Tuesday, May 26, 2015

About the Amp

When I was a kid, the night before a climbing day I'd lie in bed unable to get to sleep.  I lived to climb rocks. When I got a new piece of gear, I'd bring it to bed with me as a talisman, and when I was planning to do a new climb, I'd be awake at the crack of dawn with anticipation.

I would also become so anxious, about climbing, about school - that I'd pretty much be blown by the early afternoon and ready to head home. I was the kid who was pretty reserved and shy and so it was hard to tell (even to myself) when I was amped up with positive or apprehensive energy about some perceived future. I'd ham it up for some public speaking event, seemingly in my element, but my limbs would be tingling with adrenaline when it was over.

Since then, I've done a lot to work on my long game.  I've tried to focus more on the long-term future, and on enjoying the present moment, rather than seeking the thrill of the next big stoke.  I try to exercise and enjoy the outdoors daily, I try to sustain habits that need never expire.

But every once in a while, some of that trapped energy still surfaces from deep in me - and it takes me a day or a week to recover from my 'cheaper thrills' - the short-term highs that I need to chase.

Nowadays, I find I thrive on that kind of energy, and I have to have it in order to do good work - but it's best served throttled.

In Give and Take, Adam Grant describes a school teacher on the verge of burnout - trying to do service education in inner-city Philadelphia.  Instead of quitting, she actually adds to her workload with a new program she puts together from scratch, to mentor gifted and overachieving kids.  The program energized her, because the kids are more responsive to her support and flourish with her guidance, and so she's able to keep at the daily struggles because on at least one battle front it's clear she is winning.

And I guess that's what Jane McGonigal calls "Urgent Optimism" - the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success."

It helps to drive focus when you focus on where you're winning. Another McGonigal quote about games:

“When you strip away the genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation."

I am finding this is true for me about most things I do - I want to know 'why' (the goal) I want to know how (the rules, or restrictions I have to work within) and I want to know whether I am successfully making progress. And it's very important that I not feel trapped - that I feel it is my own will driving me at this and not a fate sealed by chance. It's demoralizing to take on a challenge controlled by forces beyond my ability to effect change, and even worse to feel like I must stay in that situation.

I talked with my girlfriend L a bit last night and we're both feeling a little burned out, and maybe a bit stuck. So it's with renewed awareness that I look at this enormous opportunity for change (I'm getting moved from marketing to sales with a blank slate so far as to structuring that move) and try to craft it so that I can really do great things, and find the work/life balance I need - a balance heavily swayed by how successful I feel I am - at climbing the mountain or making the sale.  I have to stay excited about my future, and continually renew my expectations and plans.  I make my future worth working toward.

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