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The newer isn’t always better

I’m prone to googling subjects I have little clue about or when I am, just in general, confused. During one of these instances, I stumbled upon a great piece of poetry by Rudyard Kipling from 1910 which instantly reminded me of a more classical piece by the King Stephen, the first king of Hungary, the ‘Admonitions to Emeric‘, from 1027.

Kipling’s ‘If—‘ is an accurate example of the British “stiff upper lip” way of living, something very common to the people of the Victorian era. A way that has recently been criticised by the Prince of Wales due to its effect on mental health. I share these views, but if we discount this as cultural influence, we find gems between the lines. Similarly, I would discount the catholic influence from Stephen’s Admonitions however significant it is from his perspective, being a first Catholic king to his country. Both of these pieces address a male offspring from a first person point of view, either at the beginning or the end. I urge you to disregard this gender bias as well, as I assume both authors would be more inclusive and less sexist in a modern cultural environment.

Although the Admonitions are guidelines drafted to establish the Catholic church and to secure its future, it continues with listing the virtues of the future leader, to a prince that never became king. These virtues are moderation, patience, humility, tolerance to foreigners, heeding good advice, and mercyWe can also identify the traits that are unwanted: idleness, indolence, neglect, immoderation.

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King Stephen’s signature on the establishing charter of Tihany Abbey – © Róbert Fodor, 2017

In a very different era, some of Kipling’s advice translated to a corporate environment are:

  • to keep your calm (If you can keep your head when all about you \ Are losing theirs and blaming it on you)
  • to trust yourself (If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you)
  • to hear others out (But make allowance for their doubting too)
  • to be patient (If you can wait and not be tired by waiting)
  • to tolerate being misinterpreted (If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken \ Twisted…)
  • to stand up after a lost fight  (Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, \ And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:)
  • to be resilient (verse 3, lines 5-8)
  • to stay humble as a leader (Or walk with Kings–nor lose the common touch)
  • to be there for others but, again, in moderation (If all men count with you, but none too much)

Yet with every piece of literature, there are things that can be highly arguable, depending on the reader: there are some lines that do not resonate with me. But I’m not here to write about those.

It must be noted that these two are randomly selected texts born 900 years apart. What is common in both, is that they talk about values when passing on advise to the next generation. This cross-generational knowledge sharing in these texts aren’t very explicit. They don’t share some explicit techniques you can find in a Forbes article, they focus on the bigger picture. Things that may serve you well in life, not only at work. Something like a universal recipe.

So here comes my point: you have an internet full of tips, tricks and techniques. Some good, some bad, cheap, and useful. There is contemporary literature on business and management, on self-help in bookstores. Yet sometimes the catharsis might just elude you. Sometimes, maybe what you need is a bit of old literature about values. You can disregard old-fashioned cultural influences that are not acceptable or relevant at this age. You can identify elements that are timeless: to listen to advice, to be patient, and moderate.

So in the future besides reading current bestsellers on self-help and management, I will just open up an old classic in the hope to find some gems, some timeless learnings.

Exposure

Throughout my childhood and well into my adulthood, I had this feeling of being worth less than others. One striking example of its manifestation is that I would get anxious and intimidated if I had been asked a question by a stranger, to an extent that my voice would crack, I’d start sweating or to stutter or I wouldn’t even able to complete a sentence.

On the other hand, I had this deep urge to be brilliant in something. The theme changes over the course of time, but there is a drive in me to outperform, or just become acknowledged through my efforts. I even went to extremes at work, and I became this highly annoying person, who just can’t be patient enough to let time do its duty (as well as for others to do theirs). The level of emotional investment was unhealthy, with difficulties to manage feelings at work: achieving at work used to be the very purpose of my existence. Obstacles felt like a derailment, a potential of stripping me of love and acceptance.

Whenever recognition comes along, there is a still some struggle (although it’s smaller and smaller every time) to receive and accept it, let alone to celebrate it. The more the recognition fails to fill the void, the greater the urge grows.

You are right to diagnose all this as inferiority complex and social anxiety.

For all of you out there with similar features, I can tell you, there are ways to overcome this, and there is no shame in asking for help.

Nowadays, I have milder symptoms of anxiety and panic, when speaking to a person I find attractive, say, a handsome barista. Interestingly enough, this doesn’t happen anymore when I meet someone for a date. Neither does it happen when speaking to a superior stakeholder of mine. It does still reappear (the voice cracking, the sweating and the anxiety) when presenting to an audience of a dozen people and above.

And my next challenge is to battle the symptoms of overcompensation.

I found that there is a state in which I feel most empowered and calm but excited. I learnt to understand that along the dimensions of challenge and skill, there’s this thing called ‘the flow‘. So when I drop out of the flow, it is because I overestimate the challenge of the task and I underestimate myself, I don’t trust myself and my skills to be able to tackle it.

I am better at letting others and time work their part at my job, and I resist the need to solve everything. I focus on doing my part, and influencing without interfering. When I succeed in this, it decreases my stress level significantly. Even now I find distancing my emotions very hard, after all, achieving is an existential question, yet, I try to shift my emotional focus and invest a part of it in personal projects, which is a great help.

I still can’t internalise the recognition I get, but I am better at receiving it.

My dad, while he was alive, used to tell me to be patient, and I think he meant that as a tool for me to tackle this. And it has started to make sense to me.

There is still a long way for me to go, but I am confident I will win this battle, and I trust my capability to adapt, whatever the challenge. All I need is time and patience.