Love. Life. Practice.

Personal Development with Gray Miller

Archive for the tag “goals”

loving yourself from the future

I Love Myself.

Well, let me be more specific: I love the me I used to be.

I look back on old pictures of myself, with my kids, in the military, in high school and college. I see, with the benefit of perspective unsullied by emotion and sharpened by distance, the things that made that young man make the choices he made. I know how the struggles panned out, how the efforts sometimes succeeded and often failed.

I understand why he dated that person, or broke up with them, or married them. I can see better where things could have been more clearly communicated, and also where he did things, all unknowing, that were amazing. I know for a fact that he did the best he could whenever he could and the rest of the time he simply tried to do good. It’s hard to be the best all the time, after all, and a man gets tired.

There is, when I look back on that man, an overwhelming sense of compassion. I wish I could squeeze his shoulder and say “It’s going to be ok.” Or “The heartbreak will fade.” Or “She didn’t really mean that. You’re still her father, she’s still your daughter, and the two of you will just get closer.” I wish I could just give him a hug.

“Yeah? Well, F*** You!”

1988: So proud of my ELECTRONIC TYPEWRITER!

1988: So proud of my ELECTRONIC TYPEWRITER!

The thing is, even if I could, I don’t think he’d be too responsive. In fact, I know he wouldn’t, because I have journals where I literally have yelled at my future self for the fact that I am over whatever crisis I was writing about. “You’ve had time to get over the pain. I’m in it NOW, and I don’t give a **** about it going away!” and words to that effect.

How could I blame him? He was in the thick of it. Frankly, to have some serene and healthy and non-stressed version of yourself come and pat you on the back? You’d want to punch him! I mean, I’d want to punch him! I mean, he’d want to punch me!

Before the metaphor gets too tangled (this is why I don’t write time-travel sci-fi) the point is that I’m pretty sure that self-love goes one way, from your present to your past. Past-me would never have understood why I gave up on some goals and created others. We would probably get along in some areas, but so much of what I do and have now is so far beyond that man that I can’t help but think it would be infuriating.

Just as I imagine myself with no particular fondness thirty years from now. For one thing, I’m looking at at least that much time still as a part of the work force – and frankly, that’s pretty tiring. I’m really worried about the state of the world right now, whereas Future-Me will have had three decades to acclimate. By then he’s probably going to have great-great grandkids to enjoy. I expect he will have divided his kingdom evenly among his daughters, planning to travel and stay with each of them in turn during the year, in order based on how much they love him/me.*

Whatever he does, I’m certain I will blame him for not keeping up with some things that are very important to me now, and also for going into things that I really don’t see the point of doing. But there is one thing that Past-Me didn’t do that Now-Me is going to do in regards to Future-Me:

I’m going to enjoy his love.

I’m going to remember, when my career path is confusing and my workout is unmotivating and my attention is wavering, that there is a version of me who understands exactly why I am making these decisions. He will either be thankful that I worked out, or understand that it didn’t make that big a difference that I sat at home and watched Big Love instead. He will look back on me, just as I am now, warts and all, and smile fondly.

That’s a nice thing. Whether you have all the love you need in your life or if you feel utterly alone, there is a version of yourself that will look back with compassion, with fondness, perhaps even with nostalgia, and love who you are, right now.

Enjoy it. And keep sending it back to Past-You, too. Whether they appreciate it or not, they need it. Trust me.

What if you did it right, but actually planned it wrong?

via Jake VanderMolen (Flickr CC)

I keep forgetting #14. WHY CAN’T I REMEMBER #14!?!

“No kidding, there I was…”

I was lucky enough to spend the weekend at a retreat in Indeana with a few other performance art enthusiasts, including a very dear friend of mine from New York. He was talking about a recent show he did:

I really thought that was it – the best show I’d ever done, the most perfect expression of my art. It wasn’t until I got offstage that I thought of a couple of things that didn’t go the way I planned, two places where I’d done it wrong…

I looked at him and blurted out: “What if you did it right, but actually planned it wrong?

