We all fall in different places on the scale of competitiveness. Some are completely passive when it comes to keeping up with those around them. Others will knock their brains out trying to one-up anyone over things ranging from the obvious (career and monetary success) to the asinine (taking eight minutes to order a drink at Starbucks to show us black coffee loving rubes how it’s done).
I’m not saying competition doesn’t serve a purpose. Try having a Super Bowl where no one wins. Or a marketplace where there is only one brand of anything available. Sometimes we need competition in the world to keep things exciting and in balance.
But what about in your own life?
When I left my last corporate job almost six years ago, I thought I had the trajectory of my writing career all figured out. I had dreamed of making films since college, so that was first on the list (to date, I’ve been fortunate to have written and produced two: Anniversary and Waiting For Goodbye). But beyond that, I figured I was destined to be a full-time freelancer. After all, what other option was there for a cube farm refugee with a knack for words?
I got a decent amount of work straight out of the gate. And that was partly due to the fact that I was so elated to no longer be starring in my own personal revival of Office Space, I would write about anyone or anything. From executive officer profiles and Facebook campaigns to video scripts for spray tan gadgets and robotic surgery, I took everything that came my way.
But after some time, I started to feel that something wasn’t right.
Okay, so I am one of those weirdos that actually likes grocery shopping. I find it oddly therapeutic, and the people watching opportunities can’t be beat.
So, one day this week after loading up my cart with an inordinate amount of healthy stuff, I decided the scales needed balancing. And the most expedient (and delicious) way to do that seemed to be potato chips. So, I happily veered my cart out of the produce section and headed for the snack aisle: home of crunchy fried potato goodness.
And there it was.
I still remember the day that I gave notice at my last corporate job. I was nervous, shaky and borderline nauseous. Yet I was also elated to be starting a new (and definitely comfort zone busting) stage of my life. When I explained my situation to my boss, she was thankfully awesome about it. We moved forward amicably and set about arranging for me to wrap things up before my last day two weeks later.
And then I had a totally bizarre experience with one of my co-workers that completely befuddled me.
“That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
Normally, that phrase is said with irony after some outlandish statement. (“This cake contains anti-oxidant laden dark chocolate, plus protein rich milk and eggs. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for me to be shoveling it in my mouth at six-thirty in the morning. Pretty sure Jillian Michaels eats a slice right before she bench presses a truck.”)
I have definitely used sticking to my story in defense of breakfast cake (and will continue to do so). But I’ve also employed it in some less frivolous scenarios. Like sticking to a story I really wanted to write when it just wasn’t working.
A workout that consists of one push up. Reading 2 pages of a book. Writing 50 words.
Yes, those are actual daily goals.
And believe it or not, they can lead you to exercising for 30 minutes a day. Reading over 100 books a year. Or writing multiple books of your own, one after the other.
I’m talking about the concept of “mini habits.” And as ridiculous as it sounds, they actually do work.
We all have a back catalogue of things we regret doing or saying. And unfortunately, it’s all-too-available for us to use against ourselves when Life uses our self confidence as a piñata.
When we’re already low, our monkey minds go to town…blowing up minor missteps into irrefutable proof that we are complete idiots:
The time you choked during your presentation and forgot the name of your own company.
That stellar moment when you asked your co-worker when she was due. And she wasn’t pregnant.
The night where you had one (or three) too many at cousin Barb’s wedding and assaulted the dance floor with gyrations that looked like MC Hammer on peyote buttons.
I wouldn’t normally glean advice from a fictional intergalactic pilot with a gargantuan hairball as a sidekick. But I’ll take wisdom wherever I find it.
In The Empire Strikes Back, Han – much to the horror of his shipmates – decides to shake off the Imperial fighters by flying straight into a shower of asteroids, reasoning that the enemy would be crazy to follow him.
But after being counseled by an anal retentive robot that “the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720:1,” Han replies with one of my favorite lines ever:
The word “should” is often vilified, and probably with good reason. Most of the time, it conjures up more guilt than it does motivation. Like, you should be exercising…but instead, you’re doing bicep curls with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. (Hey, that’s called resistance training. Don’t judge me.)
As a self-help geek, I know that reframing things from a burdensome “have to,” to a more light hearted “get to” is a good way to go. Less condemnation, more freedom. It’s all semantics, but I find that it works.
That is, until I conveniently forget this fact in the midst of some self-created stress freak out, and go right back to whining about everything that I “have” to do.
But something happened recently that made me realize how important it is to frame things correctly.
One of my favorite things to do is encourage people. Especially those with long harbored creative dreams. Probably because they are usually the first ones to sell themselves short.
My mother was a beautiful poet. I still have one of her journals filled with some of the most touching verses I’ve ever read.
But she never shared her gift with the world. In fact, she once told me a long time ago that she had started a novel. But after 165 pages of hand written text, she stopped writing.
And tore it all up.