Status Anxiety is a much bigger issue today than at any time in history.
The self-help gurus have sold us on the idea that each of us individually has the power to succeed or fail within us. If I read “Awaken the Power within” I will find my power and inevitable achieve riches. If I read it, and I am not rich by Friday… I am a loser.
17th Century: Nobody Expected to Become An Aristocrat
Nobody in the time of Louis XIV thought that if they just worked a little smarter that they could be as rich as Louis. Today we see Bill Gates in jeans and a tshirt and it feels like if I had a garage and worked hard I too could become a billionaire.
It is probably as likely to become a billionaire as it was to accidentally switch places with Louis XIV… but we don’t feel it… and so we have enormous anxiety over the fact that we ourselves haven’t got a billion in the bank.
Driven By Status, Not Money
Economists give a vision of us that we are rational actors almost entirely driven by money.
According to Alain de Botton, the truth of it is that we are far more hungry for status than we are for money. It tends to be that well paid jobs come with lots of status, and poorly paid jobs are very low status. If you were paid €100K for cleaning plates in McDonalds – the lack of status would still make the job tiring. Research says that only about 10% of the population who are not bothered in any way by their perceived status in society.
Career snobbery is a major feature of modern life: “What do you do?”, a positive answer… conversation; a non-status job… hmm, is that the time… I need to refill my drink.
A Ferrari is not just a fast car, it is an object that confers some degree of honour on the owner. People are a little nicer to you when you show up at a party in a Ferrari than when you arrive on a bicycle.
“Every time a friend of mine does well, a little piece of me dies” George Bernard Shaw
Psychologist Martin Seligman explained that there are three ways in which our internal beliefs or narratives become damaging: we make them personal, pervasive, and permanent.
Personal: I failed, so I must be a failure.
Pervasive: I failed in this instance, so I’ll probably fail in every instance.
Permanent: I failed once, so I’ll probably fail always.
When something goes wrong, watch how you speak to yourself. Be careful of the words “never” and “always”. A failure is a single instance of particular context and a particular version of your past self – taken positively, each failure makes you a better version of yourself.
It is not what happens that makes life hard, it is the perspective we chose to take on what is happening. We can chose which questions we ask ourself. If I ask myself “Why am I such a loser?”, my brain happily provides a long list of good answers. If I ask myself “What would I change next time?”, my brain engages in a more positive search for answers.
The only true failure is to let one setback stop you completely. You are not your current situation, you are the fullness of the journey that you will complete over your lifetime.
A mountaineer is not a failure when they are at base camp and only a success when at the summit.
A good gardener creates the conditions for growth of a garden, but cannot force the flowers to grow in an exact way. The good gardener creates the conditions and accepts what arises.
The bad gardener fights what arises. The bad gardener hacks and chops and fights against the natural growth of nature.
The good gardener changes the conditions and different plant shapes and varieties arise.
In each case the attitude of the gardener is “Interesting! I wouldn’t have expected that.” Creative indifference as a gardener is a deep curiosity, and an openness to delight in the million and one ways that nature can arise.
Good Teaching as Good Gardening
I want to teach more as a gardener than as a sculptor.
Up to now I often find that I am trying to remake a participant into my image of what she could be – I am metaphorically hacking off bits of stone and adding bits of paint.
A good gardener allows the plant to grow in its own unique way. Nature is difference. Nature is no straight lines, no leaf exactly like any other leaf, no flower exactly like any other flower.
I want to focus more on creating the conditions for growth in the classroom, during the breaks, during the lunches… that would allow the participants to grow in their own individual way – and have less fixed ideas about how each individual will use those conditions. I want to be willing to allow the person to become who he is to become, rather than my ideal of what he could be.
The question that really struck me and has left me deep in thought for the last 24 hours is this:
“What is the hardest thing that you ever had to work for?”
Ryan said that a friend asked him this question and the fact that he could not answer it made him change. He became World Champion of Public Speaking because of the question.
What is your answer? Is it clear?
Personally, I don’t have a clear answer.
I have been reflecting on school, university, MBA; on 8 years of work at Accenture; on 1 year travelling with a backpack around Asia and Latin America; on 12 years building companies as a entrepreneur; on teaching; on 8 years of being a parent… and I am not sure I have a clear answer.
My reflection is that I want to have a clear answer on my 50th birthday. I want to know that there was something that I was willing to sacrifice for and that I chose to do the work consistently; in the good and in the tough times.
This weekend, I am on a 3 day course with Dr John DeMartini called “Master Planning for Life”. I aim to have an answer on Sunday night.
My Questions for You, Reader:
I would love your help. I learn so much from listening to other’s experiences. I would welcome comments or emails direct to me conor (at) conorneill.com with your experiences, reflections and perspectives:
What is the hardest thing you have had to work for?
When did you know that you were committed to achieving it?
How did you overcome the loss of passion, the doubts as you worked through the project?
What is something you are working on now that is big, hard and meaningful (but your choice! not your boss, company, family… you personally chose this project)
Sponsor (or Advocate) – puts their reputation on the line and takes responsibility for your personal success. Protege = “one who is protected”. Protege must do everything in his power to make the sponsor look good, or is wasting the sponsors time. “you provide a perspective that I otherwise would not have”; must be senior and influential, must be willing to make a stand
Experienced Guide – “so, what’s your next step?” helps you learn to trust your own decisions. I personally have learnt to trust my own decision making processes in people decisions (hiring, firing, recruiting) from my recent mentors.
Coach – focus on performance improvement, sets clear goals, asks good questions to widen your perspective; seniority not necessary if can establish good credible relationship
5 Powerful Mentor Questions
What is it that you really want to be and do?
What are you doing really well that is helping you get there?
What are you not doing well that is preventing you from getting there?
What will you do differently tomorrow to meet those challenges?
Where do you need the most help? (Who can help you?)
This post was originally published on Alternet and it is written by coaching guru Cloe Madanes.
The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People
Most of us claim we want to be happy—to have meaningful lives, enjoy ourselves, experience fulfillment, and share love and friendship with other people and maybe other species, like dogs, cats, birds, and whatnot. Strangely enough, however, some people act as if they just want to be miserable, and they succeed remarkably at inviting misery into their lives, even though they get little apparent benefit from it, since being miserable doesn’t help them find lovers and friends, get better jobs, make more money, or go on more interesting vacations. Why do they do this? After perusing the output of some of the finest brains in the therapy profession, I’ve come to the conclusion that misery is an art form, and the satisfaction people seem to find in it reflects the creative effort required to cultivate it. In other words, when your living conditions are stable, peaceful, and prosperous—no civil wars raging in your streets, no mass hunger, no epidemic disease, no vexation from poverty—making yourself miserable is a craft all its own, requiring imagination, vision, and ingenuity. It can even give life a distinctive meaning.
So if you aspire to make yourself miserable, what are the best, most proven techniques for doing it? Let’s exclude some obvious ways, like doing drugs, committing crimes, gambling, and beating up your spouse or neighbor. Subtler strategies, ones that won’t lead anyone to suspect that you’re acting deliberately, can be highly effective. But you need to pretend that you want to be happy, like everybody else, or people won’t take your misery seriously. The real art is to behave in ways that’ll bring on misery while allowing you to claim that you’re an innocent victim, ideally of the very people from whom you’re forcibly extracting compassion and pity.
Here, I cover most areas of life, such as family, work, friends, and romantic partners. These areas will overlap nicely, since you can’t ruin your life without ruining your marriage and maybe your relationships with your children and friends. It’s inevitable that as you make yourself miserable, you’ll be making those around you miserable also, at least until they leave you—which will give you another reason to feel miserable. So it’s important to keep in mind the benefits you’re accruing in your misery.
When you’re miserable, people feel sorry for you. Not only that, they often feel obscurely guilty, as if your misery might somehow be their fault. This is good! There’s power in making other people feel guilty. The people who love you and those who depend on you will walk on eggshells to make sure that they don’t say or do anything that will increase your misery.
When you’re miserable, since you have no hopes and expect nothing good to happen, you can’t be disappointed or disillusioned.
Being miserable can give the impression that you’re a wise and worldly person, especially if you’re miserable not just about your life, but about society in general. You can project an aura of someone burdened by a form of profound, tragic, existential knowledge that happy, shallow people can’t possibly appreciate.
Honing Your Misery Skills
Let’s get right to it and take a look at some effective strategies to become miserable. This list is by no means exhaustive, but engaging in four or five of these practices will help refine your talent.
1. Be afraid, be very afraid, of economic loss. In hard economic times, many people are afraid of losing their jobs or savings. The art of messing up your life consists of indulging these fears, even when there’s little risk that you’ll actually suffer such losses. Concentrate on this fear, make it a priority in your life, moan continuously that you could go broke any day now, and complain about how much everything costs, particularly if someone else is buying. Try to initiate quarrels about other people’s feckless, spendthrift ways, and suggest that the recession has resulted from irresponsible fiscal behavior like theirs.
Fearing economic loss has several advantages. First, it’ll keep you working forever at a job you hate. Second, it balances nicely with greed, an obsession with money, and a selfishness that even Ebenezer Scrooge would envy. Third, not only will you alienate your friends and family, but you’ll likely become even more anxious, depressed, and possibly even ill from your money worries. Good job!
Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and, for 15 minutes, meditate on all the things you could lose: your job, your house, your savings, and so forth. Then brood about living in a homeless shelter.
2. Practice sustained boredom. Cultivate the feeling that everything is predictable, that life holds no excitement, no possibility for adventure, that an inherently fascinating person like yourself has been deposited into a completely tedious and pointless life through no fault of your own. Complain a lot about how bored you are. Make it the main subject of conversation with everyone you know so they’ll get the distinct feeling that you think they’re boring. Consider provoking a crisis to relieve your boredom. Have an affair (this works best if you’re already married and even better if you have an affair with someone else who’s married); go on repeated shopping sprees for clothes, cars, fancy appliances, sporting equipment (take several credit cards, in case one maxes out); start pointless fights with your spouse, boss, children, friends, neighbors; have another child; quit your job, clean out your savings account, and move to a state you know nothing about.
A side benefit of being bored is that you inevitably become boring. Friends and relatives will avoid you. You won’t be invited anywhere; nobody will want to call you, much less actually see you. As this happens, you’ll feel lonely and even more bored and miserable.
Exercise: Force yourself to watch hours of mindless reality TV programs every day, and read only nonstimulating tabloids that leave you feeling soulless. Avoid literature, art, and keeping up with current affairs.
3. Give yourself a negative identity. Allow a perceived emotional problem to absorb all other aspects of your self-identification. If you feel depressed, become a Depressed Person; if you suffer from social anxiety or a phobia, assume the identity of a Phobic Person or a Person with Anxiety Disorder. Make your condition the focus of your life. Talk about it to everybody, and make sure to read up on the symptoms so you can speak about them knowledgeably and endlessly. Practice the behaviors most associated with that condition, particularly when it’ll interfere with regular activities and relationships. Focus on how depressed you are and become weepy, if that’s your identity of choice. Refuse to go places or try new things because they make you too anxious. Work yourself into panic attacks in places it’ll cause the most commotion. It’s important to show that you don’t enjoy these states or behaviors, but that there’s nothing you can do to prevent them.
Practice putting yourself in the physiological state that represents your negative identity. For example, if your negative identity is Depressed Person, hunch your shoulders, look at the floor, breathe shallowly. It’s important to condition your body to help you reach your negative peak as quickly as possible.
Exercise: Write down 10 situations that make you anxious, depressed, or distracted. Once a week, pick a single anxiety-provoking situation, and use it to work yourself into a panic for at least 15 minutes.
Cloe Madanes has teamed up with Tony Robbins to launch a coaching certification program. They have released a new series of eye-opening educational videos that will show you how to create profound changes in yourself and others – within a short conversation.
I encourage you to sign up for this training series (affiliate link) – you’re going to be inspired by what is possible. Tony has been an inspiration for me for over 20 years and I love how practical and direct he is in his trainings. His focus is on making a real difference in people’s lives.