You Are Your Own Worst Back-Seat Driver

It’s not as though this was something that I’ve always known – it took hearing him say it in that way to make me realize it. When we are making plans, we are doing our best to predict variables that are, by their very name, unpredictable. Life doesn’t work like the old Mission: Impossible TV show, with every tiny step leading inexorably to the pre-planned goal. Life is messy.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan – it means that you should plan for everything, including the chance that things will happen that you haven’t planned for. There’s a strategy for that (OODA) which I’ll talk about next Monday. Right now, though, I want to talk about that evil version of yourself.

It’s the version of yourself that looks life and thinks that what happened should have matched what was planned rather than vice versa. It applies to more than performances; it applies to your entire life. I could sit here and look at how my career is nothing like the Web Design Entrepreneur plan, the Video Engineer plan, the Dance Technology plan, the Music Teacher plan, the Insurance Agent plan, the Emergency Medical Technician plan, the Career Marine plan, the Broadway Dancer plan, or even the Firefighter or Astronaut plan.

Should I really beat myself up because the plan that I came up with when I was 14 years old to get a senatorial recommendation to West Point didn’t work out that way? Was there any way anyone then could have predicted the variables, from the worldwide political landscape to the functioning of my thyroid gland?

More to the point, if I’m currently doing work that is meaningful and enjoyable to me, that provides me time to pursue other goals like family, friends, and movies, why would that be considered wrong?

It seems to me that if there’s anything that was “wrong” (such an unfortunate label) then it was the plan itself. That’s not really fair to the planner, though – would you let a 14 year old boy plan out the rest of your life? Why should the Published Novelist plan be any more accurate? It’s fine to have goals – but it’s not ok to beat myself up if life gets in the way.

There’s an old Zen adage: “Loose the arrow. What it hits, you call the target.”

Are you beating yourself up about plans that didn’t go right? Maybe it’s time to let that go, and look at it as practice for making better plans instead.

creating your own mantra

Mantra? I barely know ya!

If you’re like me, words like “mantra” and “affirmation” tend to leave a bad taste in your mouth. The problem I’ve always had with them is that life is far more complicated than a simple aphorism can usually handle. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you“, for example, may be golden but doesn’t apply so well if you’re a personal trainer, a surgeon, or a childcare provider. If you’re response is that it’s more of a generalization – “Be nice to each other” – I would argue that first that’s not always the case (a police officer, for example, making an arrest) and second that the usefulness of the mantra becomes diluted to the point of uselessness when you’re generalizing life into big categories like “Be nice.

Then again, I tend to be cynical. There’s a reason this blog’s motto starts with the word “Practical”. Mantra’s seem like a cop out, a way to avoid the realities of life in favor of some simplistic phrase.

At the same time, I love things like the artist True’s culture-jamming art installation on the MTA in the late 90′s. Titled “Life Instructions”, he took the banal warning stickers so ubiquitous in the subway and subtly replaced them:

true_subwaystickers

I am not sure why I am so enamored of the project. It could be argued to not only be very mantra-ish and also somewhat dangerous (what if someone didn’t know how to evacuate because they were too busy striving to be happy?). I think perhaps it is because these types of signs become so ubiquitous in our world as to blend into the scenery and go unnoticed. On the other hand, changing things up just slightly – having the subway suddenly take an interest in your psychological health, for example – seems to be the kind of rapturist (the opposite of a terrorist, that is, with a goal of joy rather than terror) act that could turn someone’s day around.

“…instructions you give yourself repeatedly to reset your thoughts and clear your frustrations.” – Chris Brogan

That’s his definition, and when you put it that way, I can actually get behind it. In thinking about that part of his new book, I realized that I do have a mantra. In fact, it’s one that I created almost a decade ago, when life was quite different. I had sat down with my then-partner and going through a goal-setting exercise with her.

She was very much into goal-setting – still is, in fact. Me, on the other hand, I tend to believe pretty strongly in the inevitability of change. Considering that I currently make a living doing work that didn’t even remotely exist ten years ago, much less twenty, setting long-term destinations has never seemed to be useful to me. Still, I was a man in love, and so I was working through the goalsetting with her.

The goals have long since been forgotten. But another part of the process was creating a mantra or motto that you would put up in order to help you along the way. The mantra I came up with, after much thought, was:

Dance. Don’t Scramble.

