Why is it that I always learn more poorly when preoccupied with the awareness of overarching, long-term, daunting, seemingly unreachable goals? Why does this awareness impair my ability to retain information and learn efficiently in the short term?
It’s as if I’m climbing a mountain or a steep cliff. Looking up at the top – so far away – weakens my knees and makes it impossible to take the next step. I get dizzy, and stop moving.
When I’m pursuing an interest as a hobby – with no intention of necessarily turning it into a career – I actually pick it up faster and eventually become more skilled and comfortable with that “hobby” than I typically do with a trade or skill I’m attempting to master for a living.
Perhaps the awareness that there’s more “at stake” if I “fail” in my career-focused pursuits actually causes me to behave more timidly in my experiments, practice, and projects? Perhaps I’m more afraid to “break things” when there’s potential future livelihood at stake?
Perhaps I’m concerned about sullying my Github account with unusual or potentially “junky” coding projects, so I refrain from trying anything new or interesting or different (i.e. breaking things), in case a future potential employer will notice that I’m a ruthless coder who has no qualms about employing haphazard coding practices?
Yet this fear and timidity keeps me from acquiring new skills, deepening my reserves of knowledge and experience, and from sharing with others the things I’ve tried and learned – and failed.
The cure is creating an inner environment that fosters creativity. Creativity is related to exploration and learning. As long as we are being critical, we are not creating.
The great thing about “hobbies” is that they free us up from the perceived need to be critical of our work. Hobbies allow us to break free from those chains and truly explore.
You can’t make things unless you break things.
How is a cake baked?
By breaking the cleanliness and pristine appearance of your kitchen and clothes – covering them in flour and dirty dishes. Yes, you just broke something. Congratulations. It was a necessary sacrifice for the end result, the finished work of art.
How is a house built?
By sawing wood. Breaking.
How is an argument won?
One of two ways.
By fearlessly and ruthlessly dissecting the opponent’s viewpoint and arguments so that an appropriate counterargument can be created. Or, by breaking your own pride and choosing not to press the matter. In different situations, different actions are called for, but they always involve breaking, whether inward or outward.
Creators are breakers. They aren’t afraid to get messy.
As long as that critical inner voice is examining, challenging, and questioning all your thoughts and work, you’ll be poring over old pieces of information and old ways of thinking, trying to fix things from the past. Edit, revise, delete.
But when you’re caught up in the flow of creativity and unfettered learning, you’re not thinking about the past or what went wrong or should have been. You’re in the present. You’re going along for the ride, wherever it may take you. And you don’t care where it takes you or if you’ll get messy, because anywhere you go, you’ll learn something.
We learn things the most effectively when we get messy doing them. When we have tangible results and reminders of our adventure. When we make a mistake, or take home a “souvenir” from our “field trip”.
But the only way to get messy is to stop trying with every mite of ourselves to prevent that from happening.
I picked up the piano somewhere around ages 10-11 – with no particular intent (IIRC) of turning it into a career. I fell in love with it and for years, often dedicated hours a day or week to practice.
But it didn’t really feel like practice. I was just having fun.
No goals in mind, beyond discovering and understanding more deeply a subject with which I was smitten.
And the more I’ve learned in recent years not to beat myself up for mistakes I make on the piano, the more creative I’ve become when I play.
Last year, when I was trying to learn coding quickly enough to become “employable” within a few months, I completely burned myself out. I was so preoccupied with a daunting goal – and so aware of how far away I was from reaching that goal – that I became more stressed and struggled to think clearly. (I was also still eating foods to which I’m sensitive, which was making me sick and hampering my processing/memorization ability.)
I am surrounded by friends and family who are highly skilled and gifted as engineers. It is easy, when surrounded by such kickass prowess, to unfairly compare yourself to that level of accomplishment and skill, and to expect yourself to reach a level of competence and knowledge within months that has taken them years or even a lifetime to acquire.
When making such a juxtaposition, you begin to view yourself as a pebble surrounded by boulders, and wonder how you will ever “measure up” or succeed like that. (Comparison is a nasty game to play, for all parties involved.)
