Thoughts On: Attachment

I’ve been really good at adding stuff to my life. Whether it be vinyl records, friends, businesses, hobbies or habits. I have assembled a pretty large gathering of objects and experiences. So much so that I often find myself overwhelmed by it all. They can weigh me down.

I’ve taken the past two Julys off from work. This time away has had interesting impacts on me. Not necessarily what I was expecting. I was thinking I would be able to come back to my work and retain the somewhat Zen state I achieved during the month off. Not really. The realities of work and life soon crash back in. But I have been able to use that month off to begin letting go. I’m getting better at quitting things.

Over this past July I quit drinking. It happened during my week alone at a cabin in northern Michigan. I was cooking dinner one night and as usual I poured myself a glass of wine while I cooked. I noticed my body became very flush from the wine. I also recalled that alcohol often made me feel flushed and tired. It appeared to be causing inflammation, something I struggle with in general. That night I corked up the bottle of wine and decided I would take a break from drinking for a while to see how it goes. That was about 6 weeks ago and I haven’t felt this good in years. It was also surprised at how easy it was to stop drinking. Maybe I was ready for it. I’ve tried in the past and only made it through a week or two with willpower. This has been relatively easy, it feels like I’m cheating somehow. Sure, maybe I’ll come back to it someday and I’m ok with that. But if I do I want to come back less attached.

Now I am looking at what else I can quit. I really struggle with attachment. I feel the gravitational pull of sugar, caffeine, sex, fear and ideas every day. They tug at my consciousness and I fall into their orbit and the attachment begins. Just as mass attracts mass I must become emotionally and spiritually lighter to reduce the gravitational pull of interesting objects and experiences. But I must also balance this with being human, present and committed to those I love. This is a tension I struggle with every day.

note: this blog is the first in a series of “Thoughts On” posts where I ramble somewhat coherently about things I am thinking about or working on in my life. 

Where Have All The Good Conversations Gone?

I’ve noticed a subtle but pronounced shift over the last few years. Great conversations are becoming harder to come by. Maybe this is just my experience but I wanted to share my thoughts and see if they resonated with others. 

I’m experiencing social interactions that consist mostly of other people monologuing. They show almost no interest or curiosity in what might be happening in other people’s lives, including mine. If I start talking they often redirect the conversation back to themselves and what they want to talk about. Usually I leave these conversations having only asked questions since anything else is steamrolled. They rarely reciprocate with questions or don't appear to notice that they are monopolizing the dialog. I feel that I am an audience watching a performance. I guess they see my value mostly as an audience, not as a partner in conversation. Maybe I should be flattered that they want to tell me all-the-stuff. 

This happens in business and personal situations. But more personally than professionally. I regularly have great conversations at work- with co-workers, clients and colleagues- and at home with my family- but socially I often find myself the audience of monologues. And I know these are good people with no understanding, I hope, of how their behavior affects others. Well, at least how it affects me. This leaves me feeling empty and frustrated. 

What should I do? Should I embrace the monologue approach and talk over people and ignore they are saying unless it fits my narrative? Or should I confront people like this and tell them what I need from a conversation? Or…?

And where does this come from? I assume insecurity but is it also rooted in our self-obsessed tech powered age? 

I know I’m not good at small talk so that may be part of the issue. And I would prefer someone monologuing about their life over discussing the weather. What I crave is meaningful, human dialog. Where everyone adds something, everyone walks away with something new and feels more connected. Great conversations usually have some or all of these elements: funny, emotional, weird, connecting and time-warping. We laugh, we feel, we explore, we connect and we step outside of time for a moment. “Have we really been talking for 2 hours?” That’s a great conversation. 

But often I feel trapped in performances. Watching someone put on a show. Maybe they had rehearsed it in advance a little. Often I’ve seen the “show" a few times already and don’t have the nerve to tell them. And I get that. I find myself doing it sometimes to, retelling stories that worked the first time around. Also, I’ve been given feedback that I have a tendency to pull dialog towards what I want to talk about- i.e. weird stuff in the eyes of others. I am trying to moderate that with being open and empathetic to what other people need. I get that people I love and care about need to feel heard. They need to feel valued. But I just wish they remembered that other people need that too.  

I Need Help

"I Need Help"

That was the subject of an email I sent a couple weeks ago to the SmallBox leadership team. I'd had a tough week. My stress levels had been high for several months, along with my blood pressure. Various health issues were perking up asking for attention. I was ending every day pretty wiped out. Things had to change. 

Although I often tell my team that they should ask for help I'm not very good practicing what I preach. The craziness of reinventing SmallBox along with numerous other commitments pushed me to a breaking point and I had no choice but to reach out for help. The problem is that I had waited too long. It had already negatively affected my health and happiness. I shouldn't have waited. I was becoming a "heroic worker".

My pride was getting in the way. Asking for help requires vulnerability which is seen in our culture as a weakness. Of course, asking for help isn't a weakness but I still struggle with that cultural construct every day. 

Asking for help means you can't do it all, you have limits and you are not a superhero. This is a truth we all know but many of us buy into the illusion that we can do it all. That we can say "yes" to whatever is asked of us. We also live with the fear of admitting that we can't do it all- appearing weak. The question becomes, what wins? Too often fear and illusion trump the truth.

There are limits to our abilities. We all need help. Hopefully I get better at asking for it. 

Growth Is Annoying

“ I want to grow” I’ve said it many times. But do I really want to grow or do I just want the byproduct of growth? When it’s happening I feel sore and a little beat up. I don’t look forward to it. If I could I would probably just leap to what’s next. But growth is in the way.

“Growth spurt”. When this happens to kids you can see it, measure it. But as an adult it is hard to measure growth. For instance, in my life right now I'm struggling with vision in some areas, business things mostly. Moving between clarity and confusion on a daily basis. Maybe I’m growing. But it’s hard to tell in the moment. In the past when I’ve looked back on these times I saw growth. 

I know, I know. This is how you learn, this is how you go from good to great. I get all that. But it doesn’t make it any easier. It still sucks when you're in it.

In Ed Catmull’s book “Creativity Inc” he talked about the tunnel. He explained that the creative process is like going into a long tunnel and the only reason you keep going is because you have been in tunnels before and know they have an end. I feel like I’m in a tunnel now. But like Ed's story, I've been here before so I'm not too freaked out. 

But I will say that sometimes I can feel a little manic during these tunnel times. Oscillating between highs and lows. I can feel like a car stuck in the mud suddenly sputtering forward. It’s not just a mental thing, it’s all of my energy. 

When you start working out they (those trainer people) tell you to take off a day in-beween workouts. To let your body rest, for muscles to build. What if our mind needed similar intervals of activity and rest? It's basically a muscle, right? Maybe these stops and starts are natural and healthy. Light and dark, winter and summer. Growth may work in a similar way- stops and starts. A cycle. Maybe I can come to see in the stops a natural cadence, something to expect and respect. Maybe then I will see the beauty in the process of growth. But right now it's just annoying.