personal growth

Even the Bad is For Your Benefit

 

This morning as I was drinking my coffee, I decided to indulge in a little Twitter scrolling. I came across a clip of Anderson Cooper interviewing Stephen Colbert. At that moment in the interview, they were discussing grief, and Anderson, choking up, asks Stephen, 

"You said 'what punishment of gods are not gifts?' Do you really believe that?"

Stephen replied "Yes. It's a gift to exist and with existence comes suffering. There's no escaping that."

It was hard for me to decide what to focus on for this post with this particular topic in mind, because it's actually a gigantic one that deserves a lot of consideration. I couldn't agree with Stephen more, so I'll direct my thoughts here around how our suffering ultimately benefits us, even if we aren't able to appreciate that fact until much later.

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I believe wholeheartedly that we are who we are because of the experiences we've had, and that includes the range of our experiences. Whether you perceive them as positive or negative, what you have gone through has made you who you are. In fact, I'd argue that the more challenges you've endured, the more this applies. The caveat here is that you have to be conscious on multiple levels for this to be the case:

  1. You must be awake to your own mental state. Do you believe it's a gift to exist? Or do you view life as one long, endless challenge that's beating you down? 

  2. You must be present. Do you take the time to truly experience your emotions? When something good happens, do you gloss over it? Do you celebrate and take the time to feel joy and gratitude? Do you get lost in the past, thinking of what's happened to you, what someone has done to you? 

  3. You must have faith. Faith requires that you believe in something you have no proof of, regardless of whether you have religion or not. Do you accept that when something happens it's for your benefit, even if it's painful right now? 

Let me be very clear about this. I am in no way minimizing the experience of those who have suffered tragic, terrible loss. On the contrary, there are losses that can change the course of our lives, and change us, in ways we didn't expect and didn't want. There's probably a parallel discussion here about resiliency that we can tackle another time. But the world is full of amazing people who have suffered on a scale that's crippling to imagine and who have not only endured, but serve as an example and an inspiration to others. 

It's important not to compare your experience to others as you consider this. I endured physical and emotional abuse as a child, but I know what I endured barely registers on the scale of "bad things" compared to what some others have. It's not a contest. We have all suffered. When we show ourselves and one another compassion in that suffering, we see some of the greatest heights that we as humans can ascend to. 

Embrace your experiences, the joyful and painful. They've made you who you are. And I'm betting who you are is pretty awesome. 


 

Find the Time to Focus (or not!)

 

When I was trying to find my way out of my high-achieving success box in my corporate job, I knew a key to making that happen was to find the time to focus. This can be a weird tricky thing, because sometimes what "focus" means is having a down-the-road end goal in mind, and the end goal requires that your mind has some downtime. If you've ever attempted to meditate and hated it, it's probably because of the way you can't get that mess swirling around in your mind to STOP for 60 seconds, for the love of God. But it makes sense, doesn't it? Why on Earth do we expect to swing from frantic-nonstop-circus in the brain to quiet, peaceful silence that rides on gentle waves? 

As a person who's driven to get shit done, focus that doesn't have a tangible outcome can feel uncomfortable and even pointless. Like, you want me to sit here and write about the things in my head with no particular goal in mind? Or spend ten minutes staring at a candle flame, listening to something zen, and paying attention to my breath for … what, exactly? It's like unfocused focus, if you will. Focused time to stop focusing on the usual crap to make space for what you really want to come in. 

Confused? Don't be. This is freeing in its own way. 

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We are constantly trying to get and keep ourselves on track. I can't count the number of times I felt myself slowly sliding down my office chair, staring at my laptop, knowing I had to get going but feeling so not able to do it. I would eventually end up at eye level with my keyboard, haul myself back up, take a deep breath, and dive in. In those moments, what sounded awesome to me was the option of having a few minutes to not be worried about what all needed to get done. The ability to take that time to let my mind wander, thinking of nothing in particular. When I began to take that seriously and scheduled my focused-unfocused time into my day, that's when things really started to change for me. 

When you stop trying to control your mind the way you do everything else in your life, it creates space for clarity. Not necessarily in that moment, but it will come (probably when you're in the shower!).

The other benefit is that you'll find your mind is more willing to listen when you've given it a little freedom to be off the leash. It was much easier for me to concentrate on work after I gave myself the opportunity to sit and write or do a meditation. Think of your mind as a busy toddler. If you keep trying to make it sit down and focus on coloring in the lines with no outlet for running around and playing, you're going to have a major uphill struggle on your hands. If you allow the toddler(mind) to go to recess and THEN give it some coloring pages, it will be much more willing and able to do so. 