4. Pick fights. This is an excellent way of ruining a relationship with a romantic partner. Once in a while, unpredictably, pick a fight or have a crying spell over something trivial and make unwarranted accusations. The interaction should last for at least 15 minutes and ideally occur in public. During the tantrum, expect your partner to be kind and sympathetic, but should he or she mention it later, insist that you never did such a thing and that he or she must have misunderstood what you were trying to say. Act injured and hurt that your partner somehow implied you weren’t behaving well.
Another way of doing this is to say unexpectedly, “We need to talk,” and then to barrage your partner with statements about how disappointed you are with the relationship. Make sure to begin this barrage just as your partner is about to leave for some engagement or activity, and refuse to end it for at least an hour. Another variation is to text or phone your partner at work to express your issues and disappointments. Do the same if your partner is out with friends.
Exercise: Write down 20 annoying text messages you could send to a romantic partner. Keep a grudge list going, and add to it daily.
5. Attribute bad intentions. Whenever you can, attribute the worst possible intentions to your partner, friends, and coworkers. Take any innocent remark and turn it into an insult or attempt to humiliate you. For example, if someone asks, “How did you like such and such movie?” you should immediately think, He’s trying to humiliate me by proving that I didn’t understand the movie, or He’s preparing to tell me that I have poor taste in movies. The idea is to always expect the worst from people. If someone is late to meet you for dinner, while you wait for them, remind yourself of all the other times the person was late, and tell yourself that he or she is doing this deliberately to slight you. Make sure that by the time the person arrives, you’re either seething or so despondent that the evening is ruined. If the person asks what’s wrong, don’t say a word: let him or her suffer.
Exercise: List the names of five relatives or friends. For each, write down something they did or said in the recent past that proves they’re as invested in adding to your misery as you are.
6. Whatever you do, do it only for personal gain. Sometimes you’ll be tempted to help someone, contribute to a charity, or participate in a community activity. Don’t do it, unless there’s something in it for you, like the opportunity to seem like a good person or to get to know somebody you can borrow money from some day. Never fall into the trap of doing something purely because you want to help people. Remember that your primary goal is to take care of Numero Uno, even though you hate yourself.
Exercise: Think of all the things you’ve done for others in the past that haven’t been reciprocated. Think about how everyone around you is trying to take from you. Now list three things you could do that would make you appear altruistic while bringing you personal, social, or professional gain.
7. Avoid gratitude. Research shows that people who express gratitude are happier than those who don’t, so never express gratitude. Counting your blessings is for idiots. What blessings? Life is suffering, and then you die. What’s there to be thankful for?
Well-meaning friends and relatives will try to sabotage your efforts to be thankless. For example, while you’re in the middle of complaining about the project you procrastinated on at work to your spouse during an unhealthy dinner, he or she might try to remind you of how grateful you should be to have a job or food at all. Such attempts to encourage gratitude and cheerfulness are common and easily deflected. Simply point out that the things you should be grateful for aren’t perfect—which frees you to find as much fault with them as you like.
Exercise: Make a list of all the things you could be grateful for. Next to each item, write down why you aren’t. Imagine the worst. When you think of the future, imagine the worst possible scenario. It’s important to be prepared for and preemptively miserable about any possible disaster or tragedy. Think of the possibilities: terrorist attacks, natural disasters, fatal disease, horrible accidents, massive crop failures, your child not getting picked for the varsity softball team.
8. Always be alert and in a state of anxiety. Optimism about the future leads only to disappointment. Therefore, you have to do your best to believe that your marriage will flounder, your children won’t love you, your business will fail, and nothing good will ever work out for you.
Exercise: Do some research on what natural or manmade disasters could occur in your area, such as earthquakes, floods, nuclear plant leaks, rabies outbreaks. Focus on these things for at least an hour a day.
9. Blame your parents. Blaming your parents for your defects, shortcomings, and failures is among the most important steps you can take. After all, your parents made you who you are today; you had nothing to do with it. If you happen to have any good qualities or successes, don’t give your parents credit. Those are flukes.
