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Let me make a quick recommendation: if you’re running a marathon, try not to travel.

If you’re going to travel, try to stay healthy.

And if you can’t stay healthy, don’t catch a cold with a thick cough.

But if you have a cold and cough, try not to catch it while you’re also recovering from jet lag.

So that’s a lot. Let’s say you fail at all of that. Try not to feel sorry for yourself and wonder why you’re such a failure, and nobody loves you in life.

Yeah. That was my week, last week. Of course, I’m not a failure. My body was knackered by the extremes in time zones and food. And the cold and cough just pushed me over the edge. I had to cancel two days of meetings, which is unheard of in my line of work. I just didn’t have the energy to sit on the phone and pay attention to someone else’s line of thought.

I could barely pay attention to my cats.

I tried to stick to some semblance of an exercise schedule because nothing makes me feel better than whining through a workout but completing it. I managed some short runs while in India and then again over the weekend, but nothing pretty.

Thankfully, this upcoming week offers all kinds of opportunities to reboot and feel better. And if the weather holds up in North Carolina, I’ll be able to run at the beach.

I’m looking forward to getting back on track. But if I ever run another marathon, I’m clearing my calendar and not traveling for twelve weeks. Going around the world is a privilege, but it’s also a major inconvenience. You relinquish control of your schedule. People demand a “performance of a lifetime” when they pay for your time. And it’s tough to stay hydrated, sleep properly and eat while also working long hours and remaining mentally sharp.

Lesson learned.

Too bad I’m on the docket in six cities over the next ten weeks.

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I went to India, and all I got you is this lousy blog post.

(Sorry. It’s not like I could pack souvenirs in my carry-on for all of you.)

I won’t bore you with the details of my trip, but I will tell you that flying to India from North Carolina is no joke. If you go to India, you go hard. That’s why I tried to do 100 things in the two days I had as a tourist.

First of all, I spoke at a conference. I participated in roundtables, walked the expo floor, spoke on a panel, and delivered a keynote speech on failure. I did this with no sleep, no sleeping pills to aid my sleep, and no goal other than to meet people and have a few good conversations.

The conference was great, but the man who introduced me tried to make a joke. Here it is, to the best of my memory.

“Our next speaker is about to talk about failure. By the way, have you heard the one about an Indian hotel manager who hires an illiterate villager to clean the elevators? The villager goes missing for four days. When he comes back, the hotel manager is stunned. He said, ‘I thought you quit.’ The villager responds, ‘No, I’ve been cleaning the elevator this whole time. Did you know the hotel has twenty floors, and there are two doors on each floor?”

There was silence.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Laurie Ruettimann.”

I dare you to step on stage and deliver an inspiring keynote after that.

Then I went to New Delhi and stayed at a nice hotel with a pillow menu. I don’t mess around. I tried every damn pillow because it’s criminal to pass that up.

Then I went to Agra, which is about three hours away from New Delhi, and saw the Taj Mahal with a driver named Sanjay Gupta. We also saw monkeys, feral pigs, oxen, water buffalo, beggars, a marble factory, and men defecating on the streets. It was a full day.

On my final day in Delhi, I visited all seven boroughs of the city. Highlights include a rickshaw ride, a visit to a famous Hindu temple, monkeys swinging on jury-rigged power lines, and not getting killed by motorbikes as I crossed the street in the heart of Old Delhi.

(You think you know traffic and congestion and pollution because you live in a big American city? You really don’t know shit until you see a woman riding side-saddle on the back of a motorbike going 55 mph with a toddler pressed between her and the driver. No helmets.)

Anyway, I had a wonderful trip. The people of India are very generous. But no matter where you live, there’s no place like home.

India 2016

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Have you heard the phrase ‘trigger warning’?

Per the internet, it’s a statement at the beginning of a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material. The warning is meant to help people — such as those with post-traumatic stress disorder — make a choice about what they’re about to witness.

I feel like the documentary Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru should come with a trigger warning.

If you don’t know anything about Tony Robbins, he’s a self-help guru who encourages people to achieve breakthroughs — whatever the heck that means. His movie highlights a week-long personal improvement seminar where severely broken people try to change their lives.

