For those of you who follow sports and professional basketball, the most recent LeBron free-agency media hurricane could be seen as fascinating, inane, or some combination of both. Most of us remember the widely criticized facepalm moment which was The Decision four years ago when The King decided to leave his hometown of Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach. At the time, I was one of his detractors, not just for instigating the circus but running out of a town desperate for one of their own to deliver them from sports purgatory. (All of which is rather funny considering that I’m a Pittsburgher with enmity toward Cleveland sports teams.)
He left his boyhood home, joined a successful franchise in the Miami Heat, and achieved what many expected him to do: win championships. But there appears to have been a nagging yearn to return to his roots and do something important. Think about it. It’s similar to the journey most of us make in our own lives. We grow tired of home with its constant expectations and suffocating familiarity. We wonder if there may be something better “out there” and leave it all behind. Yet it’s in that journey where we explore new territory, try out different identities, experiment, risk, love, and lose. This process helps us find out who we are and what we want from our life. Eventually, there is a point where coming home is the most obvious and desired choice. Perhaps its one of the reasons why the parable of the Prodigal Son is such a revered story in the Bible.
So, LeBron…I understand your decision to come home because it largely matches the decision I made this year. After leaving for Texas and the shiny attraction of the corporate world, I chose to come back to the East Coast and return to the nonprofit work where I began my career 15 years ago. It’s funny because I confidently swore at one point that I would never go back East and definitely wouldn’t go back to nonprofits after I fought so hard to escape them. Now? I laugh and understand why it’s never wise to use the word never.
My eight years in Texas was a journey where I explored new territory, tried out different identities, experimented in my career, risked much financially, loved family and friends, and lost my soul for a while. But I’m proud of that decision to leave for the Lone Star State and even more proud of the decision to come home. Now that I’m in Atlanta, I’m back near the old mountains that I love dearly, near the ocean that holds so many joyful boyhood and young adulthood memories, near family and friends who helped me become who I am, near my ancestral roots.
Plus, I’m back doing the work I know I was always meant to do. Each day, I put my talents, experiences, and passions to good use to help make a difference in the world and end poverty housing. Having lived through the good, bad, and extremely ugly of corporate and startup life, I’m all the more grateful to have soulful, purposeful work that I love to do (almost) every day.
Cheers to you, King James. And welcome back home.
It’s taken me the better part of a month to assess the past year and take in the learning. I re-read my 2012 review post and I’m rather unnerved by how it’s eerily similar to my initial thoughts on 2013: the importance of love, courage, and vulnerability.
Well, no sense beating around the bush: last year sucked. There really is no other way of putting it. For the better part of 2013, I was a nervous, anxious wreck. I was frequently visited by a sense of fear – almost bordering terror – that clouded my sense of self-worth. I was mired in a depression that was horrific in its depth. All of which led to some bad career decisions (and subsequent professional ass kickings) from which I’m still working to recover.
Yet, I am incredibly thankful for my experiences from 2013. Every single one of them. The few highs and the many lows served as a kind of existential speedbump that helped me to slow down and reassess my life, my choices, my expectations, my faith, my purpose.
Here are 10 things I learned (or at least learned how to appreciate) in 2013:
1. Take care for my health – both physical and mental. Recognizing my own long-time struggle with depression and anxiety has helped me to be a more compassionate advocate for all mental health issues. I’m starting to find the courage to be a voice for mental health and want to ease the stigma our society still has around mental illnesses.
2. Stop trying to have all the answers and start asking more interesting questions. I’ll always struggle with this. I found an early identity in school as The Kid Who Knew The Right Answers. That’s a shitty identity to assume, particularly when you get older and have to contend with the reality that there are often no right answers in life. I’m learning how to ask more questions and being comfortable with uncertainty.