Extend the blame to other people from your past: the second-grade teacher who yelled at you in the cafeteria, the boy who bullied you when you were 9, the college professor who gave you a D on your paper, your first boyfriend, even the hick town you grew up in—the possibilities are limitless. Blame is essential in the art of being miserable.
Exercise: Call one of your parents and tell her or him that you just remembered something horrible they did when you were a child, and make sure he or she understands how terrible it made you feel and that you’re still suffering from it.
10. Don’t enjoy life’s pleasures. Taking pleasure in things like food, wine, music, and beauty is for flighty, shallow people. Tell yourself that. If you inadvertently find yourself enjoying some flavor, song, or work of art, remind yourself immediately that these are transitory pleasures, which can’t compensate for the miserable state of the world. The same applies to nature. If you accidentally find yourself enjoying a beautiful view, a walk on the beach, or a stroll through a forest, stop! Remind yourself that the world is full of poverty, illness, and devastation. The beauty of nature is a deception.
Exercise: Once a week, engage in an activity that’s supposed to be enjoyable, but do so while thinking about how pointless it is. In other words, concentrate on removing all sense of pleasure from the pleasurable activity.
11. Ruminate. Spend a great deal of time focused on yourself. Worry constantly about the causes of your behavior, analyze your defects, and chew on your problems. This will help you foster a pessimistic view of your life. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by any positive experience or influence. The point is to ensure that even minor upsets and difficulties appear huge and portentous.
You can ruminate on the problems of others or the world, but make them about you. Your child is sick? Ruminate on what a burden it is for you to take time off from work to care for her. Your spouse is hurt by your behavior? Focus on how terrible it makes you feel when he points out how you make him feel. By ruminating not only on your own problems but also those of others, you’ll come across as a deep, sensitive thinker who holds the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair and seek out negative feelings, like anger, depression, anxiety, boredom, whatever. Concentrate on these feelings for 15 minutes. During the rest of the day, keep them in the back of your mind, no matter what you’re doing.
12. Glorify or vilify the past. Glorifying the past is telling yourself how good, happy, fortunate, and worthwhile life was when you were a child, a young person, or a newly married person—and regretting how it’s all been downhill ever since. When you were young, for example, you were glamorous and danced the samba with handsome men on the beach at twilight; and now you’re in a so-so marriage to an insurance adjuster in Topeka. You should’ve married tall, dark Antonio. You should’ve invested in Microsoft when you had the chance. In short, focus on what you could’ve and should’ve done, instead of what you did. This will surely make you miserable.
Vilifying the past is easy, too. You were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, you never got what you needed, you felt you were discriminated against, you never got to go to summer camp. How can you possibly be happy when you had such a lousy background? It’s important to think that bad memories, serious mistakes, and traumatic events were much more influential in forming you and your future than good memories, successes, and happy events. Focus on bad times. Obsess about them. Treasure them. This will ensure that, no matter what’s happening in the present, you won’t be happy.
Exercise: Make a list of your most important bad memories and keep it where you can review it frequently. Once a week, tell someone about your horrible childhood or how much better your life was 20 years ago.
13. Find a romantic partner to reform. Make sure that you fall in love with someone with a major defect (cat hoarder, gambler, alcoholic, womanizer, sociopath), and set out to reform him or her, regardless of whether he or she wants to be reformed. Believe firmly that you can reform this person, and ignore all evidence to the contrary.
Exercise: Go to online dating sites and see how many bad choices you can find in one afternoon. Make efforts to meet these people. It’s good if the dating site charges a lot of money, since this means you’ll be emotionally starved and poor.
14. Be critical. Make sure to have an endless list of dislikes and voice them often, whether or not your opinion is solicited. For example, don’t hesitate to say, “That’s what you chose to wear this morning?” or “Why is your voice so shrill?” If someone is eating eggs, tell them you don’t like eggs. Your negativity can be applied to almost anything.
It helps if the things you criticize are well liked by most people so that your dislike of them sets you apart. Disliking traffic and mosquitos isn’t creative enough: everyone knows what it’s like to find these things annoying, and they won’t pay much attention if you find them annoying, too. But disliking the new movie that all your friends are praising? You’ll find plenty of opportunities to counter your friends’ glowing reviews with your contrarian opinion.
