Don’t be afraid of the curve in the path ahead that obscures your view. Truth lies there and it’s simply waiting to be found. Truth, not just on the surface, but deep into the areas that we’d rather not look. The last couple of weeks spent inside myself has uncovered a few gems that now require polishing. The ideas talked about previously, formulating in my own mind, are the right path but what parts are holding me back? Perhaps more importantly, what parts are holding you back?
This post is about work. Work and the effort that goes into it because it seems that in my case there are two distinct layers. The superficial layer of work that makes us feel as if we are progressing but doesn’t get us to where we want to go. We are going in the right direction but the bike we are riding is in the wrong gear making it much too easy and without any benefit. It’s also painfully slow and leaves us feeling unrewarded. The second layer is the deep underlying layer of work that truly propels us forward to levels we expect and further. It’s the hard gear we don’t really want to use knowing our legs are going to burn going up that hill. It’s going to push us to really go to the next level but it’s worth it when we look back and see how far we’ve come.
Two weeks of listening to Les Brown passionately cry “It’s Not Over Until I Win!” and tracks like Rise and Grind put you in the mindset to consider what kind of work you are doing. I’ve been riding along the path of the superficial while occasionally finding myself deep diving into the areas where I need to be. What keeps us out of this deep area where others seemingly thrive. It seems to stem from many of the fears and insecurities we carry around.
Take this example from my own path. I’ve come up with a list of things that I truly enjoy and I spend time, a considerable amount of time, working on them. It’s become the basis for this blog and the stories I share.
- Personal Growth
Each point takes a certain amount of individual effort and yet they are all linked to the path that I’m on. Diving into any one example leads me to see the path of superficial work and the path of underlying work. Photography can be as simple as getting out and taking photos, basic edits, and perhaps sharing them through social media. Superficial in most cases only because it becomes a rinse and repeat driven process. The underlying work is the time spent studying locations, advanced editing techniques, reaching out to other photographers, business leads, and potential models who may be interested in being photographed. Taking the time to look at what others are doing and trying to figure out how. Not being discouraged when your results don’t live up to expectations but asking yourself why not? What do I need to do differently.
I’ve touched on the effect fear can have on us as we progress down this path. So of the list above I find photography something that moving into the underlying layer easier than others. Probably because the whole thing is new to me. There are no past experiences hiding deep inside to tell me I’m not good enough or that I can’t do it. I’ve never been a photographer beyond pointing a camera and clicking the button. It’s been a clean slate from which to start.
Writing/Reading on the other hand has been an interesting one. It has been something I’ve always done. University will be remembered by the vast volumes of papers written on topics that ranged from exciting to needlessly boring. There is something hiding there though. This idea of underlying work has always been a difficult one for me when it comes to writing and reading. I can sit down and read a book quickly enough while getting a general sense of the theme and yet that deep work is needed for me to really take notice of what I’m looking at. To real grasp the concepts and even beyond slow reading comes the idea of asking myself questions about what I just read and what it meant. Writing is no different. I’m sitting here writing this out but how much of it is simply superficial vs. the deep work. Editing for me has always sat outside of my comfort zone beckoning me to climb over the fence I quietly hide behind. (P.S. I’ve edited this whole thing so kudos to me except if you find spelling or grammatical errors then it will get better next time!)
Carl Jung’s book The Undiscovered Self raised this very question to me this morning. I’ve read through a portion of it and found myself asking: “What is it about?” and “What does it mean to me?” without really having an answer. I knew that I’d like to share some thoughts on it here when I got through it but found myself not being sure what I’d even write about. Then I found this quote from Jung:
“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung
It became clear that the question of underlying work and effort was really a function of myself, holding myself back. So why? Often we get caught up in old insecurities and thoughts without really knowing it. There were a few University courses I recall vividly that left a deeply negative impression in my own thought process. This is a common response amongst a lot of people but here is the short version:
Take Course A. Let’s call it Advanced Finance Futures & Options for lack of a better example. We enroll, attend all of the classes, and show up at the midterm and final and do much worse than we had anticipated. Now the reaction can go one of two ways and in my case it has always veered towards the notion that my poor grades were a function of how smart I am. I did poorly on this exam therefore I’m not smart enough for this material. The truth of the matter is I am smart enough yet the effort was not there. The superficial work was reading through the materials with the expectation that it was enough without spending time truly understanding the concepts. The effort wasn’t meeting my own needs of understanding and the exam stood there as the wall of realization. Take Course B now. Let’s call it Advanced Financial Management; hey that’s convenient! Same story except I excelled at this course. Why? The concepts were truly no different in terms of their difficulty when you stand back and look at them. Each contained challenging financial modeling concepts and mathematical ideas. The difference was effort. I engaged myself on a different level for Course B and spent the time working and putting in the effort to achieve those grades.
Moral of the story is that I’ve been hanging on to this notion of not being smart enough in some areas without reflecting back on why I didn’t achieve certain successes in the past. Superficial work tends to get us where we need to go but perhaps not at the same level as we had hoped. When the effort begins to dive under the surface and engage us we achieve results we hope for and then more.
I can’t speak to Jung’s book right now because I haven’t put in the work. I asked the questions above this morning and instead of answering found myself falling back on old habits of vague answers without any substance. The ‘I’m not smart enough motif’ was rearing its head. I’ve looked into my own heart and mind though and recognize that avoidance of the deep work arises when those seeds of insecurity rise up. Consider the following question and then sit with it:
What is currently holding you back?
If the answer is yourself then you’ve found the superficial path. Now keep digging. Recall moments in your life where you’ve faced this very question and seek to find the answers at a more detailed level. Are there situations, like myself, where you’ve found yourself hobbled and perhaps carry that around even today?
What was holding me back?
Superficial answer: I’m not putting in enough effort.
Underlying answer: I carry around insecurities around how smart I need to be to do this based on previous experiences that planted seeds in my own mind. It’s not about how smart I am in this case but rather overcoming that initial feeling and spending the time and putting in the extra effort.
Analyzing Jung’s book isn’t about being smart enough. It’s about taking more time, reading it thoroughly and taking notes, all the while asking questions such as “What is it about?” and “What does it mean to me?”. It’s a small step personally and will no doubt require continuous effort and monitoring as I progress down this path. Deep habits aren’t easy to overcome yet recognizing them is an important first step.