I have a tendency to idealize other people and their qualities (and/or to disparage my own abilities and level of accomplishment while comparing myself with them). Sometimes, I only see the positive in other people’s lives and stories, forgetting that it likely took them a lot of crying, falling, and bleeding to get where they are.
And for sure, some people – including most undoubtedly many among my friends/family – seem to just have a knack for engineering. In addition to that, many of them had an earlier start in this field than I did (Not only chronologically, or in terms of years, but also in terms of age). This does not, however, mean that it’s impossible to learn engineering or programming later in life (if 24, almost 25 can be considered “later”).
It is helpful to remember that it took them time to get where they are now, even if they were always talented, and excelled in their craft at an early age. If they started learning at five, or ten, or fifteen, and are where they’re at now professionally (and are all older than I am) – then I have a lot of years to make it where they are. That is actually encouraging.
In this light, my overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and futility begin to look a little stupid and myopic.
Frustration is normal. Feeling frustrated does not mean that you will be unsuccessful, or that accomplishment is impossible. Frustration is something that we all experience. It is what we do with it – or in spite of it – that predicts our future.
Many who hear me play the piano today do not know that when I was about eight, my mom was trying to teach me the piano, and I was extremely frustrated. Frustrated to the point that I ran away to my bedroom, crying. Declaring that I would never learn the piano.
Two or three years later, I picked it up like a long-lost friend. Or a novel stranger.
And my romance with the piano has never died. (Though I haven’t given it enough love lately.)
In fact, today, I consider piano to actually be one of my stronger skills.
“Success” doesn’t happen overnight. And the road to it isn’t as seamless as most of us think.
What we see – when comparing ourselves to others – are the certificates, the diplomas, the credentials, the titles, the job offers, the promotions, eloquence, flow, smooth execution, sales, growth, profit.
What we don’t see are the 10-20 years sprinkled and stained with long nights, setbacks, “failures”, moments of feeling like a failure, moments of slacking, brain “deadness”, confusion, “dumb” questions, tears, sweat, inward or outward cursing, “dumb” search engine queries to solve problems, and the aid or burden of people – friends, family, professors, mentors – who pushed them in the right or wrong direction. The people who supported and encouraged or sabotaged and encumbered them. We don’t see what they struggled through, in order to become who they are today.
Instead, we see the finished, polished, sharp product that emerged from the flames.
And we assume that that’s how they always were.
That they were never rugged, rough, unpolished, raw, “purposeless”, like us.
We assume that they started out polished, and that consequently, there is no hope for us, because we cannot start out like that.
It’s normal to stumble. To “fail”.
It’s normal to have off-days where you’re just in a funk and don’t feel like you’re getting much done, even though you try to put in the effort. You’re not always going to feel the things you want to feel (a “sense” of progress, accomplishment, smartness, or excellence). But that doesn’t mean action and change aren’t taking place.
In fact, if you’re always feeling “smart” or “competent” in your work or studies, then you’re in the wrong place.
As long as you feel inadequate and lost (but not quite hopelessly so), you’ll keep trying to become qualified for the job. You’ll keep searching and studying and desiring to learn. You’ll stay far away from complacency.
And yet, at the same time, if you feel too inadequate and lost – and beat yourself up for being so – you’ll also get stuck in the swamp of complacency that way.
In the end, then, it’s important to be aware that there is much we don’t know. It is important to feel inadequate, but also to realize that everyone is inadequate in some fashion – in different areas at different times of their life. It’s important to realize that this is normal.
Once we can reach this realization, we can stop expecting the unrealistic of ourselves. We can stop being critical of ourselves and our work, afraid to fail, break things, or get messy. And that’s when we actually start making things and learning.
This is why, when pursuing “hobbies”, I’m actually free to learn and create more effectively. I view failure in this arena as acceptable, because there’s no career or future at stake. Failure is “normal” or “okay”. Or maybe more accurately, there is no such thing as “failure” in this arena. Failure does not exist, because there is no one and nothing to fail. There is only ground to be discovered.
On the other hand, when there is the perception of someone or something to fail…
…It’s like the problem you encounter when you’re around other people and trying to read fast, or type quickly. You can barely read at all, or you make more errors while typing.
