In bowling, the area of the lane where balls are thrown is called a track. On both sides of the track is the gutter. When kids bowl, parents who eagerly want their kids to have a fun experience, or who want to avoid meltdowns at all costs and have thirty minutes of peace (this is me) can ask for a bumper to be installed to keep the balls out of the gutter and on track.
In our game called “life”, most of us are like kids; we need bumpers to stay on track. For most of us (and sadly our kids too), our corrective bumpers are competition, comparison and metrics. We compete for grades, market share, medals, recognition, varsity teams, jobs, and a spot in a top school. We compare products, features, people, candidates, companies, policies, slogans, parenting styles, schools. We keep track of money, salary, revenue, results, followers, calories, pounds, email subscribers, and GPAs.
In his daily blog, Seth Godin’s recent question “What are you competing on?” made me pause. I’ve always been overachieving, ambitious, competitive, and driven. Not so much because those were qualities I consciously chose for myself, but more so because those were the bumpers that were deployed for me growing up by my mom, or teachers, or within the environment in which I grew up. I’m not judging, but simply stating what is. Competition is so much a part of me that I don’t pause to observe or examine it. It’s a bit like flossing my teeth without looking in the mirror. I can feel my way around with my eyes closed.
When a swimmer competes, her every day goal is to beat the time she set the day before. When a martial artist competes, he pushes to make every kick faster, more controlled, and more precise and impactful than the kick before. But what happens when you take a close look at yourself and realize that what you’ve been competing on sucks the life out of you?
My whole life I’ve competed for significance. Everything I’ve done has been to prove to others and to myself that who I am and what I do matters, that I am lovable, worthy, and important. That what I do has merit, power, impact, endurance, and that it can withstand the test of time. That, no matter what, at some point in the future, that one pebble I throw in the Universal pond, would create a ripple that would somehow withstand the test of time, and would keep on creating ripples. And of course the insanity of it has always been that the more I tried to be significant, the more insignificant I’ve felt. No matter how hard I worked, I would still fail at pleasing someone, whether a customer at work, or my kids or my honey, or inevitably myself.
There are life experiences, fears, or stories I’ve created about those experiences that are at the core of my quest for significance. Fear of being left behind, abandoned, forgotten, voiceless, disconnected, and the fear of the inevitable end itself. The fear of being insignificant pushed me to compete every day towards significance. And when that is at the core of it all, comparison and metrics are the worst corrective bumpers. Because to compare one’s significance is a sure way to end up in a dark rabbit hole with no end, and to measure it, is in itself a prescription to slowly dying. What is significant? Having touched the lives of my children, or other people? How many people; one, two, ten, one thousand? Living a financially rewarding life, volunteering my time, giving of myself and my resources? What quantity, or number soothes the fear of being forgotten when gone?
Shortly before I turned forty, my life hit a wall. My mother died quickly after a six month battle with cancer. I was so afraid of dying, I was afraid to go to sleep. So I didn’t. I would ask my husband to hold me in his lap while I was sleeping, and would ask him to wake me up if he thought I was falling asleep too deeply. “If you think I’m dying, please wake me up”, I’d say.
The work I did to crawl out of the dark hole of anxiety and fear is the subject of another post. It took therapy, prayer, meditation, reading, journaling, support from generous friends, an immensely loving and patient husband and son, and the birth of my daughter. I adopted a personal mantra Let Go, Find Wonder. I gave myself permission to worry less, let go of perfection, and attachment to certain type of outcomes or results. I tried on the idea that, in the long term, I am and will be insignificant but that in each moment – now – I am hugely significant, to myself and to my young children.
I’m not completely transformed. Not yet. I still catch myself comparing something I do, something I write, or draw and questioning whether it matters or if it will ever matter “enough”. But that moment of inspection is brief and powerless.
I’m still extremely competitive. But I’ve changed my game. I now compete on Faith and Self Acceptance. When I compete on Faith, every day I ask what else could I do or who would I be if I had more faith than the day before? What would open if I had more faith in people, moments, intentions, God? And how can I accept myself just a bit more than then day before?
If you also compete on significance and you are ready to find a new game, here are a few suggestions from my journey:
Seth Godin writes, “In any competitive market, be prepared to invest your heart and soul and focus on the thing you compete on. Might as well choose something you can live with, a practice that allows you to thrive.”
I’ve finally chosen something that delights my soul. How about you?
While I’ve taken it to heart as a mantra and find myself saying it with my daily affirmations (alongside Marie Forleo’s “everything is figure-outable”), I’ll admit I’m the last to want to start anything before I feel fully prepared. My perfectionist, anal side often just does not let me. (I’ve waited seven years to have a second child, mostly because I didn’t feel ready. See what I mean?)
