Monday, March 24, 2014

Getting Clear About What I Want and Need

When my bank balance is low, I often catch myself repeating the same statement over and over: "I need more work!"

I caught myself whispering that mantra to myself recently: "I need more work, I need more work, I need more work!" I was whipping myself into an anxious frenzy.

But as I mentioned, I caught myself. I stopped and said, "Wait a minute! Is work the thing I really want to request?"

I took a few deep breaths and then considered what work means to me. I usually associate the word work with effort, toil, struggle and exertion. Thinking of work in those terms (whether having or lacking it), usually makes my muscles tense up. Is that what I want?

Do I want to toil and struggle? No! Do I want to be a vibrant, productive human being? Yes!!

So if that's what I really want, then why do I keep specifically requesting more work? I thought about it for a moment, and realized that the thing I was really asking for was income – and that I was making a very limited request by assuming that income can only be gained through hard work.

So next, I decided to rethink my "If you're not sweatin', you're not getting'" paradigm.

I considered some of my friends, who approach their careers with passion, but whose postures communicate ease and relaxation most of the time. Sometimes they, too, spend long days devoted to their careers, but they never appear to be exhausted. They enjoy their work so much that the hours fly by without their noticing. They often finish those long days exhilarated and eager to tackle tomorrow's to-do list.

With all this in mind, I carefully recrafted my mantra. I looked at my bank balance again and declared:

"I need more income. And I want the acquisition of that income to feel fun and exciting...maybe even effortless!"

After all, when I am doing what I do best, harnessing my natural creative talents and abilities, work does seem nearly effortless. When I'm in "the creative zone", the hours do fly by. When I'm doing my best, I am confident that the work I perform is unique and valuable – and well-deserving of a commensurate income.

The first declaration addressed my short-term issue of needing more income, but I also wanted a declaration that would serve me in the long-term. So I created another declaration to fit that scope:

"I want my career to evolve so my work is creative, passionate, playful and invigorating, and maximizes the best use of my talents and abilities!"

I can feel the tension in my shoulders melting away when I say these words. I can feel a spark of excitement welling up inside me. This new statement feels so much more expansive and full of potential than the original "I need more work" statement!

Yes, now I must to do the work to determine how my personal evolution will proceed. But it doesn't feel like I'm about to dig an 10 foot hole with a garden shovel. It feels like I'm packing my suitcase for an exciting expedition, which makes taking the next step seem...well, fun and effortless!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Maybe Our Only Problem Is the Way We Approach Problems?

A problem is simply a situation or state that doesn't fit someone's desires or needs, and requires a solution to alter that situation or state to create a better fit.

When you consider the word "problem", does it have a positive or negative connotation? Your answer could make the difference between living a fulfilling or a frustrating life.

You may have heard the tale of the guy who went to a friend for help, complaining about the daunting number the problems he faced. His friend simply smiled and told him, "I'll take you to a place where nobody has a single problem!"

The complainer went eagerly with his friend to find the location of this magical place, only to have his friend lead him to a graveyard. "Here are all the people who don't have any problems!" the friend declared.

You could make the argument that life is a series of problems, and that the presence of problems is misery, while the absence of problems is joy. Sounds like a harrowing roller coaster ride! But what if we could smooth out that roller coaster simply by changing our attitude about problems?

When confronted with a problem, do you see it as a setback or frustration? Or do you see it as an interesting challenge that may lead to a fulfilling journey?

Problems are often unexpected or unanticipated. We see them as bumps in the road, setbacks in our schedules, pains in our necks. But what if we could remember that the process of tackling a problem often leads us to new insights or discoveries?

Instead of cursing under our breath when a problem arises, what if we could instead say, "Look at that hurdle someone stuck smack dab in my path. What a welcome surprise! I wonder where it will take me? I wonder what it will teach me?"

What if we embraced the idea that problems are the very things that make life interesting - maybe even exciting?

Perhaps we simply need to change the negative charge often associated with the word "problem". What if every time we see the word "problem", we instead replaced it with a word like "project" or "puzzle"?

When faced with a particularly difficult problem, would it help to visualize it as a fun toy like a Rubik's Cube and approach it with a playful attitude, setting a reasonable pace and making one twist at a time until we solved it? I think it's worth a try.

I started playing the violin in my early 30s, which is a relatively ancient age to begin the process of learning a challenging musical instrument. For at least the first year, it didn't sound pretty. One day while I was squeaking out a tune, I stopped out of frustration and dropped the fiddle in my lap. I sat and glared at it for a moment. Oddly, it felt like the instrument was smiling back at me – a mischievous smile, at that. That's when I knew.

I said to the fiddle, "You're going to take me on a journey, aren't you?"

"You bet!" the fiddle winked.

