Archive for the ‘Being Good Enough’ Category

I have to start this post by acknowledging that it has been a really long time since I last wrote.  Really long.  The only real excuse I have is that I have been doing other work, in addition to coaching, and that has kept me really busy.  But, I never stopped working with clients or loving coaching or feeling a desire to write about things that interest me.  I have thought of posting many times because I continue to read a lot and be excited by ideas and insights, but I have let myself be derailed (I know exactly how it happens…I am tempted now to get up and start going through my closet to get rid of things.  That needs to be done too, but for now it will have to wait.)

But today will be different.  I am mostly caught up with my work, so I am going to sit here until I hit the Publish button.  And since I have done this a few times before (I have a few drafts from years past where I never did hit that Publish button), I am going to keep it simple.

This article by Carl Richards in yesterday’s New York Times, “Time to Be Honest About the Fear That’s Getting in Your Way,” feels like a good place to dive back in.  That’s because I completely relate to the first few sentences:

There is something you have been working on, isn’t there?  Something big. Something exciting. Something you have always dreamed of. It’s that perpetual “work in progress” that you tell only your close friends and loved ones about. The novel that is in “final edits.” That website that you are going to start … tomorrow.

Ah yes, tomorrow.  I know it well.  Some avoidance is about laziness or lack of time or something else, but for the big things, the bold things, the things we keep wanting to do despite the “roadblocks” we imagine…they are stopped by fear.

Our own work, when we are judging it ourselves, is never finished or good enough. I have a secret for you: It’s not because we are perfectionists. It’s because we are scared. Scared nobody will like it, scared it won’t work out, scared to be embarrassed.

I think I stopped writing blogposts because I got really busy with other things, but then once I was out of the habit, I started to have doubts about the worth of my posts and were they good enough, and who cares what I think.  Fast forward several years and here I am, with blogposts to write and other creative projects I want to do.  Carl Richards asks the questions I need to answer.

Once we understand why we are perpetually stuck at 90 percent, we can make major strides toward 100 percent. It’s no longer about this or that specific roadblock. Now it’s about, “How do I work with fear?”

That is a much better question than, “What font should I use?” and it’s one that is much more interesting.

So how do you work with fear? Do you have specific things you do when you have something you really want to do but are hiding because you’re scared? Mantras you repeat, stories you tell yourself, music?

 

It took me a few paragraphs of this NYT opinion piece, You Can’t Have It All, but You Can Have Cake by Delia Ephron, to get drawn in. I couldn’t really see where she was going with the bakery stuff, and then  I cringed at her term discardia, which she defines as “the tendency to throw things away after a few bites…”  As child of parents who lived through WWII and faced very real food shortages, I will admit I am more sensitive than the average person about this.  For better or worse, I inherited a grave aversion to throwing away food…even questionable food (what’s a little mold…you just cut it away and eat the rest!).   But I kept on and liked what I read after that.

Having it all seems to breed wanting more. And since we can’t have it all because it is statistically impossible, and since there is no such thing as more than all, the whole notion seems, I’m sorry to say, depressingly American.

In many countries, having it all is learning to read. Having it all is getting to choose whom you love. Having it all is walking to school without worrying that you might get raped on the way.

In other words, it’s about perspective and remembering there are different ways to look at every situation and circumstance.  We are all guilty at times of putting too much energy and focus on the more, and forgetting to embrace and enjoy the small moments when things feel good.

To me, having it all — if one wants to define it at all — is the magical time when what you want and what you have match up. Like an eclipse. 

It takes effort to see an eclipse.  You can’t just look right at it.  You need protection.  And you have to look when it’s there and not necessarily at a time that is most convenient for you.   It’s the same with noticing and embracing the good moments.  Maybe we need to start thinking in terms of having it.  Just that.  Leave the all behind.

I love the way Ephron brings everything back to the bakery at the end and describes the visceral pleasure it gives her.

Which is why I love bakeries. Peace descends the second I enter, the second I smell the intoxicating aroma of fresh bread, see apricot cookies with scalloped edges, chocolate dreams, cinnamon and raisin concoctions, flights of a baker’s imagination, and I know I am the luckiest person in the world. At that moment, in spite of statistical proof that this is not possible, I have it all. And not only that, I can have more.

Yes, she can have more, but I have to say that Ephron might want to think about her habit of discarding perfectly good food.  It is (to use her own words) depressingly American.  (Sorry, I couldn’t leave it!)

As you go through the week, think about what your having it moments are.   I am having one right now…working at home, sitting with my feet in the sun and writing.

I sent my sister an article from the New York Times (yes, my NYT tag keeps getting bigger!) by Ruth Starkman about her experience reading college applications at U.C. Berkeley.  I sent it partly because our children will soon be applying for college.  I also sent it because I feel like it exposes the gross side of the college admissions process, or really any application process.  In other words:  playing the game.  I find both comfort and discomfort in what Starkman writes, although the first feeling was definitely discomfort.

First and foremost, the process is confusingly subjective, despite all the objective criteria I was trained to examine.