I’ve mellowed out a bit over the years, mostly because of necessity, and have taken leaps – literally at my third degree black belt test and figuratively just about every day. (This blog is one good example!)
But starting before I’m ready is still hard for me. I always wonder: how? What is the actual process that allows someone to jump off a cliff, without the guarantee that some kind of safety device will activate to prevent a major catastrophe? Can someone just show me what it looks like when you do something when you’re not fully there?
Two weeks ago, I got to see how it’s done. I went to see John Leguizamo’s new stand up comedy show, Latin History for Dummies. It was artful, funny and inspiring.
John Leguizamo walked on stage and straight to one of the two props in the room, a laptop computer (the other prop was a blackboard). The computer was on.
What?! You’re gonna read your jokes? This is going to be interesting …
John told the excited audience that he was preparing his show for Broadway, and he would be reading most of his material to us, as he was still perfecting it. He would welcome our feedback.
I think someone actually said “What?” or maybe something more obscene. John made a joke about the Oscars, told us not to worry, he would make the reading worth our time. And he did!
For over an hour, John read (but not really because he already knew most of the material) at times a brilliantly funny, and at times a biting and cynical, yet real, informative, and soulful recount of history, as most people don’t know it. A couple of times he cracked himself up, and a few times he actually messed up (as in he stumbled through a few words).
The show was hilarious, and I laughed my heart out. But the biggest reason why I loved it was because I got to see how a pro does this thing called, “start before you’re ready”.
In the process I got to see – really see the man – Mr. John Leguizamo, not because of how I watched or listened but because of how he showed up: open, vulnerable, and fully present.
Here’s what I learned that evening:
Have a vision
Yes, John had a laptop for facts, numbers and some of his material. But the vision started way before there was ever a file on a computer. It started with a dream of what he wanted people to know – the untold and uncelebrated side of history – and how he wanted the people to feel; all people.
Use my tools
If a pro like John is not afraid to use notes on stage, what excuse do I have? Really?! There is no shame, no fear, and no embarrassment in using tools. Pay attention to and let go of the voices in my head that insist I memorize, perfect, fine-tune a blog post (a document, a program, or a speech) because that’s what pros do. Stop listening to those voices.
An audience in one room is not the whole world. It is just that: one audience, one moment in time. Include the people in the room fully, by not only letting them enjoy or participate, but also by giving them a way to shape and mold the experience – if not for them, then for the next revision.
Under promise over deliver
John walked on stage and said he would read his jokes, right off the bat. I knew what to expect. During the show, however, he walked away from the laptop, a lot. In fact, I forgot all about the laptop. I was intrigued, mesmerized, entertained. It was magical!
Make people feel good
Know what I want people to walk away with. I walked away feeling light, happy, smiling. I appreciated John’s comedic genius, but also my life, my time to see the show, the people that I love who saw the show with me.
I’m totally energized to ask: where am I holding back? And where am I waiting to be ready?
What kind of mom, entrepreneur, world-changer would I be if I stopped holding back?
Here’s Steven Pressfield’s full paragraph:
“Don’t prepare. Begin.
Remember, our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project, or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account.
The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.
Start before you’re ready.
Good things happen when we start before we’re ready.”
I’d love to hear from you. Where are you holding back, and are you waiting to be ready? Leave me a comment below, and hop over to my Facebook page to find out my answers.
With love and appreciation,
P.S: I recommend the show whole-heartedly!
I love learning from youth. I recently taught an introductory first class to an eleven year old girl; let’s call her V. As part of the session, I asked V if she knew what it means to focus. “To focus is to reset,” she said.
The simplicity of her answer struck me. With my martial arts instructor hat on, I typically teach that focus is a way to reach deeper levels of concentration. I teach students how to listen carefully and look at the teacher, how to be present and aware, and how to control their bodies. What I loved about V’s answer was that her take on focus had nothing to do with martial arts and everything to do with living in the moment.
People – myself included – do a lot when we focus. We make lists and action plans, we create and organize our work environment. We plan meetings, review action items, negotiate with ourselves and others. V’s reframe of the word focus implied that there was not much to do.
I’ve spent the last few months noticing moments where I’ve had an opportunity to focus and re-set: waking up each morning, opening my calendar at the start of a busy day, tossing my to-do list when my son got sick and I had to stay at home. With no objective in mind other than to simply notice, I found that my life was filled with reset points. I loved this realization and not surprisingly, it felt deeply calming and comforting.
You know when the power goes out, and for one instant your digital clock says 00:00? We usually get annoyed at ourselves for forgetting to put in the back up battery, and mumble under our breath about the pain of having to reset all the alarms, snoozes, naps and radio stations. What if instead of getting annoyed, we could just all take a deep breath and think “Re-set”.
