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The 52-week guide to becoming an entrepreneur – Week 12

August 30th, 2013 No comments

IMG_2576This is the twelfth post in my epic journey of going from lawyer to entrepreneur.  You can read the previous entry here, and next week’s entry here.

This week has had a few cancellations in my schedule, and let me tell you, that bonus spare time has been A-MAZE-ING.  The lesson this week is all about creating spaciousness.

When I have spaciousness, in my schedule, in my social life, in my spare time – then I’ve got spontaneity, freedom and, mostly importantly, creativity.

First, I’ve currently created my schedule so that I work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  That’s not too bad – having Monday and Friday wide open is one way to create space.  But, there’s not a lot of spaciousness on those three days.

What I notice is that by the end of those days, I am draaaaaaawn out.  There’s not a lot of me left.  Up until this point, I’ve been staunchly opposed to working evenings.  I don’t want to work them.  But, now that I’m exploring outside of what is predictable, maybe I’ll find myself a little more nourished and sourced if I include breaks inside my days.

People want to help me and provide a lot of support, which is great.  And, like every entrepreneur probably experiences, I have a desire to work through the problem on my own.  I notice my resistance to people suggesting resources and places I could look, even after all of the work I’ve done with my own coach and on myself as part of my training.  Our survival mechanisms are insidious things…

My job, as a coach and someone that is growing and pushing outside of my comfort zone, is to open up and allow that support.  It’s another way to create spaciousness.  What if I didn’t have to figure out everything on my own?  I know, I know – if you’re an entrepreneur and you just read that, you probably want to tear my “Entrepreneur 4 Life” badge off my shirt, throw it on the ground and stomp on it.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned these last three months: the key to being an entrepreneur is not doing it all on your own; it’s asking for, receiving and allowing support.  Doing it on your own is a bankrupt idea.  It’s the tainted version of the american dream that people buy in to because it seems courageous and allows them to operate without delving outside of their comfort zone.  There is something infinitely more powerful when someone is actually willing to get outside of their own ego and humbly ask for support.

Stoic statues make great monuments, but we don’t identify with them.  We identify with humans.  Fallible humans, working to overcome our limitations and create something outside of what is predictable.

So… what was I talking about?

Oh yah.  Spaciousness.

How does that look for me?  I don’t know yet exactly – and I have a feeling it will stay that way until I allow the support being offered.

 

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The 52-week guide to becoming an entrepreneur – Weeks 9 & 10

August 17th, 2013 No comments

photo-4This is the ninth and tenth post in my epic journey of going from lawyer to entrepreneur.  You can read the previous entry here, and next week’s entry here.

It’s fitting that this post condenses two weeks into one, because that’s entirely reflective of the way I’ve been doing things these past two weeks.

Here’s the skinny: My schedule is a disaster.  If you came and looked at it, you would likely conclude that it is highly organized, and that I am highly busy.  Both of these are correct.

In fact, my schedule is packed to the gills with things, and every time someone makes a new request, I’m a yes to try to fit it in.  And miraculously, I do!  You need support?  I’ve got your back.  Somehow.  Oh shit… who’s got mine?

No one can get my back, because getting supported require even MORE precious time, and goddamnit, I just want to sit and play video games for fifteen minutes rather than spend one more second doing something.

I realized this week that I’ve got a duality inside me.  On one hand, there is a highly-professional, extremely efficient genius.  He’s dressed very sharply, he’s appropriate, he’s articulate.  On the other hand, there is a funky, stanky, awesome dancer, who is hilarious, great to party with, and reckless.  Ne’er the tween shall meet.

I have a story that the partier is dangerous to me.  He is unhealthy, destructive, and he gets me in trouble.  I fool myself into believing that if I apply enough control (and the professional is exquisite at doing that), I can manage that aspect of my personality.  The thing is, no amount of control is going to be able to kill that side of me.  And so, like a blade of grass, my awesome party side breaks through the concrete.

Both these parts of me are fine, but I have not yet figured out how to integrate all of me.  What I realize is that my clients – those highly efficient professionals that are actually brilliant and have a wild side as well?  This is the same thing they are struggling with!

I’ve been trying to “solve” this problem with my old paradigm, but the more I grow, the more that paradigm bankrupts itself.  Here’s an example of me trying to solve it with the same old paradigm – see if you can see the humour in it:

  • I get frustrated because I drank too much the week before
  • I notice that my rigidly controlled allotment of drinks leaves no room for spontaneous partying
  • I create a new “drink allowance”, this time with the option of having a “free day” once a week.

I’m still using control to try and manage things!  Partying inside of control is still control!  

I’m starting to drop balls, and things aren’t as easy to handle as they were before, because I’m up to bigger things.  Somewhere, somehow, I’ve got a breakdown coming my way.  Things cannot continue going as they have.

The really scary thing is that it might mean getting fired.  If I really want to create my life, my practice, and my career the way I want it, I have to be willing to die before going in to battle.  I have to be willing to lean into the breakdown, instead of avoiding it.

Or maybe I’ll just rearrange my schedule one last time and that will fix everything…

A toast…

March 26th, 2012 No comments

A toast to the graduating class of UVic Law, 2012.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since I returned to school.  Hard to believe that only two years ago I was overwhelmed with the amount of reading that I needed to do to stay on top of everything.  What a contrast that makes with this year, having bought zero textbooks and done very little reading, I am imbued with the confidence that I will still do well on my finals.  What a difference time can make.

The end is bittersweet.  I have made friendships these three years that will last a lifetime (and I will declare right here that I am committed to ensuring that they do).  These three years have been trying, but the hottest fire forges the strongest steel, and that is analogous to the kind of relationships you develop throughout education like this.  Sadly, and perhaps beautifully, all things must come to an end.  That is part of growth.  If things don’t end, it impacts our ability to move forward.

Our graduation formal was this past weekend, at the Union Club in Victoria.  In the month leading up to the event, our graduating class nominated and then voted on a faculty member and two students to represent our class by speaking.  When I was told by a good friend that she had nominated me I was touched.  Then a few more people told me the same thing.  I went from being touched to a little nervous.  What if these people actually voted for me?  I waffled between really wanting to speak, and being nervous about what I would say, and how I would prepare my speech. What do you say to such an inspiring group of people?

Then, a week or so ago, my friend Darcy and I found out that we had been voted to speak.  I was (and still am) deeply humbled and honoured.  What an incredible privilege!  How the hell would I live up to it?!  I knew that the answer to that question was to simply speak from the heart.

The themes I wanted to speak to were: connection, inspiration, opportunity and acceptance.  Beyond that, I had a loose quote that I knew I wanted to incorporate, and went from there.  I wrote the speech in a few hours in the morning before going to class. Once written, I didn’t do too much editing.  A little cursory stuff here and there, but for the most part, the words rang true when I sat down to write them, and they didn’t require too much tweaking.