3. Stop comparing myself to others and letting my Inner Critic beat me up with his horseshit. My Inner Critic looooves playing the social comparison game. He’s the LeBron James of his grotesque sport. And as I approach 40 years old, he relishes each opportunity to remind me that my life isn’t what it should be when so many other 30somethings have already achieved personal and professional greatness. Well, it’s all a load of steaming horseshit. It assumes there’s only one way to live a purposeful life. Some of us just take longer to figure out what that means.
4. Stop chasing. Did I ever chase the wrong rabbits this year. I chased money in a high-demand profession and for a company that was such a poor fit for me, my talents, my passions. And I not only did it once…I did it twice in one year. Why? See #3 above.
But if I can pull some positives away from these two experiences: both were my attempts to do things I had never really done before (business analysis and product marketing). So I can continue to take pride in my ability to take risks even when those risks don’t pan out (much like unsuccessfully starting businesses in 2012).
5. Stop settling. Settling is a Siren’s song. Sure, accepting a paycheck in exchange for doing work that doesn’t fulfill us sounds like a decent compromise, but the cost can be our soul getting smashed on the rocks. For me, I’ve discovered that I would rather live frugally and do work that improves the world than settle for a bigger salary that ties me to work that doesn’t matter. Does that sound idealistic? Fine by me.
6. Quitting a bad situation is sometimes better than sticking it out. No one likes a quitter, but there’s a certain idiotic futility that comes from not leaving a bad job situation. See #5 above. Life is far too short to do work that provokes panic attacks, causes us to doubt our competence, or simply isn’t bringing out our best self.
7. Failing is not an end but a beginning. As a recovering perfectionist, failing has never been easy for me to accept. Actually, that’s not true – if I fail, I’m more than happy to accept the blame. However, I’m trying to practice a different way of thinking. Failings are just data suggesting we make course corrections. They’re learning experiences. They’re guides toward better ways of working and living.
8. I am responsible for my own happiness. I can’t pawn this off on anyone else. If I want to live a happy, fulfilled life then I need to own it. It’s not going to come from wishing for better life situations (better job, nicer house, badass truck, etc.). That whole “I’ll be happy when…” internal dialogue is full of lies that keep us from embracing the changes we need to make in our thoughts and actions.
9. Self-compassion means accepting my weird quirks, embarrassing flaws, and contradictory thoughts. Self-compassion is one of the greatest gifts we can give our selves. It’s also one of the most difficult gifts to give. It means accepting and boldly claiming our own oddness and eccentricities. It means acknowledging that there are some folks that are just not going to get who we really are. It means being cool with our own innate contradictions because life is messy and non linear.
10. Don’t give up on finding my soulful work. Finally, never give up on the idea that our work can be meaningful and inspiring. For me, it’s coming to a place where I am choosing to go back to the work of the nonprofit sector. I left it several years ago largely for reasons outlined in #4 above. Since then, I’ve gained a tremendous amount of experience, skills, and insights in the for-profit world. I’m excited to bring my ideas, passion, and commitment to achieving great things to nonprofits that share a mission to create a positive impact in the world.
My sincerest hope is that at the end of 2014, I’ll look back on this post and remark on how it was a year of success, of growth, of courage and love and self-acceptance. And may it also be your greatest year, as well.
A continuation of my last post on letting go. I was out for a brisk walk this morning and felt inspired to offer my thoughts on having the courage to share not only all the awesomeness in our life, but the sadnesses, struggles, imperfections, and everything in between. I feel called to Be Real in 2014 and hope you’ll join me.
What steps can you take to Be Real? Share them here or through social media using #bereal2014. I can’t wait to hear your ideas.
P.S., Once upon a time, I would have been too self-conscious to do this. I would have worried over the lighting, sound, messy hair, shaky picture. And forgive the vertical resolution…I’ll remember to record horizontal the next time. Taking baby steps, though. Hope you can see through the imperfections to the deeper message.
