Optimize or Maximize Our Lives?

Everything in Moderation

Scoop Heuerman (my dad)


David Plummer used to see only one way to the top of the podium. The former Gophers swimmer believed he wouldn’t make it unless he stripped away everything but his sport, putting the pursuit of fast times above all else.

Earlier this month, with a 4-week-old son Ricky asleep on his chest, Plummer laughed at that thought. “I’m almost embarrassed at how long it took me to realize it,” he said. “But the better I try to do in every aspect of my life–as a dad, a husband, athlete, coach–the better everything goes.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune June 26, 2016)


The mechanistic world view, mostly unconscious, has dominated how we think about life and how to live it for 300 years. When we think of people as machines, we run them until they quit, breakdown or checkout. Then we turn to medicine for a quick-fix. Then we max out again.

A living system world view replaced and encompassed the mechanistic world view a century ago. We need to change how we think about life. We need to understand—at work and at home—that managing a social system (a company; a family) means finding the optimal values for the system’s variables (or the goals of the organization and the activities of the family). If we try to maximize any single variable instead of optimizing all variables, the person, the family or the organization will decline, suffer dysfunction, breakdown or die.

We can’t avoid occasional excessive stress and all-out effort in one area of life. Moderate stress alerts and motivates us and sharpens our focus. But maximum stress for a long time in one area of life puts stress on all aspects of our life and harms and destroys living systems–including people.

I’ve been a maximizer more than an optimizer over my lifetime—especially in my work life. I value excellence. I love achievement and strive relentlessly to accomplish my goals. I feel alive as I climb the newest mountain in my life. I’ve gotten a lot done. My late friend, Clinical Psychologist Diane Olson, Ph.D. said I had the intensity gene. As I age, my emotional intensity grows stronger than ever as I know time runs out for all of us and I want to do and experience as much as possible in my life. But at the extreme, I am perfectionistic and obsessive/compulsive. I don’t have a turnoff button. I am impatient and critical of myself and others. I burn out. I figured such intensity harms to me more as I get older than when I was younger. I took up meditation in large part to help me lower my appetites. I work to find the elusive moderation.

My dad was right and David Plummer had a valuable insight as a young age. I hope more kids who maximize sports to achieve unreachable goals, more adults who focus only on career aspirations and more organizations who die far earlier than necessary due to their singular pursuit of profit will learn the lesson David Plummer realized and the wisdom of my dad learned in the school of hard knocks.

As for me, I continue to work to learn how to live in new ways.

A Moment of Authenticity Right Out of Star Wars

A moment of authenticity is when your soul is tired and you don’t care anymore what they might do to you.

Ieshia Evans wanted “to look her son in the eye to tell him she fought for his freedom and rights.”

She wasn’t going to move. “You’re going to have to come and get me.”

I support law enforcement people who do their jobs the right way; I am deeply inspired by everyday people who find the courage to stand alone.

Read the story.

Lies, Delusions & Ignorance

If everyone lives roughly the same lies about the same things, there is no one to call them liars. They jointly establish their own sanity and call themselves normal. Ernest Becker

America has many intractable problems. Americans, along with people of other nations who share many of the same issues, created our difficulties, and we must fix them. Einstein wrote that we cannot solve our problems with the same level of consciousness that created the problems. We need a higher, more evolved level of awareness.

The majority of us say we want change in the country. But things get worse. Of course, other people need to change—not us. We do not take personal responsibility for change. We remain gridlocked.

Change begins with each of us. Only we can create the life we want on the planet earth from the personal to the atmospheric. We can begin by becoming aware of the lies, delusions and ignorant thoughts we tell ourselves that, while part of our human condition have, I believe, grown to dangerous levels of deception that at least threaten our way of life.

Many of us have sincere delusions. I created an alternative reality for myself to justify my addiction to alcohol. What a profound and identity-changing moment it was when reality broke through my defenses. Now 42 years later, I continue to work hard daily to be honest with myself. All of us have the Plato’s Caves of our lives. More of us need to shift our perception from the shadows of the cave to the sunlight of reality.

(Click the above link and see the inside of Learning to Live: Essays on Life and Leadership to read the entire essay on Plato’s Cave at no cost.)

Many times we come to believe deceits we crafted consciously to justify actions contrary to our values and untruths told to ourselves to excuse looking away when injustice happens in front of us. Other times we convince ourselves that magical thinking and quick-fixes will rescue us from our problems. We may scapegoat and demonize others to excuse our own bad behavior. We might blame others for our actions. We can choose to be truth-tellers (at least to ourselves) about our unflattering words and actions.

Little lies can have big consequences: I can control life. If others changed, everything would be okay. I can stop (name your addiction) any time I want. Life sucks; life’s perfect. No one else feels like I do. I’m too old to learn new things. I know what I am doing. We can notice the assumptions we live by and illuminate them and see if they remain valid (or ever were).

Many lie about our external world. Sometimes the lies come from propaganda or ignorance, and we believe them blindly. Some we propagate knowingly: My opinion supersedes science. Evolution is a fabrication. Climate change is not real. We can consume the planet’s resources without repercussions. We can continue to populate the planet without consequences. We can kill off species without harm to ourselves. We will never run out of water. We can stop spreading lies even when the truth goes counter to what we wish the truth would be (that’s called integrity). We can choose to challenge our own ignorance. We can be our own best teachers.

We lie about politics: Since the presidential campaign began on March 23, 2015, Politifact has been fact-checking the claims of the presidential candidates. To make a long, information-filled article short: 60.13% of the fact-checked claims of Donald Trump were rated False or Pants on Fire (13.33% for Hillary Clinton).

If we want to evolve as people, we see reality accurately: we peel away the untruths—whatever their origin–that often control our lives and adapt accordingly. We escape the Plato’s Caves of our inner worlds and become more aware and mature people who make better decisions about how we live.

We have much difficult inner and external work to do if we want to create a good America and a sustainable planet for future generations. We begin when we awaken.

Mesa Arch


Click on the images to enlarge.

Mesa Arch is located about an hour from Moab, Utah in the Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands National Park. If you want to capture this image, you should arrive at least an hour before sunrise as you will probably be joined by many photographers. I left Moab at 4:00 am, arrived at the access trail at 5:00 am for a 6:15 am sunrise and there were already a dozen or so photographers lined up in front of the arch. I was lucky to get the last prime spot. The rising sun lights up the underside of the arch.

More images: