Monday, June 24, 2013

Pushing Your Limits

As an intern on the trading floor, I was always told that you needed to be aggressive but not annoying.  I found it quite perplexing because these characteristics seem like exactly the same thing to me.  When I think 'aggressive', I picture someone who is pushy and can't take no for an answer.  So, basically, someone I'd like to punch in the face.  Over time, however, this concept started to make more sense, though of course it is always much easier to recognize the right (or wrong) balance when observing others.  Nobody can be perfect all the time, everyone seems to waver back and forth, resisting a pull toward one of the extremes.  For me, if I had to choose one or the other, I'd definitely prefer to be placed in the not an obnoxious bitch category.  As a result, I was often criticized in my reviews for not being aggressive enough, for letting people say no and not pushing things as far as they possibly could go before giving up.

This dichotomy of character is not only relevant in sales or in business.  The ability to know when to push and when to let things be is a key for success in personal relationships as well.  In all those romantic movies they always look each other in the eye and say, "Oh darling, you make me a better person!"  Obviously if someone just let you be and didn't push you on a few things here and there, you might be a good person but you'd never get better (or at least not on said lover's account).  But on the other hand, you can't be with someone who doesn't love you as you are, and is always trying to change you.  Finding that balance has provided plenty of fodder for the box offices, that's for sure.

But what they don't show in the movies is that this concept is especially relevant when it comes to your relationship with yourself.  When should you push yourself to be better, faster, stronger (thanks Kanye), and when should you just respect your own limits?  Self discipline surely is a tool essential for success, but it can also be a self-imposed prison that prevents you from enjoying life as it comes.  Sometimes, if you force yourself to try something new or do something you don't typically do, you end up enjoying it on a level you never would have experienced had you not tried it.  On the other hand, sometimes you just end up uncomfortable and regretful.

Even though my trading floor persona may have erred on the passive side (or so they say), I have always aimed to challenge myself to take things to the next level.  Being content is never enough, I always aim to see more, learn more, and do more.  There was even a time when I actually thought I might not ever want to actually be happy, if it meant I would become complacent.  Of course that's extreme, and my more mature self has successfully convinced me that these two things are not mutually exclusive.  But when it comes to life, I am all for trying new things.

Clearly I have recently taken this to a bit of an extreme - new continent, new job, new company, new everything (though my hair is pretty much the same.)  With all this new-ness piling up, it can be difficult to find myself amongst the rubble.  There's something about this experience, especially working as a pseudo-entrepreneur, that has forced me to stare my limits in the face.  There's only so much you can take, there's only so much you can do, only so many e-mails you can write.  I feel disappointed in myself in that there was part of me that hoped my potential could be limitless, but lately I've been feeling all too human and all too aware of the concept of scarcity of resources.  I can see things falling through the cracks, leads I can't follow up on, relationships I am skimping on maintaining, ideas I don't have time to execute.

There is a point where you have acknowledge that you've tested and reached your limit, and now you need to scale back, take a break, or ask for help. There's always a shadow of doubt that I am giving up too easily and I should be pushing myself harder, but I ultimately opted for the latter.  Today, I made my first hire in Hong Kong.  I'll have a second person joining the team in a few short weeks, and the sky feels like it is opening up again.   My mind is swimming with reinvigorated possibilities.  Not just for the business itself, but also for building a team here.  I set the tone.  I create the culture.  The GA Hong Kong team can be whatever we choose to make it.

It's an exciting time, and things are starting to feel real.  I think I will always question the line of 'aggressive but not annoying', 'ambitious but not pushy', and 'optimistic but not stupid' -- but hopefully I'll find a way to navigate it that is kind to myself and others.  I hope I can be a determined go-getter that doesn't take shit from anyone, but also someone who is thoughtful, respectful, and realistic.   Not exactly an easy thing to aspire to, but we'll see how it goes.