Falling Behind

falling-behind-bach-cover-higher

It all gets to be too much sometimes, and we fall behind. In school maybe, or at work, or in our personal lives, falling behind is a part of life unfortunately. To err is human.

A vicious cycle consumes me. Perfectionism leads to a crippling fear of getting it wrong, leads to not doing it, leads to regret, leads to the feeling that it’s too late to catch up. This is a tough hurdle to clear, and I still snag my back shoe on it and stumble from time to time.

Maybe some people can succeed being perfectionists—Steve Jobs, famously. That doesn’t mean that those people, or any other successful person, achieved their success through inactivity. Doing it is the only way to achieve success. More is lost on indecision than wrong decision. I learned that from Tony Soprano.

There’s also a logical conundrum for which perfectionists have to answer. Assuming that you can’t start out being perfect, how do you mean to get from conception to perfection? Presumably by trial and error. If there’s another way to do it, I’m not aware what it is. Even if the trial and error process is done entirely in your head, it is still done. So why am I afraid to pass by the imperfect iterations of my vision on my way to perfection? I don’t know.

The one part of my vicious cycle that is most demonstrably false is the part about it being too late to catch up. It’s never too late. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. I think perfectionism is just another in a long line of excuses I use to let myself off the hook too easily. The only beneficial way to proceed is to realize you fucked up, own it, and keep on truckin’.

My college experience was wrought with mediocrity because of the harmful perfectionism that exists in my mind. It’s something I fight against constantly. I’ll only respect myself as a writer, entrepreneur, philosopher, whatever else, as I get better; the only way to get better is to practice. Speaking of self-respect, I sure as hell don’t respect myself when I allow myself to fall victim yet again to the cycle and end up falling behind.

I ask myself questions to remind myself how the world works. What if John Lennon hadn’t picked up a guitar because he was afraid he wouldn’t be very good at it? Thomas Edison? Hemingway? A million others.

Falling behind is fine. Wallowing, stubbornness, immaturity—staying behind? Not fine. Perfectionism is a great mindset to have only when it manifests as a mental and emotional funnel of productivity. More often than not, in my experience at least, perfectionism manifests more as a mental and emotional vacuum of productivity. Perhaps perfectionism is like a cancer. It infects us and spreads and ruins us and there is not yet a comprehensive cure. Doing it is the chemotherapy to the cancer that is my perfectionism. I’ve got to always bear this in mind.

I was meant to post a blog every day of December, and I made it only a few days before I missed a post. I went to a hockey game and completely forgot about posting. My instincts tell me to pinch my mental nipples, to bite my mental tongue and iron my mental hands to punish myself. But I’m not gonna do that. I’m going to dust myself off and get back on track. I’ll see you at the finish line.

 

Committing is Tough

retrieved from transformation-catalysts.com

Do you like my whiny title? How millennial of me, right?

Committing is tough for me and lots of others. The toughest. Maybe it’s the fear of failing to follow through that leads to our shying away from commitment. Maybe it stems from emotional claustrophobia. Everyone is a little bit different.

I really don’t like commitment. But I never get anything done without it. More honestly, the amount of stuff I get done when I don’t commit pales in comparison to the amount of stuff I get done when I do. Still, the hate and the fear are still always there for me.

How to get over our aversion to commitment?

Baby Steps – have you ever seen What About Bob? In that film Bill Murray plays a man, Bob, with all sorts of mental problems. He can hardly move around for one of his phobias acting up. His doctor tells him to take baby steps. Bob no longer has to worry about making it downtown for his appointment, he only needs to worry about getting to the door, and then to the end of the hallway, and then the elevator, and then the lobby, then into a cab. Baby steps. The difficulty we have committing might just be alleviated if we employ the same method as Bob. Smaller commitments are no doubt easier to stomach than gigantic ones. You may still hate committing, but you’ll hate it a lot less when you break your commitments up into baby steps. At least, it’s worked for me (and Bob).

Practice – I feel slightly foolish just writing this one. But, like Batman, one effective method to overcome our fears is to immerse ourselves in them. Throw yourself into uncomfortable situations. If nothing else, you’ll learn a lot more about yourself, which is always a good thing. Make a small commitment and stick to it. You’ll feel good about yourself. You’ll realize that you didn’t miss out on much because you made the commitment or even because you followed through. The more you commit, the more you’ll get used to committing.

Psychoanalyze Yourself – Try to get to the root of the problem. Why do you hate commitment? For me it’s the claustrophobia thing. I don’t like feeling caged. The fact that the caging was done of my own volition makes it all the worse to contemplate. But I also know myself pretty well. I know that I’m most likely going to end up going with the boys to see the movie on Saturday night, so why won’t I just say yes when they ask me a few days before? So what if I decide on Saturday I don’t feel like going anymore? Almost nothing bad happens. I usually have a good time. If you can get to a point where you really understand your own aversion to commitment, the effect is usually that you’ll have an easier time committing.

Foresight is a valuable skill to have. It’s not possible to know exactly how you’ll be feeling at a given point in the future, but the more you learn about yourself, the better you’ll get at guessing correctly.

Be Polite – Realize that making others wait on your answer is pretty damn rude. Like when you get invited to an event on Facebook, and there’s an I don’t know button. I’ve never understood the function of that. Oh, yeah, I might be coming to the party. It’s the same as not responding. The only helpful responses for the host of the party are yes, I’m coming or no, I’m not. If you’re unsure, just say no. You’ll miss out on a lot of really cool experiences most likely, but at least you won’t be that jerk who flakes an hour before the wedding. Or even worse, the jerk who shows up when no one else thought you were coming. When others are involved, it’s polite to commit one way or the other.

