Don’t Let Your Focus Override Your Purpose

Standard

Last weekend, I decided to go get a drink for a couple of hours on Monday to celebrate Labor Day and to get out of the house.  I was planning on two, maybe three hours max since I was by myself and I still wanted to complete some extra things back at the house before the week started.

As it turns out, my friend decided to come meet me and we ended up heading home around 8:30, sliiiiightly over the mental time limit I had set for myself.  I got nothing done that I wanted to, but I wasn’t upset, and not just because I had had a good time.

The reason that I wasn’t upset was because that day resulted in a much better friendship between that friend and me.  We both had misconceptions and slight mistrust towards each other before, since this was a “friends through a mutual friend” situation, and having fun together ultimately lead to a really, really good conversation where we were able to clear things up and open up to one another in a way that allowed true friendship to blossom.

Just think, though: what if I had gone against my instincts and allowed my focus on getting stuff done to prevent that from happening?  What if I had been so bent on what I felt SHOULD get done that I missed what NEEDED to get done?  I can guarantee our relationship would still be strained and we would both be trying to pretend that it wasn’t.

Focus and drive are invaluable.  However, sometimes we get tunnel vision and neglect to see the opportunities around us that would enhance our lives and purpose dramatically if only we would slow down and take advantage of them.

As much as we need that inner fire, and at times we do need to block out the outside world if we want to get anything accomplished, if we do that all the time sometimes we will miss the fact that perhaps our purpose is changing, or should change.  A lot of times we settle on a goal and do our darndest to reach that goal without actually stopping to analyze if that target is actually within the scope of where we want our life to end up.

Our purpose should drive our focus, not the other way around.  If something isn’t serving you or serving your objective, why are you still focusing on it?  There is no shame in quitting something if you realize that it is actually not helping you get to where you want to be.

This concept that I just mentioned-of quitting for lack of purpose-is one that I have struggled with in the past.  When I commit to something, I like to go all in.  I don’t back down.  I get. shit. done.  But really, how dumb is it to keep doggedly trying to accomplish something after discovering that it just isn’t for you, or that your desires have changed, or that it actually won’t help you get to where you need to be?

Quitting because you’re a pussy is one thing.  That should never be an option.  But quitting because it’s not longer the right fit should never be something to be ashamed of.  It’s hard, though, especially if you’ve held a certain purpose in your mind for so long.  Those deeply ingrained targets can be hard to let go of, but sometimes it’s necessary to take inventory and clear out all the clutter.

But if we’ve been focused on one point for so long, how can we remove ourselves enough to know if it’s really the not right thing or if we’re just going through a momentary inner struggle?

Honestly, most of the time you already kind of know.  There’s a big difference between little dips in the road (i.e. man, this is really hard, I wonder if I have what it takes) and giant stop signs (i.e. every single step I take towards this goal is making me miserable, this target doesn’t actually align with my end game).

On the other hand, there are times when quitting isn’t the answer.  Those are the moments when you just have to step back, take a breather, and realize that the reason the wagon isn’t moving is because there is a stick stuck in the spokes and all you have to do it pull it out and you’ll be moving merrily along.

The point is, tunnel vision can be both a blessing and a curse.  Don’t begrudge the times when your focus gets shaken and your purpose gets solidified.  There will (hopefully) always be more time you can dedicate to your goals, but sometimes moments that remind us of the scope of our existence happen only once in a while; don’t miss out on those opportunities because you are worried about throwing off your game.  I promise you, if you want it badly enough, your game will be even better for taking that moment to soak in the reason why you are working so hard.

Feed your focus.  Starve your distractions.  But never, ever forget your purpose.

 

Best Foot Forward

Standard

I just ended a week full of presenting my best self.  Interviews are no joke: dressing to impress, trying to recall all of your vast work experience to fit into one perfectly worded response to the rapid-fire questions coming across the conference table, and anxiously waiting to hear back from the one job you really want (and, of course, hearing back from the job you’re only so-so about two hours after you leave).

Finding a job is serious business.  If you’re good at the initial first impression game, you have lots of offers, even if your qualifications are sub-par.  If you can’t interview well, sometimes you are passed by for someone with more flair.  Knowing how to play the game is crucial if you really want to get ahead.

These observations instantly reminded me of dating.  Finding a partner is one big interview process that can be intriguing and exciting but also exhausting and disheartening.  And the exact same parameters for success apply.

When you’re dating, you make sure you make up your face perfectly and wear the top that shows off just enough cleavage to be interesting, but not enough to be slutty.  You try to come up with clever and witty responses to their questions, and you anxiously wait by the phone for them to text (but sadly, usually only getting 5 in a row from that one guy from that one bar who won’t leave you the hell alone).

