Posts Tagged ‘work’

The other day I was walking to my new gym with a serious case of gym-timidation. I imagined that the other members would all be younger, prettier, and fitter than me, and had therefore procrastinated most of the day. Finally I could delay no longer. I put on my sneakers and headed out, tail already between my legs. About a block before my destination, I was stopped by a young man who asked, “You going to work out?” You might ask why I even acknowledged such a question, and rightfully so, but I was still receptive to any and all distraction standing between me and sweating among the beautiful people.

Besides, he was just brimming with confidence. When I told him where I was headed, he responded that he used to work there as a physical trainer. He didn’t just work there: he dominated (!), such that the management had to redistribute clients among the other trainers so that they weren’t just sitting around while he worked out one adoring customer after the other. He was the best. And since he had broken out on his own, he shared, he was working only with the “elite, elite, elite.” Every time he said this, he made a horizontal slashing movement with his hand that reached higher with each repetition: elite, elite, elite.

My intimidation receptors already primed, I initially took all of this as truth. I didn’t question his presentation, his story about himself, his superiority, because his words and manner were so convincing. It took me a few moments to realize that this apparently confident young man was in fact standing on a street corner, wearing dark glasses, with no formal business presence to speak of online or elsewhere, accosting strangers with his pitch. After extricating myself, I walked the final block to my gym wondering, is that real confidence?

I think about confidence a lot these days. I’m starting a business and am riddled with self-doubt. I realize this doubt is based on fear and uncertainty rather than reality, but I feel torn between a fake-it-til-you-make-it approach and something different, something that would allow me to access confidence more genuinely, from within.

In the November 2011 Shambhala Sun magazine, Sakyong Mipham wrote about having confidence in our basic goodness, which is probably where it all begins:

The energy of splendidness comes from being fully present in whatever we do. My father, Chogyam Trungpa…put it this way: “You are not hiding anywhere.” Hiding means our splendidness is obscured by embedded habitual patterns. One characteristic of hiding is that we are always self-observing. Self-observing comes from not trusting our inherent goodness, and therefore keeping the reins tight on our mind….”Not hiding anywhere” means we have reduced and lightened our embedded habits and tendencies, which allows us to shine.

This concept of no longer hiding resounded with me deeply. In taking this frightening step, I am risking myself in a way that wouldn’t be necessary if I were to keep working for someone else. Being my own boss requires that I take ownership of my decisions, that I make my own mistakes and learn from them, that I blaze a trail rather than following one that has already been worn.

The last time I felt this way – the last time I tentatively came out of hiding – was when I quit drinking nearly 6 years ago. The first couple of months that I approached life without the buffer of alcohol, I felt barraged by reality. That overstimulation took on a physical presence in the form of anxiety, a vibratory sense in my fingers and lips, a slight quickening of my breath, occasional light-headedness. Little by little, I grew to accommodate the stimuli I had previously softened with wine or liquor, at first through less productive means – shopping, eating, and your garden-variety dry drunk behavior – and then through more sustainable approaches: creating space, acknowledging my pain and discomfort and learning to lean into them with kindness. Gradually I grew more confident in my ability to navigate life sober.

Susan Piver recently wrote:

Confidence actually begins with lack of confidence. Without the latter, we would have no idea what the former meant. In some way, when we lose our confidence we could imagine it not as the first step into the pit, but the first step out of it. Just as light would not exist without dark, confidence would not be possible without lack of confidence. So, to begin recovering self-confidence, a great first step is allowing yourself to lean into your doubt.

If confidence begins with lack of confidence, then I got this. As I make my way on this unpredictable path, rather than putting on a false face, I am not ignoring my doubts, fears, and anxieties, but not deferring to them either. And gradually, my hope is that I will gain the type of confidence that is quiet but authentic, one that doesn’t need to proclaim itself on street corners. One that is born of the basic goodness we all possess.


