This idea changed my life.
It’s simple: there is truly only one thing you absolutely control in your life — your attitude towards your situation and your life. You have a choice: do you own that attitude, be aware of it, and cultivate it to be who you truly want?
The alternatives are weak in comparison:
The power of this choice of attitude has become part of my core philosophy. It’s core tenet is this:
I want to become something that is beautiful, strong and a reflection of who I desire to be.
Every moment, my thought and attitude is a part of who I am. In each moment, I can learn from whatever my circumstance is: if it’s pain, I can learn how to withstand pain. If it’s work I don’t enjoy, I can always find something to learn to better myself in the future. More importantly, if I have a specific goal of what I want my identity to be, this awareness becomes critically powerful.
Let me provide a few examples — I want to make this crystal clear.
My first job was working as a stocker at a Drug Emporium store. For those who have never been, at the time (and still to this day), every item is priced by hand. My job went like this: My boss would walk in, point to a pallet of product, like toilet paper and say, “Ed, I want you to take this pallet of toilet paper and price them all on the floor at $3.99. I’m real excited: I got this as a special from Miller Paper Company! If you finish this, go ahead and start pricing that pallet of Hershey bars.”
For many, this job would have been terribly boring. For me, it was fantastic. I happen to like thinking in general, but in this circumstance, I used it to grow socially. I was originally a shy introvert, so I challenged myself everyday to talk to as many customers as I could and grow my sincerity. I would ask every customer with all my heart if I could help them find anything. As I continued to price, while this job wasn’t very riveting, I used it to reflect on my day, my school lessons or life in general.
Life went on and I started working in an insurance call center. At first, this drove me crazy: I literally never knew what would come from the other side of the phone. It could be an angry person wondering why their insurance claim, a person who just lost their house due to a flood claim, an elderly person frustrated that they paid their bill, but got an overdue notice in the mail, or just someone who wanted to talk to their person and pay the bill.
I took this opportunity to grow my ability to listen and respond. I challenged myself to ignore the dread and instead focus on, “What sort of person do I get to talk to today?”. Using that focus, I really honed my listening ability. I went through these series of epiphanies about talking and communication and what service means:
As a result, I was not the fastest taking calls, I was not even the smartest, but I always had the best quality scores. Over time, I learned more situations and did become really intelligent at my job. Were people stupid? Absolutely. Did they argue over petty things? Oh,yes. But if you had patience to listen, none of that mattered. For me, this made every day have meaning and made it tolerable, even enjoyable for an introvert doing a job where I talked to people 8 to 10 hours a day.
But, I will admit there were definitely moments like this:
But this idea also applies to really difficult, really hard situations. My mother was a bit crazy, but also a beautiful, artistic, thoughtful lady. My mother was also a heavy drinker. As a kid, I really, really wanted to convince my mother to stop drinking. I chatted with her for hours trying to convince her to give it up. My whole family did in our part in various ways. Yet despite all that heart, the drinking continued. I started to feel really helpless. I kept trying, but no change was happening. It started to feel like, “Why even try?”
I didn’t realize at the time that I have no control over what my mother decided. But I could control my attitude in that moment. For me, I seared that feeling in my brain: I never wanted to force anyone to feel that way ever again. By remembering how that helpless feeling felt, I could take this as a growth experience. It gave me an in depth understanding of helplessness: I could now recognize it, have incredible compassion for it, and know the best way to react to it should I find myself in that situation again. It took this incredibly painful experience, and made it into a treasured memory for me. I am incredibly grateful to my mother for the many lessons she taught me about life, happiness, and struggling with hard truths.
By choosing my attitude, I was able to find my peace and purpose in moments of duress, boring jobs, and jobs that honestly gave me anxiety thinking about them originally. It’s a key factor of how I live my daily life.
By having a clear vision of who I want to be, I know I am always headed towards that vision or away from it. I changed from being reactive to the situation life handed me to being proactive in how I want to respond to each situation.
Having a why behind your actions, gives you a constant to drive towards. When other plans flag, it always provide you momentum to keep going. When you experience failure, you still know in your heart who you want to be. And that person meets failure as a friend, gives it a hug, and moves forward with advanced knowledge!
