In the last chapter of this epic saga on what brought me to develop Steve’s Quest, I talked about what led me to shift my focus away from impressing other people with my way of life, and toward doing something I actually liked to do.
Conveniently, my decision to do something more fulfilling came at a time when the pace of my law job had slowed. Before, during lulls like that, I hadn’t known what to do with myself, and I’d usually ended up, like any self-respecting office worker, browsing videos about dancing kittens and people falling off jetskis or roofs.
The Power of Positive PowerPointing
Now, at least, I could make better use of my time by looking at career alternatives. Seeing as how I was in Silicon Valley, the first idea that naturally came to mind was to start a company that offered some kind of best-in-class, results-driven, turn-key, workflow-automation solution, and sell it for big bucks.
So, I spent the next few weeks putting together PowerPoint presentations describing what, at least at the time, I saw as killer startup ideas.
The funniest part of these slide decks was definitely the clip art. In one slide, I wrote that starting my proposed company would be a “professional resurrection” for me. Next to that statement, I put the cover of Judas Priest singer Rob Halford’s solo album Resurrection (pictured above). Totally rockin’ album, by the way.
PowerPointing Proves Pointless
Anyway, in the midst of this frenzy of PowerPointing, the idea occurred to me: if I did build a tech company and sell it for millions, what would I do with the money?
The answer, I realized, was that I’d somehow use it to help people forge their own dream careers. No one, I thought, should have to suffer through days of online kitten-watching, or anything else they’d rather not be doing at work.
Inevitably, then, the question came up: why spend years producing turn-key workflow solutions in order to make millions I can then spend on helping people find something they love to do, when I can find more direct ways to help people do that now?
Thus began the next chapter of my lifestyle explorations, which I will call the “life or career coaching, or consulting, or workshop leading” era to express my uncertainty about what I was really up to.
This ties into the more intimate and risqué aspects of my lifestyle redesign. But more on those later!
“The strife is o’er,” as the hymn goes — I’m all done recording the Work Consciously Audio Course. I’m writing up the “liner notes” right now — that’s what I like to call them, anyway, because it has me feel like I’m releasing a rock and roll album.
In the meantime, I’d like to share with you the introduction to the audio course, and hear any feedback you might have on it. If you’ve read Inner Productivity, you’ll be familiar with some of the ideas I present here, but there’s plenty of new content that I’ve developed over the year I’ve spent speaking and leading workshops on the book.
The course will feature both exercises you can do “in real time,” as you’re sitting at your desk, to restore your focus and motivation in what you’re doing, and guided meditations I’ll lead you through for developing awareness around what’s holding you back in your projects.
Whether or not you pick up a copy of the audio course when it comes out, I think you’ll get some useful insights out of just listening to this portion of the program.
I’ve linked to the mp3 file of the introduction in this post, and I’ve copied the text below in case reading works better for you. It’s long, so you have my blessing if you want to read the first couple of paragraphs, or listen to the first few minutes, and leave a comment.
Hello, and welcome to the Work Consciously Audio Course. I’m looking forward to working with you. I think you’ll find that this course takes getting work done and enjoying what you do to a deeper level than what you’ve probably experienced before.
When most of us think about productivity, a pretty predictable group of images comes to mind. We tend to think of all the usual organization and time management tools people recommend — creative ways to organize your e-mail inbox, color-code your folders, find the right iPhone apps, and so on.
What you’re going to hear about in this course will be very different from all that. Don’t get me wrong — there are many great productivity techniques out there. But one thing I’ve noticed about these tips and tricks is that they tend to be almost exclusively focused on our outer circumstances — the ways we have our to-do list or our desktop organized, and so on.
What the usual techniques don’t tend to focus on, though, is what I think is the biggest obstacle we usually face in getting our work done — and that, we might say, is ourselves. It’s our own minds and bodies.
Why There’s No “App For That”
Here, I’m talking about those moments when we find our attention getting scattered all over the place — maybe replaying some piece of music in our heads, or replaying memories of that bad relationship from twenty years ago, or something else.
I mean those times when we find ourselves feeling sluggish or unmotivated, like we have to drag ourselves through the mud to accomplish the task we’re trying to do, and it’s all we can do to keep our heads off the desk.
Maybe we feel paralyzed with anxiety, worrying “what’s the boss going to think of this presentation I’m doing,” and second-guessing every word we write.
As I’ll bet you know firsthand, if you’re having one of these experiences, having a really well-organized e-mail inbox probably isn’t going to cut it. That is, it isn’t going to be enough to keep you on track in what you’re doing, no matter how great the tips for time management and organization you’re following may be.
If you’re paralyzed with fear about what the boss is going to think of this presentation you’re doing, that paralysis isn’t going to go away because you’ve achieved a zero e-mail inbox, or because you’ve made a multicolored to-do list.
Getting Off The “Time Management (Product) Treadmill”
Unfortunately, because — like I said — productivity literature tends to be focused solely on our external circumstances — on how our workspace is arranged — people tend to assume the only way to get more done is to find the right method of organizing their work environment.
