Category Challenges

Paying Attention

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” – Lao Tzu

Posttraumatic Growth (6/17-6/18)

“PTG is a cousin to resilience, but more of a thug: meaner, more brutal, more devastating – and more transformative. Rich Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, psychologists at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, coined the term in 1995, when they noticed they some people did not recover from their traumatic experiences in a typically resilient fashion. Rather than return to their set point, everything about them radically changed: their worldviews, their goals in life, their friendships. […]

“The one thing that overwhelmingly predicts it is the extent to which you say, ‘My core beliefs were shaken,'” Calhoun adds.

“What kind of core beliefs? “The degree to which the world is just,” Tedeschi says, “or that people are benevolent or that the future is something that you can control. Beliefs about, basically, how life works.”

Life Reimagined, The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife, Barbara Bradley Hagerty

End Game Analysis: “Mind the Gap”

This article, and the articles that follow analyze my thoughts on what I am calling my “end game.” You can read more about this concept here.

In my last post, I spoke about two positions within a “relationship spectrum,” one based on complete openness, and the other, extreme isolation. Understanding and managing what lies between can enable one to make better decisions when interacting with different people, all of whom have unique perspectives and ways of operating.

You may be asking: “But what does this have to do with the original end game? Isn’t the end game about critical thinking and advancement?”

I’ve learned that very close and fulfilling relationships can act as a source of fuel towards greater intellectual and creative achievement; their benefits are multifold. In contrast, challenging relationships can interfere with one’s ability to concentrate and ultimately advance.

At their worst, the ending of close relationships can result in severe depression and anxiety, the combination of which can cease all effort for an extended timeframe. Without an appropriate course correction, this decreased activity can begin to permeate into other areas.

This can be a major problem.

I used to believe that the fluid nature of relationships made it naturally resistant to any form of management. I no longer believe this. Relationships involving some type of mental disorder require considerable patience, understanding, and need to be carefully managed. Relationships that do not harbor such disorders also require a certain degree of management, although to a lesser degree.

While self-awareness is invaluable, situational awareness is what really matters here. Thus, the ability to remain mobile is largely dependent upon the relationships one finds him or herself in, and how each relationship should be managed, or ultimately contained (more about this later).

Given the various relationship types, personalities, and situations that blend the two, it is difficult to share specific examples. Books like “How to Deal with Difficult People” provide this type of guidance fairly well in both a lighthearted yet grounded way.

In my next post I’ll talk about an initial set of relationship principles that can enable one to effortlessly “mind the gap” without letting emotions run the show.

 

Crisis Management

“Doba’s response to Gabriela’s concern about what he’d do in a crisis, if the closest land was the bottom, was to say there will be no crisis. He did not say this because he’s naïve. He said it because he has reimagined the concept of crisis, just as he has reimagined the concept of suffering. A crisis, in Doba’s worldview, is an opportunity for triumph. So Doba moves toward the crisis, just as he moves toward the suffering. By choosing it, he casts himself in the role of hero, not victim. He gives himself control.

Why he Kayaked Across the Atlantic at 70 (for the third time), Elizabeth Weil, The New York Times

 

End Game Analysis: Connectedness

This article, and the articles that follow analyze my thoughts on what I am calling my “end game.” You can read more about this concept here.

In my “end game” narrative, I shared the following topic which is one I find to be omnipresent throughout the spectrum:

“The challenge at this level is balancing one’s ability to produce efficiently and effectively while remaining reasonably connected with others.”

As a refresher, the primary reason for focusing so heavily on “deep work” is a continuous desire to maximize one’s potential. However, there is a second reason which exists at a more subconscious level that requires examination.

While this may not be obvious to some, one’s ability to form and maintain close relationships with others depends heavily on the quality of past relationships. This is true in both professional and personal contexts.

If one’s “success rate” is low, the desire to form new relationships in either context will also be low.

This can pose a problem for two reasons:

Reason #1: Challenging assignments and new ideas typically originate from other people. Not staying connected with others places an artificial restriction on one’s ability to learn about, and engage in new opportunities.

Reason #2: Spending too much time working, and not enough time interacting, goes against the principle of deep work. Hard work requires intense concentration, and thus time spent in this area is somewhat limited by default (~4 hours per day). Maintaining a balance is considered beneficial.

Over the past decade, I have personally experienced numerous challenging relationships which have tested me in countless ways. With each experience comes a period of recalibration, which is a necessary step towards establishing appropriate boundaries and controls.

