Life’s Not All a Concert

I’ve had a dream since childhood of performing piano in front of a crowd. I imagine playing so beautifully and masterfully that it captivates the listeners.

What’s an impressive skill or feat you dream of? What would your big talent show moment look like?

I daydream of being fluent in a bunch of languages, too. Of singing an epic solo in a concert. Of being a published author or a successful public speaker. Of being a black belt in a martial art. Of winning a race. Of being a good dancer.

 

If you’ve ever seriously practiced piano (or worse, been in a house with someone else practicing), you know it gets repetitive at best–downright annoying at worst. To learn a piece really well takes patient, slow repetition. Today I came to a little part–just a measure long–that was just so tricky for some reason! It didn’t look hard on paper, but it just wouldn’t flow! I spent over 20 minutes practicing those 4 beats–slowly, quickly, left hand, right hand, all together–getting it right ten times and then suddenly losing it again.

Point is: Glamorous doesn’t start out glamorous.

 

Being a concert pianist is epic. But becoming a concert pianist takes a lot of very un-epic moments. And by a lot, I mean hours and hours, weeks and weeks, years and years.

Progress can happen very slowly. Success is rarely immediate or even quick. Mastery doesn’t happen easily.

And I think that’s why we DON’T go for the things we really want. It goes something like this. . . .

You dream of being fit and strong, of feeling confident and healthy. You feel inspired and you start going for it. You make a plan. You get excited. You start eating healthy and working out. Healthy doesn’t always taste great. Pizza sounds delicious. You’re tired. Planks don’t feel good. It’s been a week and you don’t see much of a difference. A month goes by and you’ve got some momentum, but you really miss taking it easy and eating all the sugar and dairy. You don’t really know how to take your workouts to the next level. You don’t know how to work on this muscle or use that machine. It’s too hard. It’s taking too long.

We give up on our dreams for 3 big reasons: DISCOURAGEMENT. DIFFICULTY. BOREDOM.

But those big obvious reasons disguise themselves as insignificant little moments: I can practice this part of the piece later. . . . I can go to the gym tomorrow. . . . I can cut this run short. . . . I’ve studied long enough for today. . . . This blog post can wait. . . .

 

The flip side is that finally “getting there” is AMAZING! Living your dream IS glamorous! Just close your eyes and imagine it.

Every time I master a beautiful piano piece, the unglamorous hours of repetition suddenly make sense. The beauty and happiness and pride make all the work more than worth it. . . . Every once in a while, one of my blog posts resonates with a ton of people and the feeling of helping–of making a difference–makes all the unconfident weeks of writing and scrapping and re-writing and wandering and writing again–all worth it.

 

Life is slow and difficult. It’s not all a concert. Most of it is the nitty-gritty, “boring” work to prepare for those concerts. But those concerts can be breathtakingly epic!

Do you love your dream enough to see it through?

 

piano#patience #youcandoit #instagramvsreality

‘You Don’t Have to Like Me’ – 5 Reasons to Be Your Real Self This Year

Happy 2018 my friends! Let me tell you a story about 2017. And 2016. And late 2015. Yeah–pretty much those three years. For the past few years I have struggled deeply with the fear of being disliked.

Michael Scott - Need to be Liked

I judged the success of my interactions on whether the person I was speaking to came away happy with me. I tried really hard to only talk about things that would please people. I kept criticism, warnings, and complaints largely to myself. What about you? Do you keep a lot of your dearest thoughts and concerns to yourself so that people won’t reject you for being you?

I needed to be liked so badly–especially by authority figures or other people who could have serious impact on my life–that the littlest bit of tension, suspicion, or disapproval could set off panicky fight-or-flight type hormones (mostly flight) inside me. Does confrontation or disagreement bring you these feelings?

This fear robbed me of a lot of power and progress in situations where I could have better stood up for myself or others. It’s caused me to make decisions I’ve regretted.

