Walking the line

walk-the-line-ii-by-chris-jones

Yesterday was difficult.

I kept catching myself being closed, tight, petty.

I kept letting myself feel hassled by my kids instead of having constructive interactions with them.

Most of the friction was time-based. It was almost entirely around deadlines I had in my head (which were largely self-imposed and imaginary). And because my kids couldn’t see those deadlines, all they experienced was some madman hassling them to get their shoes on faster.

I’m trying to get better at these interactions. I’m trying to be more present and more aware.

But as I become more aware of my behaviour, of my outlook, of my emotions, I realise just how much I suck at it. And that surprises me (and not in a good way), because this is something I thought this was something I was pretty good at.

And what’s most frustrating? All this was foretold.

Ask anyone about what it’s like to develop greater awareness of yourself and they’ll say

“awareness won’t make you feel enlightened, it will make you realise just how far you have to go.”

Actually it’s worse than that. It’s hard not to feel like you’re going backwards.

It feels like there are two potential realities:

“Has the awareness made me worse?”

This is what it feels like.

OR

“Have the scales been knocked from my eyes?”

This would be more helpful, but how do you know when it’s one and not the other?

Once you’re aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect (or you’ve watched an episode of Britain’s Got Talent), you know that people’s perceptions of their own abilities are often radically divorced from reality.

If my awareness was actually making things better, it’s just that for me it FEELS worse – then that’s ok.

What’s not ok, is me thinking that I’m getting better, but the awareness is actually MAKING me worse.

With only a single data point for reference (my own experience) and all the bias of a personal, subjective perspective, it’s tough to tell.

How do you get to the truth of the situation?

Is it about asking other people? Is it about trusting in what “they” said?

It’s difficult to let go of the notion that you may just be bullshitting yourself, but I suspect that just being aware of that possibility goes some way towards keeping you honest.

We all have to walk a fine line between self delusion and ignorance – and half the battle may just be in knowing there is a line somewhere under our feet.

The northern line sprint

Recently, I’ve really started to dig a good sprint. I love any short burst of focussed work made possible almost entirely by the imposed deadline.

Write a piece about topic X to publish sometime soon? Sure. But write a piece about topic X, to publish by the time the Northern line gets to Highgate? Now that’s a sprint.

And this is weird because I’m a long distance runner. Every day to work and then a longer loop on the weekend, step, step, step, step. With no thought of the time, just the distance. Step, step, step, step. Just the relentless march of marathon training. And I love it. The steadiness, the endurance, even the monotony. Perhaps my love of these things I know others hate is why I identify so strongly as a distance runner.

But now here I am… sprinting… AND, really enjoying it. I guess I find this weird because I see myself as a distance runner more than a sprinter. For some reason they seem mutually exclusive. There’s no reason of course why you couldn’t be both, but we typically have a set, sense of ourselves – what we are and what we aren’t. It’s ludicrous, but not uncommon. I’m a generalist, not a specialist. I’m an extrovert, not an introvert. I’m a distance runner, not a sprinter.

Perhaps these labels help others to interact with us without having to think too much, but they represent a kind of closed thinking which limits our options in any given situation.

In our attempt to play the role as the extravert or the generalist, we miss a key moments and insights – both available to anyone with their eyes open to a wider range of perspectives. With our eyes open, we have more choices and more flex. More power.

We’re leopards who do change their spots. So much so in fact, that they shouldn’t be considered spots, more like active camouflage.

Today we sprint, tomorrow we go the distance, flexible enough to adapt to the situations around us. But if we don’t want others to pigeonhole us, then we’d better not first pigeonhole ourselves.

(written London Bridge –> Highgate)