I will explore this topic in greater detail in my next post.

The End Game

The following is an email I wrote to a friend speaking in some depth about what I describe as “the end game.” I will expand upon several aspects of this communication in future posts, but I think sharing the original message here is valuable in itself.


The question you posed – “what is the end-game?” – is one that I have considered for many years. Ironically, you are the second to ask this within a 2-month timeframe (a friend of mine, whose personality is somewhat similar) asked me the very same thing.

I think what I enjoy most in life is the ability to think critically.

The inner struggle that I have been in for as long as I can remember is to “get closer to” sources of complex subject-matter. I think that will pursuit will always be a source of discontent in my life, with varying degrees. At some level, I have learned that this underlying discomfort is normal.

To elaborate, I find myself concerned when things get too “easy” from an intellectual or creative standpoint. In the past, this would equate with abandoning the topic for another. Now, I’ve adjusted my approach in that I will try to stay engaged but do so in a different way. That could be something as simple as getting the work done more efficiently or approaching the topic in a completely different manner. But, at some level, and for certain topics, I feel I am simply pushing the same pieces around on the same board. My goal is to find “boards” that allow for expansion; I have found “design” to be one.

This belief was further reinforced by a quote from Garry Kasparov in his book “Deep Thinking:”

“It’s also a better of opportunity cost. If the focus is too heavily on optimizing, nothing new is created and stagnation can result. It can be too easy to concentrate only on making something better when we might be better served by making something new, something different.”

Two years ago, I went to the GPU Technology Conference in San Jose to explore topics that are beyond my (current?) reach. I went to a talk where the speaker was giving a talk about personal performance. The question I raised in the session was essentially:

“How are some people able to rise to such a level where they are giving talks about complex topics, as discussed in this conference, while others are merely spectators?”

Needless to say, not everyone can be a visionary, but it was a question that I have been thinking about for a very long time. The answer he offered was one in a book called “Deep Work” by Cal Newport.

At the heart of deep work is an intense ability to focus, particularly on challenging subject matter. The book goes into a fair amount of detail in terms of overall strategy and the underlying benefits of “deep work.” Over the past several years (even prior to this talk) I have been steadily working to improve my ability to concentrate and deliver work of increasing quality and depth.

To this point, I recently formulated a deep work “spectrum” to help me understand where I fit within this journey. I have included some early notes about this below.

[Author Note: The details of this spectrum will be discussed in a separate post.]

To bring this email to a close, I fundamentally believe that everyone has untapped potential. As an example, if I look back at my personal training (read: exercise) journey over the past decade, I have made material progress. Surprisingly, I am at a point where I am comfortable with where I am in this space. I could go further on this journey (and likely will), but I have reached a point where I feel I don’t have to.

The difference for me in the intellectual/creative space is that I have not reached a similar juncture. In fact, I feel like I am still far away. Fortunately, I fundamentally believe that the principle of “deep work” is a clear path towards reducing this gap. And while I have made material strides over the past several years, I am really only at the starting line in terms of how deep my concentration ability can go. The benefit of this ability is a greater likelihood of producing new and innovative “work” which is very important to me.

(To be sure, there are other many other (psychological) barriers to realizing “greatness” but I am trying to address those separately, although they play a critical role nevertheless.)

The Betrayal of ADHD

“When we’re first betrayed by someone we relied on to love and protect us, we may be frightened by our own rage. Years or even decades later, we may be frightened of letting go of that anger. We may resist moving forward because we are not yet ready to detach from our suffering.” – Harriet Lerner

In May of 2017, my relationship of two years began disintegrating. Less than two months later, the additional misunderstanding resulted in a total relationship collapse, leaving me bewildered and incredibly hurt. The confusion, anger, and anxiety that resulted are feelings that I would not wish on anyone.

Since that time, through exhaustive research I’ve learned that relationships where ADHD is present start off incredibly strong with considerable potential (due primarily to a condition known as “hyperfocus”), only to end up, if left unchecked, in a state of confusion and resentment. It’s a unique and terrible contrast.

All relationships incur minor “ruptures,” but if the damage is genuiely addressed, these ruptures eventually heal themselves. However, when ADHD is involved, the damage is consistent, yet the repair mechanisms are few and far between. Words are rarely if ever, followed by necessary action.

