Zigzag Bridge

Everybody is busy. For many of us, there are simply not enough hours in the day for what we set about to accomplish. I know it – I work with very accomplished people.


Working with my Clients is a privilege, inspiration, and challenge: a challenge for me to make an impact in a limited time; a challenge for them to recognize that development is important.


I get it. I am in the same boat. When I hear ‘slow down’, or similar advice, my reaction is “I do not know if I can. There is so much to do!”


Well, I am blessed with Clients who are of the similar type – they have great energy, great passion – they do not do “the slow down.”


Until one day they do.


A family crisis, burnout, a career setback – external events make people stop in their tracks. Some never recover. Many emerge from the ‘slow down’ with more clarity, stronger passion and a greater appreciation for what they have been taking for granted. I have read these stories, I have seen this happening to the people I know, and it did happen to me.


One morning in 2000 I woke up in my hotel room and could not stand up from my bed. The world was spinning, I could not read the clock and could not dial a phone number to call for help.


At that point in my life, I had just been promoted and was part of a prestigious leadership development program. I was a mother of a 5-year-old, had a sick parent to care for, and a mortgage to pay. And here I was, knocked down. Everything had to stop.


It took me several months and a lot of help to get back on my feet. With love and care from my family and support from my company, I got back to business, but not business as usual. Ever since that day I started to see my life differently and, eventually arrived at what I do now – help great people be even better and to understand important things that need addressing before a major crisis happens.


Linda Ginzel, my professor from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, uses an image of a zigzag bridge in her leadership class. In Japanese gardens, such bridges are built to slow the visitors down so they can contemplate their place in nature. Professor Ginzel uses this image to teach leaders about the importance of introspection.


I love this picture. It reminds me to be mindful of what is going on in the moment – inside me and around me. When I am on my imaginary zigzag bridge, I notice what energy I am bringing to the situation and how my presence changes everything around me. On the zigzag bridge, I change my pace to choose how to show up in the world. I take in what I need and let other things just pass by.


I share this metaphor with my clients and my team. I love how it works for those of us who are the extreme doers and the over-achievers.


It reminds us to notice the world around and our impact. While we continue to move forward, being on the zigzag bridge helps us pay attention and be intentional about our next steps. It’s a place to decide if we want to continue, slow down or stop. It is where we notice how we change the world by our presence and choose how to respond to what we notice.


Like that visitor on a zigzag bridge, we notice the garden and ourselves in it. And it changes everything.


What comes to you when you step on your zigzag bridge?