The Joy

Last month I decided to look at pressure and how that affects a person – specifically in the realm of writing. With plenty of writing ventures up in the air, I’m feeling both the angst and the excitement of many good plans coming to fruition – or not coming to fruition. ‘Such is life,’ some may say. But, that’s only looking at the problem rather than where you’ll eventually get to. And where you should see yourself getting to is a place of joy.

This month, I’m more about the joy – or rather, I want to be more about the joyPressure tends to steal joy away; eventually leading us to “comfortable dissatisfaction”: a locale where the majority of middle-class Americans are liable to find themselves. It’s a draining existence if you don’t make a conscious effort to pull yourself out of that dark void and it’s a place where a close friend of mine saw me headed – so he took action. But, instead of doing the “normal American thing” and taking me out for a happy hour, he gave me a book to read and promised to follow up with me to make sure I was reading it. Well, I started reading it and he followed up as promised. The book was called, 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life and it’s written by Tommy Newberry, president of the 1% Club and a recognized leader in business/family mentoring. Here’s a pic of the front cover:

40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life, by Tommy Newberry

40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life, by Tommy Newberry

The book’s cover is unassuming – it appears to be have been written by Wal-Mart’s founder – but don’t be deceived: there’s a ton of good material worthy of application. And I wanted to highlight a few I’ve taken and applied thus far.

The first being this: how we prepare our minds is a reflection of how we will respond later.  For example, when something happens and it’s unexpected, do you focus on the good? Or do you focus on the bad? This is not the same as being happy-go-lucky or being naive all the time. The difference is preparation. A guy cuts me off in traffic and suddenly, I’m angry all morning. All because of one guy’s errant traffic violation. My response exposes me as being ill-prepared. Not for the bad driver, but for circumstances I can’t control.

To piggy-back off that idea, Newberry argues how we are not our emotions. Our feelings fluctuate constantly throughout the day and they can dictate our experiences if we allow them. Therefore, recognize an emotion as being a fleeting arrangement and you can distance yourself from the emotion before it consumes you. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Well, it would be easy if it weren’t worth the effort. A good thing to train yourself for those “heat of the moment” situations.

Lastly, the conscious mind can only populate one thought at a time so why troubleshoot more than one? I find this to be the most applicable for the modern worker. Emails, social media, texting – all can be severe distractions from what really needs attention. Too many detractors means too little time to deal with matters elsewhere.

I would encourage any person to pick up Mr. Newberry’s book and give it a read. More than just a great exercise, it’s good for the mind and the soul – literally. Just don’t plan on me calling you to keep you on task like my friend did. Find a close friend of your own. Unless, of course, I’m your friend already. Then, I’ll consider it. With a smile.

Pressure: Authority and Writing

Authority figures get a bad rap nowadays. People tend to have issues with authority as it is, but today’s authority figures have it rough. Social Media creates many voices in the crowd, making it even more difficult to decide. Often, the loudest voice gets the most attention – regardless if it’s true or not. And if it isn’t true, then there’s a strong chance it will soon be usurped by another. That’s the hope – that the real authority will show up and take their place. But, as I stated before, it’s difficult to figure that out in a sea of so many screaming voices. So how does anyone determine proper authority and how to respond accordingly?

Well, people of influence tend to fall into one of two categories: titled and untitled. The former being those who yield a stance of known influence – like business owners, parents, guardians, or even government and city officials – and the latter being those who hold influence but don’t always exert it – like entertainers, musicians, celebrities and hey, even writers. The former – titled leaders – help to establish order. These individuals are recognized publicly without question. A captain holds rank over a lieutenant and a manager holds authority over an associate. What you see, is what you get. Untitled authority figures are trickier to spot. Their state of influence is relative based on their appeal. How much people like them – and how many – will affect their overall state of authority and influence. Like, the Red Hot Chili Peppers versus an unknown artist – one will probably have more fans than the other. But, that doesn’t mean it will always be that way. An untitled authority figure’s status can change or fluctuate on the drop of a dime – all dependent, once again, on the appeal they have to the public.