This lack of attention, both in the true meaning of the phrase, and as it relates to relationship “repair,” results in the inability for the non-ADHD partner to place trust in his/her partner, and to the relationship as a whole. When disorganization and impulsivity are added to the mix, trust erodes further and eventually becomes impossible to rebuild.

What is ultimately left, at least for me, is a deep feeling of betrayal. Lack of repair and attention to address the problems at hand resulted in an unfortunate tipping point. Ghosting was a surprising, and painful add-on.

I started this post with Harriet Lerner’s quote because I am only starting to recognize why I feel the way I do. Feelings of anger and resentment cannot be harbored forever. It’s exhausting, incredibly unproductive, and emotionally blocking.

“[People] rely on this emotion to preserve the very dignity and integrity of the self. Anger is not a “bad” or “negative” emotion. It can take great courage to acknowledge and express anger. But it requires just as much courage to free oneself from the corrosive effects of living too long with anger and bitterness—a challenge that may include forgiveness but does not require it.” – Harrier Lerner

It has taken me a long time to identify these feelings and begin to come to terms with what happened, both during the relationship and its unfortunate and painful end.

I have no plans to forgive, but I am ready to begin closing this chapter to allow someone better into my life.

Constant Struggle.

“What’s the point?” is a title of an art piece I’m currently designing. The visual design I’m considering is a collection of notes, designs, and other (project) artifacts I’ve created over the past ten years, with an explicit mid-point marker representing my efforts “pre-agency.”

In my view, it’s critical to question the purpose and value of projects/endeavors in which I’ve invested considerable time and energy. Taking the time to examine this creative history can enable one to examine and consider new projects with a much different perspective. It’s a perspective that’s more intelligent and purposeful. This combination enables a greater emphasis on the core “creative” and helps to minimize (not eliminate) wasted energy.

(It’s worth mentioning I’m purposefully omitting the definition of “creative” to open this perspective to projects of all types.)

One goal (I’m also avoiding distilling the number and type of goal at this early stage) is to maximize the “output” or end-result. Maximization, to me, equates with intense concentration and creative contribution, while minimizing the time spent in non value-add activities. These latter activities, while necessary, are “supporting” and thus do not necessarily require the level of engagement the “maximization” activities require.

While I will examine this in greater detail, this is likely to be a constant struggle that will require frequent re-examination.

The End of Incubator.

After considerable thought I’ve decided to mark a completion to Incubator and embark on the next chapter in my journey – one that I call Territories:

It’s very clear now that what I have been going through can be best described as a “valley”, although the period (2007-2010) can be described in both the positive and negative:

The Bad relationship failure . shattered dreams . borderline personality disorder . abandonment . loss . depression . post-traumatic stress disorder . downsizing . monetary loss . depression . therapy . loneliness . isolation . breakup . negative feedback . extreme stress . panic attacks . internal conflict . analysis paralysis . miscommunication . poor decision-making skills . poor sense of self . lack of direction . life crisis . past self-realization

The Good design . values . industrial design school . sense of direction . renewed sense of self . peaks and valleys realization . education . graphic design . portfolio creation . advanced creative thinking . writing . photography . illustration . exercise . talent . strengths

As it relates to “peaks” and “valleys”, the following key points have been added to my personal “rulebook” (from the book with the same name):

  • The errors you make in today’s good times create tomorrow’s bad times.
  • The wise things you do in today’s bad times create tomorrow’s good times.

I may never forgive but I am ready to forget.

The Black Box.

Over the past two years, I’ve contributed more than 100 posts spanning over 600 different subjects.  For me, writing has given me the opportunity to think about ideas, events and people in new ways.  It has also allowed me to heal.

In some respect, Incubator has been a black box.  The inputs to this “black box” have been my experiences and ideas.  The resulting outputs could perhaps be best summarized via the tag cloud located on the right-hand side of the page; as of the date of this posting, “awareness” and “design” are the two most popular themes.

However, to boil the past two years into this discrete summary would do some injustice to my contributions to date.  Thus, I think it’s important to call attention to several key outputs:

  1. You haven’t believed in yourself as much as you’ve should.
  2. You have a lot of talent, but you are not using it to it’s full potential.
  3. You fail very slowly.
  4. You have trusted others to “make” decisions for you.

To take a lesson from books I’ve read, it’s perhaps more positive to state these outputs in a slightly different way:

  1. Believe in yourself.
  2. Maximize your talent.
  3. Fail quickly.
  4. Make your own decisions.

Of course, these are four outputs – summarizing down to one leaves the following:

You can do better.