Tug of War
I’ve been off my game for a bit – well, five-months to be specific. And as I fall back into the comfort of the fall school and work routine, my subconscious has been slooowly untangling the messy “why” … or perhaps, “what the f*** just happened?
When looking back on my life thus far, it hasn’t fallen into the typical peaks and valleys of the normals. Instead it’s more like a tug-of-war with my enemies ranging from my personal demons to life-scuttling a**holes to radical circumstance.
I’m straining and straining against the rope in the futile hope things will get better, shit will stink less, progress will be made, enemies will lose ground. It’s in these moments/chapters of my life that I start to fool myself, “Wow, I’m trying hard. I’m sweating. I’m grunting. I’m hurting. I must be making some progress.”
Nope. In fact that’s typically when I start losing ground, losing momentum, losing myself.
Tug-of-war pro’s – yes, they exist – win in steady, rhythmic surges of power. Give a little to recharge, yank hard with your entire body and progress an inch at a time. It’s seems slow and incremental to onlookers. You are still sweating, grunting and hurting, but now you are gaining ground.
Here’s the deal. I know this already. I should have learned this lesson fifty-times over by now. Hell, my first (and only) time in my life I won first place in any competition was on the Tug of War team, when La Paloma Elementary School destroyed Team Bonsall. I was in the 4th grade.
When I fast forward through all of the lessons imparted to me since then, a few wisdom bombs pop-up in the highlights reel.
1) Re-gaining lost ground is really hard – accept it. When I first started training to pass the USAF Academy’s fitness test, push-ups were my biggest weakness. In my junior year of high school I couldn’t even do ONE proper push-up. How in the hell do you make incremental gains when you can’t even complete one measly rep? In my case, my sets consisted of 1/4, then 1/2, then 3/4 pushup reps. It was ugly and damn embarrassing, but over time I hit my number.
2) Strength is a requirement – grow stronger. In the universally underappreciated film, The 13th Warrior the main character travels from Persia to Norway where he accidentally ends up on a mission to rescue a village being attacked by strange creatures. In one scene, a gigantic viking casually tosses one of his large swords to a young Antonio Banderas, “You’ll need this,” and nearly knocks him over. He grumpily retorts, “I cannot lift this.” The viking sagely replies, “Grow stronger.”
3) You cannot do this alone – maintain community. Seems like a no-brainer, but it’s really, REALLY easy to slip into the me against the world mindset when life slings shit at you from all directions. You all probably have some friends, family, co-workers, vendors, bosses and/or mentors – hell, even a senile old man down at the nursing home – that could spare an ear. Tough times are the wrong time to cave it up. Not saying dump your effed up life in their laps, but keep the communication lines open.
Okay, okay, enough metaphor for now.
Here’s some concrete examples of how I’m executing this cocktail napkin “Master Plan for Getting Nate’s Life out of the Crapper” … and before you say it, I know they are out of order. People make consistently stupid decisions when nearing burn-out, and effing up the ideal order of things has been my premium weakness.
Maintain community – I started reaching out to friends and mentors, just to see how they were doing – and secretly hoping they wouldn’t ask me any hard questions that might make me ragey or weepy. Most of ’em could smell the pain on me and reminded me of the advice I had given them in the past. Now, I have a few folks cheering me on from the sidelines, and a couple who have jumped in to help me heave-ho in the tug of war against Nate’s pesky demon squad.
Accept it – I wrote it down all that advice as reminders on every single mirror in my house using a bar of soap. And I write it down every day on my favorite lined yellow legal pads. And on the rougher days, I write it on the most relavant bits of my left hand in .7mm blue gel pen. “Expect turbulence” pops up the most often to remind me that my demons ain’t gonna let up just because I’m having a bad day. I wipe off some of the idioms with a rag because the advice isn’t suitable, but putting wisdom billboards in your house can do no harm.
Grow stronger – one of the pieces of advice I recently received was to listen to an audiobook about integral theory, Kosmic Consciousness by Ken Wilber. My main takeaway: weakness in seemingly unrelated areas of life can trigger injury in areas that you are typically strong. I re-looked at the physical, mental and emotional components of my life. Physically, I’m now working out (nearly) everyday and just joined a Muay Thai kickboxing gym – not too excited about the glittery blue short shorts, but they’ll keep me humble when I start getting all swole ;^) Mentally, I’ve added and diversified my reading/listening habits. A diesel punk thriller, that book on integral theory, and a sales book on closing philosophy are currently in rotation. Emotionally, I opted for a blend of therapy and aggressively turning down the temperature on ancillary relationships that can just wait. Essentially, creating space and time to heal – and hiring a therapist to patch up the rest of the injuries.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress on all fronts, interspersed with some recent lessons sourced from the oddest places (like Norse Mythology). Stay tuned.
Humbled, yet still unapologetically human,
– Nate –
P.S. Hat tip to James Clear – his blog on designing a better environment and his dynamite keynote on incremental gains helped cement my regain routines.
Photo Credit: Andrew Jones
Get a weekly jam delivered to your inbox chock full of ‘in the trenches’ lessons in productivity, habit breaking/forming, human expert interrogations and gritty anecdotes.