Posts Tagged 'love'

Risk of Unprepared

unprepared

Toronto gets a lot of snow. No one freaks out about it because there are machines and people to get rid of it, and an attitude that it’s hardly a problem worth hyperventilating over.

Many problems are like that. When we prepare for them and get used to them, they’re not problems anymore. They’re merely the way it is. We intuitively know this, although when new problems arise we sometimes react poorly, and we don’t like the accompanying feelings.

What about an individual? Is there much worse we can say about you and your work? “You are unprepared.” But the word “unprepared” really means two things. There is the unprepared of the quiz at school, of forgetting your lines, of showing up to a gunfight with a knife… this is the unprepared of being an industrial cog in an industrial system, a cog that is out-of-whack, disconnected and poorly maintained. What about the other kind, though?

We are unprepared to do something for the first time or to take a leap into the unknown, always. We are unprepared for our first hit, or for a massive failure unlike any we’ve ever seen before. We are unprepared to create a new kind of beauty, to connect with another human in a way that we’ve never connected before. We are unprepared to fall in love, and to be loved.

We’ve been so terrified into the importance of preparation, it’s spilled over into that other realm, the realm of life where we have no choice but to be unprepared.

If you demand that everything that happens be something you are adequately prepared for, I wonder if you’ve chosen never to leap in ways that we need you to leap. Once we embrace this chasm, then for the things for which we can never be prepared, we are of course, always prepared.

Because uncertainty is not the same thing as risk.

Often, the most important stuff we do doesn’t bring a guaranteed, specific result. Usually, the result of any given action on our part is unknown. Uncertainty implies a range of possible outcomes.

But a range of results, all uncertain, doesn’t necessarily mean you are exposing yourself to undue risk. It merely means you’re exposing yourself to possible outcomes you can’t fully play out and fall in love with in advance.

The question to ask yourself is, “are you hesitating because you’re not sure the future will match your specific vision, or is there truly a life-endangering risk here?”

A portfolio of uncertain outcomes is very different from a large risk.

Passion

passion

You have to have passion for what you’re doing if you want to be great. If you don’t love it you’ll quit before you get there. This we’ve all been told or read a number of times before.

The struggle we sometimes find ourselves in is when we try to make something great, even though the passion isn’t there. Or, said another way, we struggle trying to invent or re-ignite passion.

It’s a shame that we put this pressure on ourselves. Because passion, by definition, isn’t very controllable. It’s an emotion. It can be modulated to some extent by our actions and mindset. But like most of our emotions, we don’t have direct access to it. Emotions are driven in part by our intellect. We know the situation we are in, and we know how we feel about it. We can observe much of that taking place and understand it academically, but controlling it is a lot to ask. It’s unreliable, at best. Hard to fight our human nature.

The reality is…we sometimes keep trying to find a way through even when the passion isn’t there. This manifests to different degrees I can summarize into three categories:

  1. Apathy – Giving up. No longer trying. One step away from quitting altogether, which could be the right thing to do once one reaches this point.
  2. Mailing/phoning it in – This has most of the appearances of trying, but it’s usually more for the benefit of all the onlookers than anything. Sometimes we do this for a while, waiting/hoping for that spark (spark) of inspiration to strike.
  3. The Struggle – The gallant effort. Continuing to push and work hard, in spite of evidence that it isn’t doing much good. In spite of that dull, nauseating feeling of discontent. The tricky thing is, when we try hard, we usually do get some results. Often it can be enough to keep us engaged for a while. But in the end we usually know the truth.

Without that intangible thing called passion driving us, it’s virtually impossible to do our best for an extended period of time.

And so…things change. Some people experience more of this than others. Some are better at fighting through and ignoring the underlying feelings than others. I would humbly suggest that no matter which side of this you are on, judging what another person is battling  and how it may be manifesting, is probably a misguided waste of emotional energy. Your passion, your common sense, your background of obviousness is unique to you.

When the fuel tank reaches empty, the car can usually still coast for a while, especially when the wind is favorable, but in the end you gotta’ find something new to be passionate about to really get going and get somewhere.

I’m sorry if this is not the answer you may want.

Happiness, Part xx8, Other People

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We’ve already explored happiness topics ranging from drugs to business. Perhaps the most vital, if obvious, piece has only been touched on up to now.

The Portuguese island of Madeira, known most for its excellent wine, is part of a volcanic archipelago that sits in the Atlantic Ocean far off the southwest coast of Portugal. It’s actually closer to northwest Africa, and loosely associated with the Canary Islands as a stopping point for transatlantic journeys.