Find ten to fifteen minutes a day to let your mind off the leash.


 

You Can be Grateful and Want More

 

Have you ever shared your discontentment with someone only to hear "You should be grateful for what you have!"? Is that something you say to yourself when you consider where you are and that despite outward success, it feels like something is missing? 

I confess: This kind of messaging drives me batshit crazy. 

It drives me nuts because I dealt with this myself and it would confuse me. I was fully capable of seeing and appreciating all of the great things I had going for me and still wanted life to feel different. Did that make me bad? Wrong? Ungrateful? When I would tell coworkers I didn't want the corporate life anymore, some would look at me like I was in need of medication, perhaps sedation. Was I serious? Did I really think there could be anything better than where we were? 

If you have experienced this—whether you say it to yourself as a way of diminishing your desires or someone else says it to you as a way of keeping you in check—know that this is the real truth: 

You can be grateful for what you have and desire more from life. 

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It doesn't make you bad, wrong or ungrateful. It makes you HUMAN.

When you accomplish something that energizes and inspires you, it makes zero sense that you would then be content to sit back and never aspire to anything again. It's healthy to want more. We are here to have experiences, realize our potential, enjoy life to the fullest. Resigning yourself to where you are because it's better than where a lot of others are is the wrong approach. Be grateful and appreciative for the abundance in your life. For the roof over your head, the food on your table, your health and so on. At the same time, acknowledge your desires as legitimate and natural. The more aligned you are, the more energy you have for the world around you and for others in need.

Instead of feeling guilty for wanting, think of how you can help those who have less than you at every step and how much more powerfully you can make an impact the more fulfilled you are personally. 

 

Lighten Your Load

 

A characteristic a lot of high achievers have in common is a robust sense of responsibility. You feel responsible to help others when you can, to be the fixer, to have the answers, to make sure things get done the right way—the list goes on. Like most other habits we have, bearing the burden of responsibility becomes so ingrained that you probably don't realize just how much weight you're carrying around. You keep doing what you do until you realize that you're tired. Depleted by being the one the people in your personal and professional life are counting on for more than you can realistically give. 

Of course, I'm not suggesting that you should have no responsibility in life. That's neither practical nor healthy. But there's a tipping point beyond which what you're willing to take on for others is actually harmful for them as well as you. And those are the responsibilities that need to be re-evaluated and dealt with differently. 

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When you've created a pattern of taking on responsibility inside of a relationship, whether personal or professional, several things occur that contribute to the continuation of that pattern. 

  1. You establish yourself as the person who will make it right. 

  2. The other person establishes him-/herself as the one who needs your help to make it right. 

  3. You become overburdened as the other person substitutes your judgment for their own. 

  4. He/she experiences an erosion or continued decline of independence, unable or unwilling to make decisions that aren't directed by you. 

  5. Rinse and repeat. 

It can be easy to allow feelings of guilt or a sense that it's easier to do it yourself than push back enable you to continue with this pattern, but if you instead direct that energy at enabling the independence of the other person while letting go of the burden of responsibility, that's where the magical lightening of the load takes place. It's only easier in the short run for you to do it yourself because it's faster. All it does is add to your load in the long run. 

Here are a few examples to get you thinking about how you may be doing this and how to redirect. 

  1. Someone(s) in your life continually comes to you with questions that they can find the answers to if they try. You provide the answer because it's easier, but are annoyed with how often they come to you without doing their own research. What to do instead: Do the research, come up with answers or options, come back to you with researched answers, you can help refine. Only do this for a little while until they have the confidence they can find the answers on their own.

  2. Someone(s) in your life passes on tasks and activities to you that they are perfectly capable of handling independently. Next time they come to with something that doesn't require your input, tell them to handle it. Period. 

  3. There are people in your life you feel you can't trust to handle things in the way you want so you end up doing it yourself. First, if there is someone who's proven to you they can't be trusted, that must be dealt with accordingly, For instance, if it's an employee and you've been avoiding a tough conversation or taking action, that needs to stop. Do what must be done. But, if that's not the case and it's more of a control issue on your part, that's when detaching from the way something gets done is necessary. Even if it's hard at first, practice letting go of the details and being okay with the discomfort of letting someone else do it their way. 

Healthy detachment lessens your burden while empowering others. As awesome as you are, you must let others learn and grow. Take a step back, give some encouragement, and let the confidence and independence of others grow as you do so. 

 

You Have Nothing to Lose

 

Do you ever find yourself in a position where the same thought or idea comes to you over and over again? It may come up frequently, or it may return to you over longer periods of time. What do you do when that happens? 