So, people often get locked in a cycle of buying a book or taking a seminar, finding what they learned isn’t working for them, going out and buying another one, and repeating this process until they get tired of the whole productivity thing and give up.
Also, to be totally upfront, I think one of the reasons the usual organization strategies are so popular, even though so many people have trouble actually putting them into practice, is that people feel kind of virtuous and responsible when they learn new material on getting organized, or overcoming procrastination, or something along those lines.
They get a temporary high when they buy that new planner, or e-mail application — that frustration they’re feeling, and all the self-flagellation they’ve been doing because they feel like they’re not doing enough, temporarily fall away. But very soon, those feelings come back, and the procrastination and inefficiency come back too.
If you can relate, one of my goals in this program is to break you out of that cycle of frustration. I want you to be able to actually benefit from these organization strategies you’ve been learning, rather than just trying them for a day or for an hour and giving up, which unfortunately is what I think many people do.
So how do we start dealing with the ways our own minds and bodies tend to disrupt our focus as we’re trying to get something done? I’ll begin to illustrate this by telling you a little story about my friend and the frustrations he’s been experiencing around e-mail.
The Core Experience: An Illustration
My friend is really into these tips and tricks for organization and time management — he’s probably what a lot of these productivity websites would call a “productivity ninja.” His most recent goal has been to curb his habit of compulsively checking his e-mail. I imagine you’ve struggled with this at times yourself — or maybe you just, you know, know someone who has.
What my friend has committed to himself to do is to check his e-mail only twice a day while he’s at work — at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. In theory, this sounds like it would help my friend save a lot of time. But in practice, he’s never actually been able to keep this commitment to himself.
This is what happens for him. He gets into work at about 8 or 8:30 in the morning, and he’s able to get about half an hour of fully focused work in, even if he’s got a nagging curiosity in the back of his mind about whether there’s anything interesting or important in his e-mail inbox.
But when that half-hour mark rolls around, my friend’s curiosity actually starts to intensify into physical discomfort. He starts to feel a tension in his shoulders and a tightness in his chest.
If he leaves that curiosity for long enough without doing anything about it, it almost starts to feel like a shortness of breath, and he starts wondering “oh my goodness, am I going to die if I don’t check my e-mail?” So, it seems like a pretty serious situation to him in the moment.
So, of course, to relieve this tension that’s coming up for him, my friend goes off and checks his e-mail. When he does this, he takes his mind off the tension he’s feeling, and so he gets a break from it.
Unfortunately, while he’s checking his e-mail, he’s also taking his attention off the work he’s trying to do. And because this keeps happening throughout the day, he keeps arriving at the end of the work day having accomplished less than he wanted.
The Core Experience: What It Means
The moral of the story here, of course, is not that my friend doesn’t know enough organization and time management techniques. He knows plenty of those. He’s got a super-organized e-mail inbox with about 100 different sub-directories. But no matter how he tweaks his e-mail organization, that burning curiosity still seems to come up.
The point of the story is that, when my friend tries to sit and concentrate on his work, these sensations come up in his body that he finds uncomfortable or even disturbing. And to relieve those sensations — to take the edge off, as people often say — he checks his e-mail.
In other words, my friend is caught up in what I call the Procrastination Cycle. He sits down to work and is able to chug along in what he’s doing for a short period of time. And then, that pesky sensation, which I call the Core Experience, comes up for him.
I call it the Core Experience because, no matter what type of project you’re having difficulty moving forward in — whether it’s starting your dream business or cleaning out the garage — you’re going to find this particular nagging experience lurking in the background.
In order to get away from the Core Experience, my friend uses what I call an Escape Route — that is, he checks his e-mail to distract himself from what’s going on inside.
Then, after a little while, he returns to work, but within a short time the Core Experience arises again, and he repeats the cycle over and over again throughout the working day.
Everyone’s Experience Is Unique
I imagine you can relate to this story — that you can relate to trying to get your work done, but being confronted with thoughts, emotions and sensations — or, what I call inner experiences — that you’d rather not be having.
Now, of course, not everyone has a problem with a burning curiosity about their e-mail. Everyone’s mind and body is different, so everyone has their own variety of inner experience that tends to come up and make their life difficult when they’re trying to get something done.
For example, maybe, for you, it’s a painful memory that keeps nagging at you while you’re trying to accomplish something. For instance, maybe you keep replaying an old argument you had with someone in your mind as you’re sitting trying to code your computer program. And, to make matters worse, this only seems to arise when you’re trying to do a project that’s particularly important to you.
For other people it’s just an unpleasant physical sensation that arises when they’re trying to get something done. Maybe they feel this jumpy, anxious energy in their body. Maybe they find their shoulders tensing up. Maybe it’s a sinking feeling in their stomach.
Whatever it is, it seems to come up most often, or perhaps most loudly, when you’re trying to get something done.
An Awareness-Building Exercise
What kind of experience tends to come up for you? Maybe the thought or sensation that you keep experiencing is easy to bring to mind. But for some people it isn’t immediately clear — when I ask what inner experience is giving them trouble, they’ll say “I don’t know — I just keep finding myself putting things off.”
