What Does SUPPORT Mean To You? How To Customize Your Support System When You Need One

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How many times in your life has someone told you that "you need a good support system"?


The topic will come up with your guidance counselor or teachers when you are younger or your therapist or boss when you are older.

Despite their good intentions, the question often conveys a sense of necessity, as though it is something you have to have in order to feel better, be happy, and live a correct life. This conditional way of thinking is not true, nor is it healthy. 


Consider this: a teenager speaks with her guidance counselor about depression that she is experiencing due to family stress and academic pressure. Guidance counselors and therapists will always ask about the child's support system to assess whether or not she has friends, a good relationship with anyone in her family, and to what extent she is comfortable advocating for their support. 


A lot of people, however, especially children, will interpret the question as a message of necessity, often because they are used to hearing "you need to make friends" from their parents throughout all of childhood.

Any sense of necessity makes it feel like a demand, which puts even more pressure on the child while they are already experiencing so much other pressure. When kids feel like they do not have a support system but need one, they can feel incompetent and feel even more down about themselves. 

A support system is not a NECESSITY, but it is good to have one. 

Let me explain. 

The objective of last week's post was to guide you to create a support system if you wanted one. It was not meant to pressure you because you need one. 


Furthermore, my priority as a coach is to teach you that you always have options. 

I have worked with many people who come to me thinking that they are alone and they do not feel like they have any support (Joke's on them because coming to me is recognizing that I am a support). I also know many staunchly independent people who, even after going through a great many hardships growing up, have never "needed" a support system, per se.

Last week's guide to designing your best support system was meant to show you that a support system is always available to you when and if you need one.

Support can look like a lot of things:

  • friends

  • family members

  • stuffed animals

  • video games

  • movies

  • sports teammates

  • coaches

  • strangers in a coffee shop

  • music

  • literally anything

Support can be anything. Listening to that one song you love is support. Your bed can be considered as much a support as a therapist. 

It all depends on the kind of support that works best for you.

What kind of support do you prefer? 

  • Is it an activity?

  • Is it a person?

  • How do you know that it has helpful?


Remember, this is your life. You set the criteria. 

How Healthy Is Your Support System? Do This Now To Create The Best One For Your Life

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Cool. You have now eliminated all of your insecurity. Congratulations!

Now go take on the world!


(I can hear your increased heart rate from here...)

It is like when you put training wheels on a kid's bike and then she still doesn't know what to do to start biking. The kid always looks up at you and wonders "Wait, you want me to go by myself now?"

And that, folks, is the fallacy of life: that you are alone. Sure, the world is a difficult place and yes, life has its way of punching you in the stomach all the time, but we are all still here only because we have learned ways to remain together as a tribe. 

The trick that the devil plays, however, is making you think that you are not worthy of anyone else's attention. 


When things happen that sequentially diminish your self-esteem, that belief becomes much more powerful. You recoil from others and the world, and the more you recoil, the more you confirm the belief that you should not engage with the outside world.

The cycle continues to circulate until you no longer go to work, you ruin your friendships, and you lose your sense of self and direction.  


Alone vs. Lonely

Now that we have the hard truth nailed down, let us talk about the difference between alone and lonely.

When you feel insecure, you feel small. When you feel small, it is easy to feel alone. But lonely is a deeper sense of isolation in which no connection with another person may even be possible.

Lonely is when you are seeking some kind of connection. Alone is when you feel like you are all by yourself, even when loads of people are around you. 


This way, the alone-ness is a feeling state in which one can see others around them but either does not know how or is not confident enough to reach out to any of them. 

I do not want you to stay there. 


Your Support System

A "healthy support system" is a trendy term in the mental health world, particularly for adolescents who have not yet developed survival behaviors in the big bad world.

Being a buzz term, like happiness and success, it creates an ideal to which we think we need to strive. Like most ideals, though, it is pretty darn impossible to get there. In order to establish your own healthy support system, we return to the process of defining it for yourself instead of letting society define the ideal for you. 


How about we define it together? Come on.


Activity

Here's a fun first question to start with:

who is in your life right now that you WISH WAS NOT in your life?

Just name one person for an example. Once you chose someone, ask:

what is it about that person that you do not connect with, enjoy, or want in your life?

An example is somebody who is always negative, or only speaks in gossip, or eats with their mouth open.


I am not going to shame you here and ask why you have not voted them off the island yet. The purpose is to start evaluating valuable characteristics to you in other people.

Once you have identified the primary characteristic whose presence you do not appreciate in your life:

what is the opposite of that characteristic?


And Boom! You have your first personally unique feature that you appreciate in others around you. See, pretty easy. Let us keep going. 


Characteristics

Make a list of characteristics that come to mind that are deal breakers for you in people around you.

  • What kind of attitude must they have?

  • What kind of outlook on life?

  • How do you like them to talk?

  • How do you want them to listen?

  • How honest can you be with them?

  • How much of yourself are you comfortable to reveal to this person?

  • How do you know that you can trust them?


Geography

  • How accessible does someone have to be to you?

  • Can their support be accessed over technology or must you be able to be with them in person?

  • What is the maximum distance from you at any given time that someone is allowed to be while still included on your list of supports?

Number

  • What number of individuals feels comfortable for you to have in your support system?

  • How many is too many?

  • How many is too few?

Names

Get specific.

  • Who comes to mind?

  • Who is in your life right now that meet your criteria?

  • How do you currently seek their support?

  • How do you currently use their support once it is received?

  • To whom would you like to reach out today, even just to say hi?


PRO TIP: Quality over quantity is true all the time, but do not feel weird if you write out a large number of people. If you have a large number of people who meet your unique criteria for quality, so be it. 


ANOTHER PRO TIP: IT IS OKAY IF NOBODY SPECIFIC COMES TO MIND RIGHT NOW.

That is why it is the fourth category.

Here is the deal: if you are reading this in a state of insecurity or low self-esteem, answering any question I have posed above - even the very first one about someone you dislike - you are providing yourself valuable criteria that you can own and use to seek support you need instead of sinking deeper into the hole of questioning if there is any support out there for you at all. 

But still, choose wisely.

My personal list would be short. Not because I do not like having people in my life. On the contrary, I have many people in my life whom I value, but rather I do not need many people in my life to feel supported because just a few people can meet all of my criteria. 


Loud and Proud

Keep all of your answers in one spot so the list can act as a rubric for your support system. Here are some fun and easy ways to keep the rubric with you all the time:

  • Put it on a note card and bring it with you when you go to a party.

  • Save it in your phone to discretely review while on a date.

  • Bedazzle it on poster board and hang it up in your living room so people know what your rules are.


EVEN ONE MORE PRO TIP: Come up with a personalized title for your support system. Have fun with it.

Comfort Consortium?

Super Supporters?

Heroic Huggers?

Play with it. It is your life. 

Cure Your Insecurity, Part Four: The Question You Need To Ask

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NOW WHAT?

If you have followed along so far, we have identified what you feel insecure about and, more importantly, why you feel insecure about it. 

A lot of people think that that is good enough and that they are in the clear now and can go live their lives. 

Maybe for a select few that is the case, but it is rare. 


THE TWO TRAPS

Knowing what you are insecure about and why is crucial but it is not enough. You have a lot of new awareness but you do not know what to do with it. 

At this point, people often break up into two groups:

  1. They do not know what to do with the knowledge and so they puff their chest up and think that the knowledge is enough and brace themselves for whatever life throws at them.

  2. They think that the next step involves some huge change in order to make new confidence permanent, they hype themselves up way too high, and then whatever change they choose to make is short-lived. It burns brightly in the beginning and then peters out, New Years Resolution style.


POP QUIZ: What do you think happens to both groups?

No, really, take a guess. 

Do not say that they fail, because trying is not failing. 

The answer: both groups end up insecure again! Maybe even about something new!

Why? Because they created a new expectation for themselves about what to do with the new awareness but realized they have a skill gap around what to do next, which can make them feel incompetent.

And the cycle keeps spinning. Over and over. 


CONSEQUENCES

Group #1 has it a little worse because they are basically saying "Okay, I got this. Whatever comes my way, I can take it and push through. I will not let it affect me." 

