A: I need some help.
B: That’s what I’m here for.
A: I’m having some sort of cold feet situation, experiencing some sort of resistance.
B: Describe it.
A: Well– I’ve been married for two years, I’ve been working for two years. I’m making a decent amount of money, and I love my colleagues. But I’m starting to feel like I’m stagnating.
B: What do you mean by stagnating?
A: I suppose it feels like I haven’t achieved any results lately that I’m particularly proud of.
B: What would you have to do in order to feel a sense of pride?
A: I guess I would have to personally make a substantial difference to my team’s outcome.
B: And what would you have to do to do that?
A: I’d have to work from first principles and figure out what the most important thing is. I managed to do this pretty well with a single post a while ago, almost entirely by accident, but by following my curiosity.
B: What do you have to do now to make a difference now?
A: Right. There are a few things, I guess. I need to learn more about this tool that we’re using, that I’ve never used before and I’m not familiar with. I also need to restructure the way we’ve been doing things– we’re changing targets, focusing on one subset of what we were doing before, pretty much at the expense of everything else. That’s a little scary.
B: So what are you going to do?
A: Well… before I started thinking about this, I was also thinking about some other stuff. Mainly, I’m feeling excited about the vomits I’m doing, and about potentially doing a lot of reading, a lot of book reviews, about working out. All of these things outside of work. And when I combine that with the fact that I’m a little nervous about whether I’ll be able to continue to deliver–
B: You wonder if you should quit now, before you get discovered as an incompetent fraud.
A: Wow. Uh, yeah, I guess.
B: So what do you think you should do?
A: I guess I’ve been here before– that is, I’ve been in this headspace before. I always seem extra excited about peripheral things when I’m afraid of whatever’s in front of my face– like how I got more excited about playing music when my exams were looming near.
A: But I also think I always say the right things whenever I’m having a conversation with somebody who’s role is to hold me accountable. If I’m talking to my boss, or my wife, I find myself saying different things from when I’m on my own. And I wonder if I’m a fraud in that regard.
B: Different roles, different masks.
A: But so what do I do?
B: You tell me.
A: I think… I need to realize another thing, too, which is that I don’t really get a ton of stuff done when I have a bunch of free time. I have no precedent for this, and it’s a little bit naive of me to think that if I just– I don’t know, quit my job or something– that I’d suddenly get a whole bunch of things done. Rather, once the main source of pressure is removed, I’d probably become a bum.
B: And therefore…?
A: I need to confront my fear head on. I know that I have an amazing opportunity in front of me, colleagues that I love, admire and want to support. I know that I want to learn and grow– if I quit now, I’d have quit right at the edge of my comfort zone, before I really broke out of my old role and grew into a new one that would be enriching and full of learning. I’ve always said that real life is supposed to be about learning, more so than school and university and whatnot. And here real life is presenting me with this chance to take everything to the next level, to grow into something beyond what I was originally hired to do. It’s a brilliant opportunity.
B: So what are you afraid of? What’s stopping you?
A: I think if I pay attention to my fears with things like cooking and going to the gym– not exactly a fear, sometimes just a sort of lethargy when trying to solve an equation with some unknowns– what I’ve learnt is that I change my entire perspective on things just by filling in some of the unknown values. If I’m worried about something, I can just get feedback from people and tell them “this thing that I’m working on, it’s just a sketch of sorts, tell me what could be better?” And once I do that I have a lot more certainty about the value of what I’m doing.
So… if I carry on that line of reasoning, I owe it to myself to figure out what the unknowns are before I think about giving up. Because once I figure out the unknowns, it becomes so much easier to do, that doing it becomes almost a no-brainer. Right? Making Pasta B is a no brainer when the only difference is tweaking one little thing from Pasta A. The problem is– when I haven’t properly evaluated the situation, I just get nervous and edgy at the whole thing and I wait for external circumstances to collapse around me so that I can claim that my hand was forced. I was actually pointing out this behavior in one of my friends, because I recognized it in myself. I now have an opportunity to address it.
B: Are you sure you’re not just saying these things because you’re talking to me?
A: That’s the magical thing, isn’t it? I’m talking to me.
B: You’re not going to end on that sort of cheesy note, are you?
A: No– I think I’ll end with this: This is a chance to break a pattern, and it’s something that’s in an environment with stakes. Doing a fuckton of writing and book reviews and stuff, IF I do it, would be a pattern break, too, but not nearly as amazing as this one. This is the next “quit smoking” type pattern-break– proof that I have well and truly transcended my previous limitations. This would be me breaking out of the box I’m currently in, as Tobi described them.
And I think that’s a lot more exciting than just reading a bunch of books and writing a bunch of reviews.
B: Yep. Anyway, how was the gym workout?
A: I am so sore, dude.