Could your rush hour commute be a blessing in disguise?

traffic jam

The average commute in the US is 25.4 minutes. In many areas, it is significantly longer.

For most people, the time spent “packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes” (as that song by The Police describes it) is a colossal waste of time.

But what if that commute is actually a potential blessing in disguise? I know, I know. That seems like a stretch, but hear me out.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably have some interest in personal development. You might already be investing money into buying books, going to workshops, even working with someone like me.

But if you have a daily commute, you might be ignoring a fantastic personal growth opportunity, one that comes completely free, and that takes no extra investment in time.

Traffic as a personal growth practice

I’m firmly convinced that the time we spend in our shiny metal boxes is one of the most concentrated, focused, and ubiquitous opportunities for growth we have.

Think about it. Time in traffic takes some of our biggest obstacles to peace-of-mind and distills them into a four-wheeled, rolling learning laboratory. Impatience. A desire to control life (and frustration when we can’t). Anger. Disconnection from others. And that’s just for starters.

Sounds a bit like a living hell, doesn’t it? It does to me. And that’s exactly why it can be one of your biggest gifts.

Here’s the thing. Life is never going to cooperate 100% with what you want. And the more gracefully you learn to navigate that, the less unnecessary pain you inflict on yourself, and the more space you have to experience the full vitality of it, whether at work or elsewhere.

Driving in traffic can be like going to the gym for equinimity. It’s a chance to practice the mental muscles for dealing with the setbacks and irritations that life delivers, and do it on a regular basis. The more you train those muscles, the better equipped you are to stay grounded and not add fuel to life’s challenges.

Personal growth opportunities. 

I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience, but I can share where the growth opportunities are for me when it comes to traffic. I suspect they’re similar for most people.

Resisting what is

This is probably the biggest and most destructive source of disturbance to my peace-of-mind. As Byron Katie so brilliantly puts it, “When I argue with reality, I lose – but only 100% of the time.”

Traffic – especially rush hour traffic – is the perfect opportunity to practice finding peace with what is.

“What is” doesn’t care if you resist or not. It’s still going to be what is. So the better you get at letting go of your perceived need for something to be different than it is, the more peace you’ll be able to feel.

Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. And your commute is set up to give you that practice, day after day after day. What luck!

Control

Here’s another biggie, one that marches in lockstep with resisting what is.

If you run your life under the illusion that you are in control, a single day stuck in traffic should shine a light on just how wrong you are. Can you influence? Sure. But there is precious little in the outside world you have out-and-out control over.

Time in traffic often brings this up for me. It’s a superb opportunity to take a deep breath, let go of that desire to control, and allow what is to be, without resistance.

Challenging emotions

It’s not enough to read about how to manage difficult emotions when things are bright and sunny. To make real change, you have to actually engage them as they happen. 

For most of us, time in traffic is going to bring out challenging emotions at some point. Frustration and anger are two big ones. (Ever flipped off some other “idiot driver?” Yeah, me neither. Ha!)

Watching those emotions as they come up offers a great opportunity to both get to know why and how they come up, and explore ways to both head them off before they come up and minimize their impact when they do.

Your stories

There’s a spot near where I live where two lanes coming from two different directions merge into a main artial. The first merges into the second, and then that merges into the main. It happens often that the person in the first lane I have to merge into doesn’t allow me to merge. This is all the more maddening to me because they then have to merge into the main arterial. So they won’t let me merge, but then expect someone to let them merge.

It kicks up my story big-time about how people “should” be. And if I’m particularly susceptible to a foul mood, it can set me off. More than one bird has been flipped in response, I’m sorry to say.

Over the years, I’ve used it as an opportunity to both recognize and change the negative story I add to the situation. The objective picture is that one person didn’t let another person merge. Maybe it was intentional. Maybe they weren’t paying attention. I have no idea.

If I can shift out of my story about how they should be and just let it go, I experience a lot more peace. That one little irritating spot in the road has been the source of a lot of practice in changing my story to something more constructive.

Disconnection

Most of us have responded to people in our cars in ways that we never would if we were face-to-face.

Part of the reason for that is how anonymized others are in traffic. We don’t relate to them as individuals trying to get to their destination and feeling the same things we are. Our traffic experience becomes about “me,” rather than “we.”

In a lot of ways, that’s a micro-view of something that most of us experience to some degree in the bigger picture.

There’s a Buddhist compassion practice that starts out, “Just like me, this person…” (fill in the blank with “wants to be happy,” “wants to get home to her kids,” “sometimes feels overwhelmed by the challenges he’s facing,” etc.). It’s a way to get us out of an exclusively self-focus and recognize the commonalities we share with those around us.

Driving in traffic offers an excellent opportunity to practice “just like me…”

Wash, rinse, repeat

The great thing about traffic from a personal development perspective is that it offers an opportunity to work with these things over, and over, and over again.

