Outsize Influences in my life

Three people with an outsize influence on my sense of self-efficacy, skills, and personality.

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One of the things I wanted to tackle on my 30 before 30 list was acknowledging people who have had an outsize influence in my life.  I chose 3 people, but of course, there are many.

Dad:

My dad is the archetypal engineer.  Task oriented, outcome focused, brusque, somewhat exacting.  Nuggets like “Most of life is just showing up, ON TIME” would often march from his mouth, typically as I scurried into the car on a Sunday morning after he’d already started the engine.  As a kid, my weekends were filled with one project or another my dad wanted to do and needed me and my siblings to help with.  All the projects were carefully mapped out with seemingly interminable multi-page lists.  Building a back porch.  Stacking wood.  Digging a hole to put in a pool.  None of my other friend’s dads were so ambitious or orderly.  Weekdays he would patiently suffer through crying algebra tutoring sessions, insisting that I “show my work” so he could improve my problem solving and decision making. In large part, my ability (and desire) to do big things was fostered by this environment, I was becoming a person with a strong sense of self-efficacy.  Anything could be done, with the right amount of research, the correct process, and an ability to continue trying until it came out right.

Luckily, for me, it has turned out being an adult is basically the same as building a back porch.  Determine what you can do with the environment you’ve got, research, make lists, and then just keep nailing one board in after the other.

High School English teacher:

Ms. English Teacher wore sweater sets, khaki skirts, and purple Doc Martens.  She was in her mid-twenties, barely older than us, and corrected our papers in vibrant splashes of inimitable (though we tried) pink, green, and orange pen.  She was nerdy-cool before I realized that was truly possible.  I had her as a junior for English and chose her elective Creative Writing, where the phrase “skittered and bobbed” imprinted in my memory as an example of superlative prose.  Her dictum on writing papers, “The beginning is important and the end is important, but the end is more important than the beginning”  I repeated endlessly to struggling peers.  It’s to her credit that I can recognize appeals to pathos, logos, and ethos.  After I ended up reluctantly in college, it was to her influence that I chose English as my major. Freewriting, short stories, poetry.  I attempted all these things in her creative writing class, learned that I loved to edit, and honed a skill I didn’t realize would go on to become my strongest tool, writing.  Through her love of teaching and language, I received a gift and skill I can continue to use my entire life.

Toughest Coworker Ever (TCE):

TCE was my personality opposite, though we never compared Myers Briggs, alas, I’m sure she would have mirrored my own ENTJ. An older woman, nearly 60, she had been a military brat as a child, and experienced a difficult and traumatizing car accident as a young adult, which she referred to frequently.  Widely read and curious, her forays down informational back roads, and insistence on endlessly seeking input from our clients irked me.  She had a gentle interpersonal style and worked well in 1:1 situations.  The multitasking and frequent interruptions in our work environment wore her down, flustered her.  She wanted to process events at the end of the day, I wanted to finish paperwork.  She wanted to determine the best course of action, I wanted to get things done.  Our clashes were epic, not because of their volume, but because of the dwindling goodwill which eventually froze the room to an icy standstill.  This was the real world initiation I had to topics like academic psychological topics like motivation and personality.

If not for TCE, I would be at the mercy of all the flaws of the ENTJ personality.  Likely, I would still be a steamroller, barrelling down the hallways of whatever work or volunteer situation I ended up in, convinced my way was not only right, but the only way to get things done.  I would not have learned the value of seeking diverse opinions, nor would I have read the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  I would never want to return to the stress of the year and a half that we worked together, but then again, it would be impossible for me to return as the same person who caused those misunderstandings.


What about you?  Are there people who have had an outsize influence on you?  Taught you what it meant to be a responsible person?  Given you tools and skills you use to this day?  Caused you to reexamine how you saw the world and yourself?


The Power of 15 Minutes

“In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

 For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,                       
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;”
-from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  by TS Eliot.

I have often been put the question, by well meaning pastors, small group leaders, and teachers – Which do you spend the most time thinking about? The past, the present, the future?

My answer has always been the future.

