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A Season for Reflection

Striving to be better, made me. Even though, it almost broke me. Over the last few years, I’ve tried to find a way to balance my daily duties and routines with my drive to be better and do better. Besides being a great time to be with family and friends, for me the time between Thanksgiving and New Years' allows me to burn through my inbox, collect my thoughts, maybe write. It’s become my season of reflection, without it I’d find it hard to have perspective.

I’ve got a bunch of duties. Husband, father, friend, brother, son. Not to mention my work. My primary driver is to do better be better. I can’t not. I caught myself once, spending like half a day trying to vacation better, while on vacation. It’s a strength and an affliction.

Without getting too deep in things I don’t understand, I think my life experiences sort of led me to a place where I thought if I did everything correctly, everything would be correct. And, I brought this unfair perspective to every part of my life. It propelled me to make bad decisions that I felt were somehow justified.

About 6 years ago, things came to ahead. It was clear I wasn’t living a balanced life. What really mattered to me wasn’t getting the best of me.

It was a moment of clarity. Everything snapped into focus. I had to change, and I did. It was a watershed moment. It gave me back my family and friends.

I embraced the idea that I control almost nothing. The world is gonna do what it’s gonna do. What’s funny though, is my drive to do better and be better didn’t disappear. What I was missing was a large dose of self-compassion, rest, and empathy for the experience of others.

Things didn’t get better instantly, but a playbook emerged, it’s not original either. While I embraced the idea that I had very little control of anything, I realized I had some control. As an athlete, I knew that practice led to getting better. As a student, I knew that studying, led to better understanding and more knowledge. From time to time you can find leverage points. When you do, you can utilize them.

Realizing there are small ways to make a difference and finding them are a different matter. Identifying an issue or a pain point doesn’t mean it’s easy to fix. I would spin myself out of control trying to change things by myself, even though I knew I didn’t control much. I needed a way of continuously improving and finding feedback cycles that allowed me to try a few hard things before investing a ton of my effort into it, maybe building a coalition along the way.

If I stand back, for a moment, it’s easy to see that I spend a lot of time reacting, flowing, and I don’t see that as a bad thing. We have routines.

I spend a lot of time in routines.

I spend a lot of time in short term feedback cycles. I work in a world that is focused on multi-week improvement cycles, quarterly earnings, hell I can check my child’s grades every hour if I wanted to.

I spend a lot of time collecting. I read a large number of blogs. I’m skimming Twitter, HN, other link aggregators, etc. I’ve developed a 100+ book backlog that I want to read.

I spend a lot of time working, building, IE mostly acting. There is some reflection, but it’s almost always geared towards what I am doing.

All of these activities are valuable, but they tend to prevent deep concentration and long term reflection. Both of which are incredibly important to finding the obscure leverage points, the most valuable leverage points. It prevents you from seeing how over a number of years you can begin to invest in leverage points that are currently out of reach.

I used to berate my self for “not keeping up”, until I realized you just can’t keep up.

So, I’m constantly triaging. If I can get to it great, otherwise, I put it into a big pile.

During my season of reflection, I take the time to burn through that inbox. It can be intoxicating. One year I printed it all out, it was almost 200 pages, with 2 pages per side, both sides of the paper. And, I just slowly worked my way through it all. After reading all backlog. I try to review my notes over the years. I’ve kept note-keeping habits for over 10 years now. At this point in time, I’ve often found new perspectives and ideas that help me see in a new way. Or, at least things I want to try.

Reflection for me is letting all of that swirl around in my head. From time to time it leads to important changes, but it’s always time well spent.

I emerge into January and Spring a little sharper, a little more prepared to respond to a chaotic world.