Though honorable, this mindset relies on two huge factors: your adaptability to life things that randomly occur and a level of serious reactivity

What I mean by reactivity is the fact that you are literally opening yourself by saying "Bring it on, World" and so you will always only be reacting to everything.

Remember when we talked about the caveman a month ago? If he did not learn how to learn how to survive, he would be stuck in a cycle of endless reactivity learning how to fight a Sabertooth tiger for the first time every time he faced one. 

Insecurity cycles are the new version of that learning experience. It is about your survival. 

If you set yourself to be in reaction mode at all times, you will be in a constant state of hypervigilance and a low level stress response...which is not healthy. 


WHAT TO DO

Neither is blowing up the next step to be this huge unsustainable life change that you do not really have a chance at accomplishing. 

So what do you do?

Ask a question.

It is that simple. 

Here is what I mean: Last week I asked you to think about the connections for which you are grateful. Before that, you learned what you are insecure about and why.

Beneath insecurity is a desire for something, otherwise you would not care very much about the task or goal and then not have to worry about feeling competent about it. 

So here is what you do:

  1. Choose one of your human connections for whom you are grateful.

  2. Reword your aforementioned desire into a question (I'll give an example in a second).

  3. Ask your connection their advice about the desire. 


This is a matter of classic networking, but with the increased focus on breaking you out of insecurity.


Here is an example: You are insecure about changing jobs.

Desire: to get a new job / gain new experience

Group 1: "I will quit and see what happens. Bring it on."

Group 2: "I have to have a new job and everything all perfectly set up before I quit this job."

What you should do: Ask someone you appreciate: "Hey, I am trying to change jobs. Do you have any advice for me about a first step?"

Other versions of the question: "Have you ever changed jobs before?"  "Do you know anyone who has changed jobs in the past? I'm curious what to do first."

THE REASON WHY

Questions are the most powerful force in the universe, in my opinion.

Questions are the only way we learn anything, and learning things is how we survive. 

In the coaching industry, the sole responsibility of the coach is to ask questions in such a way that guides clients to new understanding without ever forcing a suggestion. Sometimes a coach's questions lead clients to ask new questions of themselves and opens the door to deeper self-exploration. 

When I worked with suicidal youth in the past, suicide was contemplated because they did not know how to ask a question to someone who could support them.

They gave up.

They thought that no one would be able to help them with their core desire and that they certainly could not help themselves. 

That is where I came in. I asked them questions they had never thought of and opened up thoughts they had never had, which led to opportunities they did not think were possible. 

Questions have the power to change your life.

No matter what you are insecure about, there is always another question that can be asked and another person out there who can answer it. 

Keep it simple. 

VIDEO: For What Connections Are You Thankful This Year?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Holidays are all about gratitude, but gratitude does not exist if not for the things and people with which we are connected.

For example: are you grateful for your car? It is because you have a pretty close connection to it. Are you grateful for your family? It is because you are strongly connected with them.

Need I continue?

The point is that connections make up everything in life and impact everything about what we do and who we become.

Our connections show us who we are and what we care about.

What connections are valuable to you?

What connections you notice have played a big part in your life?

Cure Your Insecurity, Part Three: The Power Of Gratitude

Next week is Thanksgiving, so it is perfect timing to discuss the power of gratitude. 

Some families love Thanksgiving because they love getting everybody together in one place. Other families have Thanksgiving out of custom even though the members do not enjoy getting together with the rest of the family.

And of course there are so many families around the world that do not get together for Thanksgiving, due either to difficult circumstances or simply because they do not prioritize time together as a family.

There is no right or wrong, and it does not matter whether people sit and eat their faces off for Thanksgiving or not. This is because holidays are not about the food or the presents or the days off from work or school. 

Holidays are for something more. They are about gratitude.

GRATITUDE VS. INSECURITY

It takes strength to express gratitude. A confidence to show vulnerability. 

Those who battle with insecurities have a very difficult time being vulnerable. They may think that they are unworthy of someone else's attention, fear their vulnerability will not be received with compassion, or that anything they would want to share does not mean anything.

This leads so many youth, unfortunately, to get in the practice at a young age of learning how NOT to stand up for themselves. 

Things get swept under the rug over and over to the point when the individuals end up saying "There is no point in me even thinking about what I want to say."

Many times, this has tragic consequences. 

The confidence required to comfortably own your vulnerability and express it without any concern for its reception takes a lot of practice. A switch does not flip overnight. 

THE UPSIDE

Luckily for you, however, gratitude is an example of vulnerability that everyone has been taught how to express in one way or another when they were really young, so it is a wonderful starting point to lean into a little vulnerability. 


START WITH YOU

You know the protocol on airplanes that you must secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others? Follow that same protocol with gratitude and vulnerability. Start with yourself. 

For what are you grateful?

Start with the easy categories like materialistic items: car, home, money, significant other, etc. The low-hanging fruit of what you have. Make a list of those things that come to mind. 

Then go deeper and think about those things ABOUT AND WITHIN YOURSELF for which you are grateful. 

What abilities are you grateful to possess? What skills are you glad you learned at some point along the way?

Toward what things in life do you feel confidence? 

Make a second list of those things.

Now you have two lists full of unique items that serve to remind you what means something to you in life and which make you feel good about yourself. 

Showing gratitude to yourself and the qualities that you possess will diminish the fire inside you that your insecurities feed. 

It will give you a moment of relief from the pressure and lack of confidence you may feel.

PRO TIP: think about the little things. Does the way you wear mismatched socks make you smile? Add it to the list. How about the specific way you pour sugar into your coffee? Put it on the list. These are unique to you, so call them out. No one is going to look at the list - yet...

PRO TIP 2: Do not force it. If you can only come up with a few items for which you are grateful, so be it. Let that be. There is no expectation for the number of items on the list. If you think you need more, that is just another insecurity and you will come up with things for which you are not actually grateful and which only serve to make the list longer. 

Cure Your Insecurity, Part Two: Understanding Expectations

Now that you identified a few possible sources of your insecurity after reading last week's post, it is time to think about toward what your insecurity is a response.

I will stop there for a second to repeat: Insecurity is a response. 

A reaction to something. An effect. 

Sure, your insecurity becomes the cause of many other effects in your life, but it is born as an effect. 

EXPECTATION

To understand insecurity in its simplest form, we work backwards. 

Insecurity is about competence. Competence is related to ability. Insecurity is then a reaction to a perception of ability. 

Specifically, perceived inability or incompetence.

Judgment of one's ability is based on criteria to complete certain tasks. Those tasks can include everything in life: work responsibilities, doctor's appointments, vacuuming the house, being on time for dinner, buying groceries, planning your budget, the list goes on forever.

The criteria of each task is proportional to the importance of its completion. For example, going to the doctor is more important for some people than for others, so the pressure to make and attend an appointment is greater for others, so their ability or inability to complete that task may cause more stress.  

Judging that a task is important to you creates demand for its completion. 

And this demand creates an EXPECTATION to complete the task.

Whether you put the expectation on yourself, a boss puts it on you, a doctor, a family member, a significant other, whoever, the expectation creates pressure to make sure something is completed. 

And that pressure puts pressure on your ability to complete the task. 

INSECURITY

Depending on who you are and how you have conditioned your self-talk, there is a predictable sequence of three ways that insecurity blossoms when an expectation is presented:

  1. Knowledge:  You do not know how to complete the task.

  2. Resourcefulness: You do not know how to learn how to complete the task or who to ask for help.

  3. Self-worth: You do not think you are able to find the solution at all and you do not think you are worth anyone's time to ask.


WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The task is not completed and your self-talk that you are incompetent is reinforced. 

RIGHT or WRONG

When I was younger, I thought there was a right or wrong way to call the dentist's office and make an appointment. My mom had made them for me earlier in life so I got it in my head that I did not know how to conduct the phone call. 

The expectation came from my mom over time to make the calls myself (like a big kid) but I was terrified - not because I was uncomfortable with talking to strangers on the phone but because I was stressed that I was going to somehow "fail" the task of making an appointment.

In this example, the task's expectation came from my mom and then I added the expectation that there was a right or wrong way to do it. 