Which, upon reflection, could be simplified to simply “Dance.” Why have a couple of negative words in the motto, when one positive one will work? It was a reminder that while life was motion, dance was intentional motion, and by remembering to move with intent I could handle the obstacles in my way with grace and, dare I say it, aplomb.

I don’t have a nifty set of iconographic stickers to remind me – though I know of a lot of people who get tattoos for exactly that purpose. For now, though, this image of one of my heroes reminds me of the many possibilities a dancer creates:

Dancer actor Gene Kelly in multiple-exposure dance sequence

Do you have a mantra that works for you? How do you keep it in the forefront of your actions? I’d really like to know…

there is no “should” with love

The Writer’s Life for Me!

In writingRecently I set a goal for myself. It was a fairly arbitrary goal: I wanted to get seven different pieces accepted for publication in one month. This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds; I’ve had individual pieces accepted fairly regularly, and this was just upping the ante by focusing my efforts. It had a side motivation which was that if I could successfully sell seven stories (say that 5 times fast!) I would be paying my rent with writing. Putting a roof over my head with nothing more than the words my brain created. That, my friends, is job security.

I found several publications that had “calls for submissions”. I laid out a calendar grid of each story’s deadline. The month started, the month when I was going to be “Mr. Productive Writer.”

love writing, especially when I can sit down and just plug into the muse. I start typing, the words flow and the ideas churn and an hour or two later there are several thousand words on my screen. Some of them are even worth keeping! This goal I’d set would be an easy way to turn “doing what I love” into “doing what supports me.” It’s the dream of every creative, right?

Since I’m a writer, I’ve thought long and hard about how to exactly describe for you what it was like trying to write under that schedule. Pay attention, now, this is my craft and my art:

It sucked. Big time.

Other phrases come to mind – “It was like chewing razor blades,” I told one of my partners. I got one story done and submitted it, and started a second, and had rough outlines for a third and fourth. But it was immensely difficult to get any traction. Suddenly it was work. There was no flow.

Right about the time the first story was rejected, about two weeks into the project, I made a realization: I enjoyed writing this kind of thing, occasionally. But I’d basically fallen into it – someone had said “Hey, you’re a good writer, ever think of submitting an article to this magazine?” The key element was this: I didn’t think of it first. It was externally motivated. When the editors told me how much they loved my work, how much they wanted to see more, I had enjoyed the flattery and attention. It was something I was capable of doing, but not something I was passionate about.

I rarely read their magazines. Or even related books on the subject. I wasn’t a fan.

Fool Me Once…

Many years ago, when I was still trying to make my first marriage work, I remember the frustration of telling myself “You should just be happy with what you have.” I tried to point out to myself all the reasons that the marriage could work, all the things that I hadn’t yet tried, all the “shoulds“.

It never worked. It reached a point where I couldn’t look myself in the mirror because that man there had an accusing glare of “you are lying to me.

Setting up this project for myself was a microcosm of that same kind of lie. I told myself I should be passionate about this project because it could pay my rent! Because people would tell me I was a good writer! Because I would get rich and famous and…and…and…

You can’t fake passion in the secret rooms of your soul. You know when you are fooling yourself, and the best you can do is ignore that knowledge for as long as possible.

I cancelled the project. I started looking at the magazines I did read, at the books I do feel passionate about. Gradually I am coming around to the opinion “I could do that. And in some ways I can do it better.

There’s a part of the spiel I do at the start of every Open Space where I’m trying to trigger the generation of topics for the day’s agenda. It goes something like this:

I’d like you all to think about that one thing you feel passionate about. It’s the thing that makes you catch your breath, that makes your heart beat faster, that makes your stomach feel like it’s on a rollercoaster, that makes that lizard brain in the back of your head go “Oh, yeahhh…”

It won’t take long to think of it. You know what it is. The trick will be refusing to let yourself get talked out of it. You’ll try to think of all kinds of other things that you wish you were passionate about. All kinds of things you think you should be passionate about.

Forget wishes. Forget shoulds. Passion is another word for love, and love is easy: you either love something, or you don’t. You know the answer. So have the courage to be honest with yourself.

This is your passion. This is what you love. You deserve it.

creating realistic dreams

Letting Go of Superman

I’m about to commit a cardinal sin of personal development blogs: I’m going to tell you that sometimes you have to let go of your dreams.

