Last week, I wrote a diatribe about giving yourself a complex and then trying to pull out of a self-induced tailspin. I feel like that was one of my better recent blogs, so I figured I’d follow it up with some equally useful advice.
See, it’s one thing to talk yourself out of a self-loathing death spiral, and quite another to go on living your life afterward. As we all know, the self-loathing death spiral will really only be one of many in our careers and we might as well own that. The big thing we do, collectively, that makes those self-loathing death spirals possible, I think, is we fail to listen to what people say to us.
Oh, sure, we *hear* the words. We might even respond in a not terribly inappropriate way. But then we start to wonder what’s behind those words. Does Bob REALLY want me to have a nice day? He’s probably actually sick of my shit, but doesn’t want to say as much.
Trust is a Shy Ground Squirrel
Emily Dickinson taught us that “Hope is the thing with feathers,” but she was being pretty overly poetic and optimistic, if you ask me. Maybe hope is ever present and feathery, but trust, that’s more like a shy ground squirrel. It’s dodgy, it’s angsty, and it takes a great deal of patience and care to keep from spooking it back underground.
That’s why leaps of faith are so hard to take, I think. The little ground squirrel is pretty shy. He doesn’t want anybody to see him hard at aerial acrobatics… even when they’re necessary to move forward.
We have so many bits of input coming in from all kinds of directions all the time, and it’s hard to know how to take them. When an editor says, “This sentence is confusing,” do they mean you’re confusing and awful? Probably not, even though that’s what it feels like. What they mean is that the sentence is confusing to a reader.
The same can generally be applied to all aspects of life. When someone tells you they like your shoes, they probably don’t mean that in some backhanded way. They probably mean they like your shoes. Humans, in general, are pretty simple. Normally they say what they mean, even if we take our Mighty Imaginations (™) and work our hardest to distort the message.
Learning to Take a Leap of Faith
Recently, an editor told me that I needed to worry less about deadlines and focus on the content I was producing. She told me, in all sincerity, that the deadlines really didn’t matter – I wasn’t actually behind. I was just in process. And this blew my mind.
I’d already been told this by our SEO lead. I, of course, thought she was just being nice. Obviously I was quite behind and that wasn’t going to fly. I was going to get fired. It was coming.
But the editor, who is not directly connected to the SEO lead, nor does she stand to benefit by telling me any of this, was very clear. She didn’t hesitate. She said what she meant. I didn’t hear what she said. Instead, I heard what I feared most.
Not gonna lie, I do this a lot when my soft underbelly has been exposed. I tense up, preparing to be punched in that two square inches of weak flesh. And I know a lot of you do, too, which is why I’m exposing my own dirty secret this week.
What I’ve found in this life, though, is that for 99 percent of the people out there, what they say is what they mean. They say, “not today, but maybe Thursday,” and they mean just that. Today’s got shit going on. Thursday looks better, but it’s not clear enough to say for sure. They say, “Please let me help you,” and they mean they want to help.
For people like me (and presumably you, since you’re still reading), it takes a huge leap of faith to trust that this is actually as straightforward as it seems. Maybe we’ve been in a bad situation that has made us doubt other people’s sincerity, or maybe we’re just naturally skittish little ground squirrels.
But I think it’s because of our hesitancy in what should be normal human interactions that we really need to focus some effort on just taking people at face value. I’m trying to do this more mindfully these days, and I’m finding something kind of interesting happening as a result.
What would normally have become an uncertainty black hole is becoming a sort of trampoline. Instead of being sucked into an inescapable well of gravity, I just bounce off that ish, for better or worse. Of course, like anything, it’s gonna take practice to get it right, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it’ll come with some pretty swank benefits.
Did You Ever Want to Read Minds?
When I was coming up, my one deeply held wish was to know what other people were thinking. Then social media came along and I was like, “No, sorry, I do not want this.” Kidding. Kidding. Sort of.
The funny thing is that I’ve always been able to read minds, and so have you. We simply have to ask. And listen to what people have to say, without filtering it through our insecurity and baggage. This last bit is tricky, to be sure. But I believe in you. I know you can do it.
So, when someone tells you something, like “hey, these deadlines are only suggestions,” or “please take care of yourself, this can wait,” you know, they probably mean it. And knowing that is kind of a huge relief… you don’t have to go into an emotional death spiral. You can just bounce on to the next thing, knowing that what they say is the truth.
I hear you asking the next obvious question. “What if they are actually just saying this to be nice?” Well, that’s on them. This is a thing that never occurred to me. If they can’t be honest about a situation and speak plainly, whatever happens next is on them. If they tell you a piece can wait, but then get mad because you didn’t write it right then, well, they kind of set themselves up for failure, didn’t they?