is so, well, helpful, they must first be willing to say – I don’t know (all the answers) and I need help (so I am going to ask some questions.)

The Wisegate members inspire me because they are willing to ask for help and in doing so, they open doors, they learn, they experience excitement and encouragement and they become better. Not just at their jobs, but at living.

Try the 4 wisdom sentences. See if you don’t feel like a kid again. 


*Louise Penny

Fear at work.

May 29, 2012

Fear is at work at work.

One day, years ago now, I realized how much fear I had. It certainly spilled over into my work. Fear that I wouldn’t perform. Fear of what others thought of me. Fear that I wasn’t good enough. Fear fear fear.

So I spent the better part of a year studying fear. I sought to understand what different philosophies, including my own, had to say on the matter. I also sought to understand just what it was I was so afraid of.

No matter where I looked, what I uncovered was that we were not made to be afraid. Imagine my surprise.

As for my personal fear, when I played it out to the very end (i.e., asking myself, so if that happens, then what? Then what? Then what? Etc.)  it always ended up with me alone, hungry and dying under a bridge. Seriously – that’s where it ended up.

So then I began to experiment with living without fear. Just to play with it – what might happen if, just for today, I let go of fear based behavior and completely went for it (with “it” in this instance being reaching for my potential in that moment.) Imagine my surprise. It worked. It works.

What I fear more than anything these days is not reaching my potential on this planet while I am here. Which, ironically, requires fearless living. What I want is to look back on a life well lived. And to have some fun and be of service along the way.

I talk to a lot of people these days who work in the corporate world and there is a lot of fear at work. The double meaning here and it is intentional. There is a lot of fear in the workplace and fear has a grip on us. People are afraid that someone will outperform them. People are afraid of losing their jobs and not knowing how they will pay their bills. People are afraid to leave abusive work environments. People are afraid to leave big or steady paychecks even if their something in them is crying out for something else. People are afraid to change their zip code, even if keeping it requires sacrifices that just don’t quite feel right.

Our corporate work world will feed on fear. A ton of people wandering around driven out of this kind of fear will literally work themselves to death.

Learn to examine your fear. I do it all the time now – its helpful. When I am halted or find myself not doing something I need to do, I just examine it. Usually there is an irrational fear at work. Once I look, it loses its grip and on I go.

Living fearlessly is how we reach our potential on this planet. It is how we discover ourselves and our gifts. And it is how we contribute our potential at work. Ironically, this is exactly what will make all those things you are afraid of at work way less likely to happen. Imagine your surprise.

Blah, Blah Blah (aka IT metrics and the need to justify your existence)

May 11, 2012

I’d like to start with the end of that title – the need to justify your existence – but I won’t. My twin brother tells me I can go existential in under 30 seconds, so I’ll refrain from that (for now).

Today, I was talking to Gary Bailey, the VP of IT at Penn Virginia in Houston., and he mentioned the need for meaningful, compelling IT metrics to put in front of his board and his business that say “What we are doing matters.” And to say it in a way that non-IT people could hear.

My playback to him was when it comes to IT metrics, what we need is no more blah blah blah. Lord, when I hear that, my eyes roll back in my head and I reach for a cup of coffee. Gary’s board is no different.

So we got to thinking.

Here are the 2 metrics (and maybe the only 2) that an IT leader needs:

Metric 1: IT’s Net Promoter Score. What if IT leaders took a lesson from the online world and asked the people they serve what they think of the job IT is doing? In the online world, it’s net promoter score – how many of your customers would recommend you? And then provide specifics.

Imagine if IT leaders tell their board or boss: Here is IT’s net promoter score. This is one of two measures by which we live or die (there’s that existential gene again). If it goes up, we are on the right track. If it goes down, then I will personally lead the charge to outsource this whole shooting match including myself.

I know, I know, you are thinking “I might not have a job with this approach.” Today, you might have a job but do you have a life (down, existential gene, down!). I would argue this is THE path to job security and, more importantly, job satisfaction. If you were THE guy to take that on as THE metric – you would be employed til kingdom come.

