Do you get excited when a new month begins? A new challenge? A new project?
I know I do. But instead of gushing about NaNoWriMo right now (not too late to join!), I have been thinking about why.
The first question is, naturally, are you beginning new challenges and projects? Everyone gets a fresh start on a new month 12 times a year but aside from that – are you purposefully taking risks? Do you simply stay comfortable without stretching your limits?
Some of our challenges are external: projects at work, difficult people , grades, inflation.
Most of my challenges are internal, ways that I look to improve myself. What are your current challenges? Where are they coming from?
There’s two camps here: people who are engaged in a challenging project and those who are disengaged. The disengaged can best be described as “coasting” through life. They’re deceptively easy to spot. When you ask what’s going on they’ll tell you about characters on a television show. When you inquire about work it’s “same old, same old” and when you ask what they’re looking forward to the answer will be ambiguous or require very little personal action. Watching the Superbowl. Playing Farmville. “Hanging out.”
The second question, once you determine if you have a challenge, is does this excite and energize you or frustrate you? Again, two camps: those who are ready within themselves to conquer the path ahead, even if it’s hard, and learn from the experience. Then there are those who will whine, complain and generally be miserable for every single second – even when the project is a success or not that difficult.
Of all the things we can’t control, our attitude is not one of them. No one is perfect, we all get tired, frustrated, worn down or just plain grumpy. That’s expected. But what is your usual response? Is it to gripe and complain and make everyone around you miserable? Or just complain to yourself until you can nearly taste the bitterness within yourself?
Let’s take an example.
You’re at work. Minding your own business when the manager brings you a project. Maybe it’s a pile of papers on your desk, maybe it’s an ambiguous project that you don’t even understand. How do you respond?
-text your spouse to complain
-start a job search on your lunch break
-push the project to the side and make a note that it’s not in your job description, your counterpart is a lazy SOB and they don’t pay you enough to do this drivel
Honestly, I’ve most often chosen that last option. Even if I smiled, said “no problem!” and completed the project perfectly, I was still fuming on the inside. My various employers may not have picked up on my inner frustration but it certainly made me miserable.
What did my inner struggle really mean?
It most often meant I was intimidated. I can’t do this project AND everything else! I don’t know how to do that formatting or construct that email.
In addition to being intimidated I was afraid. They’re going to find out I’m a hack and fire me. I’ll look like an idiot for asking that question. I’m going to do all this work and get fired anyway!
Behind those emotions was self-righteous anger and not the good kind. I am so much better than this assignment. I shouldn’t have to figure out that when I’m so much better at this. Um, excuse me? I have a DEGREE from a UNIVERSITY in BUSINESS. Hello?
And if all that swirling around in my head was not enough, I was frustrated. I am never going to get out of this place or stupid assignments like these. I’m going to be the only college educated lackey in the world making this salary and going nowhere.
How do you break out from the negativity when presented with a challenge?
It wasn’t easy but it is simple, at least it was to me. Instead of letting the focus settle and remain on me, my feelings, my day, my my my, I made a conscious shift in focus. Instead of caring how this was going to influence me, I did the work to serve the client because I honestly and truly wanted to enrich their life.
This change in focus gave the strength to ask clarifying questions, even if I felt stupid doing so, in order to deliver the best experience and product possible. It gave me the willingness to set aside my desires to work on the fun stuff and do the important stuff. This shift opened my eyes to how I experienced a challenge was possibly the only outcome I could guarantee. And I had to let go of everything else in favor of doing my best work and putting it out there. Even if that best work was something that could be perceived as “beneath me” or my abilities.
Don’t misunderstand, I know that some jobs are just terrible, there are bad bosses and even worse projects. I know.
Shifting my focus did not mean I stuck around in a bad job with a smile on my face accepting whatever came my way. Actually the opposite happened, I had the confidence to step outside of the norm and take a risk, knowing that even if the opportunity wasn’t ideal my perspective was a great asset.
Challenges are now fun. Energizing. Exciting. I’m not naive enough to believe that they’re always going to turn out perfectly but the process no longer fills me with fear and dread. I’m competitive so this shift has taken me from “it will be PERFECT and I will crush you!” to “It’s going to be great and continue to improve with each iteration.” It means when a criticism comes in, an edit crosses my email or I just screw up that there’s opportunity to learn and grow.
What is your challenge? When it begins are you inspired or afraid? What can you do today to change your focus?