Before I share what I spoke with you, I would like to thank every member of my cohort for doing me this incredible honour.  It is touching and inspiring to have been able to meet and work with such a humbling group of people.  In selecting me, my graduating class taught me more about myself and my perceptions than I could have imagined.  Did you know that for most of my life I’ve walked around assuming that most people like me in a superficial manner, but don’t care to get to know me on a deeper level?  Moments like these act as a beacon shining on the darker recesses of our ego.

So thank you.  Thank you for helping me check those assumptions.  Thank you for challenging me.  Thank you for creating a space for acceptance, growth and vulnerability.

Without further ado, here is what I spoke this past weekend:

To UVic Law’s 2012 Graduating Class

 

We each started this journey for different reasons.  Some of us want to change the world.  Some of us want to get rich.  Some of us just want a job.  During these three short years, those expectations have been tested.  Poked at.  Prodded.  Challenged.  The way that we thought things would work out may not have turned out to be true.  Our own ambitions and desires may have changed.  Maybe through disillusionment, maybe through new opportunities, but always because of new insight.

If there is one thing that law school has made abundantly clear, it’s that life does not turn out the way it should.

Some people ask, “Where is the proof that life will not turn out the way that it ‘should’?. The proof exists in our lives to date.  If you died at this moment, how would you feel about your life?  There is no doubt about the outcome.  You would be satisfied in some ways and dissatisfied in others.  There would still be one piece missing.  What if you had died ten years ago?  The particulars might change, but there would still be no doubt about the outcome.  You would still be able to distinguish areas that were satisfactory and others that were not.

Now look ahead, ten, twenty, or fifty years from now – to the end of your life.  There is still no doubt about the outcome.  You would still be satisfied in some ways and dissatisfied in others.  When you consider the enormity of what it means to “make life work out the way it ‘should,’ ” can you plausibly argue that you would be any closer in the future than you have been in the past?  Life does not work out the way it ‘should’ work out, nor does it turn out the way it ‘shouldn’t’.  It works out the way it does work out.  And this will remain true at the moment of our deaths, just as it remains true during all other moments.  Life turns out the way it does.

I’m telling you this not to depress and rain on the rest of our lives, but rather to encourage all of us to embrace the embarrassment of riches that life provides us with.  There is no gift that we can give ourselves greater than that of perspective.  What may initially appear to be a failure, can be seen in new light as an opportunity.  The universe is abundant, and so too are the opportunities and choices that we are provided with each day in our lives.  Every missed deadline, an opportunity to see where we can improve our own processes.  Every week of stress, an opportunity to see whether or not we are pursuing what really matters.  Every breakdown an opportunity to have a breakthrough.  Every goodbye, an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve gained in knowing each other.

Life is beautiful.  Beautiful and elegant because of its fragility.  How tenuous and tempestuous the moments it creates are.  It is not on us to control the universe, only to be maximally authentic, to be our very best selves, in the face of whatever it has in store for us.  To ask from those around us what we want, and to commit to achieving that.

On that note, I invite all of us to reflect on how we wish to remember these past three years.  A lot of hoops to jump through?  Yup, definitely.  Tedious at times?  No doubt.  But also, an opportunity to connect, and create new friendships.  The opportunity to challenge the way we think, and to better ourselves by broadening our perspectives.

Part of what makes life beautiful is that it ends.  And so too, do these three years we have shared together.  Is there any logic, any rationale as to why this particular group of people have come together to graduate at this time?  There is not.  We are simply here, because that is how life has turned out.  It is on each of us to make of this moment, and these three years, whatever we wish.  It can be something we look back on as tedious and tiresome, or a beautiful gift, created by the universe without reason, and with the only obligation being that we allow ourselves to see it as the opportunity it has been.

So go forward from this moment, committed to embrace the opportunities that you are presented with.  Committed not to expect from life that it works out as it should, but that it will work out as it does.  Committed to live our lives, and be who we are, regardless of what the universe presents to us.

Breaking the Silence – It’s time for authenticity

October 24th, 2011 No comments

Simple RulesThis blog has now been silent for a little over a month.  I’ve sat down and written a few drafts, but nothing has come out the way I want it to, and that is for a simple reason: I’ve been avoiding being completely authentic.

Authentic to myself.  Authentic to my readers.  Authentic.  Period.

Authenticity is a powerful word.  In fact, it is one of the most important qualities we can be true to in our lives.  I will elaborate on what this word means to me as we go forward from here, but I want to share with you my own story, and how it is time to really drink my own medicine and live up to the ideals I’m purporting to help others live by.

 

The Background

I’m working through my final year of law school now.  When I went back to school, I wasn’t certain I wanted to be a lawyer, but found law fascinating and loved working with intricate and technical systems.  I also knew that, for me, education is an end unto itself, and I would therefore benefit simply from going back to school and learning more.

The first year of law school was very challenging.  Many of us forget what it feels like to start from ground zero again and have to learn something from the roots up.  This year, along the continuum of learning something new, my classmates and I moved from unconscious incompetence (we didn’t even know what we didn’t know) to conscious incompetence (we knew what we were doing wrong, and it stressed us out).  For lawyers, this is a continuing process that lasts far beyond the paltry three years of law school.

Since that initial phase wore off and I moved back a little bit more into my comfort zone, I’ve been able to focus on other things.

Okay.  I just spent fifteen minutes writing my around what it is that I actually want to say, so let’s just tear the bandaid off.

When I graduate, I’m not going to article.

There, it’s out.  For the last six months, I’ve known what I want to pursue when I graduate, and I’ve been taking significant steps to enable that future.  However, this is the first time I’m publicly affirming my decision here.

Put simply, once I graduate, I will be making my living exclusively as a coach and consultant.

Wow, that feels good.

See, for the last six months, I’ve been holding my cards right against my chest.

Why?

Because of fear.

Let me state that again, because it’s important.  I have not been authentically representing myself for the last six months because of fear.

Let me elaborate on some of those fears, so that you can see what I mean.

The idea is risky

Who in their right mind spends a whole bunch of money going to law school, so that they can not become a lawyer?  Well, I do.  And I do it for a number of reasons.  I can and do create tremendous value in my capacity as a consultant and a coach.  I’m passionate about this path.  I love turning other people on (in the general sense – this isn’t about sex).  This is something I’ve been doing my entire life, and I am an expert in the subjects in which I support people.

There’s not a really big safety net for what I intend to pursue.  Bay is working, and we have equity in our home, but we also have a great deal of debt.  If I flounder and fail, where does that leave us?  The answer: not looking too great.

Is this a reason to turn back from my vision?  Simply because it’s risky?  No.

Everything worth pursuing has a degree of risk involved.  No reward without risk.  You can’t grow if you don’t push outside of your comfort zone.

And besides, there are always creative solutions available.  If I don’t succeed in the direction I’m setting out in (I will), I have lots of experience and two highly valuable degrees on which I can fall back.

Other people aren’t doing this

There is great comfort and safety in staying with the pack.  Animals know this, and humans do too, even if only on an instinctual level.  If everyone else is doing something, it’s probably a good approach to take.  There is some blunt validity to this approach, and it works very well in general situations.

