Push hard, then let it go

Yeah – push it

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.


Getting ready for the day

Getting ready…

I just came across an interesting blog — Short stories from life.

Here’s a good story from it — “A life wasted”. It’s about what can happen when you make certain choices in life.

And it gets me thinking about the choices we all make in the course of each day. The long weekend is ahead of us, here in the States, and that means I have time to rest and catch up with myself after what has been a pretty grueling week.

It’s Friday, and it feels like “fried”-Day. That came to me this morning at 5 a.m. when I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. I got up and sat and breathed for a little bit, but my head was just going and going, so I had to just get up and get on with it. I was a little tweaked that I had tried to get to bed at a decent hour, but hadn’t actually gone to sleep till around 11:30. And then I wake up at 5:00 and can’t get back to sleep. What a pain. I considered skipping my morning exercise routine, because I felt tired and out of sorts. I even considered skipping my formal “sit” where I breathe and balance out my fight-flight inclinations. But then I got downstairs and checked my notes and realized I hadn’t really done anything substantial, exercise-wise for the past two days, and I was due.

I decided it wouldn’t hurt to do a little bit of exercise. And it wouldn’t hurt to just sit and breathe. So, I sat for a bit and got myself into a frame of mind (and body) that was a whole lot more relaxed than it had been 30 minutes before. And I got on the bike and rode. Then I did my leg lifts… and picked up my weights again.

And lo and behold, by the time I was into my second set of easy reps, I felt like doing more. So, I focused on a handful of key exercises and pushed myself more than I have in some time. Not with heavier weights, just with more reps. And by the time I was done, I felt pretty good. Better than I have in some time, after lifting, in fact. It didn’t take much — just a little more effort and focus. But the payoff was substantially more than what I actually put into it.

Then again, I don’t want to sell myself short. I could have just taken it easy, done the bare minimum, and skated through. The office is closing early, so I could put in a bare-minimum performance today and not be noticeably different from others around me.

But that’s not my goal in life, actually. To be “not noticeably different” has never been my main aspiration. There are plenty of people whose main ambition seems to be to turn themselves into a cookie-cutter cliche, with the “right” clothes and car and house and activities and number of kids playing the “right” sports, but I’m not one of those people. I never have been. And folks whose main ambition is to be liked by others and to fit in, make me a little nervous, to be honest. They can be very nice people and enjoyable to be around, but I never quite feel like I “synch” with them.

Then again, my reluctance to not engage fully with people who need to be liked, is probably closer akin to my reluctance to exercise in the morning and do my breathing when I need to. I actually do believe that the vast majority of people do have some spark in them that really makes them stand out — and it’s our job to find that spark in people and fan that flame, so they can live up to their full potential. This isn’t just something that I think only motivational speakers and inspirational writers should do – it’s something I think we all should do. Because you can’t have constant access to self-improvement gurus, 24-7, and you can’t always be sure that those gurus are even going to have precisely the answers you need at any given time.

We need to be our own self-improvement gurus/coaches/motivational speakers — and we need to do that for others. Not because others are pitiful and pathetic and would slack off if we didn’t keep on them, but because life is hard, and it takes it out of you, and everyone who knows that should also know that we all get beaten down and depleted, so we need others to help lift us up. It’s not charity, it’s basic neuroscience. It’s not pity or coddling. It’s self-preservation for all of us. Because when others around us are dragging, that means that our “team” isn’t operating at full capacity. When the others we depend on are struggling and having a tough time, what’s the likelihood of them being able to be really responsible in their actions and choices, and live up to their promise — which ultimately helps us?

Now, I’m not talking about doing the handouts thing. I’m not talking about making excuses for people and cutting them a break when they’re milking it. But there are ways that we can step up and lend a helping hand with just a kind word of encouragement that help others pick themselves up and get their asses in gear. In some cases, tough love is the way to go — I had a very heated discussion with someone the other day who was totally slacking and being a little bit dense about a sticky work situation. I didn’t sugar-coat what I was saying, but I didn’t attack them either. I just called it like I saw it — they were being irresponsible and their actions were having a bad effect on their co-workers. After they hemmed and hawed and groused about it a bit, they saw that it was true, and they took steps with their co-workers to get their act back together, which was really gratifying to see. I didn’t do it for them. I didn’t make excuses for them. I didn’t pretend it didn’t matter, so they wouldn’t feel badly about themselves. I was just honest — and also generous with my belief in them that they could figure it out.

