A few weeks ago several of my friends gathered in a place that we have been many times before, but this time it was different, the topic of conversation shifted. All of a sudden the conversation was about me and what I have done recently, and it was strange. Three separate people, each of whom I have known for more than 10 years came up and told me that they were proud of me and that they were inspired by the steps that I have over the past few years.
This is a big change for me, when I was in college I almost intentionally set the bar low so that I would not disappoint. If people have low expectations it is very easy to shine. I found out along the way that this was a double edged sword and left a negative impression on those that I didn’t shine around and I gradually stopped using that as a crutch. This makes it sound like there was a light bulb moment that switched things around, but in reality it was a gradual change that occurred over a long period of time and was not tied to one decision. With all lasting change it was a series of little decisions that gradually built up over time, or to use a phrase it was eating the elephant one bite at a time.
I read a lot about productivity and learning. I am fascinated by life hacks and strategies like the 80/20 principal but with any change it is difficult to me from the contemplative phase to the action phase. It is a lot of fun to read these blogs and books, and it provides the kind of discussion fodder that makes you feel like the smartest person in the room, but spending your time gaining more and more of this knowledge rather than enacting change creates a productivity paradox. The challenge comes in putting these productivity ideas into practice, which if you start small and set reasonable goals it is easy enough.
I am a very goal oriented person and find it natural to work toward anything that I put my mind to. Even though I might be moving at a glacial pace and may blow whatever predicted timeline out of the water I am always focused on trying to complete the goal. Along the way I have I have found that many of my goals are unattainable, but if I can make some progress then I count it as a victory. You can set a goal that you are going to go HAM and run 5 miles a day 6 days a week, but by the end of the first week you will probably be burnt out and won’t proceed. Running one day a week is a start, just slogging one mile through the snow is a better option than sitting on the couch, and who knows maybe next time you can go 1.1 miles?
Want to inspire people, try new things. Most people want to try new things, but for many reasons they don’t. I am unwilling to call them excuses but people have things in their lives and deep set psychological beliefs that keep them from taking the first step on any project. “I don’t have time” or “I don’t know anything about that” are the most common, but people basically people are waiting for the perfect situation to fall into their laps. I sometimes feel the same way, but I have been able to confront the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect time or situation, you just need to make do with what you have. Starting a project or adventure makes you that much better at it than 99.9% of the people in the world. Whenever you tackle something new there a very steep learning curve and once you make it through the initial phases you start getting comfortable which makes you look even more competent.
I am not great at anything, but I am average at a lot of things, and being average is underrated. When I was in high school I could play any instrument that I put my hands on, not well, but I could at least eek out a few notes and within a few hours of practice I could sound reasonably competent. I was never an expert, but that was not what I aspired to be, I preferred to be a generalist. The same guiding principals have carried through my life and my career. At one time this spring I was working full time at the long term care pharmacy, covering evenings at the hospital pharmacy, while also working per diem at Rite Aid and at an independent. I routinely worked 6 or 7 days in a row in 3 fields of pharmacy, on 5 computer systems, within 4 different pharmacy cultures, which is more variance than most pharmacists have in their entire career. By being a generalist I am able to be competent at many aspects of whatever I do but don’t handcuff myself to one field. Don’t get me wrong the world needs specialists, but the best fit for me is to be a generalist who can provide a blanket coverage that allows me to tackle many things at the same time.
The biggest thing that I have done is being open about the things that I am trying. It seems simple, and it is, but most people don’t open the dialogue about what they are doing. Whatever you do can be awesome, but because it is what you do all the time it seems mundane. A few years ago I drove from Vermont to Tennessee for our annual ski weekend in Gatlinburg, yes I know its nuts. This was the 3rd time that I had gone and I enjoyed the weekend, but after spending all that time driving down route 81 the trip had kind of lost it’s sparkle. When I was talking to a friend I just passed it off like it was another part of my boring life, but luckily for me he called me out on my false modesty and made sure that I took the time to appreciate the adventure in my life. We are raised not to brag and not to self promote, selling yourself is considered slimy, but how else can we let people know about our triumphs. It feels unnatural, but you need to put yourself out there in order for others to recognize who you are and what you are capable. False modesty is one of the worst things that you can do, celebrate yourself because nobody else will. I don’t mean to make you all into braggarts, and I find that I liberally pepper stories of successes with the many stories of failure that I have endured in order to maintain an even keel. It is probably easy for you to say that you are not an open person like I am or that you are scared of putting yourself out there, but if you stay inside your comfort zone you don’t have the motivation to change. Every time I get in front of a crowd, or write and essay, or talk to a stranger I am absolutely terrified. I am afraid of failure, but I know that even if I fail I can recognize what I did wrong and learn from it. I am afraid of insulting people or pushing them away, but I realize that losing people is part of life. I am am afraid of over sharing and exposing myself to ridicule and embarrassment, but I know that there is a difference between vulnerability and weakness and the benefits are greater than the risks. As FDR once said there is nothing to fear except fear itself… that and bears, you should be afraid of bears.
I am not an inspiration. I am just a ruggedly handsome flannel clad bearded man who likes to try new things and looks at the world through a bit of a cracked lens. I take a lot of inspiration from the people around me, especially the people who push me to be better than I am. You can become my inspiration all you have to do is set a goal and push yourself. We all have that list of things that we want to do or try, now seems like a perfect time to start. Go for a run, take a class, go to an open mic, cook something that you have never made, build something, do something new, and then be proud and tell the world about it. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so close your computer, get off the couch, and take that step.