If you find yourself unsure about what the particular feeling or thought is for you, I think you can start to get an idea of what kind of experience it is by doing a brief exercise.
Right now, think about some project you’ve been wanting to work on recently, but you’ve been putting off. As you recall this project and the frustrations you’ve been having around it, notice what you’re feeling in your body.
Notice the places where it’s tensing up — where it feels uncomfortably hot or cold — where you feel a heaviness or nausea — or whatever it is you’re feeling. Do you get how unpleasant that experience is for you?
Now, what I’d like you to do is consider the possibility that, when you sit down to work on the project you’re thinking about, this is the experience you’re having — these are the sensations that are coming up in your body. Whenever you put off working on this project, it’s because you don’t want to be feeling these sensations.
And I think you can see, as you experience the sensations right now, firsthand, why you might be doing that. Of course you’ve been fleeing from them, given how unpleasant they are.
The Core Experience: Fighting and Fleeing
So, I think we all have some troublesome inner experience that comes up as we’re trying to complete our projects. But importantly, I want to suggest to you that this experience alone isn’t enough to create procrastination.
The mere fact that we’re feeling some kind of discomfort doesn’t force us to put off our work. Instead, procrastination happens when we do what I call fighting or fleeing from the experience — basically, when we choose to try to avoid having it.
What do I mean by fighting or fleeing? I’ll start with fighting. By fighting the experience, I mean trying to punish or shame yourself into working when that experience is coming up.
For instance, suppose that, like my friend, you tend to experience a burning curiosity about what’s in your e-mail inbox when you’re trying to work on a project.
If you try to shame yourself into working despite that experience, maybe you’ll tell yourself something like “oh, I can’t believe you’re so lazy and distractible — I can’t believe you’re thinking about your e-mail again — what’s wrong with you,” and so on.
Or maybe you’ll threaten yourself with punishment, as I know some people do. Maybe you’ll say to yourself “you know, if you check e-mail again, you don’t get to play any XBox 360 tonight — no video games for you tonight if you check it again.”
Some productivity writers actually recommend doing this — making threats, or using what’s sometimes called “negative reinforcement,” to force yourself to work — but I don’t.
Why not? As I’ll bet you’ve experienced, when you try to beat yourself into submission and make yourself work, that only creates more resistance inside — it only tends to intensify, in other words, that unpleasant experience you’re having.
In fact, I know that, for myself and others I’ve talked to, doing this can actually be physically tiring — by beating ourselves up, we can drain ourselves of the energy we could have been using to accomplish something. This is a good example of what I think Carl Jung meant when he said “what we resist persists.”
What Fleeing Means
The other thing we tend to do, as I said, is that we flee from this painful experience. Whenever that unpleasant memory, or that worry about the future, or that pain in our lower back, or whatever it is, comes up, we do something to distract ourselves from it. Maybe we’ll play Minesweeper, or call a friend on the phone, or surf the Internet, or something else.
When we take our minds off the sensations we’re feeling, the benefit is that we don’t have to experience those sensations. Unfortunately, there’s an obvious cost as well, which is that we don’t accomplish anything when we’re in this self-distraction mode. While we’re messing around on Facebook, playing video games, or whatever, we aren’t getting anything done.
Now, one recommendation you’ll often hear from people who write about productivity is that you should just take away all the “toys” you could possibly “play with” when you sit down to do a task for a long stretch.
In other words, take away all the tools you might use to distract yourself — leave your cell phone in your car, disconnect your internet, and so on. When you’ve got nothing to divert your attention with, you’ll be forced to work on your project.
Unfortunately, if you’ve ever tried this strategy, I’ll bet you’ve seen the flaw in it. No matter how many “outer distractions” you switch off, you’ll always be stuck with what we might call your “inner distractions.”
You can always use your own mind and body to escape from that pesky inner experience, even if there’s nothing else at hand. Maybe you can start thinking about a pop song you like, or drumming your fingers on the table, or getting up and pacing around. The last problem I guess you could solve by tying your legs to your chair, but how far do we really want to take this?
All Right, Then What?
So, merely rearranging your workspace isn’t going to be enough to break you out of the habit of fleeing — of distracting yourself from — these unpleasant thoughts and sensations that you’ve been going through.
Now, imagine if, instead of fighting or fleeing from the experience, you could just calmly accept that the experience is coming up, and choose to move forward in your work. Suppose that you could stay relaxed, keep breathing, maybe notice for a moment “oh, there’s that experience again,” and stay focused on what you’re doing.
Imagine the sense of freedom and ease that this could give you in your work, and how much more this would allow you to accomplish. Learning how to do that is the heart of what this course is about.
Awareness of the Core Experience
I see dealing with this inner experience as basically a two-step process, and I call these two steps Awareness and Allowing.
I’ll start explaining this by talking about what Awareness means. By Awareness, I mean that we become aware of the Core Experience that we’ve been running away from, and the Escape Route we’ve been using to run away from it — that is, calling friends on the phone, messing around on social media, playing Solitaire, and so on.
Remember I talked about my friend, who came to me and complained that he couldn’t concentrate on his work, because this burning curiosity about his e-mail would keep coming up that was almost painful.
