Walking around strung out on our own bullshit

One of my old coworkers was a highly anxious person.

She sweat like a whore in church on a daily basis, and it was disruptive to the rest of the team, not to mention her own psyche.

Here’s an example.

When midday comes around, she starts pacing around the office, complaining about how she’s hungry, asking other people whether or not they’re hungry, working herself into a pointless tizzy about lunch, but ultimately goes back to her desk without making any kind of decision.

It’s infuriating. My only thought during her absurd daily constitutional is, just go buy a freaking sandwich lady. Nourish your body with some protein instead of more anxious thoughts, and everything will be fine.

Hell, I’ll go across the street right now and buy you a falafel, if that will put an end to your manic energy.

This suggests a big question:

Is this really what you want to be spending your thought process on?

If the answer is no, then redirect your energy into a more calming direction. Sounds better than being bent over by the heaviness of the dark world your thoughts have created, right?

It comes back to choice. That’s the foundation of all cognitive behavioral tactics like this. We have to become aware enough of our thoughts and emotions to see when there is a choice to be made, which is all the time.

We have to look for opportunities to spend our thought process on what we want.

In short, we have to get that train onto a different track. It’s a minor adjustment, but it has a major impact on whether or not stress hormones are mobilizing inside our bodies.

Have you learned how to gain a sense of relief and distance from the burden of your own thoughts?

They hitch their worthiness wagons to this noxious star

Ellis writes that our need to impress others and to win their approval, and thereby view ourselves as a good person, leads to an obsession that tends to preempt a large part of our life.

We wind up seeking status instead of seeking joy.

Do you know anyone like that? The person who needs everyone to notice, like and even love their work in order to feel grounded?

It breaks my heart. Because no matter how hard we try to peddle our talents and abilities in exchange for other people’s love, no amount of approval from others can make us feel worthy.

That’s an inside job. If we don’t learn to value our own opinion of who we are and what we do, then we will spend all of our time running around with our tongues hanging out, and we will miss our lives.

Not only is this an unhealthy relationship with the world, but it’s a total mismanagement of energy. There’s so much joy to be experienced. And we can access all of it, but not if we’re trying to manufacture approval from the outside in.

Take art critics. Entire forests are destroyed printing scathing reviews that dissect people’s work down to the bone. And creators actually take time out of their days to read this garbage. They hitch their worthiness wagons to this noxious star, and all it does it make them doubt their abilities and compare themselves to others.

That’s hours of time per months that could be better spent playing at the park, having dinner with friends, or god forbid, making more art.

Williamson writes in her spirituality guidebook that the ego would prefer that we not look directly into our deeper self. It doesn’t wear a watch and has zero respect for our time.

And so, if you start to feel that inner yearning for approval attempting to man the ship, stop your ego in its tracks. Ask yourself how you might seek joy instead of seeking status.

Think of it as spiritual time management.

The irony is, if you build a life worth writing about, then you might actually write material worth talking about.

Is living through a false persona to gain approval and love the most efficient way to spend your day?

History always contains the seed for the solution

Any time we enter into a new team environment, the quicker we can get up to speed, the better.

In those first few weeks, there will be a lot of catching up to do. Not only informationally, but also empathetically. We’re going to need to learn how this team became what it is today, so we can help them become what they need to be tomorrow.

The good news is, when approached intentionally and systematically, we can multiply our learning quickly.

My marketing capstone professor spent the entire semester teaching our class his framework for approaching business challenges like this. It had a profound impact on the way I solve problems in my own life, personally and professionally.

One of his insights that stuck with me was that the historical context surrounding any problem almost always contains the seed for the solution. And if we ask the right questions, we can understand why things are the way they are.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to get up to speed quickly, here are several insights and questions adapted from the framework that might be useful.

First, follow the money. Figure out which people are economically incentivized and by whom.

Second, consider people’s age. Learn how a team member’s years of work and life experience, or lack thereof, might be shaping their behaviors in the moment.

Third, note the company lifecycle. Ask where the larger organization is in its overall narrative arc, to understand how maturity, or lack thereof, plays a role in the problem. Consider which systemic problems exist that team members don’t want to believe is there.

Another one is, discover collateral damage. Has there been any significant conflict, tension, churn or other form of transition in the past few months? That will give you a temperature on morale.

One more is organization debt. See if you can find the elephants in the room. Take note of the accumulation of decisions that leaders should have made, but didn’t. Learn how that debt impacts the rest of the team.