Fortunately, that authentic voice articulated itself abundantly. Many essays lucidly expressed a sense of self and character — no small task in a sea of applicants. Less happily, many betrayed the handiwork of pricey application packagers, whose cloying, pompous style was instantly detectable, as were canny attempts to catch some sympathy with a personal story of generalized misery. The torrent of woe could make a reader numb: not another student suffering from parents’ divorce, a learning difference, a rare disease, even dandruff!

In my note to my sister, I wrote that the article stressed me out.  She wisely wrote back that it shows that you might as well just be yourself.  Oh yeah…that’s what I keep telling my clients.

Then she sent me another NYT article…a transcript of a commencement speech by the writer, George Saunders, to Syracuse University students.  It was the perfect antidote.  Real.  Hopeful.  Putting kindness at the top of the list of goals.  A good perspective for everyone…graduating from college or at any stage of life.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

It may be facile, but that’s what I like.  It boils it down to something easy to grasp.  Be kinder.  To others, and I would argue, to yourself.

I have the pleasure of working with several 20-something-year-olds right now and one thing I see again and again is how hard they are on themselves.  There are so many internal and external voices telling them they should be further, better, happier.  They say how old they’re getting.  I have to laugh because I know I felt the same way but from where I’m sitting they are so young!  Again, Saunders has a lovely way of expressing this pressure to succeed.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable.  “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

That’s where balance comes in.  Succeeding is great and we all want to feel productive, but that success will feel so much better if the big questions are not ignored.  And, that’s exactly what I see processes like college applications and complete focus on career potentially doing…crushing the big questions.  There’s not much room for kindness in those processes.  What are the big questions?  They present themselves on their own time…it’s a matter of being willing to see them.  In the meantime,

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up.  Speed it along.  Start right now.

 

 

** Another of my long-neglected drafts finally being published.

I really liked this opinion piece from the New York Times: The Rise of the New Groupthink by Susan Cain.  Her first sentence, “Solitude is out of fashion” immediately resonated with me.  But it was the last sentence of the paragraph that struck that note of, Yes!  That is so true!  “Collaboration is in.”  I’ve noticed it especially in comments my kids make about school.  Collaboration is the new Holy Grail, and it kind of pisses me off!

I’m not against collaboration…it can be wonderful.  But a lot of collaboration is just draining and unproductive, and no one seems to want to admit that.  Why do we need a Holy Grail.  Can’t we just accept that different things work in different circumstances and for different people.   I have found myself flat-footed a few times when my son has complained about his teacher’s insistence on making it work with everyone. I want to back the teacher up and take his side, but I lack conviction because I am pretty solitary worker.  I mean, I get it, they’re kids, they do have to learn how to get along, and all that.  But can we also acknowledge that collaboration doesn’t always work?

Near the end of the article, the author explains that most humans have two contradictory impulses:

…we love and need one another, yet we crave privacy and autonomy.

To harness the energy that fuels both these drives, we need to move beyond the New Groupthink and embrace a more nuanced approach to creativity and learning. Our offices should encourage casual, cafe-style interactions, but allow people to disappear into personalized, private spaces when they want to be alone. Our schools should teach children to work with others, but also to work on their own for sustained periods of time.

So, how does this relate to coaching you may ask?  Well, I have seen many creative and solitary people become dispirited by the constant feeling they don’t fit in and are different.  So they try to adapt.  And that is often the wrong thing to do.  Wrong in the sense that when you go against who you are and accept that your ways are wrong, you can’t shine.  Although there are plenty of exceptions of people who have stood their ground and done amazing things, the majority of us don’t necessarily have the singularity of vision and the strength of ego to constantly go against the tide.  We put so much energy in trying to just stay afloat that our creative genius is drowned.  I see it again and again.

After reading this article, I will say to my son:  You’re right.  It does sometimes suck to work with people. And that’s okay.  Sometimes it’s great.  Go off on your own.  Be brilliant.  Then ask for feedback and interaction.  Then go away alone again and see what you believe and stand by it.

How do you work best?  Do you like working in a group, alone or a mix?

I wrote this post nearly three months ago, when I had recently come back from a month-long trip to the East Coast.  I never managed to push the Publish button…I’m not sure why.  Too busy?

This article in the NY Times really resonated with me.  The author, Tim Kreider, starts out:

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.”

I was already cringing by that point, hearing myself say those words.  And then he goes into something I’ve written about in this blog, and also thought a lot about.  Choice.  Busyness is not a choice for everyone, but for many people it is.

It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

We create the circumstances that make us busy.  I sometimes think I’m a slacker because I actively try not to be too busy.  I hate being too busy!  I’m not at my best when I’m running in ten directions at once.  There is no time to think.

Writing this blog gives me time to think.  If I see it that way it doesn’t feel like something that makes me busier, but instead something that makes my life richer.  So, if you’re still hanging in there with me, please expect more.  Soon.

How busy are you?

P.S.  A friend wrote me this morning and reminded me of the great ending to the article…for those of you who don’t read it, here it is.

I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.