When we self-reflect on our daily actions, we typically do so privately. We don’t have an audience on these occasions, because the point of self-reflection at the end of each day is to process how well we lived today. It’s already the past. We’re using the knowledge of night to inform the actions of the dawn. When we learn from our yesterdays, the choices that guide every new day make a positive impact on our lives, which in turn makes the lives of the people in our lives receivers of what we’ve learned. Not through what we say, but in what we do.
Living well is a silent teacher. The personal gains of self-reflection aren’t quantifiable because although we may be able to gather the data to see how we’ve improved our own lives, we’ll never know the impact we’ve made on others by modeling right action or even striving to do so. The payoff of selflessness is not tangible.
In the 1980s, the term “nerd” was a bullying insult. Today, it’s a badge of honor to be called a nerd. Misfit is currently a term that carries negative connotations. Misfit is defined as “a person whose behavior or attitude sets them apart from others in an uncomfortably conspicuous way,” or “something that does not fit or that fits badly.” Fits badly into what exactly? Typically, it means fits badly into what the vast majority would deem “normal” in society.
Adam Grant’s book Originals delves into how non-conformists are the ones responsible for changing the world. A non-conformist is defined as “a person whose behavior or views do not conform to prevailing ideas or practices.” Not far off from a misfit really, but a book about how misfits are responsible for changing the world may not be as appetizing. Although the world may not be ready to embrace the term misfit, it’s the people who dare to think differently, to live differently, that prefer carving new paths instead of walking on well-trodden ground. Misfits care more about living differently than they do about what people think about their choice to do so.
To be objective requires examining what’s happening more than who’s doing it. For example, it’s easy to say that a teenager is “lazy” because they spend all their free-time with their heads buried in their phones. However, once we know what’s happening, we must then begin examining the why behind the what. Is the teen lazy or is the teen’s effort lazy? Why is the effort lazy? There’s crucial data in the latter question. Humans are motivated by purpose. If adults don’t create an understanding of why effort is important, if we don’t help our youth understand the greater transferable skill of why effort is important in creating both value and worth, then we must examine why we’ve allowed our efforts to become lazy.
If we throw in the towel because we feel it is too difficult, or convince ourselves it is futile, then we are simply projecting laziness onto others as a way of not examining the why behind our own actions. As adults, it’s our duty to know better, but it’s equally important to make sure we’re doing better. Doing better matters because it models why effort is important in the first place. It gives effort meaning. Effort is not easy. Effort is defined as “a vigorous or determined attempt, a strenuous physical or mental exertion and the result of an attempt.” Labeling someone else as “lazy” is simply a lack of effort on our behalf to examine why one might choose to prioritize idleness over productivity. Where did they learn how to do that? What efforts of ours did they experience that may be responsible for helping them determine how much effort they feel they are worth?
Rumpo, rumpere, rupi and ruptus are Latin words and roots meaning to break, as in “interruption” or “disruptive.” We likely assume these words to have negative connotations based on how we commonly heard these words growing up. Parents frequently tell children how rude it is to interrupt others, and teachers frequently tell students not to be disruptive in their classrooms. However, both are essential in regards to driving change and innovation.
Challenging what’s “normal” is how change is facilitated. Normal is comfortable because it doesn’t mess with our expectations. Normal is predictable and in that predictability lies the comfort of knowing what to expect. Most people aren’t bothered by things when everything goes according to plan; when everything is normal. Normal is often confused with “good.” If everything is normal then things must be good. The people we tend to admire most in our personal lives and in society are not the people who accept normal as being a good thing. They see normal as not enough. They aim to break the bonds of normal in order to search for what it means to be better.
The trick here is feeling worthiness that we are enough, whilst also desiring to push ourselves beyond into something more. Life is good. It’s a simple motto and it’s true. However, what’s also true is what makes it good is knowing that all life is fleeting. Self-improvement is not about proving our worth, it’s about improving our worth. Improvement for the sake of being disruptive to what we define as normal or comfortable.
Innovators, elite athletes, virtuoso musicians and creative geniuses are disruptive by nature because they don’t seek comfort. They aim to apply pressure to the boundaries of expectation and possibility. Even those that seek enlightenment. They too know that there is no known limit to enlightenment. They are disruptive in their pursuit of expanding their understanding of what it means to be enlightened. May we all interrupt our regularly scheduled programming today and aim to be disruptive!
As a preschooler, my daughter had a picture book by Mo Willems called Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. It’s a sweet, funny and clever book that captures the endearing side of a preschoolers temper tantrums. The takeaway as an adult though is equally funny as it is profound. Don’t get fixated on what others want from you and allow that to drive your decision-making. More importantly, don’t fixate on what your ego attempts to validate as rational choices based on the immediate irrational demands of others that only serve to validate their behaviors and choices.
Pigeons occupy cities in great numbers. They are everywhere, pecking about and scavenging for food. Their actions are selfish. Their actions are for their own survival. They don’t care about us. Feeding a pigeon may put a smile on your face, but rest assured, that it’s a non-reciprocal relationship. To keep with metaphors of the winged, comedian Mitch Hedberg has a brilliant joke, “I find that ducks’ opinions of me are very much influenced over whether or not I have bread.” There’s sound philosophy in that statement.
Our paths are all unique. When searching for the right path, the path paved by reasoned choice and a non-egoic existence, our decisions simply won’t make sense to a vast majority of others. The world is filled with pigeons and ducks. Don’t let the pigeons drive the bus, and don’t seek to be loved by ducks when you are not carrying bread. Neither will serve to get you where you want to go, nor feed you along the way.
Core is defined as either the tough central part of various fruits, containing the seeds or the central or most important part of something. If we view our minds as our cores, containing the seeds (the choices) that drive us, aiming to strengthen our minds is then essential to achieving stability. It simplifies every daily to-do list. Of all the things we “need” to accomplish today, of all the things that occupy space in today’s calendar of events, meetings, and errands, how many blocks have we devoted to developing our minds?
Expectation is the root of disappointment. In terms of expectations of others, the hard lesson to learn is that we don’t just have to lower the bar, we have to put that bar down. If we expect others to do anything or act in any way that is outside of our control, we are holding space for disappointment. When it comes to ourselves, realistic expectations rely on what is in our power to control – how we choose to act and react.
Agreements are the root of accountability. When others choose to agree to do something, they are entering into a contract of accountability. When we agree to do something, we do the same. What’s made simple here is that if someone else is failing to uphold their agreements, we can help them notice this in an objective manner. The birds-eye perspective is that they agreed to do it – we did not expect them to do it. It’s a means to support someone else like a spotter does in weight-lifting. If we are fearful of how we will be judged for calling someone else out when they are failing to meet their agreements, then we are the ones not demonstrating accountability.
When we operate from a place of objectivity, if others respond with fear, do they fear us or accountability? Although in these situations we may at times receive the brunt of others’ frustrations, in reality it’s not personal. However, reality doesn’t always make being on the receiving end of ignorance easy. The reason for this is that in order to care enough about wanting others to be the best versions of themselves, we must be operating from a place of compassion, which involves being sensitive and vulnerable. We must also be holding ourselves up to our agreements. Our agreements to choose to be in humble service to others, to doing good, and not being in service to our egos.
Ignorance isn’t always kind, and arrogance fueled by ignorance is a vengeful combination. When operating from a place of reasoned choice opposed to emotion, we may appear to others as unemotional. It’s difficult to care enough to say something knowing that even if we choose our words perfectly, we still have no control over how it will be processed and received. Accountability can feel like a place of isolation. When we care enough about taking right action, we too have to accept to not care about what is out of our control.