I look forward to birthdays, summer, the next course to enroll in, books to be read, the completion of personal projects and trips to be taken.  I look forward to the time when breakfast will be done, and its time to drink coffee.  When my son and I stop reading books and start playing trucks.

So often, then, I bump up into these no-mans-land moments.  Maybe they are what some people call “the present.”  That point of transition where the crescendo of laughter at a water fight has died away, and the howling of the diaper change has yet to begin.  The uncanny silence when the last few murmurs of smallonetalkingtohimself has faded into naptime, and I can hear the tap of the keys on the computer, looking looking looking through the newsfeed for something that I can’t quite put my finger on.

I take notes on what I want to do between 1pm and 3:30 pm.

And that moment.  That little moment right there, when I put the pen down – or sometimes, the moment when I’m just staring at the ceiling, lying on our couch (which needs to be vacuumed of the little cheerios I can feel in my back).

That moment is the most important.

In that moment, the beginning of the most important 15 minutes happens. 

I find myself here, at this crossroads a handful of times a day, asking myself the same questions.

The Persistence of Memory. Salvador Dali. From http://www.moma.org.

Do I dive in to what I have been planning? – To read the next chapter of my textbook –  To start on the next task – the one I’ve been planning my day around, the grudging needling feeling that I should finish whatever to do list I started yesterday the day before or last month.

Do I succumb to the tiredness?  Tired of following plans!  Of being an adult! Of cleaning!  Of measuring my life in coffee spoons!

Do I escape – in the depressant of this season of life? – be it novels, or TV, or sleep or  (fill in your own latest “bad habit” or “guilty pleasure.”)

Or can I, as I’ve learned and I’m learning – in these pangs of growing up – to simply take fifteen minutes – to breathe – to sort through the bubbling pot of emotions, and move on.  To do what needs to be done, or to undo what was already done.

The power of 15 minutes – which path do I take?  The path of productivity?  The path of escape?

And are there… is there… any other choice?

A Balanced Diet of Friends

After reviewing my New Years Resolutions in July I realized that I was having a hard time with my goal to “Be a Good Friend.”   I was certain that if I just sat down and thought about this topic for an hour or so, I would be able to pinpoint the trouble and fix this goal.  These are some of my thoughts on friendship in adulthood.

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Good Friends I’ve Had:

I follow along with the blog MWF seeking BFF and the premise of the blog and the honest writing style really resonate with me.  A recent post of hers linked to an article from Self Magazine that reassures me that a shrinking friend circle is normal for you as you grow older.  It also highlights some of the benefits of having many friends to fit different roles in your life.

I’ve really enjoyed having athletic friends to run races with, creative friends to see life in a new way, reading friends to talk about books… and plenty of others.  But one thing that I’ve noticed over the last two years is that I’ve tried to cut back on how many “niche” friends I’ve had and just went with the “well rounded” type of friends.  It’s hard to hang out with people individually (especially with a family) and it makes more sense to multitask by hanging out with groups of people or hanging out with one or two friends that fit a lot of categories.  So I need to focus on being a good friend to these few people.

Two pieces of Good Advice on Friendship:

I also remembered two really good pieces of advice I was given about five years ago about friendship that can help you redefine your ideas of what friendship might mean.

1) You can’t always have meaningful conversations – A relationship can get pretty strained if you want to have soul baring vulnerable conversations about your innermost thoughts and feelings every time you get together.   You’ve got to balance out those deep conversations with stuff at least sometimes.

2) It’s hard to be friends if you’re always catching up – You need to have friends that you see or talk to a lot: that is, you aren’t always filling them in on the last three months of your life, or why exactly you chose to take the new job offer.  They’ve been along with you for the whole angsty period of your current job slowly souring on you, or your increasing dissatisfaction with the tasks, or your new passion for another field.  But you don’t need to be attached at the hip anymore as an adult, to still be friends with someone.

