Mindful of Relationships: A Tribute to a Critic and a Coach

1 Comment August 30, 2010 / Posted in Mindful Business, Mindful Leadership


Lowell Nerenberg has been a dear friend for the many years we traveled as fellow Vistage (formerly TEC) Chairs. When one has a vocation, a calling, “You don’t have a Vision, the Vision has you.” In this blog by Dan Waldschmidt, you see the impact reflected in his writing on hiring his biggest critic as his coach. Lee Thayer’s latest book: Leadership Virtuosity shares this journey of what it takes to realize that Life is a journey not a destination.

A coach is someone who will not let you default yourself. A coach is someone who assists you in staying on the road to becoming what is possible for you.

I read in The Parade yesterday the article “A Winning Friendship” about the relation and friendship between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

We project what we think something is or how great it would be to be a professional athlete or an actor and forget what it means to be us.

We forget that “competition” means “to seek with.” In the 1980 Olympics there is a whole generation of athletes who will never know who was best on that day of their event because the US and other countries did not participate in response to Russia’s entry into Afghanistan. Competition means to see who is the best at a given moment in time. And from being mindful, we know that our only constant is change.

So you always wanted to beat her at her best?

Martina That’s what it’s about. I’ve always said that, and people don’t believe me.

Chris And God love her. Here’s an example: When my first marriage was ending, I was kind of down, and Martina said, “Come on up to Aspen” and taught me how to ski. We would ski from 9 to 2, play tennis for two hours, then be in the gym for two hours—and she showed me what she was doing with weights. We did this for a week. Not many people who are No. 1 and No. 2 competitors would do that.

Except when they are seeking with another to see who is the best and played their humanly possible best. Back to: “It’s not if you won or lost; rather how did you play the game.” Did your competitor take you to doing what was humanly possible for you?

Thich Nhat Hanh shares in his Taming The Tiger Within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions

When you are motivated by the desire to transcend suffering, to get out of a difficult situation and to help others to do the same, you become a powerful source of energy that helps you to do what you want to do to transform yourself and to help other people

I love the closing lines of Mary Oliver’s poem: The Journey

and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save

So here Dan shares and honors his relationship with Lowell that does not let Dan settle for anything less than being at the top of his game.

Why I Hired My Biggest Critic to Be My Coach.

We all need someone in our face telling us we can do better.

Sure criticism stinks! But so does not getting to your goal…

In fact, that second part of the equation is the part that we can easily forget if we aren’t tough enough on ourselves.

And not that “don’t eat one more Twinkie” type of toughness. The type of toughness where you put yourself at the very edges of painful discomfort.

It’s that one hand on the branch hanging off the edge of the cliff type of discomfort…

Look. I get it. When you think of motivation, what first pops into your mind?

No one wants a middle-aged, masochistic drill instructor spitting inspiration six inches too close to their face.

Not you. Not me…

But putting yourself in that position can pay off big time for you.

In fact, there’s a darn good chance you’ll find yourself exceeding your expectations in a big way.

When I was CEO of ALSS, back in Washington, DC I was invited to join Vistage by the chairman of a local group. I had been asked to join Vistage a year earlier by another leader, but my schedule was way too busy for me to consider joining anything else. But this time when Lowell asked me to join, it felt right. And so I joined (8) other CEO’s — soon to be more than a dozen in the coming weeks — in meeting once a month for an all-day strategy session.

I was a member for about (15) months. Some of the hardest days of my life.

I was in the middle of growing my company to multiple locations up the East Coast while talking with buyers about selling the company and signing away $6.5 Million of money I didn’t have to the shareholders of the company in order to option my rights to the company. I was traveling non-stop, working for days (literally) without sleep, and training for ultimate fighting during my lunch hour. My marriage was a huge mess and although I was seemingly doing the “impossible”, I was becoming deeply depressed inside.

My one solace, was this group. Once a month I got the chance to spend the day with other executives who really understood the pressure. And I was about to find out that that was about to be over. In the middle of this horribly stressful time, Lowell called me one afternoon and asked me to leave the group. He was kicking me out: “I wasn’t right for the group…”

We had had several differences of opinions in the past, but I never imagined that “being annoying” would earn me the boot. I felt completely misunderstood. And pretty upset.

Fast forward two years. Lowell is my personal coach. I pay him hundreds of dollars per hour to push me in ways that shouldn’t ordinarily be possible.

Why Would I Do That?

Well, I realized that Lowell might be right. He wasn’t right about my motivations, my intentions, my strategy, or what made me tick. But deep down I realized that I needed to be a better me. He was right about that.

My relationships, my talents, my dreams, my ambitions — they all needed to be taken up another level or two.

So when the time was right, I hired Lowell to help me do that.

Here’s a few things to think about:

1. We can’t do it on our own – When things get tough, we tend to pull back. Sure we may push ourselves harder and farther than a lot other people. But those people don’t rally count. You do.

2. We need brutal honesty — Critics can be cruel but they can also be honest. Think about it — their whole mission is to find that one little shred of slight evidence that you are full of sh*t and throw it back in your face as evidence that you are some sort of hypocrite. Stand up and listen. It’s painful. But inside the spiteful accusations are clues to unlimited success.

3. We really want to fulfill our dreams – Nothing matters more than you realizing one day that you have accomplished your wildest dreams. And that (sadly) is a rare event for a lot of us. Having someone shouting at you from the sidelines sure makes it easier to grab your dreams.

Who is your biggest critic?

You might not be able to hire him (or her). That might not even make sense. But you might want to listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to agree.

Lowell Nerenberg is my coach (and my critic). But he’s more that – he’s helping me be successful.

Who do you have in your life that is doing that for you?

1 Comment... What do you think? Subscribe via RSS
  1. Dan Waldschmidt said on August 30th, 2010 at 4:31 pm


    You’re right,Lowell is a great dude! (and a good coach)…


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