And it was tough to watch.

Right from the beginning, we learn that Robbins charges $5,000 per person for this event. There were 2500 attendees, and many told harrowing personal stories of physical abuse, sexual assault and even living in a cult.

I was overcome by the sheer sadness of the documentary. Honestly, it knocked me back on my ass. I saw how people would give anything to unburden themselves from the pain of humanity, and all I kept thinking is that the biggest breakthroughs in life don’t come from seminars and programs. They come from deep, quiet, private, thoughtful work that takes more than six days.

Not that a weeklong Tony Robbins course isn’t helpful. Sorta. Maybe. 

From mindfulness to purpose, he’s offering a crash course in resiliency and project management. I can see why business leaders and celebrities love him. And if you’re a smart person with the means to attend one of these courses, you’ll probably come away with tools and tips to begin a journey.

But, oh man, it’s a journey.

And when Tony Robbins tells his audience that he knows human behavior and pain — and we fucking know that he fucking knows it, according to his own language — I want to counter by asking, “So what?”

Because knowing something on an intellectual level is different than understanding it at a profound level and being able to affect change.

And, just like Tony Robbins, I know people. I fucking know people. While a roadmap and a six-day seminar can be helpful in breaking through some pain and achieving an increase in your life on an incremental level, his approach feels reckless and uninformed. 

I truly worry about some of the attendees who are shown in film. I worry about those who show up at one of his seminars feeling suicidal or trying to overcome the psychological impact of sexual and physical abuse. A week-long workshop with Tony could be helpful, but it looks pretty dangerous. 

When someone slaps a “buyer beware” sign on his product and tells you that he’s not your guru, you should believe him. Whatever you’re looking for, keep looking.

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Emma-1

My sweet kitty, Emma, is allergic to the world.

This poor boo has been on shots and meds over the past few years to decrease her sensitivity to pollen. Emma’s personality is sweet, though, and she doesn’t give us a hard time about taking medicine.

(Well, it’s no more complicated than any other cat. We wrap the tablets in a pill pocket and shove them down her mouth.)

Emma detects patterns and avoids us at certain times of the day, which is surprising because we never thought she was all that sharp. I prefer to dispense her medicine at night, so she started hiding after 9 PM.

I’ve had to become stealthy, for sure. I’m now focused on continuous improvement so that the whole process can happen at any time of the day and well before Emma knows what the hell is going on.

I’ve also been trying to bring some of that continuous improvement into my life. When activities become a drag, or when events become obligations, it’s good to shake things up. Change my routine. Stop old behaviors and start new habits.

In July, I tried to give up bread and pasta. That lasted until I went to London and ate my way through every restaurant by starting with a bread course. But it was good to be mindful and pay attention to my default behaviors (“get that bread in my tummy!”) and to try to behave in different ways.

So this month I’m not giving up anything. I’m going to shake things up, for sure, but I’m giving up “giving up something” for 31 days. Whatever happens, whenever it happens, will be okay.

And I’ll continue my shock-and-awe medicine strategy with Miss Emma. Pills at night? Meds during the day? Skip a day? It’s going to be just fine. I’m giving up the quest for perfection. I’m happy to give her medicine when she just lets me. 

Look at that face. I need less stress and rigor — and more chill Emma — in my life!

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ruettimann commencement

Last month, I delivered a speech to the 2016 graduating class at Regent’s University London. They have eight colleges under the larger university, and I spoke to the American College (which I attended) and the school of fashion and design.

The ceremony was at St. Marylebone Parish Church where Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning were married in secret back on September 12, 1846. So it’s pretty much me and two famous poets. Not a bad roster.

I’m not going to go full Trump on my speech, but I thought it was pretty great on paper. I had to deliver a shorter version due to time constraints, and it was fine except for the part where I nervously put my hands in the pockets of my dress. (Oh my god, such a rookie move.)

Jennifer McClure came with me and said that the hands-in-the-pocket thing wasn’t so bad. (Mostly because I was behind a large podium.) Then she made me say three things that went well about the day. So I told her — I inspired the next generation of adults, I made a bunch of people happy, and I look okay in blue.