In a sense, my friend’s situation is unique — perhaps you could even say he’s lucky — because my sense is that most people don’t have that level of awareness of what the Core Experience and Escape Route are for them.
Let me put it this way — have you ever gotten to the end of the workday, and wondered to yourself “where did the whole day go? Why didn’t I get anything done? What could I have been doing with all that time?” And you feel frustrated and confused. I think most of us have had that experience from time to time.
My sense is that, when we have a day like this, this Procrastination Cycle I’m talking about is happening outside our awareness. It’s happening unconsciously.
Throughout the entire day, this is what’s happening: we work for a few minutes, then that Core Experience — that jitteriness or resentment or whatever it is — comes up, and then we turn our attention away from our work — we follow our Escape Route. The cycle repeats again and again, and we’re not even aware that it’s happening.
How could this be? What I’m going to suggest is that you’re doing unconscious behaviors like this all the time. For instance, have you ever gotten into the car, and just watched your hand shoot out and turn that car radio on, as if you didn’t even have to participate in the process?
Breathing, of course, is another good example — most of the time it’s happening even though we’re not doing it consciously. This Procrastination Cycle, if we’re not aware of it, becomes just another one of these unconscious behaviors going on in the background for us.
Awareness by Itself Can Be Curative
The good news is that, when we become aware that this Procrastination Cycle is happening, we start to gain some control over the way we move through our workday.
Sometimes, just being conscious of the Core Experience we’re avoiding, and the Escape Route we’re using to get away from it, can free us from this Procrastination Cycle, without us having to develop a lot of self-discipline and constantly monitor ourselves to see whether we’re back in our usual habits.
Fritz Perls, the inventor of Gestalt psychotherapy, said that “awareness by itself can be curative.” In other words, awareness by itself can create transformation. I think this is true, and I’ve certainly seen evidence of it in my own life.
For example, I used to be in the habit of clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth. I wasn’t consciously aware that I was doing it — the only thing I knew was that my jaw would be strangely sore a lot of the time. Eventually, someone close to me pointed out that my jaw seemed really tense, and I had an amazing experience — my jaw just spontaneously relaxed.
In other words, I didn’t have to do any work to accomplish this — I didn’t have to get a jaw massage, or acupuncture on my jaw, or something like that — thankfully, no needles needed to be involved. All I had to do was become aware of the tension, and it naturally fell away.
I’ll bet you’ve had an experience like this — you were doing some habit, like tapping your fingers on the table, or tensing up your shoulders, or something like that, and when someone pointed out to you that you were doing it, you effortlessly let go of the habit.
That’s what I want for you when we do the awareness-building exercises I’m going to talk about in this program — to spontaneously let go of ways you may have been hindering your progress in what you do.
Allowing the Core Experience
Unfortunately, just becoming aware of this procrastination cycle I’m talking about isn’t enough to help some people break out of it. Some people are acutely aware of the Core Experience — of that troublesome thought, feeling or sensation — that keeps coming up when they try to focus on their project. But that doesn’t stop them from habitually running away from this experience.
I think one reason is that, for many people, this Core Experience is actually kind of disturbing and scary. When that anxiety, or anger, or distraction, or whatever that sensation is comes up, it can seem like a really serious or dangerous situation.
Some people get the sense that, if they just let that feeling be there without trying to do anything about it, it might stay there forever, or they might somehow be hurt or destroyed.
It’s almost as if your body is a steel pipe, and there’s pressure building up inside when this Core Experience is arising, and if you don’t open the valve and let some of that pressure off, maybe you’ll explode or implode or disintegrate or be destroyed in some other horrible way.
What Allowing Means
This is where what I call Allowing comes into play. Allowing a sensation means to keep breathing, relax your body, and let that sensation pass away on its own — to just let that feeling flow through you and dissipate, without resisting it.
For example, suppose you’re sitting there chugging along in a project at your computer, and suddenly, like my friend I described earlier, you start to have this burning curiosity about what’s in your e-mail inbox.
Before, you may have been in the habit of beating yourself up for feeling that curiosity, like “oh, I can’t believe you’re so lazy and distractable,” and so on; or, perhaps, you may have been in the habit of giving into the urge by checking e-mail.
But this time, I invite you to try something different. Instead of fighting or fleeing from that sensation, just sit there, and breathe, and relax your body, and allow that burning curiosity to pass away on its own. Just let that tension or discomfort, wherever it may be coming up in your body, just drain out of you by itself.
The Core Experience Is Fleeting
What I think you’ll discover, when you practice Allowing in the way I’ve described, is that this Core Experience — this sensation you haven’t wanted to be with — is actually fleeting. That is, it’s temporary, and it passes away quickly when you don’t resist it. In that sense, it’s like any other thought or emotion we experience as human beings.
Take anger and sadness, for example. If you feel angry or sad, as I’m sure you have at some point in your life, usually those emotions don’t stick around forever. Normally, they pass away, and they’re replaced by some other thought or feeling. That’s just the human experience.
What you’ll find when you take on this practice of letting the difficult experience pass away is that, in fact, the Core Experience is exactly the same as other thoughts and emotions in this sense.
