Comfort Zones

“We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” ~ Max DePree

Those who knew me then, would say I was a relatively shy child. Even today, I am comfortable tagging myself as an introvert. A little insecurity is not a bad thing for a young person trying to find their grounding in the world. Yet overcoming initial insecurity makes one more self-confident and prepared to step out of their comfort zone. At least it did for me.

Animals in the wild have their comfort zones. A bear will return to its lair to lick its wounds or sleep the winter away. But it cannot survive for long without stepping outside its comfort zone. Unfortunately, most of us survive quite well living entirely inside our cocoons. Our lives, our habits, our thinking gets into a rut.

In an early 2012 survey of 5,000+ people, it was found that males have a larger comfort zone than females, but when broken down by ‘comfort zone types’ it’s clear that while men have a larger ‘professional comfort zone,’ women have a larger ‘lifestyle comfort zone.’

At one time, comfort zones served a purpose in our lives. But staying in that space does little to enable the growth most want to achieve now. Parting ways with your comfort zone and stepping into the world of personal expansion can present opportunities that will, in time, assist in refining your purpose. Starting small and choosing to shift beyond your limited comfort zones often exposes you to new experiences, opinions and interests.

It has been said that any challenge falls into one of three ‘zones’ – our comfort zone, our growth zone, and our panic zone. An unwillingness to move out of a panic or comfort zone and into a growth zone, is often indicative of a resistance to change. If you are open to stepping out of your comfort zone and stretching yourself, here are three suggestions:

  1. Understand the truth about your habits. They represent past successes. You have formed habitual, automatic behaviors because you once dealt with something successfully. That’s how habits grow and why they feel useful. To shift from what is less than ideal in your life, you need to give up on your tightly held habits and try new ways of thinking and acting. Those habits are going to block you from finding new and creative ideas.
  2. Do something weird. One obvious way to leave your comfort zone, even if temporarily, is to do something new. But a more interesting option might be to do something weird. When you choose something new you may choose something that aligns with your personality and thus, comfort. This can be limiting. Instead, choose something that is out of character for you. Something that isn’t you and the people close to you wouldn’t think that you would do.
  3. Get a partner. There are some things that aren’t meant to be done alone. It’s amazing to see how much fun it is to explore and create with an ally alongside. And since you’re no longer alone in your adventure, you can feel safe as you step into a ‘growth zone.’ Find a partner. Make it happen.

Proving You to Who?

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” ~ Michelangelo

I’ve previously acknowledged once being a Type-A, competitively driven, high achiever. It was part of my (younger) professional evolution. Many of us lived this and many still do. We are always becoming more. Who you are today is a result of the decisions you made yesterday. We are always in a state of creation. We decide and then we decide again, and the direction is always toward expansion. It is our human nature to expand.

It is years of evolution and social influences that have pitted us against our peers. I cut my career teeth on Wall Street. For ten years, I thrived in a dog-eat-dog environment. In the years since, gratefully, I have realized that the needs and desires that inspire us to compete with ourselves, are much more personal and more complex than those of competing against peers.

We awaken. A need to eclipse our earlier efforts – to confirm that we have grown as individuals – can motivate us to reach new heights of accomplishment. We find we can use our past achievements as a foundation from which we step into the unknown. Yet, if this drive to compete with our former selves is the result of low self-worth, even heaps of praise can be discouraging. Examining how we compete with ourselves opens us to new challenges that can often enhance our world.

There are plenty of reasons we try to surpass ourselves. Ambitious in our quest for growth, we strive to meet our own notions. We don’t seek external wins and losses to define our sense of self-worth. Instead, we become our own judges, monitoring our progress toward who we aspire to become; careful that our efforts are not to meet or exceed others standards.

If you believe that it’s not all about competing against others, here are three considerations to help you realize how it can be about taking pride in your progress (and thus, your growth) at any pace:

  1. You don’t have to have a dream (gasp!). If you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time. And if it’s a big enough one, it may take you most of your life to achieve it. But if you don’t have a dream, that’s okay. Instead, be passionate in your pursuit of short-term goals. Work with pride on whatever is the task at hand. And when you finish with that, focus on your next goal. Just make sure they’re your goals.
  2. Realize that you cannot always win. No matter what you do you can pretty much always find someone else that has more than you or is better at something than you. Is that really tough to accept? Does it always have to be a competition with others?
  3. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing with their block of stone. The statue that they are creating is one of their own intentions. How well you are doing with your block of stone is your business.