I’m not good at self-affirming statements, obviously, but I know that the speech was earnest. I told the kids — Don’t listen to adults. Do whatever the hell you want to do with your life. Just make sure it’s in the service of others. Then I quickly told them to join the alumni association. I failed to mention that I don’t belong to the alumni association, but that’s precisely the spirit of my speech. Don’t listen to me. Even I don’t trust my advice.

After the ceremony, a very old man in a wheelchair called me over. He said, “I have something important to tell you. You are never so alone in this world that your alumni association can’t find you.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

Countless graduates and parents came up to me and thanked me for my message. The parents, in particular, were hilarious. One said, “I can’t believe you told my child not to listen to me. But it’s true. I didn’t listen to my parents.”

In one case, proud parents were very eager to introduce me to their oldest daughter. She is the first kid in the family to earn a degree, and she graduated first in her class. They were so spirited, and I was moved by the family’s story.

So the verdict is in: speaking in London was an incredibly meaningful experience in my life. If you ever want me to deliver a commencement speech for your graduating class, I’d like to do it again. I think this could turn into a full-time job: motivating and inspiring the next generation of adults one graduation speech at a time!

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EOS ModelA friend of mine recommended a book called Traction. Have you heard of it? He thought that my consulting company and my software company could benefit from implementing The EOS Model™.

What is the EOS Model™? Well, it’s a framework to help founders and CEOs understand everything from people to internal processes. Very simply, it’s just another way to run your business. There are a million models out there. Pick one.

I liked the book because I’m bad on processes. (“It’s all in my head, man.”) That’s the curse of the sole proprietor who is trying to grow. My language and behaviors are okay for me, but they’re not great for my CFO and the other people who are paid to support me. I waste a lot of time on inefficient business practices.

And as I was reading this book, I was simultaneously negotiating a new contract with a client. The procurement department told me, “We have a culture of Net 45.”

Let’s back up.

First of all, this chick was telling me that her company will hold on to my invoice for nearly a month and a half after I do the work because that’s how they do things. I sign a contract, perform a service over the course of a month, and then wait another 45 days to get paid. Wow, the gig economy is awesome!

But she was also telling me, “Our procurement department stakes its identity on Net 45. If I negotiate differently with you, I don’t know who I am. How do I add value?”

All I kept thinking is — Wow, that’s not culture, lady. It’s your process.

And if your process is your identity, you will never grow.

Process-dominant cultures are clandestine killers of innovation. If who you are as a company is defined by how you do things — rather than what you believe or create — you are never going to develop as an organization.

As I start to think about the next version of my business, I know it’s important for everybody to be aligned on what matters. Consistency is key. Alignment is critical. Let’s get our processes and language locked down, of course. But let’s not be captive to the system.

You and me? We’re better if we remember that corporate functions like procurement and HR are meant to support the enterprise — not define it. If there’s no flexibility built into the way you do business, you won’t do business for very long.

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Hey, guys. I’ve had to pivot my race schedule due to my lack of fitness and the heat. I’m now running the City of Oaks marathon for the second time (instead of the Chicago Marathon).

What does this mean?

  1. I get four extra weeks of training.
  2. I can do my longest training run in October after my epic 60 days of travel.
  3. The weather will be much cooler on race day.
  4. I can roll out of bed and run this marathon.

This decision feels right to me. It’s the first decision I’ve made in ages that feels easy. I will run City of Oaks and defer Chicago’s entry until 2017. And I’ve already signed up to visit Mary Ellen Slayter and run the Louisana half-marathon with her in January 2017. Next year is already busy.

So I’m feeling good about the race calendar. And the good news is that I’ll be injury-free and stronger for being able to flex and change my plans!

I’m ready for the fall. Whoo hoo!

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I just finished The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone.

The book chronicles the author’s experience with loneliness but also weaves in stories of art, AIDS, masculinity, feminism, sexual deviance, and the emergence of technology as a mechanism to overcome social isolation.

Yeah, totally uplifting.

