Wherever you leak, the world holds a bucket

The instructor of my public speaking course once gave our class the following advice on mindset:

Most people want you to succeed. You’re the only one who doesn’t.

What a profound insight. Not just for giving presentations, but for delivering any kind of work to the world.

Because so many of us talk to ourselves in ways that sabotage our own performance. We say things that we would never allow anyone else to say to us, and this negativity doesn’t serve our true interests.

What we really need is to get jacked up on confidence. To speak to ourselves in ways that are empowering and life giving. Otherwise the audience, the customer, the employee or whoever we’re trying to make a connection with, will find something else to pay attention to.

Dickey, the poet laureate and novelist, once said that the most important thing is to be excited about what you are doing and to be working on something that you think will be the greatest thing that ever was. One of the difficulties in writing poetry, he warns, is to maintain your sense of excitement and discovery about what you write.

It’s funny, we take all these classes and read all these books on how to persuade and influence and make an impact and close the sale. When the reality is, all of these supposed best practices could be summarized in a single word.

Care. Actually give a shit. Set yourself on fire.

And if that means you need to do certain things each day to replenish your supply of enthusiasm, then give that gift to yourself.

Before giving speeches, my ritual is listening to epic symphony music and visualizing not only my presentation, but the interactions with audience members immediately after it, and the impact my speech will have on their both of our lives going forward.

Doesn’t mean mistakes are never made, but you better believe the audience aren’t the only ones who want me to succeed. Overall, if your paranoia has convinced you that wherever you leak, the world holds a bucket, then it might just be in your head. 

It’s more likely that the world is already on your side, waiting for you to join them.

Are you afraid of success because it’s unpredictable and uncontrollable?  

What? He’s the only guy on the bus I know.

Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds hospitality.

When people are better friends, better service happens naturally.

Because it’s not a nametag, it’s a permission slip.

It’s funny, companies stress the importance of having employees wear nametags. But what if their customers wore nametags? That would add a whole new layer of humanity to the interaction.

Reminds me of riding the hotel shuttle during a snowstorm. It was midnight. The weather was unbearable. Everyone on the bus was delayed. As the last passenger lugged his bags onto the rack, he noticed there was only one seat left. Covered in snow, the guy said:

Scott, do you mind if I sit next to you?

Everyone on the bus laughed. And as the man sat down, he looked up and said this.

What? Scott’s the only guy on the bus I know.

Proving, that names reduce the distance between people. And with a nametag, it’s an unmasking. It assures that the customer is no longer just another face in the crowd. It humanizes them. And it makes it easier for employees to treat that person with dignity, respect, and compassion.

It’s an invitation for personalization.

Most companies miss this. They obsess over offering better customer service, but fail to see the big picture about the actual relationship. The purpose of a nametag isn’t to enable customers to tattle on someone who gives poor service. The purpose of nametag is to reduce the distance. To help service providers become better friends with customers, that way better service happens naturally.

This happens to me on a daily basis. Everyone from bartenders to flight attendants to baristas to cashiers at the adult toy shop. My interaction with them, when compared to the other anonymous customers, seems to be more connected, more joyful and more efficient.

It may just be my sparkling personality, but in a double blind study, my guess is that labeled customers would receive better service than unmarked ones. 

What if you were the only guy on the busy they know?

Peace and perspective is ours for the taking

Although our eyes grow accustomed to the dark, every incident can still be brought into its proper light.

No matter what catastrophe befalls us, there are always questions that we can pose to improve our overall internal experience.

How could you take a broader view here?
Are you considering the immediate condition in light of your whole journey?
What if you assessed your experience proportionally within the realm of your whole existence?

Reflections like this are what psychologists call the optimistic explanatory style, meaning, we tell ourselves that what happened is not personal, not permanent and not pervasive.

Indeed, this experience may suck donkey balls in the moment, and we have every right to be upset, but we don’t have to stay in the dark forever. We can turn the lights on and discover just how much peace and perspective is ours for the taking.

This gives me a few ideas for new apps.

The first one is for single people. Because dating involves a ton of rejection, which makes people doubt whether they are truly lovable, so they get fed up and quit. There must be some way to help people’s hearts not give up.

Buoy is an app that syncs with your dating calendar and sends you real time positive affirmations to keep you afloat along the journey of love. Before you start getting dressed to impress some clown across town, we’ll remind you that no matter what the magazines say, you are enough.

