New Month, Same Struggle Pt. 2

I guess what I’m getting at is that PM won’t solve all of your problems. Earlier today I was reflecting on why I felt so “blah.” At least part of it is that I look at life as a puzzle. Or a project. And I think, “if I just follow these rules and figure out the game, it’ll all come together.” But that doesn’t happen. It’s never happened. I can’t approach life as a problem to be solved. That begs the question, then, how does one live life? If it’s not a project or a problem, how do I drop my tendency to approach it like one? How can I “roll with the punches” without feeling like I am relinquishing control?

“Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem.” About a week ago, I reported that my highest theme – perhaps one of my greatest strengths – was my inclination to see situations as problems to be solved. Even without the assessment, I can attest that I view the world as having a set of issues that need to be resolved, though I think everyone feels that way to some extent. The problems I’m facing now, both personally and professionally, are beyond my current set of problem-solving skills. I still don’t know the answer to the question I posed, but I’d guess that part of the solution requires a total shift in judgment. 

You could argue that I don’t really have control anyway, that it is an illusion. But seriously, though, how can I move through life without the nagging feeling that I’m screwing up or that I’m missing some big important piece of information? How do I let go?

I think I posed this question a few days ago, and I still don’t know the answer. 

There is a part of me that is an organizer and a planner. I like for everything to be in its place and there to be no surprises. I want to be in control. That part of me is so exhausted from trying to be three steps ahead of life. I know that I do it to try to protect myself. It’s well-intentioned, but ultimately it just makes things more difficult. 

Just reading this sentence gets me annoyed all over again. Maybe there’ll be a breakthrough if I just give up. 

Maybe the blog’s goal can still be about project management, focusing on your life as the project. But maybe there’s a need to be less focused on “managing” and more focused on “living.” I legitimately do not know how to do this. But maybe I can use this blog to stumble on it. 

This blog doesn’t have a specific goal yet or a target audience. I’m writing my ideas as they come. I know you need to “know your audience,” but trying to accommodate a specific group of people – at my current skill level – stunts my creativity, and it adds more pressure. Also, this is a hobby, and I don’t want it to add more stress to my life. 

Reflecting On My Sunday Scaries

I’m nearing the end of my 30-in-30 blog challenge, and I thought it would be good to close the gap between the final posts on my last blog and the rebirth of my current one. Here’s the fourth and final post from my former blog. It was first published Sunday, July 18, 2021.

It’s Sunday afternoon and you’re starting to realize you didn’t get much done this weekend. You’d planned to be productive and you were regularly refining the list of the tasks/errands you wanted to tackle. But, as you reflect, it feels like your to-do list is growing faster than you can manage. For every one thing that you check off, it feels like three more get added. This is the OPPOSITE of progress, you think, and just the thought of adding more to your list stresses you TF out. 

I don’t quite feel this way re: tasks. However, I do feel like I have a lot of ideas I want to develop and that I won’t have time to do them. 

Week after week, stuff just piles up. You get stuck in this place of perpetually feeling like an overwhelmed under-performer. You’re ready to give up, but that’s not really an option. If you give up, the work just piles up even faster. Between the ever-growing list and your tendency to procrastinate (because sometimes you don’t even know where to start), you just feel exhausted. 

I feel differently now, I think, because I’m intentionally trying to do less. 

You, too? Bruh, this is me every week. And I decided to put my theory to the test and find a way to use project management principles to help me manage my life. I’m still testing out the solution, but so far, it’s been helpful. In the next series of posts, I’ll explain how I’m using agile project management to help me manage my stress, increase my focus, and ultimately get more done. 

I like the idea of using project management principles on appropriate life tasks, but that doesn’t solve the problem. The challenge is learning how to do less. 

This is not a “recipe for success”, but rather my attempts at designing a solution that works for me. I hope it gives you some ideas on tools you can tailor for your own usage. Until then, good luck with your to-do lists. Don’t be too hard on yourself and realize that you can’t – and won’t – get everything done…and that’s okay. 

I still agree with this. 🙂

Unpacking My Themes for 2022

The 34 CliftonStrengths themes are divided into four categories

  1. Executing – Making things happen
  2. Influencing – Taking charge, speaking up, and making sure others are heard
  3. Relationship Building – Building strong relationships that hold a team together and make it greater than the sum of its parts
  4. Strategic Thinking – Absorbing and analyzing information that informs better decisions

Of my top 10 themes:

  • 2 are in Executing (1-Restorative, 3-Deliberative)
  • 4 are in Relationship Building (4-Connectedness, 7-Relator, 9-Individualization, 10-Empathy)
  • 4 are in Strategic Thinking (2-Futuristic, 5-Intellection, 6-Input, 8-Learner)
  • 0 are in Influencing

At first glance, these seem accurate. I don’t rely on influence or execution for success, though I could stand to get better at them. I consider myself a strategic thinker, but I think I have a different approach to relationship building. My relationships are based on my curiosity about other people and their uniqueness. I don’t think I build relationships to widen my circle of friends. Instead, I value close, deep relationships that create safe spaces for all of us.

Me – an over thinker? Noooooo.

According to Gallup, Intellection – the propensity, proclivity, and preference to think – rounds out my top 5 themes. One action they suggest: “Take time to write. Writing might be the best way to crystallize and integrate your thoughts”. And look at me now! I’ve often thought writing helped me organize my ideas, but here’s an objective assessment that says the same thing.

To recap, my strongest themes are:
(1) Restorative
(2) Futuristic
(3) Deliberative
(4) Connectedness and
(5) Intellection.

I like to problem-solve.
I like to think about the future.
I am rigorous in my thought processes.
I believe everything is connected.
And I am addicted to thinking.