One small island in the group has such steep cliffs jutting out of the ocean that it actually looks a bit like a cylinder. At the top is a several-acre plateau on which are grown the most prized grapes that go into Madeira wine. On this plateau lives only one large animal: an ox whose job is to plow the field. The only way to the top is a winding and narrow path. There is no way an ox could navigate the path, so when the ox dies, how is it replaced? A baby ox is carried on the back of a worker up the mountain, where it spends the next forty years plowing the field alone. If you are moved by this story, ask yourself why. One ox, alone, in a field on the plateau of a small rock island in the middle of the ocean.

Very little that is positive is solitary. When was the last time you laughed uproariously? The last time you felt indescribable joy? The last time you sensed profound meaning and purpose? The last time you felt enormously proud of an accomplishment? Even without knowing the particulars of these high points of your life, there is one thing I’ll bet they had in common: all of them took place around other people. Simply put, other people is the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up.

Recent research on human evolution points to the importance of positive relationships. Studies of the big social brain, hive emotions, and group selection persuade me that positive relationships are a basic element of well-being.

It’s really pretty simple, except the catch is that nasty tendency we sometimes have to not want to be around people when things aren’t going well. It’s a downward spiral.

The other tricky aspect, is being around the right people. If you spend time with someone who brings you down or causes you stress, even if through no particular fault of his own, then at minimum you need others in your life who provide the type of companionship that makes the rest work. It turns out we’re pretty complicated socially, yet we produce anxiety and ultimately unhappiness because we don’t always set our lives up in a way that takes care of this truth, or honor and act on behalf of the changes we undergo throughout life. When someone connects and makes you feel good, pay attention, as it’s you trying to tell yourself something. Recognizing the importance of that is essential to not just happiness, but to fundamentally taking care of yourself.

 

Middle

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Every journey has a beginning, and then some space we generally call the middle, once we know where the end is. But not every journey has an end, so the middle is hard to define. Further, when you are in the journey, you sometimes don’t know where you are, other than along a path somewhere. Somewhere in the middle of it.

The beginning may be the most important part. Getting over the inertia of standing pat to get moving is a big deal. But the middle Space – That’s where the action is. The hard work. The grind.

Somewhere around the middle you reach a point of no return. You’ve gone too far to turn back, but can’t see the end. The test to push through. Who you are comes out in that space. Courage is forged. The courage to love.

The brave are broken hearted.

Love and Respect

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What are we supposed to do in life? Make babies? Be good?

Two of life’s most fundamental pursuits, apart from self-preservation, are to earn love and respect. Nobody ever told me this. Not religion, not school, not mom or dad.

It aint easy.

Love is often given to us, but the path to earning it can be elusive. Respect is just as complicated, though it may be a little less subjective. It starts, of course, by loving and respecting ourselves.

That’s tricky. Most of us aren’t as happy with ourselves as we often pretend. Self respect and love in ourselves is a lifelong pursuit. We never fully arrive, in part because we, more than anyone else, see our imperfections up close. So we seek the love and respect of others as validation — a kind of Catch-22.

Being good is a start. However, defining what ‘good‘ is can be awfully difficult when circumstances get complicated. You might be able to use as a guide what gives you love and respect from the people you care most about. But that’s a trap if you’re trying too hard to please them. They have their own agendas.

An artist trying to write a hit song will rarely succeed. An artist writing from the heart can catch the magic, and it just comes. Organic and pure, like good art.

This is why people say to follow your heart. So much stuff out there trying to dissuade us from that, but in my 53 years on this earth I can safely say that the ones who follow their hearts in general tend to be happier than the ones who try to follow the rules. It’s not an absolute, but the correlation is clear. And with that happiness comes love reflected back, because this is a person living true to and being honest with themselves. Just as imperfect as anyone else, but more accepting of what is, and more open to being in the moment and not clinging to things that no longer work.

Like a great song, it often seems to come to you when you aren’t looking for it.

Reasons or Excuses

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When something goes wrong we quickly build ourselves a narrative about it. The story we tell ourselves isn’t objective, and often doesn’t even mesh with reality in more than a cursory way. Let a little time pass and that story becomes the totality of the event. It includes our interpretation of the circumstances, rationalizations for what we did, how we perceive others behaved or reacted, etc. We develop for ourselves a reason that satisfies our need to make sense of it.