Yep. That’s right. I said it. Sometimes you have to let that stuff go. It came up today when I was talking with an old friend who I’ve not spoken to in a while. She was telling me about how her goals and ideals had changed over the years in terms of what she wanted out of life.

Thing was, they had not become any more or less realistic – they had just changed. Frankly, they seemed eminently realistic, completely achievable, and even quite likely.

Then she asked me about my “dreams”.

Writer, blog thyself!

I teach a class about getting what you want out of your hobbies/career/life (soon to come to an e-course near you) which is quite popular within some circles. Inevitably someone asks me “So, this must be what you want to be doing, eh?” The embarrassing answer is that no, this is not what I’d like to be doing. What I’d like to be doing is studying commedia dell arte in Venice right now. Well, that and a few other rather unrealistic expectations.

The thing is, while I know I could go to Venice, while I know I could do a lot of things…the fact is that I am pretty convinced that the dreams that I hold tight to don’t really have a realistic output. I told this to my friend, using the analogy of Superman.

You can have a desire to fly like Superman. You can dream of it, plan for it, and even practice it. Jumping off of buildings, though, can get kind of damaging. Both to yourself, and to the people you land on. So after a while, you might just need to let go of that desire, and enjoy things that evoke that feeling – the occasional plane flight, hang gliding, maybe scuba diving.

But it’s never going to be flying like Superman, and so at some point you have to accept that particular dream as remaining unfulfilled, and enjoy the things that you can have.

It’s hard, letting go. I never claim otherwise. I’m not even sure you can, completely. But if you’re holding fast to a dream amidst chaos and rubble in your life…perhaps it’s worth looking into how much that dream is contributing to the hard times. Perhaps a new dream, a more realistic dream, can make the hard times a bit happier.

focus your power

When Good Advice is Hard to Take

Like most of us, I struggle to balance between my intake of media and the quality thereof. The Gravy Hose is a constant distraction, and it’s gotten to where it’s a triumph when I can make it through a movie or an episode without checking email or some RSS feed. Part of this is because there is always that one nugget of gold amongst the dross, that one thing that makes you go “Oh! That’s good to know!” and somehow justifies the distraction or the multitasking. Somehow you ignore just how much effort and time it took to get to that nugget, and how much more effective you can be if you focus your power.

A Good Problem is Still a Problem

This was driven home to me pretty thoroughly recently on the Art of Nonconformity Blog. I subscribe to Chris’s email updates, and when I got the one about “Revisions” it piqued my interest. Editing is very difficult for me – most of these blog entries are simply written and posted (please, do me a favor and pretend you’re surprised). I’ve actually managed to cultivate a practice that would be the envy of many bloggers – about 3000 words a week, for over a year. I’ve got at least three books worth, more if you count e-books! And I’ve always had the intention of working these entries into a book – I even expressed that intention to my blogger’s support group here in Madison.

In reading the comments for the post on AONC Blog, it appeared that I was pretty exceptional in this trait. Writer after writer talked about how hard the first draft is, how much easier it is to go back and do the second, third (huh?) or fourth revision (you gotta be kidding me!). 

I’m exactly the opposite. The words flow, no problem – in fact, sometimes with fiction I can just get lost in the story and have no idea how much time I’ve been writing – but thousands of words are there on the screen. But going back? Changing them? Making them express the ideas better, getting rid of redundantly repetitive phrases written over and over (see what I did there?), even at times just throwing it out and starting over…this is hard for me.

This is my area of procrastination. I know this. Which is why I added this comment to Chris’ blog:

I hate editing. I’ve been writing an average of 3000 words a week on my blog for over a year – so I’ve got at least a couple of books worth, right? Yet the process of going in and actually pulling out the info, and actually editing it into coherent form…it’s the biggest procrastinative lure I have.

And that’s not even mentioning the novel I’m trying to edit, and the outline for my nonfiction book based on a workshop I teach…oh, and a handbook for conference presenters in my field.

Too much content. Too many projects. Editing is my nemesis.

Any ideas?

Of course, I forgot: Chris has a habit of reading and replying to all the comments.