 

Something worth noting is that I haven’t always lived life according to this fear. I remember a few years ago, one of my role models gave me the compliment of a lifetime: “Unflappable,” she called me. I was strong, calm, and dependable. I wasn’t pushed around by people and I didn’t panic and concede when someone had a problem with me. I had been around that block before–dealt with a lot of people judging me–and I had learned to find my own strength and confidence.

I honestly am not sure where I lost it. But now I am sure, comparing these last few years to my earlier, stronger years–I am sure that I was much happier, much more successful, and even more liked when I didn’t worry about whether people liked me.

(BIG disclaimer before I go any further: Being a nice person is good. This blog post is not proposing you be a brat. Don’t be a brat.)

 

In 2018, one of my personal development goals is to stop needing–or even wanting–everyone to like me. The words I chose are: Confident; Unintimidated; Emotionally/mentally tough.

I cannot need others to always approve of me, be my friend, agree with me, or be happy about what I do or say. And here are a few reasons why:

 

1. Being liked by everyone is impossible.

Let’s start with the simplest reason not to live for everyone’s approval: IT DOESN’T WORK.

A while back I was chatting with a friend about former President Barack Obama’s leadership style. I mentioned that I was impressed that he worked so hard at being kind and respectful to both sides, not just viciously attacking the other side of each agenda or blindly towing his own party’s line. It seemed to me like it was important to him that he be able to get along and build relationships with the political opposition. My friend, a strong democrat, replied that the president’s agreeableness was his biggest problem, that he should have taken a much more vocal and forceful stand on everything.

Moral of the story: Try to be agreeable to everyone and there will always be people who disapprove of you for not being more disagreeable to people they don’t like.

A close friend had a similar experience. He had decided to passionately live his life according to one central standard: Peace with everyone. He was determined to be at peace with every single person in his life–to be friendly and to get along. And to his credit, his passion for this has made him one of the kindest and most compassionate people you’ll meet. But there was a problem. One family member, his mom, desperately wanted and needed him to oppose other family members, including her ex-husband, his dad. When they were together, she insisted they talk negatively about other family behind their backs. Whenever he saw his dad, his mom was hurt and angry and questioned his love. It soon became clear that no matter how hard he tried to be in a peaceful relationship with both sides, his mom would accept absolutely no version of friendship that made room for his priority of peace with anyone but her. He tried and tried to explain that all he wanted was to get along with everyone. But to his mom, his desire for peace with others meant a personal attack on her.

There are a million examples, and I’ll bet there are some in your own life that come to mind. At work, keeping your employees happy might mean letting down your own boss. You may feel pressure to blur some lines and cut some corners here or there for the sake of productivity, because one executive expects and encourages it. But keeping him happy means causing another leader to view you as unethical or undependable. Or just try making decisions about the holiday without offending one or another family member.

Maybe the biggest proof of all that you can’t please everybody: Try assembling a guest list for your wedding. Leave your crazy uncle off the list and risk the wrath of your grandparents. Put him on the list and the rest of your family might not show up. (Eloping is underrated.) You just can’t keep everybody happy, and sometimes trying will just make people even more unhappy with you.

 

2. Needing everyone’s approval leaves you feeling guilty, stressed, and hurt.

If I am trying desperately to keep everyone happy with me–if I make that my responsibility and blame myself when someone is disappointed in me or turns against me–If I need your approval in order to be happy, then I have given you control over my life and my heart.

It’s the age old story–you were never good enough for your dad as a kid, and now that you’re an adult, you just want him to be pleased with you. You want him to accept you for who you are. If he has a problem with you, you feel small and sad. But maybe what your dad thinks of you has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him.

Living for a parent’s approval or your boss’s approval or your significant other’s approval or your kid’s approval–tying your happiness and self-image to whether someone likes you will just lead to hurt. Again and again and again. Because while you may choose to want them to like you, they may choose for themselves that they don’t.