So the choice is yours. Treat your commute (or any time you spend in traffic) as a necessary but irritating evil, or use it as a way to learn, grow, and open. 

Which would you rather do?

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

What NOT to do when you fail

broken window

Like most people, the biggest challenges I face in life happen right between my ears. One of the biggest obstacles I create for myself is taking a failure (even just a small screw-up), and making it about every. single. way. I. suck.

It’s like cracks radiating out in a broken window. A stone hits the window and in a flash the cracks spiderweb throughout the whole window. In this case, I screw up and all of a sudden the story grows far beyond what actually happened.

Let’s say I miss out on an opportunity because an e-mail falls through the cracks. The immediate fact-based story is that I didn’t reply to an e-mail, probably because of a lack of organization, so I missed an opportunity. That’s maybe a little chip in the window, but nothing major.

But from there it’s all too easy – especially for the self-critical among us – for that story to take on epic proportions, as layer after layer of negative story gets added to it.

Now all of a sudden it’s not just about the one way I screwed up. Now the story line starts to sound like this. “Damn! I screwed up again! I’m so disorganized. Who am I kidding? I don’t have the ability to make this happen. This is just like ________, and _________, and _________, all those other times I have let things fall through the cracks. Why can’t I just get better at organization? I’m so unfocused!  I don’t have what it takes. I’m just going to keep falling on my face like this. I. just. suck.”

It takes the frustration, and self-judgment, and whatever else happens to be up, and pours it all on this one event, magnifying the meaning I give it in my mind. And it can happen in a flash.

The shattered window effect isn’t just this dysfunctional thing I do. Pretty much everybody I know does it to some degree. Something negative happens, and all of a sudden the meaning of the event goes far beyond the actual facts.

And here’s the thing. If you’re going to step out beyond the mundane little zone of safety and comfort into the possibilities where the full potential of your career lie, you’re going to experience your share of belly flops in the pool of life. They can be painful enough by themselves without adding to them unnecessarily.

Next time you find yourself responding to something you have botched, check yourself and ask, is this a glass chip or a shattered window?  If you find yourself telling a story that begins with, “I always…” or “I never…,” the odds are good you’re in shattered window territory. 

When you recognize that, step back and ask, “OK, what am I adding to the facts of this scenario? How am I making this about more than what actually happened? Where am I bringing a remembered past and an imagined future and slopping them onto the present?”

Sure, whatever happened isn’t ideal, but you don’t need to give it more energy than it inherently has. Recognizing the layered on stories gives you a chance to dial down the negative meaning you give any given failure or screw-up. It creates an opportunity to fix that shattered window.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM
Time for a career change? Start with The Occupational Adventure Guide

5 steps to a support system to help you get Wild About Work

friends support

We humans are social critters. When social connection is missing, it impacts both our mental and physical health.

Given that, it’s not surprising that an important component of Getting Wild About Work is creating a support network.

I have interviewed many people who have successfully pursued their passion over the years. To a person, they all said some variation on, “I couldn’t have done this alone.”

As you look at creating and continuing a career that lights you up, spend some time with these five key questions.

1. What support do I need?

Being aware of what support you need makes it easier to reach out and find it. Look at it from multiple angles. It might include:

Emotional support: Friends and communities where you can show up, be authentic, talk through challenges, etc.

Goal support: Do you need help keeping your focus on your goal and taking action? (This might be professional, like a career or life coach, or personal, like a friend or colleague who is also working towards goals of their own you can mutually support.)

Clarity support: Do you need someone to help you sort through things? Do you need a sounding board for ideas, or someone to help you unravel points of confusion? (This could be either a coach like me or a friend/colleague with a gift for diving in and sorting things out.)

Inspiration support: Do you need to spend more time around people who inspire you? Remember that in many ways we become who we spend time with. Do you need more people around you who inspire you to be your best, to achieve your goals, etc.?

Professional support: Are there specific areas where you need the expertise of an expert? (e.g., a marketing consultant, and accountant, a career coach, a dietician, etc.)

Authenticity support: This isn’t an area people tend to think of when they think of the support they need, but having people around you who encourage and celebrate your showing up authentically can play a hugely important role in creating a career and life that aligns with who you really are.

Fun and play support: Again, not a stereotypical support role, but for some people life gets entirely too serious. Having people around you who don’t can be an important part of lightening up.

Activity support: Having people around who are always on the go and initiating things can be a great spark of energy, especially for people whose inertia leads them to couch-sitting blobdom if they’re not careful.

This is far from an all-inclusive list. It’s just something to get you started. Spend some time exploring those, then ask what other forms of support to mind. Keep adding to the list as forms of support spring to mind.

2. How do I currently get that support?

Take stock of where that support already exists in your life. This is the low-hanging fruit that is already there and available.

