Good defenses against that kind of free floating anxiety

Client services is an inherently stressful business model. Here’s why.

Companies that hire your agency to do marketing or public relations or consulting are essentially paying you for something else. To worry for them. That’s what your monthly fee goes toward. Outsourced anxiety.

And such, clients not only want, but expect their agencies to be neurotic. Practically twenty four hours a day.

Think of it from their perspective. If you’re on the brand side, the worst two words you want to hear from your agency is, everything’s fine.

Because even if business is going well, the job of the agency should always be to seek out areas of improvement. To probe and to challenge the status quo. Fine is a four letter word in their mind.

And the upside of this relationship dynamic is, it’s highly profitable for the client. Considering how high some of those agency retainers are, you best believe companies are going to get their money’s worth. And they usually do.

But the downside of the dynamic is, it’s stressful for the agency.

Affleck said it best in his unforgettable role as a stockbroker:

Clients are constant pain in the ass. They call you every day asking you why the stock is dropping. And god forbid the stock should go up, you’ll hear from them every fifteen minutes.

That description perfectly summarizes the world of client services. Meaning, if that’s your chosen career path, know what you’re getting into. It’s a job that comes with a significant amount of unavoidable stress.

You can set boundaries, take breaks, manage expectations and eat the frog until your heart’s desire, but there’s a baseline of anxiety that comes with the territory. And it doesn’t go away. Even if everything is fine.

Therefore, if you’re someone who thrives in that kind of environment, someone who can manage the daily hand grenades clients throw over the wall, then you’ll excel.

But if you’re someone who’s very porous and doesn’t have really good defenses against that kind of free floating anxiety, then you might consider other career options.

Or at least take on a non client facing role.

Otherwise you will burn out quickly, and probably beat yourself up for not being good enough to handle the job.

When the reality is, it’s not you, it’s the job. It’s the business model. It’s client services.

And that’s okay.

Have you learned the difference between unavoidable and avoidable stress?

How our eyes grow accustomed to the dark

It’s called the pursuit of happiness because it takes real work.

And the mistake we make along the way is believing that happiness is intentional.

It’s not. Happiness is incidental. It’s a side effect. It’s not the target, it’s the reward we get for hitting it.

Maybe instead of buying into the happiness industrial complex, what would be more productive is an apprenticeship in the art of acceptance.

Not acquiescence, the passive agreement without protest, but acceptance, the confronting of reality on reality’s terms. Allowing the world to be what it is.

Ellis, my favorite psychologist, once wrote that the more often and more strongly we work toward this acceptance, the better we will feel about ourselves.

Here’s an exercise.

Think back to the last few things you intentionally accepted, despite their imperfection and inconsistency with your own desire.

Maybe it was that decision you didn’t agree with at work.

Maybe it was the location for your family reunion.

Maybe it was the decision of where to eat dinner over the weekend.

Odds are, if you accepted these moments, there was incidental happiness. Even if you didn’t realize it at the time.

Because every little act of acceptance allows us to relax a little bit more.

That’s certainly the case for me. It’s like each acceptance of some challenge makes you grow into a better person. Still flawed, still figuring it out, but incrementally better than before.

The alternative is fighting with what is, which is akin to carrying around disorder of expectations, seeing everything through that filter, while happiness eludes you.

Incidental, not intentional. Not an insignificant distinction.

When we make peace with the life that we’re actually living, it’s amazing how much space opens up for joy.

What if happiness could only be achieved by paying the price called acceptance?

Love and fame can’t live in the same place

My psychologist friend says the most dangerous part about being a gambling addict is that you have hope.

You always maintain the obsessive belief that you’re just one bet away from turning it all around, solving all your problems and getting back on your feet.

That’s right man, after this last big score, it’s smooth sailing from here on out. No more hemorrhaging cash, dragging my family into debt just barely outrunning insanity each day. Back to my peaceful, honest and sober life.

But as with any addiction, just when you get there, there disappears.

The hope never cashes out the way you want it to.

The dragon is perpetually one step ahead.

Deniro’s warning in the best gambling movie of all time comes to mind:

In the casino, the cardinal rule is to keep people playing, and keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose, and in the end, we get it all.

This is how running a business made me feel. Like any obsession, it started out feeling euphoric. All this attention and approval and money and love, give me another hit of that shit, man.

But after a decade of making that daily entrepreneurial gamble, it occurred to me that I was no longer chasing the high, but simply trying to evade catastrophe. It was no longer about seeking pleasure, but avoiding pain.

That wasn’t enjoyable, that was sad. Sitting in my apartment all day, desperately waiting for that one email that would change everything, it just felt pathetic. My hope had stopped paying out.

