Executive Search and Management Consulting

Alan M. Sherman, M.D.
A Man of Vision

This section is dedicated to the words, wisdom and insights of my beloved father and guide, Alan Sherman. His work has inspired me and given meaning to my enterprise. In tribute, I would like to share his wisdom with you.

Beyond Growing Old: Individual Empowerment as a Key to Personal Vitality

T.I.B.E.T. and the Process for Effective Change


Beyond Growing Old: Individual Empowerment As A Key To Personal Vitality

A Thought Paper Prepared for The Workshop Unlimited Board of Directors Meeting

Alan M. Sherman
The Workshop Unlimited

Vitality is instantly recognized in others. We see it most clearly in children. Shaw’s famous quote, “Youth - it is wasted on the young” only heightens our awareness of this quintessential ingredient in life. Vitality is a natural part of childhood; it takes very little to make it flourish. For some children, it is suppressed and it is terribly tragic to see their vitality lost so early in their lives.

As we grow older, our sense of vitality often becomes dull losing its natural brilliance. This dullness is often called “ the consequence of living in the real world.” In due time if we do not take corrective steps our vitality is lost; for many the process is slow and its disappearance is unnoticed.

Is this an inevitable process that we must accept as a consequence of aging? Is it like gray hair, loss of muscle tone, wrinkles, aches and pains? Is it like dying slowly? I wish to join my voice to the poet Dylan Thomas in remembering his words, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

What then is vitality and what can we do to see that it thrives in us and in others? I have a simple formula that puts forth the essential ingredients:

V = P + S

Vitality is the sum of power plus stretching over balance. As we grow older, each of these ingredients appears more difficult to maintain. Let’s examine this more closely and see if it is true and what we can do to remain vital.

Vitality and power have an interesting relationship. We have generally come to assume a very limited meaning to the word “Power.” We tend to think of and relate power in a number of ways. Some time ago, I asked a friend of mine how he managed his power. “What power?” he said looking puzzled. As someone who founded and ran a major department at a university hospital, people around him associate his position with power; however to him, he had no power. Power to some is what other people see - people who are in control of the lives of others.

I have come to look at power as comprising three aspects. The first is its more external form both in the physical and material sense. The second is an internalized form which is analogous to self-esteem. The third is spiritual form. These three components interact with each of us. You could say they are like fingerprints in that each of us has different ways of interacting with power. Despite our individual ways of dealing with power, they are held in dynamic balance and change throughout our lives.

Stretch in the formula is intended to characterize both the physical and mental sense of the word - trying to reach a little further in our abilities. This applies to physical exercise, playing a piece of music, or listening to others with compassion. It applies to anything we may think or do that takes us beyond that which is safe, comfortable and familiar.

Balance, too, is intended to connote physical and mental movement. Those of us who saw the film, “The Karate Kid” watched the teacher exhort his young friend to “balance, balance, balance” while throwing punches at him. Fathers and mothers teach their children to ride bicycles by teaching balance. Balance is a basic component in the development of any skill. In my practice, I have observed that emotional and mental balance comes from a harmony between our thoughts, feelings and actions.

In thinking about my formula, the use of our power can serve to balance our actions, whether we are engaged in a sporting activity or getting work accomplished. All actions in our lives - food consumption, interactions with others – can be more effective if we proceed in a balanced manner.

Some of us have been extremely fortunate in our early lives to have been taught to maintain vitality by accepting and adjusting to change. Most of us, however, have not been guided in the development of these abilities; nor is our society enriched with successes in this approach. My belief is that we must look for new ways to intervene earlier in life to help ourselves and others maintain our sense of vitality.

I have also thought that as we become older, especially in a society that has limited value for older people, it can become difficult to believe in our own sense of power and the willingness to continue to stretch both in our private and business lives. If we are to maintain balance in life, we must adjust our goals, our awareness, and our sense of achievement to fit our circumstances. Our sense of power must come to depend more heavily on an internal sense of ourselves – both spiritually and personally.

As I mentioned previously, the earlier we recognize this issue, the better preparation we can make to our own aging process. This is not something to be “taken up” once the long shadows begin to fall. It is a personal philosophy that guides the raising of our children as well as helping our most senior people. As I indicated earlier, vitality is part of most children’s experience. It is when we begin to shape a child’s experience that we interfere with or enhance an individual’s ability to maintain vitality. An emphasis on getting things right and the denial of the child’s experimenting begins to set a pattern for self-doubt and poor self-esteem. Frequently in our zeal to protect our children or guide them to fit better into society, we discourage exploration of power needs, stretching and balance.