Just letting it be there, without trying to force it away, isn’t going to make you spontaneously combust or disappear or be harmed in some other way. Instead, it will simply fade away on its own.
Once you experience, firsthand, the fact that this Core Experience is fleeting and temporary, I think you’ll start to observe something remarkable, which is that you’ll actually begin to get more comfortable and more familiar with that Core Experience. It will start to seem more manageable, and less disturbing and scary.
Moving Through The Core Experience
And ultimately, when you get comfortable enough with this Core Experience, this experience that used to be difficult for you to tolerate, you become able to keep moving forward in your work, even when that Core Experience is coming up. In other words, you become able to make progress in the project you’re working on, even when that sensation is arising.
It’s as if, when that anxiety, sadness, tightness, or whatever it is comes up, you become able to say “yes, I’m feeling this sensation — and, I’m going to keep drafting this presentation, or coding this computer program, or sculpting this sculpture,” or whatever activity you happen to be doing. And when you develop that ability, that’s when you really start to get the sense of ease and flow you want in your work.
This attitude of Allowing is similar to the practice of yoga. If you’ve done yoga, you’ve probably had the experience of getting into a pose that involved a really deep stretch — and choosing to hold that pose, despite the intensity you were experiencing, and just allowing the sensations you were feeling to be there, without trying to do anything about them.
You may have had the urge to get up and run out of the yoga studio, or take a break and fold your socks, but you consciously chose to stay with that feeling.
I imagine you noticed that, as you stayed in that challenging pose, the intensity you were feeling in your body started to seem more comfortable. You started to understand that you could be with that feeling, and that it wasn’t going to envelop you or destroy you if you just allowed it to be.
In the same way, when we allow the difficult sensations that come up as we’re working to just be, rather than distracting ourselves from them, we start to see that we can actually handle that intensity, and that nothing awful is going to happen to us if we continue working when that intensity is coming up.
How To Use This Course
So, like I said, the method of finding focus and motivation in your work I’m talking about in this program has two basic steps: first, becoming Aware of the Core Experience you’re avoiding, and the Escape Route, the way you’re habitually escaping from that Core Experience; and second, learning to just Allow that Core Experience to pass away on its own, without resisting.
The exercises we’re going to talk about in this program are all about bringing this two-step process of Awareness and Allowing into your everyday working routine.
One last note: as you’ll notice when you listen to this course, the course consists mostly of exercises. It’s important to actually do those exercises if you want to get the benefits out of this program — this isn’t about just passively soaking up information. The good news is that, for all of the exercises, you don’t need any special props — you just need your own mind and body.
With all that said, let’s dive right into the perspectives and exercises I’m going to talk about in this program.
I’ve been doing a lot of speaking recently to groups of job-seeking professionals (one reason I’ve been MIA on the internet for two weeks), and predictably I tend to get questions about dealing with job interview anxiety.
But if I get the chance to explore the issue more deeply with people, I often find that they’re not really interested in reducing their anxiety. Instead, they want to convince the interviewer they aren’t anxious.
I usually discover this when someone asks a question about interview anxiety, and I respond with some ideas from meditation and yoga, like bringing your attention into the body, noticing where you’re restricting your breathing, and so on. They then give me a puzzled look, and say “but don’t you have any practical advice?”
When I ask what they mean by practical advice, they’ll reply “you know, things like how I should spin bad stuff on my resume, how long I should spend answering a question,” and so on. In other words, what they really want to know is how to look like a confident, competent person. Their own feelings aren’t important — only the interviewer’s view of them matters.
Image Obsession Creates Anxiety
I think this attitude is in keeping with the conventional wisdom in our culture. For any situation in life involving “selling yourself” — marketing, interviewing for jobs, dating, or something else — most advice out there is about “making” people have the “right” thoughts and feelings about you.
The trouble is, in my experience, this attitude is actually a big source of anxiety. The more deeply we’re concerned about our image, the more scary and exhausting relating with people becomes.
For example, suppose you went into a job interview having memorized ten questions you’re “supposed” to ask, five “confident body language” tips, seven “interview mistakes” to avoid, and so on. Wouldn’t trying to remember and follow all these rules create stress for you?
But that’s not all — suppose you also went into the interview believing that “how I feel doesn’t matter — only this interviewer’s feelings about me are important.” In other words, your sense of self-worth is riding on the interviewer’s opinion of you. Don’t you think that might cause some freak-out as well?
What Do You Want?
So, if memorizing a lot of interviewing tips and obsessing over your image isn’t the key to overcoming interview anxiety, what is? I think all the techniques I usually talk about regarding breathing, focusing your attention, and so on are wonderful, but here’s an even more basic starting point: try focusing on what you feel and want.
That is, instead of going into the interview worrying about what the interviewer will think, see if you can get curious about questions like: is this job in keeping with my career goals? Does this seem like the kind of working environment I’d enjoy? What would I need to know to feel comfortable taking this job?
If you’re in the job market, one thing I think you’ll immediately notice about this attitude is that it actually allows you to have an informative, and even enjoyable, dialogue with the interviewer. Focusing on what you want out of the job helps you to ask questions you’re actually curious about, rather than parroting canned questions from some interviewing book that don’t really matter to you.