The story I told myself about being one gig away from turning it all around wasn’t working anymore.

That’s when the idea of retirement started to cross my mind. What if I could leave behind all the gambling, all the risk, all the unhealthy and obsessive parts of this thing, and move forward in a way that felt more pure and sustainable?

What if I could find a day job that underwrote my ability to work on my own creative projects, but without the bottomless need for hope as fuel?

It had to be possible. There had to be a way to shrink the size of my business to fit my reality and keep only the parts that I loved the most.

Sure enough, there was. It took longer than I expected to make that transition. Maybe four years. But dual citizenship, as I’m fond of calling it today, is a better fit for where my life is now.

What I cherish about it is, there’s no more casino. There’s no more being one bet away from turning it all around.

Because screw gambling. Screw risking it all. Screw betting on yourself in the name of getting famous and growing rich and leaving a legacy. It’s not worth it.

If it’s true that love and fame can’t live in the same place, then it’s crystal clear which path is best for me.

Now I can save my hope for when I need it most.

Winner winner, chicken dinner.

What dangerous situation are you trying to convince yourself is just a phase that will improve?

But here’s the thing about things

Some people have a straight vector line, right out of the womb.

They don’t waver and wrestle with those identity doubts that plague the most of us. All they know is, there’s this thing that sticks inside of them that says, you were born for this, and so, they never even consider doing or being anything else.

Palnik, one of my favorite cartoonists, was showing his books and prints at an art fair years ago. I stopped by to thank him for his inspiring and funny comics, and his warm, smiling response was:

I have no choice, it’s who I am.

What a gift it is to know what your gift is. It must make small and large decisions so easy.

But not everyone is that lucky. Some people take years to recognize and employ their gift, some people never figure it out at all, some people don’t believe they have a gift in the first place, and some people do have their gift figured out, but don’t have the necessary support and opportunity to express it.

What about you? To what degree do you have a sense of the uniqueness of your talent? And what have you been able to do with it?

Keep in mind, this doesn’t necessarily have to be career focused. Not everyone’s talent is the nucleus of their career or business pursuits.

That’s perhaps the most wonderful thing about gifts. We can use them to make a difference in every area of our lives, paid or not. Whatever our thing is, it can contribute to our overall fulfillment.

There’s just one caveat. Here’s the thing about things.

What we think is our thing isn’t really our thing. It typically points to something bigger, deeper and more meaningful than how it’s labeled on the surface.

Something you can’t capture on a resume, portfolio or website. My friend Eli is a professional trivia writer and host. His job title is literally Chief Trivia Officer at Watercooler. Creating and playing trivia with friends, colleagues, strangers and family members creates massive amounts of joy in the world.

But even though anyone who knows him will say that trivia is his thing, it’s not. His thing is education. Connection. Community. Making memories that you never forget.

That’s the real gift. And it’s not trivial in the slightest.

Lesson learned, if you’re lucky enough to take your talents on the ride they deserve, know that your fuel might not be what it seems.

How are you using your gifts to make a difference in every area of your life?

My favorite public figure to blame my anxiety on

What if you were independent of the outer world as your primary source of satisfaction?

What if you were not burdened by the weariness of all those externally generated demands?

Calm and content, that’s what you would be.

Imagine if your mechanism of fulfillment was your own. It would become this priceless possession nobody could take away from you. It would become lever you could pull to transform your world, even the one around you was crumbling into bits.

My friend has been a psychotherapist for about seven years now. And my burning question to her was:

How have the problems your clients come to you with changed since you first started?

She told me the biggest shift, bar none, was the widespread emotional consequence of politics on people’s psyches. Helplessness, hopelessness, these are just a few of the common psychological challenges afflicting her clients.

Doesn’t that sound awful? If you’ve ever been plagued with those kinds of feelings before, you know it doesn’t get much worse than that, from a mental health perspective.

And yet, there’s still an unpopular question worth asking:

If you seek counseling because the agitated state of national politics is causing strain in your mind and relationships, who’s fault is that?

Understandably, there are hourly media uproars galloping into your inner life through every device. And statistically, there is direct a connection between stress levels and electronic news consumption. The constant exposure to potentially distressing information and the resulting physical symptoms are very real forces to contend with.

But it also depends on your ability to set boundaries.

Colona, the executive coach to the stars, asks his clients the following question:

How you are complicit in creating the conditions in your life you say you don’t want?

It’s quite the confrontational poke. Something most of us don’t want to face.

But following his line of thinking, perhaps the greatest enemy you face is not the narcissistic politician screaming through your screen. It’s the voice inside your head telling you that something outside our head is the reason you feel the way you feel.

