I’ve come to realize that, in the course of my life, I’ve acquired habits of mind and action that have really worked against me, time and time again. Most of us have. I’m not alone in that. And I’ve also come to realize that those poor habits have always seemed to work for me because I was fairly functional and I didn’t have a lot to lose. The stakes weren’t particularly high, and I didn’t have much motivation or reason to change the way I thought about and did things.
Prime Example: My old plodding “slow and steady wins the race” approach, which saw me spending years upon years moving steadily towards a distant goal, only to give up at a certain point… for some reason or another. My intention all along was to keep things at an even keel, to not let things get out of hand and not to feel out of control, and to move forward slowly, putting one foot carefully in front of the other. The problem was, when I did that, I didn’t develop any tolerance for stresses and strains, and I became more susceptible than ever to the ups and downs of life. If things went “too fast”, I would freak out. If things didn’t go according to plan, I would lose it. I was in a perpetual state of anxiety, because I feared with all my heart those ups and downs that are in fact a normal part of life. And with nearly every major undertaking of my life, where I had a dream I wanted to realize with all my heart, I gave up when the going got “out of control”. I just let things drop, because the anxiety was too intense for me.
It’s become painfully clear to me in the past couple of years that if I continue to follow those habits of mind and action, I’m really not going to get anywhere. I’m going to stay stuck in that same-old-same-old world and I’m not going to live the life of my dreams — I’m going to just keep dreaming about the life of my dreams. I need to be more resilient. I need to be less fragile. I need my life to be less dependent on things be exactly as I envision them. I need to learn to handle those ups and downs a whole lot better. I need to actually welcome the unexpected and see where it will take me.
I think I’ve figured out how to do it. This new technique of mine involves treating unexpected things — and a lot of the things I used to fear with all my heart — as welcome challenges, not dreaded threats. It’s about walking straight into situations that normally terrify me, and taking them as they come — as a warrior, not a worrier.
See, here’s the thing… I need to be more resilient. I need to develop more ability to handle anxiety-producing situations. I need more practice dealing with those things in a positive way.
That takes practice. It takes a constant, regular willingness to step up and go into situations where I am not 100% confident of my abilities, but I am 100% confident that I will build up my abilities through this practice. It takes a willingness to look stupid, to look foolish, to possilbly be taken advantage of, and the understanding that I’m not going to be perfect the first time out, but I will get stronger. And better. And smarter, along the way.
Of course, this involves added stress — in moderate doses — followed by ample rest and relaxation. It means I need to push myself a bit, then back off and let myself digest everything. It’s like having a good workout and wearing yourself out, then resting and eating well for days afterwards, giving your body a chance to recover and bounce back — stronger than before.
The hard part in all this for me is the resting period. I’ve never been big into relaxation, and in fact, I’ve only learned to consciously relax in the past couple of years. There has been so much stress in my life, for as long as I can remember, just getting through each day, and the costs of me not being “on” have been high. Nobody likes to be attacked — physically and verbally — and nobody likes to be ridiculed. If I wasn’t paying attention and wasn’t on the defensive, that’s exactly what would happen to me, when I was a kid. And that pattern persisted over the years, in some cases becoming self-fulfilling.
So many times, we get exactly what we expect, and my expectations were very low.
Very low, indeed.
Now, though, it’s just not cutting it for me anymore. I am so sick and tired of the mediocrity around me, and the company I’ve ended up keeping over the years. I am sick and tired of being at the mercy of employers and C-level execs and managers who care more about themselves and their own little empires than the welfare of the whole company. I am sick and tired of being pushed and pulled around and used like a tool by people who have no ethics and certainly no apparent morals. I’m not getting on my high horse. I just get sick and tired of having my life influenced by people without vision and character, whose values bear no resemblance to mine.
And I’ve had enough of working for people who will happily throw me under the bus for their own short-sighted agendas, which cause so much pain and suffering to their employees and direct reports.
They don’t care about me. They don’t care about anything but themselves. Why should I care about them? And why should I keep being stuck with them and their hare-brained schemes? Makes no sense.