Although I’ve been talking about job interviewing, I think the attitude I’ve discussed is useful for any “selling yourself” situation. I’ve found that focusing on our own wants and feelings, rather than getting caught up in strategies for manipulating others’ experience, can help make these situations easier to endure, and maybe even fun.
Just wanted to keep you all updated on the state of play here at Edgar HQ and on Edgar Force One — I can’t say which one I’m at right now for national security reasons:
New Bay Area Meetup
I’ve started a Meetup group in San Jose, California, which I’m using to offer free evening events on finding focus, motivation and peace in your work. I’m excited about the next meeting, which will be on Monday, June 28, because yoga teacher Rosy Moon, who co-leads my full-day intensive workshop, will be joining me.
We’ll be talking about how yoga can help us accept and even embrace the tension, frustration, fatigue and so on we feel in our work — and, of course, doing some yoga with participants. We’ll also demonstrate how the deep inner work we do in our workshop can help people let go of the blocks that have them avoid truly giving their gifts to the world.
If you’re in the Bay Area, I encourage you to drop by — you’ll definitely learn a lot and have fun!
Inner Productivity Intensive
I think I’m still digesting how powerful an experience the last Inner Productivity Intensive was. My friends are like “okay, time to finish processing and feel happy about it already!” :) Not only did Rosy and I have a blast, but we got some incredible feedback — here’s a sample:
“I wanted to let you both know how much I enjoyed the workshop. It was a great experience – I learned a lot and actually enjoyed most of it! It may be the best single day workshop I have attended in my professional career.”
- Aidan C., San Francisco, California
“The Inner Productivity Intensive Workshop was amazing, maybe even transformational. I’ll use some of the practical techniques I learned pretty much every day for the rest of my life. At the same time, I also gained deeper insights into myself and my relationships that were incredibly valuable.”
- B.P., San Francisco, California
Almost as soon as the last participant left, Rosy and I were talking about scheduling another one. If I procrastinated about putting it together, that would make me a big hypocrite, and I didn’t want that. So, I wasted no time in setting up the next workshop for August 15, 2010.
If you’re ready to get conscious, and let go, of patterns of thinking and behavior holding you back from giving your deepest gifts to the world, this is the workshop for you. You can find out more about it and register here.
Some Great Recent Interviews
I had the privilege of appearing on two wonderful radio shows recently — both hosts had read and deeply appreciated the book, which led to discussions that were educational and fun. I’ll post the links to them below.
* Welcome Changes Radio with Velma Gallant, June 2010
* Good Vibrations Radio with Solarzar and Kyralani, May 2010
I hope I get the chance to meet more of you in person, and I’m looking forward to more opportunities to help the world make working enjoyable and meaningful.
I admit it — I have moments when I doubt the value of everything I do in my life. I doubt whether I’m really interested in my work. I question whether the relationships in my life are worthwhile. I seriously consider whether I’d prefer a life of solitary, cave-dwelling meditation.
I think doubt is wonderful. If I’d never stopped to ask myself whether my path was taking me in the right direction, I wouldn’t have changed my career, written my book, or done many other rewarding things.
In my experience, doubt only becomes a problem if we either (1) give it complete control of our choices, or (2) try to deny that it’s there.
Letting Doubt Do The Driving
To illustrate the first of these, I know several people who are in the habit of revamping their lives every time doubt arises. Each time they find themselves questioning whether they’re on the right path, they immediately find a new one. They leave their job, their graduate program, or their partner.
Unfortunately, they never find a perfect, doubt-free situation, so they keep flailing around in frustration. What they don’t see is that doubt is part of the human condition — it’s in our nature to question whether we’re on the right path, no matter how ideal our situation may look on the outside.
Thus, if we always flee our situation whenever doubts come up, we’ll spend our lives in a fruitless search. I think we’re better off keeping our doubt in the backseat, if you will, and listening to what it has to say — not putting it in the driver’s seat of our lives and giving it the keys.
We also run into trouble, I think, when we pretend our doubt doesn’t exist. Perhaps we don’t want the hassle of pondering whether what we’re doing is right for us, or we want others to think we’re confident and sure about where we’re headed.
I find, both in myself and in working with others, that repressing our doubts actually drains our energy, and takes away from what we can accomplish in our work. Refusing to admit we’re uncertain about what we’re doing creates tension in the body, as if we have to physically push the doubt away.
But when we admit to ourselves we’re in doubt, we release that tension. Many times, when I’ve been honest with myself about my uncertainty, I’ve found myself spontaneously relaxing my shoulders and sighing with relief.
Calling It Out
Interestingly, often the doubt itself falls away when I acknowledge it. For instance, recently, I’ve been preparing to lead a full-day workshop. At one point, while experiencing the usual frustrations that come with getting ready for an event, I realized — with a sinking feeling — that, in that moment, I didn’t want to put on the event at all.
However, things changed when I called out my doubt. I said to myself aloud: “I don’t want to lead this workshop.” In that moment, my body relaxed, and suddenly my desire to hold the workshop and serve others with my work returned. It’s like the uncertain part of me needed to be heard — but once I gave it a hearing, it fell silent.
