Some time ago I saw this video by John Green. In it, he talks about his “healthy mid-life crisis” and the impact that it has had on his life. Here he mentions the following:
I feel like my whole adult life consists of circumstances which force me to reckon seriously with things I once easily dismissed.
I’ll start with exercise since this is where John also started. First, a bit of background. I was a large kid that hated sports. My hatred stemmed from two sources. Firstly, I was crap at sports. Of course, this is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I really didn’t enjoy any of it. I tried out a few sports throughout my school career but never really found one that I really enjoyed. The second one was that it was a way I differentiated myself from the people at school I hated. The jocks, if you will. These were the stupid people that I couldn’t talk to, some of whom bullied me. I saw resisting something they revelled in as a way to differentiate myself from them. While they spent their time outside, pointlessly running after balls, I spent my time learning and exploring epic stories.
All of that changed over the course of the last few years. I think the real tipping point came for me when I started running to cope with my anxiety. The fact that it was a coping mechanism meant that I did it often. Not too soon after, a good friend of mine also asked me to join him in one of the weekly group classes he took, which I did. The group class eventual ceased to exist but I kept running on a regular basis, going from runs of about 3k to over 10k! Somewhat recently I also picked up boxing which I do at least once a week. This, together with a new diet meant that I started losing quite a bit of weight.
Eventually, all of this had an unintended result: I got kind of good at exercise! Not good in the sense of “I’m bored, let’s climb Mt. Everest” but good in the sense that I didn’t feel like I was about to die after making a dash for the train. The catch is that it’s very easy to like something you’re good at, so I gradually came to enjoy exercising. So even though I look a lot better and I’m much healthier, I do exercise for the pure hedonistic simple pleasure of it. None of that “my body is my temple” business. The extra benefits like better concentration, more confidence and generally feeling better, are just added bonuses.
I’ve also never been one to revel in the senses. A byproduct of overanalysing everything and being a knowledge worker is that I spend a lot of time in my head. Exercise has taught me that it feels very good to leave your head every now and then and just enter your body. It is profoundly calming to have the chatter in your head die down because your body is demanding the blood needed to maintain it. I’m aware that this all sounds incredibly wavery-new-age-modern-hippie like. It has, however, made such a profound change to my human experience that I’d feel remised if I didn’t mention it.
For years, I opted to dismiss exercise and its complexity. I resigned to being fat and generally not feeling great about my body. Recently, I have been forced to reconsider the impact it has on me and my life has been the better for it. It makes me wonder which other things I hardly consider anymore, but could improve my life if I took them seriously.
I always used to see emotion as this thing that made things complicated. I knew what I had to do but when you mixed emotions into it everything just became harder. Recently though a lot of therapy and a near endless amount of watching YouTube I came to two realisations.
- You have more control over the emotions you allow then the ones you repress. This one has been such a profound realisation for me. Let me tell you, I am really good at repressing emotions. It became like a reflex during elementary school, when showing emotions was a sure way to get bullied. When I went into therapy, I learned how much energy it costs to repress emotions and that they won’t go away if you do. Rather it ensures that they will surface in some other way that you can’t predict. It’s way better to deal with them directly when they’re much more predictable. Listening to your emotions is a skill, as I realise now. It is a skill I’ll have to spend a lot of time cultivating, but it already feels like it enables me to move in different directions in life. This is a welcome opportunity for me.
- Emotions get shit done. This is especially true of unpleasant emotions. This is probably why I resisted admitting this one for a long time. When you’re angry you’re motivated to get up and do something about the situation. If you allow yourself to actually feel the emotions, you’ll not only be able to deal with them, but they’ll also motivate you. This is also where you do need a bit of filtering. Sometimes these emotions can motivate you toward the wrong thing. Like if you get rejected you might let the emotions motivate you to avoid further risk. Of course, It’s hard to know when to listen and when not. It’s a pure judgement call, but if you become aware of your emotions, I’m sure you’ll eventually develop a way to parse them correctly.
I always thought of skill as a binary thing. You’re able to do something or not, and if you’ve been able to do it one you should be able to do it again, pretty much on command. Conversely, if you can’t do something on command that means that you didn’t really know it well enough, to begin with. Of course, this is all a load of hogwash. Things like intelligence and skill are far to complicated to be binary.
Not only that but the assumption that skill is binary also blatantly disregards any form of circumstances. I often say this, but it seems I am doomed to repeat it (to myself) for all eternity but, circumstances matter. You cannot and should not disregard the circumstances in which you perform any skill. Have you slept well? How are you doing emotionally? Have you eaten enough? All of these things are crucial in determining your ability to perform a certain task, almost regardless of skill.
Here I’m mostly talking about the way I subconsciously thought about skill. Of course, I knew that skill isn’t a binary thing but that’s how it always felt. Recently I’ve become more attuned to the fact that it couldn’t be further from the truth. I still have to remind myself very now and then, but it’s starting to become easier to remember as time progresses.
Why am I talking about this on a professional blog?
Mainly because I believe that if we grow as people we also grow as professionals. If we become better at handling ourselves we can become more productive/creative/other-buzz-word, at work. That is why I think it is important to be able to talk about personal struggles in a professional setting. Being a person and being a professional are not mutually exclusive.
I also created this platform to help document my learning process and this is one of the most significant learning experiences I’ve had in my life. Thus I feel like it deserves a spot in the eternity that is the internet.
Another thing I have learned over the year is how remarkably few moments of clarity we really have. Things like the stuff I mentioned above are plain as day in those moments. The rest of the time, however, we need a little reminder. That is why it is important to record advice for ourselves in a spot we can come back to. For me, talking about this is a part of being kind to myself. I hope that if I can keep reminding myself of these facts in my moments of clarity, I’ll start to remember them more often. That way I can improve my life, slowly, steadily and gently.