Consultant Allison Rimm plans for joy
Two years ago, Allison Rimm left Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was the senior vice president of strategic planning and information management. Rimm, who now has her own coaching and consulting company, had been at the hospital for 16 years, and decided to take her own advice to others: People should make a personal strategic plan for their lives. In her recent book, “The Joy of Strategy: A Business Plan for Life.” Rimm takes a business approach to attaining happiness. She recently spoke to the Globe about her philosophy.
Q. What made you decide to write this book?
A. Mass General is full of big personalities and big expectations, and it can really take a lot out of people. You have all these highly motivated, dedicated, brilliant people burning themselves out, and I realized that the relentless pursuit of goals wasn’t enough. You have to factor in the things that give you joy and satisfaction.
Q. Why did you leave the hospital?
A. I didn’t know how many more budget cycles I could put myself through. And I was spending way too much time with lawyers and dealing with laptop encryption, which made me popular with just about nobody. I was trying to write my book nights, while trying to raise a family and do my job. I finally got to the place where I realized I had to practice what I preached. So I left.
Q. What is it that you preached?
A. You need to find the things you love doing and you’re really good at and move forward with a meaningful plan. It’s called the business of life.
Q. But does joy require a plan? Doesn’t that take the fun out of it?
A. We sort of careen through the day from one task to another, just trying to survive and get it all done, and then we collapse in an exhausted heap at the end of the day. Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives.” That really struck me. I had to make a strategic decision on how I was going to spend my days.
Q. But why a plan?
A. The reason organizations or anyone else creates strategic plans is so you have a vision of success held firmly in mind, and that vision helps you allocate time and resources to focus on the results you really want.
Q. Are you happier now that you have left the corporate life?
A. Yes, I am. Life is an evolution, and mine is evolving much more toward a mix of things I love doing. I’m doing some consulting, coaching, leadership development, and teaching business advice courses. I just love my work. I am able to be so much more present for my family. And I get enough sleep sometimes.
Q. What are the core values you talk about in the book?
A. They are what matters most to you. People need to ask, “Who am I? What do I care about? How do I behave?” Part of feeling satisfied and fulfilled and happy is to be able to feel good about looking yourself in the eye, in the mirror. It’s very affirming.
Q. What if you have a colleague who isn’t a nice person?
A. One thing about leaving my job that was so empowering to me was that I felt I had arrived at a certain point in my life that I deserved the opportunity to only work with people that I like. I’ve turned away consulting jobs for people I don’t really admire.
Q. Tell me about your eight-step planning program for pursuing goals.
A. There’s a Japanese proverb I really love: “Vision without action is a daydream. But action without vision is a nightmare.” The eight steps are designed to walk you through what you’re trying to accomplish. You need to find your mission and set goals and strategies.
Q. One of the steps is to “Find your sweet SWOT.” What is that?
A. SWOT is your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. We size up what’s standing between us and where we want to go. What are your strong and your weak points? What are the opportunities and threats outside your environment that make the journey harder? I really work on playing up people’s strengths. For deficits, you can find others in your life to help you.
Q. Is technology a friend or foe to a joyful life?
A. I think it always goes back to attention and mindfulness. Used mindfully, technology can be an incredibly enabling tool. It can also own you and eat up every bit of your time if you’re not careful.
Q. Give an example of the latter.
A. When my son was in the seventh grade, he played on a local soccer team. The father of one of the stars of the team never made it to a game. But the last game, he did show up and his son made the last goal in the last game, winning it all. The kid jumps up, pumps his fist in the air and turns around to look at his father, who is on the phone with his back to the kid. The boy just collapsed and cried his eyes out.
Q. That makes me want to cry my eyes out. Give me one last tip to make my life better.
A. I start each day by setting an intention. I just spend a few moments thinking about the really big things I want to get done today. I will not allow myself to get to the little things like the 150 e-mails. I keep the big things front and center so they guide my actions through the day, and by the end of the day, I will have accomplished those things.