A wolf is trying to eat one of your own?  Run together in a pack so that it’s difficult for him to pick out one individual and eat him.  This behaviour has roots deep-down in our reptilian brain (the reactive part of our brain), and is fantastic when we’re operating in survival mode.  But most of us aren’t.  We live in a privileged society, and we are pursuing more than mere subsistence.  The people that I work with aren’t looking for simple survival – they are looking to optimize their happiness, their time, their output.  They are looking to optimize their lives.

We’re not all the same.  At the end of the day, we are each unique individuals (Sorry Fight Club, I’m right).  If we truly want to make ourselves happy, we need to follow our own path, hard as it may be.  Thanks to the society in which we now live and the advances that have come along with it, we are seeking more than mere survival, and mechanisms that address only this concern will fall short.

Having said that, while I know that pursuing my own path is the right approach, that does not simply delete the fear generated from going against the grain.  This concern raises its head often – pretty much every time someone tells me something like “well, that’s a neat idea Adam, but I really think you should reconsider articling”.

There is no guarantee

I can’t speak for other vocations, but a Law degree creates a considerable conundrum.  Upon graduating, students are essentially presented with the a situation where, if they are willing to work harder enough, they will be guaranteed never having to worry about money again.

What did you think when you read that?  If you’re like most people, you probably thought one of the following:

  1. “Pfft, must be nice”
  2. “First world problems…”
  3. “Take the money and run”
  4. “I’d like to never have to worry about money”
  5. “I knew it, lawyers make way too much money”
  6. “Pffft….  pfffft.”

Those are the common responses.  For a lot of people, it’s hard to look past the third and fourth responses.  Money has a powerful effect on us, and when we see dollar signs, it’s difficult to break the spell.  Here’s a question – how hard would you be willing to work for money to never be a problem?  Would you work 16 hours a day, six days a week?  What about 14 hours?  Where’s your limit?

If never having to worry about money meant that you sacrificed things like a relationship, exercise and your health, would you still take the deal?

I’m not suggesting that lawyers necessarily have to do any of this, but my own research has certainly suggested that the articling experience is unpleasant and highly demanding on the student’s time.  My time is too valuable for the remuneration rates and number of hours that are expected for articling students.  It wouldn’t be authentic (nor wise) for me to accept a position that placed a value that low on my time.

Focus on values and passion, not on fear

It is a testament to the power of fear that I have held back from writing about that which I am currently singularly most passionate about.  Doing so has meant that my writing has fallen off.  Every time I would sit down to write, I would have to hamper my creative process by trying to avoid writing about the thing that was most frequently on my mind.

This is the power of authenticity.  When we allow ourselves to maximally live and act in alignment with our values and who we truly are, we stop hampering ourselves.  Most importantly, we stop having to push ourselves to achieve.  When you set yourself along a path that aligns with what you feel is important, you will be pulled along – no more pushing.

Identify your Values

This is the most important piece of advice I’m offering today.  Take some time and try to identify what matters to you.  What is most important and most real to yourself?

This is often the first step that I take with my clients when they come to me indicating that they don’t know what they want to do, or why they hate their job so much.  Getting clear on your values can be a lengthy process and take time and effort, but it’s worth it.  Without knowing what is most important to you, it is difficult to be authentic.

Let’s wrap it up

The wrap up for today:

  • Let your values, not fear, direct your decisions
  • Be authentic to yourself and your values – it is the most important thing you can do
  • Just because the rest of the pack is doing something does not necessarily mean you should do the same
  • Spend the time and effort to identify what matters most to you.  Get a coach if you need to.  It’s worth it.

And that leads us back to…

Me.  The aim moving forward is to maximize the remaining time between now and graduation.  The way I will be doing that is working on my practice, building a client base, crafting a website and marketing strategy, identifying exactly who I am and what I do (in terms of my business), and of course, sharing that all with you through this blog.

Keep it tuned and stay locked for more updates as I continue to progress along the path to maximum authenticity.

So.. what do you want?

July 19th, 2011 2 comments

Rockpath

It’s been a week since I completed the first of four intensive modules that lead to my accreditation as a professional coach.  In between completing law school, searching for articling positions to work once I graduate and developing an iPhone app with two other colleagues, I’ve been coaching clients that answered my initial call for volunteers.

Personal plug: Before going any further, if you’re interested in coaching, please get in touch with me via this page.  Onwards!

As always, the TLDR can be reached here.

 

 

Training

The coaching instruction was highly informative and very rewarding.  Although Erickson Coaching Federation (“ECF”) is an international school in many different countries, this is one of the few opportunities to take the training that they offer in an intensive format.  As a result, there were many would-be coaches present from the far reaches of our planet.  Turkey, Mexico, Germany, Sweden, Paris, and Bangladesh, to name a few.

Although spending eight hours each day focused on the material was draining, it was also exciting to learn in the context of this cultural melange.  While I have a natural intuition toward the kind of relationship that coaching requires, it was great to get a foundation and framework underneath that to guide that intuition.

One of the most significant pieces of wisdom I took away from the training was the question posed in the title of this post:

What do you want?

Think in positive terms, not negative

By this, I don’t mean that you should pretend the sky is blue when it’s pouring rain out.  What I’m referencing is the fact that our minds are excellent at visualizing the presence of something, but not the absence of it.

If someone tells you not to think about penguins dancing, it’s very difficult to construct an image that encompasses that concept.  As Marilyn Atkinson (the instructor for the intensive, and the president of ECF) indicated, you can do something like visualize penguins dancing with red circle and a cross through it, but how do you actually visualize the absence of penguins dancing?  Our minds simply aren’t geared in this way.

What our minds are good at doing is visualizing positive things.  We can visualize dancing penguins – and we can do it quite well.

Ironically, most of us spend a good deal of our time dwelling on the past and thinking about what we didn’t like about our day.  I’m not sure when or why we moved in this direction, but this mode of thought has become fairly ubiquitous.

Think back to the last time you went to a friend or family member for advice.  How much time did you spend complaining about your situation at work, how you don’t like the workload that you’re being given at work, how you’re not being given enough respect for your abilities, etc.

So I hear what you don’t want.  But what DO you want?

This is the fundamental question that we must start asking ourselves.  Okay – it’s clear that you don’t want to keep feeling like you’re being given too much workload at your job.  But what do you actually want?  What does that ideal result actually look like?

At first brush, this question might sound like a platitude, kind of like stating the answer in jeopardy but then simply having to rephrase it with “what is” at the start.  But this method of reversing the way we think generates profound results.  Think about something in your life that you’re not happy with.  Now try to imagine what your ideal result looks like.  Can you visualize it?  If not, that’s the first problem to overcome.  It’s easy to identify that you hate your job, but more challenging to identify what the job you want looks like.

In my perspective, a lot of coaching revolves around helping clients change their thinking from one of focusing on the negatives to focusing on the positives.

It doesn’t matter what you don’t want..

Seriously; it’s not about what we don’t want.  Thinking and focusing on that will only keep the imagery fresh in your mind (remember – the brain isn’t good at visualizing the absence of something).  What matters is what we do want.

