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.]

–-

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.]

–-

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

Why you should stop comparing yourself to others

blooper reel vs. highlight reel

Want a high-octane, super-charged, 99.999% guaranteed way to make yourself feel bad? Want to take the fast track to feeling unhappy about yourself?

Compare yourself to others. Simple as that. Compare yourself to others’ success, to their abilities, to their looks, to their charm, to their ________.

It doesn’t matter what the subject is. You will always, Always, ALWAYS be able to find someone who is better than you.

Let’s be honest for a minute here. Let’s take off the mask most of us wear so we’ll look good out in the world and be a little authentic and vulnerable.

On some level, most of us feel like we don’t  measure up. And one of the big reasons for that is because we spend so much time comparing ourselves to others.

Now, if we compared ourselves to the full picture, that would be one thing. But that’s not how we tend to do it. Instead, as I’ve heard it described before, we come out on the losing end because we compare our blooper reel with other people’s highlight reels.

Comparison isn’t an inherently destructive thing. It can actually be used as fuel for growth and achievement, if we use it right. But the kind most of us do – the kind that looks at other people, then at ourselves and says, “See? You suck!” – isn’t it.

Here are some questions to help you break out of that destructive comparison loop.

  • Am I seeing the whole picture? (Think bloopers vs. highlights)
  • OK, so they’re better than me (at _____). Why? What can I learn from that?
  • How can I use them as a model to aspire to, rather than as proof that I’m not enough?
  • What characteristics do they have that I can authentically emulate?
  • OK, enough about them – what’s good about me?

 

That last one may actually be the most important of all. Because ultimately, your career, and your life, isn’t about anybody else. It’s about aspiring to be the best you possible.

And quite honestly, none of us are anywhere near the limits of our potential. We all of amazing amounts of possibility we can grow into.

What anybody else is able to do, or who or how they are has absolutely nothing to do with your potential. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Unless you’re using it as a positive source of growth, comparing yourself to other people is nothing but a distraction from the main event: Making the most of your own life!

So the next time you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else, ask yourself, “Is this really relevant? Does this really have anything to do with what I’m doing here? Or am I distracting myself from the main event?”

[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

Want to energize your career? Make a personally meaningful difference

make a personally meaningful difference

Woven through all the work I do is a simple question: “How do I bring more of what energizes me into my career, and my life?”

In my work with clients, that frequently boils down to two lines of inquiry:

  • What are my sources of energy?
  • How can I create opportunities to experience more of those energy sources, more often?

Over the last thirteen years of my Passion Catalyst work, I have spent a lot of time thinking about where that energy comes from.

One source of energy that is frequently overlooked is making a difference. Not just any ol’ making a difference, but what I call a “personally meaningful difference.”

A different look at making a difference

To tap into this one requires a little different way of thinking about what making a difference means.

Here’s the thing. All work is inherently about making a difference. Something is different when you’re done than when you started. A product was created, a customer was helped, the peace was kept, a burger was served. Whatever.

So if you’re going to be making a difference anyway, doesn’t it make sense to figure what kind of difference has the most juice for you? Put another way, what kinds of outcomes have the most charge for you? What do you find most compelling?

Because I’m willing to bet that all kinds of differences are not created equal. Some will leave you feeling engaged, while others will leave you ambivalent.

When the difference you make energizes you and feels compelling, it’s what I call a “personally meaningful difference.” 

My own personally meaningful difference

To make this a little more specific, I’ll use myself as an example. For me, one outcome that has a huge charge is seeing the light bulb going on as someone gets clarity. On the other hand, if I work all day to create some sense of order in my office space, I might find it satisfying enough, but there’s not much energy to it.

If I explored why the first has such a charge, I would say that it’s really about two things. First, it’s specifically about helping people. Making a positive impact on the environment, or helping a company improve its bottom line are outcomes I know intellectually are important, but they don’t have the deep resonance for me that helping people does.

Second, it’s about creating clarity, and the doors that insight opens and the possibilities it creates.

No, it’s not about joining the Peace Corps

Note that in this context making a difference isn’t necessarily the do-gooder activity we typically think of. It could be, but it might also be the executive assistant who feels completely energized knowing that the order he or she creates is making it possible for someone to do more and achieve more.

So it’s not inherently about changing the world in the stereotypical way.

And it’s not about what anybody else thinks is important. Identifying an outcome as energizing isn’t a value judgment of whether or not it is important in the scope of the world.

It’s about noticing how you are wired as an individual.

What anybody else thinks is important has zero, zip, nada relevance.

Find your personal meaning characteristics

Ultimately it boils down to this. What are the characteristics of the kinds of outcomes you find particularly compelling?