I challenge you to choose who you want to be today and to integrate that choice into your everyday life!
Growing up, I was NOT an early riser.
I lived in a two story house with myself and my brothers and sisters and my parents. My dad had quite the commute, so he had to leave really early all the time. Everyday, he would call up the stairs and say, “Ed, get up!”
Again, he would call loudly, “Ed, you should be up right now!”
“O…K, Dad, I’m up!” I would yell. And go back to sleep.
Then, I would hear what would be the final call. I could tell by my Dad’s tone he was getting irritated, “Ed, I’m lea–vving!”
And like Flash, in about 90 seconds, I would get dressed, wash my face, brush my hair, run down the steep-as-hell stairs, and meet my dad in the car. This is the sort of conversation that happened all the time:
Dad: Ed, I thought you heard me? I heard you respond. You held a conversation with me!
Me: **looking down** Huh, well, I only remember the last one, Dad. You called more than once?
Dad: **laughing** Oh, yes.
Me: I’ll do better next time.
And this happened ALL the time. What I did not realize when I was a teenager or even into college was I had trained my body to hit the snooze button unconsciously. It was kinda amazing: I could have multi-sentence conversations with people that tried to wake me up, but would recall none of it.
Fast forward to college: 8 a.m. classes out the wazoo! Did I get better?
I repeatedly overslept and missed my classes. It was a vicious cycle:
The conversation in my head would go something like this:
“Ed, you did it again! You’re late. You’re going to have to apologize. How can you be such an idiot? I’m pretty sure every person you’ve ever met can wake up on time. What will it take?”
Harsh. Acerbic and not kind. But, if anything I was always a reasonable person. My next series of thoughts would be like this:
“Ok, Ed, calm down. What will being angry at yourself accomplish? Just make the promise to yourself that next time you won’t do this. You will do everything in your power to wake up on time.”
This habit of mine, I would find later, would be the first great source of self-kindness to myself. I didn’t really realize I was doing it, but every time I messed up, I forgave myself, so I could try again. I was really starting to hate myself, but what stopped me from completing this loop was this forgiveness — this thought that no matter how many times I messed up, I could still love myself and promise to do better. But don’t think that this was without discipline!
I have always prided myself on my integrity and honesty: sincerity and authenticity were my most important virtues. So, I felt awful for the ripples I was causing: walking late into class, showing up late to work for my shift and causing unfair loads on my coworkers. But for every problem I caused, I tried to apply new ideas to my problem.
I kept increasing the obstacles to my alarm clock. A few examples:
I remember this one time, I stayed the night at my dad’s house and my roommate said, “Holy Shit Ed, you forgot to turn off your alarms! It was like a room full of thundering bulls in here. Don’t ever do that again!”
At this point I was desperate. I was at the point in college where I realized I was terrible at playing the french horn. It actually was that I just felt worse than everyone else because I joined the game late, but the fact was my absence was causing me to nearly fail all my classes and get a reputation at work. I **needed** to fix this.
Then, I had this thought: I trained myself to turn off all my alarms without waking up, what if I could “untrain” that automatic response?
What if I repeated laid in bed, set my alarm for 10 minutes later, jumped up, got dressed, washed my hair and then…do it again?
What if, by doing that over and over again, I could break this habit of mine and replace it with a different habit?
So, I did it. One Saturday:
For me, I did it 100 times. I suspect the quantity could be different for each person. I grabbed onto that hope with every little bit of emotion I had. Remember, I needed this.
And the next day…I woke up on time.
And the day after.
And each day after that. It was glorious! I felt like I had conquered the universe. I had tried to sooooo long and continued to fail. It was starting to feel like I could never succeed. I was still learning to not be afraid of failure.
But this trial taught me two very valuable lessons:
Overall, I always feel better when I wake early: it can set me into my routine and I feel more prepared for the day. It gives me confidence into the day and sets me up for success. If you really struggle with the snooze button, I cannot recommend this approach more!
Are you afraid of failing?
There’s an antidote to your paralysis.
Please, read on.
You cannot learn without some failure.