So, to pull away from all of that and make my own way in the world, I need to be a lot more resilient and a lot less fragile. I need to see challenges and failures and necessary and important steps along the way to making my life what it should be. I need to stop seeing things in terms of “shortcomings” and “failure”, anyway. They’re all lessons. Plain and simple. Just lessons — and opportunities to grow and learn and be better tomorrow than I am today.
All that being said, I really need to change around my approach to how I do things. Rather than mapping things out, slow and steady, and plodding through them, I need to get some fire into it. I need to push myself hard to get through the challenges, with my attention trained on what’s going on. And then I need to let it go. I waste waaaay too much time worrying about the results of my actions and choices, concerned that they may be harmful to others. It’s good to desire positive relations with others, but not at the expense of doing what you need to do.
I’m way too haunted by the “terrible” things I’ve done. Plenty of people over the years have accused me of hurting them, doing and saying “awful” things that cut them to the quick. Okay, maybe I have been on the rough side at times. I admit that. At the same time, I realize I’ve taken way too much flak from people for their own problems, their own weaknesses, and their own unwillingness to take responsibility for their own B.S.
Seriously, I have had it with people who make me responsible for their pain. I’ve wasted way too much time on people like them, thinking I was going to help them or make things easier for them. Silly. All I did was drag myself down. They weren’t interested in lifting themselves up. They just wanted people to feel sorry for how “down” they were… and then stay stuck in that pitiful state. And the more I tried to help them, the more they turned on me. Because they couldn’t stand the idea of things actually working out for them, and if my example and my words and support threatened what they knew, they would actually turn on me and punish me for trying to help them.
What a waste. I feel really bad for folks like them. But is it worth me holding myself back for them? No. Not at all.
So, here’s my new approach — push hard and just do what I need to do. Be clear about what I need to do, both for myself and others. Be totally honest with people and let them know where they stand with me, and let them worry about how they handle it. Quit taking responsibility for things I cannot control (like other people’s state of mine), and take full responsibility for myself. And treat challenges and “threats” as chances to learn important lessons. The harder things are for me, the more necessary the lessons. And the more I walk right into those lessons — face forward, standing tall — the more I have to gain.
I’m going to get knocked down. I know that. I am going to take heat, and I’m going to be threatened by people who seek to undermine me. But if I stay strong in my mind and keep focused on what it is I am doing and how I am going to do it, that can get me through. And if I keep flexible and open to change, and if I get plenty of rest and good sleep, then I can take whatever comes.
That much is clear to me, after I got 5 hours of sleep in my nap yesterday. I had a bunch of things planned, and I had a very busy morning. After my lunch and shower, I lay down “for a little bit”. I didn’t set the alarm. I just let myself sleep. And when I woke, it was 5 hours later. And I felt phenomenal. Really, really good. The best part was, later when it was time for bed, I didn’t stay up. I actually went to bed. And I got some more good sleep. I pushed myself hard, then I rested.
And today I feel like I can handle just about anything. I had my morning workout. I had an idea for a new project that’s about 5 years out (and depends on my current projects going well). And my day does not look as terribly overwhelming and daunting to me, as it often does, when I have just one day left in the weekend and there’s a lot I haven’t accomplished that I intended to.
I have a plan put together for how to handle everything, I know most of what needs to be done, and I’ve learned some incredible lessons in the past couple of weeks that will help me a whole lot later on. I’ve made some expensive mistakes in the past months, but those are not likely to happen again, and that’s worth more to me than all the easy “success” in the world.
I’m just starting out down this new road, and I am very hopeful of the good that will come of it. If nothing else, having this new approach and new attitude will help me feel better along the way, instead if burdening me with all sorts of heavy concerns about things I cannot control and am not responsible for. It’s good. It’s really good. Plus, taking my lumps and learning as I go will only help me across the board, as I move forward.
I just need to give myself ample time to rest. And now that I have that critical piece in place in my life — knowing how to relax, and realizing just how good it feels — I’m one step closer to having that be a reality for me on a regular basis.
It’s all a process of course. I will make progress, then I will lose ground. That’s just how things go. But I will keep moving and I will keep progressing. It’s all good — and it’s just getting better.