How to scale a cliff?
Look for the hidden staircase.
Works every time.
How to scale a cliff?
Look for the hidden staircase.
Works every time.
From a young age I have been encouraged to strive for excellence. My parents did not exert much pressure, mind you. But I think the fact that they were teachers probably drove my expectations about academic achievement. I thought that “winning” was doing well in school, and since learning came fairly easily to me, I aspired to this type of achievement.
Looking back, I remember taking on a heavy course schedule, especially in middle and high school, when we could select our electives. I also participated in many school activities, band, forensics (what they called public speaking) and various other extras I was encouraged to add because I was deemed “gifted” due to test scores.
At the same time, some teachers in middle school in particular thought that I was not working up to my potential. I distinctly remember my 6th grade reading teacher explaining this to my parents at conferences. We had page number requirements for books we had to read and I remember that 1500 per quarter was considered grade A level (1200 = B, 900 = C). My reading list typically listed 4000-5000 pages for each quarter, or about 300% of A level.
I was (and am) a voracious reader, but not as excited then about writing reports or summaries of what I had read. Of course, I did not always remember a lot of what I had read (and I now know variable attention was a factor). At the speed I was going, I just wanted to cover as much ground as possible. Even today, I typically get through books quickly. But now I tend to read them more closely a second time if they have a larger impact on me. This habit worked well in college for getting through vast amounts of material, and then selecting what needed to be studied rather than simply read.
At work, it has been my habit in my career to attempt to give 110%, to go above and beyond what is needed. I realize this was a cultural norm for the company I recently worked for, which had in its mission statement the words “striving without reserve” for the greatest possible reliability and quality. While I appreciate the intent, the “without reserve” part always bothered me.
For many years, my personal “reserves” ran low constantly. By giving so much to my work so consistently, I short-changed close relationships, friendships, and even my own health at times. I received promotions and advancement, but at what cost? Since I experience variable attention, I often arrived early or stayed late so I could work while it was quiet and there were less interruptions.
Ironically enough, in my final year I realized that cutting back on work hours generally, and giving less (more like 90% rather than 110%) made me much more effective in the hours I actually worked. When I use the tools of more sleep, meditation, better mental and emotional management, and good quality food and exercise, and more time away from work to rest and play, I make better decisions.
In yoga teacher training, we are learning about the concept of non-striving, about giving 51% in our practice, the just right stimulus for growth, rather than 110%. As someone who has taken a break from the full time work world for 9 months, I likely embrace the concept more readily than many. It chafes against our cultural conditioning. And that can be a good and necessary thing.
In a world that often tells us we are “never enough” we need to re-think what is essential, and what is extraneous. Not all days or phases of our lives are identical, of course, and we may need to adjust accordingly. But sometimes giving 51% and keeping some energy for ourselves is appropriate and what gives us resilience for the longer term.
What keeps us going through failure and rejection? Not the cheeriest of starts to a post, but I am working my way to a better place. We’ve just had a restructure at work. They’re never much fun. This one was a marathon that ended in those already well positioned get a promotion, and those of […]
This is a thoughtful piece that I believe many of my readers will enjoy. Happy Saturday, everyone! Hope you have a great weekend.
When I quit my job in the corporate world recently, most of my colleagues were excited for me. They assured me that they knew I would succeed at any chosen path. It was a confidence-booster. I was grateful for their kind words.
There were people who seemed very worried and concerned for me, leaving the “mother ship” as I used to call my former workplace. What would I do if I did not find another “gig” right away? Or if it did not work out to be self-employed?
To be honest, fear of failure was not on my mind. I am more concerned about decisions I will make about which direction to pursue. Since I was a young girl I wanted to do LOTS of different things in my life. I still remember being very distressed when someone asked what I was going to be when I grew up (around age 6). I listed off a bunch of things: teacher, writer, doctor, actor, store owner, etc.
The woman who had asked the question had good intentions, I suppose, but she laughed and said, “Oh honey, you can’t do ALL those things. You will have to choose one (or two).” I was immediately sad and surprised too. Seriously? You could only do ONE thing in your life?!? Crap!
I suppose that was much more true then than it is today. So she was not really trying to burst my bubble. She just did not understand my intention. I got bored easily when I mastered things. And I suppose that might have been a clue that I had an active imagination and could create compelling visions of possibilities in my life (and maybe a sign of a.d.d.)
It never even occurred to me that I might try one of those careers and fail. My parents, bless their hearts, had helped instill confidence in my abilities, and in my resilience. I still remember my Dad teaching me about “meta-cognition” when I was in grade school. Thinking was important, he said, but understanding HOW we think (or learn) is even more important.
Recently as I was completing an application for a fellowship I had a major realization – sometimes I have a greater fear of success than I do of failure. Huh? Who is afraid of success?
As an introvert, I have often looked to leaders or people who are very successful in their careers (say, in public speaking) and thought: that’s so awesome. But I would hate to be surrounded by all those people all the time… yikes. While I like some professional acknowledgement, fame has never really been a goal for my life. I value my privacy and solitude too much.
It did not occur to me that success can look a lot of different ways, or that I could succeed in a career and set appropriate boundaries around my time and space. When you are successful, people seek you out. I guess another of those fears has to do with the future – if I succeed, people will have even greater expectations of me. I will have greater expectations of myself as well.
Where does that end? Oy! The thought makes me tired.
Right now I am considering my definition of success, first of all. For some people, that means money, a nice home, a fancy car, a corner office. I am not the kind of person that craves a lot of material things. I feel pretty weighed down by things, actually. I love going on vacation adventures, so regular travel is part of my success definition.
