September 12, 2023

Did you speed through this just you could beat me?


When something feels forced, that means it’s strained, rushed and unnatural.

Circumstances or emergency situations require us to reluctantly overcome resistance with the exertion of significant pressure.

There’s more of an obligation than a celebration.

Now, forcing shows up in numerous domains of life. Decisions can feel forced. Relationships can too. Projects, movies and ideas can feel forced.

Hell, almost anything can be forced if you really bear down and jam it in there.

Which isn’t to suggest that everything, or even anything should come easily. Resistance is a good thing. Gravity is healthy. They’re essential for a flourishing life. We should have pushback on our efforts. But there is a difference between wielding the discipline to move forward, and refusing to accept the reality of what you can’t change.

Usually, if something is healthy and true, there is likely to be an ebb and flow. A steady pace of harmony, versus a constant struggle. Things materialize according to their natural tempo and rhythm.

Recently I was scanning the reviews of a movie I quite enjoyed, and surprise surprise, the critics had tomatoes to throw. The overwhelming response was that it felt forced. One reviewer summarized it like this:

The story seems sloppy and underdeveloped. Good movies sometimes leave the viewers with questions, but less accomplished ones often do the same thing. It feels like the filmmakers threw up their hands in the face of approaching deadlines.

Do you ever fall victim to that yourself? Have you ever been in circumstances that required you to exert more pressure than normal, and the result came out robotic and rushed?

That’s normal. All human beings are vulnerable to influential outside forces like social gravity, situational pressure, herd mentality, power dynamics, cognitive biases and more. Fear and guilt and lust and impatience can overshadow the better angels of our nature.

Especially in times of desperation.

When I look back on my life, there have been countless moments when I took career opportunities, went on dates, wrote songs, launched products, started relationships, went on vacations, made major purchases, joined groups, even signed agreements to partner with organizations, and it felt forced.

The thing is, I totally knew it at the time. Even if only subconsciously. But I never said anything, because, well, I’m an imperfect human who can be weak, cheap and foolish. My emotions and desires got the best of me.

The good news is, once you’ve done things that feel forced a few hundred times, you start to learn how to nip it the bud sooner.

Let’s tease out several commonalties of such negotiations. We can reverse engineer faulty assumptions and then use them as a decision making filter to optimize fulfillment in the future. Below is a list of alignment questions. Each suggests two potential paths, one of which is obviously the forced one. Think about how they relate to your own experience.

  • Does this decision serve a real purpose, or is it merely a response to anxiety?
  • Are you overly focusing on the goal without enjoying the process?
  • Is there still a sense of finding yourself, or has your identity secured stable footing?
  • Are you embarking on quest to fix yourself, or is there a sense of radical acceptance?
  • Would this flow with your overall journey, or is it an unexpected detour off the main line?
  • Have you surrendered to reality on reality’s terms, or are you still refusing to accept what you know you can’t change?

What’s fascinating about the idea of things feeling forced is, once you’re more aware of your own tendencies, you start to notice it in others.

Here’s a flashback to a lunch meeting I had almost twenty years ago with a former colleague. I haven’t thought about this in years, but I’ll never forget this story.

Stacy was a fellow writer who, for some reason, always had a passive aggressive sense of competition with me. Every time we ran into each other, she acted frustrated, hostile and uneasy. She would make comments like, wow must be nice, or, oh good for you.

Resentment seethed from her nostrils like flames from a dragon. Bizarre.

Now, I’m not a psychologist, but either she had unresolved anger issues, or she was in love with me. Maybe both.

Anyway, the moment we sat down to the table one day, she eagerly asked how the production of my latest book was coming. I grumbled how it was delayed a month because of cover art issues and didn’t have a finished product to share yet. Then, without missing a beat, she whipped out copy of her new book, slammed it down on the table like she had a goddamn straight flush, and literally laugh in my face.

She even gloated, ha, beat you!

I was simply dumfounded.

Where did that come from? I’m sorry, are we competing with each other?

I didn’t know writing books was a race.

But here’s the interesting part of this story.

I picked up her book because I wanted to join in celebrating her accomplishment. And I say this from a place of love.

It was an utter piece of crap. The title made no sense. The cover was hideous. The layout looked like a seventh grader designed it. The product itself was so thin and light, it felt more like a church hymnal than a book.

All I could think to myself was, geez, this feels rushed.

I even asked her point blank.

Stacy, forgive me for being critical here, but this looks poorly produced. Did you speed through writing it just so you could beat me?

I honestly can’t remember what happened after that, because I was so overcome with sadness and confusion.

All I know is, we never had lunch together again. That conversation pretty much ended our relationship.

What are you forcing? Is there something strained, rushed and unnatural in your life right now?

If so, beware of the tendency to exert pressure from a sense of obligation rather than a celebration.

Remember, patience is a form of love.

If we’re patient with our life, it means we’ve reached acceptance.

How are fear and guilt making your experiences sloppy and underdeveloped?