Thursday, November 3, 2011


There are 3 things to acknowledge today, realizations from last night and this morning.

I'll start with last night. I've heard this before, actually I've heard it many times. When someone presents an idea, an opinion, or a statement to me, I often respond with an exception or by pointing out one way in which that idea does not make sense to me. This comes off as me sounding like the perpetual devil's advocate, or debbie downer, or just plain negative nancy. I notice that I do this, even if I accept 90% of the concept as dead-on. This is a clear weakness in my communication skills. My lack of acknowledgment is easily interpreted as a rejection of what was presented, even if I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. It's like my brain takes a shortcut, skipping the "omg, you are so right" and goes straight to the "but what about this one little part that doesn't seem to fit"?

While I work to correct this imbalance in my communication, I think it's worthwhile to at least explain why this happens. I'm not making excuses for myself, but I do see this approach as a key ingredient to success in the workplace, particularly amongst software developers. I've hired a few, interviewed a lot, and I've seen all sorts of teams and styles in my 14 years of work. The most valued colleagues I have worked with are those who can quickly point out the problems with anyone's proposed approach, without worrying about how that information is received. When everyone toes the line and follows the leader, that leader's oversights can become catastrophic. Without checks and balances, code reviews, and daily challenges to the design, product quality suffers. When everyone on the team can (hopefully respectfully) call into question the details of the suggested implementation and point out specific situations where additional design is necessary, the project as a whole stands a much greater chance of success.

The real challenge for me is to not lose this professional skill, while simultaneously working to acknowledge and appreciate input in my personal life. And I can _always_ word things better, even in the professional world. This challenge will not be easy for me, it will take months and more likely years to make progress.

On that same line of thinking, this morning was one of those days on the mat that we hope for every day. Shane decided we should focus on arm balances, and while I reached tricep fatigue well before the 60 min mark, I was thrilled to pull off some poses that I previously had not been able to, and to do others with slightly more confidence and control. Specifically, my core strength improvements have built to the point that I am reaching a basic competence with headstand and that allows me to do more with it than just trying to stay up for 20 breaths. It's a real thrill to unlock those doors and be able to walk down new hallways in my practice, and while today had no gigantic landmarks like pulling off an actual unsupported handstand, I really felt a marker had ticked by on my progression. I'd like to acknowledge Shane for all of his hard work in getting me to this point, he laid out a plan, tricked me into following it, and now he has proven to me how true his initial words really were. It all reinforces my core belief that 2 people, working together, is tremendously more powerful than 1 + 1.

Now, lest anyone view this as overly congratulatory, I want to point out how humbling it actually is. Today was the first time I learned what bakasana should actually feel like. It is tremendously more difficult to press your knees up to your armpits than it is to dig them into your triceps and use your skin or the grip of a towel to keep them from slipping down. That last bit of compression from the core and the hip flexors is intense and excruciating, just as pressing my elbows together in dolphin or many of my side arm balances which involve twisting, flexibility, balance, and strength. Another angle on this is doing headstand prep where you keep your toes on the mat behind you but lift your head 1/4" out of your hands and focus on arm strength. That is actually much more challenging for me than headstand, and far less gratifying, but the gains from doing it for just a few weeks are noticeable. Full expression is an evolution, a series of passageways that lead to a maze of neverending self exploration. My bakasana had gotten a bit stagnant over the past month or two and now it is time to keep pushing it foward because the effort invested will give me the foundation for all sorts of new things down the road.

My note to my runners this week was about acknowledging themselves for how far they have come this season, because it is so easy to lose sight of progress when you are in the midst of the heavy preparation that must be done one month before race day. I find it especially ironic that I'm preaching self acknowledgment when I struggle with this concept for myself. Like any overweight, out-of-shape NFL coach knows, you don't have to be able to do something in order to tell someone else how to do it. For some reason, I find it very easy to acknowledge others for their efforts to improve themselves. I find that I am naturally able to motivate and inspire, and I think this is true because I am so motivated and inspired myself, by those who I have been fortunate enough to share time and space with. This natural energy from others simply reflects and refracts through me and is redirected out to anyone in my vicinity. I remember my high school water polo coach, recognizing my complete lack of talent but overflowing enthusiasm, sending me into the championship game to try to get things really amped up. I'm sure he must have been wincing and crossing his fingers and hoping that I didn't get anywhere near the ball, but I appreciated his faith in me for what I could provide.

I'm going to end with a question that came up last night. Is "work" a basic need? I'm sure the weight of that question rests on how you define work. If you take work as a strict "something you get paid to do" then I'd imagine some people might say that no, work is not a basic need, as long as you have your other needs met, you don't need work to survive and feel grounded/stable/safe/secure. However, if you define work as your purpose, dharma, calling, passion, whatever, and therefore include volunteering, caring for the sick or old, raising children (which is most definitely work in my book) or the host of various other efforts that do not directly correspond to wages, then I think it becomes much easier to say that work is a basic need. Dogs, particularly labradors, want to have work to feel happy, they need a purpose, and I sense that Hunter would love to do more if his body would allow him to. I certainly feel an insatiable drive to do something meaningful with my time, though most of my real passions are not particularly lucrative, they tend to be more cashflow-negative types. Feel free to chime in if anyone has any thoughts on this. I know that having an entire year off from the structure of the corporate workplace gave me a real appreciation for how great life can be without "work" (as a strict definition.) And I'm sure that is what is hiding behind some of my questions about if work is a basic need or not.

So, to summarize, acknowledgement of ideas, acknowledgement of my progress, and acknowledgement of others, that is my focus for today.

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