The Triple J and Your Better Angels
When I was younger, I was an excellent student. But when it came to big school projects, I would get overwhelmed if I didn't know exactly what I was going to do and how I was going to do it before I began. One night, my father sat down next to me while I was in a tailspin and said, "Just think about the Zephyr." I wiped my eyes and looked at him. "The what?" "The Zephyr. It's a train that goes two thousand miles, all the way from Chicago to San Francisco. Do you think the engineer waits until all the lights between Chicago and California are green before he leaves? Of course not. All he needs is the next green light."
By picking up this book, you've made the first move toward living large. At this early stage, however, your initial enthusiasm may be met with feelings of trepidation: The challenges ahead appear daunting, possibly insurmountable, and certainly overwhelming.
When those feelings rise up in your throat, I encourage you to remember my father's wise advice: You don't need to have it all figured out just yet. You only need to make it to the next green light. The goal of this book is to help you break down this dramatic, life-changing journey into smaller, more manageable parts so that your path feels organic and fluid. Not overwhelming you is part of the process.
With that in mind, what better place to start the journey than exploring those initial feelings in depth? This first chapter will take a closer look into the thought processes and emotions that so often hold us back, as well as those that propel us forward. I like to call these your Triple J and your Better Angels. Let's dive in!
The Triple J
We all have flaws and fears we wish we could do away with. Often, the flaws are much tinier than we make them out to be — one wormhole in an otherwise perfect apple. Yet we feel disproportionately ashamed of them because we are afraid that these are the traits, rather than our positive attributes, that truly define us. We believe that as long as we possess these negative characteristics — impatience, selfishness, stubbornness, the list goes on — we will never be able to live the life that is waiting for us.
Other times we fear we are not enough, or too much, but never just right. We may feel too young or too old. We feel we have too much experience or not enough. We feel that it's too early or too late to make a move, and that the move we are contemplating is too big or not big enough.
These feelings and beliefs are fed by a self-defeating voice inside your head I like to call the Triple J: your Jury, your Judge, and your Jailer. It hears evidence against you and your dreams, judges those dreams, and then jails you, limiting your ability to act. Disguised as "reason," the Triple J gives you rules to live by — rules that prevent you from knowing how powerful you really are and keep you from looking further afield.
This voice is often rooted in a skepticism or disapproval that originated from a parent, teacher, sibling, friend, or coach. Even if the person is long gone, you've incorporated their voice into your thoughts, and it pops up again and again. Other times the voice develops in response to bad times and heavy disappointments. It tells you to be cautious because you've made mistakes before.
Recognizable by its negative tone, your Triple J may say things like:
"You're dreaming if you think you can do that." "It's supposed to be hard, that's why they call it 'work.'" "This job I have is the only thing I really know how to do, and it's too late to change that now!" "I don't have a real talent in the area I want to work, and it's too late to develop it." "Changing at this stage would be too risky." This voice tries to convince you that you have to wait until:
You get your next promotion.
You've saved X amount of dollars.
You've gotten married (or divorced).
You've sold your business.
You've lost twenty pounds.
You're clear about exactly what you want to do.
You've paid off your mortgage.
Your last child has left home.
This is what the Triple J sounds like when it's fanning your fears. Ultimately, your Triple J tries to convince you there's too much at stake to make big changes. In fact, there is too much at stake not to. Your passion is at stake, your creativity, and maybe most importantly, your health — both physical and mental. The truth is, you are ready — right now — to do what you love. And unlike what this voice would tell you, you don't have to figure it out all at once.
Sometimes the Triple J focuses on our imperfections — and we all have them. Our fear is that these imperfections describe all of who we are. Because we feel so much judgment, we tend to run from any identification with these negative characteristics instead of acknowledging, "I can be stubborn sometimes, but that doesn't make me a stubborn person."