I find this arrangement to be most intriguing because the two clash on a regular basis. How many times do you see an issue arise yet only gain momentum once the people of influence weigh in on ‘what’s best practice’ for handling the situation? Those who have studied the issue – the ones who should know what’s best – give their advice. The president of a company hands down the orders; a politician signs a law; or a parent deals out discipline. The orders are clear and all under the hood of influence are affected. Then, the voices start. An untitled authority figure may step in, take a stance and suddenly, appeal is marked as being as important as credibility. It happens all the time. In the smallest of circles, it happens all the time. And to someone who feels their voice is minimal, the pressure to follow is huge.

Who do you side with? What has your personal experience been? Who is to say what is right in such matters? People will ask these questions of themselves and most often will side based on one crucial detail: how the outcome will benefit them individually. This is why appeal has so much power. If there is personal appeal, a person will want that way to be right – even when it’s not, forgoing what is likely true just because the orders don’t align with what suits them.

This makes navigating the world a tough place. Wanting order and authority, but only wanting it on our terms. And somewhere in that mess, a unique pressure is pushing and pulling us in either direction. From a writing standpoint, this place of tension is where I go to war. Words are the tools of my trade. They breathe life into why I do what I do. And to know that I get to be a part of that struggle is exciting. Sounds like a ton of pressure but what I’ve discovered is that authority and appeal do line up if you allow it. That you won’t always get to do what you want right away and you won’t always agree with the one who is in charge. But, the question to ask yourself is this: is their influence true? Is there a truth in what they say that is greater than my own personal needs or wants?

And if you can answer that question definitively, then the pressure of siding with authority becomes a little less difficult to manage.

 

 

 

 

Pressure: Role Models and Writing

This may come as a surprise to some, but we tend to adopt certain traits and behaviors from the people we meet. Especially if the person is in a leadership role. But, the absorption process isn’t as simple as dipping a dry sponge in a bucket of water. We pick and choose model behaviors based on what we deem as admirable or attractive. Then we envision ourselves doing the things they do, operating in a manner that is reflective of what we are seeing. And we experiment to find out if what works for them, will in turn, work for us.

For example, when I was little, I wanted to be like Michael Jordan (and what kid didn’t?!). I read up on his training regimen, I tried to learn his moves, and I did my best to hone in on what made Air Jordan so great. I never did make it to the pros but I did adopt plenty of Mike’s attitudes along the way: don’t give up, strive to win, see who you want to be before you begin, etc. – all were applicable character-builders in my eyes. Mr. Jordan operated – at least on the ball court – like a successful guy and yes, I wanted to “be like Mike” too.

However, his off-the-court troubles have been hard to swallow as I’ve followed his career. As an athlete, he’s the best – driven, competitive, talented and applies himself – but as a husband and father, he hasn’t always had the best rep. And both are positions holding great authority in the most intimate of places: at home and with family.

Mr. Jordan has probably faced absurd amounts of pressure as an athlete, but he’s also faced a ton more in his personal life. Every leader, every role model, faces similar pressures. But, sometimes when you’re a leader, being the proper role model can often be an afterthought. “Let me get to where I want to go first” is the mindset – then, “I’ll worry about what people think of me” comes later. But, the two go alongside one another. A person who wants to have influence, but thinks a good leader means being a good delegator is a fool. Leadership is an act of service, and is done from the ground-up, not top-down. The eyes of the ones you lead aren’t watching you with awe because you’re in charge, they’re watching you and looking for consistency of character and clear goals and objectives. That’s all about role modeling and very little about delegating to your subordinates.

So there’s more pressure with being a decent role model than one may anticipate. Or perhaps it’s better to understand the perspective that people are always looking for strong role models, seeking out proper and good authority even when they don’t even realize it. Eager eyes watching and absorbing what you do like a sponge – hopeful you have the right gusto to serve them and not just yourself.

As a writer, learning how to be a better role model is huge. A person’s actions and words have great weight in the world and if you’re a writer, you’re basically in the business of both. You can write on a topic – any you wish – but the catch is that people’s expectations will increase. You have to live out what you write about; what you choose to be an authority on is what you must ultimately own in your own life. Otherwise, it’s like making a proclamation to hit a home run without ever having swung a bat in your life. But, here’s the good news: you can train ahead of time. It’s not like you have to bat without first taking a hitting lesson. You can still prepare; you can still train; and you can still seek out others who have done things well – modeling their attitudes, their practices, and their character. That way, some of that pressure can come off.