Winning isn’t everything. Being you is.

Humility Helps

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it’s my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.”

~ Helen Keller

I used to think I was important. And I struggled with believing that I was worthy. For each of us, the notion of humility as a virtue brings numerous images to mind. We tend to envision those rare individuals who humbly bear life’s struggles while downplaying their own strengths. Yet humility is also associated with people whose insecurities compel them to judge themselves unfavorably. The true definition of humility, however, does not correspond with precisely either of these images.

Humility is not passivity. Rather, it is an utter lack of importance. Individuals who embody the concept of humility appreciate that each human being occupies a unique place within the sphere of development. Though they can take pride in their own accomplishments, they also understand that the people they interact with each day are as valuable and have as much to offer the world as they themselves do.

As you consider your own humility, keep in mind that to be humble is to accept that while there will always be people more and less advanced than yourself, each individual can provide you with insights that further your own personal growth. Recognizing this is a matter of opening yourself to the fact that not only do others think differently than you, but their life experiences have shaped them in a very different way than yours have shaped you.

This means that while you may have a greater understanding is some areas, others will always be able to teach you something. When you cultivate a genuine yearning to know what skills and talents those you encounter have been blessed with, you cannot help but learn humility. You instinctively understand that emotions like envy breed resistance that prevents you from growing, and that being flexible in your interactions with others will help you connect with unexpected mentors.

Think about when you talk to your older relatives. It can be time-consuming, repetitive, and at times, underwhelming. But it is important to acknowledge that they often spent their lives contributing to raising you (whether directly or indirectly). When you practice humility, you want to become as accomplished and evolved as you can possibly be, yet you are willing to submit to the expertise of others to do so. You understand the scope of your attitudes yet you choose to dismiss arrogance from your attitude, and you can distinguish the value you possess as an individual while still acting in the interests of others.

Humility, simply put, is a form of balance in which you can celebrate your own worth while believing that every other person is just as worthy as you.

If you’re looking for ways in which to be more humble in your life, consider these tips:

  • As a human being you need to be aware of your faults and misgivings. You need to know that you are not unsurpassed. It’s okay to not be perfect and accept your weaknesses. A better self-awareness will help you be more humble in life.
  • Learn to say “I don’t know.” It’s hard, for whatever reason, to answer someone “I don’t know.” Probably because all of the world’s information is at our fingertips, not knowing something seems like an excuse or not a legitimate answer. Life’s full of questions we simply don’t have answers to. Say “I don’t know,” listen, then learn.
  • Serve someone. We instinctively resist serving because we believe there is a direct relationship between being served and being important. Bring someone a cup of coffee, run an errand for a friend, give away some money.

Most of us still have some learning and practicing to do. Yes/no?

Burnout

“Success is focusing the full power of all you are on what you have a burning desire to achieve.” ~ Wilfred Peterson

Acknowledging an international readership, some recent domestic findings: In a May 2013 ABC News National Survey, more than half of U.S. employees feel overworked, and 70% say they often dream of having a different job. 29% responded often or very often that they had no time to reflect on their work. 22% acknowledged they worked six to seven days per week and a full one-quarter of those questioned didn’t use any of their vacation time. I don’t know about you but these percentages do not surprise me.

Many Americans are subject to stress as they negotiate the demands and expectations of work, relationships, and life changes. It is easy to become overwhelmed not only by the demands but the speed of the demands on our time and energy. Both are easily depleted and without renewal of these valuable resources we can no longer respond efficiently, effectively, and willingly; this is burnout.

Situations that are structured in the following ways are those that most commonly lead to burnout.

