Freedom to Create
This is about crafting our lives and the different roles we play to align with what we’re interested in and what’s important to us.
Societal expectations and social conditioning greatly affect not only what we want but also where we focus our energy.
Many people focus their energy on doing what they think they should do and doing it to perfection. Fulfilling all the different roles we play to a high standard can leave people feeling under pressure. Over time, it can lead to a disconnection of who you really are and what value you can uniquely add.
And to add to all of this, at certain life stages, we end up juggling a lot of different roles - and some of them may even conflict with each other.
At best it can feel like pressure. But it can also lead to feeling inadequate, unable to perform each role at the standard of excellence we feel we should be performing at.
In this section, I’ll invite you to look critically at some of the roles you play and to take steps towards crafting them to fit you and your specific situation. Because when you do this, you’ll not only enjoy the different key roles you play, you’ll feel free!
Being a perfectionist is a good thing ... right?
Having high standards of excellence has likely helped you to achieve many things in life. But having high standards of excellence and being a perfectionist are two different things. Perfectionism has a lot of costs, and perhaps counterintuitively, it lowers productivity Preoccupation with outcomes distracts from the actual work while a fixed mindset slows growth and skill development. Perfectionism also can make you less creative. Doing what you ‘should do’ by sticking to protocol and mitigating any risk or possibility of mistakes drastically limits possible action.
The freedom to create is about carving your own path. Feeling the freedom to create the conditions for a life you’d be excited to lead. Because having the capabilities to achieve what you want is worthy of the effort. But when we prioritize external achievement in order to compensate for internal insecurities, it won’t feel as worth it.
We’re going to reflect on the roles you play, the expectations that are embedded in those roles, and the logic you’ve been using to prioritize your time and energy so that you can shine brightly!
But first, I wonder if this metaphor will resonate with you. Writers such as Robin Sharma and Alan Cohen have referenced the powerful story to describe how covering up who we really are in order to protect ourselves hides our value. What is your work to chip away the clay that masks your inner gold?
The Golden Buddha
The Golden Buddha (Phra Phuttha Maha Suwana Patimakon) is a solid gold statue in Thailand, standing at 3 meters tall and weighing 5.5 tons and is believed to be created around the 13th or 14th century. Due to threats of Burmese invaders in the 1700s, it’s said that the statue was covered with 12-inches of stucco to hide its worth and protect it. Sadly, the monks that undertook this were lost in the invasion and the secret of the Golden Buddha stayed hidden for two centuries.
It wasn’t until 1957 when the statue was to be relocated from the monastery where it sat that it was discovered. It was much heavier than expected and when a crane went to lift it, the thick clay cracked. In an attempt to preserve it, the statue was lowered from the crane until more powerful equipment could be secured. Stories say that that evening it rained. The monks at the monastery went to cover the statue with tarps to keep it dry. Working at night, one of the monk's flashlights caused a glimmer from within the crack of the clay, revealing a reflection of something underneath. They carefully chipped away at the clay to find the reflection shone brighter. They continued to chisel the clay and found the Golden Buddha - made of solid gold!
Please read on to get more insight into your results – both for this spectrum and also for your environment. Gain an understanding of what it can feel like in each of the zones of survival, coasting and thriving. Then select from the reflective exercises, key questions and actions provided that resonate with you to help you to move forward. Be sure to read through to the end where you’ll find some tips - or things thriving people do - for inspiration and some additional resources for further reading. Please note that any external links to supplementary resources are for your learning purposes and are not affiliated links that benefit me personally.
If more individualized feedback would be helpful as you map out the most effective next steps, I invite you to book the Getting Started Coaching package which will vastly accelerate your growth.
SURVIVAL ZONE: PRESSURE
What it feels like:
Like many appliances, too much pressure built up over time can lead to an explosion! Usually, though, there will be signs before this happens that indicate that the pressure is harming the machine. We’re not much different.
Approaching any one role with a perfectionist mindset may work in the short term. However, to try and please key people and get the outcomes you hope for will, over time, cause you to disconnect from your inner compass.
Focusing on what we ‘should do’ within each role we play in turn focuses our energy on doing things right, which can add more pressure when things don’t go right, for whatever reason.
Pressure = Force / Area
At certain times of our lives when the “area” is large across the different roles we play - a busy career, parenting, managing ageing parents, etc each of the roles applies a constant force, and pressure adds.
Check out this video on the difference between the Inner Critic and your Inner Compass. What resonates? What questions does it awaken in you
Reflective Exercises / Questions to Consider:
Try this powerful exercise
1. Make a list.
Jot down all the key roles that you play; wife, mom, daughter, project manager, friend, community leader, etc. Then build on the list by writing down the description of that role with the key objectives and all the responsibilities.