This begs the question:  what’s the difference between someone who gets the job, and someone who is sent the polite “thank you but no thanks” e-mail?  What differentiates between someone whose call is eagerly awaited and someone whose very name on the screen initiates an eyeroll and a screenshot?

Marketing matters.  The candidate who comes across as knowledgeable, friendly, and confident, even if she is shaking in her proverbial boots, is the person who will receive the offer.  Likewise, the guy who goes after what they want without any hesitation and puts out the vibe that they know the other person will like them will usually get the giggle, sideways glances, and beaming smiles from the girl they are pursuing.

However, this is a double-edge sword in both scenarios.  Sometimes confidence can cross the line into arrogance.  No one, either in the professional and dating worlds, wants to be around an egomaniac.  Trying to downplay things, though, can be equally as off-putting.  While reaching the Goldilocks sweet spot can be tough, it is the attitude that wins the offer letter AND the 2 second text response.

Authenticity matters.  Even if people aren’t  as in tune with their inner psyche as they should be, we usually can tell when something is off.  As humans, we want to know that we are surrounded by trustworthy human beings both on the job and in our romantic relationships.  Authenticity means being true to your likes and dislikes, what you need, and not being afraid to show your whole self.

Nonetheless, this again needs to be tempered with common sense.  Just because you prefer casual dress at the workplace doesn’t mean you should show up to an interview in jeans.  Likewise, just because you enjoy frozen TV dinners more than fine dining doesn’t mean you should take your date to Chipotle the first time around.  Our BEST authentic self should be what we present, not our ’20 years in the same job’ self or ‘thrifty, cutting corners’ self.

Preparation Matters.  Believe it or not, there are some people who show up to an interview with no idea of what the company stands for or what makes it unique.  Likewise, there are people who ask for a first ‘date’, only to end up dilly-dallying around because they made no plans beforehand.  Interviewers want to know that you have done your homework and that you actually want to work THERE versus ANYWHERE.  Girls want to know that you care enough about the date to take the time to set up a dinner reservation.  Doing your homework may not guarantee an A on the test, but it will give you a hell of a better shot than just winging it.

Ultimately, you can market yourself impeccably, be true to yourself, prepare to the Nth degree, and still not get a callback or a second date.  Sometimes, there was a superior candidate.  Other times, it just wasn’t the right fit.  While either scenario sucks, it’s also a relief to know that you are still free to find the perfect fit for YOU, whether it be a job with more flexibility or a partner who just gets you.

Opportunities in life are just that: opportunities.  Just because one doesn’t take off the way you imagined or hoped doesn’t mean that you are forever doomed.  In most cases, people looking back on their lives at chances that didn’t work out for some reason (OTHER than lack of effort) feel that they were the recipient of something much better later on.

And so, whether you are searching for a job or searching for a soulmate, don’t tie yourself to one image of what you *think* you want.  Give your all and take every chance that you think might pan out, but don’t spiral into despair over a rejection letter or a flopped date.  In the end, if you play your cards right, the best things in the world will fall into your lap, and you will thank the stars for every experience that led you to that point.

Choosing the First Domino

Standard

For the last couple of days, I’ve been in mild panic mode over something most people would consider glorious: I have an interview every day for the next three days.

Now, most people in the California teaching world would be excited to get one interview, let alone three.  And don’t get me wrong, I am over the moon that three schools consider me a strong enough candidate to want to meet me in person.

So why am I not JUST excited?

If all goes spectacularly, having three interviews means three potential job offers.  However, I can only take one.  Which means I have to make a choice.

Having choices is slightly immobilizing.  Now granted, I don’t have the actual choice yet between these three schools, but I COULD, potentially.  And that makes me nervous because I want to choose the right one.

Many times, we are faced with choices that are not really choices.  For example, should I take this job 10 miles south that pays $X, or ten miles north that also pays $X.  Either way, it’s pretty clear that either choice is going to have the same outcome.

However, my three jobs prospects are in LA, Irvine, and Encinitas.  For those of you not in California, these jobs are essentially perfectly placed along the coast in a 150 mile radius from Los Angelos to San Diego.  Which means I have to decide where I want to live.  I also have to decide how much money weighs in versus location since all three schools have varying salaries.  To top it off, I may not even have to take a new job at all if my RIF notice is recalled, so I’d have to decide between the known and the unknown.

In a word….AHHH!

But before you mark this post off as simply a self-indulgent, woe-is-me, first world problems post, let me get to the meat of what I’ve been thinking.

There is no right choice.

