Somewhere between criticism and self-rationalization is the truth

I’m human. These injuries are reminding me of that daily, and viscerally. My knee is now healing pretty rapidly but my ankle is a bit stalled. Back to acupuncture on Thursday. But, more importantly, when you’re a Type A like me you just want to be perfect, at least at whatever you do: as a person, an athlete, an artist, a cook, a leader, whatever. Especially when you are in a position of leadership and people look up to you, there’s a real responsibility and you want to succeed and not let others down. But of course, your manager, your executive, your coach is a human too. Don’t forget that. We’re not perfect. Not even almost.

Before I get to the real fun stuff, the tail end of last week was quite busy. I’m not even remembering what I did, but I do recall leaving each day feeling like I had accomplished a lot. Introduced my boss to this guy who runs icologie and that was quite the fascinating experience: watching how Peter reacts to each new person and new situation is intriguing. But I think it went well, the two of them organized a dog-walking date for the weekend to get to know each other better so matchmaking achieved, I went to a very cool yoga session followed by reiki with a girl from yoga. I still have no idea who George is. Friday was a pretty hectic morning followed by an introductory meeting between Shaun who now runs FoodTents and Abalimi. I definitely must be back in my groove because I have more things to do than time to do them. Sounds wrong, but for me it’s where I need to be.

Friday’s gym session was frustrating because I couldn’t do any of the dynamic movements and I really want to practice the split jerk, and in the regular jerk that I was doing I wasn’t dropping under the bar enough and the one time I was really happy with my drop, it hurt my ankle a bit. Patience is not one of my strong suits. But, my new friendship with Mona will mean a lot more time doing Olympic lifting (we have big plans, the way all new friendships do), so that was ok. Then the metcon made me mad because the jumping around on the bar-facing burpees put just enough strain on my ankle that I wasn’t able to go all-out, and that annoyed me more than anything. That evening Mona and I met for dinner in Kalk Bay then listened to some Gary Adams followed by Jeremy Loops. Then we left because we needed to get our sleep.

Over the weekend I attended a workshop called FutureFit. It is a leadership skills development, mentoring, and coaching workshop for social entrepreneurs. I am doing it both because I hope to learn something and because I want to understand the program better because we are recommending it to our social entrepreneurs, and also because being part of the first crop of victims we can contribute to the formation of the program going forward. It was hosted in the swanky Waterfront offices of the private clients group of a major South African bank, which is sponsoring the program. As part of the intro we had to say one thing about us others wouldn’t know. I have a few more I can save, but the one I chose (which went over quite well with the guys I know well in the group) was that I actually really REALLY care what other people think. Remember this one.

One of the things this program has reminded me is the importance of a burning platform. People don’t learn lessons until they are ready, and people don’t change when they are comfortable. One other thing that I know is that we as humans have a tendency to want to explain things, to think there is a reason why things are happening as they are. This is why we as a race tend to need to believe in God or a higher power. It’s a chemical thing (I’m not making this up; I’ve read about it in several books). Having said all that, I am seeing what extreme stress can do to people around me. When people are pushed to their limits sometimes the best comes out and sometimes the worst comes out. What doesn’t kill you may make you stronger, but it’s not necessarily either a pleasant process or even a positive process. I am being tested right now by these injuries, and it has certainly been interesting to see how I have responded. I must say … not very well. It’s affected my mood, my productivity, my focus, and even my athletic performance. Deon was saying it’s like I came to South Africa to train CrossFit, from reading the blog, and that’s because that is where my focus has been, because it’s broken. But anyway we’re learning from this crucible, and we’ll all emerge from it stronger.

On Saturday I was explaining to one of the women who organized the program why I had brought my own food. She herself had some sort of a colon problem and isn’t supposed to eat wheat… yet she was eating a biscuit while we were having this discussion. I get it. I do. Biscuits taste good, especially with tea that has milk and sugar in it. But obviously there was a huge disconnect: I should do X, but instead I’m doing Y. There is a breakdown between theory and practice.

Similarly, I have a bit of a tendency to binge eat, or at least munch for comfort. Yes, when I eat a chocolate bar I eat the whole thing. It’s just in my nature I guess. Paleo snacking is still snacking, and chowing on a bag of nuts isn’t going to be very helpful. I could exercise more self-control, I suppose, but it’s easier just to remove the temptation. So my solution to eating too much fruit and nuts? Stop buying fruit, only buy the nuts I need for my protein shakes, and make sure I have little tins of coconut cream at work so I can open one, drink a tiny bit, and go on with my day thereby making fat intake almost like “medicine” rather than “fun.”

One interesting metaphor from this weekend. There are apparently only six types of golf swing. Tiger Woods is the best in the world at five of those six types of swing. Do does he practice to get better at the one he is good at, or the five he is great at? He works on his strengths. Yes, you can apply this to CrossFit too but I’ll leave that analysis to you. Turns out though that the one swing he is bad at is whatever you call that swing when you try to get out from a sand trap. So if he’s so good at the other ones he doesn’t get into that situation often. I bet if he was terrible at putting he would sure as heck work on that all day, because the situation is such that he almost has the luxury of ignoring his weakness.

I am probably my own harshest critic. I want to identify and tackle my weaknesses. But I do have blind spots and of course when someone holds a mirror up to you it’s not necessarily a pleasant process. And everyone sees things from their own perspective as well. Perception is reality, yes, but we do not share perception: one person’s grand opportunity is another person’s nightmare, and some people see things as a problem that other people don’t. The hardest sort of criticism to take is the kind that does point out a blind spot. If someone criticises something I already know about, I’m like, ok cool, but it’s not too uncomfortable. If someone says something I haven’t heard before, now THAT is something else, and I need to process the degree to which I actually agree because often the criticism itself is around a symptom rather than the problem. And hey, somewhere between criticism and self-rationalisation is the truth.

Now I love to identify weaknesses so that I can run out and fix them. That’s the Type A/ENTJ in me (I am a classic ENTJ by the way). So I was thinking about this advice to make sure we don’t forget to develop our strengths and that is when I had my one big “aha” moment: I have no choice but to tackle some of my specific weaknesses because they literally get in the way of my strengths. I was thinking back to a conversation I was having with the Henley professor friend of mine during the first round of the Henley Madness: he had said that my weaknesses I must work on, yes, but my strengths were like these amazing bright shining stars. Maybe true but you can’t be having your weaknesses literally get in the way. The other major insight was to be surprised that I didn’t really learn much new about myself, which is a bit disappointing in a way, but it also shows how much I have learned since we did similar material at Babson. So I know myself very, very well, which is good, but it’s almost like ‘so what’s next?’

The weaknesses I must tackle?
• Perfectionism leading to issues delegating
• Results-orientation leading to controlling rather than managing
• Pushing myself past reasonable limits because it’s counter-productive
• Saying all the right things (about how to manage, how to delegate, how to deliver good customer service, etc.) but then in being such a rush to get things done that I forget
• I care more about getting things done than about the feelings of the people involved, when this is actually the opposite of how people remember most interactions (we go away remembering how we FELT, not WHAT we discussed)

Because this is how my mind now works the best metaphor I thought of this weekend was with weightlifting again. I was saying above how I had issues with the jerk on Friday (this is getting weight from shoulder to overhead). You have so many things to keep in mind: be explosive both up and down, hold your breath before you go, keep upright, don’t grip the bar until it’s off your shoulders, drive with the hip, drop under the bar rather than push it up. So many things to think about and on any given lift I’m messing up at least one of them, usually, or sometimes all of them!

I drew up my weaknesses or things I want to change about myself into a list. It had I think 11 items on it. Paring it down to a manageable chunk was hard, but here they are:
1. Try to be present as much as possible. Don’t live in the future, live in the now.
2. Pay attention to the needs of the other person or people I am interacting with, in every interaction.
3. Simplify, and make sure the focus is where it should be. Do well, and not just faster/better/more, but be more holistic in my approach.

One of the other things I either learned or was reminded is that my focus on self-promotion is a defence mechanism, of course. But I’m starting to find it a bit obnoxious, so maybe I should just chill out a bit. Obviously people do like me. I’m not fourteen any more, either.

But hey while I’m on the subject, we took an entrepreneurial assessment test and it had six broad realms:
• Getting in the zone
• Seeing possibilities
• Creating superior opportunities
• Staying in the zone
• Building capabilities
• Opening up to the world

I score in the 99th percentile on two of these, in the 90th percentile on two others, and 75th percentile on the last two. In 9 of 21 individual areas I score in the 95th percentile or above, and in 16 areas above the 75th percentile. So apparently, I’m a natural entrepreneur, which actually surprises me. On the other hand, had I scored really low I probably wouldn’t have shared. Or maybe I would have, but only to justify why I haven’t started my own business yet, ha!

Interesting question, though: what makes an entrepreneur? What is the difference between the people who are actually DOING something and the people who are just talking about doing things?

I think I read somewhere that 80% of communication is non-verbal. This is probably about right, and it’s also interesting to see how much communication between two people can go on without speaking at all: just through eye contact, or gestures towards one another. A wink, a nod, catching someone’s eye at a particular time given everything else that’s going on …. I think this is one reason why I dislike talking on the phone. I like to be able to read people. I’ve also noticed a couple of times these last few months when people look at me with this look of … I’m not really sure of the right word. Intense interest? Admiration? Sometimes I’m either saying something that they find so interesting or maybe a better way of putting it is that it’s clear that I’m saying something they hadn’t thought of but they really agree with, or I’m just going on with such a clearly different take on things that they find interesting but the look on their face is so striking that I know I’ve hit a chord. You know that look? I know I’ve had that look on my face plenty of times too but it’s always interesting to see it on others.

Here’s some tidbits of interest:
• I do indeed admire people who stand up to me. Actually it’s more fundamental than that: if I’m going to respect you then you MUST stand up to me. Just … do it in the right way. I was quite annoyed with one of my friends for nearly 24 hours just because I disliked the tone with which he disagreed with me on a subject where I thought I had a more credible base of knowledge.
• I don’t take rejection well. This is why I don’t put myself out there in situations where I think I might fail, or, if I do, I pretend I don’t care if I fail even if I do.
• The number one thing that I circled in my assessment because it was so “me?”: The characteristic that people annoy me who continue to discuss an issue after clarity has been achieved.

My blog, but enough about me. I screened this American propaganda this weekend. My story related to this is that when I watched this for the first time as part of the downloaded Super Bowl broadcast, I knew it was propaganda but nonetheless I felt goosebumps and this surge of American pride. Then I showed it to my Northern Suburbs friends, who literally laughed at it. Same thing showing it this past weekend: you can’t help but shake your head at it, but at the same time, as an American, it has a particular effect on me. The sophistication of the marketing in America is so extreme that even when you recognize it, when you’re in it, it still controls you. So yes, even when you know you are being played it doesn’t stop it from happening. Scary stuff, and most of the time we don’t see it just like you wake up one day and realize you’re fat, or miserable, or old and have spent your life doing something you don’t actually like. Don’t let that sleepwalker be you.

The next thing that I really enjoyed this week was this article about attitude. So it’s CrossFit yes and a bit over the top yes, and if you don’t know what Fran is you probably don’t want to but my point is this: the difference between when I do something and don’t do it is when I commit myself. The difference between a workout that I kill where I go in and say to myself “this is going to be awesome” and where pain comes and I think “hmm, cool, but am I REALLY going as fast as I can?” and a workout where I don’t do well because it hurts or I don’t like the exercise, or, or, or ….: attitude.

So, back to the beginning. I’m human. Push me too hard and I will eventually snap. I act the way I do because that confidence is necessary for me to achieve anything, but I’m not superwoman after all. If I trust you, think you’re smart, and you push me, we’ll get along quite well.

• “I can definitely be bribed with coffee.” – Ellie
• “In the modern day system, the slave pays for himself.” – Peter
• “With patience you would get better results. It’s only you that’s impatient. Everyone else thinks you’re doing *so well.* But for you it’s not enough.” – Chantal
• “I’m from the Northern Suburbs so I have to abuse an open bar.” – Jaco
• “I think the worst thing in life is to be in the right place at the right time and not even know it.” – Gary


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