Metric 2 – The Cost of 1 Minute of Downtime on (Critical App Here). Tell the board, “Last year, I saved this company a potential loss of $x/week and $y/month and $z/year by having this application up and running for our company.” Put a stake in  the ground. Quantify it. Claim it.

If not now, when?

If not, why not?

The last thing any of us need is another blah blah blah powerpoint presentation.

Let’s give it a whirl. Wisegate members are now coming up with this approach and other game-changing metrics for the leaders in IT. Join in.

The Crush of Constant Connection

April 26, 2012

Recently I was asked to comment on this article about how our addiction to “staying connected” through technology is robbing us of our ability to truly connect with others. It’s worth a read.

I was asked whether I agreed with any of the negatives the author mentions related to constant connectedness and also whether I understand. Yes, I strongly agree with a number of the negatives mentioned. But as CEO and Founder of a high-tech start up, I also understand.

I believe it is axiomatic that what we give others (e.g., judgment, acceptance, harsh words, patience) is what we give ourselves (times ten). So the problem with hiding from others behind devices is that we are really hiding from ourselves. The problem with that as I see it is three-fold:

  • Each human being has something to offer the world that the world has never seen before. If we don’t take the time to embrace stillness and solitude and the discomfort it brings, then the risk is we will never discover what we have to offer and we will never reach our potential on this planet. Constant connection necessarily prevents this.
  • If all I can give you is a quick text or message, then it’s very likely I am never giving myself more than a few seconds of undivided attention. And a few seconds will never be enough time for me to get to know myself. And if I don’t know myself, I don’t really know what matters to me — and I’m vulnerable to the rampant, fleeting influence of digital connections.
  • Empathy and deep thought are slow neural processes; the multitasking of texting while eating/tv’ing/sleeping/getting married are by definition fast and shallow ones. Empathy is required to embrace others. Deep thought is required to figure out who you are and what you care about. While I might be “living” with the illusion of connectedness, I am in fact destitute when it comes to true human relationship.

My definition of a friend is someone who will come get me out of jail at 3 a.m. in the morning. A high bar, I realize, but really, shouldn’t we have a standard for ourselves? The concept of friends being a quantity game to me is nonsense (but then I’m in the process of reducing my LinkedIn connections…).

Finally, I can’t help but wonder whether all of this connecting is related to our addiction to multi-tasking, which is very related to our inability to be alone. Being alone is not a problem to be solved; I think of it as a threshold to cross into uncharted territory and adventure. Here’s a test for you: Go right now and sit quietly in a room with no device or distraction of any kind  (including a watch) for 10 minutes. Just you and your breath. I bet you can’t do it — unless you have been practicing. What does that say?

As to the question – do I understand our addiction to being “connected” through devices?

Yes, I understand. I am trying my car as a device-free zone and failing. I can’t believe how seductive my phone is when it sits there on the passenger seat, seeming to call to me to pick it up, put my fingers on it, connect. I observe myself in this pattern and laugh, cry and am stunned. All.

Also, I try doing email only three times a day, but that little Outlook icon saying I have a new email sucks me in like a monkey to a shiny object (who is the lower primate in this story?). At least I can observe these in myself. Perhaps that is a step toward freedom.


The lottery question

April 20, 2012

A few years ago, my husband Homer and I started asking each other the lottery question: What would you be doing with your life if you won the lottery? (subtext: I didn’t have to work for a living).

Not necessarily an easy question to answer. It requires taking an honest look at your life.  And taking an honest look at your life takes courage.

Homer ran a construction company for more than 20 years —and was still in the midst of that when we started having this conversation. And when he asked himself the lottery question, he didn’t like the answer.

For both of us, to answer the question honestly meant we had to make changes or stay unsatisfied. Those were the options. A dear friend of mine calls my optimism dangerous – my ability to make the best of things, which is extreme, can keep me from seeing things that need to be seen. Call it a strength and a weakness. But for me it means I have to very careful and face things squarely.