Next, start at the top. Notice how the attitudes and habits of the leaders have trickled down to infect the larger culture, for better or for worse.

Also reverse engineer from the bottom. If a lower level person is confusing in their behavior, follow it up the chain to identify the source.

Here’s a good one too. Differentiate motivational systems. Do you know whom needs to look good for whom? Are you compassionate for the different degree of stakes for the various members of the team? Everybody answers to someone.

Finally, notice power dynamics. Listen to who talks the loudest and most frequently. Watch where people’s eyes go during meetings. Observe the way certain people speak when in the presence or absence of the key leaders. Notice who are the first people to show up and the last people to leave.

To quote my professor once again, history always contains the seed for the solution.

If you want to multiply your learning, use your intention and attention to tease out what’s really going on at the organization.

And you will unlock your ability to make an impact. 

Can you find the solution’s thread by centering in on the problem’s tangle?

Who cares what you got on the test if you have a superpower?

Contrary to what the comic books depict, your superpower doesn’t have to be something that you can do better than anyone else in the whole world.

There’s no rulebook that says you need this exaggerated, telekinetic or world class ability. It can simply be a gift that you possess, that nobody can take away from you, which contributes a disproportionate amount of meaning in yours and other people’s lives.

My superpower, for example, is and always has been writing. And not because my words have this profound literary quality or influence, or because my books and songs are top sellers that have impacted audiences around the globe.

Truth is, most people have never heard of my work, and never will. And that’s fine. My superpower doesn’t require that level of reach. Nobody’s does.

What matters more is that writing makes life possible for me. That’s what makes my power so super. The creative process has become the number one arrow in my quiver for understanding myself, metabolizing my experiences, solving problems, creating value, speaking to myself about my own needs, processing all my emotions and coping with the inevitable ups and downs of life.

Who cares if my words are good? Who cares if anybody sees or hears them? There is not a single compelling reason anybody could come up with that would persuade me to stop writing.

What superpower defines your life?

If you’re not sure what that thing is yet, you’re not alone. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have one. Ask yourself this.

What is the one activity that is existentially painful for you not to do?

Meaning, if you were the last person on earth, you would still do this thing every day. That may not be your superpower, but it will certainly point towards it.

Treat your answer as a clue. A stepping stone towards some gift you possess that nobody can take away from you.

You may not be able to shoot lasers from your eyes or leap tall buildings in a single bound.

But you might just be able to make life a little better for yourself and others. 

Are you looking for your gifts, only to find that you’ve been carrying them within the whole time?

Competence is the cover charge for getting into the club

There’s a powerful movie about top secret government operatives who killed the most wanted terrorist on the planet. When the agency director finishes his interview with the top candidate to lead his strike team, he looks over to his second in command:

What do you think of the girl?

To which the subordinate replies:

I think she’s really smart.

Then director responds with a cinematic thousand yard stare.

Jeremy, we’re all smart.

Then it fades to black. Whew, the dramatic intensity of that scene gives me the chills. And it’s more than just good acting, it’s a lesson about how to find top talent.

Because all companies are looking for leaders who can create real change within the organization. But considering how competitive the job market is, competence is assumed. It’s table stakes. It’s the cover charge to get into the club.

You have to have it, but it can’t be all you have. Not if you want to take the team to the next level. There are several other qualities hiring managers are looking for that amplify the power of competence.

Like vision. The ability to not only create it, but to also enroll other people in it.

Then there’s empowerment. And the ability to not only inspire others, but bring your own fire and inspire yourself.

Another one is communication. Being direct, insightful, and clear, but also delivering messages and ideas with warmth, empathy and kindness. That way, people will actually want to do a good job for you.

Think of it this way. Diners at a restaurant assume the chef knows how to cook. But that’s not why they’re there.

What do you bring besides competence?

Takes me back to my old job at luxury hotel. Our guest services department had a lobby manager who was incredibly smart, but colder than a well digger’s ass. After enough complaints, human resources moved him to the back of the house where guests couldn’t see him, which worked out better for all of us.

The only problem is, our replacement was a carbon copy of that original guy. Another brilliant asshole. And the rest of the team was thinking to ourselves, wow, we’re in hospitality. Do we really need more smart people, or do we need warmth?

That’s the big misunderstanding about competence. Any idiot can have it.

Real leadership comes from people whose talent stack includes a combination of interpersonal and intuitive qualities. 