The two expectations combined in a paralytic fear of picking up the phone and I preemptively perceived myself as incompetent.


WHAT ABOUT YOU?

We respond to and deal with expectations all day long, on every section of the pressure spectrum. The pressure of them is likely higher in some areas of your life more than others, but all of the expectations boil down to this one single question:

  • Why does it matter to you to complete that specific task?

What is your intention behind it? How does its completion serve you? In addition to considering those questions, your assignment is to stop and think about the last 24 hours. 

In the last 24 hours:

  1. What tasks did you complete?

  2. Why did you care about completing those tasks?

  3. Which ones were stressful? 

  4. Which ones were not?

  5. What expectation was placed on each task? What are the consequences of incompletion?

  6. Who placed that expectation on each task?

Write all of these answers down. At the end, you will have a lot of data - FROM JUST ONE SINGLE DAY OF YOUR LIFE - that can map out

  • what you deem important in life

  • what daily tasks cause you stress

  • what kinds of expectations make you feel insecure

Start there. You got this.

Cure Your Insecurity, Part One: Get To Know It

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How many times in your life have you known the answer but did not raise your hand or your voice to share it?

How often has someone asked for your opinion and you sheepishly say "Oh, no, it doesn't matter" or "Oh, well, I dunno, I just think...."?

The sad truth is that human development is saturated with insecurity. 

It does not matter what kind of family someone had growing up, EVERYONE IS INSECURE ABOUT SOMETHING. 

The Sparknoted reason is that your parents offer the kind of love and support that they learned how to give from their parents and their relationships, and the same for their parents and the parents before that. 

This means that there is not one right way of parenting because every single approach will lead a child to be insecure about something. There is no common denominator available to prevent it. That is the way it is.

INSECURITY

But what is insecurity?

Life is full of challenges that cause stress in people, but insecurity is tied to confidence. 

Insecurity occurs because you believe that you cannot successfully respond to that stress or challenge. 

This belief is reinforced with self-talk that prevents you from trying to face that stress or challenge again in the future.

Once it is a belief, it is even more strongly confirmed by avoidant behavior and then the all-powerful self-talk of "Oh no, I'm not the kind of person who can do ________", which protects you from the pressure of facing that stress ever.

Insecurity decreases self-confidence. Lowered self-confidence demotivates us to speak up for ourselves. 

Avoiding self-advocacy leads to self-talk that you do not need to speak up because what you say holds no value.

Self-expression gets more and more challenging the more you avoid it, so you protect yourself from the challenge by saying "Oh, I'm just a quiet person."

Great, good for you. You protected yourself from stress. 

But what will you do when something you should say could determine the fate of your career or your relationship?

What if something you know could save someone's life? Would you still stay quiet?

The problem is that people get so used to thinking that they do not have anything valuable to say that the fear of speaking out becomes paralyzing. What if someone was dying and you happened to have taken a CPR course in the past but you are stuck in the belief that you are not valuable?

Will you let the person die or will you speak out about how to save the person?

Does this sound familiar at all to your life?

THE HARD TRUTH

Here is the deal: Everyone possesses the same amount of value. 

What you know / believe / want to say does not hold any less value than the person next to you.

Whether in your journal, at a work meeting, or on a first date, your evolution depends on your ability to face your fear and share what you want to say.

YOUR FIRST STEP

It is a process, though. Let us do it together. The first question to ask yourself is:

  • What am I insecure about saying / doing?  What do I shy away from in conversations or interactive settings?


This is not referring to things like skydiving or white water rafting, activities that are not required for your survival. 

Instead, I refer to the fear of your own confidence. 

  • About what kind of self-expression are you insecure to share with the world?  

  • And why is that the case? Where did that come from?

  • Who or what "taught" you at some point that what you think does not matter?

This is the first step to understanding what is holding you back in your career, your relationship, and everything else in your life. There is no right or wrong answer, because your answer is just as valid as that of everyone else in the world. 

Learning How To Reflect Will Save Your Life, Part 5: When To Stop Journaling For Maximum Benefit

Once I teach people how to start journaling comfortably (see last week), the next limiting thought I hear a lot is:

How do I know when it is helpful?

It is a good question but it is not the point. The act of journaling is beneficial no matter what; it takes the writer's openness and attitude toward the idea of reflection that cracks open its true value. 

Just Start Writing

I used to work on a crisis inpatient unit at a psychiatric hospital and I had taught a sixty-five year old woman how to journal for the first time in her life. 

At the beginning of a shift, I found her crying in the hallway. She said she had received bad news and had a horrible afternoon and was very angry and wanted to know how to journal about it. 

I told her "The most important thing is that you want to journal about it. That you are already open to processing it. All you have to do is sit down and start writing about your anger. What you are mad at, who you are mad at, and why."

"But then what?" she said.

"Nothing beyond that. You will know when to stop. You will notice what happens once you get into writing your thoughts down."

And she did. She wrote free hand like I do about what had triggered her, why it triggered her anger, and why she felt helpless about it. She cried throughout the process but then noticed when she was losing steam and stopped writing. 


Unfortunately, for many of you overthinkers out there, journaling is that simple. You simply write until you should not anymore. 

Criteria For Stopping

"Easier said than done, Taylor. What are the criteria for that?"

Happy you asked.

Some signs for you to stop a journaling session include:

  1. feelings of physical fatigue from mentally focusing and thinking so hard

  2. trying to force the thoughts to come 

  3. you forget why you are journaling in the first place 

Number 2 refers to the point when the thoughts are not flowing naturally anymore and you are adding extra mental effort to think of the next connection or note to write. 

Regarding number 3, sure, this means you were properly immersed in the process, and it is the point of journaling to see where the mind flows, but be mindful of the overall intention. 

I once thought that I needed to journal and dive deep into it every day, which takes a lot of time and mental force since it is not natural. It was not sustainable because my intention was no longer about the immersion but about the habit of unnecessarily journaling every day of the week. 

The Power Of Immersion

Let me give you a good example of the power of journaling:

Close to four years ago now, I hurt a close friend's feelings. I did not intend to, but I own that I did anyway. I was so distraught by what I had done and how they had reacted and the whole situation of emotions and miscommunications that I had a hard time sleeping and spun my head into a migraine. 

I went to a local cafe I loved with only my journal, ordered a milkshake, and began to write. I wrote for four hours straight before I began to feel the fatigue (#1) between my head and my body that told me the immersion was ending. 

Furthermore, I noticed that the thoughts were not flowing as naturally and the connections I was making slowed down. Writing any more would have been more effortful than beneficial. 

I felt clearer. I felt so much more connected and integrated with my emotions. 

I was still sad, of course, but I had a deep understanding of why I was sad and what my triggers were in the situation. 

For the journaling process to have lasted four hours, the content flowed way beyond the incident with my friend. And that is the point of the immersion. 

You go wherever the thoughts take you. 

The journaling had also ameliorated my migraine. 

I will say that again: JOURNALING CURED A MIGRAINE.

Journaling did not fix my friendship, but it allowed me to speak with the friend with more understanding and clarity on my role in the situation. 

Even more, the journaling taught me how to be aware of situations like that in the future.

It had been made real and I had been made accountable. 

You Are More Ready Than You Think

Do not worry, I am not telling you that you must spend four hours journaling in order to get "immersed". The immersion happens almost immediately if you are open to the process. I just happened to need four hours on that particular day to work through what was in my mind.

To recap, here is what you do need:

  1. a journal that is best suited for your personality and productivity (see two posts back to determine this)

  2. a pen

  3. a simplified starting point - what you are feeling right then, a subject that is on your mind, etc.

  4. openness to the immersion

  5. awareness to stop when you hit the energetic markers I mentioned above. 

Within that, though, go for it. See where your mind takes you. It is a fascinating and wondrous journey to go on. Enjoy the ride.

Learning How To Reflect Will Save Your Life, Part 4: How To Start Journaling So That It Actually Helps

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So many people I know say that they are terrible writers. 

"I'm not a writer."

"Oh no, I can't write."

This limiting belief gets in the way of so many people learning how to access the enormous power of journaling. Much of the perceived limitation that people hide behind is due to the belief that there is a right or wrong way to journal. If people are not accustomed to the vulnerability of reflection or the practice of handwritten freewriting, then a giant mental block is formed in their brain, creating a balloon of pressure that leads to panic and........they never try to start. 