  • Situation one is a chronic inability to meet the demands of a job or situation. The key is the length of time. When our skills, energy, or time do not meet the demands at first we are motivated and challenged. However, if the gap between what we can give continues without a change in the demands or an improvement in our responses, burnout begins to develop.
  • Situation two is quite similar to the first one in that old skills, strategies, and decision-making no longer work. You know these: the promotion, the new competitors, the growth of the business or relationship… they can all elevate the demands. We keep applying our old approaches believing they will work because they have worked in the past. When they don’t work, our frustration and fear of failure increases as our effectiveness decreases.
  • Situation three is the result of changes or growth that occurs within us. We have acquired new information, learned new skills and strategies, or made a big change. Our ability to respond to demands or challenges is greater than what is now required in situations. The result is staleness, boredom, and potential burnout. Unless the challenges are elevated to meet our new level of competence we will lose interest and look for something new.

No matter how burnout occurs it is avoidable. Personal growth, increased challenges, and reduction of stress responses are useful preventives. Keeping our stores of energy and flexibility of time is helpful in recovering from situational challenges. Constant evaluation of our life’s choices can also keep us moving forward.

It is also important to choose work and play that are compatible with our values, needs, and personal gifts. Our work should bring out our passion and motivate us because we choose to do it rather than have to do it. (From a previous post, you know how I feel about “have to.”) Further, if choices are being made for money and the acquisition of material “stuff” we will not make choices that have long-term value.

Burnout is often our body, mind, and spirit’s way of getting our attention that energy, time demands, and rewards are out of balance. When burnout finally occurs it is paralyzing and frustrating at the same time. Knowing the situations preceding burnout and taking actions to prevent it, will go a long way in keeping it from happening and causing permanent damage to our well-being.

This is about being aware, your health, and your ability to retain balance. Are your proactively addressing burnout potential?

A Favorite Focus

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

~ E. E. Cummings

How do we become ourselves? It is one of life’s great contradictions that the things we don’t want to look at in ourselves are the very things we need to look at in order to know ourselves better and to become more fully who we are. Yet, it is often the feelings that make us want to run away that are filled with energy and inspiration – if we are willing to look into them. Then, when we look, we find the information we need in order to grow more into our selves.

So, is it that we really don’t know ‘who we are’ that is the problem? Or is it our delusions around the perceptions of ‘what we are’; the conditioning of the mind that we acquire after birth? Consider this: When born, a new baby is conscious yet it has no sense of being a person, a personality. This is something that is instilled into us as we grow up. All kinds of impressions and assumptions are given to us through our parents, our peers, and society. We are continually fed information about ‘what we are’ and what we should be.

But when and how are we encouraged to explore who we are?

This post merely introduces a subject of enormous depth. But it scratches the surface of one of my favorite probes. If you want to explore more about ‘who you are’ versus ‘what you are’ or do, here are four starting considerations:

  • You are not your circumstances. Circumstances, both good and bad, can change. Who you are will still be standing when they do.
  • You are not what you do. I’m going to repeat this. You are not what you do. When you can no longer do what you do , whether by choice or not, you will still be you.
  • You are not your roles. We all have lots of roles we play. But none of them fully define who we are.
  • You are not your beliefs or affiliations. This is a tough one. Identifying with belief systems or groups is especially comforting. It makes us feel safe and secure. But one of the keys to growth is openness.

Becoming who you are, at your core, can take considerable time and effort. Is being your authentic self something you want?

Your Oyster Awaits

“Whoever, in middle age, attempts to realize the wishes and hopes of his early youth, invariably deceives himself. Each ten years of a man’s life has its own fortunes, its own hopes, its own desires.” ~ Johann von Goethe

They are solid citizens, most often in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who businesses bank on for their loyalty and commitment. And they’re not happy. In fact, they’re burned out, bored, and bottlenecked. Past research reveals that only 33% of 7,700 people surveyed feel energized by what they do to earn a living; 36% say they’re in dead-end jobs, and one in five is looking for another.

Yet huge financial pressures, such as their mortgages, school tuition or paying for the care of elderly parents means they are unable to quit their jobs for a different lifestyle. Welcome to Middlescence. Like adolescence, it can be a time of frustration, confusion and alienation. But it can also be a time of self-discovery, new direction and fresh beginnings.

Today, millions of mid and end-career women and men are wrestling with middlescence – looking for ways to balance work, family, leisure and retirement while hoping to realize potential and new find meaning in their life.

