Why I Just Quit the Best Career I Ever Had

I realized recently that my whole career in Silicon Valley has been a fraud.

Why I Just Quit the Best Career I Ever Had Hero

It’s been a delightful fraud, from my point of view. I’ve worked on some of the biggest media, real estate, wellness and consumer technology brands in the world. I’ve worked with the best and brightest, the most conscious and thoughtful teams and CEOs in this Valley.

I was an early employee at two startups that went on to storybook exits: Trulia and, more recently, MyFitnessPal.

And I’ve had the great fortune to work in a way I consider to be “on purpose:” I only work with brands and products I consider transformational, products that help people live healthier, wealthier and wiser lives.

I actually wrote the book on this. It’s called The Transformational Consumer, after a framework, I created to help leaders and companies reach and, more importantly, engage hundreds of millions of customers through the lens of behavior change, the lens of the undying human aspirations of the customers we serve to live better lives and be better people.

All of this has led me to my latest move: joining Lightspeed Venture Partners as an Entrepreneur in Residence. Here, I’m envisioning new ways of helping millions of others through the deepest, most illuminating segments of their transformational journeys.

Why I Just Quit the Best Career I Ever Had

What I have come to realize is that I’ve spent virtually all of my career doing what Steve Jobs called “head fakes”. I’ve been using transformational brands and products as cover, as a strategy for secretly answering people’s deeper, spiritual SOS calls. You want to lose weight, eh? Ok, I’ll help with that. (Enter MyFitnessPal.) But while I was building out that marketing team, heading up our world-class content program, and serving an executive team that grew that business from 45 to 100 million customers and an acquisition by Under Armour in the 2 years I was there, my team and I were slipping our customers all these secret messages.

Secret messages about radical self-acceptance. Secret messages about how deeply worthy of love they are. How deeply worthy we all are.

My dialogue with our customers in my mind went like this: “Behavior change hacks only work for a moment, and you can power them by a desire to change. But you can’t hate yourself skinny. You’ve got to have your basic psychological needs for love and worthiness met for this to be a long-term thing. So, our secret messages, they WILL help you lose weight. But they’ll also lay groundwork for deep well-being. For your deepest peace and joy.”

The older I get, the bolder I get and the more committed I become to bringing 100% of myself to work.

Exhibit A: I’ve been introducing myself on various stages as who and what I really am, in a personal branding/Daenerys Targaryen sort of way: Tara-Nicholle Nelson, Sexy Black Church Lady, Disseminator of Upliftment, Mother of Pugs.

Exhibit B: As a passion project, I’ve been running a series of 30 Day Writing Challenges for Conscious Leaders and Creators, taking a small community of incredible leaders on a journey of transformation and creative flow. The first Challenge had about 100 people. We’re on Challenge #4 now, and we have over 1500 people in this one, all collaborating as they put their souls on deck in their lives and their work.

Exhibit C: Now, as an EiR with Lightspeed, I am devoting my full attention and spirit to working directly on the issue I care about the most: the well-being of our souls. I am on a mission to help others feel the grace, ease, flow and limitless possibilities that I experience every single day, at scale.

And I’m kickstarting this whole project by doing what I do best: immersing in the real-world journeys of the real people I aim to serve as they seek to care for their souls, unlock meaning and purpose and bring the sacred into their everyday lives. My code-name for this project is SoulTour, and I’m in the midst of connecting with regular, everyday people and caretakers of soul all over the country, talking to them and participating in their communities and everyday experiences in an effort to spot the places where I can use content, digital and product to unlock.

I won’t lie: as someone who identifies as a progressive Christian and practitioner of various New Thought modalities, I started this project with the premise that the institution of church was mostly broken, and that God has a PR problem I’d like to help resolve.

But my earliest finding from SoulTour has been quite the opposite: most people still deeply want a relationship with the Divine, with their Source. But they are crafting their own practice and belief systems that work for them, rather than accepting some out-of-the-box pre-packaged kit of beliefs handed down by people who they feel know nothing about their lives.

They are Spiritual, and they are Seekers. Some identify as members of the Religious Left; many others as Spiritual-but-not-Religious. But they are all seeking.

These are my people.

I’m hearing a lot about the incredible appetite for inspiration and guidance for soulful living, and the epidemic levels of anxiety and internal chaos people perceive digital as triggering. But I’m hearing just as much about what is working for people: how they are cobbling together all matter of teachings, wisdom, practices from all manner of content sources, and how they are integrating mobile, content and offline experiences that serve them in the moments, seasons and journeys of their souls.