I invite you to try this the next time doubt creeps in — you being human and all, it’s bound to happen.
(I’m still tweaking the Work Consciously site a bit, so I thought I’d tide you all over with my latest musing.)
Earlier this month, as you probably heard, only 51% of the Americans surveyed in a Conference Board study reported that they find their jobs interesting — the lowest number in 22 years. On the surface, this may seem like a problem. But my sense, from working with clients and just talking to people I know, is that many of us actually don’t want to do profoundly interesting work. And I think that’s perfectly okay.
Some Like It Smooth
For many people, in my experience, work offers an escape from the emotional messiness of the rest of their lives. When they’re in the office, they don’t have to handle conflicts with family and loved ones, ponder what they’re really contributing to the world, or do anything else that requires them to feel deeply. And when they go home, they can leave it all behind them for the evening and relax — because they aren’t very invested in the projects they’re working on, they don’t find themselves obsessing over those projects after hours.
People who find their work really meaningful and interesting, on the other hand, don’t seem to experience working this way. When we care deeply about what we’re doing, the stakes are higher — our accomplishments are more exciting, but our failures also carry a sharper sting.
Look at artists who are seriously devoted to their craft, for example — they suffer to produce their work in a way that the typical employee does not. When the painters and sculptors I know tell me about how they experience their work, I can easily see how the term “tortured artist” came to be.
This is one reason why, I think, we’ve seen a lot of recent writing questioning whether the common personal development idea of “finding the work you love” is really all it’s cracked up to be. (See Lisis B.’s post, for instance.)
If you change careers or start your own business to do something that feels meaningful, you not only set yourself up for financial uncertainty — you also board an emotional rollercoaster that the average 9-to-5 job simply doesn’t entail. It’s certainly not going to feel like “work you love” all the time — in fact, there will probably be moments when you loathe it more deeply than any “regular job” you’ve ever done. (I’m speaking from personal experience.)
Some Prefer Extreme Sports
Obviously, pursuing “the work we love” has its drawbacks. And, like anything else, it has its perks. For one thing, the emotional rollercoaster we ride when we do work that we care deeply about can be a blessing as well as a curse.
There’s something appealing about having a life full of peaks and valleys, rather than one that’s merely a stroll across flat ground. I suspect this is why people do “extreme sports” like mountain climbing and skydiving — the fear we feel when we do such things, although it’s unpleasant, has a certain aliveness about it that I think we all crave.
So this is my take on the issue of whether to seek out the “work you love”: it’s a choice each person needs to make for themselves, with both eyes open. People who prefer a smoother emotional experience, and are in a job where they feel comfortable, may be better off staying where they are.
But if, like some people, you want a richer emotional life in what you do — bigger ups and downs, and a stronger sense of aliveness — doing something that feels deeply meaningful might be for you.
I’m excited to share with you my recent interview with life coach, author and speaker Tess Marshall. Tess is the author of Flying By The Seat Of My Soul and the inspiring blog The Bold Life.
In this interview, you’ll learn:
* The amazing story of Tess’s journey from being a teenage mother selling dried flowers to working as an author, coach and speaker
* How Tess created a popular, high-traffic blog in just six months
* How to create routines to help you make regular progress toward your goals
* A powerful technique for deciding between all the options available to you in work and life, and overcoming “choice overload”
* How to enjoy the journey toward achieving your goals, even when things feel frustratingly slow
* And much more . . .
I suspect we all have moments when we gripe to ourselves, or others, “why am I doing this?” Perhaps we’re thinking about our career, troublesome relationships in our lives, our exercise routines, or something else. Usually, we aren’t really interested in the answer—it’s just something we say to ourselves when we hit a certain depth of frustration or despair.
Next time you find yourself complaining like this, I invite you to try an experiment. Try asking yourself this question again, but see if you can ask it from a place of genuine curiosity. What are your real reasons for doing what you’re doing right now? In other words, change your emphasis so the question sounds more like “why am I doing this?” than “why am I doing this?”
If you think about it this way, this is a simple but powerful question that can reconnect you to a deep-seated sense of mission, in your career and elsewhere.
A Real-Life Illustration
In the example that inspired this article, I was giving a “Transcending Procrastination” workshop to some college students recently, and one of them said he had trouble staying motivated when doing work for one of his classes. Each time he’d sit down to study, he’d start feeling irritated, and repeatedly wonder why he was doing this to himself.
So I asked him: “well, why are you taking the class?” As it turned out, when he took this question seriously, rather than treating it as a complaint, the answers came to his mind with ease. He was a pre-med student, and he had to take the class to get into medical school. On a broader level, he wanted to go to med school to be a pediatrician—to help children stay healthy and maybe even save their lives.
In short, if he wanted to fulfill his dream of helping children, he needed to study for his class. When he thought about it this way, suddenly the class didn’t look so pointless or frustrating anymore. By simply taking a peek at the “big picture,” he got back in touch with the compassion and purpose that set him on his present path in the first place.
