Coming down from the new year’s resolution high and settling into March has me thinking about some of the mantras and insights that have carried me through the month, helped me focus and refocus, and ultimately provided me with the spark I needed when I was feeling dim. I think about one or more of these every day.
Their concepts are simple, and they are rooted in sound logic. It’s sometimes laughable to me how easily I’m able to weave them into the fabric of my day, be it a big task, a little task, or anything in between.
Embrace the suck
This was shared with me as I was lamenting to a colleague about feeling like I was doing everything wrong. None of my projects were running smoothly, I wasn’t catching on as fast as I wanted to, and new problems were arising before I could even wrap my fingers around the problems in front of me.
This was my first job in the healthcare space, and it felt like I was having to learn a new language and speak it fluently at the same time.
She said to me “Embrace the suck.”
“Huh?” I remember replying. She asked me if I had ever heard of Brene Brown? I hadn’t. Then she loosely explained the concept of leaning into discomfort because growth happens in that space. As soon as our chat ended, I found Brene’s podcast and dove in.
Everyone wants to be brave. Very few of us want to feel vulnerable. There is no courage without uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Brave is vulnerable. Embrace the suck. – Brene Brown
The idea here is when it starts to feel hard, when you feel unsure or unstable, when you feel exposed for not knowing, lean in deeper. Don’t back away from that feeling and run towards areas of comfortability. Stay in the space of vulnerability and keep showing up. It’s scary and it’s difficult. In that space you are learning and growing. Keep going.
The obstacle is the way
What’s standing in front of you, blocking you from the next step or a goal? That is the way.
Have you ever heard of Stoicism? I hadn’t before last year. I stumbled upon this quote while doom-scrolling on Instagram and landed on author Ryan Holiday’s feed, and his formula for optimism.
The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. – Marcus Aurelius
In these (very old) words is the concept of turning obstacles upside down and seeing them instead as an opportunity to practice patience, courage, humility, resourcefulness, justice, and creativity.
Always expect setbacks or problems, and understand that they are never permanent. I use this as a guide to where I need to point myself next. It also helps me laser in on the next step. Sometimes thinking about the entire path is daunting, but I’m much more able to lace up my shoes when I’m just looking at the hurdle in front of me.
You’re not supposed to know everything
I recently read Viola Davis’ book “Finding Me”, and became so inspired with her story that I watched “The Woman King” and then started scrolling through her Instagram feed. I landed on a clip she shared from The Steve Harvey Show in which Steve and Bishop TD Jakes were having a conversation about what’s next (i.e. the next goal or project). Harvey answered that he didn’t know what was next, but he knew it was good. And then Jakes interjected with some insight that was quite profound.
Life is a mystery. You are put in positions that destabilize you from what you think you know. The less stable you are, the more muscles you build. The analogy he used here was when you are exercising with free weights or on an exercise ball, those movements feel unstable, but your body and mind are being tested and getting stronger.
If you are too stable and stay in one place, there’s no room for discovery and innovation. Creativity comes from uncertainty and in the middle of chaos.
The shitty first pancake
And the shitty second pancake. It’s the third pancake that you serve at brunch. With the third pancake, you’ve got just the right amount of butter in the skillet, and the skillet is at the perfect temperature. You’ve positioned the skillet dead center on the stove and have adjusted the heat to slightly above medium. You still needed to use resources for the first two pancakes, they weren’t a waste (where’s the dog?).
People who work in a creative space can sometimes try to serve up the third pancake first.
Celebrate the first draft going poorly, and know that it’s going to get good. Expect someone to come in and, as your teacher would do in high school, mark up your draft with a red pen. Celebrate the growth, the edits, the pivots. Go through the motions.
I used to want all my work to be buttoned up and near completion before handing it off. I would scrutinize any feedback because I was already so close to the finish line.
Now, when I get a new project, I’m excited to create the shitty first pancake, and invite stakeholders into my kitchen for feedback. It’s how to make a delicious meal.
Be kind, expect nothing
Don’t give to get. In some way, shape, or form, what you put out there comes back to you. And that includes the good.
I like to aspire to leave everything in a better place than when I found it. Every space, every person, every interaction. There is no size of the gesture to make this happen. For me it has been as simple as picking up a piece of trash on my street or buying a friend a cup of coffee. I do not need to be thanked for this (although I recognize that my ego likes to be), and I do it because it feels good to just be kind.
I’ve learned that giving is a way to show gratitude, and it helps me realize how much I receive. Kindness also sparks more kindness. So even if your actions remain unseen by the masses, know that they are felt and are making a difference.
If your year hasn’t started off on the course you were hoping, consider January your shitty first pancake. Stay in the kitchen, endure the heat, be unstable and grow. Be vulnerable and embrace the unknown. It’s okay to not know how the year will pan out, focus on the next step you can take. And always, always be kind to others, and to yourself.