Trying Hard To Be Myself In a World of Conformity

I’ve heard it 100 times and read it 1,000 more. Just be yourself. Well let me tell you something, that’s freakin’ hard!

Wake up tomorrow, shower and dress yourself, and step out of the front door like you don’t give a crap what anyone thinks. Walk to your car backwards. If you’re a dude, wear a pink shirt. If you’re a woman, hock a loogie right over the car window. Who cares, right? Just be yourself!

It sounds awesome but in reality, it’s scary and awkward and almost impossible. The truth is that most of us do care what others think and our actions in our daily lives cater to those imposed thoughts of not being good enough.

However, I know a few people who genuinely live like this everyday. They do and say whatever comes to mind without a single passing thought of what others might say or think. They live life on their own terms and I respect the hell out of them.

There are at least 18,000 books about it and millions of online articles that tell us to think outside of the box and live a life according to who we really are. It sounds so easy, yet it’s incredibly difficult. By the way, there really is no box.

The truth is that most of us care too much what others think. What will these strangers think of this shirt? What would my boss say if I told him that I didn’t agree with his idea? What would my neighbors think if I didn’t bring my trash cans into the garage immediately after the trash truck empties them? What if I don’t believe in global warming or evolution? What if they knew I voted for the other candidate? What if what if what if?!?

We can be people pleasers to the crowd and go along with the majority. We can be yes men or women to our boss and agree with every idea that they have. We can choose a life of indifference and stand for nothing OR we can live as though our lives stand for something…something more than opinions of others.

We can’t stop trying to walk our own paths. We need to continue to learn about ourselves and the world needs us to do the same. It’s not about being indifferent to the world around us or weird (even though weird can be fun), it’s about being different within the world around us. When we lose our identity, we also lose our reason for being here in the first place. Live your life on your terms, don’t be content to simply exist.

Stop Letting Emotions Dictate Your Life

The ability to overcome negative feelings and forge ahead in order to accomplish an important task is one of the most overlooked aspects of developing a strong mental attitude. Too often, we wake up in a funk and allow that feeling to persist throughout the day. It affects our mood, our mindset, and causes us to perform at a subpar level.

Perhaps we don’t wake up with a bad attitude, but then someone cuts us off in traffic, sends us a nasty email, gives us a backhanded compliment, or we get an extra helping of projects and boom…frowny face syndrome sets in.

If we are not able to shake off those negative emotions and move on with our day, it leads to lost productivity and the tragic waste of an otherwise, perfectly good day. Too many of us let our emotions control us; we let them dictate our lives. String too many of those days together and you have a real grump who’s constantly waiting for the sky to fall.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.”    – Robert Frost

Learn to identify those temporary emotions for what they really are; brief sensations that can signal anything from fear or concern to outright anger. While some of these emotions can be good, as in telling you to run from that dog that just broke away from his owner, we weren’t meant to hold on to them. Acknowledge the emotion, react if necessary and then move on (assuming the dog didn’t catch you).

Learning to focus on the bigger picture of the day without getting bogged down in the ranges of emotion that sweep through our bodies on a daily basis is the key to maintaining mental focus. We need to stop being reactive to our emotions and start being proactive with our actions…in other words, don’t let your emotions dictate actions.

“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master.”        —Epictetus

Understand your emotions for what they are and learn to recognize that they are temporary. Don’t allow them to make permanent decisions on your behalf.

Know that our feelings and emotions often lie to us. Just because we have a feeling about something or someone does not necessarily make it a reality.

Shift your focus to the task at hand and move forward. When you do, these feelings will take a back seat and eventually return to the nothingness from which they came.

Take back your life and pursue your goals with constant forward action everyday. Relentless forward progress accomplishes great things as long as you are in the drivers’ seat.

Who Cares What They Think

Caring too much about what others think of you is like giving them the key to your house, and letting them live there while you pay the mortgage.

Last year I wrote People Judge Us after finally making significant progress in breaking away from the expectations of people who have no investment in my life. 

Most often, those negative comments that others make about you, or about your decisions in life, are a reflection of their own shortcomings, not a pronouncement of judgement on you. When you make a habit of doing things your own way and going against the accepted norms of society, in other words when you live life on your terms, it can make people uncomfortable; that’s their problem, not yours.

Deep down, we all have a need to be accepted by those around us but it is essential that we not measure ourselves by the standards of other people, or even society for that matter. There are people whose opinions should matter but that list should be extremely short. At the top would be our spouse, children, and parents, possibly followed by our boss and a close set of trusted friends.

Beyond that, the list should be fairly short (although different for some of us) and the further down that list someone falls, the less we should pay attention to what they think of us.