Get in the habit of catching yourself when you hear these kinds of words in your mind:

  • I hate that…
  • I don’t like it when…
  • Why is it always…
  • It’s so dumb how…
  • It’s not fair that…
It’s not a bad thing to catch yourself thinking along these ways, as it alerts you to the fact that there is something you would like to change about your situation.
The key moment comes after you’ve become aware of these thoughts.  Acknowledge that there is something you want to change, and then shift your thinking to focus on what you do want.

It’s not that hard

It really isn’t!  But shifting your thinking in this subtle manner will have powerful and wonderful results.  It’s amazing how much more inspired you will feel when you shift your focus to visualizing what you do want, rather than what you don’t want.

Analogize your thinking (and life in general) to a road trip.  Imagine you had just left a city that you didn’t really enjoy.  Your thinking might be something along the lines of “Well, I don’t want to spend any more time there!”.  But this isn’t going to provide you much inspiration with respect to the rest of your trip.  Achieving this aim is as simple as sitting in your car 10 minutes outside of that city.

By shifting your thinking to something like, “Alright, I think I want to go to Disneyland next”, you create a positive image that can be visualized.  Your mind is then able to start thinking about the paths to achieve that positive goal and move in that direction.

So why do I even need you Adam?

Have I just given away all of the magic juice of coaching?  No.

The challenge is not in determining what, it’s in the how.  This solution-based mindset is one of the core principles behind coaching, but it’s not the only value that a good coach offers.  Applying principles like these can often be challenging – especially when life gets challenging, stressful or just plain busy.

It is, however, one small step that you can start taking on your own to change the way that you think and approach the problems in your life.

If you do give this a go and find success (or failure, for that matter), please post a comment and share your story.  After all, the more we share, the more we benefit.

To Summarize…

  • Try to be aware of the times when you are thinking with trigger words like:
    • I hate that…
    • I don’t like it when…
    • Why is it always…
    • It’s so dumb how…
    • It’s not fair that…
  • Shift your thinking from a focus on the negative (what you don’t want) to the positive (what you do want)
    • The simple exercise of identifying what it is that you actually want will inspire you and free your mind up to start thinking about how to actually get there
  • If you’re interested in some coaching, get in touch with me at aquiney@gmail.com

Head up — Breathe — Head down.

May 26th, 2011 No comments

.Breathe.They say that one of the most important things in swimming is learning to breathe correctly.  In a sport that is ultimately based on streamlining and moving yourself as efficiently as possible, the extra drag that is created every time you take a breath can be the difference between winning and losing a close race.

However, if you don’t take breaths often enough, you won’t be feeding your muscles and body the oxygen that it requires to be as efficient as possible, in which case you may be as streamlined as possible, but your engine won’t be functioning efficiently.  (Or you’ll just drown and die.  And also lose the race.)

 

(It’s a metaphor)

 

When technology first started to improve our efficiency, it allowed us to shift our focus to spending more time in leisure and with friends and family (formerly only the privilege of royalty).  However, as time has progressed, our focus has slowly drifted away from the notion of technology enabling us to do less, to enabling us to take on ever-increasing amounts of work.

These days, the increasing emphasis placed upon productivity is reaching epidemic levels.  This is in part due to the fact that productivity and efficiency have become ingrained in the fabric of the modern working world.  Operating at the subconscious level, most of us aren’t even aware of how much pressure we put on ourselves to produce.

I am by no means suggesting that being productive and efficient are bad things, all else considered equal.  But when an emphasis and priority are placed on these two concepts to the exclusion or detriment of the rest of our lives, things start to fall apart.  You need look no further than places like Japan’s working culture and our more demanding professional careers like lawyers and doctors to see that efficiency and productivity without balance are detrimental in the long run.  (see my friend Michi’s blog for an insider’s perspective on Japanese working culture).

Recognizing the importance of balance is one thing, but understanding how to actually affect changes in your life that allow for it is another altogether.  Many of us get caught up in feedback loops that lead to a lack of balance simply because we don’t know any better.  All we know is that working hard got us to where we are, so presumably working even harder will take us even further.

But we know that this approach is fallacious in swimming, and so too is it in life.  So what should you do?  Simple:

 

Stop.  Breathe.  Repeat.


Literally.  Just breathe.  Don’t think about what to do next.  Don’t think about what you aren’t doing while you’re taking time out to breathe.  Don’t think about your deadlines, or what you need to do next, or where you’re going to be tomorrow.

Just breathe.  Physically.

Put down what you’re doing, close your laptop, put your phone on vibrate, and just breathe for five minutes.

It’s not a huge commitment – but it is a commitment.  Five minutes may feel like eternity to you if you’re not used to taking time out from your own productivity.  Commit to those five minutes (set a timer if you need to), and turn your focus toward breathing.

You need to make sure that you’re kicking and stroking with your arms as you swim, but you also need to actively increase your drag (temporarily) so that you can take the time to provide your body with the nourishment that it requires.

 

Practicing What I Preach

 

I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.  It’s easy to tangled up by all of the strings pulling at me, and if I’m not careful, I can find myself with days that are booked up from 9 in the morning to 9 at night.  This does not leave much time for reflection or relaxation, let alone spending time with my wife.

I find it especially challenging to maintain balance when I have multiple projects or commitments demanding my time, as they are not always willing to play nice, and the only commonality between them is myself.  This kind of situation makes breathing that much more important.

When things are really busy, it’s all I can do to try to follow my own advice.  Bring up my head and breathe.  Take a look around, see what the rest of the world is doing, and get a handle on what I’m currently undertaking.

The reason that granting yourself moments of breathing and clarity is so valuable is that when our heads are down, we’re unable to get a feel for what we actually have on the go.  Our attention is focused on the immediate task at hand.  Every intrusion feels overwhelming and like a whole new emergency requiring our attention, regardless of what the distraction may be (Eg, e-mail, a new piece of reading, a meeting request, a phone call, etc.).  All we can tell is that it is not what we are currently focused on, it is another thing to be added to our plate, and good grief, don’t we have enough stuff on our plate already?

 

Lift your head up and breathe

 

Find time to pull yourself up from what you are currently focused on and assess what you’ve got on the go.  What are the things that are currently demanding your attention?  What are your immediate priorities?  What do you need to do, but can be left until later?  (If you’re having trouble figuring it out, a braindump may be a good way to go).

I generally find that most people prefer not to seek the answers to the questions I’ve asked above — they’re worried that knowing will only add to their stress.  The reality is that there are few things that generate as much fear and anxiety as the unknown.  If you know what the demands on your time are, you can at least take active steps to prioritize what needs to be done, and alert the appropriate people if a deadline is going to slip.

Awareness will free you from the burden of knowing only that you have an undefined number of other things you need to do.  (This is a common concept in GTD, and much of the methodology is based around addressing the open loops that are tugging at your mind, thereby freeing it up to focus).