If you could wave your magic wand and work toward any outcome you wanted, what would that look like? Would it be about helping people? Would it be about the environment? Would it be something that had a clear, immediate impact? Would it be something that has a bigger picture strategic impact? Would it be up close and personal, or would it be making a difference at a large scale? What else?

You might start by just paying attention to your current work. What do you find compelling about the outcome of what you are doing now? Why do you find it compelling?

You can also look at the outcomes other people are working towards (not the actual work they are doing, but the outcomes). Make a list of outcomes that make your heart say, “Yes! That’s important!” Then dig into why each of the scenarios on your list has such a charge.

The more you understand about what a personally meaningful difference looks like for you, the more consciously you can look for opportunities to tap into that energy.

Otherwise, your best hope is just to luck into it. Not the best career planning strategy.

 

[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

Please, please, please – don’t listen to me!

best expert

This may sound funny coming from a guy who makes his living with personal development, but I’m not a big fan of the personal development industry.

Well, maybe it’s not the industry as a whole. Really it’s more about the way the message is often delivered. However well meaning, the way it often lands is, “Your life isn’t good enough, and you need to change so it is.”

Now,I’m aware that some of this is a matter of focus. I mean, if you live in a world of loose screws, and you have this most amazing screwdriver that can tighten those screws, you’re probably not going to spend a lot of your time telling people how OK it is to have a screw loose. You’re going to shout out, “Hey, I can help you with that!”

Regardless, the message as it lands can leave people feeling that they or their lives don’t measure up.

So I want to say, strongly, unequivocally, that I don’t want you to listen to a thing I say here…UNLESS it speaks to an itch you feel the need to scratch.

What set me off on this little tirade? A tweet from someone (whose work I actually admire and respect) about the need to “play big.”

I don’t happen to believe that everyone needs, or is even wired to play big, at least not in the testosterone-dripping, take-the-hill-boys kind of way it’s often described. Play meaningfully? Sure. Play impactfully? I can go with that. Play deeply? Sounds good. And playing big can be part of any of those. And then again, maybe not.

Ultimately, the only one who really knows what feels right is YOU.

If the message “stop playing small and play the big you were meant to play” resonates and hits home as your own personal truth, then excellent! Run with it. Explore what’s stopping you. Dive into the possibilities.

But if it leaves you feeling like you should play big, even though the idea doesn’t really make your Inner Truth sing, then let all that slide right off your back. One size does not fit all, and you are the best expert in what’s right for you.

One quick caveat to keep in mind, though. Sometimes, “No, that doesn’t speak to me” is really true, and sometimes it’s just a great way to avoid the need to step outside your comfort zone. So if you decide that some piece of personal development doesn’t speak to that Inner Truth, pause and ask, “Is that really true? Or is that avoidance?”

The more you stop and listen to yourself, the better you’ll get at feeling into your own truth, and the more your own self-expertise will naturally come into play.

[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

How to maximize your Failure ROI

trailerfail

Let’s face it. At some point, despite your best efforts, you’re going to go splat. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to flop and fall on your face. That’s especially true if you aim high and reach beyond your comfort zone.

The occasional failure is an inevitable part of the road to success. And unpleasant as it is, failure is also – potentially, at least – one of our best teachers. So if you’re going to fail anyway, doesn’t it make sense to squeeze all the value out of that investment that you can?

Here are some questions to help you maximize your “Failure ROI.” (ROI = Return On Investment)

What role did I play in this failure? What role did circumstances beyond my control play?

Taking ownership for your own part in the process and letting go of responsibility for what you had no control over lets you focus on what you actually had the power to impact.

What were the causes of this failure?

Trace the failure back. What were the pieces of the puzzle that contributed to your belly flop? See if you can find the root causes, the underlying sources that contributed to that failure. Challenge yourself to go deeper than your initial assessment. Keep asking, “and why did that happen?” as you peel back the layers.

What might have prevented this failure?

Can you identify specific steps, preparations, support, etc. that would have led to a more favorable outcome?

What would I do differently if I did this again?

Trace the whole process from beginning to end. What would you do differently? Why?

Was the cause of the failure a flawed idea, or flawed execution? A bad concept, or a poorly planned process?

They both might lead to failure, but the reasons behind each of them are vastly different. Make sure you’re focusing on the right thing.

What did I need to know that I didn’t know I needed to know?

Looking at your attempt from beginning to end, where did it begin to go wrong? How? Was there more than one point where it deviated from the path to success? For each of those points, what could have been done differently to stay on track?

What support did I need that I didn’t have? Where could I get that support in the future?

