Category Archives: motivation

2/17/2020 – And Not to Yield

“Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

~ ulysses, by tennyson

Yesterday was my birthday. I didn’t go out partying, I didn’t plan a big day with a bunch of activities, I didn’t even do anything outside of the ordinary. I made breakfast, read the news, went to the gym, did some grocery shopping, and followed that up by meal-prepping for the upcoming week while the NBA All-Star game played in the background.

During most of the day, I couldn’t help but sift through the normal thoughts one has during these semi-meaningful arbitrary milestones that we set for ourselves like birthdays. How am I doing? Am I working toward what I want? Am I where I thought I would be? Am I where I should be? Am I loved? Do I love? Do I have passion? Am I still curious? Am I inspiring myself appropriately? Is this still interesting?

At some point while I was wandering the aisles of Whole Foods and pondering these thoughts, the quote from Tennyson above crept into my head and stayed there the rest of the day until I had a chance to sit down and reread his poem, “Ulysses” (also known as Odysseus, of Homer’s “The Odyssey”). I previously read it at some point in college, but had found the old english vocabulary to be boring and therefore indecipherable for my underdeveloped brain. 

But this time around, I found a lingering resonance that I can’t quite define.

The poem takes place after Odysseus/Ulysses has returned home to his family, and he finds himself, for lack of a better term, bored. He has become part of the experiences that have shaped him during his adventures abroad, and he longs again for the great unknown, the call of the wild. He decides to leave his ruling duties to his son, and to rally his crew again for one last voyage at sea, with the final two lines of the poem offering a defiant refusal to bow to age.  

“Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

While I read and reread the lines of Ulysses to make sure I was pulling as much meat off the bone as I could, and organizing my thoughts for what I thought would be a triumphant and defiant topic here in this column, I had my Spotify account on shuffle in the background. On my third read-through, the soft, delicate tones of Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” began playing. I stopped thinking, stopped reading, closed my eyes, and relaxed in my chair, listening as the gentle piano notes danced lightly around the room, filling the air.

As the composition progressed, drifting from the serene innocence of the opening to the dramatic ascending notes immediately following, then to the peaceful rolling motifs blissfully drifting around seemingly without direction in the middle of the song, until the melody quietly slowed into its wispful, melancholic yet satisfied end, I found myself experiencing emotions I had never let myself feel in the song before.

I felt the bliss and insecurity of innocence. I was lured by wonder. I felt the weight of helplessness, of being completely out of control. I felt the sting of pain. the bittersweet melancholy of love lost. I felt the release of healing. I felt the breathlessness of love’s first spark. I settled into gentle comfort. I felt cautious, and hesitant. The pull of curiosity. I felt the gentle confidence of true beauty. I felt hope.

I sat still as I allowed these emotions to wash over me, unsure of what it was I was experiencing, but trying to remain present nonetheless. Amid a fog of confusion, the song ended and I wiped the tears from my eyes. 

I looked at my notes on “Ulysses” and tried to make sense of how this poem could lead to the emotional experience I had just had with “Claire de Lune.” 

I am still not totally sure of what this experience is significant of, nor do I think these two works of art relate to each other in any way. 

But as I look back on my 37 years of life, I find great comfort that I can find such identity and resonance from a piece like “Ulysses,” knowing that though I may not have the accomplishments I hoped to have by now, I still possess a dogged determination to strive, to seek, to find, and that I am not yet ready to yield. Not any time soon. 

And yet I also find comfort that I can derive such passionate, emotional identity and definition from a piece like Claire de Lune, a song I’ve heard a hundred times in films or shopping malls without more than a thought of its recognizance. And yet, suddenly I can be moved to tears when it inexplicably decides to reveal itself to me in an intimate moment.

And as I grow through my experiences, and I continue to marshall the strength not to yield, I will continue to be increasingly open to these emotions that for most of my life I have avoided. For I am only recently realizing that they make me strong, not weak. Where the strength of my convictions and ambitions offer the form, my emotions and vulnerabilities offer the color, and together they weave the most beautiful tapestry I am only just now becoming aware of.

