The drive to achieve in us humans is great. And it’s not such a bad trait. Collectively, we’ve developed and discovered a great many things that are wondrous and breathe taking, and some that are bland and scary. But we continue achieving anyway, regardless of what the outcome is. We can expand our views and ideas to accomplish deeds greater than the scope of our own lives, or we can narrow our view and focus on changes in the self and shades between as well. Whichever mode of how we choose to accomplish something isn’t inherently more virtuous than any other.
They say it is good to be selfless and act on behalf of those who can’t for themselves, but it is also said that to effect real change, you must first change yourself. However, there may be some pitfalls along the way. If we’re not careful they could cost us our desire to achieve something, either for the greater good or for our own greater good.
One trap we often fall into is wanting to obtain our desired outcome with our own clear map in mind and black and white thinking to navigate the way there. This often leads to dead ends and with a lack of willingness to vary our course to get to our final destination, when we eventually need to vary our plan because our map hasn’t accounted for unknown circumstances, we find ourselves lost and without direction. One of the ways we get caught in black and white thinking is to confuse speed with efficiency. Believing that that alone will lead to success.
This sort of speed equals efficiency and we need to be as efficient as possible, doesn’t usually give us the expected results we think it will. That being said, there is something about working with a quick, controlled focus. Like when you watch a master at his or her craft, moving with agility and dexterity, to create something unbelievably satisfying. But this type of speed and accuracy isn’t necessarily correlated with efficiency. More so it is due to the ten thousand hours the master of their craft committed to their task. And yes they move fast but they are also agile enough to change course if need be. And they are more than likely experts at that as well. Staying fluid.
So if it’s the fluidity of the work that is so impressive to watch in action, while speed is a product of repetition and practice, where does that leave efficiency? From my understanding efficiency is achieved after trying a varying degree of deviations from the main method and being able to adjust for the current circumstance in real time. How do we get there? By trying a bunch of different techniques and seeing what works and what doesn’t. A.k.a, lots of mistakes. The Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show comes to mind, singing along while blindly bandying things about until something is created.
I’m joking, but doesn’t it feel that way sometimes? Like we’re just throwing it together and praying that it comes together? It does for me for sure, until I get a few successful attempts under my belt and then the confidence starts to build. And this is true for most endeavors. From trying a new recipe, to taking a new yoga class, taking on new responsibilities at work, or life responsibilities… there is always something calling for our attention. Something new to try.
And in turn, something for us to make mistakes at. And this isn’t news to anybody for sure. We know by now that to “make an omelette, you must break a few eggs” but sometimes the line gets hazy as to where we feel the acceptable amount of the aforementioned eggs to break is drawn. Or if our plan says to break them a certain way and it doesn’t pan (sorry) out the way we expect it to, or it works but could be tweaked a bit for better results, if we can’t deviate from our plans then we miss an opportunity to stay fluid in our search for mastery or efficiency in our tasks.
One of the ways we learn new paths and stay fluid and where we’ll find another pitfall is working with others, collaborating. Often time we view mistakes as embarrassing and where speed is priority, wasting time can be something of a sensitive subject. Especially for those that feel as though they have to be good at everything they do on their terms to be as efficient and successful as possible.
So in the search for being efficient and where speed is a value and mistakes are seen as an embarrassing weakness, we will often times reject help from others. Or insist we have to do everything on our own in our own way, too proud to ask for help and being seen as someone who can’t handle their tasks. But it is this very instance where two minds coming together to understand and approach a problem from different perspectives that allows for the type of growth that implements change for the positive. In other words, more efficient.
I work with someone who exemplifies this sort of speed is priority above all else. And what was so eye opening about watching them work and actually hearing them say, “we have to be as efficient as possible”, is how much they reminded me of myself, not to long ago. My co-worker is a reasonably amicable person, but when they have something set in their head on how things should be done they don’t pull any punches. I’m a baker by trade and an example of this type of mindset in action is I feel encapsulated by one of our interactions we’ve had fairly recently.
We were making baguette, shaping the familiar cylindrical loaves we know and love as the iconic french bread. When I was flipping the dough from the pre-shaped form to the middle of the bench, crusty side down so that it didn’t stick to the bench, my co-worker asked, “could you please not flip the bread when you move the pre-shapes”. When I inquired why she wanted it done this way she responded with, “the crusty side is down, so when someone shapes, the crusty side will be on the outside of the loaf.” She was already anticipating that someone was going to make a mistake and wanted me to adjust for the person who may shape the loaf incorrectly. This made little sense to me since everyone on the team was experienced.