If I am to maximize these strengths, it seems like I should l should deconstruct my problem-solving approach and re-build it with intelligent problem-solving and decision-making paradigms. It also appears that I should create a vision of the future that inspires me but that I need to break it down into smaller milestones. I can continue to look for connections among things, and I can embrace my thinking mind and try to harness its power effectively.

Who else likes to connect the dots?

My fourth-strongest theme is “Connectedness.” I think Gallup sums it up nicely with this synopsis: “People exceptionally talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links among all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has meaning.”

I do tend to look for connections. That’s part of the purpose for which I [re]-started this blog. I wanted to find connections between the different books I was reading. Intellectually, making connections helps you remember things better. But I think it also makes you smarter. Instead of zooming in, I like to zoom out and look for stuff in common.

I believe that this can be a practical approach to resolving political division. For example, I suspect that there are things most of us can agree on – we want to be healthy, we want to be safe, and we want to be part of a community that accepts us. This looks different for everyone, but I think focusing on the broad similarities can help us overcome political obstacles.

I also like to look for connections in books. I consume a lot of self-help media, and I see some of the same things running through – acting with integrity, balancing discipline and compassion for yourself, and managing your emotions are some of them. Some authors say it better than others, but it’s still the same.

When I consider my other themes of Restorative, Futuristic, and Deliberative, I think my new statement is something like: I am motivated by a vision of the future that I create. My ultimate problem to solve? What does it all mean? (Obviously a work in progress, but I like where this is headed).

My Top 5 Themes

Continuing with the theme of “best self,” I’ve thought of other traits I possess that can help me be successful, provided I get in the right environment and headspace.

The CliftonStrengths Assessment (formerly StrengthsFinder) is an “assessment [that] measures your talents — your natural patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving — and categorizes them into the 34 CliftonStrengths themes” (Gallup, 2021). I first took the test over 10 years ago, and it impressed me. It made me aware of my strengths that I didn’t even realize. In fact, it showed me all of the ways that I was going against the grain. Most of us gravitate towards specific behavioral patterns. When we’re in the right environment, those patterns and tendencies can help us be successful. They are our strengths. But if we’re in a different environment that doesn’t allow us to do our best, we will struggle. Eventually, we’ll get exhausted from the uphill battle.

This is not to say that your strengths make everything easy, but they allow you to do things better than other people. Your strengths are things that you both do well AND enjoy doing. There are some things that I’m good at it, but I don’t like them. To do them requires a lot of effort, and it feels laborious. At least when I’m in my “zone of genius,” the challenge is fun and not taxing.

My top 5 themes are Restorative, Futuristic, Deliberative, Connectedness, and Intellection. 4 of the 5 were also top themes when I first took the test. Restorative people like to solve problems. Futuristic people are inspired by the future and what it can be. Deliberative folks take lots of care in making decisions. Those of us with high levels of Connectedness don’t believe in coincidences; we believe almost every event has meaning. And Intellection speaks to my proclivity towards introspection and intellectual discussions.

The idea is that you unpack these themes, find environments that help them grow, and develop a game plan to help mitigate weaknesses. The thought has crossed my mind to elaborate on these strengths more to help me get a better sense of who I am.

You’ve heard of FOMO; now get ready for FOPO.

My primary goal for this “30 in 30” challenge is to get into the habit of writing consistently. I don’t have a lot of pressure to be an impressive writer because I think I have about six followers. So instead, I’ve been focusing on being consistent, being disciplined, and finding my writing voice. After this challenge, I may start another one – maybe to improve my blog design or optimize my blog on search engines. But, more than anything, this challenge is to further affirm my ability to set and commit to a goal.

At some point, though, I am not only writing for myself. I think blogs are a way to connect with other people, and I expect that my work will be shared with more people. However, as more people see it, I am worried that they’ll negatively critique my portfolio. I’m experiencing pre-FOPO – the fear of other people’s opinions.

In his article, Gervais states that the root of FOPO is our worry of social disapproval. This dates back to our times as hunter-gatherers and is still with us today. I believe there is some utility in assimilating, not standing out from the pack. But we’re not hunter-gatherers anymore. A closed mouth won’t get fed, so if you want something, you have to speak up and ask for what you want. This is a hard lesson I had to learn.

To get over FOPO, Gervais’ solution is developing a solid sense of self. Almost like having a personal mission statement. Instead, he suggests creating your own catchphrase like “always fight” or “never back down.” When you have a strong sense of who you are and what you believe, you are less concerned about what people think about you. If you know, without any doubt, what a “yes” is for you, you’ll be able to say “no” with conviction.

Gervais provides some tips for developing one’s personal philosophy. One suggestion is to see what words or ideas resonate with you the most and use those words to make your phrase. To that end, I saw a quote in a colleague’s email signature from Booker T. Washington, a true BOSS. In his book, Up from Slavery, he offers the following:

I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.

Booker T. Washington, “Up from Slavery”

This resonated with me because I spend a lot of time comparing myself to other people who’ve had fewer obstacles to overcome than me. In those moments, I feel inferior and like I’m behind. I feel like I should have already achieved more. But this quote reminded me that I had a unique and challenging journey and that I should focus on where I came from rather than comparing myself to people who have had different life experiences.

Gervais closes his article by reminding us that we only grow when pushed beyond our limits. And one limit I’ve had is that I want everyone to like me to feel accepted. So I’ve tried not to ruffle too many feathers, and I’ve also consistently put other people’s needs ahead of mine, even when it was to my detriment. Although to be fair, I’ve also been selfish and had disregard for other people’s feelings. Still, my natural inclination is to shy away from conflict and suffer in silence. But I don‘t have to let FOPO stop me from breaking out of this shell. On the contrary, by understanding who Bruce is, I can be more confident in my decisions and less dependent on what other people think of me.