…Or like when you’re trying to sleep. You’re so busy overthinking sleep, and analyzing how you’re going to fall asleep, that you hamper the natural flow of actually falling asleep.
Why do our thoughts interfere with our ability to act, learn, read, type, or fall asleep? One would expect that “thinking harder” would tend to yield the desired results more than “not thinking”.
We think that by just thinking harder, we can more effectively control our situation. Learn more quickly, fall asleep sooner, play the piano faster.
I’m currently teaching my neighbor piano. One thing she’s shared with me is that when she stops “thinking” about how to play and just “does” it, she plays better (and I would agree – this seems to be the case).
I’ve found the same thing myself.
It is only when we stop thinking about the sheet music, the finger placement, the duration of the notes, that we actually play them correctly.
It is only when we stop thinking about typing – and controlling others’ opinions of our typing – that we type at our normal level of speed and accuracy.
Only when we stop thinking about sleeping – and about controlling our sleep patterns – do we fall asleep naturally.
In essence, it is only when we let go our sense of (or desire for) control that we actually regain it.
When we compare our situation to what isn’t – to someone else, or a place at which we haven’t yet arrived, or a quality to which our work doesn’t measure up – we’re looking at the top of the mountain. But seeing how far we have to go just disorients us, and we lose our footing. We lose control.
If you’ve climbed a mountain before, you’re probably familiar with how the “top” seems perpetually elusive.
And our future and goals are that way. There’s always more to add. More to learn. More to achieve. If we keep our eyes on what “should be” or what currently “is not”, we will become discouraged, disoriented, and dizzy.
If we fail to focus on the present, we prepare ourselves to fail.
We must redefine success as learning, living, loving, and laughing in the moment. Success is not somewhere in the future. Ultimately, it is not found in a paycheck, a career, or a title. Success is enjoying the journey, and learning in every moment.
The future will take care of itself, if we embrace the journey in front of us, break things, and let go.
Note: I’m not saying don’t work hard, have plans, or care about doing anything with your life. If you don’t do any of these things, life will throw some extra challenges your way. But I think you already know that’s not what I’m saying in this post. 😉 This is just a disclaimer.
Thanks for reading. <3
© 2018 Kate Richardson All Rights Reserved
I am so excited about this year!!
Mostly, because a new year is symbolic to me of new beginnings. And 2017 wasn’t exactly the easiest year ever.
But with the end of the year came some breakthroughs in the health arena, and I’m so excited to see what 2018 will hold!
So many things I want to learn and do.
My crazy, unrealistic, and incomplete list of things I’m hoping to accomplish in 2018:
- Continue improving my health and regaining physical strength.
- Gradually engage in more physical activity (gotta be careful with this because I’m prone to dizziness, and easily get exhausted [due, at least in part, to adrenal fatigue.])
- Continue developing my business.
- Pick up some music gigs.
- Gain more mental strength and resilience.
- Become less afraid to be me.
- Become a better friend.
- Ask more questions, and diligently seek the answers.
- Learn more about consciousness, ego, and our connection to (and essence of) energy, frequencies, and light (because even matter is comprised of energy). 🙂
- Learn more about life, the universe, and everything. 😉
- Pick up my sad, crying violin. 🎻 😢
- Pick up my weeping guitar. 🎸 😢
- Spend more time on the piano. 🎹 (It’s not quite weeping…yet. But it’s pretty miffed.)
- Read more books!!!! (On Kindle.) 📚
- Compose/record my own music and share it on YouTube or some place.
Some other things I want to do – which I would love to see happen this year, but may have to postpone:
- Learn to dance (ballroom, swing, etc.). (Like, I sort of know a few basics, but my steps are incredibly awkward.)
- Start learning Russian and relearn + learn more Spanish.
- Start a web development & design sole proprietorship.
- Study calculus (only ever got through precalc/trig).
- Participate in a professional massage licensing program (maybe for medical massage).
