May 27, 2014

The mental game

This tax season was harder than the last, and at first glance, it really shouldn't have been. I worked about the same number of hours, had a shorter commute, and I was a bit less clueless about what I was doing. Sure there were a few hiccups this season like one of our staff leaving in the middle of March, and my truck getting sidelined for the last couple of weeks, but overall it should have been a bit more manageable the second time around. In retrospect, there were a few factors that made the difference.

Like any other challenge, a lot of it is mental. I went into the season sort of excited to see how I would have improved after a year behind the desk. I had learned quite a bit from classes I had taken, but much of it was just figuring it out on the fly. Through repeated exposure, things made more sense, and files didn't seem as daunting.

I had made it through the crush of April 15th, then survived the more final deadlines of September and October. This time I would know better of what I was up against, and I figured it would be a bit easier to handle. However, there is a flip side to the benefit of experience. It is less scary because you have been there before, and there are fewer unknowns the second time around, but those same disappearing unknowns can make the challenge more daunting. You know how hard it will be, and fear is sort of replaced with dread.

It is similar to running marathons. That first one is a mass of breaking through barriers into worlds unknown. The strange realization of finding hours to dedicate to training that you didn't seem to have previously. Little by little, sometimes literally step by step, expanding what your body and spirit can do. Discovering strength you didn't know you had, pushing through fatigue, discouragement, or just the temptation to stay in bed this Saturday instead of heading out for three hours of running in the rain. Little victories along the way that culminate in the brilliant joy and relief of crossing the finish line.

The second time is much different.

Having been through it once before, you know how difficult the road is going to be. The long hours, the hard work, and all the things great and small you sacrifice to make it happen. Instead of breaking new ground each time you head out the door, the gains come in small increments, sometimes too minute to notice. You have made it to the finish line once before, but you know that doesn't mean finishing is a given this time. Most of the fear is gone, but so is that nervous energy that heightened every sense. That first time, no one could fault you for reaching beyond your grasp. If you don't finish the second time, it feels more like a failure.

In music, there is that added pressure on your second album. Since you managed to beat all the odds to break through the first time, it shouldn't be that difficult to do it again now that you have made a name for yourself. But once again, what was fresh and new in the first go 'round can be a tougher sell on second pass. The breakthroughs give way to a series of tweaks and adjustments, crucial but less dramatic. So many fail that the phrase "Sophomore Slump" was coined

Now that I have gone done the rabbit hole of metaphor, I suppose I stalled in a similar way after my first book came out (well, only book so far). There was that unknown excitement and fear that propelled me along the first time around. Failure was almost certain, so what was there to lose? Now that I have actually finished something, there is that demand (from me) to do better on the second one. Doubt and second-guessing are somehow ironically stronger after success. Heightened expectations, even if they are just your own, can do you in.

Oh the games we play.

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