Know-it-all-ness + perfectionism = the death of curiosity

Developing good listening skills is a top priority for me in 2019. I know some folks who will be REAL thrilled about that.

I’m kind of a shit listener.

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Trust me, this is as shocking a revelation to me as it is to you. I thrive on interpersonal connection. When someone is telling me about the stuff that drives them, shapes them, makes them them, then I excel at listening.

It’s the other 85% of the time that I’m falling way short of the mark.

But being a good listener is a trait I really prize in other people. Good listeners are the folks I usually consider wise and insightful. Other people gravitate to them. Because you know what people want more than almost anything else? To be heard.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I started sorting through my listening problem. Being an abysmal listener isn’t a space I’m willing to dwell in–now that I’m aware of it. Nope. Onward and upward.

Here’s what I found:

  1. My not-so-good listening is connected to my know-it-all-ness. True, in daily life, I’ve tamped down my need to act like I know everything. Because that’s all kinds of of annoying. But there’s still this underlying thing: when confronted with information I know nothing about, I simply gloss over it in my mind. It’s a mental version of yeah-yeah-yeahing. I just assume I kind of know what’s going on and can make educated guesses about the rest of it. And I do this with topics I know nothing about.  You can imagine how effective that might be. giphy-4
  2. This mental yeah-yeah-yeahing relates directly to my lack of curiosity. I’ve realized recently that I don’t ask enough questions. I don’t ask why or how enough. And this is precisely why I suck at small talk. I just assume I’m not interested in “surface topics.” Which is some bullshit that means I don’t want to mentally engage about things that may not be in my wheelhouse. I don’t want to dig deeper–and leave my comfort zone. But lately I’ve been watching Simon communicate with people–and I’ve realized he really excels at this. He asks questions about things that are obviously important to the person he’s talking to. And then he gets these really interesting answers. Because he’s curious. I need more of that in my world. giphy-5
  3. Ultimately, I think all this–the know-it-all-ness and the lack of curiosity–finds its root in the perfectionism that’s dogged me since I was a kid. I know some folks roll their eyes at the idea of perfectionism. I mean, who doesn’t want to be perfect, right? But I was the kind of kid who wouldn’t do something if I didn’t know I could do it right the first time. Anything less than a A on a test made me want to give up (see: high school Trigonometry and Chemistry). I’ve worked hard to shake this nonsense. Because–hello–I believe life is a continuous learning cycle. But I also wrote a novel that I thought I got perfect on the first try. And I was kind of crushed when someone told me it, in fact, needed work. Even though I should’ve known this right away because a) I am a writer. I revise things all the time and b) I taught college writing for 5 years. Which means all I did for 5 years was read student revisions, while constantly reiterating the benefits of revision to said students. But suddenly, I wrote a book and I forgot all that. I needed the project to be perfect to be worthwhile. Which meant I didn’t want to listen. To anything.giphy-6

Good listening is top on my list of priorities in 2019. At 43, I’d be a fool not to admit how little I know. The universal well of knowledge is so vast that the mere thought of how much I don’t know can completely paralyze me. But the easiest way I’ve found to let knowledge flow into my world is simply acknowledging that everyone I meet is my teacher. Which means I have to be humble enough to admit that I don’t know everything, and then open myself to the knowledge people are willing to impart if I’m just curious enough to receive it.

I write because I believe that stories matter. That they can change the world. I think it’s time to really open myself to the stories around me–even the ones that present themselves in the most ordinary of ways.

Valedictorian of Taking Myself Less Seriously

I like to be valedictorian of everything. I want my conversation to be the wittiest, the wisest. I want my contributions to be insightful and to command respect. And I never, ever want to admit that I am wrong. I’m a gem, aren’t I?

I like to be valedictorian of everything.

I want my conversation to be the wittiest, the wisest. I want my contributions to be insightful and to command respect. And I never, ever want to admit that I am wrong.

I’m a gem, aren’t I?

The good news is, after years and years of being a perfectionist with a zillion excuses and justifications for never actually TRYING at much of anything, I got sober. And that taught me two important lessons: 1) Perfectionism is just a bullshit excuse to prevent me from ever really putting myself out there, and 2) I don’t know shit about shit.

Really. I am wrong a lot.

The first few years of sobriety taught me that I’d been a master at making myself a victim, at playing helpless to avoid work, and pain, and adulting. So I womaned up and started taking responsibility for my own chaos. And it sucked. I thought my tragic victim role was all kinds of romantic (it wasn’t). But this actual attempt at vulnerability and openness–the kind that allows you to learn, grow, and accumulate real wisdom–was gritty, and real, and hard AF.

Then I had a baby. And motherhood disabused me any idea that I was always right. And it sure as hell has taught me to admit when I’m wrong. Jane has taught me about ditching perfectionism in favor of joy and about letting go of expectations and just being in the moment. I’ve relinquished the constant need to be right in favor of building up and supporting the people I love the most. (But I still love an “I told you so” more than I probably should. Progress not perfection, y’all)

But the latest BIG lesson for me is a doozy: I take myself too fucking seriously.

