I’m asking myself seven questions a week, and here are this week’s questions.
001. Describe your comfort zone: The things you need in your life to feel safe.
I rearranged the question list last week to push this off a week, it seemed a bit too large for a tail-end question previously. I initially was thinking more about the second half of that question — the things I need to feel safe. In life, in a situation, in a relationship, etc. And it was an interesting set of thoughts. But it isn’t exactly that as a question, is it? It’s asking me about my “comfort zone”, and I don’t know that those two are the same. For me, comfort zone is indeed where I feel safe, but also where I feel unchallenged. Slightly outside that zone, there are areas where I would feel safe enough to take risks, so still “safe”, but not “in” the comfort zone. Areas that I might nudge myself further. So safety isn’t really the defining characteristic for me. Instead, it is more about expectations. My comfort zone is when I have a clearly defined role with clear expectations and the capacity to do what’s required of me.
Writing my blog is a perfect example. My blog is MY blog. I’m not writing for a website that has multiple authors, editors, staff, etc. It’s just me and my keyboard. My role is clear, and my expectations are set by me, so also relatively clear. And I can write. If I enlarge the analysis a bit, almost all “analytical, introverted” stuff is my comfort zone. All the blue energy, from the personality profile for “Cool Blue” introverts. It’s my happy place. If I’m stressed somewhere else, going to my analytical zone is what helps me cope. Which obviously means the opposite quadrant — intuitive extrovert or sunshine yellow — is my least comfortable zone.
Not surprisingly, my sister zones for warm yellow (intuitive introvert) or fiery red (analytical extrovert) are relatively comfortable at times … close family stuff is fine, or leading something where my role is clear. Social uncertainty is my enemy.
002. Pick a worry you have in your life right now. Now write down one or two ways to look at it with humor.
I’m always worried about not being my authentic self. That my “rules” for myself are not guiding my behaviour, that I might drift along and find myself separated from my core values after a while. Not being my true “me”. If I was to word it as humour, it would be something like an old Jewish man providing mentorship:
- So, if you’re not you, who are you? (the idea that without trying, I have to always be me)
- Is there anyone else who wants to be YOU? (the idea that no one is trying to take my job of being me)
003. How is the way you were raised helping you today?
I have spent a lot of time thinking about my life and any lessons learned. The answer for this one is relatively simple and derives from my dad. He preferred casual over formal, laughter over contemplating. And so do I, surprising I know. I spend a lot of time thinking, but I know that the highlights of my life are always the moments of laughter shared. Over Christmas, we were at the inlaws, and sitting around the table in a large group laughing innocently or simple wording choices, was a stress release of epic proportions. That is what is missing in my life, and I need to remember its importance.
004. How is the way you were raised holding you back today?
For my childhood, alcohol around me was a constant factor. Sometimes it led to laughter, sometimes it led to drama. And it made me socially insecure. I don’t feel comfortable in social situations that don’t have an element of control for me. With family mainly, but even some outward social stuff, I need an exit strategy to remain non-claustrophobic. That can be as simple as the fact that I drove, and can leave whenever I want. Other times it is seeing Andrea and Jacob having a good time, and if they are happy and safe, it calms me. But the “nurture” side of my personality pushed me to introversion and thinking over interaction, because it was safer. They weren’t horrible people, I wasn’t physically abused, they were functional drinkers for the most part, interspersed with drama. We are friends with a couple who are extreme extroverts, one by personality and one by conscious choice, and their kids are extreme extroverts. Over-the-top showman and showwoman. Always “on” when people are around and energized by it. While my personality might not have led me that way on a “nature” footing, my “nurture” sure didn’t either.
005. In what area(s) of your life are you more or less following the crowd, instead of listening to your own intuition?
I don’t know that I’ve ever really thought about that in a systemic fashion as my own intuition / analysis is pretty paramount to me. If I think of my goals, I would say I go my own way on self-org, learning, astronomy, computers, website, writing, photography, volunteering, and activities that interest me. For home and family, my approaches are pretty tame, nothing too exotic in how I approach things, but I don’t know that is about following the crowd, more than our approaches are more mainstream than faddish or cultish. On health and fitness, my knowledge level is low, so I tend to follow the advice of others in those area, albeit tamely to start. If I’m uncertain personally about something, I rarely jump in hard.