Each time you are faced with a decision, all of the options will lead you in a specific direction.  It does not necessarily mean that any of the choices will bring you to a better or worse place, it simply means that the destination will be slightly different.

Of course, there is always the exception, which is why this truth only applies to comparable options; if you are choosing between McDonalds and a corporate company with benefits, that really isn’t a choice.

So, then, what exactly IS a choice?

A choice is a decision between two or more outcomes that are equally valid.  This is what makes them so hard.  I’ve made decisions to move across the country and/or across state lines more than once in my life, but the option of staying seemed so ludicrous that I didn’t really ‘choose’ to leave; it was simply the way my life went.

You can only make decisions based on the information that you have now.  This is where really knowing what you want comes into play.  There are many stories of people who settled into the family life at 22, only to regret it in their 30’s and 40’s.  There are an equal amount of stories of people who put off relationships to become successful, only to end up jaded and lonely.  Of course, if you find the right person, you really can do both.

It all boils down to how you see your life going on a macro scale.  If you envision yourself traveling the world, why would you NOT accept a job offer where travel is a major component?  If you see yourself raising a family and cannot picture your life without children, why would you take a time-consuming, highly demanding job?  If you picture yourself enjoying fresh breezes all winter, why would you agree to take a long-term management position in your company in Iowa?

And honestly, once you figure out what you really want, the choice becomes as simple as the one between McDonalds and Goldman-Sachs.  Once you have lasered in on your true vision, you will gravitate towards the options that lead you closer to your end goal.

Our lives are simply a series of different elaborate domino set-ups.  One decision leads to the next, to the next, to the next.  When you take a step back, you can see the awesome pattern laid out before you, but when you’re in the trenches, straining to push over that first domino, it can feel like the most confusing and random scene ever.

And yet, if you don’t push that first domino, you will get none of the awe-inspiring affects that come with perfectly placed events cascading one after the other.  So if you are faced with a true, difficult choice in your life, take a step back. Breathe. Realize that either domino represents an adventure.  Take some time to get to the root of what you want your life to look like.  And when you figure that out?  Simply put your finger out and push.

 

LIVE for Something

Standard

Yesterday I was listening to a song, and one of the lyrics stood out to me: “Why isn’t anyone willing to die for anything anymore?” (paraphrased).

At first glance, being willing to die for something is the ultimate commitment.  You are willing to lay down your LIFE for this thing, which means you are willing to give up your existence in order to show your dedication to this cause you feel so strongly about.

But when I was pondering this lyric and internally agreeing that the willingness to die for something really IS lacking in today’s world, I came to the realization that dying for something is hard, but living for it is harder.

When you die for something, it is over in an instant.  You declare your unending dedication by a short, albeit dramatic demonstration, and then it is over.  People remember your act for a while, but it usually fades shortly thereafter.

If you LIVE for something, however, that takes substantially more commitment.  It means that all of your time is dedicated towards that goal.  All of your choices are geared towards furthering your cause.  There are constant sacrifices that need to be made, and you are consistently having to rededicate your mind to the prize and remind yourself of why you are so devoted in the first place.

This is the reason why people who LIVE for something are remembered.  People like Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Susan B. Anthony, and many more are individuals who are commemorated for their fierce commitment to causes that were near and dear to their heart.

Each of these people were living for things greater than themselves.  Which, in my belief, is the key to true success.  When you focus on causes that impact people outside of just you, you will get increasingly more momentum as others appreciate, acknowledge, and even join your purpose rather than simply putting your head down and bulldozing through your own personal agenda.

So, what does it mean to actually live for something versus simply existing?

It means that you are actively involved in the direction your life is going.  So many people allow their lives to be dictated by life events or people close to them.  They lose out on opportunities because they don’t want to leave their current job or the people around them, or they settle down with someone and give up their life long dream of traveling to Europe because that person doesn’t like to travel.

Using a personal example, I could choose to take my layoff as a sign to leave California, or bend to the pressure to move back to Minnesota, or simply apply anywhere there is a job and take what I can get.  However, I know that I want to stay near the coast, so I am only applying to jobs that fit that location criteria.  I refuse to let being laid off dictate where I live, and I am completely confident in my abilities to make it happen.

It means you have put thought into what is important to you, and you have decided what you can compromise on and what you cannot.  If you don’t forcefully put aside time for yourself to figure out what you want, there is no way that you can keep a steady course.  Living FOR something means that you have given substantial thought to this goal or cause, and have laid out the steps you need to take to get there.

I have seen this firsthand in the life of someone close to me.  He has decided what he wants to live for, and he refuses to let anything get in his way.  The reason he can be so absolute, however, is because he has devoted a good portion of his time to figuring out what is important to him and why.

