All right. So, today what I wanted to talk about is pretty on-brand for 2020. You could say, I think universally, this year has kind of sucked. As much as I hate to say that-- and as much as I dislike being a pessimist, 2020 has just been a challenge for all of us. Even those of us who haven't directly known someone affected by COVID-19 have been directly affected by going into quarantine and being on lockdown.
And then on top of that, we have an election coming up soon (at the time of this recording) and elections are never fun. No matter what side you're on politically elections, just, they just suck. There's so stressful. Everybody's tense. Everybody's worked up and I personally really just can't wait until the election is done and passed us.
Then on top of that, this year has also been a landmark year in terms of civil unrest and we, as a society, have had to come face to face with the realities of racism in our society and the role that racism plays in shaping the experiences of so many members of our community. Especially for people like me who are not people of color and who are not directly negatively impacted by racism, it's been an opportunity to come face to face with the ways that we have benefited from racism, whether we wanted it or not. And the ways in which when we don't question our behaviors and our assumptions, and we go on living like we always have lived, we end up perpetuating racism.
This summer I wrote an article on Self-Himprovement about the things I grew up around that I never really questioned, but looking back, it's like, “Oh my God, how, how was that acceptable? How did I think that was normal?” You know, things like using racial slurs as jokes and as punchlines, as long as, you know, the few black kids in my class, growing up weren’t around.
Or, you know, even in one particular memory where kids came to the church costume contest in full blackface, and I think they actually won one of the categories and none of the adults in the area called them out on that or explained to us why that behavior wasn't okay. Even things like being a kid in elementary school and my friends and I being able to cut up and joke in class and just being told to quiet down, and then if one of the few black kids in the class did the same thing, they were sent to the principal's office.
It’'s stuff like that, that we've grown up with that. So many people in positions like mine have never really questioned. And 2020 has really brought a lot of that into focus and made it clear to many of us, how we have perpetuated these systems of harm and made it clear that it's not enough to be actively nonracist, but to be anti-racist and to work and be proactive about combating racism.
And so I will say that that awareness is something of a silver lining for 2020. I wish that people didn't have to go through the loss and pain that they have this year for us to have this cultural consciousness and conversation. But, you know, at least there is that little bit of a silver lining where these conversations are more commonplace.
And we are asking questions about how we've treated race in our own lives, but beyond that silver lining... with the pandemic, the election, the unrest, having to be on zoom constantly... Yeah, like, all of that together, it sucks.
So, I really wanted to start today talking about things sucking, and there are so many euphemisms that I could go into right now, but I'm going to refrain. Just, you know, think of a euphemism that makes you chuckle, insert it here.
I'm not going to make those jokes because there’s just a good probability that my mother will listen to this. I will have to explain why I made a sucking joke in my podcast and I want to avoid that. It's going to be a little bit hypocritical for me to say that I want to avoid that discomfort with what I'm about to get into, but a lesson you learn as you get older is to pick and choose your battles.
If you can avoid it– if it's not necessary– if there's not really going to be a negative outcome of not having that battle, let's just not have that battle. But yeah, today's, today's topic is embracing the suck. And I was thinking about this recently, last night actually, because it was a shoulders day at the gym.
I absolutely hate doing shoulders. Every time it's that part of the week where I need to do shoulder workouts, I dread going to the gym. And other days of the week, I don't dread going to the gym. The gym is my happy place, but when it's time to do shoulders, I just don't look forward to it. I think that my dread of shoulders really goes back to the fact that when I started working out in college, I didn't really know how to work out my shoulders.
And I was, you know, I was a 20-year-old boy. I wasn't making wise decisions. I was just trying to have pecs and biceps and really neglected to care for my shoulders. And ultimately I actually, I think it was my senior year... yeah, that sounds right... senior year, I ended up hurting my shoulder really badly.
I was doing an incline bench press. I have this distinct memory of, as I'm pushing up, I felt something different in my shoulder. It didn't hurt, but I thought, “Hmm, that didn't feel right.” And you know, sure enough, that night my arm just started aching and aching and aching, and it went on for days.
And I kept telling myself, like, if it's not better in a week, I'll go to the doctor. And the next week it would be just slightly better. And I would say, well, it's getting better if it's not better in a week, I'll go to the doctor. And that cycle just repeated. I was starting my first full-time job, writing my thesis, had a full course load, I was a TA– I felt like I was too busy to go to the doctor.
And really... not the wisest thing I've ever done.