2. Analyze the completed list:
Circle the responsibilities that you love doing
Star the responsibilities that you’re really good at doing
Highlight the responsibilities that you highly dislike doing
Place an ‘x’ next to the responsibilities that you are particularly not good at doing.
What does your list now look like? Notice how much (or not) of your list is marked up and any observations that come up.
3. Verify your 'job descriptions'!
At work when you have a healthy relationship with your boss, you’ll check in on and confirm your responsibilities and the top priorities regularly.
For this exercise, you can do the same thing. For example, in your role as spouse if you're in a long-term relationship - sit with your partner and show them your role as you've recorded it, complete with the description, objective and the full list of responsibilities? Are they aligned with the list? What’s there that is not needed? What’s missing? Have a discussion about specific responsibilities that you love doing and are good at, and which ones you struggle with and what to do about it.
How to move forward:
Instead of trying to do things perfectly, focus on getting better. One way to do this is to compare yourself to yourself.
It will snap you out of a perfectionist mindset and into a growth mindset. Read more about it and the work of Carol Dweck at Mindset.
While building strategies to optimize yourself is important, it’s also critical to reflect on whether you have the conditions you need through the people around you and the environment you operate in.
Consider how your environment shapes how easy or difficult it is for you to live up to certain societal expectations or to challenge convention. In the different spheres you operate in, ask yourself some courageous questions:
Do people around me craft their roles to suit their specific situations?
Is perfectionism (directly or indirectly) valued?
If I were to challenge how something is done, in an attempt to optimize outcomes, would I be pushed back?
What it feels like:
You may feel like you’re on track to achieving what’s expected of you. There may be less conflict in the different roles you play at this stage of your life (living up to the expectations of your boss, mom, friends, etc). You may consider how much of the time you’re in a mindset of doing what you should do and doing it right as a way to ensure you don’t feel so under pressure and consider how that’s working out for you.
Reflective Exercises / Questions to Consider:
Catch yourself in ‘should’ thinking and invite in ‘could’ thinking.
Identify areas where you feel bogged down with “should’s”. Frequently, our ‘shoulds’ are embedded in our unconscious social conditioning.
Being a good employee means I should be available for evening calls.
If I love working with a different culture and it requires me to work in different time zones, I could customize my life around my work schedule.
Being a good mom means I should be there for bedtime.
If I work during the evenings, I could enjoy quality time with my child/ren during these other times in my schedule.
How to move forward:
1. Spend time with people different from you.
They could be from different cultures, of different ages, from different a career and education background. This will help you first to notice some of the assumptions you may have made about what life is “supposed” to look like. Also, it will allow you to create some space to think about how life could be if you were to thoughtfully craft it.
Step out of your comfort zone and consider working or studying in a different country. This will help you to challenge your own assumptions.
3. Create communication feedback loops.
Talk to the people you spend the most time with. Create feedback loops with each other to check in on how you’re doing.
What’s working well in the roles you play?
What could be improved or changed?
THRIVING ZONE: FREEDOM TO CREATE
What it feels like:
There is a deep sense of freedom in living your fullest life. Living in your own way and on your own terms. You feel full of freedom - like anything is possible.
Even when there are lots of people counting on you with lots of things to do, it can feel like sitting with a pack of crayons and a blank piece of paper. Committing to bringing out your best in your own way doesn’t mean losing focus on what’s important and where you want to go. In fact, it’s staying more present with it and being able to cut through convention in order to find your own path.
Things thriving people do:
1. They are authentic.
They are uniquely themselves and are unapologetic about it. That said, they don’t use their authenticity as a barrier to learning and growing. They take radical responsibility for their actions as mentioned in the Unconventional Truth Manifesto.
2. They challenge convention.
If certain aspects of the culture they are part of aren’t working for them, they question it and work to find their own way to move through it towards a place where they feel full of freedom.
3. They are willing to fail.
They see mistakes and failures as feedback and learning. They see failure as one more thing to learn. They focus on growth.
When they make a preventable mistake, they take responsibility for it and learn from it. Recognizing that they don’t always need to do things in the perfect way, they understand that not everything will go perfectly. They take failure and mistakes as feedback and use it to craft better next steps.
4. They spend time “off the grid”.
They take breaks from their regular routine to be creative. That means uninterrupted time, usually in solitude, with the sole purpose of checking in, reflecting and creating without bounds.
5. They allow others to be authentic.
They create space and inspire people to grow, be creative and question what is working for them.
Further reading you may consider for inspiration:
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success: Dweck, Carol S.
The Artist's Way: 30th Anniversary Edition: Cameron, Julia: 9780143129257: Amazon.com: Books
Walden: Thoreau, Henry David