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. It’s a lot easier to see where you didn’t have a clue or were woefully underprepared when you look back than it was along the way. What support did you need that would have contributed to your success (e.g., a subject matter expert with more knowledge than you, a partner whose gifts and talents complement yours, etc.)?

What knowledge did I need that I didn’t have? Where could I find that knowledge in the future?

Sometimes failure comes because you don’t know what you don’t know. With the benefit of hindsight, what knowledge were you lacking that contributed to the lack of success?

What action should I have taken that I didn’t?

Can you see steps left undone, initiatives left uninitiated?

What action shouldn’t I have taken that I did?

On the flipside, are there things you set in motion that contributed to your failure?

What do I understand now as a result of this failure that I can put to use in the future?

Odds are good you have a better understanding – of the obstacles, of the system as a whole, of what works and what doesn’t, etc. – than before you started down the path you failed on. What do you understand better?

What are the key learnings I can take away from this failure?

Distilling what you have learned into these key nuggets turns your learning into easily applicable insights for the future.

Parting thought: Keep a failure journal

You might want to get on friendly enough terms with failure that you keep a failure journal. Make it a habit to debrief and learn from the bits of your career (and your life) where things go sideways. You could wind up creating one of the most valuable resources you’ll ever have.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Download my FREE audio course and let the adventure begin!]

–-

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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

Energize your career with the Gain-to-Drain Ratio

Want to energize your career? Or maybe take it a step further and energize your whole life? Well, duh. Of course you do.Who doesn’t?

If pretty much everyone would answer yes to that question, why are so many people dragging their butts off every morning to another zombified day at work like, a bad sequel to Night of the Living Dead?

There are a bazillion reasons for that, but I’m convinced that one of the big ones is that people don’t realize how much lies within their power to change, and just how simple it is to do si.

I’m a fan of simple. In my past thirteen years helping people create careers and lives that energize and inspire them, I have found that often the simplest ideas are the most powerful. And it doesn’t get more simple than this.

It’s an approach you can use to consciously, purposefully raise the energy in any aspect of your life. I call it “maximizing the Gain-to-Drain Ratio.”

Conceptually, it couldn’t get much simpler. All you do is:

  • Bring as much as possible of what gives you energy (the Gain part of the equation)
  • Do whatever you can to minimize the things that drain your energy.
The Gain-to-Drain Ratio is essentially a fraction. Visually, the idea looks like this:

The more you can incorporate the kinds of things that energize you into your life, the more Gain you have. And the more you can change the things that suck your energy away, the smaller your Drain will be.

You can start applying the Gain-to-Drain Ratio by applying it to your work. Take a look at your job and do what I call a “personal energy audit.” Ask questions like:

  • What do I love about this job?
  • What about this job leaves me feeling energized?
  • What about this job leaves me feeling engaged?
  • When do I feel in the zone in this job?
  • What about this job is fun?
  • What do I dislike about this job?
  • What about this job saps my energy? What leaves me feeling drained and depleted?
  • What about this job feels like a grind?
  • What is tedious about this job?

Once you identify your Gains and Drains, you can ask questions to help you start increasing the Gains and reducing the Drains, like:

  • What can I easily bring more of into the picture?
  • What can I easily change?
  • Which changes would make the most impact?
  • Which changes do I want to prioritize?

While I’m at it, I need to give my ever-present caveat that this isn’t a magic wand. It’s not going to take a crap job and make the angels suddenly sing. But it does create an opportunity to start taking control of what you can and change things for the better.

I encourage you to make it a regular habit to stop and ask yourself, “Where’s the Gain here? Where’s the Drain?” It’s a simple way to shine a light regularly on what impacts your energy so you can manage it as you go, rather than trusting to chance or taking action when the Drain gets too strong to tolerate.

Keeping in mind that your work unfolds not in an isolated silo, but in the interconnected, holistic system that is your life, you can also use the Gain-to-Drain Ratio to examine your life in 360 degrees. Look at the different areas of your life, like:

  • Attitudes & Beliefs
  • Finances
  • Health & Wellness
  • Hobbies & Activities
  • Home Environment
  • Meaning & Making a Difference
  • Relationships
    • Romantic
    • Friends
    • Family
    • Professional
    • Community
  • Sex & Sexuality
  • Spirituality
  • Work

As with so many things, much of maximizing the Gain-to-Drain Ratio is about awareness. You can’t change what you aren’t aware of. Examining the Gain and Drain breaks it down into specific, tangible things to work on.

[Want to do a deeper dive into maximizing your Gain-to-Drain Ratio? My Passion Catalyst coaching can help.]

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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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

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