Perhaps I’m getting a bit ridiculous here. 😛 We’ll see how much of this actually happens…. 😀
Of course, most or all of it will probably not happen if I have the mentality of “we’ll see”. 😀 I have to be intentional and proactive.
Yet part of being proactive about our goals is also intentionally seeking out time to rest and recuperate, to strengthen ourselves so that we can be whole. Sharpening the saw so that we can more effectively and efficiently accomplish our goals.
In earlier years – before I became completely burned out and was required to relax in order to recover – I had a habit of forgetting this, and “overbooking” myself. I took on way too many responsibilities, and for a time, allowed almost no room in my life for relationships or rest (beyond sleep).
The net effect was that I became mediocre at several things and good or knowledgeable at almost nothing.
I learned that if I really want to accomplish anything, it is crucial to pace myself.
Some ideas for relaxation: <3
- Time alone or with friends (whichever recharges you more. Perhaps both do. 🙂 )
- Engaging in a hobby you enjoy (preferably a non-electronic one, to temporarily diminish your body’s exposure to EM radiation).
- Bathing (in a clean, disinfected tub) in magnesium chloride salts. (Note: I’m not sure if the site I linked to offers the best deal, but that brand is the one I use.) I wouldn’t generally recommend Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate). They may work for some, but can be harmful or irritating for others (including myself). Magnesium sulfate causes insomnia for me.
This list is sorely incomplete. What would you add? What activities do you find restoring and renewing?
What are your hopes and/or goals for 2018?
The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it. – James M. Barrie
© 2018 Kate Richardson All Rights Reserved
It’s been a s****y week at work. You don’t know how much more of this f*****g crap you can take.
You’ve been giving it your best. You know you’ve been doing that. But your best is just never enough.
Your company just won’t give you enough hours/compensation to accomplish everything that is expected of you.
How, in forty hours, with a limited team, are you supposed to crank out one million “widgets” [replace widgets with various metrics, productions, content, sales, patches, code commits]? This is NOT. HUMANLY. POSSIBLE. This system doesn’t work. Who invented this insanity? And how did I get pulled into this?, you wonder. How did I even end up here?
Your company is treating you like a soulless engine, without the capability of human “error” or “weakness”, or limitations. Your leaders expect “optimum” (hint: unrealistic) fuel efficiency.
And what can you do? If you want to keep that paycheck coming in, and maintain a solid resume and LinkedIn profile, then you may not see leaving as an option.
Depending on the approachability, flexibility, and power of your boss(es), you may not see changing or influencing your current environment as an option, either. Maybe you’ve already tried, and were met with opposition or even personal or professional attacks, suggesting that “Perhaps you’re not up for the stress this job entails”.
You’ve had it. How can they be so out-of-touch as to expect you – or your team – to give beyond the humanly possible? How can they expect you to make bricks without straw?
Maybe you’ve been accused of being “slow” when you’re really just conscientious (more so than the rest of your team). Yet your boss stresses the importance of accuracy, so you can’t sacrifice that to speed things up. (Yet…somehow, the rest of your team seems to get off the hook for low accuracy more easily than you. Ugh.)
My words of encouragement for you:
If you’re doing the best you can, and seeking feedback, then relax. You’re giving it everything you’ve got. And that is enough.
If you’re conscientious and that is “slowing you down”, be encouraged. You’re the kind of employee whom many companies and teams would welcome.
And if you’re that diligent and serious about your work, you probably also have what it takes to start (or collaboratively start) a business.
Bottom-line: Rest assured that for people like you, there are plans to fall back on. This job is not “it”.
If this situation doesn’t work out – whether it’s you or your boss who reaches that conclusion first – it’s not because something’s wrong with you. You’ve given this place your all – as much as anyone could have given. You’ve gone the extra mile.
But the economy sucks. Companies are employing fewer “engines” and squeezing all they can out of the ones they “acquire”. It’s not your fault for being human. It’s not your fault that you gave it your best and your best still wasn’t enough.
I know the thought/possibility/reality of losing your job can be unsettling, and potentially embarrassing if things actually do fall through. But you are no less an amazing person for it.
You are stronger, because of what you’ve been through.