I’ve been using this weird quote I found online as a poetic sort of framework for my new work in service of our souls. I shared it, and my Beginner’s Guide to the Human Soul, in a TEDx Talk a few weeks ago [Audio of Talk here]. It goes like this:

“You are a ghost, driving a meat-covered skeleton made of stardust, riding a rock hurtling through space. Fear nothing.”

No one seems to know who originally said this. But I love this quote because it contains a through-line from soul and spirit, to our physical bodies, to the laws of the universe and back to us, to our emotions and actions.

No more head fakes. This is the next era of transformational business and leadership: to help people care for their brilliant, beautiful souls.

I’d love for you to join me. Here are a few ways you can get involved. 

1. Watch or listen to my Beginner’s Guide to the Human Soul.

Watch the VIDEO on YouTube: https://youtu.be/o4F3rQNJEPA

Download the AUDIO on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/tara-nicholle-nelson/beginners-guide-to-the-human-soul/s-UxtBf

2. Take the SoulTour survey to share what you do to care for your soul and spirit, and help me understand what would help you live a more soulful life: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZBTN5LN

3. Join my email list if you want to get updates as SoulTour turns into a movement: Get on Tara’s Email List.

4. Join my next 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders and Creators, which starts in November. It’s free and we’ll be setting Vision for 2018. Register here: taranicholle.com/30-day-writing-challenge

Tonsillar Regrowth

A note from Tara: This post was originally a writing prompt I issued to participants in my September 2017 30 Day Writing Challenge. It was so breakthrough-inducing for those folks I had to share it here.

Tonsillar Regrowth

I invite you to join us in November for the next 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders and Creators. Space is limited; register now: taranicholle.com/30-day-writing-challenge.

A little while back, I had to see a head and neck doctor for something or other. While he was in there, I remembered something weird I’d seen during my own DIY doctor stints in the mirror.

I asked him to please look at these weird little bumps I’d seen growing in my throat. I’d asked my own GP about them, and he had no idea what they were but said they looked like “healthy” tissue so not to mind them.

This specialist took one look, stepped back and asked: “When did you have your tonsils out?”

About 30 years ago, I replied.

“Well, what you have here is a pretty rare case of tonsillar regrowth,” he diagnosed. Tonsillar regrowth, I’d learn, is a completely harmless but completely bizarre phenomenon in which one’s tonsils can make little efforts to grow back after you’ve had them out. Physicians think this only happens when the original tonsil tissue was somehow not completely removed.

They don’t grow back all the way to full size; in fact, we’ve been calling my tonsil spots “tonsil buds” or “tonsil nubbins.” But think about this. Something that was natural and innate in my body was cut out (with good reason, at the time). And that thing so insistently demanded to have its rightful spot in my body that it is growing back, fresh and healthy, over three decades later.

Takeaway #1: Aren’t our bodies miraculous? Marvelous? Wondrous? Like, actual, literal wonder? We focus so often on our aches and pains and cellulite. But ever since that day last year, I cannot stop thinking of my body as this marvelous contraption that is so self-correcting in favor of its own well-being, of its own healing, that it will try to grow back what’s been cut out.

Takeaway #2: What is inborn in you, the innate gifts, talents, callings and destiny with which you came here, cannot be totally cut out. Not by failures, not by age, not by even discouragement, or doubt or fear, unless you allow that to happen. Not by a bad childhood. You might think you are too old or too traumatized or too something to do the dream that’s in your heart, but I ask you to please just humor me and try on the belief that these things have all been preparation.

They have honed you, burnished you and thicken your skin. They have tenderized your heart, but also strengthened it. They have helped you get clear. They have helped you become more wise. More loving. More you.

Now, the world needs you. You feel it. I know you do, or you wouldn’t be here.

POD #17: Tonsillar regrowth 

Do you have a dream or a calling that has been dormant, or has just not been an area of focus, for any reason?

What is it? Name it. Detail it. Describe who you would need to be in order to let it regrow, to give it fresh life.

Conditions for Happiness

A note from Tara: This post was originally a writing prompt I issued to participants in my September 2017 30 Day Writing Challenge. It was so breakthrough-inducing for those folks I had to share it here.

Conditions for Happiness

I invite you to join us in November for the next 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders and Creators. Space is limited; register now: taranicholle.com/30-day-writing-challenge.

