Film poster for The Learning Curve – Copyright 2001, MGM (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I leaned over and put my face in front of hers. I looked her in the eyes. I told her, “I miss you.” She lit up. Evie’s one of my 6-year-old girls. She showed me on a calendar that she was off school next week (Spring Break). She talked about us spending more time together next week. I said, I’m working next week, but I’ll be around more and we can spend more time together. She said, “You’re the best daddy ever.”
I told her I was sorry I wasn’t seeing more of her. I’m working a lot. It’s because I’m learning. I’m learning how to wake up early and be a morning person. I’m learning to work hard and persevere. I’m learning how to be stronger.
At the start of the year, I started listening to positive thinking videos on YouTube. Every morning on the way to work I feed myself something positive and inspiring. I’m creating experiences by exposing myself to a particular kind of challenging and encouraging message 5 days a week. The behavioral theory goes that new experiences create new beliefs, new beliefs give birth to new actions, new actions produce new results.
Positive thought and encouraging talk in — This cultivates a set of experiences. The idea is that over time, the law of sowing and reaping should prove itself. Sowing the seeds of optimism, determination, and self-acceptance will produce the fruit of what was planted. And I’m seeing results. Small but promising results.
There are days where the sapling that’s growing feels withered and wind-blown. Keep talking positively. There are days I want to quit. Keep persisting.
I wish I learned how to do these things when I was 10 or 20 or 30 or … I didn’t. It’s time to learn them now. Why? Two reasons:
1- To teach my kids: If I don’t learn and demonstrate how to work hard, fail gracefully, continuously learn and do what is uncommon, I can’t expect my kids to do it. I’m trying to raise kids with grit and a growth mindset.
2- To teach myself: I’m trying to raise myself to develop grit and a growth mindset.
Years ago, I wrote about how I got away with murder when I was younger and now it’s killing me. I was smart enough to get through school with limited effort. The result: I learned how to rely on my natural ability and limited effort. At some point, smart isn’t good enough. Discipline, hard work, persistence are required. At some point, the fear of not having enough natural ability produces a timidness. The ability to work through the timidity is grit and a growth mindset – believing I can work hard enough to figure things out.
Most of my life, I didn’t have to set goals. I’ve lived a Mr. Magoo life. Walking blindly from situation to situation. Every time I’m about to step off the edge, something would come along and whisk me away to my next situation. It was a good run. But at some point, walking blind became tiresome and pointless. I have to learn to set goals. Goals are intended to achieve something bigger. They are about achieving a vision. Vision is absent in blindness.
I’m taking a chance. I’m making the gamble that it’s worth missing some of the precious time with my girls. Getting to the office by 6:30 a few days a week. Walking in with energy and determination after listening to a motivational YouTube video on the commute.
The return I want is to be a stronger leader for my girls and my family. I still have to work on the vision and goals. But I’m getting started on building the discipline, working hard, persistence muscles instead of waiting for the vision and goals to get clear. There’s a risk of getting lost in ever dimming darkness that comes from working hard and being too busy to learn and grow.
So here I am, telling my daughter I miss her because I didn’t build the discipline to start the workday at 6:30 AM when I was younger. I’m learning to apply myself like I haven’t had to before. With hope and faith that this will pay off for me and my family.
My kids are worth me betting on. And, with my positive self-talk, so am I. Hopefully, we hit the jackpot.
P.S. – After writing this, I decided to take a couple of days off to spend more time with my girls during Spring Break. Sometimes it’s good to hedge your bets.
Gratitude (song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I schedule to leave for my kids PTA meeting and singing performance at 4. I maintain a weak boundary. Two conversations and a couple of emails later I leave at 4:36. I’m harried.
I get to the glass doors to leave. The sky opened up between the time I planned to leave and the time I finally leave. The rain is Biblical. It pours with ferocity. I walk 200 yards to my car. My pants and shoes are drenched. My boxers are wet; despite using an umbrella.
I drive through the deluge. I make it home. I change into flip flops and shorts, admitting the impossibility of staying dry. I make it to the PTA meeting and concert.