And you’ll take the shards left from the collapse of this hideous dungeon that engulfed you, and reforge them into something beautiful. Something that fits you – your personality, your skills, your passions and interests – so much better than that prison cell ever did. I believe in you.
It might take a while. It might take some more falls, setbacks, scrapes, and scratches before you find something that “fits” and “works”. Don’t lose heart. This is the point where many people give up. Where they lose all hope, accept that they’re “a failure”, and stop caring about life.
It’s perfectly OK to be where you are right now. But it’s not okay to assume that you’re “doomed” to be a “failure” forever.
Life is a series of sprints, stumbles, and scrapes. But the only person who is a “failure” is the one who never tries to get back up and run. Where – or in what direction – you run almost doesn’t matter (okay, as long as it’s not something illegal or wrong or completely irresponsible…you know what those things are. 😉 ).
Try new things. Get messy. Get embarrassed. Travel uncharted territory. Jump into situations where nobody understands you, or why on earth you’re trying “that thing”. Keep at it. Keep rocking that s**t. I think you’re wonderful. <3 👊
But even if you decide to stay in the dungeon a little longer, I’m proud of you. It takes some colossal strength and guts to stay in a place like that. Just…get a therapist/counselor, or have a team of family and friends who can help you maintain your sanity, ‘K?
And don’t get stuck there, if you can help it! Keep looking around and planning/preparing for something else. You can only swim in insanity for so long, before it seeps into your pores and begins to become you (…or you become it???).
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
See also: Just Another Work Day
© 2017 Kate Richardson All Rights Reserved
It’s not the sickness.
It’s not the pain or the fatigue.
It’s not the challenge of solving a problem or trying to figure out how to get well. (For me, that’s actually fun…most of the time.)
Getting really vulnerable here….
Over a month ago, I wrote about my journey to wellness.
I must clarify an impression that you, my reader, may have taken from that initial post, by adding that I still have a long road ahead of me. How long, I don’t know. The struggle could very well be lifelong.
While I have seen improvements in my health over the past few months, the journey is definitely a roller coaster, with constant ups and downs. The progress is slow. And it seems that I am constantly discovering additional causal factors implicated in my sickness, and new diseases that I may have to deal with.
My health has not been – and likely will not be – transformed after a week of following some popular or highly-radical diet (although it could be argued that my current diet is pretty “radical” 😛), though I have seen significant improvements over the course of the year, for certain.
The hardest thing about being chronically ill is the nagging feeling, the merciless, unrelenting whisper in your head that says:
“You are a disappointment.”
It’s seeing the pain that your family and friends feel for you.
It’s looking into their eyes and souls and sensing great fear.
Fear that you’ll never know what it is to really live (by a certain measure of “really living”). Fear that you’ll never be free to fully enjoy life.
Fear that you’ll never marry.
Fear that you won’t be able to provide for yourself when they (especially parents) are gone.
Fear that they (again, especially parents) messed something up or are responsible for your pain, and that they won’t be able to fix it.
And potentially, fear that the hopes – the castles – that they (family or friends) built with their hearts for you – or to involve you – will come crashing to the ground, because your body didn’t get the memo.
And all you can do is sense their fear, and try with all your might to block it out of your head. Try to keep pressing forward, and not to let the outworkings of their fear get to you.
A parent’s emotional breakdowns. The moments when they’re just “Done with it all.” Because they feel your pain as if it were their own, and feel guilty – perhaps even angry – that there’s absolutely nothing more they can do to fix anything.
Your loved ones’ frequently asked questions, “So [your name], what’s the next step (meaning, next step to getting well or moving forward in life)?” and “Figuring out more foods you can eat?”
And all you can answer internally – or verbally, if you dare – is “I’m trying. I’m doing the best I can. The only solution is to give it time. To give my body time to heal. To keep doing what I am doing, and to keep researching. If I knew of something else to do, I’d be doing it. It may take months or years. And I may never be completely healed. But that’s okay.”
And you know that is definitely NOT what they want to hear.
The hardest thing is thinking about all the things you ought to be, ought to have accomplished, all the milestones you ought to have reached by now, but aren’t and haven’t.
