There are two things worth knowing about me: I am a ruminator and I am a sucker for Oreos.
I thought of this earlier this week after hearing Paul’s story.
“I only got three hours sleep last night,” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about that damn email.”
“What were you thinking about as you lay there?” I asked.
“I kept composing my response. It was like I was replaying the whole scene over and over again, getting some sort of crazy pleasure out of torturing myself.”
My friend Jane does the same thing although she’ll take it to a whole new level. She’ll ruminate, replay the scene, re-write the script of what actually happened while she’s in the middle of a conversation with someone. It doesn’t show of course. The only thing that the other person sees is Jane drifting off (“running silent; running deep,” my witty friend Tom—an ex-submariner—calls it).
“Why do you leave at that moment?” I ask her.
“I don’t know—I think I’m trying to figure it out–somehow make what happened better or not at all.”
I know one CEO who drifted off, ran deep, in the midst of a board meeting, in the midst of intense questioning by a director. As the director pressed and pressed for answers, he says, he couldn’t stop thinking of the mistakes he’d made.
As Paul and I talked the other day, we struggled with the core questions: How do you break through the obsessive rumination, self-recrimination, re-writing of the script? How do stop yourself from disappearing from the present moment of your life? How do you fall asleep?
And then I thought of my relationship with Oreos.
Seven years ago I was nearly 50 lbs. heavier than I am today. Frustrated, angry, disgusted with myself, I hauled my (fat) ass into a nutritionist’s office. Erica gave me a lot of tools (including a whole new approach to food) but the most important gift she gave me was the power of “Do Overs.”
“Well the combination of sugar and salt is deadly for you. Some folks like sweets. Some like salts. You’re one of the lucky few,” she said with sweet sarcasm, “who craves both. An Oreo is the perfect drug for you.” And then she gave me the gift: “Tonight, it’s a Do Over. Start again.”
And suddenly I was 12 and back on West 7th Street and Avenue T, playing stick ball with Paulie, Ugo, and Pino. And we were arguing about whether Paulie’s shot was a hit or a foul and to stop the fighting, Ugo yells “Do over!” and just like that, all is forgiven, all is forgotten. It’s not an out. It’s not a foul. It’s not a hit. Do over.
Later—much later—I’m reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and I realize that coming back to the Beginner’s Mind is a Do Over…and if I allow myself, then I can have an infinite number of Do Overs. I can always return to what is, what is really happening, what is really present. Even more powerfully, if I do that, then I can let go of the email, let go of the missed quarter, let go of the Oreos.
Of course that’s hard. And harder still is letting it go while taking in the implicit lessons. Oreos with high salt and high sugar are a drug for me. The email pricked that bubble of self-confidence and revealed the deeply and long held fear of being found out as the less-than competent person that was projected.
Several years ago I taught an undergraduate class in business leadership at Queens College. From the beginning I had, what to the students seemed a revolutionary policy: You always got a chance to re-write your essay. If you didn’t like the grade you got the first time, you could incorporate my suggested changes (or not) and re-submit your essay at least once.
The lesson I tried to teach was that doling out Do Overs was a powerful incentive. It mitigated the fear of failing and, more often than not, brought out the best in the kids.
Many walked away with the notion that they, too, when they ran their own companies (and they all thought they would one day), would hand out Do Overs. Fewer of them, though, walked away with the deepest lesson of all: you’ve got the magic wand in your hand right now. Give yourself a Do Over. Let go of the shame, guilt, anger, fear from eating too many Oreos and try again today.