Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Power of Persistence

One of my biggest turn offs is people who are too sure of themselves. This may seem hilariously misguided coming from someone who, at the age of 17 said, as her father parked the car on the ivy league campus we were slated to tour, "I'm not going here."

Please don't read that in a defiant voice or a petulant one because I wasn't. I have no idea if that's how I came across but it wasn't how it felt on the inside. I was just sure. It had nothing to do with whether I was going to get in or not it was just not a place where my body was going to be for the next 4 years. We toured the campus and it had facilities up the wazoo. Nothing changed my name.

"Why?" my father asked.

"Too many patterned turtlenecks and dickies," I replied in a fashion some of you may recognize. It seems superficial but what I was going for was that it looked too much like home. It felt like home. It acted like home. All the people were like home. I, on the other hand, did not feel like home. I was sinking at home. If I stayed home, any version of home, I was going to drown.

The only other time in my whole life that I've been that sure of something was when Pony Express brought Emily home. As I've surely told you countless times before, I looked at that beautiful, scared dog and a voice in my head said, "Her name is Emily." And so she was.

The rest of my life is characterized by hanging on too long. I touched on it when I wrote about Sleep No More. For me to give up in the middle of something I'm supposed to do is hard. I am always the person who stays too long and leaves when all the fun is sucked out of something.

I suspect there's a middle ground.

I'm not here today to find it, though!

I'm here to cheer for the persistent, the "if at first you don't succeed," the "walk the walk," and every other cliche about just showing up....more than once.

We have apprentices at the studio where I teach classes. We have 2 in particular who have been coming in, helping, and observing for a while now. They are all in. Last night they were there helping us set up and the founder of the studio came down and we'd all done our work so we started to chat about clients and protocols and ideas. And they got to hear all of it.

I don't mean to imply that we were showering them with pearls of wisdom or anything. We were, though, going through the process. We were sharing ideas and supporting each other and making sure we were all up to date. In dog training in particular that's not something you get to see very much. So often trainers work on their own and don't have a community that tha

I was reminded that a giant portion of my own learning has come that way, too.

How many of you out there are writers? Do you ever write a bunch of stuff and suddenly discover that the first giant chunk of it doesn't matter at all or has rendered your argument invalid? Yeah, me too. I even read once that you should just start writing and when you're done go ahead and delete the first paragraph (at least) because it was just warming you up to your subject and no one else needs it.

Regarding the deleted junk above, while I do heartily endorse The Power of Showing Up I also recognize that one of my deeply ingrained flaws is Sticking Around Too Long. That leads the list by a tiny margin over Deciding Not To Even Try.

Here's my process:
  • See an opportunity
  • Decide if it's worth it to leave my couch/house/neighborhood/brain
  • 90% of the time decide no
  • 8% of the time decide it's good for me so yes
  • 2% of the time decide I'd like to so yes
If I decide to say yes to an opportunity I'm all in because I don't believe that I will be able to decide about something during the first encounter. I don't trust myself.

There's a quip, "I'll try anything twice." that I used to use until I realized that was for people who were adventurous. They'd try something once and, even if it went poorly, they'd go again because anything can happen and they always expect anything to equal something good.

Not me. I expect that I will be so nervous, inept, and freaked out the first time that I will be unable to give something a chance or even to notice the experience much beyond how it makes me feel. ME ME ME ALL ABOUT ME! And that's usually not useful analysis.

A short list of things in which I've stayed too long:
  • That relationship
  • That friendship (x5)
  • That other relationship (oy)
  • That job
  • That casual dating situation
  • That class
  • That phone contract
  • That volunteer position
I have tried all my life to get more comfortable in those first moments. I want to be able to experience something and decide if it's worth trying again. I'd like to be among the folks for whom "should" is verboten because they know what they like and what they don't like (and why!) so they can make quick, informed decisions.

Results so far are....less successful than management had hoped.

The other day I finally checked Ta-Nehisi Coates book Between the World and Me out of the library and started reading it. I was struck one morning as I read on the train by the assignments that his mother would give him after he'd acted out in school. He gives examples of the questions she asked him to write about:
  • Why did I feel the need to talk at the same time as my teacher?
  • Why did I not believe that my teacher was entitled to respect?
  • How would I want someone to behave while I was talking?
  • What would I do the next time I felt the urge to talk to my friends during a lesson?
This is the mother of all home schooling tactics, right? She was using it in conjunction with a school-based education but there's no doubt that class was in session.

Coates goes on to talk about how these assignments didn't change his behavior but they taught him to think, to examine his own behavior, and to examine the world in which his behavior was occurring. I immediately thought, "I need these questions in my life!" I don't talk over my teachers so much, that is not usually my particular form of rebellion, but I do get quickly emotional and dismissive, I do shut down conversations when I feel insecure, I do use biting humor and not always when it's appropriate. I can be a mean old badger when you corner me.

The beauty of this idea is that I already overthink most interactions so it wouldn't be a change in my routine to go over an experience again. It would, however, be a change to go over it with care and direction, with an eye toward examining my part in it and both if I did my best and if the experience was worth repeating. So, I'm wondering if I can adapt these assignments to fit myself and my stumblings in new (or middle or old) experiences.

Which made me remember the 4 agreements. Let's see if those apply:
  • Be impeccable with your word. 
  • Don't take anything personally. 
  • Don't make assumptions. 
  • Always do your best.
They're nice but they  aren't questions, right? As a prompt in this kind of situation questions are more evocative. They could be turned into questions, I suppose.
  • Did I do my best? Is there anything I could have done better?
  • Did I make any assumptions? What were they and why did I make them?
  • Was I open and honest? (Did it need to be said? Did it need to be said by me? Did it need to be said by me now?)
  • How do I feel about the experience? How much of that feeling is about me and how much is about the experience itself or the other people involved? 
Not bad. That last set there could maybe use some work. The category of "don't take anything personally" is hard to pin down, in my experience.

I concede that every situation doesn't necessarily need this much depth. Maybe the challenging ones or the ones that leave one feeling unsettled get this much but most experiences will hold up fine under those first two questions, "Did I do my best? Was there anything I could have done better?"

Every week I teach between 4 & 6 classes. Sometimes I team teach with someone and sometimes I don't but even when I'm technically the solo lead teacher there are usually supervisors, apprentices, and observers with me. We often discuss approaches and clients and plans and reviews before and after class but not in any organized way. Lately we've been toying with the idea of being more organized about this kind of thing but none of us is sure we need it. That means, though, that there's room to ask these sorts of questions or answer them out loud. One of the great things about our group is that we're pretty open to someone trying something new. Perhaps after a class soon I'll ask my colleagues to hear if I think I did my best and if I think there's anything I could have done better and then open that option up to the floor.


The beauty of writing one post a month is that I can put this experiment into motion and report back all in the same post.

I like it! One of my colleagues adopted it, too! It's been helping me.

The other day we each taught a portion of an hour long lesson in a program that's new to us. It was an audition for someone who has never seen us teach before and we were teaching material that we know in general but that we're unfamiliar with in this specific context. Someone else wrote the curriculum and laid out the plan. Someone else is leading this group and we've never taught with her before. We're stepping in for little sections.

I was so nervous I wrote bullet points in sharpie on my arm just in case.

When we were done and helping the students gather their things and get on their way my colleague came up to me and started to answer the questions! I hadn't even begun to think about my answers, I was still just feeling the feelings of doing this new, scary thing that I'm pretty sure I want very much to do again. So we used the questions and parsed our experience and when it was time to write a thank you note it was easy to feel genuinely enthusiastic and hopeful.

I decided to try.

I showed up.

I hope I get to stick around too long.

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