What it came down to for them was whether or not they could trust their co-workers. Or rely on someone else to do the right thing when called upon. I was working from a collaborative perspective, anticipating what would be most convenient for the team. When you have the mindset that everyone around you isn’t trustworthy, then you take on the role of responsibility for the outcome of the entire team. This is not only unreasonable but also unhealthy. What was and is so shocking for me is how much of my former self I see in my co-worker.
I remember having a tough night at a bakery I used to work at when I got into an argument with the owner about something. What I’m not to sure of now but knowing me it probably wasn’t a big deal. But I know I made it out to be. In the middle of our argument I told the owner that my bake looked like garbage when actually it was a very respectable bake. He said so himself. I think a few loaves may have been misshapen, but I blew up those two to three loaves into a complete failure for the entire night. It was this type of black and white thinking mixed with the impossible standard I set for myself and others which isolated me from those I worked with. And something I see so clearly now in my current co-worker’s actions.
This is a very isolating place to be and the only way out is through kindness, to ourselves and others. My former self and my current co-worker had/have the best of intentions. But that’s just it, they always have to be “the best”. There is no room for error and anything “less than” will be dealt with swiftly and with extreme prejudice. This is the very definition of passive aggressive behavior and turned inward, can result in self harm in negative self talk.
It’s like being in an abusive relationship, only there is nowhere to run where you won’t find yourself. You are always there to pick apart whatever perceived failure or mistake you see and there is always an underlying feeling of something being off. Like you’re not quite safe but can’t figure out why. From my experience this was the attitude that is cultivated by being in this passive aggressive state. Hyper vigilant and distrustful of yourself and others. No question a very isolating place to be.
But again the way out is kindness. It’s amazing how much a little self care goes toward reversing this critical state of being. Self care and kindness towards yourself and others begins to cultivate a loving attentiveness to the spots that get sticky when we want to pick ourselves apart. Staying with those feelings and being kind to them, but also staying with the feelings that come up when we experience them by observing them in others.
Because when we see these emotions in others, judge them as weak or unsavory in some way, we distance ourselves from them and become guarded against them. Or we actively are hostile towards them.
What I wasn’t taught and what I imagine most people aren’t who are in most need of this advice is these are not emotions specific to the individual that we are judging as other or less than. They are human emotions. You can’t kill or completely rid yourself of select emotions. Being human means that you sign up for the entire package. Pleasant and difficult emotions alike and all those shades between. So when you judge another for being in a certain emotion and when you eventually feel that emotional state, you will judge yourself with the same harsh scalpel you did another.
Furthermore, the more we practice this aggression towards others and self, what immerges is a low self esteem and self doubt. The Buddha said “what we think, we become”. It stands to reason that if we are filled with angry thoughts and those of aggression towards others, we become outwardly hostile and unpleasant to be around. The Buddha also said, “hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed”. So the more kind we are to ourselves and others, the more we cultivate a loving state that is capable of healing our fragile, wounded selves. Creating a space that is able to support the healing of ourselves and others.
So the more we judge ourselves for not adding up to the plans we’ve laid or when we eventually have to change course because something unpredictable happens, the more we get stuck in our ridged ways of being that become a source of frustration. A roadblock to what we truly want. Usually this means to be productive and good at what we do, efficient and capable. But the more we slow down in those moments of harsh judgement and see ourselves as honesty as struggling or lost with a lack of direction, and the more kindness we are able to bring to that lost self, the easier it will become to pull ourselves out of that state and into a place that is more flexible and understanding. More loving.
In the end, we will accomplish more by slowing down and bringing a loving attention to the places in need, than by any form of criticism or judgement. And it all starts with bringing kindness to what’s happening in the moment. With the feelings that arise.
A good way to loosen the grip of the harsh judge is to come up with a resource list. This is a list of things, places, people or events and activities, that you enjoy doing or being around or participating in. This is a good place to go when you need to bring some warmth and kindness to yourself. Because it’s not always easy to think of taking care of yourself when you’re in the midst of tearing yourself down. I have one in my Bullet Journal and it’s nice to look at even when we are in need of a quick pick-me-up.
So now that we have the resources we need to show ourselves some kindness when we don’t feel we, or someone we know, is adding up to the standard that may be a little unreasonable, who knows what we’ll be able to achieve. Peace 🙂
An update on my relationship with my co-worker. Our relationship has changed for the better due to me actively listening with kindness to what was bothering them. The more kindness we bring to our interactions, with self and others, the better off we all will be for it.
Image Credits: “Stress” by topgold is licensed under CC BY 2.0