Exercise: Make a list of 20 things you dislike and see how many times you can insert them into a conversation over the course of the day. For best results, dislike things you’ve never given yourself a chance to like.
I’ve just listed 14 ways to make yourself miserable. You don’t have to nail every one of them, but even if you succeed with just four or five, make sure to berate yourself regularly for not enacting the entire list. If you find yourself in a therapist’s office—because someone who’s still clinging to their love for you has tricked you into going—make sure your misery seems organic. If the therapist enlightens you in any way or teaches you mind-body techniques to quiet your anxious mind, make sure to co-opt the conversation and talk about your misery-filled dreams from the night before. If the therapist is skilled in dream analysis, quickly start complaining about the cost of therapy itself. If the therapist uses your complaints as a launching pad to discuss transference issues, accuse him or her of having countertransference issues. Ultimately, the therapist is your enemy when trying to cultivate misery in your life. So get out as soon as possible. And if you happen upon a therapist who’ll sit quietly while you bring all 14 items on this list to life each week, call me. I’ll want to make an appointment, too.
The real depth of any story is not whether the character achieves the goal but who they become as they face the obstacles along the path.
How to Develop a Story
From a writer’s perspective, a story has to first develop a character that we care about, and we wonder what will happen to them. Donald Miller, in his book A Million Miles in a Hundred Steps says that the character must “save the cat”. The character must do something charitable that shows there is a decent human inside. Rocky always does 3-4 charitable things in the first 20 minutes of each film that follows the boxer.
Step 1: “Save the Cat” – our main character does something that gets us to love him
Once we care, then something has to happen to force the character to show their hand. In real life, we don’t change unless we are changed by events. In the words of Soren Kierkegaard “the only precursor to change is crisis”.
So story step number 2: a crisis. Something that forces the character to commit to the goal. In Star Wars, Luke returns from the desert trip to find his aunt and uncle have been murdered by Imperial Stormtroopers. He commits to travel with Obi-wan to space.
Step 2: The Inciting Event – something external kicks our loveable character off of the sofa
We are now on the journey.
Joseph Campbell speaks of this moment as the Portal to Adventure. Often the character will have approached this portal a few times in the past, only to turn back at the last moment. Something happens to push them over the edge. It might be a mentor that says “things will be ok for you”. It might be a love interest who says “do it for me!” It might be a coincidence that the hero reads as divine message saying “it is you”.
The adventure begins. Often a few easy victories give the hero (and the readers) a sense that this is going to work out well.
In an interesting story, there are positive turns and negative turns. In Homer’s Odysseus, the hero makes amazing progress towards his home using the magic of the wind that the Gods gave to him in a bag. Joy. Progress. Then, the crew open the bag to see if they can get home even quicker. Opening the bag is a negative turn. The uncontrolled wind escapes from the bag and blows the ship way, way, way back far, far, far away from home, even further than from where they had begun.
The positive turns allow us to keep the reader engaged and hopeful of the final outcome.
The negative turns allow us to develop the character of the hero. Kurt Vonnegut says “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
Step 3: Positive Turns, Negative Turns
The trials and tribulations, hopes and dashed dreams continue for a while. We are watching the hero gather resources, make friends, identify enemies, trust those that are not worthy of trust, disobey those that should really have been obeyed – make a mess out of easy situations, and just pull it together to make it through the difficult challenges.
Then, the novelty wears off and the hero realises that they don’t feel like they are making progress. I am reminded of the feeling when I sail between the coast and an island. When I set out from the shore of Australia to sail to the Whitsunday islands, at first the coast behind me got rapidly smaller – I felt like I was flying out to sea. Then comes the interminable middle. The coast is no longer shrinking, but the islands don’t seem to be getting any bigger. All I know is that wave after wave is hitting my boat. I stay in this state for hours. Then, all of a sudden, the islands rapidly grow larger and larger.
In the interminable middle, the hero must find a way to overcome self doubt as well as the many obstacles that block the path to the goal.
We then reach a point of disillusion. This is the point of abandon. The hero is tired, has lost sight of the original goal, feels like they are making no progress.