You’ll be amazed at the relief and clarity that can be brought by the simple action of taking ten minutes out to assess where you stand and what needs to be done.  I can attest that I am regularly surprised whenever I conduct this exercise, generally discovering that I actually have a lot less that needs to be dealt with immediately than it felt like I did ten minutes ago.

Above all, try to remember that the way that you feel about the demands on your time does not necessarily reflect reality.

 

The larger context

 

In the larger context, making the time to take a deep breath is analogous to making time to perform weekly reviews, or setting aside time during your day to meditate.  Both of these activities simply represent other ways to pull your head up and assess where you stand and where you’re going.

If these suggestions sound simple, that’s good.  Life doesn’t need to be as complicated as we make it.  Taking steps to simplify your life may be exactly what you need.

 

TLDR

 

As always, here’s the summary of the keypoints:

  • While taking time to stop what you’re doing may cost a little in the short term, it will benefit you greatly in the long
    • (Remember, it doesn’t matter how fast you’re swimming if you’re dead)
  • The unknown will generate more stress than anything else.  Taking stock of where you are and what demands are on your time will give you clarity and relax you
  • Learning the skill of retreating to centre yourself (this is what we’ve been talking about) will continue to serve you as you get better at it
    • Meditation, weekly reviews, and other techniques are all just different implementations of this simple concept

Braindump – Wondering what it looks like under the hood?

April 19th, 2011 No comments

Precious BrushyI’ve been back from Vancouver for a little over 48 hours. Since then I’ve been working diligently to clear out my inboxes, unpack, get back on top of everything and ensure that my time off between school and work can be used as effectively as possible.

This is usually the point for me where I feel at my busiest and can be most easily overwhelmed, and I think a lot of us feel this way.

Braindumps are one of the things that I like to do to centre myself and find focus.  To keep things interesting, we’ll start today off with my own example.  The speed with which my days are flashing by is incredible, and I felt like I needed some solitude.

 

The results

  • App Development
  • Project Management
  • Dishes
  • Laundry
  • Chores
  • Unpack
  • Arpeggiation
  • Reason
  • The Climb
  • Chords
  • Clean
  • Cook
  • Dinner
  • Exercise
  • Blog
  • Vancouver Retrospective
  • New blog

What?

Five minutes.  Your thoughts.  Captured on paper.

How?

The rules are simple:

  1. Devote no more and no less than five minutes to the process
  2. Don’t judge the thoughts

The application of the rules is the challenging part.  Many people either forget about the time limit or give up too soon.  By setting a time limit of five minutes, you will ensure that you don’t get hung up on any one idea, nor give up too quickly.

Don’t judge what comes up.  Just write it down as quickly as you can.  The sooner you can write it down, the sooner your mind will be freed to skip to the next idea.  I promise you that things will bubble up that surprise you.

See how I have redundant items up there (Clean, Chores; Cook, Dinner)?  That’s an artefact of the fact that I did not stop to judge the word as it bubbled up.  It doesn’t matter if it’s redundant.  In fact, capturing that thought actually added value for me: it indicated that those particular items were at the front of my mind.

Why?

A clean mind is an effective mind.

You may often find that a lot of minutia pops up while conducting a braindump.  Minutia it may be, but it’s occupying some part of your mind’s available energy.  Write it down, let your mind move past it.

Conducting a braindump is a great tool to apply when you’re feeling overwhelmed.  The simple act of writing your thoughts down is an act of control and will help calm you and let you feel like you’re making some progress (because you are).  Asserting control over your thoughts will help ensure that you are in control of them and not the other way around.

Lastly, seeing everything currently overwhelming you, written down and contained on a single piece of paper, will have a powerful psychological effect.

…So?

So now you’ve got another tool in your problem solving toolbox.  Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or like you can’t figure out how to move forward, set aside five minutes and splurge your brain.

Effectively managing your energy

April 10th, 2011 5 comments

This coming week will be my last in Vancouver this co-op work term.  A reflection on the last four months will be forthcoming – stay tuned to hear what I’ve been learning!

Until then, let me start with a story:

I was making coffee in our office’s lunchroom a few weeks back and struck up conversation with the co-worker that was waiting for the kettle with me.  Well, waiting isn’t quite the right word.  It was more like she was mentally somewhere in Thailand while her body patiently awaited her return.  We talked briefly and turned our thoughts briefly to what she referred to as “energy management”.  I liked the term so much that I’ve been using it since, and maybe you will too.  Let’s dig in to the concept a little deeper.

(Want all of the wisdom but without the narrative?  Skip to the TLDR section here.)

The set-up

Many of us go through our day vested with the expectation that we should expect 100% efficiency from ourselves, without ever stopping to consider the magnitude of that expectation.

I lay part of the blame at the feet of the modern world in which we work.  If you’re a professional, the expectation is that you come in to work everyday, sit at your desk at 9AM, and work through solidly until 5PM.  Of course, anyone that has ever worked a day in their lives knows that this kind of expectation is completely unreasonable, and yet we persist in mentally holding ourselves accountable to this kind of energy expenditure.

We are not robots – we’re inefficient humans, with quirks, emotions, digestive systems, and energy that correspondingly waxes and wanes throughout the day.  These are some of my own tips for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the negatives that arise from this fact.

Recognize that you cannot be 100% productive

This is basically what I’ve just finished writing.  However, for many of us, it will be the most difficult hurdle to overcome.  The subtle expectations that bombard us on a daily basis are legion – from the way our modern workday (and week) is structured to the desire to be a member of the group rather than not, there are plenty of subtle forces that tug at our psychology.  Before you know it, we’ll slowly but surely start to beat ourselves up over the fact that we’ve sat at our desks for over an hour without managing to get a single thing done.  Even an innocuous comment from a supervisor, such as “Hey, how’s the work coming on the Penske file?” can regress us right back to this mindset.

Recognizing that you’re not perfect and you shouldn’t expect yourself to be will be an empowering experience.  Being aware of who you are and what your limitations are can free your mind up to work around those limitations and give yourself permission to be imperfect.  Until you are able to let go of the fantasy that you can be productive all of the time, you will be hindered in your ability to maximize your potential.

I want to reiterate this last point, because it’s important:

An integral aspect of maximizing your potential is being aware of your own limitations.

If you aren’t cognizant to your own strengths and weakness, you may waste precious resources (time, energy, willpower, money, etc.) seeking to accomplish something unrealistic or beyond the scope of what you really desire.  (..and  most likely, something that you don’t actually care about).

I’m not advocating that you give up on a particular dream you may have, or that anything in particular  you desire is out of your reach.  However, if you’re forty-years old and dividing your energy between managing a career, a family, and trying to make it big in the NBA, you may benefit from understanding what your limitations are and applying the energy that you have available accordingly.

Be present to your energy at any given moment

Most of our time working, our self-awareness operates on  auto-pilot.  It’s rare that we’re actually present to how we’re thinking and feeling, because we’re focused on our work.  If we’re not being particularly productive, we’re probably focused on our web browser and whatever YouTube video has currently gone viral.