The other app is for business professionals. Because it’s hard to motivate yourself on the job, and sometimes you need it at the perfect time from an impartial third party.

Pepp is a text message app that sends you personalized words of encouragement at scheduled times before key meetings. Never let the burden of bad attitudes weigh you down again. With only a few words, you too can fake having a soul.

Both of these innovations deserve millions of dollars in seed investments. They’re useful ways to reinforce our optimistic explanatory style, lending us perspective in the moments where we need it most.

Remember, darkness may find us, but we don’t have to follow it.

Learn how to tell yourself a story about peace and perspective. 

If you drive people crazy with your relentless optimism, but it all works out for you, then what’s the problem?

The room of someone’s mind

Bohr once joked that it’s very hard to predict, especially the future.

But something that’s not as hard is understanding the present. Because as baffling and uncertain as life can be, what’s happening right in front of our noses is typically simpler than we might realize.

It just takes a little compassion.

Let’s say a colleague at work expresses sudden and malicious feelings towards us during a staff meeting. This can be jarring and concerning. That single comment can ruin our entire week, sending us into a ruminative spiral that fills our minds with unnecessary preoccupations about our relationships.

Does she hate me? Does this mean I’m fired? What will my family do for money? Will we have to move back in with our parents?

On the other hand, if we learn to keep perspective, we can see what’s happening at the moment within the broader context of the human condition.

Maisel’s book on therapy visualizes this strikingly. The room of someone’s mind has a particular atmosphere and idiosyncratic fittings and furnishings. It’s absurd not to connect up their behavior with something human going on. There is no reason to treat people’s unique ways of being as suddenly surprising.

It brings us back to our malicious coworker.

What if that person’s anger was actually directed at themselves?

What if they’re going through a hard time right now and projecting malice onto us was their way of protecting their ego?

What if being the object of their rage has nothing to do with our present and everything to do with their past?

Remember, as a human being, this person has everyday human reasons for their anger, many of which probably have nothing to do with us.

Like most things in this life, it’s not personal.

This is the kind of inner work that, when done on the regular, can help us to become less surprised and flustered by people’s behaviors.

It won’t help us predict the future, but it might help us understand the present.

Are you allowing for the possibility that humanity is at play?

Under what circumstances would this make perfect sense?

A coworker of mine once listed me as a reference for a potential job offer.

It was an honor to be asked, so I was happy to vouch for his talents. During the call with the hiring manager from his potential employer, there was one question that stood out to me:

How well would you say he manages emotions?

It made me laugh, since the candidate in question was fresh out of college. My response to the woman was:

Well, my coworker is in his early twenties. How emotionally mature were you at that age?

She laughed along with me. Because anyone of a certain age will tell you, most people’s brain development will continue into their mid twenties, at the earliest. Possibly not even until their thirties.

Hell, it took me at least until age thirty to be able to name and claim my feelings, much less tame and reframe them. And that process still hard for me. Feelings are complicated and difficult things and it would be much easier not to have them.

However, if your job is to assess people, then you will need to have compassion, forgiveness and acceptance of where they are along their life journey. Otherwise their behavior will continue to fluster and overwhelm you.

Seriously? Working until ten every night? Are you nuts?

No, they’re not nuts, they’re just young. Like you used to be. I’ve mentored dozens of young interns at various companies, and all of them have acted in ways that were immoral, immature and ignorant.

But we can’t hold that against them. They’re old enough to know better, and too young to care. And that’s okay. All of us were. Some of us still are.

But part of our work as leaders is allowing for the possibility that lack of brain development is at play, and to manage our own emotions accordingly.

My favorite question to ask myself in these moments is the following:

How is it possible that this person could think or behave in this way, and under what circumstances would it make perfect sense to do so?

It’s one of those questions that doesn’t even need an answer. By virtue of asking it, you’re already training yourself to find the fundamental human experience behind the person’s behavior that appears so confusing.

It’s true that everyone is fighting a battle that we know nothing about, but it’s also true that many are fighting a battle we know a lot about. The painful and confusing journey of growing up.

Next time you see someone smiling with the blazing vigor of youth, remember what it was like when the world was still in front of you, and treat them with compassion.

Is there any negativity that forgiveness does not transform?

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