What do you have going for yourself besides the fact that you’re smart?

Help me help you help me

Depression is like an over eager party guest.

It doesn’t need an invitation. Sometimes it just shows up. Even if we’ve done tons of inner work to keep meaninglessness at bay, it can never be entirely ruled out.

Because the pilot light inside the human brain needs only the smallest spark to ignite.

If those two metaphors weren’t enough for you, here’s another one from my favorite comedian.

Carlin once said, just because you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.

However we describe it, this existential pickle invites us to uphold several responsibilities to ourselves. First, to plan for failure in advance. Knowing that the noonday demon can strike unannounced, we carve out time when we’re in a calm state to create our own emergency recovery plan. Even if it’s a short playlist of our favorite songs or a list of affirmations that will soothe our troubled mind. Having a plan equips us to execute when the pressure is on.

That actually gives me an idea for a new app. Have you ever suffered from depression in silence because you were to paralyzed to ask for help from the people who matter most? Now you can use my private text messaging service that sends a bat signal to a small group of trusted confidants, alerting them of your need for someone to talk to in a time of need.

Securebase is an app will help you regulate your emotions with other people instead of addictions. Help me help you help me.

Not a bad emergency plan.

The next responsibility in regards to our existential pickle is forgiveness. This is way harder, as it requires us to meet our bleak mental state with love and acceptance. And so, if we suddenly feel the need to sleep for thirteen hours one night, then lay in bed for another five hours the next day, then we give that gift to ourselves. We allow our brain and body to get their needs met, we forgive them both for being what they are, and we express gratitude for the opportunity to soothe ourselves in a healthy, effective way.

Another responsibility is letting go of our compulsive need to fix, overcome, explain or understand every pain, every time. Because that information isn’t always available to us. Even if it was, it’s not going to be the thing that sets us free.

What’s more, our attempts to lessen every mental struggle can become a source of anguish in and of itself. And so, rather than making an island of every psychological confusion and trying to solve its pain, we trust the flow of our life. We have faith that we’ll get there when whenever we get there.

And we remind ourselves that all feelings are weather patterns that have a beginning, middle and an end.

These are our responsibilities to ourselves. Next time our eager party guest shows up unannounced, we’ll be ready. 

When your brain starts telling you that you’re no good, your world is bleak and your future is hopeless, how will you respond?

Getting angry work emails on the weekends

It’s difficult to set boundaries after somebody has repeatedly violated them for an extended period of time.

Because at that point, you have no ground to stand on. You’ve already been giving the mice so many cookies for so long, that it’s too late to break the habit.

Even if you do draw the line, the other person is likely to not take you seriously, or worse yet, become enraged and cause a rift in the relationship.

Junior employees often struggle with this. Having just graduated from college, they’re typically not comfortable taking a firm stand with clients who have no respect for their boundaries. They just keep answering emails late at night and on the weekend, further enabling unprofessional behavior.

But it’s understandable, as younger team members don’t want to risk pissing off the people who pay the bills, or worse yet, losing their job. And so, it’s really their manager’s job to nip the problem in the bud before it becomes a consistent and significant pattern of inappropriate behavior.

Miyagi, the great karate instructor, comes to mind. He told his young apprentice, the best way to block a punch is to not be there.

In the business word, the same concept applies. Managers can solve these kinds of problems ahead of time by creating a policy. Nothing cumbersome and contractual, just the minimum amount of administration to demonstrate limits.

Perhaps during the new client onboarding process, you include a slide in your deck or a page in your contract outlining your company’s expectations around reasonable response time for service requests during typical working hours.

Doing so not only sets the bar from the start and demonstrates professionalism, but earns respect and builds trust from day one. Which is a hell of lot easier than scrambling for it on day one hundred.

Point being, clients want to work with partners who know who they are. It means that company will respect them for being who they are too. That’s what boundaries can do for a professional relationship.

Not to mention the fact that you stop getting angry work emails on the weekends.

Do you know where other people’s control begins and ends?

Pursue what our inner world demands

Rohr, my favorite modern monk, writes about how the church often does not really encourage an inner life. It substitutes belief systems and belonging systems and moral systems for interior journeys toward god.

And religion is not alone, either. Most organizations and institutions in this world don’t have a vested interest in our population taking time for practices like reflection.

The powers that be would love nothing more than for our own inner worlds to be shrouded in impenetrable darkness.

Hell, why do you think drugs are so illegal? Because the government would be screwed if citizens expand their minds and gain new angle on the game that’s being played on them.