The hardest thing is the social isolation and feelings of shame that can come from living a life utterly different from everyone around you, and thinking that most people must either judge or pity you.
And so you judge and pity yourself, so they won’t be the first ones to do it. If you hurt yourself enough first, then no one else can hurt you.
You begin to see some friends pull away, and that just reinforces all the negative messages and depressing thoughts you’re replaying in your head.
It’s true, then. You are a failure. Evidently some of your friends are beginning to see that. And why shouldn’t they pull away?
You are a disappointment.
Again, and again, and again, that message – that condemning voice – plays mercilessly through your head like a solemn durge on a broken record.
I still have moments when I get really down. When I’m just so weary of all of this. I don’t understand why it has to happen to me, when I’m only 24, and there’s so much I wanted (and want) to do with my life. Why couldn’t this happen to somebody who doesn’t give a s**t about how they spend their time or their life? Somebody who would waste their time – in sickness and in health? Why me?
Only very recently have I come to accept the reality – initially with resignation, but now with an inexplicable glee – that I may never be “well”, in the sense that most people experience wellness.
Finally, I am beginning to see this as a gift.
You see, were I not in this place of extreme illness, I would never have ventured through certain doors. I would never have permitted myself to try certain things.
Things like, starting my own business online.
Reading, writing, and learning like it’s my full-time job, or college. (Although learning is something we are always [hopefully] doing anyway, even if that learning doesn’t involve literature.)
Trying the stuff that everyone ridicules. The things they say can’t make money (but, in fact, can be financially profitable – given smart [as well as hard] work, persistence, and patience). Trying the things that are not supposed to be successful, by a certain definition of success.
I am doing those things. (I was going to say I am trying those things, but there is no try, there is only do. [I <3 Yoda :)])
I am doing those things, because I don’t have a choice anymore.
The bridge has been burned, so to speak. Not by my hand (I certainly wouldn’t have chosen this situation) but, I believe, by God’s hand.
I’m in no place to be working in a brick-and-mortar building anytime soon (I’m extremely sensitive to toxic chemicals, even things like perchloroethylene (a dry cleaning chemical), materials used in building remodeling, and new flooring or carpet. I feel sick if I’m around other people who are eating gluten, even if there’s no gluten on my plate. Breathing in a few air particles – or even the vapors or smell – is enough to give me head pressure and make me feel unwell for at least the rest of the day.
I have no choice but to work from home.
I cannot afford to get completely wiped out and burned out again.
I still have days when I can barely move (though this is less frequently the case now).
I used to think that I could never be an entrepreneur. I had ideas, but didn’t know how I would implement them.
I didn’t think I could be successful at a business venture.
I figured nearly any business venture would require a significant financial investment upfront.
But I learned that that’s not true for all businesses. It depends on what product or service or commodity you’re offering.
If that commodity is information or creative content, the initial investment can be pretty small (save the substantial investment of time and mind-grease).
So here I am, doing things I’ve dreamed of for a long time, but never actually allowed myself to try. Or had the time to try.
Well, now I have the time, because my body won’t permit me to do much else.
I will plant flowers in this prison.
I will roar from my cage.
I will paint a picture behind this wall of glass, to reach people in places that I never could have touched with my physical presence.
I will sing a song in this lonely, dark cave, and trust that there is another soul in this same cave of whom I am unaware, hearing the echoes of my music – my joyful songs and laments – and being comforted with the knowledge that they are not alone.
YOU are not alone.
I hear you. I feel your pain.
Perhaps there is something going on in your life right now, that you feel no one can understand.
You think everyone thinks you’re crazy, lazy, insane, dumb, lost, confused, deluded. Everyone is worried about you. Or no one is.
I see you.
I see the picture you’re painting, because you cannot speak with words.
I see the beauty that you are creating in your prison.
Don’t stop. Don’t give up.
Don’t ever for a moment believe that because your path is different, you are lost.
Pain is not all loss. Pain is the price we pay for life’s greatest lessons and most precious gems.
What’s something you’ve learned or gained through chronic illness? I want to hear your story! <3
© 2017 Kate Richardson All Rights Reserved