A Matter of Scale

So yep, right there was an answer to my question. Chris said:

Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 11.05.13 AMMy first comment is that 3,000 words on a blog per week is great, but blog posts don’t usually combine very well into books. My second comment is that with the blog stuff, the novel, the non-fiction book, and the conference handbook … maybe you should pick one of these to start with. :)

It doesn’t mean you can’t do the others later, of course. That’s my $0.02!

And just like that, my head went ping. Sure, I talk a lot about multitasking on a small scale – chatting while working, texting while driving (don’t!), skimming a newsfeed while watching TV. All the proof is out there: multitasking is less efficient, and bad for you besides.

But what about on a larger scale? We already know you’re only supposed to change one habit at a time…but maybe that applies to the bigger goals as well? Of course it does! Chris was absolutely on the money: multitasking is a problem on both sides of the scale.

The Hard Choice to Focus Your Power

Trying to be a great blogger, a great fiction writer, author a personal development book and a book on Open Space facilitation? Might be over-reaching. Perhaps, Gray, I hear you saying, you could focus your power and skill on one of these projects, and do it really, really well.

It’s a nice idea, this focusing practice. It doesn’t mean I have anything less to do – it just means that the things I’m doing have a single goal, rather than having the effort flying off in multiple directions. It is hard to say it’s ok to let that project go…but with practice, it gets easier.

Word Up

Photo CC Licensed: JulieJordanScott via Flickr

“Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through; first from him, now from you!” – Eliza Doolittle, My Fair Lady

Yesterday I got an email from Chris Brogan. He reminded me (ok, and about a zillion other email list subscribers) that the time has come for the Three Words. Roughly speaking, they are supposed to be the words that describe the themes you want to focus on for the upcoming year. He’s been doing this for years, and occasionally I’ve tried it as well – “Beauty. Grace. Passion.” was a pretty interesting year, for example. And as you’ll see from the title of this blog, I’m a big fan of the triplet.

I was extra excited when I saw that one of his words for 2012 is going to be Practice. Hey, Chris, have I got a blog for you! He’s written a lot of neat posts about the idea, but in this case he says “And by that, I mean to honor this sentiment: “the practice is the reward.” He has some interesting ideas on how to do that, with weekly, monthly, and yearly challenges and goals.

Buzzwords

The problem with coming up with three words to try and sum up your principles and direction for the entire next year is one of accuracy. For example, one of the words I thought of using was “money“. That’s kind of a shallow goal, though, right? Besides, I really don’t have any problem making money; it’s my general relationship with it, one of antagonism and scarcity, that is the problem. After some thought, I decided that “abundance” would be a better word.

Abundance? If you’re like me, hearing that word set off the WooWoo alarms in your head. What does that even mean? It’s slapped on so many different things these days that it can mean everything from the plushiness of toilet paper to the divine grace of the Lord and Savior. If money is too broad, then abundance is too…abundant. Amorphous. Imprecise.

And if I’m having that much trouble with one word, how the hell am I supposed to come up with three? That will last the whole year?

Letting It Be OK

The answer is to remember one of the wisest things a friend ever said to me: you can change your mind. It’s ok to use the word “abundance” as long as I know what I mean by it, because this is my guiding word. I’m the only one who needs to understand it. If I find a better word later on that better expresses my intention, I can use it. If I find that my pursuit of abundance is not working well for me (hey, it could happen) I can always decide on something less , like monster trucks.

I think some of the time we avoid these kinds of exercises – goalsetting, guiding words, any kind of long-term planning – simply because we worry about failure. We worry about letting ourselves down, about saying to a friend “I’m going to lose weight!” and then feeling like we’ve let them down when we’re sharing their birthday cake. For some reason, we seem to think we can foresee what is going to come in the next year, what we and those we love are going to need.

Guess what? We can’t. It’s like telling an early explorer “Hey – draw me a map of that place you’re heading towards. I want to know what’s there, so I know what to expect.” How accurate is that going to be? What you can do is look at where you’ve been, look at where you might go, and express an intention. I intend to cultivate an attitude of abundance – the idea that there are plenty of resources available to me to live a wonderful life. I may do that in ways that look goofy, like throwing my pocket change on the floor, but that’s ok: this is my life, I get to do goofy things with it. So do you.

In case you’re wondering, I’m considering music and practice as my other two (the one because it’s been conspicuously absent in the past year and the other just as a reminder).

What words speak to you?

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