I’ll bet you have a relationship where you find this tendency in yourself. (I know I do!) You fight in your head over every little decision, because what would please you will displease your boss. Maybe last time you chose to stand up for yourself, and your boss let you know in no uncertain terms that you displeased them. You ended up sad and guilty–yet another person you’ve let down. So this time, you’re choosing to concede. Let your boss have his way. Live to please. So you end up making choices you don’t feel right about, and you end up stressed and still feeling guilty.

If I live to please, I always feel guilty: Guilty for the compromises I’ve made to please others, or guilty for not pleasing others because I refused to compromise.

If I live to please, I always feel hurt: Hurt by your choice to pick a fight with me even though I tried to keep the peace, or hurt by someone else’s disappointment that I have a relationship with you to begin with.

And if I live to please, I always feel stressed: Am I getting it right? For you? For him? For her? For them? And if I am getting it right for everyone else–am I honestly getting it right for myself?

 

3. Needing to be liked stunts professional progress.

I hate corporate politics. I dream of finding a place without politics. But politics don’t seem to care. They’re sticking around no matter how I feel.

An incredible number of people–influential people–will encourage, expect, and even require you to do things you don’t feel right about, or not to do things you really want to do. And needing to be liked–needing approval–will make you a permanent servant of stronger, bolder political players.

I’ve noticed that the people who end up making progress quickly or getting their way (at least for a good while) in organizations are the ones who don’t need to be liked by everybody. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If I have a deep passion, for example, for promoting inclusivity and equal opportunity in my company–there will be some people who don’t like that, who spread negativity about me, and who want to see me go. I can need their approval and stop working so hard for this good thing. Or I can let them have their own problem with me, and keep focusing on the good I am doing. At the end of the day, if I need everyone to be on board my ship, my ship will never set sail.

I’ve also noticed that the people who do need to be liked by everybody are usually stuck serving those daring leaders and innovators who don’t need to always be liked. There will always be someone who will only accept and like you as long as you are serving their vision and purpose. So you make the trade off: They get you as a pawn in their game, and you get liked.

The rule applies to every area of work within an organization: If I need you to like me, and you don’t need me to like you, then I will do what you want me to do. Every time. But what if I also didn’t need you to like me?

If I didn’t need everyone’s approval, I’d think outside the box more–take bigger risks–accept bigger responsibilities–identify more problems with the status quo–chase opportunities without apologizing to less ambitious co-workers.

Some time ago, someone a few rungs above me on the corporate ladder brought me something to do. It didn’t sit right with me–in fact, I knew it wasn’t right. I started to protest, and immediately her face flushed and she got pushy. “Trust me, it’s fine! Just do it!” In the little decision-making moment that I had, my mind went straight to the conversations she was going to have later with her co-workers and higher-ups, people who could influence my career: “He’s such a stickler.” “He thinks he’s better than everybody.” “He just doesn’t get it.” I just wanted to be liked. I didn’t want anybody having problems with me. But if I did it, I would have a problem with myself. And so would all the influential people on the other side of the corner-cutting spectrum if they found out. Talk about stress!

But what if I didn’t need her to like me? What if instead of trying to please everyone, I consciously chose the kind of person I wanted to be, and allowed some influential people to help me and some not to. What if I recognized that pleasing everyone was just never going to happen, and I focused my energy instead on being bold and strong and confident? After all–those confident, independent types were the ones I kept seeing up near the top of the ladder.

No matter what your career goals and projects, the more energy you expend on the impossible mission of pleasing everybody, the less you’ll have to build on your own vision. And there will always be people who just aren’t pleased with your vision.

 

4. Needing to be liked by everyone keeps you from helping people.

This one is near and dear to my heart.

I grew up in a world where everything was either “right” or “wrong”–“very good” or “very bad.” Everything had to be judged. Everything was a moral issue, and I had to know all the answers. I now think that world doesn’t work. It leads to arrogance and viciousness, shame and depression. Over-zealous over-confidence has led to hundreds of wars and conflicts throughout history.

