I was reading Glenn Kelman's (the CEO of Redfin) most recent post on LinkedIn's "My Best Mistake" Series. Glenn was describing his best mistake - nearly getting fired. In describing the meeting that took place after first hearing the news, Glenn said:
The next day, the chairman explained why I was being fired. I listened to him like I had never listened to anyone in my life. In 45 seconds, he did what almost no one paid to be your manager usually has the guts to do: he explained what was wrong with me as plainly as if I were a dented car.
I've had similar experiences in my life. About seven years ago, I started playing squash competitively. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I knew that if I didn't find some kind of sport to play, I was going to put on weight.
The previous year, I had won the city championships at the 'D' level (the second lowest level in a tournament). This year, I was playing in the same tournament at the 'C' level. People came up to me after I won my first couple of matches and asked me, "Are you going to do it again Adam?". These people wanted me to win, but I made it into pressure and an obligation not to let them down. I created a lot of significance around how I played. To make matters worse, when I got to the finals, I was playing against a good friend.
During our finals match, I just couldn't get out of my head. Every rally we played, I worried about whether I was doing the right thing, and more importantly, how I was looking to all of the spectators on the other side of the glass wall. Every mistake I made was magnified through the lens of my internal pressure and thoughts.
Tournament squash is played to the best of five matches. After losing the first two matches, I found myself down in the third match at 2-7. My friend only needed to win two more points in order to take home the trophy. At that point, after a particularly embarrassing mistake, I looked out over the crowd, and thought to myself "Well... I guess you don't win this one... How will that be?".
I let go of my thoughts about winning with perfect technique, and instead let the stench of failure wash over me. I bathed in it. I thought of chatting with people afterwards, and for the first time, I allowed myself to experience the sensation of losing.
And then, everything melted away. Once I had lost mentally, there was no more pressure. Hey, I'd already lost. So who cared what happened from here forward? Finally I was able to start having some fun! I started joking with my friend, the ref, and the spectators. I made an ass of myself when I screwed up (two of my specialties in one). I played and had fun.
In the quote from Glenn, you'll note that he describes the chairman as doing what almost no manager has the guts to do - tell him precisely what was wrong with him.
I think this gives way too much power to the chairman. Glenn did what almost none of us have the guts to do. He opened himself up completely. If he was already fired, then there was nothing worse the chairman could say to him.
Once we've lost the battle, the significance fades away, and we are left with absolute, pure presence. There was no more need for me to worry about looking silly on the court - I had already lost the match. There was no need for Glenn to avoid getting the feedback he might have dreaded getting - he was already fired.
Chuck Palahniuk wrote about the exact same thing in Fight Club - check it out in this clip:
What I notice is that as long as I continue to avoid experiences, be they sadness and pain, or (ironically) peace and well-being, I limit myself. Avoiding those experiences creates significance around my actions, and that limits my ability to simply be.
It is in dying that we find life.
Time to get meta: You'll notice that Bay and I are both asking questions at the end of each post. We have a favour to ask you, our audience: comment on them! Let us know what you're up to, and that you're out there. Help us create a community of like-minded people here at Evergrowth. We are committed to your greatness, but that's a lot harder when you're invisible to us. So, with that in mind:
Which battles are you avoiding because you fear dying in them? What would dying in that battle look like? What might be available to you if there was no significance around what happened?