Reasons or excuses? What are they, and what differentiates these emotionally loaded terms? Culturally, reasons feel to us like valid explanations, whereas excuses feel invalid and lacking in accountability.

Let me give you some examples. Common excuses for why restaurants, or other businesses, fail include:

  • Our purveyors were cheating us
  • Our concept was too progressive for the market
  • The market didn’t appreciate good food
  • Our landlord was unreasonable

The list is much longer than these few highlights. There are as many excuses for failure as there are failed businesses. If a person were to take accountability for their decisions and their actions, those excuses could be seen as the real reasons for failure, and they would look more like this:

  • We didn’t know anything about negotiating purchasing, and ended up paying prices we couldn’t afford to pay
  • We didn’t research our market well enough to find out what the market wanted, so we ended up giving them what OUR idea of good food was, not theirs
  • We failed to communicate what made us special compared to the competion, and the market didn’t respond  – or – We didn’t realize that our market doesn’t have the same ability to notice quality that we have, and we were really banking on them realizing our food was better
  • We didn’t negotiate a good lease – or –  we didn’t learn enough about leases going in to be able to effectively negotiate a favorable one

Recognizing the lack of accountability in the first set relative to the second is the easy part. Culturally, we seem to lump excuses into a morally questionable realm, almost as if they are lies. Excuse, by definition, connotes an attempt or request to not be held accountable.

“I was late for class because I was held up by a train.” Assuming the statement is truthful, is it an excuse or a reason? As a statement of fact, it fits with being a reason. If there is an implied request to not be penalized in some way, then it starts to feel like an excuse. The moral attitude (with its limitations) starts to surface here: you should leave in time to allow for being held up by a train. Of course, what if the person did, but the train was unusually long? We don’t have to go far down these technical rabbit holes to see that the language and implied meaning can be broken. Suffice to say that they are contextual and judged in the perception of the speaker and hearer, who are not always on the same page because communicating the nuances thoroughly can be difficult and time consuming, not to mention emotionally taxing under some circumstances. Sometimes one party just doesn’t care enough to worry about it.

“I can’t.”  As I have written before, this is often code for, “I don’t want to enough.” Again, the easy ones are statements such as, “I can’t seem to lose weight,” or “I can’t make it to your important event.” The former feels like an excuse, even though we know there can be very valid reasons. The latter feels like it probably has a reason behind it. Thus is how culture and context drives meaning. The trickiness of the second example is often in the desire not to hurt people’s feelings. We dance around and make excuses, when the cold, hard truth probably is, “I don’t care enough about your event to miss out on the other thing I have to do.” Now it sounds even more like a reason (though not very tactful).

There are some things we simply can’t do in life, but most are choices we make.

“I can’t go out with you because I am already dating someone.” Most would be satisfied that this sounds like a reason, but is its really? The word “can’t” adds a weird layer of a lack of accountability, and therefor moves the statement toward feeling like an excuse, even if it’s deemed to be a valid one.

“I do not want to go out with you because I am already dating someone.” That’s closer to owning the accountability of it.

“I don’t want to go out with you because I believe that the risk of hurting the relationship I am in outweighs what I assess to be a very small chance I would be happier with you.” Or, “I don’t want to go out with you because I don’t feel attracted enough to break a date with this other person I like.”

Do you feel how these are getting uncomfortable? Excuses are often an (empty) attempt to keep comfort in tact by avoiding accountability. Reasons cut to the real truth of the matter.

It could also simply be, “I do not want to go out with you.” Sometimes what gets us into trouble is trying to provide a reason, and usually the reason is where it starts to feel like, and often is, an excuse.

Oh, but there is more.

Truth and trust become important currency when you’re in some type of valued relationship with someone. It’s easy to find ourselves caught between two valid concerns:

  1. I want and need to be honest with this person because…
    •  It seems like the ‘right’ thing to do
    • I want to maintain an assessment of trust;
      • It makes me feel good
      • I hope they will respond in kind
    • I believe it is in their best interest to know the truth
  2. I want to be dishonest with this person because…
    • I want them to feel validated, or not be hurt
    • I want to maintain the good feelings we have between us
    • I want to avoid conflict
    • I don’t want them to negatively assess me (as being rude or insensitive, a jerk, an idiot, etc.)
    • I believe it is in their best interest not to know the truth

You’ll decide to lean more toward one than the other, as conflicted of a choice as it may be. We can weigh it all out and try to do the least worst thing, but so much of what we often choose to do really boils down to our own comfort and desire to be liked.

