Monday, February 10, 2014

Peers, Seers, and Fears

Most, if not all, of my successes in my lifetime have transpired after I was inspired, influenced, and encouraged by people around me. The company I keep is the reason why I am leading a very colorful and engaging professional and personal lives. I get by with not only a little help from my friends, but with lots of help.

Fellow tribe members inspire me to pursue creative and rewarding endeavors, such as writing, cooking, performing music, and exercising. They offer glimpse into what is possible, and encourage me to try various activities. They see the potential in what I am capable of learning and doing, and urge me to explore. They provide reality checks, encouragements, healthy disagreements, and support. They aren't afraid to let me know when I'm kicking ass; they also aren't afraid to tell me when I trigger their bullshit detectors.

Surrounding myself with communities which engage me—and prod me to discover my voice—makes my learning and creative endeavors enjoyable. I strive to spend most of my time engaging with my tribes. It's a boon to have peers with whom I can share ideas with: my waking hours are filled with discussions about creativity, lean processes, process improvement, mindfulness, fitness, leadership, works of thought leaders, motivational quotes and lyrics, community- and culture-building, and design. It's also a blessing when people in the tribe encourage me to try things, observe me make mistakes along the way, and provide guidance about how I can improve my subsequent efforts.

But what happens when these tribes aren't available? What happens when I'm surrounded by naysayers and energy vampires whose presence and actions bring halt to any forward momentum that I had generated?

I usually (but not always) view these individuals through lenses of empathy. More often than not, common ground can be identified after few conversations. Finding similar interests and commonalities can form the basis of relationship with them. I have several friends who have no interest in any of the various tribes that I am passionate about, but usually there are shared interests—like music, food, libations, and sports—which offer a common ground. These things may be small-talk topics in the grand scheme of my ambitions, but relating to others on this level can forge relationships over time.

It's also worth noting that many folks in my tribes have offered a helping hand after I had fallen down (sometimes repeatedly) in the depths of misery, complaint, self-pity, and frustration. I have received many words of encouragement by these folks when I was not at my best at work, at band rehearsals, at events, and at other activities. Instead of focusing on my moments of negativity, they took the long view and chose to offer encouragement. If I let a bad moment derail my flow, they help me get back on track.

Furthermore, several friends whom I have known for nearly three decades have been supportive through my many years of morosity and despair. These friends are real troupers and I am grateful for them. I'm very happy that almost thirty years later, I can share laughter and reminisce about good times with them. They also are great reminders for me to be supportive of my friends who are going through prolonged blue periods—they have the potential to transform their situations, just like how I did. To paraphrase Steve Miller Band, sometimes we got to go through hell before we get to heaven.

Sadly, there is a small subset of people I know who are chronic naysayers. Overwhelming pessimism and perpetually-held victim mentality run amongst these Eeyores. I minimize my contact with them, but it's difficult to avoid them completely—especially if they are found in work and social settings. They will perpetuate "the crab effect" with their actions: they will try to drag me down when I'm making things happen. Eeyores hate it when I find meaning in the work that I do and show enthusiasm. I've experienced situations where others frowned upon my enjoyment of work: apparently, everyone is supposed to find their jobs to be stressful, and enjoying what I do meant that I wasn't working hard enough. If they can't be happy at work, I'm not allowed to be happy either. Eeyores find the idea of rejecting the status quo to be a threat to their perceived order, and to them, people like me pose a threat. Jonathan Fields' Video How Do You Handle Naysayers has a great rebuttal for addressing these types of naysayers: since I don't see them as being "in the arena" and fighting these big challenges themselves, their opinions don't mean much to me.

Fortunately, these crab-like naysayers are a small minority. I'm usually too absorbed and engaged with my tribes to let these toxic folks take center stage in my activities. The Eeyores can go muck themselves in the comforts of their Hundred Acre Wood—far away from where my real actions take place.

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