Cynicism kills progress

For years, I told myself a negative story about who I was. I saw myself as an old gritty, haggard person. I looked down on young people (especially if they were earnest).

I felt this way because when I was in my 30s, I made a massive career change and joined the software industry. Surrounded by folks in their early 20s, I instantly felt like an old has-been.

My ten years of experience in a different field counted for nothing here. Plus: many of my younger colleagues were making more money than I was, and it hurt my ego. I was a married guy with kids and a mortgage competing against young whippersnappers! 🙄

To protect my ego, I became cynical. I rolled my eyes at the idealism of my younger peers. I'd recoil with cynicism if they told me about the healthy practices they were implementing in their life. "Well, that's fine for you in your naive world," I'd think to myself, "but that feel-good stuff doesn't work for weary old guys like me."

This toxic attitude persisted for years. It became a part of my identity.

It wasn't until Shawn Blanc, James Clear, and Sean McCabe invited me to a retreat in Colorado that my attitude started to change.

Initially, I looked around the room with disdain. "These people have no idea what my life is like," I spouted internally, "all this talk about good habits isn't going to change me."

But over the weekend, my hard shell started to soften. I was able to look at my mindset objectively. "This internal dialogue isn't helping me," I realized, "it's preventing me from improving my life."

To move forward, I had to let go of my ego and my cynicism.

When you're feeling down, and you see someone else succeeding, it's hard to open yourself up to their point of view. But that is the very thing you need. You need healthy habits. Changing your mindset (and then your behavior) is the only way to improve your situation.

After that retreat in Colorado, James Clear and I were sitting at the airport, and he said something that gave me hope:

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.

It made me realize that the little decisions I make each day do matter. Am I going to grab a deep dish pizza at Little Caesars, or am I going to make myself a salad?

James also pointed out that even when you make an unhealthy choice, you can still turn your day around. Did you eat pizza for lunch? Have a salad for dinner, and go for a walk. You don't need to beat yourself up; you can make a good choice next and change your trajectory.

Will Smith has this rant on Instagram:

"It don't matter whose fault it is that something is broken; it's your responsibility to fix it. When you're in victim mode, you're stuck in suffering. The road to power is in taking responsibility. Your life, your heart, and your happiness is your responsibility and your responsibility alone."

You might be in a bad situation. But the only way to improve it is by asking: "What am I going to do about it?"

Cultivating good habits, bit by bit, is the best place to start.

(Recommendation: read James Clear's Atomic Habits)

Sidenote: I realize that, compared to many, I have an enormous amount of privilege. My privilege certainly affects my ability to rise above my circumstances. Also, I recognize that my situation is not nearly as bad as where some folks are right now. Having benefited from the empathy of others, I think those of us in a healthy place (and who have privilege) need to use our good standing to help others.

Another book that helped me was Brené Brown's Rising Strong:

"Empathy is not finite, and compassion is not a pizza with eight slices. When you practice empathy and compassion with someone, there is not less of these qualities to go around. There’s more. Love is the last thing we need to ration in this world. The refugee in Syria doesn’t benefit more if you conserve your kindness only for her and withhold it from your neighbor who’s going through a divorce. Yes, perspective is critical. But, hurt is hurt. Every time we [respond] with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us.”

I hope this helps you make progress,
Justin Jackson

This conversation was inspired by a chat I had with Ben Orenstein.

Ben has a course called Habits for Hackers you might like.

Published on January 2nd, 2019
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