Failure is a natural part of the learning process. Anytime you learn something new, you likely will be bad at it in the beginning. It’s impossible to do everything perfect all the time, but when the stakes are high, we don’t want to make a mistake in front of our boss, our CEO, or our friends.
Failure will happen, but it’s nothing to fear. Failure is how you give yourself feedback on what is working and what is not. Fear gives you an opportunity to recognize a need for change.
Don’t let fear of failure paralyze you: I propose that failure is our greatest asset.
When you fail, it teaches you humility: it teaches to not be afraid to ask for help and gives valuable feedback when we need to adjust our expectations. It can hurt, but when you remember failing is only a part of you getting better at anything, it becomes your friend instead of an enemy.
For example, when I chose to change my major in college, it was because I repeatedly failed at performance: I practiced all the time: every minute I wasn’t working, I was in the practice room trying to get better at playing the french horn. I distinctly remembering how much time I could be practicing if I just slept in the music building — a whole hour saved! At the time, I was averaging about 3-4 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work, and 5-8 hours of practice depending on the day.
I thought I kept failing because I didn’t have any talent. What I learned from my failure is I was practicing all the wrong things. Instead of breaking my problem down into parts, I looked at all the other students and how much better they were than me. So, I did what most people I think would do: kept trying the hard stuff, thinking I could play like them. I literally tried to place the high C at least 5,000 times, I’m sure.
I felt like a loser because I started applying myself seriously as a junior in high school, but many of my classmates had been seriously playing since elementary or mid-school.
Realistically, the music was too advanced for me. But by failing hard, it made me realize that, perhaps, this wasn’t the right career for me: I always felt lost when band directors talked about subtle issues and tried so hard but always ended up in failure. By reflecting on all these things, I did two things: I decided to get an English degree and decided that I needed to do things differently. Instead of looking at other English students, I made a list of things I thought I needed to know to be a good teacher.
Were those 3 years wasted? Absolutely not. I DID eventually learn deliberate practice. I also learned how to properly break problems down into chunks — one of my most valuable skills. When I felt overwhelmed by the literal mountain of things I needed to do, I always just focused on the next thing.
If you feel frozen by the fear, I suggest you do two things:
What I suggest is preparing for those big moments, by allowing yourself to fail in the small moments.
There’s benefit to embracing things even when failure might feel imminent:
Be friendly to your failure and it will be kind to you back.
One of my goals in life has always been to optimize my learning. I love learning! It’s why I wanted to be a teacher originally: by constantly learning, we allow ourselves to grow and that enables us to do things we previously did not think possible. It pushes you closer to your big dream of life!
When I was taking calls for Nationwide Insurance in their call center, did I ever imagine I would become an analytics manager for a retail company with over 100 stores?
No, absolutely not. But it happened.
In small steps.
To learn quickly, we need to embrace that it’s ok to fail and anytime failure occurs to understand, adjust and pick ourselves up to try again.
And welcome to the first post of Great Works in Progress: a blog about how to find peace and happiness in your everyday life.
I want this to be a place of reflection, encouragement, inspiration, and discovery. I will offer lessons I’ve gained in life and continually challenges I face, too.
Consider it your break from the world. A place to pause, think, find meaning, and prepare yourself for whatever your next challenge is in the world.
My name is Edward Smith. I like to learn and think and help others.
This is me fancy:
And this is me relaxing on Mitchell Bay, kayaking (I don’t get to do it often, but I love it!):
Learning is my passion. I constantly try to learn, develop and challenge myself to be a kinder, better human being each year. My greatest passion is that I want to help other people find their path to growth.
It’s time for me to contribute after 15 years of challenging myself to grow in all sorts of directions.
I intend to cover a bevy of topics such as:
We are all trying to grow in the direction that is most important to us. The meaning of the name is that everything we choose to do adds up to who we are. By being aware and shaping ourselves, we find meaning and purpose. It’s what we’re meant to do.
But sometimes, we all need a little help to see it. I certainly have.
I want to give back and share all the lessons I’ve learned along the way from a warehouse worker to a data scientist.
So, please enjoy the ride!