But now I’ve found that–in reaction to that world–just as big a world exists where there is no “right” or “wrong.” Everything is okay. Peace is the only value. Nobody can speak up against things as “bad.” Everyone worships the vision of being completely 100% chill.

But in the real world–in the real world where, according to the CDC, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18–in the real world where over 500 lives were ended in 2017 by mass shootings in America–in the real world, there is such a thing as “bad.”

I want to help people who are being hurt. And sometimes it’s not as black and white as a gun in your face. In fact, more often than not it’s quiet manipulation and bullying. Parents emotionally abuse children, high schoolers bully less cool high schoolers, co-workers bully the new guy or the nerdy girl. Bosses take advantage of their employees. Celebrities use their status to get away with sexual harassment. And it’s really easy to just go with the flow–let it happen–laugh it off–shrug your shoulders–“not my problem.” After all, standing up and saying “No” takes guts. And breaking the silence usually puts a big target on your back.

As long as I need everyone to accept and approve of me and what I do, I can’t take a stand against the “bad.” If I need to be liked by everyone, I can’t stand up to bullies and abusers and help vulnerable people find strength and freedom. Too many people would rather I just leave things be so they can stay comfortable in the status quo.

If I need to be liked by everyone, I can’t ruffle feathers, can’t be honest about the elephant in the room, can’t say no to hurtful behaviors. I can’t help people who are being hurt and also remain popular with the people doing (or enabling or ignoring) the hurting.

Do you want to be the kid that “stayed out of it?” Or the kid that stepped in between his friend and the school bully and said, “You’ll have to get through me first!”?

 

5. Lastly, living for approval from others keeps you from being you.

Do you ever hear yourself say something and think, “Wait–where did that come from?!?”

If I spend so much time worrying about what others will think, I just won’t be myself.

If I worry at every meeting about how every single person will feel about my opinions or votes or suggestions, I won’t speak up (and certainly won’t recommend creative new solutions or thinking outside the box).

If I need every client to be completely happy with me, I won’t be able to say “no” when I need to say no in the interests of my own career and the health of my organization.

If I can’t say no to one family member’s gossip because I want them to like me, I won’t be the loving, caring person the rest of my family needs.

If I choose not to be honest about who I am when I’m making new friends because I’m afraid I’m too weird or different, then nobody will ever know and love the real me.

If I carefully write every single blog post so that absolutely everyone will be pleased with what I have to say and think I’m a smart guy, I won’t communicate genuinely from the heart.

Dependence on the approval of others–always needing to be liked–paralyzes you. It keeps the real you hidden deep down, while an ever-stressed and watered-down version of you walks the tight rope of each new job and relationship.

Don’t be afraid to be you. You don’t need everyone to like who you really are. Diet You isn’t going to be very useful to the world. Be the bold, free, loving you that you are pleased with–and I promise you, you’ll find that the kind of people who end up liking you are pretty amazing people to have in your life.

Be the kind of person you would like, and leave others to struggle with their own opinions of you.

 

One last thought–a friend of mine, who has spent his career as a therapist helping people be honest with each other and get along, says something that will always stick with me: “People connect at the level of their struggles.”

In this Facebook/Instagram/Always-Look-Happy kind of world, it’s tempting to think that if you open up about who you really are–dirty laundry and everything–people won’t like you. So we bottle our emotions, hide our hurts, and turn a blind eye to the suffering in our own homes. Because we’re afraid that if we get real, people won’t like us.

It’s not true. Be real. Talk about the things you feel like you’re not allowed to talk about. Show the fear and the love deep inside you. You’ll find a hundred friends who are aching to share just as deeply as you are. Yes, you’ll also find a few who are sad that you’re being you. But at least you’re actually being you.

5 Life Things I’ve Gotten from Running

I’m a runner. Running makes me feel alive. I run often and I run hard and it makes me feel strong and accomplished and really, really, really happy. But I’m not an extremely talented runner.