But I think the one area where I feel like I follow the crowd over charting my own path is finances. We have no major debts outside of our house and car payments, we have no terribly expensive tastes, we are not aggressive spenders or savers, etc. But I feel like we could have and can push more than we do. Even in planning for retirement, we need to meet with a financial planner soon, yet have been saying that for years. We do prudent safe stuff, not sure we shouldn’t have done more. Our pension plans are solid, so there’s little “risk” in our approach, but perhaps missed opportunity.
006. Write down a list of maximum seven thoughts that you frequently have that only bring you stress and unhappiness. Then rephrase these thoughts in an empowering way.
I’ve already done this in a different fashion when I created my list of “PolyWogg Rules”. They often started with my viewing something particular negatively, and hence a “rule” to help me see it differently.
There have been times in my life, as with everyone else, where I thought, “My job sucks”. Except I know, deep down, it isn’t really true. Certainly not objectively, it’s not like I’m digging ditches or picking cotton. And not subjectively either, as working for government is a really good fit for me personally and professionally. Sometimes I get bored, other times it is simply the balance of things I really enjoy to the stuff I don’t enjoy is off. Hence rule #16 on my current list — I don’t have to work any particular place, I get to do it. I’m starting a new job tomorrow, and I’m excited, but there was nothing wrong with my previous work. It was good, it was respectable, I was good at it and I take a professional approach to it. My bosses and staff were happy with me, I wasn’t stressed out of my gourd, and if a day wasn’t the most alluring thing I could be doing, that is probably more about my plans for retirement calling me than it is what’s going on today at work. I remind myself that I choose to do this for a lot of good reasons; if or when those reasons no longer hold, I can do something else. That is a very far cry from my job sucking.
Another example is rule 13. We all have conversations with various people every day. And sometimes those conversations go off the rails, the other person reacts badly to something you said even though you didn’t intend what they thought, and the natural instinct for most of us in those situations is to think, “WTF?”. Their reaction seems unreasonable, even unfair. Or maybe you accidentally stepped on someone’s toes (verbally, not physically) and you prompted a reaction. Other times, someone was having a bad day and you didn’t notice. There have been a few times in my life where I was not paying attention, or was flippant, and it hurt someone. Not mortally, but it hurt. And I have at times interpreted my bad behaviour as my being a jerk. I wasn’t, not really, but that was the impact.
Hence rule 13 — there is no such thing as a casual conversation. Every interaction of any type is a chance for connection. Maybe it’s being upbeat when dealing with a front-line worker in a restaurant, maybe it’s saying hello to someone as you open the door. Maybe it’s having a long conversation with someone over email, a person I’ve never even met but they open up to me. Each interaction, each connection is sacred in a way, and I try to remind myself that they may mean something to the other person even if it’s casual to me at the time. That doesn’t mean it becomes a millstone to engage with everyone, I don’t need to bond with the barista, but I also shouldn’t blow it off either. All of the connections deserve an appropriate level of respect.
007. Deep down, what do you know is your mission here on earth? How can you start walking towards it?
I don’t know that people really have “missions”. I don’t believe in fate in the larger sense, I don’t believe in single soul mates, I don’t believe in one thing people should do. In the literature, if you think of work/personal alignment, it often talks about an “employer value proposition”. In the pop psych world, it is the cliché that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
For me, partly as I’m a poly-lover of many projects, ideas, and areas of life, I think most people could have multiple “passions” in life. I don’t know that I would raise any of them to being better than another, a so-called mission in life.
One thing that does almost work for me is explaining stuff in plain language. I like taking complex ideas and stripping them down, turning them into a slightly different framework, and explaining them back to people. On HR in government, I have a framework I use that says, “Think of it THIS way as you prepare”, and it is a popular part of my website. People have read it, understood it, and are using it themselves. It works for them. I try to do the same in other areas, like astronomy. I feel it is something I do as a father more than I should, explaining my view of things to Jacob, while trying to leave room for his own take on things to define his approach in life.
Is explaining things a “mission”? That seems a bit too evangelical. I like doing it, I do it in online forums, but on a separate plane of existence, it’s just my way of helping people. Or on another plane, it’s just my way of stroking my ego when others “like” my explanation. “Mission” seems too one-dimensional to me.
Again, an interesting list of questions. Which one would challenge you the most to answer?