Realize that the cage is in your mind – Everything is subjective and perception is reality and we’re all just insignificant specks of dust. But really, the thing with a cage is that the animal can’t get out usually. This is not so with commitment. Name me a commitment that you couldn’t break if you changed your mind. I can’t think of one. The cage is artificial. You can open the door and walk out at any point. (But that doesn’t mean you should. As I said before, committing helps people get shit done.)

Those are my tips. Commitment is scary yet useful. Especially for anything to do with creativity. You can’t half-ass it. Well you can, but it the end result will turn out half-assed. I’ve come to realize this especially about my writing. Very few people can “fake it ’til they make it.” You’ve gotta really put yourself out there if you want your art (or anything else you create) to be something special. Commitment is the only way to do that. But I do struggle with it. Hopefully this 30 day blogging challenge will help.

30 Day Blogging Challenge – Day 1

I’m challenging myself during the month of December to blog every single day. That is, to post at least one post on each day of the month. I can do more than one per day, but one is the minimum. There are no other rules to this challenge, no content restrictions, word counts, or anything else cumbersome like that.

The idea is to hold myself accountable to my goal (and the success or failure that follows). Given that the rules of the challenge necessitate only a few minutes’ effort per day on my part, I think I’ll easily complete the challenge. But I’ve been warned by others who have tried this before me. It’s tougher than it looks, they say.

We shall see.

Begun the Blog War has.

Elevator Pitch

I was challenged, as part of my Praxis participation, to create a video resume of sorts. This “elevator pitch” was not to include my age, education status, or job titles. It was difficult, but this is what I created. It meets the criteria. Would you be interested in interviewing me for a job if you saw this video? Was I too specific? Not specific enough?

What does it say about me, that I’d rather make a short video like this than have just another “dazzling” resume?

Others First

 

A couple days ago I began reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’ve held off reading it for years thinking, perhaps as you might, that it was a sleazy book for even sleazier salesmen and saleswomen.

How many times can I learn the same lesson—not to judge a book by its cover? To pretend to be in a position of judgment of a book having never read a single page is a sin that I and others have committed innumerable times in our lives. And it’s a habit I can’t seem to break. But there’s been an awakening.

I realize now. I realize how much of life passes me by when I write things off out of hand. That’s no way to live. This book made me cry—definitely wasn’t expecting that! The thoughts and emotions it’s inspired in me have initiated something of a turning point in my life.

In his book Carnegie lays out the lessons he has learned about how humans interact, what our motives are, how we can use this knowledge to help ourselves and others communicate more effectively and engage in mutually beneficial relationships and transactions. Very few of Carnegie’s words are devoted to teaching you specific selling techniques. Instead he focuses on helping you build relationships with people, which most obviously includes the people with whom you do business.

The fact that I was so far off the mark concerning the sleaziness of this book is extraordinary given how much time Carnegie devotes to stressing sincerity in dealing with people. Smile often, he says, but don’t fake it. Be nice to people. Offer them praise not flattery (flattery is the sleazy form of praise). Be genuinely interested in other people. Consider this excerpt:

If we are so contemptibly selfish that we can’t radiate a little happiness and pass on a bit of honest appreciation without trying to get something out of the other person in return—if our souls are no bigger than sour crab apples, we shall meet with the failure we so richly deserve.

Oh yes, I did want something out of that chap. I wanted something priceless. And I got it. I got the feeling that I had done something for him without his being able to do anything whatever in return for me. That is a feeling that flows and sings in your memory long after the incident is past.

It is perhaps the least sleazy book I’ve ever come across.

I’m flying through this book, ignoring the risk of paper cuts, kicking up a microscopic amount of dust with every vigorous flip of the page, all to absorb the next lesson that Mr. Carnegie has to offer.

The part that had me in tears, if you’re interested, told of a young nursing student who shared a Thanksgiving meal with a lonely boy in the hospital. Disclaimer: I’m a sucker for a human story like that, but I don’t think that’s the only reason I cried. I think that simple story is incredibly powerful for anyone with a heartbeat and a conscience. The story has absolutely nothing (and everything) to do with making that huge sale you’ve been hoping for, or how best to land a promotion at work.

You have desires. You’re not alone. Instead of telling people about what you want, tell them about what they want, and how you can help them get it. See the world through their eyes. And be nice. And care about people and their interests. Even if you don’t make the sale, you’ve done something even better—made the relationship. I’ll take a friendship over a sale any day.

Besides, Carnegie’s thesis, from what I’ve surmised only having half-finished the book, is that making the relationship takes care of selling. You’ll hardly have to sell them on anything at all if you follow the author’s advice.

And I’m not trying to sell you on this book, I’m trying to sell you on a more enjoyable life—one with increased amounts of joy and fun and camaraderie and control and yes, money. I’m not speaking from a place of having reaped the benefits of this book. I haven’t yet tested any of the book’s suggestions, but there must be a reason why it’s sold millions of copies over the last 80 years, right? Books filled with unhelpful or untrue maxims cannot boast of the sustained success that this book has had over the decades. The lessons within are priceless, timeless, and some of them, Carnegie is not shy in revealing, have existed for millennia.

Carnegie wasn’t an omniscient sage—not a modern-day Confucius—he was simply a compiler of wisdom. And I’m very, very glad that he was. For without this book I’d have still been walking around, selfish and ignorant, not knowing the possibilities of a life spent thinking of others first.