Hey, y’all:

About four or 12 lifetimes ago, I worked in real estate, selling homes. And I would never have had to work again if I only had a dollar for every home buyer who saw a gorgeous home in a struggling neighborhood and said:

“If only I could pick this house up and put it back down somewhere else. Then, it’d be *perfect*.”

Right. Except then, it would cost a million dollars more than this one. And except that in the neighborhood you love, the lots are half the size of this one. And the houses are twice the age. And have all manner of other things you don’t like.

Oh yeah: and except for the part about how that’s not possible.

POD #12: Conditions for happiness

Scan your world. Is there any relationship or project or area of your life in which you have been imposing impossible conditions on your happiness?

Is there any place in your life where you are telling yourself the story that you would be totally happy if only everyone else did exactly what you wanted them to do and everything turned out exactly the way you would do it?

Are these conditions even possible? Is it an impossible demand to expect the whole entire world and everyone in it to comply with your desires? Are you conditioning your happiness on the impossible?

Now: what would it take for you to decide to be happy in that situation regardless of the conditions? Does thinking about this spark any level of fear? Who would you be if you dropped the conditions and decided to be happy, regardless? How would your conversations change? Your relationships?

Can you envision happiness without conditions? What would that be like, to live? Can you feel it, even for a minute?

Alternatively, have you already figured out how to be happy without conditions, even occasionally or intermittently? If so, describe a situation in which you are happy and satisfied even though someone is not doing what you want them to do, or the circumstances aren’t exactly what you’d pick. How’d you get there?

Use Your Words

A note from Tara: This post was originally a writing prompt I issued to participants in my September 2017 30 Day Writing Challenge. It was so breakthrough-inducing for those folks I had to share it here.

Use Your Words

I invite you to join us in November for the next 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders and Creators. Space is limited; register now: taranicholle.com/30-day-writing-challenge.


We tell kids this all the time, don’t we? Don’t hit. Don’t fuss. And whatever you do, use your words.

But we’re much less clear with them about precisely how to use their words. So human children model the words of those around them, creating mental storylines and ways of wielding our words, both toward others and toward ourselves, that last a lifetime.

Some of these are helpful and healthful, these ways we wield our words. But often times, they are totally unintentional. This is troubling, as words and the energy behind them are the most powerful instruments we have, as humans.

We *think* there’s no instruction manual for how to use our words. But in fact, there are a number of systems and sources of wisdom on this exact topic, from very different sources.


  1. Non-Violent Communication: I walked into the house the other day and found my sweetheart having a deep conversation with my little black pug, Sumiko. “Sumiko, he said, looking her straight in the eye, “When you howl like that, I feel sad. I feel like I’m not taking care of you. And I need you to stop howling, because I really try very hard to make you feel cared for.” Scott was modeling Non-Violent Communication, a sort of philosophy and set of conversational templates for using your words to express yourself, have hard conversations and resolve conflict while minimizing defensive and unintended hurt feelings on the other side. NVC has an undercurrent I like, of requiring each speaker to own responsibility for their own happiness.
  2. Ancient spiritual authorities: One of the Bible verses I personally reference the most is Psalm 18:21, which I grew up on as “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” But I personally love the specific phrasing of The Message version, which goes like this: “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.”

I also like the fleshing out of this principle in Dwight Goddard’s translations of some Buddhist sutras: “As to purity by words. There are five pairs of words that cause much disturbance in the world:

  • words that are suitable on some occasions and wrong on other occasions
  • words that fit certain facts and that do not fit other facts
  • some words are quiet, some are wild
  • some words are beneficial, some harmful
  • some words are sympathetic, some are hateful.

Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them, for good or ill. If our minds are filled with sympathy and compassion, they will be resistant to the evil words we hear, and we must not let wild words pass our lips lest they arouse feelings of anger and hatred. The words we speak must always be words of sympathy and wisdom.”

3. The First of The Four Agreements. Those of you who know me know I am micro-obsessed with The Four Agreements, a set of principles laid down by don Miguel Ruiz for accessing incredible levels of freedom and energy. The First of the Four is to “be impeccable with your words,” which does not just mean to do what you say you’ll do. It means two things:

a) To understand the power of your words to bless or curse yourself and those around you, and

b) To only use your words in favor of love and light, both toward yourself and toward others.

dMR says this single Agreement, practiced consistently, creates a life that comes close to heaven right here on Earth.

