Sustainability and Focus

by  Julie Winkle-Giulioni  |  Leadership Development

Sustainability gets a lot of attentions these days… and rightly so. As a society, we’re bringing greater consciousness to the preservation and endurance of the environment, energy, and more.

Yet, there’s one precious natural resource that rarely gets the same attention. And for too many people, it’s reaching dangerous depletion levels.

How sustainable is the personal energy you bring to the focus you deploy against your goals, mission, and purpose in life?

Throughout our upbringing, school and work experiences, many successful individuals have learned and honed a potentially destructive form of focus: the forced and fierce variety. You may recognize it as a sense of intensity and drive that propels you forward toward your goals… and toward complete burn-out.

Be honest…what does focus feel like to you? If you’re like most, the following words and phrases might come to mind:

  • Determination
  • Discipline
  • Force of will

I know for myself that despite how joyful my goals might be, it frequently feels like a forced death march toward achieving them. (And forced death marches by their very nature are totally unsustainable.)

What if we could cultivate a sustainable, softer – not harder – focus?

This is not an argument for becoming lazy or sitting around waiting for your goals and purpose to take care of themselves. Instead, it’s an invitation to find the place within you where joy, receptivity, fun, and lightness can actually clear the way and enable the rigor and persistence required to see your results through.

And here is the key… based upon interviews with leaders who have successfully navigated the good and bad, the ups and downs to achieve long-term goals: They figured out how to elevate the path they were on or process they were going through to the same level as the purpose or the goal they were pursuing.

When will we understand that the ends don’t justify – or sustain – the means?

Many of our goals are big and, let’s face it, there’s no guarantee that we’ll be here to see them realized. But even when we are, achievement is SO fleeting. We cross the finish line in the blink of an eye… so we’d better have something to show for it in terms of pleasure along the way.

What can you do to make sure that you’re bringing joy to the journey… that the process delivers as much pleasure as realizing the purpose?

Sustainability of your personal energy and focus frequently comes down to ‘small stuff’ that yields big results:

  • Intentionally sprinkle the activities you enjoy into every day.
  • Spend time with the people who make you smile.
  • Celebrate the little things.
  • Routinely step back and away from the work associated with achieving your purpose.
  • Take up a hobby. Have some fun. (“Wasting” a little time is frequently exactly the softness you need to be able to focus clearly and stick with your goals even longer.)

Your purpose and goals are important. Not just to you… but to a world that’s waiting for and needs your contributions and achievements. As 2012 comes to a close and the new year offers a fresh start, consider resolving to replace burn out with an approach that will keep burning strong over the long-haul of your life.

Focus softly and bring sustainability to your own precious natural energy resource.

Photo credit: Liz Price and

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What People Are Saying

David M. Dye  |  03 Dec 2012  |  Reply


I really appreciate the approach to sustainability – not just in tangible things, but in our motivation, energy, and joy. You packed some powerful concepts into just a few words.

Your point about ends and means really resonates when seen through the lens of sustainability.

Thank you!


Julie Winkle Giulioni  |  03 Dec 2012  |  Reply

Thanks, David, for sharing your thoughts. Finding that softer, sustainable focus is an ongoing challenge for me… and I’m imaging others as well. How do you do it? Given your practice, clients, blogging… how do you approach focus in a way that doesn’t leave you burned out?

David M. Dye  |  04 Dec 2012  | 


That’s a great question – I hit ‘reply’, put my hands on the keyboard…and then stopped.

Not as easy to answer as I thought :)

The short answer is that I’m not always good about it. The longer answer is that I have learned the hard way (through negative impacts on health or relationships) to listen to myself. The deeper answer is that living sustainably requires us to stay focused on what’s important and what we really want. It’s easy to get distracted by shiny things or fear. Finally, the practical answer is that I use my calendar & task management and regularly assess what I see there against my values.

Thanks for making me think a little deeper!


Julie Winkle Giulioni  |  04 Dec 2012  | 

This is really good stuff, David. You are right… those shiny things and fear.. and for me sometimes not really being sure about what I want… can be powerful distraction. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Julie

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