 

After we all stop singing Closer to Fine, I’ll give you the most mundane (profound) example. Ready? Alright:

This morning, I was plodding along on the track. And my leg was all janky. It was tight, and the tightness was throwing off my gait. And I was going to run through the accumulating pain. But then I thought: WTF? What am I trying to prove? Hasn’t this summer been all about really diving into the adventure of running? Why the hell wouldn’t I just stop and stretch? What was I trying to prove? That I could run a 5K? I’ve done that over and over and over again. This run just wasn’t that serious. I had nothing to prove.

So, I plopped down on the side of the track, laid back, and stretched. For a good long time. I ran a few more laps. Then I stretched AGAIN. And it felt luxurious. And indulgent. But it also felt like adulting. Because I was taking care of my body. Turns out that, over this long, hot Summer of Running, I’ve learned to trust my body and to listen to what it’s really asking for.

I’ve also learned to listen to my heart. Because living a satisfied, joyous life isn’t about being right all the time. Or holding firm to a position (or an identity) when you’ve outgrown it, or evolved past it, or when it just no longer works for you. There’s power in evolving, in being open, in embracing change.

And there’s so much room for joy when I don’t take myself so fucking seriously. It’s only life after all.*

 

*C’mon. You knew I’d work in that last Indigo Girls reference, didn’t you?

Facing The Things I Suck At

Moving pushes all my buttons. For real–uncertainty and WAITING? I suck at those. But I’m doing it. And that’s growth.

Moving. For real, this whole process is fraught with uncertainty: will the house sell quickly? Will we find another house we think is dreamy*? What if we close on our current house and then have no where to live? What if? What if? WHAT IF?!?

I suck at uncertainty. 

That’s kind of just always been my truth. So, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I haven’t been freaking-the-hell-out. Not even a little bit. I’m just kind of along for the ride. The Universe (… God… whatever) hasn’t let me down yet. So, I’m trying to be all zen. (Living life on life’s terms, as the AAs say).

But shit, I am DONE with this moving business.

I know. I know. I don’t get to be done. And no one cares if I’m done. The process is the process is the process. Listing a house–cleaning, prepping, threatening family members that if they leave their dirty clothes on the floor one more time…–is the opposite of fun. It’s anti-fun. It’s soul-sucking. And that’s just when I’m feeling positive about it.

Through my efforts to be zen, a feeling keeps pushing through: discomfort. I am uncomfortable with this moment in my life. I want to be settled. I want to focus on writing. I want to think about something else other than keeping the house clean so that random strangers can wander through to decide what they think our home–the place where the most sacred things in our life happen, where love and tears and laugher and intimacy collide, where our LIFE happens–what they think it’s worth. I want to live my life. And right now, I’m just waiting.

And, if there’s anything I suck more at than uncertainty, it’s waiting. 

But, that’s okay. I can manage these things I’m ultra-sucky at. Because managing them is building resilience. How the hell are you supposed to develop something that seems so inate (like you’ve just got it or you don’t) as resilience? Brené Brown has some thoughts:

It’s all about a “tolerance for discomfort,” she says.

People who healthfully navigate firings, divorces, and other super difficult situations are able to do so because they’re aware of their emotional worlds — which are often uncomfortable places.

“What I’m talking about is an acceptance that our drive, this insatiable appetite for comfort and happiness, does not reconcile with who we are as people ,” she told Tech Insider in a recent interview. “Sometimes we have to do tough things and feel our way through tough situations, and we have to feel tough emotions.”

“Hold up!” I can hear you thinking. “This move is, like, no where near as emotionally intense (and potentially devastating) as a divorce or being fired. What is your major malfunction?” 

And you’re right (although you can ship “major malfunction” back to the 80s where it belongs). This move (that we chose freely to make) is not in the category of a major life event. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hit on some of my biggest pain points, some of the places I can most use growth.

Truthfully, an earlier iteration of myself wouldn’t have chosen this move, even though it is best for our family. Because earlier iterations valued comfort and certainty above all else. I wouldn’t have been able to take a chance on leaving a good house in a good neighborhood to move to another community that we think we might love EVEN MORE, just because we thought it was right.

But this iteration of me can. And I’m proud of that. And I’m god-awful uncomfortable. But I’m sitting with it and managing it. And I’m choosing to stay in this moment and do the next task at hand, instead of letting the what-ifs make me frantic.

And that is the best I can do. That is my next right thing.

 

*I watched a ton of Brady Bunch as a kid. I was always a little smitten with how Marsha used “dreamy” to describe a variety of things (although, most often a boy). So, because I’m into living my best life and seizing the moment and all, I worked it in. I think we’re all better for it.

 

Pug Image by Matthew Henry on Unsplash