That was a couple dozen years ago. I have since moved from Los Angeles to Asheville, NC to be closer to the source of Appalachian mountain fiddling. In the process, I have transformed from a city boy in a swank bachelor pad to a chicken farmer living in a rustic mountain home with my wife and daughter. I've gone from angry and agitated to relaxed and happy. It has been one heck of a journey – a journey that would never have begun if I hadn't been confronted with the problem: "How in the world am I ever going to figure out how to make this fiddle sound decent?"

By the way, I already know what my next problem will be: to remember to heed my own advice next time I'm confronted with a problem!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Finding Balance Between The Digital and Natural Worlds

Lately, I've caught myself feeling an urgency to keep up with the myriad of new technologies, social networks, programming languages and website innovations that continually flood the digital market-o-sphere. 

I've been enamored with the digital world for 30 years. In many ways, it has served me well. The countless hours of unbridled productivity have far outweighed the hair-rending frustration of technical glitches.

Today, however, I am acutely aware of how often digital devices pull me further away from my natural patterns and rhythms. Computer gizmos have set a pace that keep me moving faster than I want to. It's like cleaning house while listening to the William Tell Overture. Before you know it, you find yourself out of breath, trying to beat the kitchen counter scrubbing world record. Music and computers are both alluring and both can easily alter your internal tempo without your even noticing.

That increased tempo was exhilarating when I was younger and brimming with energy. Fast forward a few decades, though, and I find myself scrambling to catch up with the constant and prolific introduction of the newest technology. Granted, some of that technology has gotten less complex in the last 10 years. It's just that there's so much of it, and it changes the instant we get accustomed to the last new innovation.

In the 1990s, I read that in the span of a modern career, we have to relearn 8 times more new information and techniques than our parents did. I expect that number has expanded even further in recent years. 

The shelf life of a newly-launched website is constantly shrinking. Better interfaces emerge, and hackers find new workarounds to security safeguards. When I tell my clients they need critical upgrades less than a year after their site has launched, they don't always realize that I am being pro-active to keep pace with innovations (and one step ahead of the latest security breaches). Some think I'm trying to foist premature, unnecessary upgrades upon them. I understand their doubts because I, too, often think: "It's all completely changed again? So soon??" It's hard not to be dubious when change comes at such a breakneck pace. 

It's hard to stay resilient when you're being asked to roll with relentless change. How much can we expect the human mind and body to keep up with digital paradigms that last but a fleeting moment? How long can we withstand a pace that differs so much from the organic cycles of the human body? How long should we even attempt to?

Personally, I need to strike a balance between the digital and the physical: to harvest the benefits of computing while also honoring my natural physical and emotional patterns. I want to live at a tempo that doesn't grind me down to the nub, I want to disregard the digital message that says, "Human, you're not accurate enough or quick enough. So either become superhuman or step aside." I want to reject that message in favor of a more authentic, human, organic life experience. I want digital devices to adapt to my speed, not the other way around.

I'm guessing that there are lots of people just like me, trying in vain to keep up with the digital parade, yet yearning for a more soul-nourishing lifestyle, a more relaxed pace. 

I am 55, and have a wife and 12 year old daughter. I can't work 70-80 hours a week any more, nor do I want to. But I still want to contribute to the world prolifically, authentically, humanly and honestly. I want to strike a balance of productivity and physical harmony. I want to use digital tools, not have the tools use me.

How do I find that balance? What can I do today to start making a change? 

It's the first warm Sunday of the season, so the solution today is a no-brainer: I will step away from the digital box, and go outside. Using all 5 senses when stepping away from the computer will help me better appreciate the moment.

Outside, I can see the white brightness of the March sun, and the way the bare tree branches wave in the wind, as if to beckon Spring to come closer.

I can hear the whisper of the breeze and the staccato knock of the woodpecker against Doug's maple tree.

I can smell that sort of fecund, fertile smell that the earth burps up in these in-between seasons, mixing with the faint smell of the few, vanguard quince and daffodil blooms.

I can feel the hair on my arms jostle in the wind, feel the slight sting of sunlight on my skin, feel my pores open up as my body's radiator remembers how to adapt to warm air.

I can touch the ground, still moist, still holding in Winter's cold beneath its layer of bedraggled grass, feel the tufts of grape hyacinth leaves poking through the firm layer of loam. 

Today's solution was easy. How to I get closer to that balance tomorrow? (Luckily, I've changed my mind about blogging. I used to think that I could only blog if I had the answers. I now believe that to run a successful blog, I simply need to keep asking the right questions. And finding out where those questions lead me.)

So what do you think? What is your relationship with nature? With the digital world? Is it in balance? If so, how do you keep it that way. If it's not in balance, what do you do to try and get back to a manageable equilibrium?