And they did.

See, this is what I’m talking about — I know that the economy is tough, the job market is awful, people have money problems left and right. And everyone seems to be on edge (the 2012 end-of-the-world hype isn’t helping, imho). There’s only so much you can do for people — especially people who don’t seem to be willing to help themselves. But you/we can extend a kind word and tell the truth. And we can communicate clearly to others “Yes, you can do this – I believe in you, and I am sure you can accomplish what you set out to do.” Which is probably the biggest and most important gift you can give to anyone.

And it costs nothing — other than the effort of getting out of your head and forgetting about your own problems for a few minutes, and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. But sometimes that’s the ultimate price that people just won’t pay.

Anyway, I’ve got to get on with my day. I woke up this morning “too early” then I got my act together. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the opportunities life puts in our way, along with the crap that I (and everyone) must deal with along the way. I’ve been reading various blogs that have proven pretty inspirational – and have given me a much-needed kick in the a** with their honesty and clarity and refusal to compromise. Checking in with them, however briefly, is the kind of boost I need on “Fried”-Day. Not a handout, but a reminder of how much is possible, with the right attitude and a willingness to work.

Speaking of boosts, it’s time to get moving.

More to come. Always.

On the up-swing

Up, up and away…

I’m gearing up for the coming week. I’ve gotta get my game face on, because my boss’es boss is gunning for bear. They took a look at the work I’ve been helping to oversee, and they’re not pleased. “Dismayed” is the word they used, I believe. Ah, well, I’m working on this not-getting-my-knickers-in-a-twist-when-others-are-pissed-off-at-me thing. We’ll see how it works out tomorrow.

The thing about this situation is, I’ve been warning folks about the problems that caused this “dismaying” condition for well over 18 months. I’ve been warning folks that the things they’re doing here (technically speaking) are harming things over there (logistically speaking). And I’ve been trying to convey the importance of staying engaged with certain (remiss) team members who are technically in charge of the screw-up (under my careful eye, of course), but are not technically proficient enough to do what needs to be done.

Not sure if that makes any sense to you, but it has to do with a mess of a content management system that is so convoluted, nobody can remember how to use it if they don’t use it every single day… combined with short-staffed people in distant lands who literally don’t have the permissions or the ability to fix the things they’re supposed to be fixing, let alone the time to hunt down all the problems.

So, where does that leave us?

In spin-land! Yes, indeed, I’m going to be spinning this in a positive light, focusing on the pro-active possibilities and thanking my boss’es boss for taking the time to even notice that stuff which they have — time and again — told me to not spend too much time on.

Seriously, I’ve been told to back off from helping folks out and I’ve been told I’ve “given them enough love – now pay attention to this other stuff” and as a result, things have gone to pot. I’ve tried to be clear about the downsides of neglect, but until the past month or so, nobody was paying much attention, nor did they think it mattered.

Until the home office (which is not in the USA, by the way) started paying closer attention to us… and now all hell is breaking loose.

Pity. Oh, well. It does make me intensely uncomfortable to not excel at every single thing I undertake, but this battle is not one that I’ve had much hope of winning, for oh about 2 years running, now. It’s been a political hot-potato, this piece of the corporate puzzle, and now the heat’s getting turned up.

How I would love to say “I told you so” — but instead, I’m going to be ultra-smooth and play it cool and work on the solution, rather than the problem. I have a feeling that my boss’es boss is going to be looking for a scapegoat, someone to assign blame to, and I have a big target on me, right now. But that’s not where I’m going to put my attention and energy.

I think I’ll make up my own interpretation about all this.

Everybody else is, so why not me, too?

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