I used to jog a couple or a few miles at a time. If I could manage to make it to the two-mile marker without stopping, I was pretty happy. I averaged about 10 minutes a mile on what I thought at the time were long runs. On rare occasion I would run-walk an entire 13.1 miles–a half marathon–and it would take me a few hours. A couple years ago I started running harder. After a year of on and off practicing, learning more about running as I worked on it, I did probably my proudest run: About 9 miles at under 8:30 per mile. And I could sprint over a half mile in 3 minutes. And then I fell over one day and got a concussion, and it took months before I could push myself to anywhere close to what I used to do. I’m still not there.

I have actually learned a lot from my (fairly humble) journey as a runner (fairly humble because I’m really not a great runner and may never be–did you know that Olympic marathoners average under 5 minutes a mile for 26 miles straight? I can’t even come close to running just one mile that fast). I’ve noticed that while I’m running regularly, I’m happier and more confident and I feel better about the way I handle myself and direct my life. I think it’s because the more I run, the more I realize . . .

  1. You can be passionate about something without being the best at it. Respect the passion you see in yourself and in others.

It’s a competitive world out there. It’s very hard not to constantly compare yourself to the next person, and the trouble is there will always be someone out there who’s more skilled than you.

Some of my friends think it’s amazing that I’ll go for a ten mile run. But some of my friends go for hundred mile runs. Here’s the thing: If you go for a jog–walk breaks and all–for a half mile, because you want to run, you are a runner.

It’s easy to silence ourselves, or let others silence us, because we’re not the best–or not even very good–at something we love. But if you love it, be proud of that. Respect it. It’s still amazing. Trust me, I know who I am as a runner. I’m solidly mediocre, and incredibly happy to be a runner.

And I never want to put out someone else’s flame by making them feel like it’s not big or bright enough.

  1. You can push yourself harder than you think.

I remember the exact day I went from being a comfortable runner to working for it. It was a 5k around my town–3.1 miles. I was running pretty hard–much harder than usual. I knew I was going to have to slow down–maybe even walk–after the first mile. But then something in me told me to keep going.

I think it’s the first time running has actually felt like really hard work. I had to concentrate on taking deep breaths and just push myself through the pain. Then I had to focus on not letting my legs slow down as they started to fatigue. I had to run through the tummy thrills and nausea, deciding I was going to win the mental battle and keep going.

I ran those three miles way faster than I’d ever done before. I was on top of the world, and it completely changed the way I run.

The more I pushed myself as a runner, the more I noticed myself exercising strength of will day to day in all areas of life: Sometimes you have to have scary conversations that it would be easier not to have. Sometimes you have to say no to the sugary snack calling your name. Sometimes you have to choose between feeling safe and comfortable, and making a big life change you know you really want. There are so many areas of life where if you really do the emotional, mental, physical work–and don’t back down–and keep going–and keep going when it’s starting to really hurt–and just be determined–you’ll do so much more and so much better than you ever thought you could.

  1. Don’t take unhealthy shortcuts. Be patient. You still want to be able to run a year from now.

If you google “Mistakes new runners make,” you’ll find things like this at the top of just about every list: “Doing too much, too soon; Being too ambitious; Too far too soon; Not resting; Ignoring the pain.”

It’s almost comical how many times I’ve hurt myself running and not learned the lesson. There’s a lot that goes into doing something in a healthy, functional way. For running, some of these are: “Warm up and warm down; Don’t stop moving right after running; Don’t stretch when you’re not warmed up; Take plenty of time stretching afterward; Let your body rest and recover; If you haven’t been running 3 miles, don’t jump straight to 6.”

We often get so amped up about the thing we’re working on right now in our life that we forget we have to do it in such a healthy way that we can still be doing it a year from now.

A few other ways you can take unhealthy shortcuts: Working 70 hours a week on salary to try to build a career–and burning out; Trying to make emotional relationship work fit neatly into your schedule–and finding out too late the message that gives; Suddenly committing to never eating anything unhealthy again–until you suddenly go on an eating binge because you just can’t take it.