I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet. – Mahatma Gandhi

Trying to present a flawless image to the world is both exhausting and debilitating. It also doesn’t accomplish anything fruitful. The fact is that there will always be people that judge us. In fact people judge us everyday at every turn – people that we know and people that we don’t.

We can’t tiptoe through life trying to cater to everyone’s ideal picture of us. Even if we did, guess what – yep, they would still judge us. No matter how hard we try, we can’t stop it. What we can do however, is choose not to let it affect us.

People are so busy and wrapped up in their own lives, chances are that they aren’t even thinking about us. In fact, they’re probably thinking the same thing – that someone (maybe even us) is judging them! The reality is that no matter what we do, there will always be people who don’t like us. We have two options in response to this truth; accept it or hide it.

Picture the absolute most awful thing that could happen to you when someone has those accusing eyes pointed toward you – no, worse than that – the absolute worst thing. Could you survive that scenario if it played out?

Guess what will happen? Nothing…nada. Not only will that awful thing that you pictured not happen, but nothing even remotely similar to that will happen. People don’t care. They really don’t!

No one is going to step up and confront you about your choice of shoes or why you sat down with your coat on instead of taking it off. No one cares that you chose plastic instead of paper to carry your groceries home in.

Constantly worrying about what people think can actually make us act differently than we normally would. We turn into those dreaded “people-pleasers” with no backbone or true opinion on anything. It can be fun to disagree with someone on an issue because you believe something different than they do.

I’m not saying to go around picking fights with people over what kind of cereal they eat, but truly expressing yourself in a constructive manner can be extremely freeing.

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.”

— Albert Einstein

If you struggle with this, then take the first steps. Decide what values are truly important to you and develop a sense of who you really are. Develop a passion for your beliefs, creative abilities, and chosen pursuits in life. Then learn to focus intently on those things. If you do, you will start to care more about those ideals, beliefs, and passions and less about the opinions of naysayers.

The Power of Rejection

Most of us spend our entire lives trying to avoid rejection, but what if the answer is to embrace rejection instead of always running from it? I recently watched a Ted Talk video of Jia Jiang speaking about his experience of 100 days of rejection, where he actually sought out being turned down for random requests for 100 straight days. His requests were far from ordinary and ranged from asking a complete stranger for $100 to asking for a refill on his hamburger at a local fast food restaurant.

What he found through his 100 day experiment was that if he resisted the urge to run away from the rejection and instead embrace the uncomfortable feeling while staying engaged with the person after being turned down, that it actually was not him that they were rejecting. In most cases, this rings true for us as well. Most of us feel that when our requests are met with a flat “no”, that it is we who are being rejected rather than our request or idea.

Jiang’s experiment actually paid off on the third try when his request for donuts at the local donut shop, made into the shape and color of the olympic rings was met with a “yes, we can do that for you.” You can watch that video here.

The truth is that rejection comes in all shapes and sizes but it always feels the same; embarrassing and hurtful. We have all been rejected at some point in our life and most of us are not willing to go out and intentionally look for more of it, but what if there is something incredibly beautiful on the other side; something freeing? There is a famous quote from Steve Maraboli that says, “Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being redirected to something better.”

In fact we can find stories by the hundreds of company founders, product inventors, and other successful entrepreneurs who were turned down over and over again before getting to the yes that they needed. One of those is Starbucks founder, Howard Schultz who was turned down 242 times by hundreds of banks before getting to the yes that he needed to propel Starbucks into history. If he had given up after the first dozen or so rejections, we would all be drinking gas station coffee today.

My point is that while rejection can sting, it actually hurts worse if we let it stop us in our tracks. In Jiang’s experiment, one of his rejections came when he asked a stranger if he could plant a flower in his backyard (a little weird right?). The stranger said no, but then instead of walking away, Jiang asked “why”.

The stranger said, “because I have a dog in my backyard who tears everything up, so it would never last back there.” You see, he wasn’t rejecting Jiang, but he actually had a legitimate concern. In fact, he then points Jiang to his neighbor and says to ask “Carol” because she loves flowers. Guess what? There’s now a flower planted in Carol’s backyard.

Most often when we have a request turned down, the person (rejectioner?) on the other side is not rejecting us, only our idea. If, instead of walking away with our heads hung down in shame, we engage the person with a simple “why”, we could find that it leads us right to the yes that we are searching for. Be brave today and try it. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe someone ends up with a nice flower in their backyard or perhaps you score a sweet set of Olympic-ringed donuts!