POD #10: Use Your Words

Here’s the actual prompt. Use your ever-powerful words to speak, weave and write TWO blessings. The first one is a blessing I want you to write and speak over yourself, your life and/or your future. The second is a blessing you’ll write over/about someone else. The someone else might be your dog, your mate, your kidlets or your bestie. It might be our nation or our world.

Extra credit if you can toss in a bonus blessing over someone you don’t particularly ummmmmmm like.

Write a bit about how it feels to be the bestower of blessings.

What’s Your Game of Thrones Name? [The Most Powerful Writing Prompt I’ve Ever Created]

A note from Tara: This post was originally a writing prompt I issued to participants in my September 2017 30 Day Writing Challenge. It was so breakthrough-inducing for those folks I had to share it here.

What’s Your Game of Thrones Name? The Most Powerful Writing Prompt I’ve Ever Created

I invite you to join us in November for the next 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders and Creators. Space is limited; register now: taranicholle.com/30-day-writing-challenge.


It’s go-time. The 30 Day Writing Challenge starts, right here and right now. By which I mean to say: Party. 👏🏿 Over. 👏🏿 Here. 👏🏿

First, a few logistics. If you haven’t already, please do the following:

  1. Make sure you have added me to your contacts, especially if you use gmail. In this email, click the arrow next to Reply, then scroll down and select Add Tara-Nicholle Nelson to your contacts. This makes sure you get all your prompts from me.

  2. Please click this link and join our Private Facebook Group. Introduce yourself briefly when you’re in.

  3. Open up a new folder in Google Drive or Word, and start a new document dated for today. Many people do this Challenge in a fresh notebook, if you like longhand.

  4. Then write away! You’re welcome to free-write, brain-dump style, or to work on a project you have in mind. I’ve also included a writing prompt for you below, if you’re wanting to work on the Transcend and Transition theme of this Challenge.

  5. Goals many people find helpful are to aim for 750 words, 30 minutes or 3 pages longhand. But here’s lesson #1 in how to work this Challenge: YOU DO YOU. If all you have time to write is a sentence, and you write that sentence you win. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for people to get into the flow and write 3,000 words. They win, too.

  6. If you want to keep track of your cumulative progress or writing streaks during this Challenge, start an account now at 750words.com and copy/paste your Google Docs writing into today’s entry. It is very soul-soaring, to see the total word counts and streaks you rack up over the course of this thing, if you do decide to use 750words.com.

  7. Come back to the Facebook Group at some point today and let us know how today’s writing goes! Bragging is welcome.

OK. Enough logistics. Let’s get straight to the Prompt.

I was one of the longest-ever holdouts from watching Game of Thrones (GoT). But this last season, my cuteface sweetheart convinced me to join him in what has somehow become one of our nation’s most unifying pastimes.

For context and for those who don’t watch, the heroine of the show is a young lady, a Queen, named Daenerys Targaryen. She comes from a long line of rulers, but her ancestors were not well-loved. Her own dad was, in fact, a murderous tyrant. Daenerys is on a mission to break that cycle; to still walk in her regal ancestry, but to be a Queen that liberates instead of imprisoning, and rules with freedom vs. fear.

So she does that. She frees these folks over here, that tribe of eunuchs over there. And every time she does some great feat and wins the hearts of a nation or tribe, she integrates that win, that truth about herself, into her identity. I mean this literally: she introduces herself with her name followed a long list of clauses that detail her feats and describe who she is and wants others to know she is, at her essence.

Somewhere in her title, when she states it, she always adds these words: the First of Her Name.

I find that last bit especially fascinating, because she’s actually not the first ruler with the Targaryen name. But by declaring that she is the first of her name, she reclaims and redefines her identity. She is putting the world on notice that she will not be another one like those who shared her name and came before.

Her name goes like this: “Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons”.

Inspired by Dany (when you have a 271 character name, a 4 character nickname is helpful), I came up with my own GoT name.

It goes a little something like this:

I am Tara-Nicholle Nelson, Sexy Black Church Lady, Lover of God and People, Swinger of Kettlebells, Disseminator of Sparkles, Delighter in French Fried Potato Items, Conscious Creator, Transformational Leader, Relentless Reframer, Spiritual Contrarian, Mother of Pugs, The First of Her Name.

POD #1: What’s your GoT name?

