Knowing When to Push

Well I’m back, after an unexpected hiatus.  I was going to talk about how I took Labor Day (Labor Week) off to recharge myself, but that’s not the truth of the situation.  In actuality, I tried to write my two blogs per week, but I ran into some obstacles.  Rather than focusing on the particulars of the obstacles themselves, I’d rather talk about my reactions to them.

Essentially, I was having trouble coming up with good topics to write about, and I began writing something I wasn’t as happy with.  I had put myself on a deadline to finish it, but as that deadline loomed closer, the anxiety started to rise.  It became a vicious circle where I was agitated for not finishing what I started, which then made it even more difficult to complete.  About the time the feelings of self-loathing started coming in, I decided to call it a day.  I could have tried to push through and make something happen, but I’m not sure that would have been fruitful, and I’m sure it wouldn’t have made me feel good.

Dan in Half Moon Pose

Don’t push me, man!

There’s a balance that needs to be maintained between pushing yourself to the edge of your abilities and knowing your own limitations.  I find this distinction especially clear in the practice of yoga.  A good yoga teacher will motivate you to try to work past the imaginary chalk marking of what you were able to accomplish previously.  A great teacher will be able to do so while respecting your physical and emotional limits.  It’s a really tricky tightrope to walk.  After all, if you’re only stretching as far as you did the previous day, you don’t give yourself the opportunity to surprise yourself with how much you can accomplish.  If you push too far, though, it’s easy to feel demoralized by what you could not accomplish, not to mention to hurt yourself in the process.

I definitely err on the side of kindness to myself, though I often wonder if that may be something that holds me back.  I worry that if I can’t completely commit to a project, to the point that either it’s going to break or I’m going to break, then perhaps my heart is not fully in it.  After all, Olympic athletes throw put themselves through grueling paces to be the best they can.  World-class musicians spend hours and hours in the practice room honing their skills until they are razor sharp.  One could argue that without that blinding drive to be the very best and to overcome all obstacles, humans would not have accomplished all that we have.

On the other hand, that mindset sounds far from healthy.  If we strive to push ourselves no matter what, we may make great strides, but we miss the nuances of life along the way.  In running that marathon in record time with our blinders on and eyes on the prize, we run right past that cliff that looks out over the valley in which a small hamlet is nestled, a resident of which makes the most finely crafted grilled cheese sandwiches, and whose daughter has inviting chocolatey eyes and likes to stay up all night talking about Magic the Gathering and making cookies.

I’ve come to a point in my life where the maintenance of my sense of well-being is the highest priority to me, and I structure my obligations so that I don’t put it in jeopardy.  When I do stretch it to its limits, I may accomplish more, but I feel less pride in those accomplishments because of the strain it puts on me.  It’s like the joke, “For Lent I gave up my self-esteem, but then I realized I wasn’t really worth saving anyway.”

So I will continue to test the boundaries of what I am capable of doing, but I will do so with a kindness towards myself in the process.  There will be weeks in which I bite off too much, and I have to ease up on some of my goals.  There will also be weeks in which I release a new CD, write an inspiring new blog post, and create an innovative podcast.

And speaking of new podcasts, I’m very excited to announce that I am releasing the first episode of Sound Decisions today.  It’s a podcast in which I sit down with an artist to discuss one of their songs with them in-depth.  It’s a great opportunity to hear some music you may not have heard before, to analyze the lyrics of the songs you love, and to indulge in music theory geekiness.  For my inaugural episode, I sat down with my good friend and fantastic singer/songwriter/pianist Anna Dagmar to discuss her song “Satellite.”  If you love to learn the secrets behind how your favorite songs are made, this is the podcast for you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to gently coax myself to try the dreaded half-moon pose once again.

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3 thoughts on “Knowing When to Push

  1. brycemoore says:

    This is an interesting post. I can definitely see the point you’re making, but I think for once, I might have to disagree with you. (And it’s not just because you had a wickedly sick deck in Magic.) I agree that sometimes it’s important to give yourself a break, but I worry that when we consistently put ourselves first, emphasizing our own comfort levels, we never have a chance to break free and experience new things.

    I don’t think this is what you’re arguing for. So maybe I’m a little unclear about the topic at hand. You say, “I’ve come to a point in my life where the maintenance of my sense of well-being is the highest priority to me, and I structure my obligations so that I don’t put it in jeopardy.” But I know that can’t be true. You just released a CD–a project that was full of new things you’d never done before, was no doubt very stressful, but which was also highly rewarding (I hope).

    I guess my issue with this post is that it seems to put up a false dichotomy. Either you’re being nice to yourself or you’re throwing yourself into work with Olympic expectations. To me, the best approach is to find where you’re comfortable, and then to push forward from there–gently when you go too far, but constantly pushing. Striving.

    I think that’s one of the things I really appreciated about my religion and being a father, actually. In both cases, I’m asked to do things I’ve never done before, and there’s no going back. My two year mission was crazy hard. Insanely difficult for me, but at the same time, I had a blast. I never in a million years would have chosen to do it for fun, but I’m so glad I did. Being a father . . . every day is a new chance to screw your kid up. There’s no knowing what the “right” choice is, and you do your best and hope it all turns out okay. But because of all those unknowns, I feel myself stretched and growing.

    Olympians hire coaches to push them. To know how best to get them to grow. They pay good money for that. I don’t think it’s an either/or. I think the best thing is in the middle. Finding that middle is key to happiness. Too much, and I’m a stressed wreck. Too little, and there’s a whole bunch of might have beens.

    And now I really need to go finish my writing.

    PS–glad to see you’re having trouble finding topics to blog about. Your blog has been so consistently great, I was beginning to think you were superhuman. 🙂

  2. neonandshy says:

    Thanks Bryce! That’s a big compliment coming from a heavy-hitter writer such as you.

    I do agree that without risk, we stay within the small area that we know. And as you stated, I am constantly pushing my boundaries, discovering things that I can accomplish that I never thought I could. I reached a point last week though, where the effort to create was causing me more harm than the outcome of that creation would have caused me pleasure. At that point, I wondered if I was pushing through because I believed in what I was creating, or because I had to prove that I could do it.

    Perhaps that’s the key to the equation. Understanding your motivation in why you do what you do makes clearer the decision of whether it’s a worthwhile endeavor or not. Sounds obvious, but it’s a component that’s often missing in everything from art to livelyhood to relationships.

    I do stand by the fact that I put my sanity and well-being first. Those projects I have taken on were all done in the context of what I could handle and what I wanted to do, even though they pushed the edge sometimes. I imagine you did the same during your mission and in raising your family, if only because without a sense of contentedness with oneself, the drive to accomplish can become unbearable. I could be wrong, of course. I know you come from a family of very high achievers, so perhaps you perceive this quite differently.

    One part of it that not all of the population understands is how depression can undermine the process and give you negative feedback to your positive actions. Those are the most important moments in which we need to stand back, take a deep breath, and accept our present limitations, understanding that tomorrow they may be lifted.

    But I agree, it’s not an either/or situation. There does seem to be a tenuous line that gets crossed at some point though that tips into devaluation of the outcome.

    • brycemoore says:

      That’s true. And sometimes we’re forced across that line, like it or not. At least, that’s my experience. We might commit to something, not knowing ahead of time the amount of strain it’s going to put on us. I will only very rarely back out of things like that. If I committed to something, I’m almost certain to do my darndest to get it done.

      And other times, we can stay away from the things altogether. I much prefer those times. 🙂

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