I love time and space. I love the ability to think, learn new skills, take classes, design workshops and collaborate with my favorite people. The spaciousness of my days has been a distinct benefit to this sabbatical, and I am trying to figure out how to build this into my new gig.
My hubby might say that success means I can retire early and do whatever I want. While that is a lovely idea, I actually enjoy working, when I do the kinds of things that make my heart sing. Success is about giving back, because to some extent, I feel I have already succeeded in my life. Sure, I failed at certain things I tried. But I learned so much along the way.
Truly I am happy in my life, right now, and I appreciate the wealth of my relationships. Ultimately is that not the best measure of success?
This week’s Throwback Thursday is an edited piece from November 2017. It sent a chill down my spine thinking about how far I have come in that time, in writing through these changes in my life. So grateful that this blog has allowed an exploration toward the next part of my path.
As I was sitting in savasana today at my morning yoga class, a concept kept arising into consciousness. It was Integration.
I wonder if my search for balance and equilibrium is actually a search for integration. Bringing together my personal and professional lives, uniting my body, mind and spirit, accepting the positives and the negatives. It is all part of one rich and fulfilling life, after all.
Why do I find it challenging? Perhaps my scientific training works against me here. I strive to isolate variables, to design proper controls, to decrease “confounding factors.” It is a noble pursuit, when we want to understand a mechanism for a system.
I then consider another concept from a similar root: Integrity. These concepts both relate to a state of being whole. Stemming from a similar Latin root, these words express what I seek.
It is not so much about work/life balance, which always reminds me of a seesaw. It is more about bringing it all together, not having to isolate parts of myself in certain contexts, but rather bringing my whole self to every situation. I like the yin/yang concept, and the idea that we have complementary parts within us. I have written about this before. Perhaps that is what this blog is about, to integrate the “mexi” and the “minnesotana” parts more meaningfully, in every part of my life.
What if we viewed the entire natural sphere as an integrated whole, all part of some vast and intricate web? Everything, everyone and all of the in between is connected. We are not binary – one against another, us against them. We are all part of this vast universal story, ever changing, ever growing, ever recycling the parts that need to evolve to something new.
This brings so much peace to me, embracing both my darkness and my light. It means acceptance of what I am, where I am today in my journey, not chiding myself that I am not further along. Change unfolds gradually and when I “push” instead of allowing, it often sets me back. I am eager to know what is next, to see around the next corner. But I need not worry.
My soul works and plays at integrating. It seems to do this better without the fretting of my ego or mind. When I pay attention to the ease and the grace that comes from sitting still or small movements, I can feel integration physically. At the same time, I notice myself acting with greater integrity in the world. This feels like a true definition of success for me.
I am reflecting on the lessons I have learned during my time decade plus of working in the medical device industry for a very large company.
One of the observations is the way I respond to leaders who approach their work with entitlement versus those who aim to serve. The former set were wrapped up in a sense of “we are the winners” and they set up their organizations to demonstrate that. The latter approached from a more humble place of openness and willingness to learn.
Carol Dweck makes a powerful case for leaders and organizations who embrace a “growth mindset” versus a fixed mindset in her book Mindset: the new psychology of success. In summary, the person who believes they can grow and develop over time and with practice will far surpass the person who believes they are born with a fixed intelligence or talent. Children who are told they are smart, rather than the ones praised for their ability to work hard and persist, are actually at a disadvantage in the long-term.
I can relate to this principle and how it created a bit of an identity crisis when I first went to college. I had put in some hard work, but my belief was that I was “naturally smart” and this was how I identified myself. But going to a place like Swarthmore, where I was nowhere near the “smartest” and had not yet developed the academic work ethic I would need to succeed, I struggled, especially in my first year.
I called my parents one weekend to tell them that the college may have made a mistake in admitting me. I was not sure I could handle the work. But my mother reassured me – she knew I could do it if I worked hard. College was about challenging ourselves at a higher level. Thank goodness my professors agreed, and when I admitted to other students and to the professor that I was struggling, I realized I was not alone. I would have support in learning and growing if I was open to it.
The parallels in leadership intrigue me as I consider the effectiveness of those who believe they are the “smartest” in the room versus those who are open to learning from front-line employees. I respond best to those leaders who are open to feedback, who ask to hear my ideas. I want to contribute to their cause, because they see it as “our cause.” I want to figure out creative ways to help because I feel their belief in me. I want to learn and understand new things, because I know I will gain greater skills along the way.
When I consider my own responsiveness to feedback, I aim to improve my ability to take in criticism that can improve my performance in the long run. Though it can be hard to hear, when delivered and received in a spirit of mutual respect and investment in growth, it is a gift.
This applies to individual contributors also, not just managers. Those who are willing to learn from their mistakes are more willing to take risks rather than try to keep a perfect image as someone who never fails. If the environment is conducive to it, the growth-minded person will be unafraid to challenge the status quo. They will have courage to communicate what may be “blind spots” to leadership.
The research also shows how the growth mindset can be taught and coached, and is not something we are simply bestowed or lacking. This is fundamentally the philosophy I have embraced. I have seen so much evidence of this in my own work with colleagues over the years. To me there is nothing more rewarding than watching someone succeed at a “stretch” goal and knowing that maybe just a year or two before, they may have doubted their ability to achieve it.
Where do you want to grow? How strong is your belief that you will get there with practice and determination? What if difficulty just means “not yet”?