The concept of right and wrong is horrendously taboo. If you missed my post about why that is, check it out here before we continue, to give you better context.


The Problem

In this world of oversaturated markets peppering us with advertisements about what the internet thinks you need to buy, there are so many options for notebooks and planners and journals that are supposedly the miracle for your productivity and success, but how can someone know what journal is best for them if they believe that they will not be able to journal "correctly" from the get-go?

What To Do About It

The solution is to start with the end in mind. 

What makes you productive at home or at work? What practices do you have in place to be productive? What must be in place around you for you to feel productive?

For example, music needs to be playing in order to clean the house. A picture of your family must be lined up on your desk in order to start work. 

Everyone's unique productivity criterium is different and represents the way that their mind works.

In this way, the efficacy of reflective journaling depends on your awareness of what makes you productive. 

The Practice 

I started journaling in the winter of my freshman year of college. I remember it was a time where my self-awareness was blooming and I needed a way to filter the thoughts that were flooding in to my mind as college slapped me with the concept of "adult independence".

I was not so aware yet to necessarily do anything with the thoughts but I needed a place to put them. To save them.

My first journal entry ever was one simple phrase: "I am like Leonardo Da Vinci". Not because I was an artist and inventor at the time but because I recognized that I thought differently than a lot of people around me and I analyzed the world and my life in deep ways. 

This is a great example of journaling because the realization had been in my head for a while and I needed to get it out, even though there was nothing to do about it other than remain aware that that is the way that I am. 

I have a huge imagination. I spend probably 35% of every day consciously imagining life as though it were in a movie, with background music and all. Because of this, my productivity is correlated with my ability to hold on to the broader vision of something I am doing so that I can focus on the tasks that contribute to it. 

As a result, my mind does not respond well to confinement. 

This is why I am most successful at journaling freehand in a lined journal that has no prompts or schedulers or anything. Nothing that tries to constrain my mind into certain kinds of reflective structure. 

Your Turn

So again, what makes you productive?

Many people need much more mental structure than I do when reflecting, and that is okay. If you are one of those people, you would benefit from a journal that has writing prompts or specifically organized spaces for certain kinds of reflection in it so that the structure is provided for you and all you have to do is answer the questions.

Bullet Journals have become super popular because of the way they help people structure and organize their thoughts and notes with visual cues in the notebook itself.

Modern technology has advanced so far as to offer Rocketbooks, which are environmentally conscious notebooks that allow you to download pictures of your notes into a Rocketbook app and then microwave the notebook to erase the notes. 

This works well for the person who would not mind keeping the reflections somewhere but also feels compelled to burn all evidence of the reflection because of how vulnerable the process was. I know a few people like that...

How To Get Started

Clean and simple lined journals work the best for me not only because of the lack of visual constraints in the journal itself, but because it gives me total freedom to write in it however I damn want to.

I can say whatever I want in it. No one is telling me what to do.

"Okay cool, Taylor. But how do I start?"

(I get that a lot)

Start like I did with one simple phrase. It does not matter what it is. Anger is pretty accessible for people so say something you are pissed off about. For instance "I am pissed at ______________." 

It is as easy as that. 

Your next steps

Journaling has been one of the most powerful things I have ever done. It has saved my life on a couple of occasions, and continues to allow me to store information about myself beyond the confines of my head.

I want this for you as well. So start here:

  1. Determine what mental state makes you productive.

  2. Find a notebook or journal that coincides with that.

  3. Think of one simple phrase that is relevant to your life right now for your first entry. 

  4. Enjoy the boundless expanse of your thoughts.

Learning How To Reflect Will Save Your Life, Part 3: Don't Go It Alone

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Our brains evolve in order to help us survive. 

This is why our brains are really good at looking around for threats or attaching its cognitive features to negative things. 

Why do you think it is easier to complain about something than be vulnerable and share something positive?

The common education system makes us think that we must store a whole lot of information in our heads in order to survive. That learning about every culture's ancient history will equip us with necessary skills to prolong our species. 

The problem is our brains cannot hold all of the information about the world, the universe, how everything works, how to use everything, how to construct everything, etc. 

Power of Deliberation

The book The Knowledge Illusion, by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach, examines the limits of human knowledge and learning as well as why our brains have evolved the way that they have. They discuss the difference between intuition and deliberation. Intuition is used to deduce knowledge of something instinctively from within yourself based on information from your surroundings or the way that you have become accustomed to making decisions and solving problems. 

Intuition is a quick judgment. Deliberation, however, takes more time, employs more analytical thought, and often requires some form of collaboration, even if that collaboration is in the form of talking to yourself. 

Those who respond with more deliberation to problems or questions, as the authors note, tend to be more reflective, detail oriented, and cognizant of the limitations of their knowledge. They are much more aware of what they do not know than those people who rely on intuition and snap judgment for an answer. 


Collaboration and Survival

While I mentioned how reflection helped our ancestors to more efficiently defend themselves against sabertooth tigers, Sloman and Fernbach mention how reflection and deliberation about hunting Wooly Mammoths contributes to survival. From their discussion, deliberating and collaborating with others is beneficial in three important events related to hunting a Mammoth:

  1. brainstorming different ways to effectively hunt one

  2. creating a system through which the Mammoth meat is stored and shared fairly amongst the group

  3. creating respectful expectations for living as a cohesive community 

Each of these phases present a new opportunity for huge neurological growth as well as social cognition about who knows what and how the group can work together to survive as a community. 

Collaboration and YOUR Survival

If you are experiencing any kind of emotional event or, say, anxiety, in which your brain is getting concerned for your wellbeing, reflection can help you learn about the emotional event and why you react the way that you do. 

A lot of people panic, though, and stop there because the vulnerability is too unfamiliar and they do not know how to proceed on their own. Cue the Mammoth concept. 

Get help. Collaborate. This does not mean that you have to go find a therapist, but instead it can be as simple as walking around your house talking through your reflections out loud to yourself. Hearing it out loud will externalize the thoughts in a different way than writing it down or just thinking it, and it will be almost as effective as hearing someone else speak to you.

Start with that if you are nervous about reaching out to someone. 

If you are comfortable with going beyond yourself and bolstering your odds for survival, find someone to talk to.  A friend, a family member, stranger in a coffee shop, whomever.

PRO TIP, start the conversation like this:

"Hey, I have been reflecting on something I have been going through and I wonder if I could talk it out with you."

If you want their advice, replace the second part of that with "...I wonder if I could get your take on it." 

Hint: people are always stoked to share advice, so be careful who you choose to talk to you about your vulnerable emotional material or take their advice with a grain of salt.

You will find that the dynamic of verbalizing it to someone else makes you hear your thoughts differently than when kept in your head, the person may provide relief by simply validating what you are going through and reminding you you are not alone, or they may have perspective or advice that turns around how you have been thinking about yourself. 

Cheers to your evolution. 

Learning How To Reflect Will Save Your Life, Part 2: What Are You Scared Of?

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Last week we began to discuss how self-reflection is important for your survival. It is a process of self-exploration that demonstrates how you learn new things and integrate them into your life. 

Learning new things and integrating them into daily life is what humans have done...um...forever. It is a natural process. 

That is why we think school is a required rite of passage into human-hood. Because we have to learn stuff.

Studies have shown that happiness is correlated to one's sense of making progress in any way, big or small, which means that the urge to grow is imprinted in our DNA as a means of achieving fulfillment.

Learning = Growth = Evolution = Survival

Sounds simplistic, yeah? But here is the thing:

People are absolutely terrified of reflection.

It is mind-boggling. 


The Evolution Problem

When you are a teeny tiny baby, you are learning stuff for survival just as often as you are as an adult, but the mental framework is different. Not only are your mental skills more evolved, you have a couple things called independence and responsibility. Other than the fact that you do not have a whole lot of consciousness when you are a tiny child, you are not yet fully responsible for your survival. As a result, you do not recognize or see the value in the many things you are constantly learning. 

As you get older and learn that you are, in fact, a person and that you are different than other persons around you, you learn that there are some things you might have to do keep yourself alive. 

