Two steps forward, one step back

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut
First, read about the Benjamin Franklin effect. I think this is true. Scary true. I think this may be part of the genius of St Paul’s: keep telling the children of the elite that they are the future leaders of the country, and they will begin to think of themselves that way. I wonder how much of the person I am today has its origin in what other people tell me about me, that I then start believing and acting on.
But it’s dangerous too. All of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or sometimes not: when I have friends who swear up and down they have some negative trait that I don’t see in them it drives me batty, partly because I worry that they will become what they say they are. Stop thinking you’re a loser (because you’re not). Stop thinking you’re not quite ready for that next job, because you never will be until you step into it. Stop thinking you’re going to screw up something (or someone) you care about.
Possibly why my lifting improved when I stopped being afraid of failing at 1 rep maxes and started getting annoyed when I had a lifting session and didn’t fail (because it meant I hadn’t done high enough). Except I’m still scared of the squat, which is probably why those lifts have stagnated compared to the others. Go figure.
Now if I could only figure out how to stop thinking I’m injury-prone! I don’t specifically want to be injured but damned if I didn’t nearly sprain my ankle again on Friday and then yesterday I missed a box jump. I am not even sure how it happened; I was tired and moving fast and I didn’t make it onto the box and somehow my left shin managed to bang the side or top of the box HARD. Like so hard it swelled up like 3cm or so almost immediately despite the fact that I began icing within about 30 seconds of injury. Amazingly the ice therapy seemed to work because within 1 hour after the swelling was much decreased. I had seen injuries like this and always kind of wondered how it could happen. Now I know.
Whatever. A little ice, extra fish oil, and some extra sleep and it’s already much improved today. Here’s to hoping my box jumps on Saturday aren’t too excessively painful. Those bruised shins take a long time to heal completely.
I also spent some time these past few days conversing about other peoples’ expectations. At this point my work and my sport are two of the most important things to me. This is primarily because I like them, and I find something (or a lot of things) rewarding in them. For CrossFit, I have written about this a lot but I love actually to be healthy and to see the dramatic improvements, and to be able to do things I couldn’t do before, and that most other people can’t do. For work, I am learning a tremendous amount, and fundamentally I do want meaning in my work and I believe that we have the power to make the world a better place. If we’re not the ones to stand up and be leaders, then who?
Yet at the same time it’s actually more than that. I have a lot of affection for Jobst, who runs my gym, and Peter, who runs my organisation. I recognise some of what I mean to both of them, a lot of which goes unsaid. So part of why I do what I do and why I do it the way I do it is for them. I don’t do these things for them, but the re-enforcement doesn’t hurt, firstly, and secondly, I don’t want to leave them or be a disappointment to them.
Anyway. Moving on. Importantly, my energy levels are much improved from last report. I’m not sure if it was that I wasn’t eating enough calories, or my body adjusting to the intermittent fasting, or low levels of melatonin (love that my athlete friends Chris & Mona are there for me with advice when I need it!!). When I think back the fatigue has been actually since the Daisies, when even the foot massage lady said I had some issues with the adrenal gland. Let’s face it, there has been a lot of stress lately between lots going on at work and some big deadlines, apartment hunting, prepping mentally and physically for next week’s competition, and some things in the ol’ personal life. It’s probably a good thing that I’m so sensitive to my body because otherwise I might have been in the early stages of burnout without even knowing it. So, additional rest is always a good thing.
But regardless I’ve been feeling better recently. Some engaging company hasn’t hurt! On Friday morning we had a wonderful speaker Andrea Pellegrino from New York City (we went out for dinner that evening), then I had lunch that day with Lucy who is now doing her own consulting thing but has worked for PWC in the past. Lunch with Lucy was lovely because we got a chance to talk about her process consulting work and she paid me a huge compliment by saying that I thought about things (people, business systems, strategy) in a way that was more sophisticated than many business execs who had been at it for 20 or 30 years. Wonderful compliment, but thinking about the right way to do things is only part of the battle. I need a bigger team if I’m ever going to get much further than just talking the talk.
Dinner with Andrea was lovely. It’s always fun to meet other smart women, but also visitors to Cape Town and fun Americans. I took her to The Grand for a drink then to Bombay Bicycle Club, which was a big hit. I wish I could have talked to her all weekend, but hopefully she will be back early next year. It’s fascinating to discuss the similarities between designers and entrepreneurs. I just LOVE good design. I think that’s what attracted me most about product management back in the day and even now: systems design, product design, understanding customers and how to fit their needs. It’s all fundamentally design and problem-solving.
But at the same time you do oscillate back and forth between being hopefully and discouraged, energised and overwhelmed. Or at least I do. But it’s wonderful to be able to talk about achievements and disappointments and, hell, you have to start somewhere.
I am also constantly amused at the experience of being an American overseas. Chris was very gently commenting the other day about the, ahem, talkativeness of Americans. It’s actually kind of true! I notice it more now that American culture is no longer the norm. And the concept of being exotic because I’m American amuses the heck out of me, as does the concept of my accent being intimidating. I’m sure these are not universally true but the fact that they come up again and again means there is some truth to them as stereoypes and I just find it weird. As if I’m not unusual enough just as I am (or, indeed, referencing again that Benjamin Franklin blog post, that’s a part of my personality that I self-identify with so I therefore go out of my way to act unusual … probably also a self-defense mechanism because most self-perceptions are).
Saturday was also nice because I got to catch up with Mona for a few hours, and we went to a braai up in Durbanville. Man that was some tasty kudu. There is nothing quite like an indoor braai. Americans, take note: this should be the next theme in home improvements! Mona, in addition to being an amazing athlete, is also a little dynamo who reminds me constantly what the force of personality can accomplish.
Two miscellaneous things: 1. New Zealand won the Rugby World Cup, 2. I filled out my first South African census today. Boy it asked some weird questions. Way more intrusive than the U.S. version but it actually makes sense: they need to understand the levels of health, education, and living standards of the population.
Three, actually: the best way to motivate me is to make me a little bit angry. I got some news today that made me angrier the more and more I thought about it, until I saw a status update from the wonderful Misha which reminded me that anger and resentment actually only hurts me. Someone makes you mad? Don’t get back, or get even: just step your game up and go about the rest of your life. To hell with anyone who doesn’t like it; you’ll soon forget about them anyway.

Friday was the last day at work for one of our interns, Christoph from the Netherlands. He was (is!) an amazing guy. Smart, thoughtful, hard-working, diligent, analytic. One of our traditions is on people’s last day to celebrate them a bit and everyone who wants to says what they feel about this person. I said something along the lines of the above, including that he always contributed in a lovely and meaningful way to all sorts of meetings and I’m really going to miss him. This generated a big “awww!” and a hug. It’s those moments that you really keep with you.
We also had brunch today, on his last day in Cape Town. I took him to Sandbar and Sinnful Ice Cream. I reminded him what I somehow always wind up telling everyone younger than me which is that even though his life has been great and fascinating up to this point, don’t get complacent. Next thing you know you’ll realise you’re bored and/or unhappy. The difference between a groove and a rut is a matter of degree, and it’s too easy not to step back and think if you’re really going where you want to be going.
Like Chris Spealler talking about CrossFit says ‘Never quit. Don’t ever quit.’ I would say ‘Never settle. Don’t ever settle.’ Channelling Nelson Mandela a bit:
“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
  • “Yes, there are a lot of problems in the world. But you know what I’ve discovered? I really like cabbage.” – Ellie (yes, I really said that complete non sequitor…)
  • “Well, that is what you girls do best.” – Jon
  • “It’s gonna be more hardcore. Don’t let the bar stools fool you.” – Jobst
  • “Heels, Ellie!” – Chris (:P)
  • “Any sport is dangerous.” – Mona
  • “I think I was lucky to get to work with you guys.” – Christoph
  • “It looks really bad!” – Christoph
  • “It looks good!” – Mona (perspective!)
  • “Well, I would be angry too!!” – Mona


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