Getting in tune with how you’re feeling and how much energy you have available is a process.  It’s not a skill that you can develop over night, because most of us have become so good at setting aside the way we feel in order to get our work done.  After all, that’s the expectation that comes with endless school assignments and 9 to 5 work, right?  It doesn’t matter how you feel, because the time to work is from 9 to 5.  You think about how you feel outside of those hours.

People that have made a positive change to their physical routine for the better will have an analogy to which they can draw.  At first, you start exercising and your whole body aches.  But over time, you start to get a feel for  that type of pain, and eventually, you’re no longer simply feeling “back pain”.

Now you’re  able to identify things like “hmm, my lower back is quite sore, and that feels like muscle pain… that’s probably because I’ve played four squash games this week”.

Getting mentally in tune with yourself is the same thing.  When you are feeling frustrated at work because you can’t seem to get anything done, take a moment to check in with yourself and ask where your energy level currently sits.  NB: Even if all you can do at first is recognize that you are feeling frustrated, you’re making progress.

Over time, you’ll get better at picking up on the cues your body naturally provides you with.  The more you try to check in with yourself, the sooner you’ll be able to pick up on the fact that you may be sitting in an energy funk and address it.

Use your downtime effectively

Okay – hopefully you’re starting to gain a better awareness of your energy level and how it’s affecting your work.  If you’re not yet able to make use of the previous tip, you’re not ready to move on to this one – the next question is what do you actually do once you’ve identified that fact.

Being a law student, I’m no stranger to people that take the attitude that they will hammer the work through no matter what.  In some people, recognizing that they are low on energy almost presents a challenge that makes them feel defiant.  “Low energy?  Nice try, we’re finishing this tonight”.

On the surface, this may appear to work for some people, but I personally do not feel that this is the habit or coping method that I want to develop.  Is this approach to your body’s physical cue a sustainable practice?  If not, ask yourself why you are continuing to behave in this manner.

How can you effectively make use of your periods of low energy?  Simple:

Do something that doesn’t require much focus or energy

My own solution is to spend the time where my energy and focus are low to go on walks and pursue other distractions (browsing the web, tweeting, drafting blog entries, etc.).

By mentally giving yourself permission to take breaks, you will have scored a double-victory.  First, you’re acknowledging your own limitations and working within them.  Sometimes, you’re simply not going to be able to crank out high quality work – that’s okay!

Second, you’re allowing yourself a break from the exercise of your willpower.  We know that we have a finite amount of willpower (see also here); as a result we can only exercise it so much in a day (like almost every other type of psychic energy, it would seem).  Applying your focus to a task and ignoring distractions that may pop up is a small but constant strain on your willpower.

I can’t speak to your own mental state, but my brain seems to be constantly attempting to sabotage my efforts to focus by taking those moments to think up things that I haven’t yet read on Wikipedia (“Hey, I wonder what critics thought of Mortal Kombat?”).  By making time for these kind of breaks (NB: this is different from having time), you give yourself a reprieve from the application of willpower and take your break at the most opportune time.

Maximize the way you use your periods of high energy

The Yin to the previous section’s Yang..  As the metaphor suggests, if you’re not balancing your application of this principle with the previous one, it may be worth taking some time to recalibrate.  Balance is the harmony within which I strive to live.

Maximizing your periods of high energy is often best accomplished by simply allowing yourself to focus on what you’re there to do.  Many of us have experienced moments of mode known as flow.  Time falls away from your awareness and you hold a wonderful focus that allows you to plough through your work like it ain’t no thang.

While having a decent amount of energy is necessary to get into a zone, it is not sufficient.  Meaning: you will not be able to enter flow every time you are experiencing the upper part of your energy levels.  You will also need to sit, focus and work without distractions for a period of time.

Logically, it follows that our path to maximizing periods of high energy should be spent free of distractions, focused on the task at hand.  As before, if you are able to recognize the cues that your body and mind are sending you, you will better be able to position yourself to take advantage of these periods of high energy.  Regardless of what you want to do, your head and the people around you may not be willing to co-operate.

While there is not too much you can do to deal with co-workers (closing your office door is quite effective, though I’m generally not a big fan of closed office doors), I have two strategies you can employ to try and keep your brain in check.

The first is to employ a way to address the thoughts that pop up into your head without actually pursuing them.  My way of achieving this is to write down on a piece of paper anything that is a distracting thought and holding my mind hostage.

If I’m trying to get myself into the zone and thoughts about Mortal Kombat pop into my head, I pick up my pencil and write “Mortal Kombat” on my note pad.  I’m not actually pursuing this distracting thought, but I have addressed it in a way that allows my mind to go “okay, I’ve dealt with that – back to the work”.

If this sounds cheesy to you, think of it like another tool you can put in your toolbox.  You don’t have to use it now, but if you’re sitting there feeling like you’ve tried everything and can’t break out of your habit, give this a go.  It is simple and will not introduce a lot of overhead to your existing process (have a pencil and paper next to your workspace).  The results can be quite surprising.

The second approach that I take is based on a recommendation that Seth Godin made on his blog (an excellent resource that I certainly suggest checking out).

Find some means to offload all of your distractions to something other than your main computer.  Those of us that work on computers generally use the machines both for our productive work and our distractions.  We like to think that we’re pretty good at dividing the two up (though most of us recognize that we’re not as good as we’d like to be).

Example: use a tablet computer as your dedicated “distractions device”.

Don’t allow yourself to use your computer for anything other than work.  If you don’t have a tablet, try using your smartphone.  No smartphone?  Start reading instead of browsing websites for a break.  (Believe it or not, we took breaks even before the Internet existed!)

This change too will have a rather profound result.  Framing your computer mentally as the device that you sit in front of when it is time to do work will cause your psychology to naturally align itself within the context of this frame.  When it’s time to work and you position yourself in front of your computer, your subconscious will take note and click you into a productive frame of mind.  If you don’t believe me, prove me wrong by giving it a go.  (The results surprised me when I did the same.)

TLDR? (Too long, didn’t read?)

That’s okay – you probably wanted to get back to being productive!  (You can click any of the summaries here to be linked back to the corresponding content). Here’s the summary:

  • Learn to accept the fact that you can’t be 100% productive.  You’re not a robot; you’re not perfectly efficient, and; that’s just fine
  • Try to get more in tune with your energy levels throughout the day
  • Make good use of your periods of low energy
    • (and give yourself breaks from exercising your willpower)
  • Make the most of your periods of high energy
    • (by reducing distractions and allowing yourself to focus)
  • Two tricks to help yourself focus:
    1. Write down any mental distractions as they come to mind, then let them go (keep a pencil and paper near you)
    2. Offload distractions to something other than your computer, and let your computer be a machine that is devoted purely to productive work

As a parting shot..

If you like my writing and would like to see more, I ask that you show support however you can – leave a comment if something that I’ve said turns some gears with you, or help me out by mentioning this site to anyone else that you think might be interested in the same topics.  If an article I wrote was especially meaningful to you, share it on Twitter or Google Reader.