And when you’re a writer, that’s something to rejoice over.

 

 

 

How Much Pressure Do You Face?

Pressure can be a cruel thing.

As a noun, pressure functions in two ways: first, as “a persistent physical force exerted upon or against another object that it is contact with” or secondly, as “the use of persuasion, influence, or intimidation to make someone do something.”

As a verb, pressure functions like this: “any attempt to persuade or coerce (someone) into doing something.”

Basically, whether it’s being used as a person, place, thing, or action – pressure is defined in one way: to throw off the balance of whatever it is in contact with. And it does so from the outside, but the level at which it is pressing is defined by what’s on the inside. Not the other way around. In other words, whatever pressure you find yourself under, it’s often blown into the proportion that you – yourself – have made it to be. Your expectations are causing you duress – not the thing you must accomplish or succeed against. And that’s a key understanding to have when you’re talking about or dealing with pressure. That whatever you feel is pushing against you – whatever you feel is dominating your existence – well, it starts with your flag in the ground. A strong stake in the dirt can weather those onslaughts and keeps a person from thinking he needs to avoid every bit of pressure that comes his way. So beating pressure is not about avoidance, but about influence – influence over our own mind.

And hey, that’s good news because you can at least control your own thoughts day-to-day.

You don’t have much control over life anyway, right? Life is not a movie called ‘You’ and life will go on regardless if you have a good day or not. So having a desire for perfection – specifically in one’s own self – is a fool’s game. You may be able to perfect certain areas of life like, a great golf swing or making a solid chili recipe. But to place the same expectation on one’s own self – in its entirety – is never a good plan. Wholeness of one’s own being should be the goal; not perfection. A wholeness of self will handle pressure like a feather landing on your shoulder; not the brick you may be accustomed to.

Life will always pushing back in some way so it’s best to have a firm stance where you’re at. What does that look like practically? It begins in the mind. As a writer, I struggle with a need for perfection in my writing. If I’m not careful, I can spend a good hour mulling over a single paragraph. And when I’m done mulling, I find I am still not satisfied. Why? Well, imagine the mental spiral that follows: Why’d you do that; That took too long; you should have went with your gut; look at all the time you’ve wasted; you’ll never get this done… and so on. Yes – not good.

But it’s not the need for perfection in the sentence that does me in – no, it’s typically the pressure I place on myself – caused by that mental implosion. That absolute need for me to be perfect comes out because I’ve led myself to believe that if I can be perfect, then I can produce a perfect work. A root problem most people experience as they try to complete the tasks set before them, but few recognize the issue as being from internal duress.

“I have so much against me everyday….”

“I am under so much pressure….”

“If only things were easier at my job….”

I’m not downplaying any one person’s situation. This is strictly fundamental and getting back to basics – how you perceive yourself in any situation is likely how you’ll respond, react, and take action. And if you’re having a hard time about it, how do you combat it? In my case, I’ve started learning how to halt this pressure – this unneeded, unwarranted, and unsolicited pressure – and consider how I am bringing myself into my work. Basically, training myself mentally. My work doesn’t require me to be perfect – it merely requires that I follow through with clarity; clarity that I have done all I can and if I haven’t, I’ll learn what I need for next time. Today’s culture struggles with this lack of commitment to go full force and with that – a HUGE fear of failure. Every duck need be aligned; every piece set; and every avenue walked before taking that said step – or even the littlest of said steps. Our lives are on a social platform now and the world is watching us, we feel. So unless we have a sense of wholeness and mental discipline about ourselves – that one failure does not define us – we are sunk before we even cast off from shore.

And “too much pressure” will always be an easy out whenever we cop out. A sense of wholeness should be our goal; not the need for absolute perfection – the latter of which will leave us staggered under the pressure we feel and robbed of any joy in the work we produced. A cruel concept when you think about it.