I am not yet where I want to be, and I am still learning who I am. But I know that I have a lot of life left to explore. And for that, I have hope.

To strive, to seek, to find.

The Virtue of not Actually Feeling any Better

Every morning i wake up, since the beginning of the year, I’ve been reading from “the Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday. It has been a useful way to begin each day with a thought, quote, or idea that I can attempt to carry with me throughout the day and give me something to chew on & think about.

February’s running theme and focus has been on “passions and emotions,” two things i’ve never been short on. Perhaps the easiest way to see my emotions get the best of me is when I’m playing sports. Sometimes my tunnel vision in the competition for a W is so intense that I completely forget about my manners, and i say or do things i regret later. Or perhaps it is when I’m driving and I have to endure the insufferability of hapless, oblivious drivers with no respect for concepts like flow of traffic, or merging appropriately, or focusing on the road instead of one’s mobile device.  All of these things get me quite worked up. But obviously these minor things are indicative of a greater battle I have been fighting most of my adult life with managing anger. I’ve gotten better in the last couple years, but anger is a devil that one never completely vanquishes once it has a hook into your emotions.

One thing I’ve noticed lately in particular is that little inconsequential things have been getting to me. Like not even anything worth speaking of. So small, I can’t even articulate a proper example accurately. It might be something like my phone taking an extra couple of seconds to execute whatever command i’ve just issued it. Or missing a yellow light when I’m not even in a hurry to be anywhere. But these little things happen, my blood pressure faintly and momentarily spikes, and I inexcusably might let a quick, unnecessary obscenity fly. There’s no reason for it, and it means nothing, but for half a moment, a mild form of tourette’s appears to take over, and the anger monster makes a brief appearance before disappearing back into its prison cell of domestication. 

By most accounts, this seems like a victimless crime. There’s usually no one around, and the moment passes and I move on. But I can’t let go of why I allow this to happen. Perhaps it’s just a side effect of how hard I’ve been focusing on getting back into shape with extreme diet and exercise (seriously, I’ve never worked as hard in my life at watching what i eat and working my ass off in the gym as i have in the last 45 days), and moments of low blood sugar yielding short bouts of “hangry” are breaking through like some sort of micro seizure. Or maybe I’ve just been experiencing moments of weakness a little more frequently lately.

When the calendar flipped to February, I was both wary and excited to see that “Emotions” would be a theme. Excited, because i relished the chance to focus on improvement, and wary because growth is rarely comfortable. I am enthused by the opportunity to turn a weakness into a strength, but aware that such a mission will be painful.

Just two days ago, the topic for the day was “Did that make you feel better?”   …Rather than recap it, I’ll just quote directly:

“The next time someone gets upset near you — crying, yelling, breaking something, being pointed or cruel — watch how quickly this statement will stop them cold: “I hope this is making you feel better.” Because, of course, it isn’t.”

On my first thought after reading this, the theatre of my mind played this scenario out and I laughed out loud at how much worse saying something like this would likely make things. But on the 2nd reading, I felt shame. Shame of the knowledge that this piece was specifically for people like me. Why? Because a logical examination of this behavior yields only one result: that losing your cool simply does not accomplish anything. And if it does not accomplish anything, why should it make one feel any better? If I look back, I can’t say that behaving badly has ever made me feel better. In point of fact, it has always led me to regret something.

But the best part of this learning process is the strategies and tactics for improvement you gain when doing the work, and for this topic, the latter half of the writing suggested the following:

“The next time you find yourself in the middle of a freakout… just ask: is this actually making me feel better?”