Starting a new year is an obvious and welcomed reset point. This past week we’ve all been hearing and reading of goals, resolutions, intentions, vision boards, dreams and action plans. Do you have yours written down, or are you stressed because you’re starting out without a plan?
I offer this: start 2012 with a moment of mindful self-awareness. Write a big 00:00 on a Post-it® and put it on the mirror where you can see it when you wake up. Allow this reset to be a full zero-out! Start fresh. Look at things from a new angle. Believe –truly believe – that anything is possible and, in the words of Marie Forleo, everything is figure-out-able.
Think of your health, career, dreams, relationships, money, kids, parents, friends, and not-so-friendly acquaintances. Anything else that needs a quick zero out? If you RE-SET your attitudes, mindset, and emotional reactions today, what will 2012 bring you and your family?
Happy New Year. May your new year be filled with calm, present, reset moments!
Let’s pretend that you were equipped with a gauge that reads your confidence level, and gives you a reading between 1 and 10. What does yours say right now? When you feel confident, where in your body do you feel it? And what does it feel like? Is it more like a sunny spring day hike, a delicious home cooked meal, the last mile run in a marathon that you are winning, a warm hug from people who love you, or a quiet moment of peace, self-reflection and gratitude?
Of all the things we teach, it’s confidence that seems to give people – children and adults – the toughest time. How can we feel so fully confident one day, and quickly turn to not feeling prepared, loved, respected, strong, and simply just not good enough the next day? If you are tired of on again, off again confidence, here area some ideas we use in our classes that you can try for yourself and with your child, to tap into the powerful feeling of “I rock”.
What you most likely know but may forget sometimes …
1. Trust yourself
Know what is true about you. You are grumpy when you’re hungry, hate/love competition, perform well/poorly under pressure, love your TV show at the end of a long day, nervous about taking tests. Whatever it is, no matter how silly or weird, knowing (not judging) what is true about yourself builds self-trust. I once asked a five year-old what he knew to be true about himself. He told me, “I love rocks. I really love rocks”.
2. Let go
Write a rejection you received from someone (or from yourself) on a piece of paper, crumble it and toss it in the trash. Flush your mistakes down an imaginary toilet. Practice letting go a few times a day, and practice appreciating the lightness that comes from it.
3. Do something you love
Is your life filled with must do’s, honey do’s, I should do’s? When’s the last time you took inventory of all you do, to make sure there’s at least one thing you fully love to do on the list? It really won’t matter how you do, when you do something you love.
4. Develop self-compassion
You are reasonable and kind with the people around you, but turn into a monster when you talk to yourself. Is this you? Any time you get down on yourself, critical, judgmental and just plain mean, ask yourself if this is how you would talk to a friend or to your own child. Take a deep breath, be gentle and calm. Whatever it is, you are whole, creative, and resourceful. You will figure it out.
Do you ever notice how often and fully young kids laugh? And how often they laugh at their silly, funny, made-up stories? It’s ok to start with a shy smile, but try to get to the place where you laugh fully and happily at yourself (and your made-up stories).
6. What others think about you …
… may be interesting, but it does not influence what you know to be true about yourself and is valuable input until it no longer is valuable input. What others think of you is not as important as what you think of yourself. Turn the volume down when you need to, and learn to listen to your self-loving voice. It may whisper at first, but it will get stronger.
7. Celebrate small victories
Who says you have to win a marathon to feel victorious? Putting on your running shoes, and going out for a 20 minute run or walk is a good reason to celebrate. Keep your big goals, but celebrate the small successes that get you there.
You can be anyone and anything you want to be in your dreams! What do you dream of doing, who do you dream of being, seeing, visiting, talking to, where do you dream of working or with who? My friends and I got together at the beginning of the year and made a dream list. It was fun, uplifting, creative, motivational, and energizing. Find inspiration and power in your dreams.
What you most likely forget or never knew …
Your confidence level is your choice! Remember your confidence gauge, and whatever number it showed you? Throw away that number and give yourself a 10. It’s that simple. Say “I am a 10, and the rest of this day will be a 10”.
Early in the morning, look in the mirror and say “Today, I am a 10.” You can add whatever else you want “I make good decisions, I am smart, I am resourceful, I am safe, I am loved.” You want to teach your kids to be confident? Model this to your children and show them how you do it. Make a game of it and do it together.
What do you look, sound, talk, act, move, listen, love, perform, self-defend, run, exercise, work, learn – like when you are a complete 10? Whatever that feels like, that is your gift to you, your family, community, and the world. Please share it.