Several times a week, along with thousands of other New York City commuters, I pass though Grand Central Terminal. Usually I’m just hurrying along, weaving my way around the mass of humanity- all of us focused on one objective: arrive at Starbucks to get a latte before facing the workday.
Usually I pass though the most efficient route as I play the role of jaded New Yorker avoiding the pesky tourists. But sometimes I go though the Main Concourse. It is, after all, quite spectacular, reminiscent of the glory days of old New York.
But it wasn’t always like that. Shortly after I moved here, I actually took a tour of Grand Central. I knew that it had been restored. But I hadn’t realized the extent of the restoration.
The famous ceiling took 12 years of painstaking work to restore. Over the years, it had turned a grimy brown color- which analysis showed was primarily due to accumulation of cigarette smoke. The painting under the grime had faded.
My favorite tidbit is about the landmark round chandeliers. Everyone had assumed they were made of brass. But, as they were cleaned- it wasn’t brass that emerged from layers of grime and years of neglect- it was gold!
What a fabulous analogy for life. We all start out pristine, fabulous, shining in all our golden glory. Over time, though, the grime of life builds up. We get weighed down by the burden of dust and dirt that slowly, gradually accumulated over time. We feel dull and lackluster. We give up on ourselves- we are ready for the wrecking ball.
After all, the old Penn Station in New York of that era had been even grander than Grand Central. But it was demolished
But then, maybe, something happens. A spark. We feel a little fight- we will not succumb to the wrecking ball. We gain momentum and begin the painstaking, adruduos task of clearing off the grime, layer by layer. Gradually, we see some of our old self that we recognize. This motivates us to keep going, continuing with the restoration for many years, until it is complete.
The restoration of the ceiling of Grand Central took 12 years. It was difficult, tedious work. Most things worth doing are. And most of the time the result is worth it. But in today’s drive though, microwave society; we try to ignore this fundamental truth. We CAN change our lives. We just can’t change them overnight. It takes dedication and persistence and tenacity. And the results are gloriously worth it!
I recently started going to a yoga class- a pretty radical move for this totally left brained, over achieving, bookworm science nerd. Not to worry, I’m not turning all granola headed- I have a very specific reason for going. My science nerd past didn’t include a lot of physical activity. So one side effect is that I possess the flexibility of a 2×4. I’m also a ballroom dance addict, and it’s getting to the point where my lack of flexibility is preventing the improvements I’d like to make in my dancing.
Because I’m so inflexible I totally suck at yoga. Instead of gracefully and fluidly moving from one pretzel shape to another I wind up looking more like the pathetic pile of the broken bits at the bottom of the bag. And the worst part is that even my twisted, distorted pathetic imitations of yoga poses are uncomfortable for me to hold for very long. In fact, I’ve tried it a couple of times before and gave up.
This is human nature. We try something once or twice- and when we can’t do it perfectly immediately, the voices in our head start: “What was I thinking? I’m no good at this” We don’t like feeling like we can’t do something- it’s uncomfortable. So too often we quit.
In Western culture, at least, we have come to believe that feeling uncomfortable is to be avoided at all costs. We seem to think that everything should flow easily and effortlessly. We look at people who we deem successful and our belief is that they achieved their success effortlessly, painlessly and instantaneously.
But this belief is NOT reality. The reality is that successful people worked hard. They got up earlier, studied more, practiced more, wrote more. When things got hard, they brought it. They continued to push just beyond where they felt comfortable… into * GASP * uncomfortable territory!
It is only by experiencing discomfort that we improve. If a weightlifter wants to be able to lift more weight, he can’t just keep lifting what is comfortable. He has to push just beyond his comfort zone to cause his muscles to grow stronger. If a runner wants to improve her speed, she can’t just continue to run at a comfortable pace. She has to constantly push herself to run faster than feels comfortable so her body can handle more speed. The salesman has who wants to make more sales must continually push himself to find ways to make more sales calls- and hear “no” more in order to sell more.
Let’s face the facts- the only things we were born knowing how to do is cry and mess up a whole bunch of diapers. Everything else had to be learned- by pushing into uncomfortable territory, falling on our butts, getting up and trying again.
So, I’m getting up and trying again. I’ve found a different place to work on yoga, and a teacher who jives really well with me. I don’t like being uncomfortable. But I dislike the feeling of failure and quitting even less. So I’m forging ahead, pushing into discomfort. I’m not going to bag it. I’m going to bring it.
What about you? What discomfort it looming for you? You have a choice
Bag it. Run from it. Avoid any feeling of discomfort at all costs.
Bring it. Embrace it. Reject conventional wisdom and come to know discomfort as your friend.
What will you choose?
The beginning is half of every action.
Think of someone you know that you see as “successful”. Someone who you even envy a little bit- in a good way. The person you look at and think, “I wish my life could be more like that”
Now, how did they get there?