The Real Reason You Should Keep Your New Year Resolutions

I am always amazed at the number of people who continue to make New Year resolutions (and this time I swear I will stick to them) on January 1, even though they know the chances of actually keeping them are slim to none. It’s the start of a brand new year with new opportunities, challenges, and beginnings! Why doesn’t anyone make resolutions at the beginning of a week, or a month…maybe each season?

I suppose those times are reserved for goals, not resolutions. The truth is that we could just as easily institute that change any day of the year, but instead, we wait. Why do we wait? Because change is hard, especially the big changes that most resolve to make on New Years. It’s difficult to change habits, so we wait. We wait for motivation, for more energy, and for the champagne to wear off.

If our resolutions are not important to us, and I mean really important, we will not make good on our commitment. Think about it. How many resolutions have you made over the span of your lifetime? My guess is between 3 and 5 each year. If we assume that you started making resolutions as an adult, maybe 18 and you are my age, that’s almost 20 years of resolutions. 20 years times a minimum of 3 resolutions each year would be around 60. That’s 60 possible life-improving, mind-altering, no nonsense, grab life by the horns changes that we have committed to undertake.

Of those 60 commitments to change and improve, how many have you actually kept? If I were to add mine up, it would be around 3. Seriously, I remember each of the ones that I have kept. That’s only about 5% of what I committed to. What if I only kept 5% of my commitments to others? I would probably be in pretty rough shape!

So if we can keep commitments to others, why can’t we keep commitments to ourselves? Just imagine that if instead of 5%, we kept 20% of the resolutions that we made over that same 20 years. My number then would be 12 instead of only 3.

If I had actually kept at least 12 of those same potentially life-altering commitments and stuck with them, my life would be drastically different today! What would it look like? Well, chances are I would be making and saving more money, living a healthier lifestyle, traveling more, and pursuing dreams that I have since let die. But that’s my life…what about you?

Think about all of those resolutions that you have made to yourself. What would your life look like if you had kept 20%, 30%, or even 50% of those? Write some of those down, the ones that you really remember, the important stuff. What if you had kept them? How would your life be different today?

That’s your motivation friend. When you make your list this year, expect that one day you will look back on these 2016 commitments and wish you had kept them. Let that not only inspire you to keep this year’s resolutions, but let it guide the actual resolutions that you make this year; write them down and look at them often.

Think of the impact that new commitments can make in your life over the course of the next 5, 10, 20 years, and beyond, especially when compounded. Have an incredible 2016. Dream big and make 2016 count. Cheers and Happy New Year!

5 Books Every Introvert Should Read

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

by Susan Cain

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Susan Cain is one of the most respected authorities on introversion and she does not disappoint with this book. The is a great read for anyone who has ever wondered why they don’t necessarily “fit in” with the crowd, especially those of us who work in corporate America. If you are an introvert, this book will not only help you find acceptance within yourself but it will also help to validate and strengthen who you are as an individual. It provides excellent insight, backed by plenty of scientific research into the mind of an introvert.

It also dispels many misguided beliefs and lists the absolute strengths of an introverted personality. The author provides quite an impressive list of achievements given to the world by introverts; achievements such as the theory of gravity, theory of relativity, Chopin’s nocturnes, and even Google. Whether you are a person coming to terms with your introverted nature, or someone seeking to understand an important introvert in your life, this book is a must read.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

by Stephen Chbosky

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While this book by Stephen Chbosky is not primarily geared toward the subject of introversion, the primary character, Charlie, brings the subject to life in a captivating way. Charlie is an introvert who has chosen to take a backseat approach to life. The story follows Charlie as he experiences his firsts life lessons, discovers repressed childhood memories, and tries to come to grips with the person he really is.

Chbosky takes the reader through some seriously deep subjects such as eating disorders, abortion, drug use, and even suicide. Charlie takes the reader with him through his times of depression, isolation, struggle to make friends, and the many difficulties of teen adolescence. This book will provoke you to look at those around you in a completely different way and to approach life with a different perspective, accepting all of the ups, downs, and unexpected turns that life can throw at us.

Walden

by Henry David Thoreau

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It seems that people either love this book or hate it. I loved it and I think most who consider themselves to be introverts will appreciate most of the views that Thoreau expresses in Walden. He complains of too much noise in the world and decides to go it alone, literally. He built (with his own hands) a cabin in the middle of the woods on Walden Pond in Massachusetts. He completely disconnected from society for more than two years and even ate from the land on which he lived.

This book resonates with me because I have often had similar thoughts, especially when the hustle and bustle of daily life gets to be too much. Sometimes, it takes more than sitting alone in a Starbucks or the quiet confines of my bedroom to recharge. Walden agreed and decided to remove it all, or at least remove himself from the business of the world. If you should ever decide to spend some time alone, take this book with you and it will give you an indulgence like you have never experienced before.