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I will set my alarm each morning to awaken me with this:

I will leave no trick un-exploited in my efforts to finish this book

  • I will use the laundry trick (that’s 34 minutes to wash-write, and 28 minutes to dry-write)
  • The captive audience trick (any time I’m in a waiting room; why else do I have a MacBook Air?)
  • The just-5-minutes trick (what do I have to lose?)
  • The muted Law & Order trick (I know I’ll turn it off to concentrate)
  • The change of scenery trick again and again and again (the living room, the dining room, the guest room, the bedroom, the courtyard, the Starbucks, the other Starbucks)

I will resist watching this:

And this:

And especially this:


Every time I hear myself say any of the following:

You’re not a writer, you know

That sentence totally sucks

Um, wait, I think you missed a chance to gaze at your navel

No one wants to read this shizzle but your mom

I will drop and give myself 20



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Recently, as part of Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project, we learned about the lojong slogan “3 objects, 3 poisons, 3 seeds of virtue.” The three objects are things we want, things we don’t want, and things we ignore; the three poisons passion, aggression, and ignorance; and the three seeds of virtue freedom from passion, aggression, and ignorance.

In delving deeper into this slogan, contemplating it and reading Chogyam Trungpa’s and Pema Chodron’s thoughts on the topic, I recognize how my drinking covered all of these bases. I used drinking to hold on to pleasurable experiences way past their expiration date; I never wanted the party to end and I thought it couldn’t end as long as I kept drinking. Other times I used alcohol to try to change the way things were, to counteract feelings of anxiety and fear, to replace them with the joviality and good times I thought were to be found in the bottle. Last, my drinking allowed me to zone out, to disconnect from issues that needed attention – a relationship that was hurtful, an unsatisfying career.

This is not to say that alcohol is inherently poisonous; but the way I used it was problematic for me. That kind of self-awareness has helped me to see how I engage with the different aspects of my life. It’s also shown me that while all three poisons are present at different times, I tend toward one in particular: aggression, or as I think of it, resistance.

From the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, my mind is constantly resisting the way things are. “I should have done this…or that,” “I shouldn’t feel this way,” “I wish I were more…,” “I wish…,” “If only…,” these are a constant refrain, like elevator muzak that has been playing in the background so long you almost don’t notice it anymore. Sometimes I even hope that things will turn out differently in a movie I’ve already seen or one in which I know the ending; I spent the majority of the film Titanic hoping there would be some twist that saved everyone.

In Start Where You Are, Pema Chodron writes “resistance to unwanted circumstances has the power to keep those circumstances alive and well for a very long time.” She also writes about how the 3 poisons provide fertile ground for change, a rich source from which we can pull self-awareness and gentleness, and can open up to the much wider possibilities life has to offer.

As I write this post, I feel immense confusion as to what to do with my life. My severance period is about to end, I’m completing a small business course that I took with the hope of starting my own nutrition counseling and writing business, I’m about two-thirds of the way through writing the Drinking to Distraction book, and I have the outline of another book I would like to write when the first is completed. I feel at once exhilarated, overwhelmed, frightened, capable, and bereft of the stamina needed to take the next step. My tendency toward aggression makes me resist this confusion; I have a strong drive to exorcise it, oust it, banish it, even if that means making a decision that I haven’t completely considered, or reverting back to a professional plan that seems more of a sure thing.

My challenge, if Piver, and Chodron, and Trungpa are right (and I know they are), is to hang out in that confusion long enough to really experience it. To drop the story about how my life will end up in the shitter if I made the wrong decision. And to feel my way toward the next step, and the next, and the next, knowing I can change course at any point. First, I must give up the fight against reality. This is the way it is, for now. Resistance is futile.

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When I was younger, so much younger than today

I never needed anybody’s help in any way

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured

Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors

~”Help” by The Beatles

Have you ever noticed something, seemingly for the first time, and then you hear or see it everywhere? You finally learn the definition of “the canary in the coal mine,” and then three friends use it in separate conversations.

Lately, I’ve been hearing and reading the suggestion to allow people to help me:

  • In David Whyte’s “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity”:

Sooner or later we admit that we cannot do it all, that whatever our contribution, the story is much larger and longer than our own, and we are all in the gift of older stories that we are only now joining. Whatever our success at work, in the financial markets, or in the virtual worlds now being born, we are all in the gift of much older work, we are all looked after by other eyes, and we are only preparing ourselves for an invitation to join something larger.

  • In “A.P.E. [Author Publisher Entrepreneur] How to Publish a Book,” Guy Kawasaki repeatedly writes about the importance of asking for help, often in untraditional ways, from the initial writing stage through to the publishing and marketing stages.
  • In “Intuitive Eating,” the authors write about the common tendency to eat when what we really need is support and/or nurturing, something that we can often easily receive if we only ask for it:

When you find yourself reaching for food when there is no biological hunger, take a time-out to find out what you are feeling…Call a friend and talk about the feelings…Talk to a counselor or a psychotherapist.