The answer will undoubtedly be “no.” I won’t feel any better in that moment. And the shame won’t suddenly evaporate. But I will be using this new tool, this strategy to improve. And I’ll suddenly be aware. And I’ll be doing the work. And that will make me feel a little better.

the new motivation

**i’ve been writing a Monday morning motivational email for a little over a year now as a sorta “positivity message” to focus or meditate on throughout the week. The small group I’ve been sending it to have offered positive feedback, so i’ll be sharing them here now going forward**

It’s been a few months since i put out this weekly motivational.  I decided to take some time away from writing these after what was, admittedly, an epically frustrating end to my 2019. Coming from what was supposed to finally be my big moment, professionally, 2019 went from all things pointing straight up and to the right, and resulted in a total collapse of everything i had poured myself into the past 3 years.

The purpose of this is not to talk about the past, but to focus on the future. But to summarize: the small but successful company i built for the family i work under got consolidated into a larger corporate entity, which was then captained by poor leadership, resulting in calamity. then, just days before a new product launch and in the middle of HUGE contract discussions with major retail companies around the country, an ignorant (and inaccurate) political news cycle affected my entire industry segment, which led to a premature shutdown of my product/project/division.  Needless to say, i was incredibly discouraged the last 3 months of 2019.

——

“I understand that everyone goes disappearing

Into the greatest gray

That covers over everyday,

And hovers in the distance”

~counting crows, “up all night

——-

That lyric segment is from a song i really love called “up all night.” it’s a song about disillusionment and realization, and beginning to understand that eventually autopilot just doesn’t take you to new destinations. And that’s where i’ve been the last few months. In a sort of hazy gray. Not a deep, dark black. I’m stronger than that, and i’ve been through much worse in my life. But i’m not sure i ever really knew what this song was about until recently.

But the frustrating circumstances (i wouldn’t quite call them failures. Let’s call them “unsuccesses”) of the end of 2019 elucidated a few defects in my armor, which i may never have paid any mind if i had gotten everything i had wanted last year, and hit the home run that i was so close to hitting.

firstly, i had no specified discipline in my game. Just raw determination. I was often working 80 hour weeks, flying all over the country to deliver sales pitches, staying up all night in weird hotels, sometimes in airports, making phone calls at all times of the day and weekend, with little-to-no social life. I allowed personal relationships to deteriorate, i stopped participating in my favorite hobbies, and i buried myself in what seemed like the workload equivalent of 10 men. Some might look at that with admiration, but i can tell you it was foolish.

what it made me realize was actually something i’ve already written about in this very column, but clearly hadn’t realized i wasn’t doing enough of:

Passion without discipline is wasted.

the last 3 years, i burned with passion. But i eventually burned out. Sure, i could have been supported better by my organization, and perhaps that support would have fueled my passion a little longer. But i now realize that i would likely still have landed right where i am now. eventually.

second: much of what i was doing, wasn’t as much for myself as i thought, if i’m being honest with myself. It was also for others around me. and what i failed to account for is that much of that audience was not really receptive to my message (these emails, but also my general message & behavior/mentality/culture). Regardless of how altruistic i wanted it to be, the driver eventually became the accountability of “i have to get this motivational out this morning or people will wonder what happened,” instead of “i want to get this done, because I need it for myself” (and if i’m completely transparent, there was also an aspect of aspirational embodiment i was hoping for. Of speaking the version of myself i wanted to be into existence).

i wasn’t feeding myself. I was feeding ego. I thought my message could be a rallying point for the things my company lacked, so that became the focal point.

But i’m done with all that. I’m doing this for me now. and i’m going deeper. if you’re reading this, it’s likely because

  1.  i know you were previously receptive to the message, or
  2.  you’re a dynamic individual who inspires, encourages, or collaborates with me, and people like that enjoy messages like this.

So let me start 2020 with a hint of the new discipline. It comes from a book that was recommended to me (i’ll talk more about it in later writings) by a good friend named jonathan, who has been hounding me for months to start writing these things again (thanks jstein. your words picked me up and dusted me off a number of times last year, a few times very literally). Here it is:

control your perceptions
direct your actions properly
willingly accept what’s outside your control

I am learning to accept what’s outside my control. I am learning to control my perceptions. And i am now directing my actions properly. It’s monday, let’s go get it.