When I was still in my old way of operating, I would tell myself things like, "I'll get to that later," "Now isn't the time," "I don't know how to make that happen," "He/she is unlikely to respond to my message," and so on and so forth. The thing is, that when something wants your attention, it returns to you repeatedly. Putting it off clearly doesn't work. When something remains unaddressed it stays on repeat in our minds, subtly urging us to take some kind of action. 

Why is it hard to take that action? We tend to mentally fast forward downstream too quickly and instead of taking a small step, we imagine a whole series of steps that end in us crashing and burning. Therefore, we stay exactly where we are, unwilling to take a risk. But in all seriousness, what is the risk, really? Is it that the person you reach out to doesn't respond? That the idea you thought was awesome has some holes in it that you hadn't considered? Worst of all, is it the belief that you don't have what it takes to turn this idea or connection into a reality? 

In each of these scenarios, often the worst thing that can happen is that nothing changes. So, you take a chance, it doesn't work out, and you are where you were to begin with. What's the big deal about that? Why do we make it into such a thing, this overly dramatic sense of "failure" that because you couldn't control something down to the outcome, it wasn't worth doing to begin with and now you're a failure? 

I hope you're beginning to realize how freaking ridiculous it is to think this way. 

You Have Nothing to Lose

An easy way to begin to break this pattern is with people. The next time someone comes into your mind, reach out to them. If it's a professional connection you're hoping to make and you've decided it's not worth it because you think they won't respond, what do you have to lose by reaching out? What if they DO respond? Well, great. That's fantastic. Take it from there. If they don't, so what? You tried. Maybe the whole point of that experience is to get your mind thinking about who else you could reach out to. It is not the norm that we travel the shortest distance between points A and B when we take action. Our paths tend to be a little more meandering, often because it's in our best interest! We learn at every step. You could miss out on some really good realizations if everything was easy and instant gratification was more common than not. 

Start keeping track of the ideas that come to you. Write them down. There is something powerful about putting your thoughts down on paper. You may find that it opens up the floodgates and that ideas start rolling in at a rapid pace. Fantastic! Keep that channel open, write things down and consider whether the idea is something you're interested in pursuing or not. Is it for now or later? Does it have a quick and easy fix like reaching out to someone, or does it require a bit more thought? For instance, if you want to write a book, what are you telling yourself about why you can't do it or why the timing is wrong? What if the first step you take is just to brainstorm?

No matter what kind of idea it is, take some kind of action, no matter how small it may be. Make a habit of continuing to take the small next steps until it becomes a habit to act instead of to postpone. 

 

When It's Time to Stretch

 

In the last year, the goals I've set have a different feel to them. My current approach, so different from my old-school control-all-the-things-push-hustle-grind, is solid. Every goal I set is aligned with an intention. I balance between taking inspired action and allowing information, next steps, and opportunities to flow in. Generally speaking, when it comes to goals, I have high confidence in achieving the desired outcome because I know what I'm capable of and that my approach is tailored to my strengths and the way I operate. 

This time, it's different. 

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Until a few days ago, I wasn't able to put my finger on just why this goal of putting a book into the world feels so other. I tend to have a lot more highs and lows in my thinking. Sometimes, I'm super confident and pumped about it all, and other times, self-doubt creeps in and asks, "Why exactly do you think you can pull this off?" And by "this," I mean not just having a published book, but putting out content that makes an impact on many people on a scale far beyond what I've done so far in my professional life. 

I have no evidence I can do this. 

We get exposed to a lot of collective thinking that exposes us to this idea that accomplishing big things has to be hard. There's an attachment to the idea that struggle is required. We are also told that it's about who we know. But let's face it—most of us don't know people, as in we don't have connections in high places. We have ideas but no way of gauging whether other people will think they are any good beyond talking to those close to us. Most of the time, all of the above stops people from taking action in the direction of doing something that feels like a major stretch. And by stretch, I mean you truly have no evidence that you can make it happen. 

So what? If every single human thought that way, invention would be dead. Why did the Wright brothers believe we could fly? Why did scientists believe we could prevent disease through vaccination? Why did anyone in their right mind believe we could travel to outer space?

It's called faith. Belief in what you cannot see and for which there is no evidence. It's powerful. It requires you to top off your tank of self-belief and to keep that baby as full as you can, even if you waver from time to time. And if you haven't done the deep work to determine why that tank is leaky or how to reprogram your old ways of thinking and habits to stop talking yourself down and seeing yourself as incapable, life is going to be a relatively dull ride instead of the exhilarating experience it could be if you can find the faith in yourself that allows you take chances. 