Most great things in life take patience. A shortcut that gives you a burst of endorphins and confidence today might later leave you even weaker and further from your goals than when you began.

  1. Consistent baby steps add up.

Saving a little bit of money regularly can make you incredibly wealth. Learning a little bit more every day can make you an expert. And running a little further and a little faster every week will add up. I know this from experience.

Very few people suddenly become amazing at their thing. Even people who seem like they have come out of nowhere to suddenly realize incredible success and popularity have probably been stretching themselves further and trying harder day by day for a long, long time.

“Any time you see what looks like a breakthrough, it is always the end result of a long series of little things, done consistently over time.” – Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge

If you want to go a long way, you have to take the first step. And then the second. And then the third. And if you keep taking those little steps, you’ll get there.

  1. There’s a lot of beautiful world out there for you.

Sometimes you just have to open your eyes and look around you. Head outside and see for yourself.

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Thanks for reading!

Whether you’re a runner, a writer, a cook, a teacher, a traveler, or a friend–be proud of who you are, never give up, and may more and more happiness be with you!

Peter running
10 miles, Eden Prairie, MN

Slowly but surely

Life happens slowly. Painfully slowly.

Today I feel like I’ll never have the things I want. And lots of voices tell me I should or could already have them, and make me feel even worse. (#socialmedia)

But things take time and money and hard, hard work. And patience. And perspective.

When I look back at life a year ago, I notice there are a number of big steps I’ve taken. Big, important purchases–like a new car. And other progress. Like weight lost and a more healthy lifestyle. Like becoming a serious runner. Like a new job.

When I got that new car, I felt so awesome about it for a couple weeks. And then my focus drifted back to the other important things I haven’t been able to get or do yet. And that’s where my focus stays mostly.

When I look back at life two years ago, I remember living in a cramped studio on a not-so-nice street. Made a lot less money. But then my best friend and I took each other on a dreamlike adventure to get married and honeymoon on a lake in northern Italy. Made memories and got pictures that we’ll treasure for a lifetime. We got new jobs. Raises. Took a few more steps. Got an awesome new place to live and some new furniture to go with it. Threw a wedding reception for all our friends. Helped a friend get on her feet financially.

Even just the last two years have been so full of progress, growth, gifts, and adventures. But throughout the years I’ve felt again and again like I’m not making progress. Like I’ll never have the time or money to move forward and realize some of my dreams.

And the year before. Another painfully slow year. But I bought a ring and got engaged. And won speech competitions. And got promoted.

I know I’m not the only one who feels like progress happens way too slowly. Life takes so much patience.

When you feel like you’re just running in place, look back at what you didn’t have one or two or three years ago. Look back at what you’ve gotten to experience in the last year and more.

I’ve had an incredible life. I lived in Uganda and Ethiopia and learned Amharic. I’ve spent years enjoying the company of my best friend and sharing together in adventures–with no end in sight. I’ve taken awesome road trips. Made great friends. Spent lots of money on things that make life easier and more fun. Made a home. Learned to cook like a pro and make some killer guacamole. Bought and received so many meaningful gifts. Spent endless hours pouring my heart onto the keys of piano after piano. Put many, many miles on too many pairs of running shoes to count. The list goes on.

And my life doesn’t seem to be nearly over. Which means that list really will keep growing.

But next week I’ll probably have some “I’m-not-making-progress” feelings. Some “Why-can’t-I-afford-that-yet?” frustrations. Some “Will-I-ever-get-there?” moments. And if the past couple years are any indicator, life is sure to throw a few more curve balls my way. Setbacks. Expenses. Discouragements.

This time next year, though, I’ll re-read this blog post. And I bet I’ll be amazed at how many more things will have been added to the list since today.

What about you? What’s on your list? I bet if you sit down and start writing, you’ll feel a little better about where you are and where you’re going.

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