The problem is that you do not face that realization with "Boom, I got this. I have been learning how to survive my whole life already" because you were not aware of what you were learning when you still relied on a caregiver for survival. 

When faced with the existential "holy crap, I am human" moment, people freeze.

They feel like they do not know what to do. They get stressed. They get down on themselves. They get sad. 

Even people who recognize the benefit of self-reflection and who begin to self-reflect often hit a point where they get scared and stop. 

The Survival Problem

Why the heck do they stop? Because they are insecure. They acknowledge the consequences of not reflecting but they believe that they do not know HOW to effectively reflect. 

They think there is a right or wrong way to do it. 

What is worse, they think that the vulnerability of self-reflection is a sign of weakness. Society promotes this. And this is true for people who see the benefit of reflection. What about those who never even allow themselves to start reflecting because it is a waste of time? Darwin sits up in his grave...

The Solution

Before I teach you any more about HOW to reflect in a safe and effective way, the most important thing is to first identify what is getting in the way of your vulnerability. 

For those of you who have never wanted to fully attend to self-reflection:

  • what are you afraid of?

  • what is scary about that vulnerability for you?

  • what do you believe this level of vulnerability means about you?  

For those of you who have given attention to self-reflection but then stopped when it got too deep or too vulnerable:

  • what did you become afraid of?

  • what was scary about that threshold for you?

  • what were you learning about yourself that you became afraid to continue exploring?

  • did you feel alone and unguided?

For both categories: from whom were you taught that vulnerability is not a good thing?

Everybody reflects to different extents and everyone stops for different reasons. For this reason, I cannot and will not ever judge someone for becoming scared in the course of their own unique evolutionary journey. 

You must understand your fear of vulnerability before you can learn your unique power and increase your chances of survival. 

Learning How To Reflect Will Save Your Life. Here Is How

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When you read the word REFLECTION, what comes to mind?

For some, it strikes fear.

For many, it means tedious effort and a lot of attention. 

Others never think about it.

Have you noticed that I ask reflection questions at the end of nearly every post?

Similar to dreaming while we sleep, we are always reflecting. All day every day. Our brains are constantly trying to understand what we do, see, and hear in a way of assessing if it serves our survival.

Reflection as a tool

Learning the look, sound, and movement of a sabertooth tiger was imperative for our ancestors to not only defend themselves but also learn how to more efficiently hunt. Learning only occurred because the ancestors reflected on their first interaction with a sabertooth tiger and applied what they remembered toward preparing for / against future interactions. If they had not, every interaction with a sabertooth tiger would be the first time and chances of survival would be 50/50 every time. Sounds terrible...

Think about school. Teachers drop a ton of information on us. In order to fully learn the material, we had to think about what they said to us (reflecting it in our heads) and try to make sense of it. If we were able to make sense of it, then we let our memory absorb it and then we could apply it to other areas of our lives, as needed. 

Gaining that knowledge and enabling its application to life significantly increases our chances of survival. 

Every piece of new knowledge is a tool for us to use. ("Knowledge is power", anyone?)

Reflection as medicine

Reflection is not one of the most trendy buzz words these days, but it has always maintained a solid popularity due to the fact that it is most often correlated with therapy and mental health.

This is where the bias toward difficulty arrives. 

Reflecting for the sake of your mental health can be challenging because it has a very specific outcome toward which the reflection is directed. Our above examples noted survival as the outcome, which of course is important, but we are always accumulating tools and knowledge for survival. 

In mental health, the need is not always apparent or the need is extremely urgent. Someone in denial of their emotional obstacles vs. someone who wants to commit suicide, for instance. 

The outcome is the same, however, despite the urgency: healthy survival. 

The urgency from crisis or the visible disruption in your daily functioning creates panic, fear, and anxiety because one fears that they do not have the tools necessary to kill their sabertooth, so to speak, in the immediate time frame that the challenge presents. 

This is why people give up, break down, or worse. Simply due to the fact that they think they cannot effectively reflect. 

But they are wrong. 

Let me remind you: YOU ARE ALWAYS REFLECTING. Whether consciously or not, your brain is constantly looking back at the information it is constantly receiving. 

The difference now is about you taking responsibility to do something with that knowledge. 

Reflection as a team effort

But we are going to start slow. We will do this together. 

I am really good at reflecting but I learned how to a long long time ago and it certainly did not occur overnight. Proper reflection takes time and attention. If your attention is pure, it takes a lot less time. Attention comes from acceptance, however. 

You must accept the mission before you can put effort toward it. 

In the past week, I have experienced seven things of immense power and meaning to me, each of which occurred over different frames of time but which occurred one after the other and continued to relate to and reinforce the power of the others. 

I have been quite emotional this week as a result.

I have also been reflecting on them for the past few days, but I am nowhere near "finished" thinking about how they apply to my life. Every time I try to, I get emotional again (in the grateful existential way), which is my barometer for how to schedule the reflection. 

I will keep you updated. 

In the meantime, I want you to think back to last week's post about what we hold on to and take with us in life. What did you come up with in response to the questions I asked?

This week, I want to start simple:

  1. What do you think a lot about in a given week? What thoughts or desires distract your mind. 

  2. Are they good things or bad things? Or a mix?

  3. What are the things: work? money? relationship? food? housing? travel? love? alcohol? exercise?

  4. Once you have the category, what about that category do you specifically think?

Whatever that prevalent thought is for you is the starting point for determining how you reflect, how you learn, and how to reflect more effectively and healthily in the future. 

You know, for your survival...

What Are You Holding On To? Your Stuff Says A Lot About You

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I have moved quite a bit. Six times since college, to be exact. Each time, I significantly improved my ability to pack up my entire life and transport it somewhere else. 

MOVING

Moving is one of the top five most stressful activities in the human experience because of the many elements of change that must be organized, coordinated, and to which one must become adjusted. People do not handle change well, so moving is like the huge monster that no one particularly enjoys coming across.

Those who enjoy living in different places still probably do not enjoy moving, but they know how to live more simply. 

As I have moved around the country, I noticed that the amount of items that I call "my life" has decreased and the type of items I make sure to bring has changed.

When I first moved to Boston after college, I accumulated so much furniture that I did not need and I probably brought every piece of clothing I had ever owned because I had no basis other than college to judge what to take with me into the big bad world post-college. 

HOLDING

I still have way too many clothes - even though I wear all of them - but the other stuff is what is different. For instance, I gave away a ton of furniture before this last move to Utah and prioritized a few pieces and my mattress that I enjoy using every da (humorously, a mattress is not so important in your early twenties. Adulting is weird like that). 

It is the other stuff that I want to draw attention to. Not the kitchenware or the slow cooker or the surplus silverware, or even the little boxes of trinkets that mean a lot to my life journey that I make sure to keep. I mean instead the extraneous odds and ends that you do not want to throw away but for which you simultaneously do not have a proper use, and which take up space. 

Because I am an expert mover now, I have narrowed that amount of extraneous stuff down to one single shelf on an IKEA shelving unit. 

I find myself staring at it a lot, though. It sticks out to me. It is stuff that I am not interacting with. So why do I have it? 

FEELING

One box is full of blank extra notebooks. Duh. I write a lot. But now I could start my own "Journal Resale" Etsy shop. At least forty notebooks are in there. Next to it is a box of totally random objects that are unrelated to each other. They are the objects I do not want to give away for some stupid reason (luckily it is not a very big box). 

A DVD of my college soccer game footage? Sure, cool for history's sake but I am not watching it every night. 

A pack of awesome thin markers I have used with clients and for my own artistic outlet, but which I have not used in at least three years. 

Everything on this shelf is there because of potential energy. It a shelf full of things that I MIGHT use at some point, but for which I do not currently have a need. 

Whenever I get stressed and search my rolodex of coping skills, my brain immediately directs me to those two boxes and says "BURN THEM". 

I hold on to them, however, because their usefulness in the future is more significant than, say, the six trash bags worth of stuff that I reverently threw away the morning I left Boston. 

Those are the things I hold on to. I have contained it to a single shelf because of the objects' potential usefulness. This is so healthy because it is the only aspect of my life that is distractingly unnecessary at the moment, and that means that everything else I packed and moved is stuff that I use on a daily basis. 