Eventually, I would like to take these articles and compile a book (and release it open source, no less!), but in order to achieve that goal, I need the inspiration that comes from speaking to an audience and feeling some support.  I love doing the hard work – you just have to help me out from time to time by telling like-minded individuals and communicating back.  We all benefit in the long run.  Thanks for the support and keep reading!

On dance breakthroughs.. (mine this weekend was gliding)

March 13th, 2011 2 comments

 

I had an excellent weekend.  After spending all of last weekend with a significant portion of the charter members of the OMC, I had all of this weekend with Bay.  I won’t go into the stuff that you didn’t come here to read, but I highly recommend meeting someone that makes you a better person and marrying their ass (and the rest of them too).  Your life continues to get better the more work you’re willing to put in to a relationship like this – win/win!

We hosted my parents on Saturday night to cook them dinner, play crokinole, and slice off a portion of my finger.  My finger didn’t ruin the night, and fortunately it didn’t affect my crokinole playing.  I also successfully managed to raise my Dad’s blood pressure by playing my shots before he had the time to tell me “aim for my finger Adam!”.  I’m pretty sure my Mum had the exact same look on her face that she did over 15 years ago in Majorca when he did the same thing at the pool table.  Ah.. fond memories.

Before that, however, I took the afternoon for myself to go down to Centenniel Square and dance.  I didn’t start with this intention, but no one else was available given the short notice I had provided, and it had been too long since I’d danced in my hometown.  I wasn’t going to let anyone else’s lack of availability affect my need to get some creative release.  I gathered up my stuff and headed down.

Centenniel Square is actually a pretty great spot to go and share some culture.  The main part of the square has been fixed and is much more open than it once way.  While there was an event happening (and I heard at least one deep house song that I like playing), there was plenty of room further back and closer to the road.  One of the great parts about this area is that there are a number of businesses along one side, and all of the glass there is one-way mirror.  Not only that – it’s covered.  No issues with weather.

For a good solo session, having a reflection can go a long way to making you more comfortable dancing in public.  And that’s the other great benefit about the Square – it’s got a steady stream of foot traffic, but enough open area that no one ever has to feel about having their space violated.

One of the biggest things I’ve been working on this term has been opening myself up more when I’m dancing.  Not just physically, but emotionally and, if you can handle this, spiritually (it probably doesn’t mean the same thing to you that it does to me).  Having a consistent flow of foot-traffic offers plenty of opportunities for an audience, and if you can’t be comfortable with an audience, you’re never going to be able to achieve what you’re fully capable of.  If you have trouble getting yourself to this point, check out my post about opening yourself up more – it’s a great starting point that will naturally lead you to what I’m describing.

I was practicing in front of the windows (after being told,  bemusedly, by two commissionaires that there were people that could see me on the other side and were watching me), and taking a break from really dancing (when the goes off, I have to too!) and sat there grooving.  I made a surprising discovery – I figured out how I could teach gliding.

The problem

Gliding has always been an elusive technique for me.  I’ve never really felt how it connects to the music.  When I first started trying to to learn, it was by watching Graham.  Graham’s an amazing dancer and a great glider, but he is highly intuitive.  Without anything technical to grab on to, I was never really able to pick up the foundation.  Graham picked the technique up so quickly and seamlessly that I couldn’t find a space in his movement to pick apart and build on my own understanding.

With a lot of time, practice and classes, I was able to slowly pick up the technique.  But I never really learned how it connected to the actually dancing that I was meant to do.  Without an ability to ground the technique in the dance, it was a very dead move that I had taught myself to do.  Don’t kid yourself – anyone that is actually listening to the music will notice straight away if you’re just doing technique without any dancing.  Without an ability to dance with the technique, I could never really figure it out.  The way I taught the class was the same way I felt about learning the technique myself: it was slow, arduous.. it was frustrating.

The seed

The seed for my own epiphany was initially planted by Jamieson – a good friend, dancer and teacher.  In Jamieson’s class, he had us performing the stationary front glide (almost a forced walk) to the beat of the music.  This was the first time that I had actually seen a glide properly connected to the music.  (Much to Jamieson’s credit, I have never seen him teach anything that wasn’t connected with the music).

Ready for the music to pick me back up, I stood in front of the mirror doing the following to the beat playing in my ears:

  • Simultaneously raise my left toe and my right heel (1st beat).
  • Simultaneously lower my left toe and right heel, and then raise my right toe and my left heel (2nd beat).
  • Repeat

This is a simple motion, but it’s rhythmic, and that means that it’s a way to keep time with the music.  You should always strive to have part of your body moving to the music – this is how you stay connected to your dance, the rhythm, and the feel.  It’s how you know you’re actually dancing.  Have you ever watched a great dancer and seen them move like they had already heard the song before?  They haven’t – they’re just feeling music to the extent that they know where it’s going to go next.

The epiphany

Standing in place, rocking my feet up and down to the beat, I let my mind wander and focused on the music.  Rather than trying to think of what to do next, I allowed myself to sit in the groove.  I let myself know that it was okay to not do something new – I could do this for as long as it felt good.  This might sound trite to those that don’t understand, but this is the most fundamental principle of dancing that I can conceive at the moment.  If you can do this, you can dance.  If you can give yourself permission to enjoy a groove you’re sitting in, you don’t have to worry about how you look to anyone.

Reaching this conclusion is part of the greater (and ongoing) epiphany I’ve been having this term, thanks in part to the talented influences of my friends and teachers Dennis, Kyle, Kim, Johnnii and Jamieson.  Sitting with the groove in this position, I suddenly felt the tumblers in my brain fall into place.  I had gotten inside the glide!

Moving my feet up and down rhythmically, I was able to do the same while floating (the first is a foundation for the second), and almost magically felt everything snap into place.  If I could float to the rhythm, I could glide to the rhythm.  If I could glide to the rhythm… I could dance.

At the moment, I can’t provide any greater a breakdown of the technique I’m describing.  I need to teach it in order to understand it better myself.  What’s that?  You shouldn’t teach something that you don’t understand completely?  Why not?  Shouldn’t the teacher be allowed to learn with the students as well?  Surely this is teaching at it’s finest.  This is part of my process, and it’s part of why teaching, for me, is never just a one-way – it’s a two-way interaction.  Articulating an idea for someone should be a learning experience for both of you.

The good news is that I can promise more articulation in the summer months, for those of you that will be taking classes with me.  I’m looking forward to sharing what have been some profound changes in me as a dancer, and mutually working through those discoveries together in classes.  I have not yet found the right space for what I want to do, but that is currently in the works and once settled, I will be posting more information right here.  Suffice to say for now that I’m really excited about what is in the works.