Fast forward: Homer is now a full-time musician. Now, he answers the lottery question differently than he did a few years ago.

We don’t get a life, we live a life. So, he’s living his life and it’s inspiring to see (and not a little puzzling to his former colleagues.)

And me? Yes, same goes for me. I won the lottery (well, not literally). What I mean is I wake up a lot of days and feel like I have won the lottery. If tomorrow I woke up with all the money in the world, I would keep doing what I am doing: loving Homer, playing with my dogs and building Wisegate. I love what I do (most days).

There are many days that at the end of a long, hard day, I am filled with energy. Though it has been a long day with a lot of things to tackle and work through, I wrap my day fulfilled, in the midst of my destiny. (And what I am in the midst of –  getting a brand-new concept company off the ground is challenging.)

I had many years where this wasn’t the case. The end of a long day felt like I had been run over by a truck. Heck, the end of a lot of not-that-long days felt like I had been run over by two trucks. The money was cushy. My health suffered. The stress of not being where I needed to be wasn’t made up for by the big bucks I was being paid. I was not living my life, I was merely existing. It got to a point where I had to do something about it.

I don’t have it all figured out. I do have a taste now for the uncharted life that seems to be mine. Though it is uncertain and ever changing, I wouldn’t trade it for another.

This is a struggle for many of us. Ask yourself the lottery question. If the answer is something other than what your life looks like today, what are you waiting for?

Post note – my friend Margaret read this post before it went live and she wrote me  these truly inspiring words: “Great post! Very thought provoking (and a little depressing.)

Me & Multi-tasking

April 12, 2012

What is so great about multi-tasking? It’s highly overrated and immensely seductive. The truth is that the human brain is not actually capable of it; what we really do is serially process things – as I learned in this fun, enlightening book.

When I try to do several things at once, I am truly present for none of the tasks at hand. That’s when I lock my keys in the car, arrive at work and can’t remember driving there, or finish a meal and can’t recall savoring a single mouthful. My mind is elsewhere. Literally. I understand and feel the pressure to handle so much and feel so little. And I understand the temptation. Though I know the dangers of it, using my phone while driving is so alluring – while my phone sits innocently in the passenger seat, it seems to call to me, lure me, to pick it up.

This multi-tasking diminishes my ability to focus. Fast is the enemy of deep. Deep thought and empathy are slow neural processes, meaning I will need to focus and slow down if I hope to experience them.

I have several practices that help me stay focused and present — hot yoga, a daily practice of stillness (I briefly retreat 3 times a day – this is a new one), and several silent retreats each year. Like the French philosopher Blaise Pascal famously remarked, all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone. If he had known about hot yoga, he might have changed that to “sit quietly in a room and sweat profusely”. And I wonder what he’d say about email…

Stillness is a constant challenge. And while I was terrified on my way to that first silent retreat years ago, they are now a part of my rhythm.

Recently, I was among a number of women CEOs interviewed by a writer for Forbes — a cool woman named Molly — about women executives achieving balance. I talked about stillness. It was a bit of a kick to be in Forbes, I gotta say. Maybe I need to go reflect on that.

Spending the Time you Save

April 10, 2012

Wisegate members tell me that Wisegate saves them time. Given the incredibly long hours these people work, that is a good thing.

This weekend I got to thinking — how do we spend the time that we save?

So I want to send a challenge to my members.

The next time Wisegate saves you an hour or two, spend that hour on something that matters to you. Hang out with your family. Work for a cause of any kind as long as it matters to you. Simply sit on the grass and stare at the sky contemplating life. (Insert your own list here.)

Don’t spend it working. As I was thinking about this, the picture that came to mind is a person at the ocean’s edge, down on their hands and knees, digging a hole in the sand. You keep digging and no matter how fast or how much you dig, the hole immediately fills up with more water or more sand. Work is like that. There is always more work. It will fill up as much as we let it.

We bring our best to our work when we have full lives and when we take time to place ourselves elsewhere.

I’d like to hear from you about how you spend the time you save.

The best story (according to me) gets a free 1-year membership to Wisegate.

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