Do not confuse my pragmatism with my belongings for materialism, though. I could of course be more minimalistic, but I think I am doing pretty well. 

CONCLUDING

In summary: meaningful trinkets from my past take up one square foot of my apartment, and objects for the future take up about three square feet. 

Now I ask you:  What do you hold on to? 

What is in your space right now that just takes up space?

How does it affect you?

Why are you still holding on to it?

Who You Idealize Says A Lot About Your Self Worth

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Have you ever worshipped the ground someone walks on?

A lot of people idolize athletes and rock stars and movie stars, but they also often idealize them without knowing it. Let us explore the difference.

Idolatry

Idolizing someone is at it sounds: making an idol of that person. The dictionary definition of Idolize is: "admire, revere, or love greatly". An idol is defined as "a representation of God". 

We idolize celebrities and athletes because what they are able to do is so incredible that it captivates us and grabs hold of our emotions. There are many who watch the olympics and feel motivated to become the best in the world at one of the sports themselves. Even for those who do not strive to achieve what they see, there is still a healthy acknowledgement of and detachment from those celebrities. A powerful admiration that fills us with inspiration and respect. 

In these ways, idolizing others is healthy.

Idealization

But then there is idealization. People often confuse the two or use them interchangeably, but unfortunately idealization is not as healthy as idolatry.

Idealize is defined as: "to regard as perfect or better than in reality". That is very different than genuine admiration or reverence. To idealize is to view a person as the perfect version of what it means to be a person. It sets a standard for what someone "is supposed to be like".

If you watch the olympics and idealize an athlete, you think that the way that that athlete seems to be must be the way that you should be in life. 

The problem is, instead of a healthy respect and admiration that leads to a proud sense of inspiration, idealizing an athlete causes the idealizer to feel inadequate, incompetent, and generally incapable of achieving what it appears is the thing the ideal human is supposed to be able to achieve. 

The idealizer gets down on themselves because they do not believe that they can attain that greatness. That thought becomes a belief, and that belief trickles into that person's self worth in their work, their relationships, and their dreams. 

The Distinction

Like in religion and professional sports, many people can idolize a single figure for a lot of the same reasons. Idealization, however, occurs very differently for everybody. 

This is due to the fact that the characteristics for which we idealize others are characteristics that we find lacking in ourselves.

And those characteristics are unique to every person.

The Consequence

What if, all of a sudden, the person or athlete or celebrity did something terrible that broke in the news (I know - these days that happens all the time)?  Even if it does not ruin their careers, it can ruin your perfect image of them as the entity that represents everything that you want to be. 

That further pummels your self-worth because the idealized person was supposed to be the thing that sustained your motivation to be greater - even if you went on feeling incompetent anyway - and now they behave in a way that shows that they are not, in fact, a perfect entity (based on your unique definition of perfection). 

It is not fair to them to be put on such a grand pedestal, but you do not care because you are distracted by how poorly you feel about yourself.

The Activity

Quite simply:

Who do you idolize in the world? Then, who do you idealize in the world or your life? 

What characteristics of them do you idealize? Do you wish you possessed those characteristics in an area of your life?

I mostly idolize actors or even the characters they play (because I am such a huge movie nerd) and feel a deep admiration for their prowess and what they represent. On the flip side I have idealized my soccer coaches growing up, some teachers, and a lot of supervisors in job settings. 

When I watched a soccer coach play in a scrimmage and heard him swear or yell at the referee, I was so disappointed. My image of their flawlessness was torn.

When I realized that a supervisor at work actually was not good at their job even though they trained me, it confused me about my time with them and my own skills in the work. 

The Outcome

Reflecting on who you idealize and what characteristics you idealize in them shows you what characteristics you long for.

When I idealized my coaches, I envied their skills and strength with the soccer ball.

When I idealized my supervisors, I wanted the confidence that they exuded all the time (even though their skills in the work were not enviable) because I was just starting the new job and did not feel confident at all myself.

Do not let this be a bummer for you because you are already bumming yourself out just by idealizing the person.

Instead, let this be a tool to identify how you would like to grow and what traits you would like to define and attain for yourself. 

Do You Want To Cure Your Insecurity? Start here

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SURVIVAL

We humans do not know how awesome we are.

We are so critical of ourselves. We are the worst. We are all our own total worst enemies. Back in the day of the original humans, "work" was pretty simple. Hunt and cook food, and maintain the integrity of the living situation, all in order to serve the outcome of surviving. A very straightforward outcome and several straightforward ways to achieve it.

These days, the outcome obviously has not changed, but the ways we achieve that outcome are so much more complicated. Think about jobs in the modern centuries. Someone gets up in the morning to answer phone calls for eight hours to survive. Someone deals with fecal fluids and trash in the sewers for ten hours a day to survive. Someone even runs into burning buildings to survive, as ironic as that sounds. 

Because of the fact that money is now the means by which we survive because it buys us food and resources that promote our health and safety, we no longer have to worry about mastering the singular trade of hunting a sabertooth tiger in order to ensure survival to the next day. 

As a result, we focus on the money. There is a similar desperation to earning money as there would be to hunt food in the past, but money is ubiquitous now. Money is rarely even tangible anymore because no one carries cash, so it is this thing that we seek that we now do not even see. And it is what motivates us.

THE PROBLEM

When we see our job as a means to that end of receiving money, we become robots that lose sight of why we chose that job in the first place. Worse yet, we lose sight of how our personal skills got us that job and why we are good at it. 

This is where the problem arises. 

Even people who love their job and possess their dream job do not often stop to think about what makes them so good at that job because they are focused on doing the job. 

This is a pandemic problem because the lack of awareness of our unique awesomeness is what leads us into insecurity and self-deprecation. When we become insecure about our skills, we start comparing ourselves to others. When we compare ourselves to others, we become even more insecure about our skills. See what is happening?

Pretty quickly you feel so badly about yourself that you begrudgingly come into work with the belief "I don't know why I even show up to this job" which turns into the self-story that "I hate this job so much" - as if it is the job's fault - but you never leave it or make a change. 

You do not make any kind of change because - SURPRISE - you are unconfident about making a change due to the fact that you are so insecure about capabilities. 

 

INSECURITY IN ACTION

The individuals I have worked with in my mental health career have been wrought with insecurity. Insecurity prolongs a lot of mental illness because of what I just mentioned - that the individuals believe that they are incapable of change and that they have to remain in their distress. 

Sound like anyone you know with their work? 

My clients come to me now because they feel that distress and want so badly to change but they do not know how. They have spent a long time feeling insecure - either in a job they do not like, in a relationship that is not healthy, or about ideas they do not think they can make real - and that has become their norm. 

But they are in pain. They have lost sight of their ambition, their skills, and their values (the triad about which I have written before) and they feel trapped in a vortex of confusion about their purpose in life. It is my job to help them remember - or learn for the first time - just how uniquely awesome and powerful they are. 

CHANGE IT FOR YOURSELF

I want this for you as well. Start here. 

Work

  1. When you were a kid, what were you good at? What did you enjoy doing?
  2. Consider the work you are in right now: why did you choose that job?
  3. Better yet, why haven't you been fired? -- what skills do you bring to the work that accomplish the daily tasks?
  4. When you leave work for the day, how do you feel? 
  5. What do you say to yourself about your work that day?

Relationships

  1. What is the motivator for you to be in the relationship:  love, security, convenience, companionship?
  2. Why hasn't your significant other dumped you? -- what do you offer in the relationship that keeps it alive?
  3. What does your significant other say about you that makes you swell with pride and warm fuzzies?

Entrepreneurship

  1. Whether you have started a business or not, how did you come up with your business idea?
  2. More importantly, why did that idea excite you in the first place?
  3. What skill(s) do you bring to that idea or business? 

Why Wanting To Be An Expert Is Hurting Your Self-Worth

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At the end of my tenure at a residential treatment program for young kids in Colorado, my boss told me that I was an expert in residential treatment because of how many years I had worked in that type of setting and the extent of training I had received throughout those years. Cool, I was an expert. But am I still an expert in it having not worked in that setting for four years?