Once you recognize your Triple J for what it is, you might be tempted to shut it up when it starts to point out that you are being impatient or selfish. Instead, try taking a more curious approach. Ask yourself: Is there an opportunity here to be more patient? To be more giving? Accepting that opportunity does not mean you are selfish or impatient, that's just the concern we unconsciously hold. When we make the voice of the Triple J conscious and explicit, we can't be ruled and limited by something that is only partially true, no longer true, or was never true. In Chapter 9 you'll learn more about how this dynamic gets set up in your life and, more importantly, how to deal with it!
The negativity of our Triple J scares us into staying in one place, but once we take a closer look, we see that this "monster in the room" is really just a jacket thrown over the chair. Remember: It's your birthright to love what you do and to use the skills, experience, expertise, and insights you've worked so hard to acquire to take the next step. Don't let your Triple J hold you back.
Your Better Angels
The term "Better Angels" comes from Lincoln's first inaugural address, when factions of our country were preparing for war against one another. He called on the "better angels of our nature" to, in short, form a union. Free from the self-doubt and misery of the Triple J, the voice of our Better Angels enlivens and praises us, reminds us what is good and right about who we are, and unifies the warring parts of ourselves so that we feel solid and sure in our journey toward our goal. "Great idea!" "You earned that." "You can experiment with that." "The worst that can happen is not really bad." It's true you should get curious about the Triple J and what hidden dogma it may be hiding tucked into the black cloaks of its negativity. But you should listen with unhesitating belief to your Better Angels. They understand your goodness and are here to give you strength.
We tend to listen to our Triple J and not our Better Angels for the same reason abused spouses sometimes cling to the very ones who make their lives miserable. It's easier to stick with the devil we know. And the Triple J tends to be louder.
Finding Your Guide
Because of the difficulty of listening to our Better Angels over our Triple J, it is helpful to have a trusted guide who can affirm that positive voice inside and who can accompany, encourage, and challenge you ... someone who will warn you about what's ahead and give you the tools to move through those obstacles right when you feel like giving up. I will be your guide as you work through this book, but you may also want your own personal guide who can act as a touchstone when you run into resistance or your Triple J.
Guides are committed and loyal. They are safe and a little further ahead of you on the road you want to take. They are like Sam, the ski coach I met during a vacation in Whistler, where the 2010 Winter Olympics were held. I was a non-skier until my fifties. Being from the south, I'd rarely been able to ski more than three days a season, so I always took lessons whenever I went. Sporting a wild-colored jacket, pants, and goggles, Sam was easy to follow anywhere on the mountain. He was my guide, and he was totally committed to my success. He challenged me when my nerves failed. He knew I could do it. He showed me better ways to do things, and how old (and bad) habits were slowing me down. When I felt scared or discouraged, he reassured me so I could regain composure. In short, he was the one who supported me as I skied down slopes I never dreamed I could ski. By the end of the day, I was even able to ski part of the Dave Murray Downhill, the black diamond run used for the men's Olympic Downhill!
I later noticed that even when Sam wasn't physically with me, I could still hear his voice in my head. Whenever I felt disoriented or hesitant about a new slope, his beneficent guiding voice encouraged me to move ahead with confidence. I encourage you to find your Sam — your unwavering guide — to guide you toward the voice of your Better Angels. Trust that he or she is your ally, and call on them whenever you feel disoriented or overwhelmed.
Arriving, and Arriving Again
When you're having trouble hearing the voice of your Better Angels over that of your Triple J, you may find yourself consulting your guide over and over. Does that mean you are failing or "not doing it right"? Absolutely not.
I've taken half a dozen workshops with the well-known yoga instructor Rodney Yee. As he helps his students adjust their postures in practice (and yes, there's a reason it's called yoga practice), Rodney often reminds them that an individual never finishes or completes a yoga pose; rather, they arrive in the pose again and again. So it is with this work. As we begin the journey toward living large, our job is to become fully conscious of that which stands in our way — our Triple J — and turn instead toward our Better Angels, using our guide for help. As we practice this, we will arrive, and then arrive, and then arrive again. We are always making subtle adjustments.
I have worked with hundreds of people who wanted to grow a business, start new careers, resolve conflicts, gain mastery, feel more effective, and discover fresh perspectives. Young, old, and in the middle, executives, social workers, tech geeks, and artists all have come through enlivened and more insightful. I haven't lost anyone yet.