  • In my Kaufman FastTrac NYC small business course, we discuss establishing a personal network of individuals who can broaden our perspectives, provide information and feedback, and be objective.

The ubiquity of the advice to ask for help caught me by surprise. (Sort of like that ‘w’ in the word answer. Really? Was that always there?) Why does asking for help seem counterintuitive? Why is it so difficult? I can only surmise that my resistance stems from my fear of appearing foolish, a wish to have my proverbial shit together (or at least seem to), and my striving for perfection.

When the shoe is on the other foot, however, and I am asked for help, I am more than happy to oblige. I feel a sense of purpose and connection with that person, as if I’m growing and nurturing not only that relationship but contributing to a bigger picture in which we are all interdependent. Why not extend such an opportunity to others by allowing them to help me?

In “Ocean of Dharma,” Chogyam Trungpa writes:

We can afford to open ourselves and join the rest of the world with a sense of tremendous generosity, tremendous goodness, and tremendous richness. The more we give, the more we gain – although what we gain should not particularly be our reason for giving. Rather, the more we give, the more we are inspired to give constantly. And the gaining process happens naturally, automatically, always.

I spent this past weekend with my parents, my sister, and her family, including my 4.5- and 2.5-year old nieces. The girls reminded me of that instinctive drive to “do it myself,” and how that seems to be the very definition of growing up and becoming independent. At the same time I found myself asking my mother for help: I always find it difficult to maintain my meditation practice whenever I am away from home, but by asking my mom to sit and practice with me, we both benefited. This simple act of asking for help strengthened our connection and broadened our perspective.

Perhaps the definition of growing up is not the ability to be completely self-reliant but rather knowing when, how, and who to ask for help. Allow me to be your canary in the coal mine: Have you been helped yet?

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When I was writing a nutrition book several years ago, I spent a lot of time not writing. I cleaned, napped, drank, anything to avoid what I knew I had to do (and actually really wanted to do!). I thought I was an expert procrastinator until I completed a questionnaire at the end of Robert Boice’s book Professors As Writers, entitled The Blocking Questionnaire. The Blocking Questionnaire is sort of a Myers & Briggs test for your writing personality. Based on your answers to multiple questions regarding overt, cognitive/emotional, and social signs of blocking (as in writer’s block), you are scored in several areas, including work apprehension, procrastination, writing apprehension, dysphoria, impatience, perfectionism, and rules. While all of these things are likely to affect writers to some degree, typically one quality predominates.

Based on my results, I found that what I thought of as procrastination was firmly rooted in perfectionism. I was finally able to complete my book once I heeded Boice’s advice: “perfectionists learn to laugh at their perfectionism and to put it in its proper place – toward the end of the writing process. They do so, at least in the short run, by confronting their internal critic and by writing around him or her.”

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post called Practicing Imperfection. At that time, I had reached a tipping point regarding the unrealistic standards I hold myself to. In drafting my declaration of imperfection, I seem to have touched a nerve, with myself and several others. And, as often happens with me, it wasn’t until after I had written it that I realized just how true, important, and poignant this issue is.

I find that much of my internal monologue is about perfection, how I should be able to achieve it, yet how incapable I am of it. Case in point: for the past several years I have dreamed of writing a book about my experiences quitting drinking, beginning meditation, and learning to lean into my real (though messy, unpredictable, and often uncomfortable) life. While I have every logical reason to believe I am capable of this (past book writing experience, basic ability to string together sentences, an encouraging and supportive network), I have delayed the actual writing of the book.

My inner perfectionist doesn’t think it’s worth writing if it’s not a best-seller, if it doesn’t land of me on the present day equivalent of the Oprah Winfrey show, and if basically everyone doesn’t love me for writing it. Again, I spend much of my time and energy not writing this book. Instead, I do research so that I won’t omit any important information when I do finally commit to writing, I play with shifting the focus of the book proposal this way and that, and I furtively scan recently published book titles assuming one day I’ll find someone has beat me to it.

Who could live with these expectations? I would never place such pressure on someone I love…isn’t that a mouthful? While I can’t say that I will no longer be a perfectionist, I am committing to making imperfection a practice, much like meditation. What this leads to remains to be seen.

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