Conscious Self-Disruption: Doing Really Hard Stuff on Purpose

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The couch is ready for me—the remote just lying there ready for TV action. I can go watch a game, surf some channels, and chill out. I also have a tough book to read and a paper to write and maybe, instead of surfing and zoning out, I will put my head into this taxing book, then sit at a computer and try to write something coherent and original.

And so our days go—do we do the easy thing and and turn off any pressure about doing or learning, or do we step one more time into the hard thing, the activity that demands some higher consciousness and sweat and some anxiety along with it? We need both rest in its many forms (some more mindless than others) and intentional, outcome-involved activity. “How much of each?” is one issue we all address daily and in the bigger rhythms and cycles of work and life.

The question of when we commit ourselves to doing hard stuff in our lives is for all ages, though, it is quite unavoidable when our set careers wind down. I am not writing here only for those 55 and older who are not planning to take their careers to another level with the kids out of the house. Thirty and 40-somethings with careers, let alone kids, are mainly on the blow-and-grow fast-track, but the question of choosing the hard stuff holds for all of us. When and why do I want to commit to the more difficult path?

I ask myself this as a new 64-year-old with material needs little to none; with no need to push a career along or gain status. Why should I take on a book or anything hard and challenging for that matter? Specifically, what was I thinking when I got into a degree program to sweat online required courses and other stuff that I don’t need? For you, it may have been a promotion or the board role at church. For my son and daughter-in-law, the question might be “why did we adopt the little boy from Bulgaria?” For my other son who has a good teaching job, the question might be “why am I back in a degree program?”

I can only speak for myself and my answer is simple: I disrupt myself on purpose so I can renew my world view and remake myself. When I rattle my own cage successfully, when I put myself and my habits and world view at risk one more time, I give myself a chance to find and express new parts of me.

Like psychologist Mihalyi Csziksentmihalyi discovered in his work on flow states, let’s choose a high-skill challenge and make ourselves anxious for the better. Let’s pick up the TV remote a little less often. Let’s smell the roses and let’s plow some untilled soil. It may or may not yield a flower or even one bud, but each experience helps us become newer, sprouting inner buds, in the trying.

Enjoy yourself, love yourself, but don’t feel bad if you get tired of yourself. Remember Jerry Seinfeld when he signed off from his super-hit TV show and was on the talk shows endlessly? The farewells went on too long and Jerry declared, “People are getting tired of me… I’m getting tired of me.” And so he—and we—moved onto new things.

I wish self-tiring on all the talk show hosts who make fun of their rival’s longevity without learning one thing from their opponent. I hope Mike Love of The Beach Boys gets to sing a new song—one that is hard and that he is not tired of singing. I hope our politicians tire of simple polarities and glib one-liners and allow themselves to be disrupted in their thinking while they conjure up new, social imagination. I hope our teachers get worse at new teaching methods so they can eventually get better. I hope health care professionals defend less and dialogue more and find new ways out of this mess of system we have.

Conscious self-disruption: we do the hard things because we might discover more of who we are and can be.

John P. Schuster is an executive coach, trainer, consultant, author, speaker, and founding partner of The Schuster Kane Alliance, a firm he started in 1981, and is also a special guest contributor to Rethinking Complexity. In 30 years, John has helped pioneer the movement toward empowered, business-smart work forces workig with clients that include EDS, Motorola, Sprint, and Harley-Davidson in addition to numerous small and mid-sized businesses nationwide. He has also taught in several executive MBA programs, and presently teaches executive coaching at Columbia University and at the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, where he serves as a senior consultant. John has authored four books on leadership and management, and is presently earning a masters degree in Jungian psychology at Saybrook. He can be reached at [email protected].

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was originally published on John’s blog, Evocateur, on October 16, 2012. It has been republished here on with his permission.

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