That’ll Do..

Good is good enough.. Right?

Complacency.

The above is a word I am likely to write many times as I develop posts for this blog. Complacency is the Big Bad Wolf to my Little Red Riding Hood. It is an ever present evil that attempts to disguise itself in order to trick me away from my best interests. At times, it masquerades as contentment. Other times, it presents as doubt. Regardless of what mask it wears, complacency constantly threatens to relegate me to a life of the status quo.

To understand my experience with complacency, I’ll give a bit of background about myself. I am a 28 year old white guy from a middle class family. I was raised in a small town, but went to a big university. I graduated with a Bachelor degree in Computer & Information Technology and I’ve worked as a software developer for the last 5 years. I have always maintained an active lifestyle and my physique reflects that. I have a good circle of friends and I am very close to my family. All in all, life is pretty good (barring the aforementioned break-up. That was not neat).

So you might be wondering, “Why I am bragging about my life?” Well, I’m not. I’m telling you these things to give context to this post. For most of my life, I had a firm grasp on how to perform well in everything “important” in my life. I did well in classes, maintained healthy eating and exercise habits, and kept up with my personal relationships. The problem with everything in your life being “good enough” is that once you have accomplished certain things in your life, it’s hard to find the motivation to do more. For me, it was graduating from college and landing a well paid career in software development. In my mind, I had made it. This was the goal that I had in mind since I first decided to spend my college years with my nose pressed to a computer monitor.

Though complacency had already begun to manifest within my satisfaction in my career accomplishments, I hit an all time low in terms of motivation when I found myself in a relationship with the woman of my dreams. I was completely satisfied by simply laying with this woman and spending an evening scouting out Netflix. I did not realize it, but I had stopped challenging myself. I had stopped growing.

Well, as I’ve mentioned before, that fairytale relationship recently came to a screeching halt. I won’t go into details on how this happened, but I was definitely not without fault. Reasons aside, two months ago I found myself sitting in a half empty apartment, my only company being the creeping realization of how far I had let the vision of myself slip away. I had many things that I knew I needed to be working on, but I became so complacent with life that I half assed every single one of them. Among other things, I had let my vices become stronger, I stagnated in my career progression and I had stopped putting real effort into romancing my mate. I did what was necessary to keep living my comfortable life and stopped pushing for more.

I am sure that last line is something you can relate to. Have you ever gotten to that place where you’ve been met with success and some part of you decided that it was enough? Or perhaps you have that one thing that you -know- needs to change, but it just seems like too much work? That is complacency playing it’s very best trick. In fact, complacency works best when it operates in the shadows of our minds. While you are distracted with enjoying life, complacency is robbing you of your potential.

The interesting thing about complacency is that it is not that hard to battle once you have discovered that it is a problem. It is realizing and catching yourself becoming complacent that becomes the struggle. The fact is, we have a hard time truly maintaining a status quo. Often times, keeping things “as they are” turns into letting things slide backward. For example, if you are not pushing yourself to achieve new levels in your career, it is all too easy to allow your work day to become simple routine. Once it becomes routine, it becomes easy. Once it becomes easy, it begins to be taken for granted. Before you know it, you’re simply going through the motions and your aptitude begins to decline.

This happened to me. For the last year or so, I had stopped having much of a passion for my workouts. I was happy with my body and I was on a routine that had me work out every day. The thing was, I didn’t have drive during those workouts. I showed up, exercised, and left. I didn’t throw myself into my workouts as I had previously. And the entire time, I thought I was staying on top of my game. You see, I was steadily gaining weight during this time. I thought to myself “Wow, I’m putting on some real muscle!”. What I hadn’t realized, though, is I wasn’t putting on muscle at all. I had gained 10 run-of-the-mill pounds of fat.

You see, complacency didn’t set in all at once for me. It hid behind my satisfaction with my fitness level and quietly ate away at my drive. But complacency doesn’t stop at workouts. You can become complacent with your work, parenting, friendships, and honestly it can happen within any facet of your life.

I think it is essential to revisit the things in your life that you care about and make sure you haven’t begun to take them for granted. Look for things that you can improve and run with it. It doesn’t have to be a big change. It can (and often should) be something small. For instance, I am a whiskey lover. While I have cut my drinking back over the last few years, I was still having a glass of whiskey before bed. I realized that I no longer had a good reason for doing it night after night. It was a crutch picked up to help myself sleep (breakups are hard, man!), but I never reevaluated the practice after my emotions stabilized. By nipping that habit in the bud, I have prevented a potentially damaging routine from taking hold.

My message here isn’t all gloom. In fact, there is a bright side to discovering the tendency toward mediocrity that most of us have. It was through this discovery that I have begun to experience the thrill of challenging my standards. Self improvement has the potential to give a sense of fulfillment unmatched by other pursuits. Once you start moving in a positive direction, it becomes exciting to see where you can push yourself.

