“Get back! Get back to where you once belonged.” That’s what Lennon and McCartney told this long-blond-haired boy all those years ago (on my older sister’s old 45s, by the way, just to get the chronology straight!).
But now that dynamic duo’s words ring with a whole new meaning for this short-haired bespectacled lad.
A client – a project partner and fellow creative journeyer, if you will – told me last week she got all flustered and thrown off-center. Why?
She had received an email from one of her colleague-competitors. The email broadcasted this amazing year-long program that in part encapsulated everything my project partner had aspired to create. But now she felt defeated, the equivalent of a writer feeling as if someone has written his book before he did – and maybe even did it better. (What creative person has not had her version of this?)
Somehow the email and the program and the exceptional graphics that launched the program mirrored back to my project partner deep feelings of inadequacy. All that blech of inferiority.
How did she “get back” to what matters? How do any of us get back to our center? Back on our best self’s track?
FROM ENVY TO ADMIRATION
It’s tricky business to study our “competitors.” But that word itself – though a reality – is insufficient in how it frames our relationship to some people within our field. “Competitor” pits other people as enemies, people you have to outwit, people whose turf you have to invade (and I have been the recipient of such invasions – and it doesn’t feel right). And it’s true you will not flourish in business – whether it’s the business of tech services or the business of being a writer – if you lack any sense of your competition.
But when I asked this project partner how she felt toward this other person, she instantly said, “Resentment.” When I asked how would she prefer to feel toward this other person, she instantly said, “Admiration. Inspiration.”
Emotions drive us, usually unconsciously. So, if we want to choose the emotions that drive us, maybe we can consciously work on shifting feelings of envy and resentment to admiration and inspiration.
At the root of “admiration” is wonder. To admire is to step back and receive, to be in wonder at someone’s else’s skillful excellence. It’s the inspired feeling of watching an Olympic gymnast make love to the air or listening to Justin Bell make love to his violin.
So I asked this project partner to imagine she could witness this other person “in action,” in symphonic action, and wonder, “How does she do it?” To see if she could muster a trace of admiration. I suggested she send a note of praise, of genuine praise to this other person if it felt right.
Rather than “competitor,” if someone truly is way ahead of you in your field, then regard that person as a “mentor.” See what you can learn from that person. If the person’s within reach, contact him or her. Ask for a session. Let down your guard. Listen and learn.
TAKE STOCK OF THE COMPARING
Getting thrown off-center is a good time, if you can afford it energy-wise and time-wise, to take stock if there’s anything real to listen to. Do you need to become more savvy about your tribe and your offerings? Do you need to hone your daily commitment to your art? Is now the time to invest in some serious training?
Being thrown-off center – if it’s not a daily exercise – can be a gift of reflection in this respect. You might be able to see the shadow of your reflection in the mirror.
But comparisons are useful only up to a point. Ultimately you are not that someone else.
This fact hit home with another project partner this week. She’s a scientist who’s writing her first novel. Her pursuit of mastery these past three years has been remarkable. And part of our work together is for her to study the works of certain mentors. She recently read like a writer Jonathan Franzen’s feat of a novel Freedom. Franzen’s writing would intimidate most novelists, and it certainly did this project partner.
But then she put things into perspective. She’s not Franzen. Will never be Franzen. Doesn’t want to be Franzen. But she’s also not writing dreck (not a word). She’s mastering her material. She’s a cut above several other writers. She’s being true to her craft, her process, and her authenticity.
She quickly got back.
GETTING BACK HOME
It’s a simple question, a simple ritual. I’ve been asking it almost every morning for a dozen years, or some variation of it.
What am I writing for?
What am I consulting & mentoring for?
What am I teaching for?
What am I building enterprises for?
It’s a question I raised again to my project partner. She quieted the spinning wheels for a minute. Raised the question. Embodied it. Lived it.
And the answer had nothing to do with showing up a competitor. Had nothing to do with “being better” than anyone else. It did have to do with excellence. It did have to do with grace. It did have to do with being at home in the world.
Once she connected with that seed intention, she already was on her way back home.
She was getting back to where she once belonged.
DROP IN THE HUT
What throws you off-center? How do you “get back” on your best self’s right track? I’d love to hear your stories and wisdom – and what songs “get you back.”
See you in the woods,