Here’s your writing prompt for Day 1. Whether you watch the show or not, write about this: if you could create your own Game of Thrones name, what would it be? What are the descriptors that would capture the essential qualities of you: the you you are in the process of becoming, not the you you have been in the past, or the you your family has always told you you are.

What would your name be, what would your essence be, if you could sum up who you are becoming without referencing your old limitations, traumas or even current circumstances?

How’s that for a warm-up prompt?

These AI-bot findings will make you understand your emotions better

“Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused, and it is therefore become necessary to gain attention by magnificence of promises, and by eloquence sometimes sublime and sometimes pathetick.”

Samuel Johnson wrote this quote about advertising in 1759. And since right around that time(!), I’ve been using this quote to make a point to entrepreneurs, executives and marketers: that customer and employee disengagement is not a digital problem. It’s a human problem.

I believe the solution to this disengagement dilemma will also be human. Understanding and serving people’s deep, undying human needs is the only real way to connect with customers over time and get them to care about your content and products. I’ve long recommended companies deprioritize digital, big data and AI, at least for awhile, to focus on understanding the undying aspirations and real world real journeys of their customers.

tly that inspired me to change my tune a tad bit. It opened my eyes to the power of digital and AI to help us understand—not trick or manipulate—our own humanity, aspirations and the resistance that often pops up when we try to make a change.

Marketing tech firm Unbounce had their AI machine review the behavior of over 74 milllion visitors to over 64,000 landing pages published by over 2,500 brands across 10 industries. They paid particular attention to the rate at which visitors signed up to download content or connect with the brand that published the page. (Marketers call this a conversion rate.)

But from my point of view, the data on what does and doesn’t inspire people to enter their email surfaces insights into our aspirations, emotions and the actions we’re taking online as we try to get healthier, wealthier and wiser. A few takeaways you might find helpful to know about yourself, if you’re on any sort of transformational journey of your own:

  • You desire help making complex transformation topic simple. In 6 out of the 10 industries Unbounce looked at, people were much more likely to enter their email address to download something if the content on the page was at a 9th grade reading level or lower.

    By itself, that sounds like Marketing 101. What is interesting is that these 6 industries were ones in which our questions and challenges are likely to be relatively complex: real estate, business consulting, credit and lending, health and home improvement.

    Upshot: when you have a goal or want to make a life change in one of these areas, you’ll set yourself up for success if you can distill your vision down to a super simple statement or objective. And it might be to your advantage to forego even trying to understand every complex layer of the subject or set goals with lots of steps and layers to them. Think: “get to bed by 10”, “rewrite website copy” or “unclutter kitchen drawers” vs. “go Paleo” or “get organized”.

  • You know you need help with your “wealthy” goals. Out of the 10 industries covered, people were most likely to engage with pages offering content about business consulting, credit and lending and vocational studies/job training pages. (Travel was up there, too.)
  • But you believe “healthy” is something you have to do on your own. You go online to learn about what it takes to get healthy and what new knowledge or fresh approaches might be out there. You may know you need some help getting yourself to make the behavior changes involved in living a healthier life. But you’re skeptical about whether anyone else can really, truly help you make these shifts. Visitors only engaged with 12% of health pages published, one of the lowest rates of all the industries analyzed.

    There are so many products and people making wild health claims in the world, this skepticism seems wise. But this is also true: seeking help making changes you’ve tried forever to make on your own is a pro level move. So is experimenting with different approaches until you find something that works for your personal body and lifestyle and mindset.As someone who lost 60 pounds over 20 years ago, though, there’s another shift I recommend to almost anyone who has ever tried and failed to change their health habits. Here it is:

  • You can’t scare, hate or disgust yourself into action. As the former chief marketer for the world’s largest fitness app, I’ve said this sentence, over and over again: “You can’t hate yourself skinny.” It doesn’t work. If it did, America would not have an obesity epidemic, and yo-yo dieting would not be a thing.

    Fear and disgust are very low vibration, low energy emotions, and shifting your habits for the healthier, wealthier and wiser requires significant energy over a sustained period of time. You can stare at your cellulite in the mirror all you want or click on a million of those creepy belly fat ads, but feeling fear or hate or disgust will never be a powerful motivator for the lasting changes you want to make.

    This report adds a new layer of insight: fear and disgust aren’t even that effective at motivating very short term transformational behavior, like entering your email address to get more information or download a resource guide. In all but one of the ten industries examined, the Unbounce AI machine found that where even 1-2% of the words on a landing page evoked negative emotions like fear and disgust, people were significantly less likely to seek further interaction with the brand.