They DID something. They took ACTION.
Next question- is there some result that you want that you aren’t getting? If not, why not?
Could the answer be LACK of ACTION?
For a lot of us, this is the answer- if we are honest with ourselves!
I know that some of you are thinking something like:
“OK, but I can’t get started because I don’t know what to do”
You know what? No matter what your reason for not getting started is- there is somebody out there who did what you would like to do, despite whatever your reason is.
We have been trained by society to believe a BIG LIE: that, before we start something, we have to know exactly how to do it!
We believe we must have the entire plan laid out
In a way, this isn’t our fault. After all, we are trained this way by society.
We spend most of our formative years in school, where the teachers lay out for us exactly how things are to be done. Deviate from that plan- and risk being labeled a TROUBLEMAKER
As we move up in school, we expect to be handed a syllabus that has everything laid out.
Then we get a job. And we expect to be given a job description. We look for the policies and procedures to tell us what to do.
No wonder we lose the ability to think for ourselves.
But consider this:
Did Thomas Edison have a syllabus or a lab manual about how to make a light bulb?
Did Bill Gates have policies and procedures about how to build a huge company?
Did the Wright brothers have a syllabus for how to build and fly a plane?
These people, like all great innovators, did one thing: they took action. And not just once. But they used each step to learn, and to refine what they were doing. They learned a bunch of things that DIDN’T work. And they used that information to figure out what DID work.
Most of us, if we even try at all, will find a couple ways that our idea doesn’t work, and they give up.
Most of us can’t imagine we will ever be a great innovator. Maybe that’s not even the goal. But, if we want to accomplish something, we can take a lesson from the great innovators.
And the Greeks.
Take the first action
Well, it turns out the 30 day challenge was really a 31 day challenge! So here is the challenge for July 1: “Think of all the things that are not working in your life. That job you don’t like, that relationship that’s not working, those friends that annoy you. Now turn them all on you. Imagine that everything that’s not working in your life, is your fault. How would you approach it? What would you work on to change your life to the state that you want it to be?”
I’ve always been a big believer in personal responsibility. And in the past several years I have moved even further in this direction. Humans, generally, seem to gravitate toward playing the victim role- something in our life isn’t working out how we want because of X circumstance that is completely out of our control. We LOVE to sit with our friend and talk about how unfair life is, to grip about X circumstance. If only we could catch a break, if only our luck would change- making our circumstances different, well, then life would work out how we want!
Have you ever wondered how some people seem to do much better than others at handling the same circumstances? Your company lays off a bunch of people. Some of those people get new jobs pretty quickly. Others struggle for a long time to find a new job. We tend to attribute the difference to luck. But is it? Maybe those who get new jobs quickly did a better job of maintaining a professional network. Or maybe it’s something much more subtle- like attitude. What if a positive, hopeful attitude creates a subtle more positive impression as someone goes through the process of looking for a job? Maybe their attitude cause them to make just a few extra contacts every day.
I have really come to believe that we are much more in control of our lives than most of us believe. This is a concept that makes many people uncomfortable, and often even angry. But if you get angry at an idea, there is a good chance it is hitting close to home- to a truth that’s there that you aren’t ready to embrace yet.
Accepting responsibility doesn’t mean that everything is totally your fault. Let’s look at some extreme examples. First, an abusive relationship. It’s not your fault if your partner is beating you up. However, if you stay in a relationship in which a pattern of abuse has been established- that choice is your responsibility. If you want the situation to change, you can make a different choice.
Given the same set of circumstances, people with different attitudes and outlooks will achieve different outcomes. Take the example of large natural disasters. Thousands of people have their homes and livelihoods wiped out, many of these people have no insurance or no savings. Yet some people are able to rebuild their lives, while others languish in FEMA trailers, sinking deeper into despair.
I find that when I suggest to a group of people that there is an element of personal responsibility for all of our circumstances, generally at least one person asks something like “But what about all the starving people in Africa?” Obviously, there are things that happen to all of us that we can’t control. But how we deal with the situation IS in our control. On the surface, it may appear that some people are luckier. But we almost always make our own luck. Just having the attitude that you have personal responsibility for the outcomes in your life will affect things like the choices you make and your ability to see and act on opportunities.
I have been experimenting with the idea of things in my life that aren’t working being my fault. I’m finding it works. When you look for things that you can change, and make those changes, you get better results. It’s certainly not easy, but definitely worthwhile.
So, if you have never thought about this before- and especially if your initial reaction to the challenge is anger- try something different. It won’t cost you anything to think about how you could be at fault. Be open minded. It might change your life.