In closing, let me leave you with this thought. I have recently begun to play the cello. I’ve taken lessons and practice with great enthusiasm. In the music I play, I’ve recognized vitality – power, balance and stretch. Trained as a doctor, I have understood the need to get things right and follow a set plan. In music, as in dance, you need to “feel” the act that you are performing. Although we need training and guidance in life, we need to maintain our ability to change and adjust.

As playing music has taught me, you must not let a misplayed note distract you from joy in the sound and the process of playing music. Some of us have been so well trained to get the notes right that we forget about the music and the joy. Searching of and finding our own sense of power and our own center of balance can be the essential steps toward a return to vitality.

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There seems to be little doubt that we are all caught up in the issue of change. This may refer to change as we are experiencing it within our communities, our schools, and our homes. This type of change happens to us. The current moves us and we respond. There is also the change that we set about to make happen for ourselves and for those around us. The focus here is primarily on the latter.

Each of us deals with change in our own unique fashion. Some of us embrace it as if it were a welcome visitor; others among us are a bit more wary or cautious. Some of us will aggressively court change as we would a serious challenge often moving very quickly in its direction. Again, some of us try to hold off what feels like the inevitable for as long as possible.

We have been interested in this process for many years now and have worked with hundreds of individuals and the organizations for which they work. For the sake of perspective we will be addressing the issue of what we call Effective Change: approaches, processes, and the sustainability of these changes.

What makes this process so compelling is the increasing belief in the possibilities for change and for assuming personal responsibility for it. It has major ramification for us as individuals, our company, our family, as well as the community. As with most complex issues rarely are those of our communities or us within families prepared for change at the same time. The timing, intensity, and degree have their own rhythm for each of us. With the very best of intentions there are inevitable conflicts that need to be addressed and resolved in order to move forward effectively.

At the heart of The Workshop Unlimited philosophy lays the idea that most of us want to have a life that is interesting, fulfilling and most important, one that allows us a sense of vitality. It is our view that vitality is a personal and dynamic combination of physical, mental and spiritual energy. Our ability to think and act in a lively and creative manner is propelled by this combination of forces, which enhance our inner strengths and self-esteem. During the course of our work, we have found there are five significant aspects of our lives that need addressing if we are to make significant and useful changes. They are issues concerning, Time, Ideals and Values, Balance, Empowerment and Ties or connections. These words form the acronym, T.I.B.E.T.™


The five sections of T.I.B.E.T.™ organize thinking about how to approach and handle change. They form a synergistic whole; each section becoming more powerful when combined with one or more of the others. Time, Ideals, Balance, Empowerment, and Ties, the concepts that form T.I.B.E.T.™, are always interconnected. None stands alone.

Each of us measures TIME in a slightly different way. Some of us are linear and measure time in terms of dates and anniversaries. Some of us think of time in a more abstract form, a circular passage of moments we watch and cannot control. Some measure time by what is left to accomplish, goals to be reached. It is important to discover how you think about time and how it influences and is influenced by the other T.I.B.E.T™ issues.

These help to set a frame around what we are working to accomplish, around our emphasis on particular aspects of our lives and work, around the obvious discrepancies between what we espouse and what we actually do. Our values discover and settle on goals, on how we obtain and use money and other resources, on who and what we cherish, what we discard. We have found that frequently a gap occurs between our stated values and how we are actually living.

So few of us believe there is any BALANCE in our lives. We often struggle to make it happen. Balance is much broader than how much time we spend with our families versus how much time at work. We all have some type of internal balance operating that relates to how we value ourselves and how we are valued by others. It is a process, when done appropriately that allows us to work or play intensively and then to recover. It is expenditure and renewal.

This is a word so over-used it has undergone a crisis of credibility. What we are looking at is our openness to ideas, our continued creativity, and our ability to encourage those around us to do the same. This reciprocity is the key to continued growth, learning, liveliness and health. Empowerment is about taking care of ourselves and those around us; it is about developing our potential, our best health and energy in order to remain creative and productive.

Changes, as they occur to us, affect those around us as well. Sometimes this is deliberate and sometimes it is not intended. We have found that changes that are not grounded in this appreciation on the effect on others are often either short-lived or destructive. We must be mindful of the effect on those closest to us our loved ones, family, close friends, and even those with whom we work. Our changes are tied to our communities, neighborhoods, cities, and churches. And last and most certainly not least is our connection to ourselves. It has been said that we often don’t have time for each other; we are so busy getting on with our lives. Being in touch with oneself is not some esoteric mind game; it is knowing when we are hungry, when we are tired, when we need time by ourselves, when we need to laugh more, when we are getting ill before it is too late. All of this is essential if the changes we seek are to be useful, effective, and creative and contribute to our own vitality and to the vitality of those around us.


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