Monday, September 28, 2015

If you can own it, you can carry it

This post will surprise some of you. I often talk in metaphors because they are a very compact form of communication. A metaphor uses something known to explain something new or intangible. In a very few words, you can sketch in a web of relationships and meanings. Although many people don't know the word 'metaphor' very well, they use metaphors unconsciously. It may be that metaphors are hard wired into our brains.

image credit: Criss Cross via free images (license)

Sometimes the wires get crossed.

One of the great achievements of human beings is that we figured out how to own more than we can carry. There was a time when a person could own only what they could move around on their own. That was a long time ago. Now we own houses, cars, furniture, and overstuffed backpacks. We own more than we can carry.

This is fine until we use our stuff for a metaphor of our internal experience. We are afraid to face many elements of our experience because we are conditioned to believe that it's possible to own more than you can carry. But the stuff of experience is not like the stuff you can put in a garage. We are already carrying all of our own experience, even the parts that are stuffed at the back of our mental closets where we can hide them and even, for long periods of time, forget them. We can carry even the parts of ourselves we are trying to disown.

So if you can own that part of yourself, you can carry it. You might need to strengthen some emotional muscle to carry it without pain. You might need to build some flexibility to move easily with it under different conditions. But if you can own it, you can carry it.

Your emotional baggage is always carry on. And it's always labelled so clearly that it will be returned no matter how often you "forget" it in the boarding lounge.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What's the Point? Without purpose, it's hard to do good work

I met with two business people this week. Both were the kind of people you would want working on your team: professional, committed, interesting. And both of them were engaged in work that had only the fuzziest of purposes.

It makes you wonder how much our economic reality would change if we gave everyone the benefit of a clear, compelling purpose for their work. It's hard to be productive when there is no clear criteria for knowing you have done a good job and no real (I mean something you can see!) result for doing the work. No matter how much you want to work, a 'why' makes a big difference.

It's my pet peeve with people seeking training. "We are interested in some training in NLP," the voice on the phone says. And my instincts say "run!" Because people who won't commit to a purpose are unlikely to achieve a purpose and 'some training' is not a purpose. I ask them "what will change if this training goes as well as it can possibly go." Most of the time, there is an uncomfortable silence on the other end of the line.

It would be nice if all employers gave each employee a sense of purpose and clear criteria against which to evaluate their own performance. Since that seems unlikely, the next best thing is to own your own work. "I was tasked with finding X" is not a compelling reason to do anything. Find a reason that makes senses to you, a reason that will move you toward your own bigger picture goals or that will satisfy your own values.

This isn't just a matter of 'feeling better' when you have a reason for the work you do (although there's evidence that is important). When you are clear about what you want to change in the world as a result of your work, your whole mind becomes involved in making that happen. You're not just motivated to work harder: you're motivated to work smarter. You make connections and innovations because your brain is all fired up.

Get yours fired up. Find a reason for your work and make it vivid and compelling and tangible.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

What do you want more of in your life?

When you ask yourself: "What do I want more of?" the first answer that comes to mind is often something like "vacations!" It's easy to want more time away, more adventures to beautiful places, more freedom.

Yes. All good. And yet, how does that change what you are doing in the next hour?  When you think "What do I want more of in this day?" the answers change. For me, the answers are:

  • more wonderfully engaging connections and conversations
  • more control over my state and my choices
  • more focus and more energy so that I can accomplish more
And all of these are achievable. I have the knowledge and the resources to seek out better connections, to choose better experiences for myself, to take care of mind and body so that I have the energy I need to do what I want to do. Every step is a simple step, and still it is hard. Still the road has curves and bumps that make it easy to say "I can't. I won't. It's not my fault."

Choice is not an event. It's a practice. Like meditation or going to the gym, it's easier some days than others. Like meditation or going to the gym, it's helped by a good guide and good friends. We all want more choice - it's the common denominator of all wants.

Achieving choice is not luck and it is not talent and it is not connections. It's facing the fact, moment by moment, that you already have choices. Making them on purpose is the stuff that makes lives worth living.