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Prompted: Leaning In
Making the most of contradictory circumstances.
As usual, this week's newsletter covers a topic I struggle with myself, the battle between enjoying unique opportunities and sticking with a routine to become the person we’d like to be. If this topic resonates with you, or you’d like to chat about it more, reach out. You can hit reply or reach me at email@example.com. I’m always looking to connect with new people and talk through ideas.
As always, thanks for reading!
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Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.
- Tony Schwartz
If I had to guess, I’d imagine we all have a path we’re trying to follow in our lives. We have goals and aspirations, and we’ve identified actions and habits that will move us closer to our desired end game. Of course, this oversimplified the complex reality of the lives we live every day, but if you zoom out far enough, we’re all building towards something.
Sometimes we run into roadblocks. We encounter situations at odds with the path we need to follow. These situations bring about a choice. Broadly speaking, we usually have two options. Continue down the path that moves us toward our desired end state and make sacrifices to do so. Or we can take a detour off the path we know we should be following at the expense of slowing down our larger journey.
The latter option introduces feelings of guilt. We’re torn between the person we want to be and the actions we’re taking. Often referred to as cognitive dissonance, the gap between our vision for ourselves and our actions produces anxiety.
Every action in misalignment with our ideal vision expands the rift of cognitive dissonance. The larger the gap between our ideal vision and reality, the worse we feel. When life steers us away from our ideal vision, we cling to it even more and overwhelm ourselves with so much guilt that we can’t enjoy anything, whether it’s aligned with our vision for ourselves or not.
The same way we are subject to the circumstances life puts in front of us; golfers are at the mercy of the course. Even the best players in the world find themselves in positions that make it very difficult to hit the ball in the right direction. A ball might roll into a sand trap or nestle behind a tree blocking the path to the green.
Sometimes golfers make a herculean effort to curve the ball around trees or hit a 1-in-a-million shot with a low chance of success. If they get lucky, they end up exactly where they want, but more often than not, the shot doesn’t go as planned, and their ball ends up in an even worse position.
Alternatively, they can accept the situation they’re in and embrace the fact that they won’t make forward progress with their next shot. Instead of getting caught up in the quest for perfection, they limit the potential consequences and hit a shot that moves sideways or even backward but puts them in an excellent position to hit their next shot.
The outcome is always worse when they try to maintain their ideal vision instead of leaning into the situation and focusing on hitting a great shot to get back into position.
The same principles apply when life puts us into a situation that isn’t compatible with the ideal path we’d like to live. We should always do our best to avoid those situations and make choices that create environments that are conducive to the life we’d like to live, but of course, this isn’t always possible.
When we find ourselves in these situations, we have the same choice golfers do; force ourselves along the same path with a high probability of serious consequences or lean into the situation and put ourselves into a position where we can fight another day.
If your good habits fade when you visit a friend, our first line of defense should be avoiding that situation if our habits are that important to us. But we all like our friends and want to see them. And sometimes we have to travel for work or to spend time with our family.
Inevitably, we encounter a scenario where our ideals are tested. We can try to force our idealistic habits and way of life into a trip with friends, but it will be at odds with our current situation. Trying to maintain a perfect lifestyle will always fall short, limiting the benefits of all the extra effort and limiting our time with friends. We will only spread ourselves too thin.
If we can’t avoid tricky situations, we should embrace them.
As long as we can afford the lapse (most of us aren’t Olympians, CEOs, or important enough for small lapses to have a big impact), we can live life in the present and enjoy the situation we’re in without guilt or compromise. We can make the most of our time in a compromised position, enjoy the richness of life, and put ourselves in an excellent position to hit the ground running again when we’re back to normal.
If we indulge in this logic all the time, we’ll sabotage any chance of progress. There will always be imperfect conditions and an excuse not to do hard things, and there will always be an argument to sacrifice at all costs to pursue our idealistic vision. The key is identifying the small number of opportunities where a lapse in idealism and complete presence and enjoyment of life will bring more good than forcing ourselves down the path of constant improvement.
In what situations or environments do I find myself most at odds with the life I’m trying to live?
What’s the result when I try to force my idealistic lifestyle in difficult scenarios?
What type of situation or occasion warrants leaning into the circumstances and forgetting about the pursuit of growth?
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Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.