Anyone who has first hand knowledge or experience in an area about which we would like to learn more information is often called the expert.

But is my friend who went to Iceland last year really the supreme source of knowledge for how to travel in Iceland? Nope. But I trust their recommendations. For all intents and purposes, we can call the internet an expert because of how many questions we ask it and how blindly we assume its authority. 

THE SITUATION

Expert is defined in the dictionary as "a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area". Notable characteristics of this definition include:

  1. "Person"
  2. "Comprehensive"
  3. "Authoritative"

It is important to note that "authoritative knowledge" does not mean "absolute knowledge", but rather enough knowledge to be considered a leader in that subject area. This is important to note because, by definition, an Expert is not actually as idealized as the ultimate authority figure we often presume them to be. 

THE PROBLEM

Because of the fact that we humans so often deify those we believe are experts for the sake of our own control, certainty, and survival, we place peers on a high pedestal on top of which we all would not mind spending time in our own industries. As a result, the idea of expertise becomes an idealized goal that is located so high above us.

For some, yes, this can be used as healthy motivation in their career or education, but more often than not people succumb to the pressure of becoming an expert to the point where it is instead detrimental to their career or education. 

THE REASON

The concept of expertise that most people seek is idealized because of the fact that it is not clearly defined for each person. Saying "My goal is to become an expert" is just as ambiguous as saying "My goal is to achieve success." 

Actionable definitions of expertise and success are unique to every person. Idealizing expertise glorifies it. Not only that, it transforms its pursuit from one of genuine fulfillment into something completely ego-driven for the sake of the title of Expert. 

Many clients of mine have come to me feeling stuck on the idealized form of Expertise because its idealization teased their perfectionism, and their perfectionism diminished their self-confidence and self-worth. 

Therefore, idealizing something like Expertise without defining it for yourself is ultimately harmful to your self-worth. 

THE SOLUTION

Refer back to the dictionary definition above. Take a breath and remind yourself that an expert does not and cannot know every single piece of information in their respective industry and having an authoritative knowledge is not the same thing as an absolute knowledge. Then come up with your own definition of Expertise that is unique to your industry. 

  1. What knowledge would you possess in your image of yourself as an expert?
  2. What would you be able to do / say / teach as that unique version of an expert?
  3. What would you feel? 

Remember the triad of values, skills, and goals?  If that is drawn out as an equilateral triangle, your unique definitions of Expertise and Success will reside right in the middle.

It is YOUR expertise and YOUR success. 

Artist, Leader, Or Entrepreneur? Who You Are At Work Can Dramatically Help - Or Hinder - Your Success

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What are you? 

It is a question we sometimes lump in with "Who are you?" in the deeper, semi-existential sense and, depending on who you speak to, answers are extremely variable. Luckily Tony Robbins, the master Life/Performance/Business/Development coach on the planet (he invented the field of coaching, by the way) provided some clarity last week as to how to answer that question at his five day Business Mastery seminar in Las Vegas.

He distinguished three categories of business people that he calls "Gifts of Service" in accordance with which we all somehow live our lives. 

1. ARTIST

The artist is someone who loves creating a product and takes immense pride in the process of serving a customer's needs. Artists love the product and design so much that they are scared of risk and want to protect the business and identity that they created. That way, artists are very mission-driven and focus on continually improving the product and its effect on the customer.

2. MANAGER / LEADER

The manager / leader is someone who is proficient at optimizing business systems and making sure everything runs efficiently. Very detail-oriented, this is someone who is fueled by managing and organizing the needs of both the processes within a business as well as the people in charge of those processes. A manager / leader is one who does not pay as much attention to the product design and creation but still wants to mitigate risk as much as possible to ensure the business' sustainability. 

3. ENTREPRENEUR

The entrepreneur is the risk taker. They spend the least time thinking about the product design and creation and instead spend the most time on the product's market fit and overall business value with the ultimate goal of selling it and moving on to another venture. The entrepreneur is fueled by the scary rush of building a startup, managing investments, and looking for any opportunity to innovate and grow. 

What it means

Keep in mind that it is common to simultaneously possess characteristics of more than one persona. It is rare to be one and only that one. The persona we inhabit can also change over time, especially once one learns more about themselves in college and then again and again in the real world after college while adopting new skills and experiencing many new things. 

I have always predominantly been an Artist because of how much I love creating things, designing new aspects of service, creative writing, and so on. Not to mention how everything I do is goal-oriented and funneled toward specific outcomes. 

A twist in the plot, however, is the fact that I am largely a Manager / Leader as well. I think it is a 60/40 kind of thing leaning towards Artist but still M/L is right up there. 

This presents itself in my brain by way of my right hemisphere exploding with creativity and then moving the energy to the left hemisphere of my brain as soon as the ideas are formed. Once the ideas move over there, the left side immediately sets to work organizing them for efficiency and sustainability. I can feel when this process happens. It is a cool mutualistic relationship between the hemispheres, and the transfer occurs so quickly once my right has created something new. The left side of the brain is like the idea protector and packages them up nicely into something usable. 

I was definitely an Artist first, playing so much with toys and Legos growing up, but I know that I developed Manager / Leader qualities via family dynamics and subsequently taking on leadership positions in jobs and volunteer experiences. Now the trick is to continue employing both together.

What it also means

This activity not only draws awareness to your dominant personality traits but it also delineates what kind of personality traits you might want to seek and have join you. For instance, the interplay between Artist and Manager / Leader in me is powerful new clarity, but it also shows me that I lack the Entrepreneur's risk-taking, turnover-focused traits.

Even though I am technically an Entrepreneur by general definition, I am very much more the Artist in the sense that I focus hard on protecting what I have created and avoiding financial risk. What this means for the future of my business is that I ought to look for and hire someone who is predominantly an Entrepreneur so that our traits balance and that other person can focus on aspects of business development that my Artist's mind does not feel naturally compelled to. 

This will make it easier for me to describe what kind of person I am looking for when I post a job description in the future. 

What you can do about it

  1. Which one are you?

  2. Are you mainly just one of the personas, or do you show signs of multiple?

  3. What does this mean for you in your job or at your office?

  4. Amongst your coworkers or teammates? 

  5. How do you think you can use this assessment to boost your team's performance and productivity?

Is Grad School In Your Future? Answer These Questions First

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I have not gone to graduate school.

Sure, I have taken a class here and there and workshops galore, but I do not have an advanced degree. A lot of people to whom I talk about my business and my career ask what kind of advanced degree I have. In fact, quite a few people presume that I must have one. But I do not. 

The rules have changed over the last ten years about the significance of graduate school degrees. I started hearing more buzz about it all the way back in the 2012-ish era. I grant that many careers required graduate school, rightfully so, such as those in medicine, law, and mental health care. My opinion as the individual I am with my own set of circumstances and goals is that I do not need graduate school. That is my situation, though. I work with a lot of people who are changing careers or entering careers and graduate school is often on the menu as a side option in conjunction with or even in place of the main job.

I also know a lot of people who have unfortunately attended graduate school because they did not get a certain job they wanted or with the sole purpose of avoiding the workforce altogether.

That is so much money and time put to something that may or may not have any return on the investment or career relevance.

My standpoint is not an emotional one. I will not emphatically proclaim that graduate school is pointless and nobody needs it. Instead, my standpoint has always been practical. As a case of need. As a logical means to an end. I have not needed graduate school thus far as a factor of what my career interests dictated. I have applied a couple of times to two different kinds of programs and thought about applying a couple of other times, but no matter what it was not about to make or break my career direction.

Several years ago, I was talking with my parents about the job I had at the time and one of them made a comment about "not waiting too long because you'll have to apply to grad school sometime soon". I had expressed interest in graduate school before, but I was alarmed by the urgency. Like it had to happen. That was before I started my business.

I am currently in Las Vegas for a Business Mastery program in which I will spend twelve hours a day for five days immersed in trainings for the sake of my personal evolution and entrepreneurship. Call it a doctorate in business administration.

A business coach friend of mine casually trained me in his company's model of supporting clients' career exploration one afternoon. Call it a masters degree in career coaching. 

He said it best when he stated "BOOM, you are certified."