But it was so superbly written that you forget you’re reading about pain, despair, and emotional disconnection. In fact, the book was comforting because it was a reminder that loneliness can be an affliction but isn’t necessarily a permanent state of being.

In those times where you feel lonely, all is not lost. You can learn, reflect, and even make great art.

I was also taken with the author’s historical retelling of how we used technology in the 20th century to affirm social connections without making an emotional investment. Social networking, or the lack thereof, isn’t new. From Andy Warhol’s use of tape recorders to the late 20th-century use of nascent web technology to stream video and create hyper-real life on the internet, Americans have been using tech to create weird and sanitized communities for decades.

(TL;DR social networking isn’t new. Loneliness isn’t new. And as we rely more and more on technology, many of us grow exponentially lonelier.)

Strangely enough, I was just talking to my friend Kristen Harcourt about the regrets from my earlier career. My biggest regret is being such an advocate for social networking without thinking about how the social web can separate us from ourselves and our communities.

Where I am today is so different than ten years ago. Back then, I was an early advocate for social media. I traveled the world and taught people to be on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Now I’m teaching people how to unplug and reconnect with the messy, fleshy, complicated reality around them. I’m trying to make the case for in-real-life loneliness and a better and more authentic experience than the loneliness of mindlessly clicking on Instagram.

And I’m constantly re-learning how to do it, too.

So if you get a chance, pick up a copy of The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. You’ll learn a little bit about art, but you’ll also learn about the unifying features of the human heart.

It’s worth a read.

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Being a small business owner is something else. I’m having a weird week, culminating in a meeting that never should have happened.

Here’s the story. A company reached out to me because it thought I could offer some help with an organic marketing plan, which means free advice.

I’m in a weird spot. As a marketing generalist, I always take the call. I’m not looking to provide free advice, but when someone is referred to me and thinks highly of my skills, I’m always happy to help with guidance and connections. Plus I find that these informal meetings yield significant and profitable relationships down the road.

We had to postpone the call a few times. When we finally connected, the first thing one of the team members said to me was, “Remind me again why we’re meeting?”

And it was over in about 11 minutes.

I feel like this is a teachable moment for every young professional in America. If you don’t know why there’s a meeting on your calendar, investigate before the meeting. Use your words. Ask clarifying questions. Nobody likes good meetings, let alone pointless meetings. Show some empathy. Be respectful and don’t waste time.

Meetings are essential tools for communication and progress, but you owe it to your colleagues to be prepared. And you certainly owe your best to someone who is trying to do you a favor.

I took that meeting instead of doing a million other Laurie-related things. I feel like a chump. That won’t happen, again, which is too bad. I really like that brand, and they could use my help.

Nobody wins.

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I’m traveling a lot for work, over the next few months, and I’m sorta worried about my cat.

Jake is 16 years old. He’s nearly deaf. Has a whole host of problems. We’re coming at him twice a day with medicine. And there’s nothing more that he wants to do than crawl up inside of me like a reverse-fetus-kitty.

My other cats are happy when I come home from these trips, but Jake turns into a velcro cat. And I worry about that because I’ve tried to instill “together but separate” in my cats.

We can be together on the couch without you being in my grill. We can be in love with one another without being the same entity. You can sit on my lap, but you can also sit other places, too.

“Together but separate” is of particular importance to me because — if anything happens to me on the road — I want my cats to feel some level of attachment to my husband.

And I take this concept into all of my relationships, by the way. It’s great to hang out with you. I love you a lot. But I’m my own woman. There are no squads.

Jake is beyond annoyed when I enforce the “together but separate” rule. (Like, you know, when I’m eating or peeing.) But that’s okay. A little personal space is a healthy thing.

And I am trying to make sure the “together” part is meaningful. For example, I don’t try to jam a syringe of prednisolone down his throat the moment he wakes up in the morning. Let’s ease into the day and do some rubs before I dose you with medicine.

I’m excited about my upcoming trips. I know my cats will be in good hands. And while I know that Jake will miss me a lot, I know he’ll be happy to receive attention from my husband.

The medication part? Yeah, not so much!

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