At the height of the late 80s and early 90s dudebro corporate culture, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was its epitome. Self-assured and self-congratulatory people were scooping up planners, taking management seminars, and aggressively putting up workplace posters. I was too busy finishing an Army tour and limping through college to be much concerned with organizational effectiveness, even as I waded through bureaucratic inefficiencies on a daily basis. I was born a woman into a poor working class family, so suit ties and fraternal backslapping and BMWs seemed a tad repulsive and Stephen Covey got tossed under the very same bus.
Nearly 30 years later, I meet a woman in the course of my writing life. She’s energetic, intent on learning, a good listener, and positive about her life and interactions. My first reaction was irritation. My second was envy. My third – curiosity. What motivates her? How does she operate from such a place of positivity? How does she make others feel welcome and heard? I knew that it was a far distance from where I was currently residing. One of her secrets? That old manual of hair gel, firm handshakes, and relentless optimism – the porn of personal success, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
I have a particularly bad habit of aggressively rejecting ideas until they seep into my self-consciousness, roll around in my head like a tennis ball, bouncing off this idea and that. A few days, months, or years later, I think hmm, I might try that. It drives my husband nuts. He makes a helpful suggestion, I stomp on it, and then six months later I do it and exclaim “I can’t believe I didn’t do that sooner!” It really takes the wind out of his I told you so, because enough time has passed that I’m convinced it was originally my idea. Yeah, still married (shaking my head with disbelief).
It’s been a few years since I recognized that I do this and I’m starting to think I need to work on it. The learning curve in my brain is barely perceptible as a curve because it stretches out over years. Now that I’ve tripped into my 50s, I think I might need to speed up the process a bit. This is aided by the one habit that will, I hope, eventually save my bacon. I’m always learning and I actively pursue wisdom.
This morning I took the 7 Habits Personal Effectiveness Quotient Assessment. I was as honest as I could be, which is brutally, occasionally unfairly, honest. It’s all in the perception and my self-perception is not kind. Needless to say, I can show up on time, but I couldn’t get anyone else to show up with me. And I’m not being particularly effective in pursuing success as a whole. Maybe I need to finish reading that book.
I just finished reading Daniel Goleman’s Focus: The Hidden Drive of Excellence. It started out well for me, but took a turn into the corporate world that had me reading at light speed, just so I could get to the author’s conclusions. I walked away with a handful of interesting concepts that will likely show up in my life a few years down the road.
This self-improvement bender I’m on is par for my life. I was feeling pretty self-satisfied until life events knocked me for a loop. In order to re-engage, find my way back to the path, I start to research for inspiration. It might be a person, a book, a random thought from four years ago. I do think that slowly, awkwardly, I’m getting wiser, but I’m beginning to realize that the goal is not where it’s at. My joy is in the process. Being there. The process is where we spend most of our time. If it can’t be joyful, we’re dooming ourselves to all the struggle and few of the benefits.
It’s odd to realize my joy comes in recognizing how little I know, how much more there is to learn, and that there is no being done. For years, I viewed this propensity for self-improvement as a result of never feeling like I was enough. Sometimes those early messages embed themselves inside our psyche and we, like moths to the light, spend our lives trying to get close to that warm feeling of perfection, no matter how damaging or dangerous.
After reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, I’ve been thinking a lot about how small I’ve been living. In a heated discussion with my teenager, she said “You’re such a rule follower!” It stung and then I had to think about why that would bother me. We’re often torn between who we are and who we think we should be. The failure to embrace who we are, the struggle to resist it, the efforts we make to counter it – it’s exhausting and sometimes destructive.
There is a point, though, when you say okay, this is who I am, how do I make it work in my favor? What’s the upside? I would tell my little teenage rebel that mama doesn’t need bail money, for starters. It’s a quick turn of the kaleidoscope or, as Stephen Covey would say, a paradigm shift. He says paradigm a lot. It’s a pretty cool, intellectual word, especially if you pronounce it with a silent ‘g’ – and don’t just read it on the page and then drop paradiggem into a conversation. Let’s hear it for the heavy readers out there, hey-o.
I have a rather large stack of books about the meaning of life, how not to suck at life, and why my life could be so much better. This is, I’ve finally realized, my happy place – feeling so down and out that I hit the books in search of inspiration. Even a book that uses the word “synergy”. If the author uses synergistic, though, I’m out.