Just this morning, Facebook reported having “killed” two AI-powered chatbots because they developed their own untranslatable, non-human language. This was particularly salient for me, as I was still processing a talk I’d had with Carl Schmidt, Co-Founder and CEO of Unbounce, when this report came out.

As Carl talked me through this report, he explained how their “machine” focuses for the time being on copy, meaning, sentiment: the power of the word.

This is a very human thing. And so is the tendency to try to use your own inner dialogue, your own words, to scare or shame yourself into making hard changes. This data is valuable in proving what many transformation teachers have long known: it just doesn’t work.

Rewire yourself to use the power of your own words, the words you speak or think to yourself, in favor of yourself. Fear doesn’t motivate, it disengages. Love, and in particular, self-love, can spark and fuel any transformation you ever want to make, over the long run.

How to De-Chaos Your Nervous System

Awhile back, I took my team to an offsite at the Wanderlust Yoga Festival in Lake Tahoe. They had been going super hard in challenging circumstances, so it was very well-deserved. It was also an opportunity to walk my own talk about how rest can interrupt the intense demands we place ourselves, clicking us back into our natural state of flow, creativity and productivity.

How to De-Chaos Your Nervous System

We left straight from the office one afternoon, after an intense group work session. At one point during the session, I’d gone over to the white board to add my thoughts. I turned around, and realized that the rest of the team members’ eyes had grown big, and their brows had furrowed.

They had absolutely zero idea what I’d written. Except for one woman, with whom I had worked for years. She took over, erasing my scrawl and rewriting it legibly, all the while explaining to the group’s laughter that she even has a pet name for my handwriting: “Tara-glyphs”.

Har har.

We got a good laugh out of it, wrapped the session, and trucked up to Tahoe. There were only 3 rules for this offsite:

  1. We had a farm-to-table dinner as a group, and a lunch the following day.
  2. We’d all check in with each other via text throughout the weekend.
  3. The festival is your playground. Get after it.

That’s it. I was more focused on creating a no-pressure two-day cocoon of rest and recharge than on trying to get substantive work done on the trip. The teammate who wanted to do 7 hours of workshops and a hike before dinner could do that. (And she did.) And the one who wanted to lie by the pool for 7 hours before dinner could do that. (And she did, too.)

I myself went to a yoga workshop, a meditation and writing workshop one day. I stopped checking email. I sat down and just talked with my team. We talked about life and love and work and play. And we ate. Then we ate some more. And we slept the sleep of the tired tech team in Tahoe: dark, silent, deep and dreamy. The next day, I went to another two yoga and meditation workshops.

At the end of day two, something really weird happened. I went to sign up for the meditation/yoga workshop leader’s email list. And as I did so, I watched my hand move across the page, almost as though it was someone else’s. Perfectly neat, round, fluid script came off of my fingertips, with no effort to make it so. I watched in amazement. For years, I’d believed that decades of an all-typing, all-the-time lifestyle had simply destroyed my handwriting.

Apparently, I was wrong.

What I realized in that moment was that I’d been missing something, despite my best efforts to manage my body and my mind with quality food, fitness, relationships and recreation. I’d forgotten to down-regulate of my nervous system. And I’d more or less accidentally done this after just 4 or 5 hours of yoga and meditation, an evening of deliciously deep sleep in a place so beautifully dark and quiet, and the company of people I love to work and play with.

As my hand moved with precision and flow, without my conscious bidding, I realized that my ability to create, lead and innovate while living in joy and fun all depend on my nervous system. Our nervous systems need to be deeply tuned-up on occasion—not just worked and wringed out and released.

The entrepreneurial life is a delicious one. But it places intense loads on the nervous system, many beyond what we even realize consciously. We are on all the time – ruthlessly focused. Ruthlessly engaged. We have to make fast, hard decisions and engage in intense, hard conversations, all the time. We have to create, to innovate, to compete. We have to switch contexts constantly, addressing issues from accounting to research to leadership to product design to marketing, all in a day.

Sometimes all in a meeting.

I proceeded to write about 5,000 words in the following few hours. And I wrote maybe 15,000 words in the couple of days thereafter. Down-regulating your nervous system is not optional fun thing to do: it’s necessary, especially if you want to live out to the edges of your possibilities.