What my Nutritionist Taught me About Friendship

It’s important to have a balanced diet of friends.  Work friends, Church friends, Mom friends, Old College Friends…etc.  But just like any balanced diet there are actually a few powerhouse foods that we count on day in and day out.  Most days you’ll find me eating wheat bread, cheese, tomato (in some form), eggs, and coffee.  And, actually, most people who are successful with their diets don’t vary their foods up too much – that creates uncertainty and uncertainty makes people uncomfortable and stressed, which, well, leads to eating more.  So, even though I agree that I need a balanced diet of friends, I think it’s probably find for me to pull on the same few people over and over again and not create stress running after a dozen different friends.

My nutritionist also told me, If you’re okay with what you’re doing, it’s okay to keep doing it.  Just because the latest research might say that you should live carb free, only eat dessert on alternate Sundays and give up diet soda – you don’t have to.  If you’re living a moderately healthy lifestyle and you have only a “few” bad habits, you don’t have to change them now.  Maybe you will in the future.

As for how this relates to friendship –  as long as I continue to keep in contact with the friends I do have and enjoy, and make new ones occasionally – it’s okay if I don’t have women who I do “girls night out” with, and it’s okay if I don’t have people to go on vacation with to summer houses in the Poconoes.  Even if really really envy other people who do that.

So, what does friendship look like for me as an adult

So, it turned out I was using an old definition of friendship from my pre-baby, pre-marriage, pre-adulthood days.  This definition went something like – if I’m going to have friends I need to see them at least five days a week, talk on the phone,  and pour my heart out to them at least monthly.  (Hello College Roommate!) No wonder I was getting cognitive dissonance about how well I was doing on my goal.

oh wait… plus my husband is my friend too,
and I see him every day.

I think a Good Friend:
Knows what her friends need – coffee, a meal, an idea, a pat on the back, a hug, advice, space.
Organizes parties
Provides a listening ear
Keeps in contact through social media like blogs and facebook

And a good rule of thumb for me:
I need to see women friends at least 4 out of 7 days a week, or I’ll go crazy.

There’s still a lot more I want to discover about friendship, but I think this is a good place to start for now.

Metacognition – or The Very First Post

I first began this adult phase when I discovered, or perhaps appropriated, the verb “embrace” approximately midway through the year.  It applies to a whole host of things that I can try to chip away at, but for the most part can’t change.  For example, it is becoming cold out, last night was the first frost.  In this case, it would be wise to “embrace” winter.  It’s coming whether I am ready for it or not.  To this end, another wise move would be to buy a sweater, or many sweaters.

Another example of this accepting state of life is my realization and acceptance of my both pragmatic and reflective nature.  Try as I might, I find that life functions better when I have periods of solitude interspersed with wild parties and dancing.

Finally, what prompts this blog is the discovery of metacognition.  I suppose if you had asked me if I previously knew it, I would have replied yes, after you explained it to me in painstaking detail.  However, now that I understand the idea and use of it, I would like to try and incorporate it into my slowly changing life.  After all, Adults change too, they just do it a lot more imperceptibly than Children.

I began to discover it earlier this year, in March when I was prompted by a self-help book, to keep a journal on all of my eating and the reasons why I eat.  I lasted about three weeks of doing this before I decided that ignorance was bliss.  That exercise was the last link in a long chain of steps toward discovering metacognition however.

I am an adult now, and as such I believe I have an obligation to recognize that I have foibles.  That I do not have the only way of solving a problem firmly in hand, and that I can and do get on other people’s nerves.

That said, today I realized that I operate under the assumption that “Life is short, Eat dessert first.”  I do, and many times I eat that dessert early and often.  Literally, as in the case of brownies today at work, and figuratively, as spending twenty minutes earlier in the fluffy confection that is facebook rather than serious study.

The problem with this is twofold.  The body (and mind) doesn’t run very well on dessert all the time for one thing.  Fatigue is rampant and irritability surprisingly common.  The other is that when you eat dessert first, there is nothing to look forward to but the ruined taste of succulent spinach and crunchy walnuts.  The sugar and sweets have corrupted your taste buds for what is a better meal, leaving you the poorer and more dissatisfied.

Thus, today having realized this, I will attempt to put my dinner back before my dessert.