Growing pains

Some conversations leave you energized, and some leave you tired and exhausted. Part of this is the energy of the person at the time as well as how much you put in, and part is the nature of the subject matter. Tuesday morning I had a meeting at the lovely Vineyard Hotel with Casper, who has his fingers in a lot of pies but is, I think, having made enough money already, primarily driven by growing people. So among other things he is a professional coach, and when I learned this I asked to meet with him because I wanted to pick his brain. Turns out what I actually wanted was a kick in the ass.

Of course with this sort of thing you both know what’s going to happen ahead of time without naming the game: he was going to give me a coaching session so that in addition to whatever else I got out of it, I would get some understanding of what it looks like when it’s done well. Well, let me tell you … it’s a bit painful! There are a couple different tacks but the one he chose to take had me squirming like … well, I don’t know. It’s hard because part of what happens is someone asks you a question you don’t want to answer, so either you don’t answer it, or maybe lie a little bit (or a lot). But when you get a series of these all in a row there’s no time to think, no time to hide, no time to do anything other than give anything other than the whole truth.

This was the mental (or emotional maybe?) equivalent of being pushed to the limit physically, and it was the first time in a long time, or maybe ever, that I can recall feeling this way. So, in a word, it was pretty mind-blowing! As I said apparently what I was really after was a kick in the ass, because I was afraid to get started because I didn’t know exactly what to do, was afraid I would fail, and would lose face, and would waste time when there is no time to waste. So this was half of it, the other half being that if I didn’t start, I would definitely fail. “So stuffed if you do, stuffed if you don’t: you may as well take the path where you have a fighting chance.”

The conversation had a couple of other unexpected insights. He first of all validated my approach of putting a number to something unmeasurable by rating my focus every day. He also came out with the statement that self-confidence is a defense mechanism, which I had never thought of but of course it’s incredibly true! It’s always the people who come out with the most strident comments like “I don’t care what anyone else thinks” who really care the most. And the people who must be right, especially when it means that someone else must be wrong … same thing.

It’s those old demons fear and doubt. How many times have you not done something because you’re afraid of failure, or rejection, or, or, or …? When really, you might justify it to yourself in any number of ways (the risk is too high if I fail, surely I will fail; I always have before, I don’t really want it THAT badly, I might hurt someone else, etc., etc.) but essentially it’s just cowardice. Man, that ego is a dangerous thing! Can you imagine the power of human potential if we could relegate fear and doubt to where they belong (i.e. keeping us from doing really stupid shit), and actually commit ourselves wholly to whatever it is that we’re doing? We are encountering some issues at Heart Capital just now because certain people (to remain nameless, and they know who they are, and we have talked about this) haven’t fully let go of the NGO way of thinking and of doing things. But, we’ll get there. Let the games begin.

I did name the game a bit at the end of the session by asking him why he had taken the time to meet with me that day. Of course he didn’t let me off easily and made me answer first, and of course I knew the answer but decided to take another tack. What I think the root of the situation is, is that I remind him a lot of a younger version of himself. Adin asked me a few months back why mentors need mentees. Case closed. Of course he also suspects we have the same Enneagram personality type (the kind that sees boulders and don’t get into traffic accidents, apparently!).

Yeah but anyway, good stuff, and the first time I can recall that someone else pushed me off a cliff rather than my pushing myself (or deciding? Can you even push yourself off a cliff?). This insight alone scares me a bit because there won’t always be someone around to push me.

I had another great moment at work later that day when two FoodTenters were discussing what to do about a particular situation and I then came out with this little gem: “What we should do is …. Wait a second, never mind what I think. What do YOU think we should do?” 15 minutes later, they had added some flavour and context I wouldn’t have been able to, and had reached essentially the same conclusion. Without my help. And that is so much better for so many reasons. This is a weakness I need to fight: always jumping in with “the answer.” It’s not scalable, and it goes against everything I believe when it comes to co-creation and empowerment and employee growth. But it’s good to have that awareness in the front of my brain so I can consciously fight it.

I wrapped up the work day by persuading my boss to vent at me. Apparently he promised himself he wouldn’t because “it wouldn’t serve any purpose.” This was absurd. The man needed to vent, I needed to understand the complete context, and if he didn’t vent at me he would probably have gone home and vented to his wife. Not to mention that I gave him some advice that he wound up using as to what to do next.

So, that crisis averted, I picked up a friend from the gym and headed to the Silicon Cape networking event at La Med in Camps Bay. This was way more fun than the last one because there was less corporate shilling, and now I knew a bunch of people. For a networking event not much networking went on but we all sort of hung out with our friends, which was kind of hilarious in a way. But hey, it was an open bar. I was a bit surprised to check all the people from Cape CrossFit who showed up at this event, and of course the guys from Uconomy who work downstairs. Small town.