3. What support is missing?

Looking at those first two questions together lets you do a gap analysis of sorts. For example, maybe you feel inspired to think big and make a difference, but that mindset  isn’t one most of the people around you share. You might realize you need the support and energy of others who are inspired and driven by making a difference.

4. Where can I get that support?

The beauty of identifying what’s missing is that you now have a starting point for exploring how to find that support. You can think of this in a couple different ways.

  • Individuals: Who can offer specific assistance or play a specific role? For example, if you’re self-employed and realize you need help on the business side of things, who can offer that? Or if you need more social time with like-minded individuals, who are the people you currently know you can reach out to?
  • Group: What are the groups or communities where the kind of people who offer the kind of support you need hang out. Maybe it’s a professional organization, or a spiritual community. Maybe it’s a meetup of people with a common interest.

5. What action can I take now? (Then take it.)

Last but not least, you have to do something! Pick someone and reach out to them. Schedule a time for coffee, or schedule a meeting. Send out an e-mail blast and get together a group of people to go to listen to a speaker sharing insights you all have a common interest in.

You don’t have to create a full-on support system all this week. Instead, think of it as a regular, recurring part of your process. Make a date with yourself once a month (or however often feels right for you) to ask the questions I outlined above.

Make a deal with yourself to come out of that meeting with yourself with two things. First, identify what support is critical for moving forward right now. Then commit to figuring out how to find it in the next week/month/whatever time frame works.

Second, identify the next steps you can take to keep building a stronger, more robust support system. Remember, this isn’t about doing it all at once. It’s about consistently, persistently building that support into your life, one step at a time.

 

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

–-

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Why your career needs you to meditate (or breathe, or eat mindfully, or…)

fireworks

Imagine a career chock full of what lights you up. It actually energizes you to do the work. Sounds like a dream, right?

It is. But if you’re like many people, you’re losing a lot of that energy unnecessarily.

Try this on and see if it feels a bit too familiar. You get up and hit the ground running. You’re late getting out the door, and then you feel the stress rising as you want to fly down the road at Mach 10 and traffic is moving at Mach 0.000001.

You finally get to the office, check your e-mail, and discover the big project you’re leading is going sideways. You look at your to-do list and realize you have three months of to-do’s crammed into your morning. You can feel the stress and anxiety start to build.

Your scenario may look different than that, but for many (if not most) people in this high paced culture we live in, the end result is the same. Your energy goes flying off in all directions like spinning fireworks.

The negative impact of an energy leak

In a scenario like the one I described above, it’s like your life has an energy leak.

Think of the sum total of energy you have any given day as water going through a hose, maybe to water a garden. When you love what you’re doing you have plenty of water coming through the hose. Lots to keep your plants healthy and robust.

When your energy is flying off in all directions, when you feel frenzied and frantic, or just plain stressed, it’s like that hose springs a leak. Or multiple leaks. You don’t get the full benefit of all the energy of loving your work.

Not only that, you don’t have that energy to put back into the work you’re doing. So the virtuous cycle nature of work you love (you do work that energizes you, and put that energy back into doing work that energizes you) gets interrupted.

You need a grounding practice

That energy loss effect is precisely why I include some kind of grounding practice as one of the foundations of well-being in the Wild About Work ecosystem (along with diet, exercise, hydration, and sleep).

A grounding practice, like meditation, or mindfulness, or any one of a bazillion beneficial practices, stops the energy from flying off in all directions. It plugs the leak in that hose, so more of your energy goes in a positive and productive direction.

It also gives you more space to deal with the challenging things in life. If somebody bumps you while you’re teetering on the edge of a cliff on one leg, it’s going to stress you out a lot more than if you’re standing on solid ground with both feet firmly planted.

A grounding practice helps create that solid ground to stand on.

You don’t have to be a yogi

If you don’t currently have any kind of grounding practice, you don’t have to wrap yourself in a pretzel and sit on a mountain top. It can be as simple as stopping and focusing on your breath for a minute or two.

I recently realized that my morning meditation practice is so important to my well-being that, if I had to make the horrible choice between meditation and my morning coffee, coffee would lose (thankfully I don’t live in a world where I have to make that choice!).

But it hasn’t always been a part of my life. When I first dipped my toe in the meditation waters, I used an idea from a wonderful book titled Meditation Made Easy called the Do Nothing Technique.

It’s as easy as it sounds. I just sat on my couch for five minutes doing nothing (at the time even that felt unnatural, as I was a bit of a do-er), letting my thoughts go where they wanted. I described it as “practicing doing nothing,” rather than meditating. Over time, that expanded to ten minutes, then fifteen. Eventually, I realized that it had evolved into what felt like meditation.

I’ll be sharing more ideas in this blog on ways to incorporate a grounding practice into your life.

To sum it up, if you want to get Wild About Work, if you want to both experience as much of that juice from your job as possible and give yourself more room to maneuver, a regular grounding practice is a vital piece of the puzzle.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

–-

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

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