An additional complexity of either of them is that sometimes the hearer just doesn’t buy it, and will believe you are operating in #2 whether you are or not. Now the speaker has lost the assessment of trust, the hearer is hurt, there are bad feelings, and potentially bad characterizations. Thus is the risk of the dishonest route, or is one of the nasty consequences of a weakness in trust and/or a weakness in the hearer’s self-esteem. It could also just be a misunderstanding or faulty assumption on the part of the hearer. In either case, now the tables are turned (insert dramatic music here). Now it is the hearer who must decide between #1 and #2. He can call out his concern to the speaker, or he can move along quietly with the bad feelings. Let it go, or ferret the truth out of it? Tough choice with the same pitfalls.

So this just turned into a post about how vital communication is between people who care about each other. It’s about how we have to accept the flaws in communication, the mistakes we make, and to a degree even the flaws in each other that lead to these mistakes. We need to give the other person grace, to empathize with how difficult it can be to parse through it all to find the right balance on the continuum between brutal honesty and smarmy validation, or between letting the other person save face versus the value of holding them accountable, all in the unavoidable context of our own comfort.

An Unselfish To Do List

dancerssilBy their nature, most to-do lists are self-focused. This is a different kind of list; here are four things you could do today for other people:

1. Make another person feel they belong. 

The superficial greetings that make the greeter feel good can diminish into the reality of a lack of connection for a person who is new or in an unfamiliar (uncomfortable) environment.

Maybe it’s the guy in accounting who always eats lunch alone. Maybe it’s the guy from shipping who always stands at the edge of a group. It’s easy to spot people who feel hesitant and out of place. Pick one. Say hi. Say something nice. Say, or do, something that makes them feel a slightly bigger connection – to your company, to a group, or just to you.

They may not show it, but they’ll definitely appreciate the gesture.

2. Make a person feel good about what they do.

Rarely does a restaurant delivery guy hope to make his career delivering food. Rarely does a sales clerk or entry-level manual laborer hope to stay in that job forever. High-level workers tend to attract high-level attention. Lower level workers often feel invisible; an unseen, unnoticed, unappreciated cog in the machine. Such a shame since everyone really is important and deserves to be treated with respect.

Pick someone in your company, or elsewhere. Doesn’t matter. Don’t just offer a throwaway, “Thanks.” Say thanks and mean it. Or give a sincere compliment. Or ask a question that shows respect for what that person does. For that moment, make sure the other person knows you see and appreciate them as a person, not just as an employee.

3. Offer a person hope. 

Have you ever met a person who didn’t dream of something better? We all have dreams and hopes, but sometimes it’s really hard to hold on to them. Sometimes all we need is for another person to fan our flickering flames of hope. To somehow show us that there is a way to get from here to there.

Buy a piece of art from an artist. Assign a small project to an employee you know hopes to be promoted; give her a chance, however small, to show her stuff. Ask a small supplier to provide a quote; give them a chance to earn your business. Really listen to someone with the intent to understand and get to know them. Engage them in a meaningful conversation, or include them (see above) in an important activity.

The best way to offer someone hope is to show you believe in them, even when – especially when – they don’t quite believe in themselves.

4. Give to a person in need. 

Years ago, the first time I went to Europe, a well-meaning person told me not to make eye contact with beggars. “Once you make eye contact, they’re all over you.”

A while later I was with a friend in NYC, and when riding the subway I noticed she gave a little money to a man who walked through the car with his hat in hand. She also gave money to people sitting against buildings holding torn, faded cardboard signs declaring their need. When I asked about it, she said, “If a man is desperate enough to say, ‘Can you help me?’ how could I ever say no? He’s asking me for help.” She paused. “Plus, hopefully for a few moments they’ll feel a little less alone. Hopefully they’ll feel like a few people really do care about them.” Humbling.

I’d normally be the first one to say we do these things to make ourselves feel better. It’s true, but on this day I was reminded by a person with a bigger heart than me that there is still a real person on the other end of that transaction who benefits.

Try it. Give directly. Give to a person who asks. Give a dollar here, or five dollars there.

To you and me it may be little, but to a person in need it could be a lot. To a person in need our small gestures could make all the difference.

The thing about all of these benevolent acts is they will each make you feel better. Even if you do them for your own selfish reasons the good you do is still positive energy in the world. We’re all in this together.



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