on effectiveness (part 1)

I heard an interview with consummate badass lady comic Aisha Tyler last week, and something she said in that interview has really stuck around in my thoughts. This is a woman who hosts her own podcast, hosts Who’s Line is it Anyway? and The Talk, voices a character on a cartoon series, writes, and does standup. I mean, this woman is good at what she does. She spent a good deal of time in the interview talking about the process of arranging her life to maximize her effectiveness. She said, and I love this, “I want to be a razor all the time.” This woman is sharp. If you’ve never seen any of her stuff or heard her speak, you should. She is fucking sharp. She talked about coming to the point in her life that she had to get intentional about structuring her life for maximum effectiveness, and one of the things she talked about specifically was drinking. Not an alcoholic by any stretch, but a social drinker, she talked about how light recreational drinking nonetheless dulled the edges of her effectiveness, and how it was not worth any temporary high to lose her ability to be sharp. I respect that. To hear a woman I respect and admire speak so candidly about the practical steps she took to be a razor all the time really challenged me to step back and look at my life, and see where I have allowed my effectiveness to become dull.

If you’ll allow me to quote Ellen’s favorite granny, Gladys, “I love Jesus, but I drink a little.” It’s true. I’m a shameless wine lover, in my late twenties, and living in one of the coolest damn neighborhoods in the country. I have thoroughly enjoyed my single, childless years, especially these last few months. One fact, however, has become as crystal clear as champagne flute: I’m not 21 anymore. Mercy. Something happened. I can’t just sleep off a night of casual wine drinking with friends, anymore. A night of wine drinking means a day or two of fogginess to follow. Now, let me be clear: I’m not binging or going on week long benders with the girls, out here. No one needs to call Intervention, but I have indulged enough lately to know that I’m not sharp on Monday or Tuesday when I’ve gotten even a little boozy over the weekend. If I can borrow from another great lady comic, Sarah Silverman says in her book, The Bedwetter, that her mantra surrounding all her vices has become “Make it a treat.” I’m adopting this bit of wisdom as I take a glaringly honest look at what dulls my ability to be effective in my life. What are the things that need to shift from habit to treat? What causes me to be ineffective in work, relationships, and personal development? I want to be sharp. I want to be a razor, all the time. What’s gotta give?

Drinking is obvious. Take it down a notch, wino. That part is easy and already well under way, and this isn’t a post about drinking, anyways. So what else? What sneaky habits or unconscious patterns have worn down my edges? As I spent some time thinking about this, I thought I’d cast a line on Facebook and see what other people would be willing to share about their own journey to be their most effective. I asked this: “What could you let go of to increase your effectiveness (in work, relationships, personal development)? What holds you back from being at your sharpest?” It was important to me to recognize the things that hold us back from being effective are often things that we could let go of, if we did the work. There are some things in our life that we have no control over, and those can certainly affect our ability to be sharp, but more often than not the things that keep us from being our best, most effective selves are our very own choices, patterns, and reactions. So, I threw out the line. I got some really honest responses, and I wanted to share some of them with you.

One friend of mine said she could see herself succeeding at the things she dreams of, that she would be her very sharpest self were it not for fear of how her family would react. Her family, while incredibly loving, has a history of casting sideways glances in her direction, heaving exasperated sighs, and questioning her when she opens up about the dreams she has for her life. This dear friend told me that while certain she would ultimately have their support in whatever she did, she would have to do battle to get past the initial demands for explanation and she didn’t want to fight the battle, anymore. This incredibly talented, deeply passionate, self assured woman can actually see herself taking her life by the balls, she’s confident that her sharpest and most effective self is waiting to be found on that adventure, but fear of her family’s reaction is keeping her from stepping into her biggest life. Sometimes, the things that hold us back are practical and easily adjusted- don’t go to the liquor store. Sometimes, they flow in our blood and are coded into our DNA and what do we do about that? This friend of mine told me it eats away at her, this dulling of her edges. It bothers her deeply that her loving family cannot seem to support the bigness of her dreams, because her most effective self needs to be chasing after them.

A second friend said the desire for instant gratification dulled his edges. Social media, Netflix, hours spent on the internet; these distractions actively keep him from being at his most effective. What an easy trap for any of us to fall into, right? I’ve certainly gone through entire weeks accomplishing only the bare minimum because I poured all of my extra hours into Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards. My friend struggles with stepping out of this pattern and into his great ambition because of how drained he feels by his distractions. Not only are they a time suck, but they’re robbing him of mental and emotional energy better spent on his relationships and work. He pointed out that it’s not even necessarily about the act itself, it’s what we’re avoiding by engaging in it. The screens we look at are maybe the most universally dulling agents in our lives. We instantly check out when we’re surfing the internet, our eyes are constantly darting across the screen, we’re not focused on or accomplishing anything at all. Sharp? Effective? Not even a little bit. When we spend most of our time chasing the distractions that promise instant gratification, we resemble an old butter knife far more than we do a razor.

One correspondence that was particularly poignant, and I’m so thankful for this friend and her willingness to open her heart up so bravely, was with a friend of mine who has a child with some significant special health needs. This kid is a damn warrior, and his parents have done a truly masterful job of creating a life where he can thrive. Still, she told me, the things that keep her from being her sharpest and most effective self are guilt, the need to control, and fear. She knows families who have lost their children, but she still has her beautiful boy. She spends nights checking on him in his sleep to make sure he’s still breathing. She knows he is more fragile than other children, but there he is, thriving. I asked her specifically how those three things- guilt, control, and fear- affect her day to day life. She shared that guilt causes her to wonder if she, in some way, caused his health situation. It demands energy from her that she can’t invest in her marriage, which feeds the guilt. The fear of what could happen to her boy robs her of the ability to be present, to sleep through the night, to let the little things go. Enter, need to control. Given this delicate situation, you can see how those three feed one another, how they weave in and out of one another in a paralyzing spiral.

Here is the amazing thing: This woman has not let herself be paralyzed. In discussing how she keeps it all together, she said, “I pray a lot, like on your knees praying. Yoga keeps me balanced. It really helps me.” Here’s the rub: None of us has to figure this thing out all alone. None of us are expected to be our sharpest selves on an island. There is a Proverb which says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” You and I will never be our sharpest unless we surround ourselves with people who sharpen us. We will remain dull until we demand something better of ourselves and do the work with the people who matter to us. As these friends of mine opened up about what dulls their edges, they sharpened their blades. They certainly sharpened mine. I spent very nearly my entire therapy session today excavating my own life, digging up my self doubt, my inner critic, my insecurities. These brave friends of mine got that process started for me when they shared their own stories with me. The very act of opening up, of showing what makes us vulnerable, of exposing our hearts does the work of sharpening us. When we trust, we share, we invest in relationships, we face difficult truths, we sharpen everyone around us. Vulnerability is fucking inspiring. Resilience and grit and perseverance are the stuff of people who live sharply, like razors.

Now, dear readers, let me ask you: What could you let go of to increase your effectiveness (in work, relationships, personal development)? What holds you back from being at your sharpest? What would your life look like if you let those things go? What would it take to get that process started?

If you have thoughts, please share them. I’m expecting to write at least once more on this topic and I’d love your input, stories, or experiences as I tease this out. Comment below, find me on Facebook and send a message, or email me.

Grace and Peace,

Daryn

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