This condition is happening to people at mature middle age who have found the dreams they had for themselves earlier in life have come up woefully short; their life, far from filling them with a positive sense of fulfillment is weighing on them with a nauseous lack of purpose. Removed from having increased certainty, they are tethered to a sense of hollow disappointment. There is often an existential “my life has no meaning” or “is this all there is?” element.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There are innumerable ways to engage middlescents and their hunger for renewal, growth and reinvention.

Each of us has inner promptings – dreams, symptoms, feelings of satisfaction – that support or oppose our chosen course, or if we’re even more fortunate, our true calling. But many have learned how to override these promptings. What we often have to do is shed the expectations of others and our adaptations – and recover a relationship to what excites, generates energy, fires the imagination – then find the courage to risk being the individuals we are meant to be.

It is doable. I frequently see this transformation in my clients.

Forward looking is great but don’t discount the now. In fact, revel in the present! While you’re in the present, pro-actively plan for your “retirement” or whatever lifestyle transition you want. Give due thought to coupling your passion(s) with what you know; it’s a good place to start.

And remind yourself that every day is a new beginning; that every day you have an opportunity to create a better version of you. You can become Me 2.0, 2.1 (for smaller improvements), 3.0 (for bigger changes), etc. You don’t have to completely reinvent yourself, but you can work out the bugs and improve the operating system. Small steps fuel progress. Right?

Today, baby boomers and cuspers are reaching the age of 60 at the rate of one every seven seconds, This is why each of us needs a strategy, now, to work fewer hours, learn new skills, heed your calling, tap your life experience, further your education, pursue your dream(s), and focus – ultimately, on enjoying life.

Middlescence – will it trigger your new start?

Relationships (Part I)

When you think of the word relationship, what first comes to mind? While I don’t know the right answer, I suspect most of us immediately relate to a spouse or significant other. Then I viewed the above image and thought, maybe some people first identify with a pet, an affinity with water, personal artwork, their dreams, God, a business, family or even themselves.

Acknowledging there exists a vast array of relationships, yet in the interest of exploring just one facet, let’s stick with relationships between people.

I’ve yet to meet a person that is not concerned about their relationships at some level. Relationships are important to our enjoyment and satisfaction with life, as well as providing the support and love for being ourselves. Unfortunately, many of our relationships are difficult and draining.

Relationships are not unlike partnerships; they allow us to create something greater than we can create alone. Not because of any deficiency or incompleteness in us, but because each of us is unique, with our own talents and abilities, and in partnerships we increase the efforts and talents available for creating something meaningful together.

Partnerships, whether romantic, creative, or professionally based, can be powerful relationships for personal growth. However, relationships are not easy to establish or maintain. If we can stay clear about what we want and what we need in a relationship, while staying grounded and remembering that we are our own source of happiness and fulfillment, we can create relationships that support and enhance the best of who we are.

For your consideration, here are five (of ten) ways to establish a new relationship and raise the quality of a current relationship(s).

  1. Reveal yourself without expecting anything in return. It is our expectations and assumptions that gum up our interactions and our ability to let others be who they are.
  2. Be honest and tactful. Respect what the other person needs to know and what they probably don’t want to know about you. Always tell the truth, but don’t offer what isn’t requested or permission given to provide.
  3. Seek to understand when communicating. What are they really saying in words, tone, and body language? It is easy to anticipate what someone means so that we can formulate our response. Often we miss what is being said and especially not said. (As a coach, this latter point was one of the most challenging listening skills for me to develop.)
  4. Know if you are motivated by need or love. Most romantic relationships begin with needs and some never progress past that. Loving someone is not about us or what they can do for us, it is giving because you love and want to give to them.
  5. Share the details of your life, especially your feelings about a situation. This is true intimacy, where we risk sharing the details and entrust them to another person. Again, share the details when permission is given and when you feel comfortable doing so. There’s no rush to gush.

Marianne Williamson once stated, “When you get serious about The Universe, The Universe gets serious about you.” Perhaps one of the most effective ways to show The Universe that you’re serious about this thing called life, is by spending a little extra time and energy on nurturing relationships.

Any reason not to?