All the more reason to be conscious of what we do to nurture a positive inner life. Because nobody can take that away from us. It’s our psychological and intellectual property. And it’s perhaps the greatest weapon we have against the maddeningly cruel nature of reality.

My yoga teacher used to say that each time that we breathe our way to stillness, it’s money in the bank of the soul. That’s the basic currency of our inner life. Inhaling, pausing and exhaling. Our breath unites the conscious and autonomic parts of ourselves, reminding us that we are okay and our inner worlds are comfortable places to inhabit.

Think about somebody you know who consistently does some kind of meditation. Odds are, they can suffer through even the most mundane of experiences, right? And what passes for banality to the rest of us actually ignites their vibrant inner life, right?

It’s not an accident. Every deep breath those people take expands their sense of self and their confidence that they can manage they existence. Even when they precious material things are stripped away, they have their inner life to undergird them.

Are you pursuing what your inner world demands? The journey is worth it. If we develop our ability to experience our inner world without running from it, the world can’t hurt us like it used to.

Or if it does, we can recover faster. 

Do you have an intense awareness of your active inner life?

The kind of letting go that fulfillment requires

Surrender is hard for men.

Our testosterone fueled brains interpret surrender as giving up, ceding control, being dominated and demonstrating weakness.

Wolff’s philosophy summarized the irony of surrender perfectly back in the sixties, pointing out that surrender stands in opposition to the official western consciousness, in which our relation to the world is that of mastery, control, efficiency and manipulation. This relation is virile, rather than womanly.

In short, any form of surrender feels to men like castration. If you find yourself resisting reality, it’s because there is a part of your ancient brain that is afraid of your genes biting the evolutionary dust.

But lest we forget, many of our evolutionarily advantageous behaviors are not essential to our survival as they were millions or thousands of years ago.

Thankfully, we’re at a point in human history where the practice of surrendering probably isn’t a life threatening experience. Unless you get caught in a knife fight down a dark alley.

Truth is, once we get into the habit of surrendering, we soon realize that it actually creates breathing room for us. The act of releasing ourselves from whatever frees up our consciousness, leaves space for higher forces to enter and clears the path for change.

And that process of letting go of what needs to be shed leaves us feeling lighter and more alive.

The other thing about surrender is, it’s not like we’re not abandoning our post while everything is going swimmingly. There’s a difference between quitting and avoiding what is impossible to win. There’s a difference between giving up and wholehearted acceptance of what is.

Surrendering, at its heart, is a form of ego deflation. Which is scary for men.

But what we forego in control we make up in calm.

As a friend of mine once told me about marriage, we lose more than we ever sign up for, but we gain more than we ever could hope for.

Just know this. The person who is truly free is the person who has surrendered.

Will you let go of what you never had control over in the first place?

Behold, the brimming universe, awaiting our creative touch

Chambers was among the first to note, the burning bush is a symbol of everything that surrounded the ready soul, it is ablaze with the presence of god.

His contention was that the fire didn’t just spontaneously combust one afternoon in the middle of the desert. It had been burning the whole time.

Moses simply didn’t have the eyes to see it. But once he became aware of the presence of divine spirit, he couldn’t turn away from the flames.

As the story goes, he took off his sandals and hid his face, as he was standing on holy ground.

It’s my favorite story from the scriptures. The burning busy didn’t happen literally, but it did happen literately, and that’s inspiring to me.

Because there are so many moments in our lives where the same shift occurs. There’s some person or force or thing that has been there the whole time, but now that we finally have eyes to see it, the flames start to crackle and pop, and it feels like real magic.

The bell of awareness chimes. It’s like one of those heebie jeebie moments in a horror movie where the homicidal killer holding the knife in the background gradually moves to the foreground.

When this happens to us, there’s a part of our heart that wants to beat ourselves up for not noticing it earlier.

How the hell did you miss that? How could you have been so blind? The damn bush was on fire, but you weren’t even paying attention.

But that’s not the loving response. Instead, we express gratitude for the fact that our vision finally shifted. We give thanks to people who helped us kick at the darkness until it bled daylight.

And we remember that reason we lack anything in this life is not because we’re cursed and universe has it in for us, it’s because of the many ways have deflected it and obstructed its flow.

The bush was always burning.

We were always standing on holy ground.

Behold, the brimming universe, awaiting our creative touch.

How much are you including in your field of awareness?

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