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Summer: A Cycle of Growth

How you can take more action without getting burned.

The summer season is radiant! After much anticipation, the temperature begins to rise steadily. Slowly, we get more light and more heat. In some regions of North America it gets very dry. In others, dark clouds turn into massive storms. Sometimes it’s both. But the sun doesn’t stop. Every day the sun rises relentlessly, and it showers rays of life that appear to expand everything they touch. Everything grows vigorously. Leaves and needles are in a growth spurt. Nature can’t seem to get enough of summer! Summer makes us feel alive. We feel alive because of what happens during this season: we get stretched. And what can we learn from the brightest season? While spring was about opening up and reaching out, summer seems to be about growth. Growth with a twist. We’ll learn about how to stretch, and most importantly, how to take action without getting burned. Summer wisdom will inspire us to embrace personal growth—to enjoy it and to keep on stretching. With this summer insight I conclude the season’s quartet. Everything revolves. It ends where it begins.

During summer, what do you see? Trees are expanding. In the dense forest, they shoot straight up, ever reaching for the sunlight. Like trees, sometimes we feel that the results of our actions are elusive. Challenging tasks with no instructions are difficult to cope with. Creative work has a range of outcomes. Since there’s usually no right answer, taking action sometimes can make us feel stupid, rejected, or ashamed. When we broaden our skills, we often expose ourselves to these challenges. So the question is: how do we keep stretching after things get really hard? While we can agree that doing (practice/work) is important, and growing (emotionally/physically) is desirable, it’s not clear to me that we understand how to go about it sustainably. It’s probably because our culture promotes linear learning and specialization. But today, we need a broader scope and a more seasonal approach that encourages persistent growth.

Nike suggests to just do it, but I think their slogan is incomplete. What we really want is to just do it again and again! What happens between the again and again matters. How we go about trial and error (between attempts) directly affects our well-being. It determines whether or not we’ll have the drive to continue taking action or end up feeling burned out. Understanding this mindset is key to taking sustainable action. And summer is all about action. This seasonal approach to doing assumes that to act we must necessarily cycle, but keep moving forward. Interestingly, learning curves appear with a straight line that curves upward, but learning is never a straight line. Nor is it limited to one domain. Instead, the line should turn into continuous circles (like the recycling sign) that iterate as they cycle up-and-down-and-back-and-forth. So how do we stretch ourselves in a way that promotes action and well-being? Consider taking summer action with this doing triad: expand, stand, and let go:

Expand

When I was growing up, I associated being smart with effortless results. But taking action is all about effort. Struggle is often associated with not being bright—go figure. However, expanding is proud effort. And proud effort is vibrant because we get to enjoy the process. Taking action on something novel can’t really be planned. Like the sun, we must radiate action. To expand:

  • Believe in effort   
  • Be courageous  
  • Allow yourself to have fun!   

The key is to take the leap with an attitude that promotes effort, allows for setbacks, and is attentive to new opportunities that may surface while we iterate. To expand courageously, we must radiate respect to ourselves and to others while we take action. And yes, expanding is about having fun and enjoying the process. I like to take action when I can laugh, smile, have a good time and also find the significance in what I do. Expand = finding significance + excited approach. Ask yourself: How am I expanding today?

Stand

But doing (as in just do it) is also how we approach it. Taking action is not about being necessarily uncomfortable or forcefully productive. In fact, an ungrounded and linear approach to action (obsessed with results) provokes us to feel burned out and hesitant to take more action. Expansion does not happen in isolation. It’s empowered by our capacity to standGroundedness is what compels us to try again and again, to apply more and more effort, and thus, to expand. And when we expand, we become more capable and more grounded. What can you do to be more grounded?

  • Surround yourself with supportive people 
  • Engage in meaningful activities 
  • Broaden your options (by having freedom of choices)

It’s all about cycles: the more we act, the more capable we feel. And the more grounded we become, the more we can handle taking new risks. But to be able to stand firmly and be grounded, we must also take considerate action. Taking action is not impulsive action. Considerate action allows us to have options to choose from and be able to spot new opportunities to keep moving forward. Having options is an effective way to stand firmly.

Let go

Finally, when we act, we must also learn to let go. This is perhaps the most challenging in the doing triad. Why? Because we usually take risky action only after we feel that we’re in control of what might happen. Controlling what might happen is an illusion! Letting go is about releasing that control—and surrendering to the practice and the learning. While exercising letting go seems counterintuitive, it’s the control, not our sense of control, we want to let go of. Consider a few options:

  • Set yourself to gain something regardless of the outcome 
  • Find and be grateful where it’s difficult
  • Be mindful: practice (and learning) is what it is, not what we want it to be

Being able to let go happens when we have room for mistakes. No, it’s not only about coping effectively with setbacks but accepting them as part of what we do. Uncertainty is part of any summer-stretching process. And that’s okay because the process is uncertain, not us (we’re grounded). This doesn’t mean we act carelessly. We stand, we make sure we gain something from the experience, we consider potential risks, and open to find new opportunity in what cannot be predicted. How do we know if we are letting go? If we expand, stand, and feel grateful regardless of the outcome.

Our sense of self-worth should not be dependent on our performance. And we rarely see this distinction in practice. Wouldn’t you agree? Learning curves are not self-esteem curves. Let’s stop meshing those two together. Who we are is not good grades, titles, or jobs. What we do and how well we do it is not our identity. But who we help and how much we care shapes who we are. What truly matters is how we can positively impact other people’s lives.

When we push ourselves to just perform because we, the job, or the project demands it—sure, we may succeed once—but we’re likely to get burned out. This is when being really productive gets in the way of real progress. To do anything without getting burned, embrace cycles. Expand! Ground yourself with support and meaning! Release control, embrace effort, and cycle! Difficult doing is anything but linear, and it’s blurry where the process starts. But when we iterate, we feel empowered. We can ask for help, learn from setbacks, and have fun. Cycling is what matters, not the outcome. And that is what summer was all about: feeling stretched and wanting more.

Juan F. Diaz

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