If somebody who’s crazy is making you crazy, then you are the loser. But if you own the source of satisfaction, nobody can steal our peace. 

Look, therapy is a deeply meaningful experience, one that transformed my own relationship with my mind. And if you believe that process is going to help you feel more fulfilled, then by all means, get your butt on that couch.

Just be honest with yourself about why you’re there in the first place. 

Who is your favorite public figure to blame your anxiety on?

When guilt becomes fuel that burns clean

Once we learn to forgive ourselves and accept our own humanity, we can awake from the sleep of guilt and start using it as fuel.

We can transform guilt into an emotion that fuels our growth.

It starts by noticing the feeling and asking it what it wants from us.

Is this feeling inviting me to connect with my moral compass and values as a person? Is this feeling asking to be used for positive action and not punishment?

If so, then consider turning towards the guilt. Instead of doing what most people do, which is turning their backs on guilt by avoiding, numbing, denying or suppressing it, get curious about it.

Because it might be a useful feeling for inspiring change.

Imagine your regional manager is coming through town next week. She sends you a meeting invite to get coffee, but without telling you what the meeting is about.

If that message strikes guilt into your heart because you’ve spent the last few weeks working from home, pissing away your existence with video games and getting high, that’s great news.

What a perfect opportunity to reconnect with and honor the part of yourself that is not satisfied with a life of laziness and isolation. Your feelings of guilt will drive greater task effort and put you in greater standing for the upcoming meeting.

It’s kind of like knowing you’ve got a dentist appointment coming up, so you double down on the brushing and flossing routine to avoid any more cavities. That’s the kind of guilt that makes people better.

Stanford conducted the premiere study on a phenomenon called guilt proneness, which is people’s tendency to experience negative feelings about personal wrongdoing.

Turns out, people who have higher guilt proneness show up even if they don’t like their job as much. They also have a higher degree of commitment to organizations and are routinely rated in performance reviews as being more capable leaders than counterparts who are less prone to feeling guilty.

The one secret the researchers didn’t mention is, you have to love yourself along the way. Without acceptance and forgiveness of our faults, that guilt eventually degrades into shame and weighs our spirit down.

However, if we can find a ways to intentionally select the pathways where our feelings run, our guilt becomes fuel that burns clean.

If we can engage our mental railroad switch, gracefully enabling our emotional train to be guided from one track to another, then our feelings are channeled in service of our values.

Next time you’re feeling regretful about slacking off, use that feeling for productive action rather than punishment.

Turn towards it, and see where it might want to take you.

Do you know how to feel productively guilty enough to fix your own problem?

The home field advantage in the game of life

Clemens, at the tail end of his pitching career, negotiated a contract where he only played in home games.

That way, he could drive to work and not go on the road. No coping with changing time zones or climates, no dealing with the rigors of travel, and no working through the idiosyncrasies of other ballparks and their moronic, hateful fans. Houston or bust.

This sounds like an extreme contractual demand, but then again, if you’re the most dominant pitcher in the history of baseball, you can pretty much do whatever you want.

The rest of us civilians are not so lucky. We don’t always have the luxury of the home field advantage in the game of life. It would be lovely if our biological cycles were perfectly in tune with our surroundings at all times, but in many cases, we have to train ourselves to play well on the road.

Meaning, on other people’s turf. Where the odds are stacked against our favor.

Talk about a tough crowd.

Submitting ourselves to the ways and whims of other people’s terms and needs and rituals, that really requires you to be a good sport.

That phrase is deeply meaningful to me. Being a good sport is something that many of my family members have modeled exquisitely. And the older I get, the more useful that skill seems to become.

Because when you don’t have home field advantage, you have to be flexible. You have suck it up and play along. To take one for the team, as athletes say. To surrender some of your own preferences to help elevate the entire group.

And there’s a certain amount of people pleasing involved, but not in an anxiety ridden or conflict avoidant way.

This type of relational compromise comes from a place of love.

You’re not giving up who you are, you’re aligning what you do with the highest version of the person you are committed to being, while identifying and adjusting your perceptions to support a fuller view of reality.

You’re not foregoing your values, you are respecting different perspectives and preferences.

Campbell, the patron saint of modern mythology, even he admits that it’s easier to stay home, stay in the womb and not take the journey. But then life can dry up because you’re not off on your own adventure.

Point being, it’s still possible to throw strikes when you’re not playing on your home turf.

But human relationships are the only game in town, and sometimes you just have to be a good sport. 

The fans might be insulting, the weather might suck, the mound may be lumpy and the umpires might be unfair.

What if your flexibility was a form of generosity?

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