The 3 P’s I Learned from my Dog: Purpose, Patience, Presence
This is Caesar, my partner in crime. He can be a handful, but you couldn’t ask for a better dog.
What does this adorable creature have to do with life as a marketer? Ironically, a lot. Were it not for Caesar’s 'guidance,' I’d still be trying to wrap my head around the importance of finding purpose in everything I do, learning to be patient with myself, and staying present.
Here’s what Ceasar taught me..
On May 16th, Forbes contributor Alex Edmans wrote that “A company’s purpose is its intrinsic reason for existing” and that the “purpose ‘glues’ the different stakeholders of an organization … towards a common mission.”
A few weeks earlier, Entrepreneur contributor Kelly Wenzel explained that she found a particular product much more compelling after speaking with the two “impassioned co-founders” about the purpose behind the product.
Purpose is just as important for individuals.
How Caesar taught me purpose
For me, the importance of having a clear purpose or “why” for every activity didn’t become clear until I watched Caesar going about his everyday activities.
Caesar’s favorite activity is playing with his tennis ball. The point of this tennis ball game, as far as I can tell, is to run after the ball, bring back, and do it again. Caesar can do this all day, every day, rain or shine, -30C or +30C.
When we are playing this game, nothing else exists for Caesar. He doesn’t care about treats, other dogs, humans, or the birds he likes to chase.
Bringing his ball back is his purpose, his WHY.
What’s the lesson here?
- Find a purpose in everything you do, even if, on the surface, that task feels mundane.
- Your purpose doesn’t have to be a big purpose
- Your purpose can be as simple as committing 10 minutes to recording some numbers because you need the numbers organized for analysis later and need a brain break now. That’s your purpose.
So, find a purpose in everything you do and own it!
Have you ever compared yourself to someone you like or admire, and found yourself lacking? Yeah, not a very fun or useful feeling.
As Lolly Daskal puts it in her Inc. article “Why You Need to Stop Comparing Yourself With Others,” “What messes with our confidence is the picture in our head of how we are supposed to be.”
Most of us know this on some level, but, that doesn’t stop us from comparing our beginnings with someone else’s middle and then telling ourselves that we suck.
I do this all the time, at least I did.
And I would get so frustrated when I would try over and over again to accomplish something and get nowhere. Nowhere! If anything, I felt like I was going backwards.
How Caesar taught me patience
And then Caesar came along and taught me that just because you don’t think or feel or even see proof of improvement that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Here’s what happened…
Remember when I told you that Caesar is an adorable, harmless little thing? I lied. He’s evil. Kind of. Ok not really, but ...
When I first got Caesar he was scared of everything. And I mean everything.
The thing is, dogs, like humans, resort to fight or flight when they are uncomfortable. Like most fearful dogs, Caesar usually chooses flight, unless, he thinks I’m in danger, then he fights.
Knowing that this behavior was dangerous for both Caesar and the public, I decided to nip it in the bud. My girlfriend (who is also a dog trainer) brought her pig over, and we started teaching Caesar not to ‘attack’ poor Moo. I spent an hour-and-a-half, correcting the bad behavior.
Nothing changed. Caesar would try to get the pig, and I’d have to stop him and engage him in a positive behavior.
At the end of the session there was NO IMPROVEMENT. Not even a hint of improvement. If anything, the behavior was worse.
Or so I thought.
The next day, when we went to try the exercise again, Caesar was fine. He was civilized to Moo.
What’s the lesson?
There’s a lot of value in reflecting on your actions, and changing direction when necessary, but you also have to trust yourself. Sure, sometimes things are frustrating and you want to give up. (This feeling is even more prominent when you know you’re ‘moving’ in the right direction, but you feel like you’re standing still.)
Trust yourself. Pretty soon you’ll be interacting with the pig no problem.
Being present is similar to meditating mindfully, which demands “an open and receptive, nonjudgmental awareness of your present-moment experience.”
When Caesar came into my life, I was struggling a bit with this whole being present thing. I was, however, doing really good at the whole “I’m an Imposter, I’m super anxious thing.” For the 70% of you who have been down this road, you know it’s not a great place to be.
In other words, I was as far from present as one can get. As you can imagine, this took my energy away from the things that are important to me, including my work. I was so afraid of screwing up, that I kept making mistakes.
How Caesar taught me to be present
“Dogs use constant energy to communicate[, and ] will follow a pack leader who projects [a] calm, assertive energy.” But, when a pack leader (the human owner) doesn’t exhibit this calm and assertive energy, the dog views this as a “warning of impending danger”.
Caesar had determined that I wasn’t up for the task of leading. I mean, who’d want a stressed out leader who always seemed to be responding to impending danger? So, he, like any sane dog, decided that it was his job to protect me, from whatever impending doom I was obviously sensing all around me.
Since Caesar didn’t know what was going on with me – dogs don’t get stressed for no reason – he assumed that anything unfamiliar was dangerous.
It got to the point where Caesar was protecting me from women getting out of their cars with yoga mats down the street., which only caused me more stress, which made him more anxious, which… well you get the point.
Nothing I did seemed to help. Caesar continued barking and growling at anyone that came too close.
It wasn’t until I started becoming aware of my emotions and the affect they were having on my world, and addressing those emotions, in other words being present, that Caesar’s protective behavior stopped.
So, what’s the takeaway?
- Practice being present. This doesn’t mean you have to commit to a formal meditation practice or take up yoga (though I highly recommend both), but do take the time to, every once in awhile take a deep breath, notice your thoughts, say hi to them, and then go back to what you’re doing.
- Take care of yourself. Are you making time to curl up on the couch with a good book, to meet friends for a night out, or to go on a group hike? Are you getting outside? Are you getting enough sleep?
- Give yourself a break. You’re not perfect and that’s ok. Beating yourself up about it isn’t going to help. If anything, it will make your energy look like a protective dog running down the street ready to ward off anyone that might hurt his human mommy. People like friendly dogs way more than reactive ones! Trust me, calm people have way more fun
- Notice your trigger points. Caesar acts like my personal trigger alert. If he’s antsy, I know to check my mood and energy. But, even if you don’t have a canine energy barometer, you can still learn to recognize the signs, and check your inner crazy before it runs rampant and threatens to take over your work and life.
Is there hope?
Well, these days Caesar lets strangers pet him, other dogs come close to me, and can come to the office with me without being threat to society. He even plays with kids when supervised.
So, I’d say that while I still occasionally feel the nasty breath of the imposter syndrome, my canine barometer tells me things are going just fine.
In fact, the last time I was downtown, a lady looked at me and gushed “I can’t believe how good your dog is. He just sits there and waits for you. He’s so calm and well behaved. We could never do that with my daughter’s dog!”
If we can do it, so can you!
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