Here’s how you can do just that:

  • Practice taking in the good. Psychologist Rick Hanson talks about how our brains are wired to take in the bad, as a matter of evolutionary defense. This can cause us to perceive daily stresses with the same fear as we would life-threatening situations, with the result that we live on high alert. Hanson advises adopting a practice he calls “taking in the good,” intentionally stopping and encoding our bodies and brains with the pleasurable feelings of happy, calm, relaxing moments as they arise in the course of daily life. This practice of taking in the good brings down our resting levels of nervous system arousal and cultivates a mindful, fear-free experience.

To take in the good, Hanson says we must do these 3 steps:

1.  “Look for good facts, and turn them into good experiences” – look for at least 6 positive facts or experiences a day, either on the fly, as they come about or during reflection, like right before bed.

2.  “Really enjoy the experience” – sit with the sensation that each of these 6 good experiences is filling up your body, for at least 20 or 30 seconds in a row.

3.  “Intend and sense that the good experience is sinking into you” – Hanson provides a few vivid visuals to imagine, like the feeling of the good experience is spreading through your chest like the warmth of a cup of cocoa, as you drink it.

  • Wrap the uncomfortable areas of your life in a cashmere blankie. This is my way of explaining why I invest so much of my time and money in restorative experiences. When I’m working, I go very very hard, and am constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone. So I stack my precious spare time with long walks and fun workouts, beautiful dinners with friends, cozy movie nights at home, spa days, wellness and writing retreats, and trips to gorgeous places. My home is very comfortable, and I choose clothes and shoes that are both beautiful and very comfortable. Cashmere ranks high. I need to be comfortable with productive, expansive discomfort at work. So I stack the rest of my life in comfort, where possible.
  • Create a restorative morning and evening routine. Get intentional about how you start and end your day. Learn about the practices that other creative people and great role models of productivity found helpful, and experiment with a routine that works for you. Don’t fight it because you want to stay in bed or you feel powerless against the pull of checking your Facebook feed at 2 am. Accept the reality that screen-staring is damaging to your sleep and your energy.

Personally, I wake up early, read something powerful, pray and meditate, then walk my dogs and do Morning Pages, a daily free-writing practice. It takes time, definitely. But by 9 am my most-prized tool (my brain) is primed and ready. I’ve already used my writing as an emotional windshield wiper, and I’m eager to start the day.

  • Explore therapy or coaching. We all have old emotional wounds, triggers, ancient wrongs and blocks we could stand to work through and let go of. It’s amazing how much these things collectively contribute to a high-running state of arousal, even when we’re at rest. Investing in therapy made me a better person and a better mate, but it was extraordinary the level of unintended impact it had on my work life. I’m a substantially calmer, more conscious leader, and the fun I have in every single area of my life is way up.
  • Deal with your substance abuse issues. I’m talking about caffeine. Some people can drink coffee all day and night, with no problem. I am not one of those people. At one point, my nervous system had a real-talk intervention with m. Every day, I was 6 shots of espresso in, on fire, full of ideas and in love with life, by 10 am. Then around 1 pm, I was curled in the fetal position under my standing desk.

So I stopped coffee. I lost that faux spike of energy, but now I’m good to go all day. And I do drink the easier-to-handle caffeine in green tea. I also have found adaptogens like Chaga mushroom extract and MCT oil to help support a creative, high-energy brain in a more sustainable, less crashy way.

If you have this same reaction to coffee, don’t fight it. Dare to be different. Give it up, if it’s not working for you.

  • Eliminate the frictions of unnecessary decisions and “switching costs”. This is why Steve Jobs wore a uniform: even the tiniest decisions you make “cost”, in the form of a little energy drain, a little friction on the nervous system. If you can eliminate the need to make small or inconsequential decisions, you’ll add energy back into the system. I have my own version of a work uniform: A-line dress, cashmere cardigan, metallic sandals. Period.

My friend Heather Fernandez, Founder of Solv. Health and Board Member at Atlassian, used to have a practice of asking any team member who was heading out to lunch to bring something back for her. And here’s the kicker: she was always happy, no matter what they brought back.

  • Seek out places where you can create margin, every day. In his book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Richard Swenson meticulously makes the case that most of us run on empty, most of our lives. He advises getting intentional about creating margins of un-obligated resources in our calendars and bank accounts.

No matter how impossible you think this is, it is not. It is excruciatingly powerful. I’ve gotten ‘religious’ about Sundays off for church and family, and about holding certain days meeting-free, just to allow for the nervous system unfurling and resulting creativity that happens in the margins.