Do you have a secret longing to do something that feels too scary to contemplate? Is it because you don't have the evidence you can make it happen? It's time to stretch


 

What if they don't like it?

 

One of the most challenging aspects of personal development is detaching from the need for validation from others. Of course, the double-edged sword is that high achievers can be driven to succeed through this take action/be rewarded cycle that we are taught from our earliest days. Some people have strong feelings about reward systems and whether or not we should use them. Personally, I don't think reward systems are inherently bad. When humans are young, using a system of rewards can help teach and reinforce in some powerful ways. The challenge is that once the lessons are learned, we continue to operate in that primitive way, long after it's outlived its usefulness.

Because we crave the approval of others, we can default to a mode of operation where we seek it at the expense of ourselves. Think of the person who continues to pursue climbing the ladder professionally, even if ascending the ladder creates more stress and overwhelm, less time with family, poorer health, etc. Why does this happen? Perhaps the story they tell themselves is that it's the price they pay (see the dread blog) in order to have the other things they want. Even worse, maybe it stems from believing there is no choice. That to stop ascending, to stop gaining reward through recognition, promotion, and more pay is the path to irrelevance.

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Consider that for a moment. If you stop "ascending" in the framework of this very restrictive definition, you're irrelevant? All is for naught? Just because no one is tangibly reinforcing your value externally?

Dude. That's. Fucked. Up.

This is why it's so important that you know and appreciate your intrinsic value internally. I have to admit, as the date of my book launch draws closer, I'm starting to freak out a little bit. I wonder, "What if no one likes it?" When that thought pops up, I remind myself that I wrote this book for me. Because I felt called to do so. I accomplished something very personally important to me. I remind myself that I know it will provide value to others, which is my ultimate goal. And some people will hate it. And they'll let me know they hate it. I'll have to stay centered in my internal sense of self. I'll weather it and come out better off on the other side not despite of, but because of the test and having to make it through with my sense of self-worth intact no matter what anyone else says.

Are there areas of your life where you hold yourself back because you aren't sure people will like what you have to say, what you've created, or what you want to stop chasing? Identify those areas. Get clear on what you believe the consequences of taking/not taking action in those areas are. Identify when it's the reactions of others that have a strong influence on what you have prioritized. Then, start making decisions that are about YOU and not them.

 

The Unsettling Unknowns of Transition

 

We've all been there, in those strange periods of time when a change has been initiated but remains incomplete. Even if you have some vague notion of what is changing or how it's changing, the details are hidden. Maybe it's because the lack of transparency protects the process, or maybe it's because lack of transparency is part of the culture in which the change is happening. Either way, it can be unsettling. You know something will change but don't know whether you'll be directly affected. It could be that the change itself will be positive, but since there is no proof of that either way, you tend to stay in the land of unease, hoping for the best but skeptically doubting the outcome. 

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Transition periods happen frequently in our professional experiences. Restructuring, downsizing, relocating, and reorganizing are all a part of doing business and keeping up with the needs of growth, clients, the industry, etc. But just because transition is a given doesn't mean that it's pleasant to be in suspension, waiting to see what will happen while fretting about the possibilities. The good news is that the fretting part is optional. A few adjustments to your mindset and your expectations can mean the difference between anxiously and impatiently waiting or calmly going about your business until what's done is done. 

Here are 3 things you can do to manage a transition period in a way that serves you. 

  1. Loosen your grip. You have no control over the outcome. How does it help to consider all of the worst case scenarios when you truly have no idea what's coming next? When you start to worry, remind yourself, out loud if you need to, that expending your energy on worry and anxiety has exactly zero impact on how things turn out. 

  2. Focus on what you can do. Until the change shows up, keep doing your thing. Sure, it may change, but it hasn't yet. Show up, be present, and tune in. What do you like about what you're doing? How can you capitalize on that during the period of uncertainty? Maybe you need to be deliberate about sprinkling in more fun or down time for yourself.  Don't talk yourself out of it because "Oh, it's all just so crazy right now - I can't possibly leave!" Actually, while everything is still what it is is the best time to make sure you're taking care of yourself. 

  3. Trust the process. Whether or not things go the way you want them to, they will go the way they need to, and ultimately it's for your benefit. This is by far one of the hardest things to do if your Type A and like to have an iron grip (see #1) so don't expect to nail this one quickly and easily. If you have to, mentally return to other periods of time when something went in a direction that you didn't anticipate and assess how it turned out. Was it ultimately fine, perhaps positive, even if you didn't initially think it would be? It's easy to fall prey to black and white, doom and gloom thinking. When those thoughts come up, repeat #1 and #2 and trust that thing are always working out for you.