The next day, the power steering on my car doesn’t work. This disrupts my day’s plan. I was headed to the office at 5:30am to get work done in advance of a calendar saturated with meetings. Instead of arriving before 6, I drop the car off at my mechanic and work from home for an hour amid the din of two 6 year olds and my wife getting ready.
My wife, Jen, and I co-commute. The rain is still torrential. I bring her to her office, going 6 miles out of my way. In the past this might have irritated me. I’m a little grumbly but calm and accepting.
I drop Jen off. I start toward my work. It’s cold out. Really crappy. I feel the warmth of my seat. It’s heated.
The rain and cold continue for days. Driving around, my heart breaks as I drive past people who are on bus stops or walking without even an umbrella.
In church the following Sunday, my friend Mitch is standing next to me in the pew. Mitch experienced a traumatic brain injury at 22. He’s in his early 30s. He hasn’t worked since the injury. It’s possible he might not be able to. He’s on full disability. Mitch moved out of his family’s house just a few months ago. He’s learning how to take care of himself living in a group home. There are plenty of mistakes and learning opportunities for him. He’s given his identity info to others. Usernames, passwords, SSN. His clothes have been stolen from him at his new house. He is at the mercy of this world, it’s bureaucracies and it’s broken people.
I tend to get teary in church. Often in a sad way. A distant pain I can’t put a finger on. This is especially true when the music’s playing and we’re singing.
I learned recently what we think are feelings are decisions. We have a vague and general set of emotions. Life experiences and stories mixed with our predictive and heuristic tendencies turn these into meaningful feelings. We can stop ourselves while our feelings emerge and ask “What’s going on here? What am I reacting to? Is there a different way I can frame this?”
This is something I’m working on. Like walking on ice, I slip often and bruise myself. But I’ve noticed it can work. I can re-write who I am and how I respond when I disrupt the feeling and change the meaning. It’s profound when it happens.
Mitch is next to me. He has no car. He barely has a home. I’m standing next to him singing a hymn with tears welling up. I stop myself to back away from the vague and general emotion. I reframe the sadness into something resembling joy. The reframe frees me. I’m struck by how much I have to be grateful for.
I realize gratitude is the source of nearly all personal power. Gratitude is required for joy. Gratitude is required for deeply welled and flowing, cheerful generosity. Gratitude is required to receive grace. Gratitude makes it easier to forgive – others and one’s self. Gratitude positions us to perceive abundance instead of scarcity.
Gratitude is power.
In the last month I’ve realized I own a coat when it’s 22 degrees. I have an umbrella during flash flood conditions. I have a second car – It has heated seats! I have a wife who loves me, good kids. My house is heated and has a good roof.
Every time I remember these good things, I’m in a place of power. I am in a place of abundance. I am in a place of joy. I am grateful. What a beautiful source of strength and power.
The work ahead is turning this into my steady state.
He sat across from me in the booth. We were half way through breakfast. James asked, “So, how are you?”
It had been 20 degrees for 2 weeks straight. The trivialities of my life flashed before my eyes.
Earlier in the week I attended a memorial for a friend, Chriss. He died at 40. He won the cancer lottery. A rare and highly lethal cancer he’d beaten once, came back.
He never complained. He radiated hope and optimism regardless of the pitch of the hill before him. He reflected light and faith. He taught me something.
The power to choose.
He chose to fight with dignity. He took the high road in his fight. In a worldly sense, he lost the battle. In the heavenly sense, he won the war. He demonstrated we can choose how we respond emotionally and spiritually even when we are powerless physically in this world.
“I own a f@%&ing coat. I’m great!”, I responded to my friend, James, across the booth.
“I have car that start and runs reliably. I own a house that has heat. I have a wife who is on my side and who is supportive of me and who fights to protect and preserve our marriage. My kids are healthy and love me. I’m awesome!” I could focus on the trivialities of my life. The minor struggles and frustrations could be magnified. But what good would that produce.
There are days when I want to answer differently. I reflect on my friend, Chriss’ strength of attitude. I choose.
“I own a coat. I’m great!”