Professional experience and specific trainings have been my graduate school thus far but, again, I am not opposed to the idea. There is a full masters program in which I am interested that would bolster my current skillset, but I do not feel the urgency of need quite yet.

Let us think practically. In addition to his own experience and personal opinions about graduate degrees, the author of a 2016 article bluntly titled "Millennials, Don't Waste Your Money On Graduate School" poses four questions to anyone considering graduate school in their professional timeline:

  1. Why do you want to go to grad school? --- plain and simple. Necessary for a job? Because you are bored? Because you are hungry to learn? Because you want to avoid a job?
  2. Will grad school actually help you achieve that goal? ---  the goal is not enough. How perfect is the program for that goal? What criteria need to be met for your goal to be fully satisfied?
  3. Are there alternative ways to achieve that goal? --- certifications? Seminars? E-books? Online courses?
  4. Can you afford it? --- seems obvious, but a lot of people do not stop and answer this by writing down their finances and budget and forecast them over the next two, three, or six years. What would you need to do to pay for it?

Many people only need to focus on one of those questions to determine whether graduate school is a proper and practical choice. Often it is the financial question, but I encourage people to always start with the Why (shocking, since that is what my whole blog is about). I know my Why is to augment my skillsets and add value to my clients, so my practical evaluation is about when and how to pay for it.

Either you or someone you know is considering graduate school. Encourage them to answer these questions for themselves. Make a game out of it and quiz each other. Just make sure it satisfies your true genuine outcome.

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part Two: PREPARATION

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Last week we spoke about the purpose behind starting a business, a certain job, or even a hobby. This week is about Preparation. The article to which I referred last week spoke to the fact that a lot of entrepreneurs who are lured in by the title of entrepreneur start their businesses without really comprehending what goes into running the business day to day and, as a result, the majority of small businesses fail. Their founders are blinded by the shiny diamond of business ownership and do not stop to wonder what kind of pressure that diamond has to endure to become shiny in real life.

This is why, as the article states, passion and a big idea is not everything. A lot of background knowledge and preparation are needed as well. 

Preparation comes in a lot of forms, though. I will not say that there is one absolute requirement, but there must be something. The article mentions how the allure of the Entrepreneur title also comes with the mindset of diving in, taking risks, and failing in order to succeed. Even though all three of those things occur in the life span of a business, starting off like that with no training wheels is a bigger risk than should be taken. And a rather arrogant one.

Think of it like going into a job interview without doing any research about the company or the position. The candidate is either arrogant or oblivious, neither of which bodes well for sustainable success. 

Preparation for starting a biz can be many things:

  • graduate school
  • undergraduate classes
  • a relevant workshop
  • relevant work experience
  • interviewing business owners you know
  • reading Entrepreneurship For Dummies
  • listening to a podcast
  • keeping your day job
  • waiting a few years
  • praying to God
  • moving back in with your parents
  • all of the above

The cool thing about this modern age is that graduate school is not required for so many jobs. The positive of this is that more opportunities are available and people can take more risks on their own, but the negative is that people think that they are qualified for the pursuit. Even worse, they think they are qualified and dive in to something like entrepreneurship equipped with nothing more than their self-righteous determination. 

I thankfully had numerous levels of preparation when I started my company:

  1. I kept my day job
  2. I had four years of relevant work experience
  3. I knew multiple people who had started businesses and had interviewed them
  4. I had wanted my own business for so many years that the idea could marinate 
  5. I had a support system for the business inception
  6. I had an exceptional level of common sense and adaptability

I did not need to go to graduate school, I did not need to move back home, and I did not read a single book on entrepreneurship or business.

That six part prep I had gave me enough of a foundation to comfortably start a business, but by far the most important tool in my toolbelt was years of relevant work experience. 

I knew it was time to start my business when I realized how my skills could be offered in a valuable way on their own. I was able to assign a monetary value to them at the outset and I was working with clients before I even had a website, company name, or email address. Having not gone to graduate school for a MBA or having not started the business with anyone but me, myself, and I, I have had to adapt A LOT over time and change so many things: my business model, my services, my prices, etc.

But I was able to adapt with confidence because I had a strong foundation of my own unique preparation.

As my business continues to evolve, so does the kind of preparation that I need. 

Now let us extrapolate for those of you who are starting a new job or new hobby:

  • What kind of background knowledge or preparation do you need for that new job?
    • What kind of research should you do for it?
    • What questions do you need to ask?
    • Who do you need to ask?
    • What are you personally interested in knowing?
  • For a hobby, what kind of supplies are needed?
    • What background knowledge do you need to know about the activity?
    • Who could you ask about it?
    • What does the activity entail?

Even though diving into something is thrilling and makes for a great, risk-taking story, it is still a risk. In a later post we will talk more explicitly about the challenges of entrepreneurship, but for now continue to consider these two questions:

What kind of preparation do you have for your current ambition?

What kind of preparation do you still need?

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part One: PURPOSE

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I read an article yesterday on Business Insider about the traps that people fall into when they choose to start a business, aptly named "Entrepreneur Porn". It comes down to the question of Why they are starting the business. I will discuss a few aspects here, but the full article can be found at: https://www.businessinsider.com/starting-business-entrepreneurship-hard-7

Side note: I love how the shortened link title above says STARTING-BUSINESS-ENTREPRENEURSHIP-HARD. No beating around the bush. ENTREPRENEURSHIP HARD. That is the gist before you even click the link and read the article.

As I said above and so many times before, it is all about the why. The article talks about several aspects of specifically entrepreneurship, but I would like to expand that a little bit for my readers. I do not only work with entrepreneurs and so I want to connect the points to 9-5 jobs or even hobbies and leisure activities in which people participate. The two main points that I am going to cover in two separate posts are:

PURPOSE and PREPARATION

Purpose

The article discusses the sexy allure of calling oneself an entrepreneur or adopting the liberating mindsets of "not having a boss anymore" or "freedom to make the schedule I want". Those are all attractive, for sure, but then what? Once you LLC your company and technically are granted those freedoms, what are you going to do with the business? What next?

This is where the WHY comes in. This is all about what truly drives you. Whether you are starting a business, you work 9-5, or you started a new hobby (or habit re: last week's post), why you are pursuing that thing is the most important predictor of your future and satisfaction. Hoping to call yourself an entrepreneur or hoping to have a steady job are good goals, but they can be achieved in little time. Once achieved, you are left then with a lot of subsequent responsibilities you had not considered because your only goal was achieved at the start. After starting a business, there is a lot that goes into maintaining a business. Once you get a job, you have to show up every day and perform. 

If you only thought about obtaining one or the other, you will be in for a shock about what comes next.

It is like the phenomenon of weight loss. If you set a goal to lose fifty pounds and you do it, what then? People often cop out and say "I'll just maintain it" when really they did not set a new next goal to proactively start pursuing such that a new success is defined. 

The "allure of entrepreneurship" is something I have thought a lot about. I wanted my own company all the way back in high school, but why did I want it?  Why do I want it now?  Upon reflection, I have realized that, even though I agree with the article about how sexy the Entrepreneur title can be, that was never why I went into entrepreneurship. The title feels good, yes, for sure, but I learned that it is secondary to what really fuels me: creative independence. 

There are a lot of things about business management that I am so aware that I am not interested in and the delegation of which I am slowly learning how to orchestrate. I am proud of the fact that I own something unique and authentic, but being the "owner" is not my reason to do it. It is not my why. When my business grows and there is more of a team involved, I am interested in being its leader but not its owner, i.e. not an authoritarian dictator at the top of some hierarchy that I imposed because I own the company. That does not excite me. That is only ego. Being part of a team that is serving a brand does excite me. 

My why for entrepreneurship is the independence of it.

Homework: 

  1. If you started a business or want to, why do you want to be an entrepreneur?
  2. If you are currently working a "9-5" job, what does that job do for you?
  3. If you are currently searching for a job, why do you care about having a job? What is the specific motivator?
  4. If you have just begun a new hobby or are continuing an old one, how does that hobby serve you?

The reasons are different for everyone, and your unique reasons dictate your satisfaction with that pursuit. Take a minute to answer a question for yourself.

Your future depends on it.