I think I was probably out of the gym for about six months and spent a full nine months before I had a full range of motion restored in my arm. And still, I occasionally just pop and crack unexpectedly and it's, it's not great.
And so I've internalized that and developed a pretty strong sense of fear almost about working out my shoulders and strengthening them. And like I said, when it's time to go to the gym and do shoulders, I just don't want to. But, but, but, but every time I finish a shoulder workout, I'm really glad that I did.
I think that's a really common experience for people who work out where you may not always feel like going to exercise, but once you're done, you're glad that you did. For me, it's a little bit different with shoulders. Like I always have that feeling of like, “yeah, I feel great. So glad I got into my exercise today”, but with shoulders, it’s more.
It's a sense of accomplishment and it's a sense of pride to have gone to the gym, finished a full shoulder workout, and really made the most of it. And one of the things that really stands out to me as I am in the gym, and as I am doing my shoulder workouts, is that sometimes you just have to embrace the suck.
Sometimes things are rough. If 2020 has taught us anything at all, it is that things can be rough. And you know, when you embrace the suck, that's really where you have a lot of opportunities to grow, right? We often think of things that we perceive as sucking with a sense of fear or discomfort, or, you know, not necessarily dread, but something that we're pessimistic about or have a negative outlook on.
I think that when we have those emotions and those experiences, it's really important to remember that they're not bad emotions. We shouldn't not have those emotions. They're very human. They're very helpful. They teach us. They show us things that we need to know. When we experience fear and discomfort, it often means, “Okay. This thing, which I am associating this emotion with is something with which I'm not very familiar or something with which I lack confidence.”
You know, fear is really a powerful, primal emotion and experience. And, for so much of human history, fear has meant survival. If we go back, you know, back, back, back, back, back, back back to our ancestors, fear was the difference between being eaten by a saber tooth tiger or living to hunt another day.
If you're in like an archeologist or, you know, someone who is, like, an evolutionary biologist, If saber tooth tigers and humans didn’t, co-exist, you know, feel free to let me know, but also you can keep it to yourself. You get the example regardless. Confessedly my evolutionary biology and ancient history are a little shaky– not covered with my BA in English and not something I do much with as a search optimization person in tech.
So keep that to yourself. Regardless. The point is, as humans have evolved, fear has been a way for us to stay alive and protect ourselves and make sure that we are able to care for ourselves physically and for those around us physically. So when we feel fear, It's that same survival and protection instinct that humans have had for centuries.
It's perhaps in a different form nowadays, where most of us aren't having to outrun predators on a regular basis, but we're still wanting to survive and be in our peak physical state. And yet with fear and the way that we experience it as modern humans, oftentimes what it's showing us is not, “Oh, this activity is going to kill you,” thankfully.
Instead, it often shows as, you know, “this is a place where you have room to grow.” We experience the least fear when we're inside our comfort zone, when we're doing something that we know inside and out in my professional life, this is really common.
If I'm writing or working on an SEO issue, I'm like,” fuck it. I know what I'm doing.” I am good to go. And then if something comes up where it's like, “Hey Blake, run this Python script,” or even worse, “Hey, Blake, modify this Python script and then run it,” fear starts to set in because that's an area where I'm not super comfortable.
In fact, several weeks ago, I did have to run one of said Python scripts, and I deleted every single image in a customer's account. So for context, I work in the software industry. I work for a SaaS platform (SaaS is “software as a service”). I work for a SaaS company and one of the features that our customers have is known as the file manager.
I have a job I can run that automates that. It turns out the job I was running was not obeying the cutoff time. When I run the job, I put in the script, and then I put in two timestamps: a start time and an end time. And all that the script was looking at was the start time. Rather than deleting all files between A and B, it just deleted all files since a, which was when the account opened.
Needless to say, it was a mess. I was panicked, it was horrid... but it was also a learning opportunity. And that's what I'm getting at is that often when we are experiencing discomfort and fear about these things outside of our comfort zone, you know, when we embrace the suck, we learn.
Plain and simple, from that horrific moment of deleting every single file in a customer's portal and having to stay up until I think it was like two or three AM trying to revert that, I learned a lot. I learned how to double-check Python scripts and to be extra careful reading iterative loops, which if you're not familiar with software, a loop is essentially like a set of content based upon specific parameters that tell software what to do in specific contexts.