The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World

by Marti Olsen Laney Psy.D.

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This book explores the important areas of life that we all deal with. Issues such as parenting, marriage, work, and socializing as an introvert. Many people, introverts included, do not necessarily find the characteristics of introversion to be positive in the many aspects of daily life. The author does a great job of pointing out the advantages and offers a fresh perspective on the subject. The bottom line is that introverts ARE normal, unique, and add many interesting nuances to an otherwise extrovert-dominated world.

If you are an “innie” and constantly push yourself toward extroversion, this book will definitely enlighten you and offer some overdue relief! My only regret is that I did not read this book years ago.

Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference

by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler PhD

The author offers more than a mere explanation of the differences between extroverts and introverts. She actually explains how introverts can harness their unique qualities and leverage them to balance and exhibit influence in the world around them. Kahnweiler says that “introverts can be highly effective influencers when they stop trying to act like extroverts and instead make the most of their natural, quiet strengths.”

She goes on to list several noteworthy influencers of current and past societies who were introverts including Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling, Steven Spielberg, Warren Buffet, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Influence isn’t about being overbearing or controlling. Power and influence has much more to do with what is said, than how it is said.

Can Introverts Be Effective Leaders?

In a world full of fast-moving trends and constantly changing business landscapes, it is easy to get lost in the shuffle. This is especially true for those of us with an introverted personality and leadership style. Our extroverted counterparts are comfortable in the spotlight and we are more than happy to give it to them, but that certainly doesn’t mean that we are weak or inefficient leaders. In fact, introverts possess several qualities that can serve them extremely well in leadership roles and put them at the head of the pack.

Introverts are great listeners…

By nature, introverts prefer to listen much more than they speak. This can be an especially important quality in any leadership setting. The ability to open their ears and minds to the ideas and thoughtful suggestions of those that are closest to you is an amazing attribute of quality leadership.

They think before they speak…

If you are looking for a quick answer to an important question, chances are you will not get it (or at least not the one you want) from an introvert. Predisposed to expressing themselves through writing rather than speech, they prefer to mull things over before offering feedback or advice. This is because introverts prefer to think through important decisions for hours, or even days before offering suggestions to solve a problem or chart a new direction. They will rarely fall victim to making a snap decision just for the sake of time or peer pressure.

They are really good at building meaningful relationships…

Large quantities of surface level relationships are not what the typical introvert is interested in. By nature, they are more interested in building deeper and more meaningful relationships, even if that means having less of them. External and internal relationships are the very basis of business success, and quality relationships are one thing that introverts are great at. These relationships give them credibility and trust, which can in turn offer leverage when it comes time to gain buy-in.

Introverts are usually emotionally balanced…

They know when their mental tanks have been exhausted and know precisely when to seek time to recharge their batteries. Introverts often work exhaustively to accomplish tasks, but they typically will not push themselves to a point of mental or physical breakdown. This can help to alleviate the risk of burnout, which can cripple any organization if left unchecked.

They work extremely well autonomously…

Not only do introverts work effectively alone, most of the time they prefer it. When you give a capable introvert enough space and blocks of uninterrupted time, there is no limit to what can be accomplished. This allows them to maintain a laser focus on the priorities of the day, and most importantly allows them to systematically and successfully navigate the organization around obstacles.

They are typically humble by nature…

This goes back to the whole spotlight thing from above. Not only are introverts willing to share the spotlight, they are often willing to give you the whole stage. This means that they often care more about the success of the organization as a whole, than about their own individual achievements. This bodes well for the organization and its’ employees because there is rarely a need to question the loyalty and intention of a humble leader.

Introverts are excellent team players…

When it comes to getting things done, not only are they more than happy to pitch in and help accomplish the mission but they are less concerned about who gets the credit for the achievement. This isn’t to say that all extroverts are selfish or that all introverts are selfless, but by our very nature we are less likely to seek out applause or attention, especially in a public setting. In leadership roles, this same aspect extends to those who work with and for the introverted leader.

I am certainly not naive enough to believe that every introvert is a great leader, just as every extrovert isn’t a poor one. I believe that there are too many preconceived notions regarding introverts and their ability to lead successfully. It isn’t everyday that you see the terms introvert and leader in the same sentence, but the list of successful introverts, who are or were also leaders is extensive. The list contains names such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Ghandi, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Warren Buffet.

The qualities that these great leaders are known and remembered for are the same qualities that many people still respect and expect from their leaders at any level. Qualities such as cool-headedness in the face of adversity, prudent thinking, and exhibiting a sort of quiet power. These leaders, and thousands of others continue to prove each and everyday that effective leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities.