The word ‘frustration’ came up in every work meeting this week and in a few conversations with family and friends. So it would be easy then for me to sum up the last 5 days as ‘a frustrating week filled with petty grievances and mad-making annoyances and other green and nasty gremlins’. But all is not lost. No. Indeed in the middle of yesterday’s overlong work meeting I had one of those ‘aha!’ moments Oprah always talks about, and it felt like my brain grew a whole new branch of neurons and they were actually firing!
frustration: the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.”
The IChing will tell you that frustration comes from not accepting things as they are. We are advised not to force a change because if we do we will only make things worse and impede our own progress. That is all well and good and very Zen. But what I realized yesterday as someone rambled on about how she couldn’t compile a report a certain way – at least not in the way that she thought would please the boss – I realized that absolutely nothing was stopping her from doing that task differently.
She was unconsciously blocking her own progress because she could not imagine a different way. When I asked her what was stopping her from presenting the data in another format she looked at me as if I had just grown a pair of horns. Thankfully a few hours later she came round to the idea. The boss I told her, would probably be impressed with her initiative and creativity. She seemed genuinely surprised by that comment.
Sometimes we choose not to see another way. More often than not we do this unconsciously. It’s just easier. It’s easier to stay stuck and frustrated because it’s a feeling we’re familiar with and besides, if we have an excuse for not doing something we think it’s ok. That task wasn’t done because hey, we have an excuse! It’s like finding a tree lying across a forest path or blocking a road. Oh look an obstacle! how convenient! see we can’t continue on this path any longer! let’s just turn back and tell our people, sorry such and such obstacle stopped us from getting to point X.
What frustration could be lifted today if you chose to tackle it differently?
There is this idea (more prevalent among the younger generations) that life is supposed to be easy. It’s not. Learning happens when we’re being challenged, not when we’re sipping margaritas. But it’s also not supposed to be an uphill battle. A lot of what makes our lives ‘hard’ is a lack of vision: our unwillingness to consider alternatives and our inability to imagine something ‘other’. Let’s all choose to DO something instead of just accepting our frustrations.
How was your week?
I was the kid whose stories and poems were read aloud by teachers and whose artwork was put on display and slapped with five gold stars. Back then I’d write novellas for my friends and teachers and family members alike would describe my work in superlatives. But as I got older that changed, because when the praise stopped so did the writing – and the drawing. There were a series of comments made by teachers and family members – none of them constructive – about both my writing and my art that led to increasing self-doubt about my abilities as an artist but it was one particular comment delivered in a flippant manner just before I graduated high school, that sealed the deal for me and, here is the striking thing, the person who delivered said nasty comment wasn’t even a teacher or someone I cared for – yet, the criticism stung and the comment stuck like tar.
What followed was a long, dark fallow period. Over a decade of ‘having nothing to say’, ‘nothing to write about’, ‘nothing to draw’. Then one day, about eight years ago, on a trip to a bookstore with a casual acquaintance of mine I was telling her how I had always dreamed of being ‘a writer’ when she turned to me and asked ‘So what’s stopping you?’ and that’s when *lightbulb moment* I realized I had to let go of what people think and write for myself.
What’s stopping you from doing what you love?
I also realized that criticism only hurts when it mirrors what I think of myself. The kinds of criticism that stayed with me: the time a group of teenage boys called me ‘thunder thighs’ when I played field hockey, the time the art teacher said my drawings were ‘mediocre at best’.
These comments helped me realize I had serious doubts about my physical appeal and artistic abilities.
What criticism are you holding onto because of a negative belief you hold about yourself?
I’m not going to pretend I don’t care what people think. I do – but to a degree. I am someone who has always valued constructive criticism so that is always appreciated, but I have also learned that receiving feedback tells me more about the person giving the praise or criticism than it does about my abilities. We are quick to forget that we are all different and that we are blessed with a unique set of abilities and taste. What appeals to you may not appeal to another. Consider for example a work of art. Do you prefer a Picasso to a Rembrandt? or Comedy to Horror? Feedback gives us the facts about the preferences of the person giving the feedback. It can’t speak to your worthiness or talent.
Yet feedback is critical not only to artists and writers but to everyone. If you’re tinkering with a new invention or drafting a work proposal or preparing to give a TED talk you need feedback. You need to know if what you are doing is understood, appreciated or if you need to improve in some or most areas.
Are you seeking feedback from the right people? People you hope to influence or engage with?
In my twenties I read every self-help book I could lay my hands on. This included classics like Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking, James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh and the lesser known but equally worthy Florence Scovel Shinn’s The Game of Life. I was hungry for knowledge, especially any so called ‘secret’ knowledge that would get me promoted quicker or married sooner or making millions. The problem was I was going to scale mountains, this included Mt. Everest, in my twenties. I was going to own my own house and I was going to be married by the time I was thirty and it was all going to happen because I had a vision board on a wall of my small apartment bedroom.
It certainly didn’t help that I was a lazy cow or that I thought that if I stared long enough at Brad Pitt he would call or that the dollars would translate into lottery millions. He didn’t and I didn’t win the lottery. Well, not yet.
I still plan on achieving certain S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goals that, back then in my twenties, were certainly S.M.A.R.T. Not so much now. Like, living with a jungle tribe in the Amazon or learning how to touch my head with my feet while doing a handstand in yoga (known as the Handstand Scorpion).
In order to achieve anything of substance you have to actually go for it and you have to work for it. And work hard. And you have to do things you probably never imagined you would have to do like wait on tables or clean other peoples’ houses or run errands for your boss. And it’s all good. Because experience builds character and what writer (with perhaps the exception of Emily Dickinson) could not do with more experiences?