So I learned to double-check those, to make sure that my files were up to date– learned to, you know, identify problems before they happened. And I think that that really is true in most areas of our life. When we feel a sense of discomfort, lean into it. If you're afraid of doing something, and can look at it from a logical perspective and recognize like, okay, this isn't likely to cause me physical harm. This isn't likely to cause me lasting emotional trauma. This isn't likely to harm disenfranchise or traumatize others. This isn't likely to leverage any harm against any living creature… Great! If you're able to say all of that and you're still fearful or not looking forward to something, then it's a sign that you should go ahead and do it anyway.
Getting yourself psyched up to go into something that you really don't want to do is not easy. It is a skill that comes with time. It's kind of like convincing yourself to jump into a pool of cold water. Like, you know, you're going to be okay once you hit the water. But it's not going to be pleasant and might knock the wind out of your lungs.
You might start shivering and shuttering and flailing to get back up to the surface. You might even let out an embarrassing ooooooh or something. I'm sure that that sound is going to be fantastic. (Headphone users, my bad y'all, you know, it's, it's not great.) It's not a super fun experience going into it, but it's usually worth it.
It's usually worth it. I think about this a lot in the context of fulfillment because one of my absolute favorite, albeit grotesque, metaphors comes from Mark Manson, who wrote Everything is F**ked: A Story of Hope. I think that's the title. Let me double-check on that and make sure I've got that right.
I'm going to pull up my computer cause I'm classy.
Okay. Yes, it is called Everything is F**ked: A Book About Hope. So I got it slightly wrong, but yeah, it comes from Mark Manson. I originally came across it in Liz Gilbert's Big Magic.
It's this concept of learning to eat the shit sandwich. And as horrid of a metaphor as that is... maybe I shouldn't call it for a horrid; I don't want to yuck anyone's Yum's, but I also don't want to encourage eating actual shit… fetishes aside, eating the shit sandwich refers to the fact that no matter how much you enjoy something, it's going to suck from time to time. Like everything sucks some of the time.
It's really important to keep that in mind, because when you're thinking about what it is that fulfills you and what brings you a sense of satisfaction, you know, where are your values?
It's important to recognize that it's okay if you don't always like the things that you love and oftentimes the aspects of things that we end up disliking or those moments where we feel discomfort or feel like we're not happy with what we're doing, it's again– that's a learning opportunity and a chance for us to figure out not only how to get more comfortable in that area, but also how our other skills values and passions can influence that and change the experience for us.
So, you know, eating the shit sandwich, the example that I always come back to for me is writing. I am a writer. There's really nothing… well, I, I suppose going to the gym would be comparable, but for me, going to the gym and writing are the two things that I can consistently do to feel better, be happier, you know, really have a sense of direction and purpose when I'm engaged in writing.
And when I allow myself time to just sit down and play with some fantasy writing, that just... it brings me such joy. And it's one of the few activities where I can find myself slipping into that flow state. But that doesn't mean I always like writing. Sometimes I sit down at my computer and open up a document and my mind just turns to mush.
I have a manuscript I've been sitting on for probably two years now. And it's so close to being ready to go through and, you know, do edits and, and rework things. But the part that I’m at, I just, I feel like I've written myself into a corner and I'm just dragging. And so I put it off and, it sucks, but that doesn't change that the fact that I am a writer and that writing is a core part of my identity and my values.
And it also doesn't devalue the experience of writing for me.
(As a quick side note, if you notice, while I'm speaking that sometimes I over enunciate the word writing and really put the inflection on T and writing, it's because I am from central Kentucky, kids, and in central Kentucky, most accents are significantly thicker than mine. However, as much as I have trained myself to speak with a fairly neutral accent, I still have the very common Southern, or maybe it's more of just like a Kentucky-Tennessee thing, but I still have this tendency to not clearly enunciate my consonants. And so sometimes the word writing– W R I T I N G– and riding– R I D I N G– sound exactly the same for me.
Like when I talk about writing, you kind of have to use context to know writing or riding. Two different words sound exactly the same because I'm from Kentucky, and I sometimes try and catch myself and very clearly enunciate to the T in writing.
I wish that with a podcast, I could insert a video clip, man. I guess I could insert an audio clip, but regardless, if you're familiar with Drag Race, that clip of Alexis Michelle saying, “did you get the T on Kuntz?” That’s where I'm at. When I try and pronounce writing versus riding, sometimes I over enunciate it. My bad, y’all, just roll with it.)