TLDR

 

While the audience for this post may be different than some of the others I have written, I still think summaries are a good practice.  If not for you, certainly for me.  Here we go:

  • If you want to excel as a dancer, you need to be open to your audience, whoever and wherever they may be (don’t be selective)
  • If you’re nervous about dancing in public, find a place with a reflection.  Make sure you spend time facing away from it, but it can act as a security blanket when you’re feeling intimidated by those around you.  If you insist on staring at the mirror, make eye contact with your audience through it (it’ll catch them off-guard, I guarantee!)
  • If you can give yourself permission to sit in a groove, you can dance (yup, step-touch and two-stepping counts – don’t move on until you’re ready to).
  • No matter what you’re doing, try to keep some part of your body connected to he music (if you’re not sure why, see the point above)

And of course – I’m going to be teaching this summer somewhere in town, and it’s going to be awesome.  (and you should be there too!).

Finding your metrics

February 20th, 2011 1 comment

I’ve had a good week.  I’ve finally taken the mental steps to commit myself to actually exercising or dancing everyday of the week, and have found the time to do some other mental housekeeping that’s been weighing on my mind for the lesser part of a month.  As with all of these things, the problems themselves weren’t the issue – it was that they were weighing on my mind; taking up space, and unaddressed.  Once you mentally address them, the problems do two things: they turn out to be pretty minimal, and they disappear.  Your thoughts clear up.

* Bonus section for my Dad included at the bottom of the post!

I was addressing these things, reflecting on the above fact, and sitting at work on Wednesday trying to figure out why I was having what felt like a particularly unproductive day.  The question planted the seed in my head, and I started wondering what measurement I was using to determine my productivity.  Was I looking around at everyone else in the office and assuming that they are 100% productive?

I was.  And I realized that the metrics I was using to determine how productive I am were out of whack.

If you think back to the ways that you measure your own growth and/or progress, the most common metric that you probably use is the people around you.  Our friends, members of our family, and our peers at work are all people that we use to try and gauge how we’re doing.

Probably the second (if not most) common metric we judge our own progress and position in life by is advertisements and celebrities – no doubt this is a ridiculous metric to adopt, but it’s the easiest thing for us to draw a comparison to.  We also use fictional characters, or the people that we read about in the news.  “Geez, Matthew Perry was on Friends when he was only 24 – what am I doing with my life?”

The metric that is the best to judge ourselves against is the one that we use the least – ourselves.  Many of us will read that  and think “Well that’s not true – I’m easily my own harshest critic”.  This is fair, but it’s not the same thing as what I’m describing.  Being a critic of yourself means that you demand a high degree of performance from yourself.  You expect yourself to excel at the things you do, and when you make a mistake, you don’t let it slide.  But how do you determine your level of progress toward your ultimate goal?  Generally, by comparison to some other group.

The secret third group from which we draw our own metrics and comparisons are the fictionalized version of ourselves.  This is the version of ourselves that doesn’t make mistakes, and does everything we want to do perfectly.  When compared to this version of ourself, we never live up.  It’s the harshest metric of all.  It’s the person that we imagine ourselves to be when we lose sight of our own limitations.  Comparison to this fiction generally results in us saying things like “I’ll never get where I want”, or “I haven’t made any progress at all”.  Comparisons to this metric are the most subconscious, and we are least present when we make these kinds of judgments.  It’s rare that one of us intellectualizes this kind of thing to the extent laid out above – we usually just start to feel that way and get upset about it.

Thinking about the metric and standard to which you are comparing yourself can go a long way toward helping you feel better about your own progress.  This is all part of gaining an awareness of our own limitations.  We’re not the same person as our friends, and certainly not the people we see in advertisements (“Look, these people own a house and a Lexus, and they’re otherwise identical to you!”).  We have made different decisions about what we’ve chosen to commit ourselves to, our bodies are capable of different things, we have different upbringings, and different starting points (take it for whatever you like, but we have not all started our lives from the same socio-economic position).

I would love to spend every day working at my job, and every night taking dance classes or squash lessons.  But I can’t – I’ve made a commitment to study and become a lawyer, a commitment to my wife to be a good husband, and a commitment to my future to budget my money and spend only what I can afford to.  When I talk to my friends in Vancouver, it can certainly be difficult at times to hear about the seventh dance class they’ve taken that week, but I have to remind myself: they’re not the same person that I am.

Understanding what you’re comparing yourself to can really help teach you to find happiness within your means.  If you are forever comparing yourself to people that have a different set of limitations and commitments than yourself, you’re forever doomed to seek out things outside of your reach.  There will always be grass that is greener on the other side – happiness comes in finding the realization that the grass we have is all that we truly need.

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not advocating that you should turn your sights entirely inwards, to the detriment of any outside influence.  It’s important to meet and discover new people, and to understand why they do things differently than us.  It’s healthy at times to look to people outside of yourself and see if they’re doing something that you wish you were doing.  If you don’t, you’ll never poke at the decisions you’ve made, nor question your choices.  The greater risk is that of falling into complacency (if you don’t know what the word means, it’s where people go to die).

The important thing, as always, is striking the right balance.  Look outside of yourself at the people around you and ask yourself if you’ve made choices you’re happy with, or if you’d like to realign yourself.  This helps you determine if your current goals are things that you still want to pursue and achieve.  If you find that this comparison leads you to want to adjust your goals and achieve something different, then make a point of mentally adopting that new goal.  Once you’ve set your sights on this goal, however, the comparison you make to determine your progress should be with the you in the past.  Look back to see how far you’ve come, and look forward to remind yourself of your goals.

Above all, just keep yourself moving.  If you’re moving backwards, make sure that you’re doing it in pursuit of a goal that worthy of you.  It’s okay, and often  necessary, to move backwards, provided that you’re doing it in pursuit of something that matters to you.  If you’re moving forward, make sure that you don’t start adopting false metrics and fooling yourself into feeling negative in spite of the progress you’ve made.

Wrap up

My goal when I’m working is to blog weekly, usually at the end of a week while commuting on the ferry.  I have a large number of ideas to write about, as I keep a list to try and give myself subjects that interest me and to avoid writer’s block.  But it’s hard to avoid this problem, so I’m always looking for new subjects.  As I most enjoy writing about what I’m doing, I’ve been thinking about including some writing on our legal system, as I see it and continue to develop an understanding of how it works.  If this is a subject that would interest you, reply to this post as a comment, or hit me up to let me know on twitter @adamquiney.

Writing is tough work, and it’s a commitment.  It gets easier when you know that people appreciate what you’re doing, or even that someone is hearing your voice.  So, thanks to everyone that takes the time to read to the bottom ^_^.

Bonus section for Dad

My parent picked me up from the ferry on Friday and we went for a fantastic dinner and conversation at a beautiful pub on Sidney’s waterfront (did you know that Vancouver Island is beautiful?).  Dad mentioned that I “should put a summary at the bottom so that you don’t have to read through everything to get the point”.  I find this suggestion hilarious, as half of the point of my writing is that I think there’s intrinsic value to be found in the journey, rather than simply arriving at the destination.  But hey, I don’t judge, and I’m thrilled to know that I’m managing to trick him into being the one getting lectured, instead of me!

So, the summary today is this:

  • Be aware of who you’re comparing yourself to, and make sure that you’re being realistic with yourself and your progress
  • Be wary of closing yourself off from any outside comparison.  There’s value in being exposed to external influences and opinions.