The big takeaway to all of this is to realize that complacency doesn’t only exist in people who obviously have things they need to change. Even people who are fairly successful in a particular area have to remain vigilant so that they don’t allow their hard fought successes to slip away. Find a reason to continue to push forward in those areas that are important to you. Find out what characteristics define you as a person and never stop refining those.

Above all, love who you are now, but love yourself enough to keep pushing to be your best.

Embrace Sucking

Want to learn new stuff? There’s something you’ve gotta do..

I know, I know. The title could use some work.

But it is the phrase that came to mind when I first started thinking about this idea and I don’t have the heart to change it!

Don’t worry, this blog hasn’t yet taken a turn for the juvenile. What I am talking about is embracing sucking -AT- something.

I think this is a very good topic for my first actual post on this blog. Why? Because blogging isn’t something I know anything about. Frankly, I don’t know if I am a skilled writer, an average writer, or a complete schmuck. So why, then, am I doing this? Because it is something I have an interest in and the only way to ever become skilled at something is to start from the bottom.

The only way to learn is to embrace sucking at something.

Does that mean that everything you do will be naturally difficult and that you will be a failure when you start? No, not at all. If you’re one of the blessed few with many talents, there will be plenty of things that come easy to you. Perhaps you don’t have to embrace nearly the level of suck as the rest of us. But for those not so blessed, there is often period of absolute drudgery when starting something new.

I have found that this phenomenon is accentuated among men. The average guy has a lot of pride. It is often hard for him to admit that he simply isn’t skilled in a certain area. To add to it, trying new things is worrying because there is the possibility of finding yet another thing he isn’t so great at! I know that while growing up, I -hated- things that I wasn’t skilled at. I would pick something up, try it a little bit, and promptly quit once I noticed I was a little behind the others.

I was this way for a lot longer than I’d like to admit. Something changed in my 20s, though. I suddenly realized that I had this mountain of interests, but around the base of that mountain were walls that I had put up because I wasn’t confident in my abilities.

So what was the answer? Simply put, I committed myself to not caring about my performance when attempting something new. And just like that, I was cured! I went on to ignore every failure and became skilled at everything I did!

Or.. Not so much.

I started out with soccer. I had never played soccer before but the sport always appealed to me. I found a pick up group that played near by and I showed up… I was terrible. I couldn’t cover anyone, I was never open for the ball, and I only occasionally remembered who was on my team. I spent the entire first game in a state of abject confusion.

When I went home from that game, I was ready to quit. I had discovered I had no talent for soccer and the guys I was playing with were far better than I would ever be. But after a bit of self pity, I remembered the commitment I had made to myself. A week later, I was back on the field with the same guys.

Did I ever become skilled at soccer? Ehhh… What I can say is that I am now a hell of a lot better than I was. The result of my attempts is a comfort with casual soccer that I would never have had if I had let my pride lead me away from learning. Now if I get invited to play soccer with friends, I don’t have to conveniently have an “ankle injury” and have to skip.

Beyond preventing you from quitting a skill early on in it’s adoption, being content with sucking at something allows you to get out of your own head when trying new things. If you spend all of your time drifting around in your thoughts, mulling over how terrible you’re doing, you are not focused on the task at hand. You will miss out on opportunities to learn.

I have recently begun to do ballroom dance. This has been a huge learning experience for me because I have absolutely no music background. I once thought I knew something about music since I spent so much time jamming out to Creed on my way to football practice in High School. Turns out, listening to music and following music are two -very- different things.

I noticed with ballroom dance, there are often so many things going on that it is easy to get overwhelmed. Counting music, following the steps, leading your partner (for guys, for girls – trying to tell what the hell your partner is doing), adding “flair” with your arms during certain maneuvers.. It is complicated. My teachers are great and they do what they can to keep it simple, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to ignore the fact that it often feels like you’re just stomping around the dance floor.

Ballroom dance has been a great example of a time where I needed to simply accept the possibility that I look like an idiot. By not spending time considering how silly I might look, or whether or not I suck at what I’m doing, I’ve been able to better absorb what my teachers tell me. I don’t find myself growing quite as frustrated because I have resigned to be really, really shitty at this if I need to be.

Being comfortable with being terrible isn’t something you commit to and never think about again. It is a constant struggle between self deprecation and self actualization. Sometimes, failures will be very hard to take. But there’s strength in the struggle. Keep reminding yourself that it is alright to slip up.

That’s basically it. I don’t want to start the trend of writing immense blog posts that no one wants to trudge through, so I will close with this.. Seriously, get out of your own head. The fact is, it takes real strength to put oneself out there and try, especially when you’re not sure of the outcome.

Keep on improving.