Got Flow?

Kathleen Byars | September 27, 2016

This past week I enjoyed a road trip across Texas. It’s been twelve years since I moved away from Dallas. And it’s been seven years since I last visited the state I grew up in.

Business meetings lured me back. I don’t like to be away from my family so I took them with me. My husband and I decided a road trip was in order so that our boys could enjoy the beaches along the way and we could drive up and down Texas eating barbeque.

Which is exactly what we did. We ate our way through Dallas, Austin, and Houston.

Boy, I sure do love Texas brisket and ribs.

I decided to try to meet as many people as I could while in Texas. Although my meetings were the motivation for going, I wanted to network with like-minded folks who happen to live in the area.

So I sent an invite to everyone who subscribes to my Sunday newsletter asking them to meetup for coffee. To my delight, I received a few dozen responses. Many of the people who responded do not live in Texas, so we have agreed to meet for coffee the next time I am in their area. Now I can’t wait to travel to other places to meet new friends.

However, for the folks who do live in Texas, I scheduled the first coffee of my Texas road trip on Monday night. I met a successful artist, a talented claims adjuster, and a European airplane manufacturer who is launching beautiful and affordable aircraft here in the States.

Michal Magolien Airplane

Our coffee was scheduled at 7PM and I figured it would last an hour to ninety minutes. I was wrong. We hung out for three and a half hours.

Although none of us had every met or even corresponded before, we had instant rapport. Our lives are all vastly different, yet we found a common connection in our mutual zeal for creating extraordinary businesses and extraordinary lives.

For me, it was an effortless evening enjoying the company of newfound friends. My mind didn’t wander to think about my upcoming business meeting. I overlooked the time and my husband waiting patiently for me to arrive back at the hotel with his dinner. I completely forgot about my schedule, my tasks, and the workload that would be waiting for me upon my return.

I was in my flow.

If you are not familiar with the book Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, I suggest you check it out. It’s brilliant. This book helped me understand that I could live a life of success and passion. The idea is that you can be so engrossed in what you do each day that work doesn’t feel like work and the concept of work and play become intertwined.

That’s a huge concept to wrap your mind around.

Fascinated by the character vignettes in the book, I found my former self curious to learn more. How is it that a successful business woman can juggle her demanding schedule and still jet to an opera without feeling fatigued or overwhelmed? How can Joe, a mere welder, be satisfied with so little?

In my life, I had certainly experienced moments of flow, yet they always seemed fleeting. I didn’t understand how to build a life centered around flow. I wasn’t foolish enough to think it would be easy, but I sure as heck didn’t know where to begin.

Here’s a tip. Flow is not lack of activity. It is not a mental state whereby we do nothing. Sitting on the beach staring at the ocean all day may sound appealing, yet long-term ocean-watching will likely become quite boring.

Flow is anything but boring.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow Diagram

As Csikszentmihalyi states: “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

In my corporate life I sure did feel like I was being stretched to my limits and felt like my work was definitely challenging and worthwhile. Yet, flow continued to escape me.

On the outside my life was a fairy tale. Yet on the inside, I was becoming more and more dissatisfied.

As I read about the characters in Csikszentmihalyi’s book, I figured there must be something wrong with me. They had figured it out, but I couldn’t quite get there.

So I worked harder and harder, but still found no answer.

Finally, I just quit my life and moved to an island. Yet, flow was still elusive. I invested six years and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars figuring it out.

And here is what I learned. There are three barriers that prevent us from finding the purpose and passion we crave:

  • You have to understand how you got to where you are; and what drives you to make the decisions you’ve made.
  • You have to break through our cultural paradigm of success and define your own concept of success.
  • You have to understand the difference between passion and escape so you avoid jumping from the frying pan into a newfangled fire.

These barriers are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are highly intertwined. However, once you remove the barriers, flow, well, just flows. You really don’t have to do much more after that other than continue to take the actions you’ve learned.

Living a life of flow is possible. I found it, and you can, too.

When do you experience flow? If you don’t mind, leave a comment below. Maybe we can all learn from each other.

I believe we all have a bit of trailblazer inside us, don’t you? I welcome you to subscribe to my Sunday morning email. Each week I share personal stories of blazing trails in business and in life.

It’s my passion to help others create change in their lives. I’ve always found that disrupting the status quo leads to an amazing life where nothing is impossible.

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