The final challenge of the 30 day writing challenge: “
Mess up your hair. If you are wearing makeup – smudge it. If you have a pair of pants that dont really fit you – put them on. Put on a top that doesn’t go with those pants. Go to your sock drawer. Pull out two socks that don’t match. Different lengths, materials, colors, elasticity.
Now two shoes. You know the drill.
Need to add more? Ties? Hair clips? Stick your gut out? I trust you to go further.
Take a picture.
Get ready to post it online.
Are you feeling dread? Excitement? Is this not the image you have of yourself? Write about the fear or the thrill that this raises in you? Who do you need to look good for and what story does it tell about you? Or why don’t you care?”
So. Right of the bat I’m going to admit to being unable to do this one. I still have a professional job- I don’t need a photo like this showing up on a Google search by a client or someone higher up in the company. I have got photos of me on the Kilimanjaro climb posted. That’s about as far as I’m willing to go.
But it is good, I think, to stop and think about the image we are trying to portray and why. I recently switched from working in a hospital where I wore scrubs 95% of the time, to a job in Corporate America, which requires business suits on some days and just a step below that the rest of the time. And I’m struggling a bit with that transition. It doesn’t feel like me. I’m not the sort who likes to stress out over what to wear every day. I absolutely hate to shop. And sometimes I’m even a little irritated that I’m expected to wear uncomfortable shoes just because they’ve been deemed to “look good”. I’m working on playing the game- some days better than others- so that can do well in this job. The work itself is a good fit for me at this time.
So I’m evolving into a situation where I have two images- my at work image, and my free time image. And it’s interesting. I find that my thoughts and attitude are starting to be affected as I change my physical image from one role to the other. Put on the suit, I’m in business mode. In my free time clothes, I’m back to my old self.
Could it be that our images are as much for ourselves as for others?
The challenge for June 29 puts a modern twist on an old question: “Imagine your future self, ie, you 10 years from now. If he/she were to send you a tweet or text message, 1) what would it say and 2) how would that transform your life or change something you’re doing, thinking, believing or saying today?”
I imagine my 10 year from now self asking me something like “what were you thinking?” because I ask myself that a lot about decisions in the past. I never could have imagined 10 years ago that my life would be unfolding as it is. Back then, I had a clear direction as to where I wanted to be. Problem was, the closer I got to that goal, the more I realized it wasn’t going to be like I thought. It wasn’t a good place for me to be going.
Today, I don’t have as clear a direction as I did 10 years ago. I have a vague idea of what I want, and many ideas of possible ways to get there. This gives me more mental flexibility though. Ten years ago I was so focused on achieving my objective that I would not have allowed anything in my life that might distract me even a little. Now, it’s becoming more about the journey than about the destination.
I hope in 10 years I can look back and say that, even if things still unfolded in ways I never imagined, that at least I enjoyed the process- and life in general- a lot more.
Here is the challenge for June 28: “Write down a major life goal you have yet to achieve or even begin to take action on. For each goal, write down three uncertainties (read: fears) you have relating to each goal. Break it down further, and write down three reasons for each uncertainty. When you have three reasons for your fear, you’ll be able to start processing the change because you know where the fear stems from. Now you’ll be able to make a smaller changes that push you towards your larger goal. So begins the process of ‘trusting yourself.’ “
I like this challenge. I always find it useful when things are broken down into fundamental components. Too often we get overwhelmed. We set a big goal and then don’t know how to get there. And then we let fears get in our way.
This challenge reminds me of what it was like climbing Kilimanjaro. That’s a big goal, getting to the summit. You can’t do it all in one day. (Well, a few elite fully acclimatized local guides can, but they are in a different category). To get to the top of a mountain, you have to walk up. Step by step. Over many days. There are parts that are scary, parts that are fun. Some of it is fairly easy and some of it is painfully hard. And one thing that surprised me is just how much up and down there is on the way to the top. I knew that one strategy for getting to the top includes climbing up to a higher altitude and then back down some to sleep at a lower altitude. But what I didn’t anticipate is how, on many days, it felt like we were climbing up and down a series of large hills. We couldn’t even tell that our overall progress was up. We’d get up one hill, only to see the porters waaayyy off in the distance on top of the next hill. And we’d know that we would still have to go at least that far. Then we’d get to the top of that next hill, and we’d see the porters again- the loads they carried on their heads just tiny dots, bobbing up at the top of the next hill. Over and over, until, we topped a hill and saw camp set up. Then we’d get up the next day and do it again.
Reaching any goal is pretty much like climbing a mountain. You have to go one step at a time. Sometimes you feel like you aren’t making any progress at all. Sometimes you feel like you’re going backwards. You get discouraged. It can be drudgery. And you may not make the exact goal you set. But the experience is worth it. After all don’t we respect people more for even just trying?
It all starts with creating a plan. Use today’s challenge to inspire a plan for one of your goals. And take the first step.