A Warning Label
To be clear, asking this question won’t always leave you feeling inspired. Sometimes, if you sincerely look at the reasons you’re doing something, you’ll recognize they aren’t the right reasons for you. Maybe you’ll realize, for instance, that you’re doing your current job simply to impress your family or peers. Or, perhaps you’ll come to see that you’re only in your current relationship because you’re afraid of being alone.
Although we may not like the answer that comes up when we ask this question, I think it’s essential to ask it regularly if we really want the best for ourselves. If the job, relationship, living situation or whatever else we’re in isn’t serving us, ignoring that dissatisfaction won’t make it go away. As I’ve written elsewhere, knowing what you want and where you’re headed is key to finding productivity and enjoyment in what you do.
One thing that’s hit home for me, in giving workshops on using meditation and other spiritual practices to transcend procrastination, is how deeply personal and unique everyone’s hangups and concerns about their careers are. To use procrastination as an example, some people put off working to avoid anxiety about how others will receive what they do; others do it because they feel resentful about “being told what to do”; still others avoid their work because they feel a weird tension in their bodies when sitting at their desks; and so on. No two people experience working exactly the same way.
Inevitably, this means that, when I put out an article or give a talk, someone will say “what you’re talking about isn’t an issue for me.” A few people, for instance, have come to my procrastination workshops and told me “this isn’t relevant to me—I don’t have trouble paying attention or staying motivated.” On the other hand, others have told me how deeply understood they felt when listening to me, and how what I said changed their perspective on working and other parts of their lives.
A while back, I used to take the people who said my material didn’t resonate with them as signs that I was “out of touch” with what “real people” want in their careers, or something equally pessimistic. But I don’t see it that way anymore. My new perspective is that, because each person is unique and faces different challenges, it’s impossible to resonate with every single person who reads my writing or hears me speak. And, I’ve come to understand that I can serve the most people in my work by giving less advice and inviting people to do more inquiry into themselves.
What Self-Inquiry Is About
By inquiring into yourself, I mean just paying more attention to how you experience your work, or whatever part of your life you’re seeking change in. Take a look at what you’re actually thinking and feeling when you find yourself procrastinating, getting frustrated with your work, becoming anxious about how your projects will be received, or wherever you’re feeling blocked. What I often find, when people simply focus their attention on their inner experience of working, is that the awareness they develop naturally leads to the kind of transformation they want.
For example, just recently, I was working with a man who wanted to know how to “stop making his boss angry.” His boss had sent him an e-mail that he saw as critical, and he wanted to know how to change his behavior to get fewer e-mails of that kind.
I pointed out that it seemed he was assuming that he was responsible for his boss’s anger. With surprise, he said he’d never realized that was an “assumption” before. He thought that was just how the world was—that everybody’s anger was “his fault”—as if he were solely responsible for other people’s childhoods, intimate relationships and all the other factors that determine how they feel. Just doing this little bit of self-inquiry helped lessen the anxiety he felt at work, and made relating with his boss go more smoothly.
You Have Your Own “5 Keys To Success”
Of course, this isn’t how we’re used to thinking. When we want change in our lives, we usually look for books, seminars and other materials that offer a simple, straightforward list of behaviors to get us where we want to go—what to buy, how to dress, what to say, and so on. This is why books and articles with titles like “10 Keys To Success At Anything” and “7 Steps To Financial Freedom” are so popular. And no matter how many of these “proven, strategic plans for getting what you want” we follow without success, we just keep buying more.
The drawback of these approaches to personal growth is that they’re necessarily based on someone else’s experience. The beliefs and behaviors these methods offer may have worked for some mega-wealthy CEO or world-class athlete, but that doesn’t mean they’ll work for us. This isn’t because we’re genetically inferior to billionaires and Olympic gold medalists or something like that. It’s simply because our minds and bodies are different from theirs, and require different kinds of attention.
For instance, take people’s common desire to “make a great first impression.” It would be wonderful if there were a simple list of “5 Ways To Be Likable” that worked for everyone. In fact, however, we all have unique beliefs and behaviors that tend to drive others away from us. For some of us, our bodies tense up when we enter social settings; others get easily hurt and defensive; still others become pushy and overbearing; and so on. If we want choice around these behaviors, we need personalized attention, and this is why I find it so important to do one-on-one work with people.
When we become willing to shift our focus away from imitating “successful people,” and train it on ourselves, what we need and who we are, we start treating ourselves with genuine love and respect. It can feel like hard work to learn about ourselves, because it requires us to face parts of ourselves we usually push away as scary or unacceptable. But it’s some of the most rewarding work we can do. And yes, it can help you make more money and have better relationships too.
Because I’m excited about it, I wanted to share with you the flyer for the first in a series of public talks I’ll be giving called “The Productive Mind And Heart.” This one will be held at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California on Wednesday, February 18.
I’ll be speaking about some of the ideas I discuss in my book, Productivity From Within, and the Career Satisfaction From Within Audio Course, for finding more satisfaction and productivity in your career from a spiritual perspective. I have several more talks lined up in the future, plus an online teleclass, and I’ll be sending information about those out to my newsletter. Enjoy!