The hero wants to give up. It feels pointless to go on.
Again, in good story, we need an external cause that pushes the hero to one last push. It might be a friend that reappears and supports. It might be an evil enemy doing something that is double the despicable of anything he has done before. It might be the loss of the hero’s closest ally. It might be the death of the hero’s mentor (remember Obi-Wan sacrificing himself to Darth?).
The hero, this time without hope for themselves, having lost their own ego reason for taking up the original mission takes one last push – and this push is enough to break the deadlock of the interminable middle and open up the return home.
Step 4: Disillusionment and the Point of Abandon, The Final Push
The hero has achieved the original goal. Prometheus achieves stealing fire from the Gods and returns to the world. Luke and his allies blow up the Death Star with a last, final, spiritually enhanced missile (“just like shooting swamp rats back home!”).
The hero returns to his village, to those that knew him before his journey.
Sometimes the return is the most challenging. The hero has become a very different person though the obstacles they have overcome, but their mother and father, their brothers and sisters still see the old version of the person. It takes tremendous effort to get the old friends and family to see the new person and let go of the old person.
In a movie, we leave the cinema with a sense of closure, that a full cycle has finished. In a book we finish with a sense that the universe has been restored to a new point of equilibrium. In real life, we realise that this epic story is just a tiny sub-plot in a bigger and bigger story. In real life, the meaning is not designed into the events by an author, it is we ourselves who must create the meaning that can fit the events of our lives and give us the feeling that it is worth waking up again and experiencing more tomorrow.
Step 5: The Return
This then, is a story:
Hero + Goal + Obstacles + Resources + Friends + Enemies + Learning and Growing to become the person that can succeed
I often use an exercise called The Lifeline in my teaching. I found a good summary of the exercise here. In the exercise people reflect on the important positive and negative experiences of their life.
Something that has struck me after all these years of watching groups work on the exercise – it is the hard times in life and how we dealt with them that most inspires. We are inspired by the struggle more than the end point.
“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.” Henry Ford
I guess if an inspirational speaker came and gave a speech that went: “I had this idea to climb a big mountain, so I went there and I climbed it. It wasn’t too hard and the view from the top was lovely.” – it wouldn’t be too inspirational. It is what she had to overcome, the unexpected obstacles, the discovery of previously hidden strength – that I want.
This reminds me of rule number 6 from Kurt Vonnegut on rules for telling a story: “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
“All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.” Pope Paul VI
The Opposite of Fragile
What is the opposite of fragile? I hear you saying “robust”, “strong”, “durable”, “flexible” or even “unbreakable”… but these words are not the opposite, they are the zero point on the line from breaks under pressure to grows under pressure.
A wine glass when dropped on the concrete floor will smash. It is fragile. A plastic glass when dropped on the concrete floor will not smash. It is “flexible and robust”. However, there are some systems that when dropped, they come back even stronger.
Nasim Taleb coined the term “Antifragile” for things that grow under stress. Evolution is a process by which species become stronger when stressed. When I go to the gym, I actually damage my muscles – but they grow stronger as they repair. A broken bone will heal stronger than the surrounding bone.
“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” Peter Marshall
We humans are “antifragile”. We learn and grow faster in the struggle than in the garden.
Take a moment and think about the people you know well.
Who is the most psychologically resilient of your friends or family?
Who would cope the best with major setbacks?
Who would be able to keep their heads while all about them are losing theirs?
Dealing with Failure: Resilience
I was at the FC Barcelona football game last night with 2 friends, Jordi & Andre. Barca beat Getafe 4-0. Leo Messi made his return from injury. He played for 20 minutes, and scored 2 impressive goals.
My friend Andre was excited because he has just published a book. It is available in spanish.
His book is called “He fracasado, y que?” In english: “I have failed, so what?” He writes about his life as an entrepreneur, his ups (big) and his downs (big) in the journey of the last 20 years building businesses.
Andre is resilient. He remains himself, independent of the challenges of the moment. I have known him as he sold a business for €7M and I have known him in the worst moments of watching servidores.com fall into bankruptcy. He brings the same energy and discipline to each day, independent of the challenges of the day. What is it that he does to allow this resilience?