I’m really not sure how to start this post. There’s a voice that is trying to convince me to delete it this very moment. My Inner Critic whispers to me in his most lovingly insidious voice, “No one wants to hear about your problems and fears. No one likes someone who is weak and vulnerable and struggles with life and career. No one wants to hire a man who is emotional, fights off self-doubt, bears his soul to the world and is an idealist at heart (besides, you’ll just get chewed up by hungry, focused, competitive, driven professionals that organizations want anyway). So, shut up and stop being such a damned martyr.” Yes, this is what that voice sounds like in my head. He’s a true bastard.
There was a point not too long ago when I would have ceded to this voice. It’s why I didn’t blog for months. It’s why I allowed myself to stay quiet and unassuming. Yet, I recognize now this was the lie of depression. Problem is, when you live with a voice for so long, you hear it softly lulling you into the supposed safety of smallness and inadequacy, it becomes a tough relationship to sever. And that’s where I am right now…trying to be at peace with this voice while allowing for other voices of purpose, confidence, humor, and compassion to emerge, as well.
My past few years have seen their share of ups and downs. They’ve also been full of heartbreaking struggle and it’s largely because I have clung so tightly to my past with its burdens, fears, guilt, and emotional anchors. I’ve lied about what I want from life and ignored my true self fearing the ridicule and judgment of others, particularly in my career. I didn’t want to be seen as weird, incompetent, unprofessional. I chased after work that didn’t fit my strengths, that didn’t excite my passions, that didn’t fill me with purpose but they were in-demand jobs that held the promise of money and prestige. Alas, these jobs didn’t last long and I fear these recent professional missteps – though I learned much in the experiences – could serve as my own scarlet letter in the future.
However, I am also waking up to recognize that all of this I have gone through has been preparation for something much bigger and much more important. I don’t yet know what this is…but I know as I approach 40 it is about emerging into a truer form of my self, one that this world needs right now. It’s about letting go of the past and unmet expectations and letting in the possibility of new beginnings. It’s about meeting whatever comes next with an excitement and a belief that what is emerging has the ability to be a force for good. It means choosing to live a heartful life and commit to work that truly matters. It means being free to be weirdly and soulfully me…and resting secure in the notion that while I may not fit every organization’s ideal model of employee, there are some organizations that are looking for all I bring to the party.
I hope that if you are finding yourself in a similar state of emerging as we move toward 2014, that together we can embrace the life that is waiting for us. If I can help you in your journey, reach out and let me know what you need. We’re all in this together.
P.S., Special thanks to Licia Berry for inspiring this post.
This is a question I’ve been asking myself for a while.
I hear it when I talk to friends about the near-constant stresses of their work. The fear of taking time off only to see the mountain of work upon their return. The endless cycle of meetings where conversation tends to focus on the tactical, on the execution, on the pressure to get shit done NOW. If I would ask, “But did you get to actually play today?” they would look at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. And for good reason…we’ve pretty much separated the ideas of work and play in our current economy.
But there’s a reason why I decided to call this site Bailey WorkPlay back in 2006. Because I truly believe we can and must reconnect work and play if our organizations are going to succeed.
Yes, it’s an uphill battle and the latest employee engagement statistics don’t offer much reason for optimism. Not to be a Dougie Downer, but we’re not exactly helping our kids see the connection, either. I witness this every day when my children bring piles of homework from school. Just this past weekend, my 14 year old daughter probably had four or five hours of personal time. The other remaining hours were devoted to projects, studying, and various other work. For her, play has become a luxury she can’t afford.
It’s almost as if our educational system is saying, “Get used to it kids. We’re preparing you for the real world where work is first. Life is just that thing that fills in the odd spaces.”
Why do we believe this is okay? Why have we decided that we need far less time to play, create, and wonder? Why do we regard learning as this intensely serious undertaking instead of the playful possibility it can be? Is this a reason we see so many more instances of depression and anxiety among adults and teens today?
Maybe it’s because as much as we like to believe we value creativity, we really don’t know how to handle it…in our businesses and in our schools.
What will it take for us to make play a vital tool in creating vibrant learning organizations?
Aeon Magazine: The Play Deficit
Photo credit: eurodrifter