It means you have character.  It is hard to stick to something with so many obstacles constantly being placed in your path.  People who have character stick to their guns no matter what because they have gone through the mental work necessary to solidify how important their goals or their cause is to them.

The best example I can think of for character is my father.  He has beliefs that he considers absolutes, and there is absolutely nothing that will sway him to compromise those beliefs.  Even if it would be immensely easier to give into to those around him, he still unwavering acts upon his own convictions.

Overall, living FOR something versus simply existing is the optimal way to live your life.  Think of your life as a giant puzzle: it is infinitely easier to put together the picture if you have the box to go off of.  It’s just that in life, you get to create the image yourself.  If you don’t take the time to create that image and set it up so that it is constantly in your field of vision, who knows what Kindergarden-like image you will end up with at the end of your life.

Masterpieces take time, planning, and dedication.  Don’t waste your life floating from one experience to the next; decide what you want to accomplish with this one life we are given, and then take the steps to make it happen.  Live FOR something, and your life will be one worth living. 

 

My Eye of the Storm

Standard

Right now, it feels like my life is one giant chaotic hurricane.  I am in the process of looking for another ‘just-in-case’ job.  I am trying to find a temporary place to live.  I have massive amounts of grading to do.  I myself have to write several letters of recommendation for teachers in my department that are possible laid off as well.  I am in charge of a million different things at my school, all of which seemed to have events this month.  GAH!

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t been able to write my usual two posts a week.  Sitting down now, I was just about to start in on my work when I took a pause, and reminded myself:

It will get done.

It doesn’t matter if I take an hour or two to write this post.  I know myself, and I will handle my responsibilities like I always do.  However, if I don’t take time to do things for myself during periods of high demand, that’s when the possibility of failure becomes real.

Humans are tricky beings.  Sometimes, the very thing that seems to create the most productivity (grind grind grind!) is the very act that leads to our downfall.

We are not meant to push ourselves to the absolute limit each and every day.  We can do it for a period of time, but eventually, progress crashes to a halt.

I’ve had to learn this the hard way with working out.  I thought that if I worked out three times a day and ate next to nothing, I would drop weight like a player drops an old fling.  Lies.  The scale would not budge, and it actuall shot up whenever I didn’t stick to my iron regimen.  Now that I’m eating a normal amount of food and working out once a day, I am actually seeing results.

That’s not to say that there can’t be periods of time where you need to hit the gas over a longer span of time.  However, if we make that our go to MO, it will catch up to us eventually.

When our life becomes highly chaotic, that is when we most need to take the time to center ourselves and take the steps necessary to clear the cobwebs from our head.

But, these also have to be purposeful moments.  A lot of the time we push ourselves so hard that our recovery is sitting on the couch watching TV or going out and binge-drinking.  This is not actual recovery time, because it does nothing to re-energize you.  Every time I waste an entire night watching TV, I feel annoyed with myself for not getting SOMETHING done.

The goal of taking time off should be to advance something that you and only you will benefit from (which will lead into peripheral benefits for others).  This is proven time and time again by mothers who ‘selfishly’ take an hour for themselves to work out, and instantly see the positive impact this purposeful time makes in their day to day lives.

Many people might say that taking time off to be productive defeats the purpose of taking time off.  However, the end goal of time off should be an increase in enjoyment and re-solidification of your purpose.

Think back to the times when you were the most happy.  For me, those times include being with the people I love and care about, reading a great book, or working out.  All of those things, besides giving me contentment, move me towards a personal goal.

There is also a flip side to this coin.  If you are a person who doesn’t push themselves at all, in any capacity, or for any purpose, you are failing yourself.  If your whole life is simply floating in a giant inner-tube being pulled every which way by the current, this is a waste.

Every person is given the chance to make their life purposeful.  The awesome and intimidating reality of this is that you get to choose your purpose.  And the scarier part is, it might not be the same as the people next to you.

Humans are not solitary creatures by nature, and it is very easy to look to someone stronger than you and emulate their life and projected purpose.  It gives us a feeling of safety when we see other people doing the same thing.

However, the beautiful thing about life is that there are no two people who are on the same journey.  If you have truly solidified where you want to go, and actively work towards that goal on a day to day basis, there is an inner sense of contentment that no one can take away from you.

Passionately be at the helm of your own ship.  The entire world is lounging before us, and no matter where you intend to end up, it’s always more rewarding if you earnestly battled the storms and Kraken’s to get there.  You are not a message in a bottle waiting to be drifted to a foreign land.  An epic journey awaits you if you simply pull out your sword and bravely unfurl the sails.