Here’s a short list of Personal Habits of Resilient People, based on my personal experience of meeting many of them, interviewing them and writing about them:
Personal Habits of Resilient People
Constantly Building Relationships – they care about others and how others are doing. They listen deeply because they have a curiosity for learning about life in all its ways. Victor Frankl spoke about this in “Man’s Search for Meaning” – living to serve others is a mission that allowed survival of Nazi concentration camps.
Never Share Victim Stories – there are hero stories (I am responsible for the situation, I must change if I want the situation to change) and victim stories (“the traffic made me late”, “my boss won’t let me”, “nobody listens to me when I speak”). I don’t hear many Victim Stories from resilient people.
Forgive Themselves Quickly – they understand that the “me” of 2 years ago took the best decisions that the “me” of 2 years ago was capable of taking – I didn’t know then what I know now.
Forgive Others Quickly – they understand that everyone is on a difficult journey of their own and face challenges that I am not aware of. Often someone angry at me may have a sick parent, or a tough financial situation.
Take Decisions Quickly – they don’t wait for perfect information. They take a decent decision with the information available and move on. They understand that you can take another decision tomorrow – even reverse today’s decision if necessary.
“Thank you” – to waiters, to investors, to toll-booth staff, to teachers, to cleaners…
Reframe Constantly – They reflect upon their life and re-examine past experiences based upon today’s wisdom. I find that my view of my childhood and 20s changes because I see frustrations, challenges and hard work differently now than I did when I was 25. Back then I thought “I am gifted and I deserve success”, now I think “all meaningful work requires suffering”
Forward Looking – the first instinct is to ask “what can we do now?” when faced with a setback, rather than “who’s fault is this?”
5 Pillars in Life – Pillars in life can be work, family, tennis, teaching, gardening, writing… Resilient people have multiple deep interests. They don’t live 100% for work or 100% for family.
Separate “State” and “Person” – They understand that the state does not make the person – a state of bankruptcy is not a failed person – it is a momentary point on the journey. Charles Barrington, the Irish climber who first summited the Eiger mountain in 1858 – was at the lowest point of the mountain at 3am and on the summit at midday – he was the same person at 3am and midday. A resilient person understands that climbing mountains is not always uphill.
Loneliness is an emptiness and the desire to fill this space with another person in the hope that the emptiness will be filled and removed. Loneliness is to be unhappy alone; and leads to misery together. Loneliness leads to a possessive relationship that is not love. It may begin with the chemistry in the brain we often call love, but it will be slowly transformed into misery as we adapt to the presence of the chemicals in the brain and it becomes less passionate.
Aloneness is an acceptance of myself.
A relationship is a mirror. It reflects. If I am happy and creative and attractive, the relationship can mirror these qualities. If I have nothing to show, the mirror will reflect nothing.
Learning to be happy Alone
There are 2 emotional orientations:
Internal emotional orientation is about the enjoyment of my own personal progress in understanding, improving, learning from the action. If i love golf because I enjoy my level of mastery and am absorbed in improving my own short game then this would be internal emotional orientation.
External orientation is that I judge the success or failure of each action by its impact on my status, on how it compares with my friends, on how my friends view me. If I love golf because my friends envy my ability at golf, this would be a external emotional orientation.
I am sometimes internally oriented (searching for meaning) and sometimes externally oriented (what do “they” think of me? is this useful? will it help someone?)
I switch between the two. I can find that I spend a week where I am working hard on a document that is meaningful to me and in “flow”… and then something happens and I get distracted and spend 2-3 days paying more and more attention to what other people think, how many “likes” on fb, how many retweets. Then I have a crisis moment, reflect and switch back to mode 1.
I guess they are both there because they serve a purpose. The challenge is that great art can only come from mode 1, but a lot of useful learning comes from mode 2. I can learn faster in mode 2, but at a certain point I need to leave behind mode 2 and fully live in mode 1.
Do you switch between the 2? What makes the switch happen? Why does it happen? What do you do to be conscious of your mode?
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