I was drinking, yes, but I did notice one thing: I am reasonably sure that not a single woman got up on stage the entire night, for any reason. That says a lot about a lot of things, actually, culturally and in the geek/nerd/whatever sub-culture. I have been talking about speaking at one of the upcoming 27dinner events, and now I really want to. I used to be a software nerd, the fact that I worked for a dotcom is probably the single most interesting thing about me to most of this crew, and what I’m doing now is something I think more people should know about. For any number of reasons: general awareness, some of them may want to volunteer as consultants, and some may even eventually make a career change.

Wednesday was mostly spent managing, planning, etc., and Thursday thinking through how to craft a coherent narrative around the new FoodTents model. The pressure is on.

The other major event of these few days was race #3 in the Summer Trail Series, in which I came in second. I can’t say this any better than what I emailed to Casper: “I discovered last night something that I knew but hadn’t admitted to myself which is that although I’m highly competitive, I am also always playing it safe. At least athletically. If I know I’m better, I go for the win, if I know I’m not, I go for second place (or whatever). So I’m not actually pushing myself as hard as I could. Last night in a trail race I chose not to race for first but rather to get a sure second, and I’m now pretty angry with myself because I might have succeeded or I might have failed, but now I’ll never know. Although I wonder if the damage from trying and failing would be worse, and maybe that is the biggest fear of all. Interesting.”

Of course what I didn’t tell the ex-pro rugby player was that the situation was exacerbated because I’d had more to drink the night before than I should have done the night before a race (which is to say, practically nothing). I got shit for this from my friend (and, I guess, from tomorrow, CrossFit coach!) who wondered whether I was just giving myself an excuse not to do as well as I could. It might be that, or it might be something simpler, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. So I was (and am!) down on myself for my performance because I didn’t actually go all out.

Having said that, there are some things to be proud of. Number 1, this was my first time running sub-6-minute kilometres on a trail race. Number 2, I was unofficially 6 minutes faster than the first Silvermine race, and officially nearly 8 minutes faster. Number 3, it wasn’t at all easy to get second place. I ran behind this other woman the entire race because I knew I could outsprint her at the end. But I really, really, REALLY wanted to give up towards the end because I was so tired, especially when we had to run up a hill at the beginning of the last 400m or so. But I knew if I did I would be so angry at myself that I wouldn’t let it happen, and I must say when I really started sprinting with about 100m left she tried to keep with me, she tried really hard, and I was actually afraid for a minute that she had more in the tank and would out-sprint me! But then she backed down, which actually was probably a mental fail on her part. I’m not sure if it’s harder to chase or be chased in a situation like this, either way regardless of everything we definitely pushed each other, and from that perspective it was awesome. We actually chatted a bit after the race, and she’s a super sweet girl.

The other benefit of coming in second is that I got another Salomon voucher (this time for R200), whereas the winner got a Cape Storm voucher. Ha, I’m more than halfway on the way to a pair of new shoes!

What I have discovered through this, in addition to what I wrote above, is that I’m not as mentally strong as I could be, and these races are hardening me up there probably more than in any sort of physical way. It really is a case of mind over matter! So it was ironic that I happened to read this blog post today. Here’s an excerpt:
“When you learn to SEE the challenge instead of the calamity or the hardship, and love it. That’s when you’re ready. That’s when you are able and willing to shift into what Josh Everett calls his “other gear.” It’s that state where the pain is there, you feel it, but it doesn’t matter. You’re above it. You’re now refusing to be broken, and this is when you realize that you can run a little faster or hit a triple instead of a single. Just decide to do it, it’s that simple.”

Maybe someday I’ll get to the point where I enjoy it but actually all I can think of right now is how I’m not actually enjoying these races so much as I did in the Winter Trail Series because I’m so obsessed with competing. There is some intense pressure! One of my athletic goals was to come in the top 5 overall in the short course final rankings, with my dream to be in the top 3. After three races I am in a [somewhat] comfortable position of first. Except that that’s not a comfortable place to be, at all. Now the pressure is on, and, well, shit, I guess that’s what the article was just saying. Rather than feeling the pressure and wanting to crawl under a rock and take it easy I need to toughen the hell up and completely enjoy the experience. Growing pains here, too!

The other thing that’s been obsessing me since I thought of it yesterday is Owen Middleton, the guy who runs the Trail Series. He has a bit of a scathing, masochistic sense of humor (cackling evilly when talking about hills). I mean from what I can tell he’s a nice guy but anyway he has great stage presence and I find him just hilarious. So I was joking around with my friend last night after running the race and said that I would love it if I could get him to follow me around all day and provide a running commentary on my life, because it would be like living in a sitcom.

– “So you’re human after all.” – Casper (takes one to know one)
– “If we can provide a value that’s greater than the price we’re charging, then great, and if we can’t then we should go out of business. That’s cutthroat capitalism for ya.” – Ellie
– “Yeah, it kind of is a secret, huh?” – Wayne
– “Impossible to make me feel guilty about French fries!” – Phumzile
– “You can’t put beans on the braai, can you?” – Jaco (this was a rhetorical question)
– “To be honest, and this is probably not a good perspective to live life by, BUT …” – Jonathan
– “One of the things South Africans love to do is pretend to the rest of the world that we’re nice people.” – Keith
– “He does seem …. Energetic.” – Keith

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