image credit @Chris Abatzis via Death to stock
The gap graphic via STORY by Robert McKee
Pressure pushin’ down on me
Pressin’ down on you…
‘Under pressure’, by David Bowie and Queen
As I type this, I’m emerging from my own pressure cooker. Proof? I left the money I was drawing out at the ATM yesterday afternoon. Hand palm emoji insert here.
As it happens… Deadlines for different projects are moved, and suddenly, boom, everything culminates at the same time. Result? You’re crawling under a pile of commitments, none of which you want to cancel because, well, hopefully, you (like me) really enjoy doing what you do, and you really like delivering on your word.
And yet, sometimes, something’s got to give. Either that or one has to start working through the nights on top of the days.
As I reminded a friend last night, and as per an earlier post from only a few weeks back, sometimes the answer is not to accelerate but to slow down. Or even pause. Stop everything, rest and/or watch Netflix for a couple of days.
I think the worst pressure is the time crunch, which triggers frustration, and which, in turn, may give way to anxiety and/or a bad mood. When this becomes the norm, secondary side effects kick in, lack of sleep being number one. I believe many world problems could be solved if people got enough sleep. Consider your own life and tell me where I’m wrong.
In preparing for an upcoming podcast interview, I started to listen to entrepreneur, choreographer and all-round powerhouse Aicha McKenzie in conversation with Adrienne Herbert. In talking about her venture, AMCK Fitness, she reminded me that when things accelerate around us (like it’s happening for me this week, if temporarily), the first thing we (and her clients) tend to drop is self-care and exercise. Again, consider this for yourself.
That’s when the penny dropped for me...
I’m different than I used to be.
Despite the pressure, I haven’t stopped, quit, or reduced this commitment established and refined over the last few years, ever since I left corporate work, to start my days with journaling, meditation, yoga/exercise, and now pranayama on top.
The secret? I am crystal clear about my motivation. I know what my deep intention is.
This leaves with me a tight schedule and a different type of tension. By starting my day making time for these activities that help make me a better, calmer, healthier and nicer person, I get to show up to you, to work, differently.
I’m not a unicorn.
And also, Rome wasn’t built in a day. This took work.
Being passionate about my company, coaching, and my clients can sometimes work against my self-care routine. There are days where the guilt comes from the other side:
“You should be doing so much more!!!! How dare you sit here and breathe for 20 minutes instead of going out and doing XYZ.”
Isn’t this inner conflict the hardest thing in life?
We all wrestle with versions of it: our multiple voices and the different concepts, or self-images at stake; we don’t know how to move from left to right. Sometimes, with information overload, we end up stuck. Frozen in place. Not knowing how to take the next right action, we take root in a spot that is neither what we want nor what we fear. The in-between. The bardo.
Some of us can spend a lifetime in that space, perhaps unaware or disconnected from our deepest desires or motivations for our own life.
LIFE AND VALUES
Robert McKee, the master storyteller, during his story seminar, explained that in a good story, there is a change in value ‘charge’ in the life of the characters over the course of the plot. Whether it moves from negative to positive or vice versa. He also said we could (and should) examine the story from a values angle. Every story at its core is about a duality between negative and positive values themselves.
Freedom vs oppression
Love vs hate
Justice vs injustice
It turns out, looking back over my 47 years on this earth, using this lens, considering the life I previously led, and the life I lead now, my story’s leading value conflict has been between integrity vs out of integrity.
Integrity for me is about honesty towards oneself, acting in line with personal values and ethics, self-respect, self-care, etc.
Previously, crunched under the weight of my workload and performance expectations from both friends, family, subordinates and superiors, disconnected from any particularly strong motivation towards anything better, this tension led me to regularly drop everything that wasn’t work related.
I was out of line with my own values and beliefs. This not only wasn’t good for me but my body started to scream at me to make me pay attention. I was clueless, in part because I never stopped long enough. I let myself accelerate alongside my workload.
McKee talks about the gap between a character’s reasonable expectations that will follow an action, and the potential surprising reaction from the world.
We take action A and we think the world will react with B. Between A & B there is a gap, he says. A gap where we can create surprise and change, shift the value charge, creating a turning point.
Tested, under constant tension, he adds that the measure of the value at stake for the character is in direct opposite proportion to the risk.
I found a space to pause. I created a gap. I create it daily.
In my own life then, and occasionally now, the risk is forgetting to stop. Forgetting to give myself space. Getting caught up on the treadmill all over again.
It takes work and a sense of inner motivation helps to connect me to my north star (a la Martha Beck), to my intention, to my life goals, or however you like to describe it.
Learning every day to walk towards it in my own integrity.
My daily struggle, perhaps yours too, is to take the risk to make time for that gap.
It could be meditation. It could be gratitude practice. Time in nature. Daily long baths or showers (although, careful with water consumption depending where you are). Yoga. Tennis. Playing or dancing.
OR taking time to rest.
Examining my values with a closer lens, I see that my inner conflict is often between this sense of generosity and integrity vs my passion and enthusiasm, a commitment to deliver to the best of my ability.
Perhaps courage, my most important value, is what keeps me committed to myself, even now, when under pressure. Committed to continue to explore the gap.
I certainly feel the better for it, and I’m sure you would too.
Let’s remind ourselves to be courageous and find that gap.