Advertisement for curing morphine addictions from Overland Monthly, January 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“I don’t feel safe,” Izzy said. The court appointed agent looked around and told her, “This looks like a pretty safe place to me.”
Izzy was at her mom’s house. She’s at the beginning of a court negotiated recovery like what Tiger Woods is using to clear his record. Izzy is working through addiction issues. Her family is working through their issues with her addiction.
Safe did not mean safe. It meant understood — or not judged. The problem with being an addict is that your behaviors don’t fit the norm and in an unhealthy way. The people who understand you are not safe for you.
Our ego perceives judgment as an existential threat. This is why we get so defensive when we feel wrongly judged. The problem with addiction is our personal judgment is off (i.e.- sensibility and sense of responsibility). We can’t trust ourselves when we’re addicted.
This creates a cyclical problem. Our faulty judgment makes us unable to correct our behavior. We see those who love us as judging us. They don’t understand. They’re attacking us. They’re not safe.
Years ago, someone taught me something simple but profound. If you look around and everyone you see is an asshole, you’re probably the asshole. This maxim can be adapted to fit addicts. If you look around any everyone seems to be judging you wrongly, you’re probably demonstrating wrong judgment.
We seek solace and support from those who make us feel safe because they understand us. They don’t judge us. We misconstrue the absence of judgment as love and support. There’s a problem here. These people don’t love us. They love that we’re broken like they are. They love our addiction because it validates theirs. They don’t challenge us to do better because they don’t want to change.
If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. If you’re not improving your skills at your job, you’re falling behind. If you’re not sharpening your mind, it is getting dull. If you aren’t maintaining your physical flexibility, you’re losing range of motion and strength. If you’re not fighting your addictions, you’re losing control to them.
I am confident that if you’re reading this, you have an addiction. I’m not judging you. I have mine, too. Addictions run the gamut beyond drugs and alcohol. They range from using mobile devices, social media, sugar/fat/salt, exercise, sex, porn, shopping, needing to be liked, etc.
We need understanding more than ever. We all need help. We want to get better in some way. This doesn’t happen with blind eyes turned away. It comes with honest support and gentle confrontation from those who know us and love us.
If you’re seeing a consistent message from those around you challenging your judgment or behavior, you’re probably the challenge.
The first step is acceptance. After we accept, we can begin to understand. Then we can face the danger of being understood.
The blood drained from my face. I felt ashamed.
I thought she was texting. I snarled, “Is that related to what we’re working on now?” Michelle looked up. Taken aback and off balance, she replied , “I’m taking notes on what you’re saying so I can remember later. I didn’t want to take down the presentation I’m projecting to take notes.” I apologized.
Michelle said, “It’s okay.” “No, it’s not,” I replied. I apologized again. “It’s fine.” Again, I said, “No, it’s not.” I very intentionally made eye contact. I apologized directly, “Michelle, I’m sorry.” “It’s alright, really. Let it go. I probably should’ve said I was taking notes.”
Blameless post-mortems are meetings teams have after a failure of their product. The key part is the blameless. The logic is that we want to find out what really happened so we can keep it from happening again. The entire meeting is supposed to be shrouded in grace. The grace fosters trust by removing judgment. The trust encourages honesty. The honesty and good will held across the team helps the team to get better. The feedback loop this creates leads the team to learn. The more often we get graceful feedback, the faster we learn. The faster we learn, the better the team and the product gets.
This is the type of stuff that my team does. Here I am kicking myself in the ass, assuming my self-judgment will make be get better.
The words left my mouth before I realized it. “I can’t let it go. This is how I get better.” The epiphany percolates. This isn’t how I get better. This is how I punish myself.
I get better by forgiving myself, letting the poison go, accepting grace. There is no true self improvement without grace. Judgment only leads us to stretch ourselves to external standards of others to avoid pain. Whether we succeed or fail, the judgment based system hurts.
In one day, I have not undone decades of learned behaviors (or the neural pathways that produce them). There’s a road to travel from epiphany to reality. Hopefully, I found a path that could save many of the pains of a lifetime.
Can you get better by grace?
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