Regardless. There are aspects of writing that have that shit sandwich moment, but I love it enough and I value it enough– It's a core part of my identity– that I'm willing to eat that shit sandwich. And, you know, if I, if the metaphor is not clear, it's like eating the shit sandwich basically means doing that thing that's unpleasant or that sucks, and just accepting that that's a part of it. You know, it's, it's on the plate, you got to clean your plate, getting that clean plate club. That means eating the shit sandwich.
And then you can get back to your barbecue chips. Yum. Yum. Yum, yum. Yum.
So as much as 2020 has felt like a shit sandwich buffet... Like someone's gone into Subway and ordered that six-foot long party sub, and when they said, ?”Oh, did you want like cold cuts or chicken or meatballs?” They said, “no shit in it.” And someone has shitted. Right in six feet of stale white-ass bread and called it 2020 and handed it over to us. And clearly, it's been unpleasant. Clearly, there have been a lot of painful moments, but the optimist in me can't help.
But think that the fact that 2020 has been such a shit sandwich means that there's probably something for us to learn, and something we can lean into to take something away from it and to challenge ourselves in a really unique way to grow.
You know, for example, I felt like I was going a bit stir crazy in the beginning of the pandemic. I'm largely a homebody. I work from home– my employer's in Boston and I'm in Kentucky– but not being able for a while to go to the gym or to go to coffee shops or to go to bars, you know, it got to me. And so I decided to lean into that and say, okay, “What can I do to be engaged and to have the stimulation that I'm craving and to not feel like I'm losing my mind?”
And I enrolled in a life coach trading program and completed that over the course of five or six weeks– can't remember which. I also wrote an entire book. It's actually now available and I’m going to plug my own merch for a second. It's available at shop dot self-improvement dot com. Or on Barnes and noble.com if you want a hardcover, but it's called Big Picture Living: A guide to Finding Fulfillment (even when everything sucks).
And that was a big, you know, inspiring factor in making this podcast about finding fulfillment. And then more recently I've also enrolled in a personal training certification program so that I can become a certified personal trainer. I don't particularly want to do personal training. But I really want that knowledge and that functional, comprehensive education in fitness and nutrition.
So for me, embracing the suck and trying to create a silver lining out of everything in 2020 has meant using the time that I have at home to go deeper in areas of interest and to give myself opportunities to learn. You know, learning is one of my core values and something that's really significant for me.
So it just made sense. And you know, I think whether or not your takeaway from 2020 is something that you can put an abundance of free time into, you know, whether or not it's some monumental accomplishment.
Look, I listed a pretty significant list of things that suck in 2020, and that gives all of us stress. And so please know that I don't think that anyone should have to just magically make themselves not stressed and super productive and, you know, do all of these things that look really great on paper. Like I don't, I don't expect anyone to do that. Take care of yourself, focus on being okay. ‘Cause sometimes that's the best we can do. But, regardless of what you do with your time throughout this year, the rest of this year, and you know, however long, the rather shitty public climate remains, there are still things you can take away.
And there are still challenges that you can embrace and that you can focus on and, and cultivate growth, even if it's recognizing your own resilience and how f*cking, you know, how f*cking proud you should be that you've made it through a pandemic and that you're still hanging on and that in spite of everything, you still have aspirations and goals that you want to work on. Like that's huge commend yourself for that and continue to lean into it. Focus on cultivating your sense of resilience or cultivating a sense of optimism, whatever it is.
Challenge yourself to embrace the suck and use that discomfort as an opportunity to find areas to grow. It's not going to be easy. Sometimes it's going to feel like you're eating a shit sandwich but remember... fear and discomfort aren't bad emotions. They're there as guideposts. Use them. You can either use them or let them fall to the wayside.
When you let them fall to the wayside or suppress them, or drown them out by scrolling endlessly through social media, you're losing an opportunity to learn and you're missing out on an opportunity to grow. And I really would encourage you to not let those pass you by. So I'm gonna go ahead and wrap things up and just say that I know 2020 has been rough.
But I'm here with you. The self-improvement community is here with you and you're, you're going to take away some positive things from it. It's not all bad. You will grow. You are getting closer to whatever your ultimate goals are and we're going to get there together. So embrace the suck, eat the shit sandwich and let's all keep our fingers crossed that 2021 is very different from 2020.
He/ Him/ His pronouns. Blake is a writer, gym addict, dog dad, researcher, and general life enthusiast. He's passionate about helping others reach their goals and live happier, more fulfilling lives.
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