Flying in Your Personal Time Machine: The Retrospective
A big part of taking the next step is first going back to find out where you have been. Great chess players, poker players, and bridge players all study and learn from past games. Great generals study military history, and great athletes review the tapes. In this chapter we will take a journey — a Retrospective — back into your life in order to give you the power to move you forward to what's next.
You may be saying: "I already know where I've been ... I want to figure out where I'm going. Why would I look back instead of forward?" Think of the Retrospective as your present self interviewing your past self with great curiosity and compassion. When you allow yourself the opportunity to look back as an objective observer on past situations, activities, and relationships, it's easier to recognize threads that have served you well or have entangled you (we don't want them to entangle you again) and identify the themes of your life so that you can weave new futures either using or letting go of the patterns that have held you back.
What do I mean by threads, themes, and patterns? If you were the kid who loved getting everyone out to play "kick the can" in the summers or could easily convince friends to join you in getting into mischief, you will likely see the thread of leadership appear at different points in your Retrospective. Similarly, if school was a struggle but you ended up getting multiple degrees, you will see the thread of determination. With the benefit of distance, themes will begin to emerge out of these various threads. You may discover that:
You can take ideas and make them happen.
You have a strong internal sense of direction.
You are willing to experiment.
You are both patient and impatient.
The Retrospective is an incredibly important foundational tool for helping you recognize and bust out of any old patterns you no longer want to keep, see how resourceful you are, and understand through your own work how large your life can be. Your Retrospective is part of your launch pad that will help you rocket out of the world you are in and into the next.
You will use the Retrospective and its accompanying Characteristics exploration again and again throughout the Live Large process. In Chapter 5, you will use them when you are discovering your values and what's important to you. In Chapters 6 and 7, you will find them useful when you are discovering vows you may have made to yourself that are limiting you, or when you are stuck in paradigms that hold you back.
Exploration: Building a Retrospective
In the grid on pg.24, divide your life into three- to five-year segments in the narrow band labeled "ages." Use your age or the year, it doesn't matter which. You'll start with your junior high or high school years, then college years, then move continuing on from there, 22–25, 26–29, and so on. What's fun about this Retrospective is that it encourages you to look forward by imagining the kinds of things you will enjoy doing in the future.
Positives: List the things you loved under each age range. Maybe you were into pickup basketball or reading. What was your favorite subject in school? Were you a social butterfly, always eager to make new friends? What made you smile?
Negatives: Next, list the things you found discouraging or frustrating under each age range. Perhaps you felt left out or had to move frequently. Did you dread going to math class or have a troubling parent or sibling relationship at home? Did you hate your first nine-to-five job?
Beliefs about Myself: Finally, list what you believed about yourself under each age range. What were the qualities or characteristics you felt defined you as a person at the time? Were you great at sports, horrible at math, a great people person, an introvert, not cut out for city life, a homebody, an artist, a failed creative?
Recurring Themes: Look carefully at the three boxes you filled in. Are there words that show up in more than one place? Are there recurring situations you experienced as positive or negative? This could include meeting new people, organizing projects, persuading parents, dealing with bosses, or learning new information. Circle these and then note them in this box. It doesn't matter whether they are negative or positive. These are clues to help you figure out where to go next.
Notes to Self: After you've completed these boxes, are there things you realize or insights you have? Perhaps you see now that you were better at something than you thought you were, or that a lack of preparation has contributed to some failures. Maybe you have gotten back more than what you put in to people or organizations. Write these reflections down here.
Your completed Retrospective is full of characteristics that give you insights into who you are — or, perhaps, who you think you are. Characteristics are traits, qualities, ways of being, words, or phrases you use to describe yourself or that others may use to describe you: curious, cautious, adventurous, timid, outgoing. Studies suggest that some characteristics are inborn while others are adaptive responses to circumstances. For instance, if you are the independent type, the trait of independence might have shown up naturally as early as your school years. Alternately, you might have learned to be independent because your mom and dad weren't around much.