I’m currently sitting in Las Vegas with 4 hours to kill. My friend had a seminar to attend from 11-3, and since I didn’t have any other plans this weekend and don’t mind chilling on my own for a bit, I decided to tag along and get dropped off at the hotel early while he was attending his event. Originally, I was planning to get some grading done, create some teaching resources for next week, and write a blog post. However, all of these grand plans came crashing down with the post-arrival realization that I couldn’t access the wifi without a room number, and I couldn’t get a room number until check-in time at 3 pm.
I texted my friend dramatically telling him my situation, and he responded that I could write a blog on Notepad (I have yet to install Word on my week-old computer). I dramatically responded that my blogging fire was feeling defeated right now, and he shot back “that’s all it takes to defeat you?”
Of course, this immediately rankled me because a) I’m not a quitter by any means, b) he didn’t give me the sympathy I was angling for, and c) I was being melodramatic with the conversation-of course I wasn’t going to sit and sulk and accomplish nothing for 4 hours. So, with an “I’ll show you!” attitude, I opened my computer and started writing this post on, yes, Notepad. After my initial butthurt reaction died down, however, I was happy he reminded me that I didn’t need Word to accomplish at least one thing that I wanted to get done. This whole exchange got me thinking about reactions: our reactions to others, their reactions to us, and if the reactions we want/give are actually the reactions we/others need.
Even if we don’t consciously admit it, we almost always have a reaction that we expect or want from other people whenever we ask a question or tell them about something we have positively or negatively experienced. When we don’t get the reaction that we desire, it usually causes negative feelings. However, sometimes the reaction we want is not the reaction that we need. For example, when I screw up on my diet or don’t exercise for a while, I have friends who tell me that “it’s ok” and “you can handle it, you always work hard” and other flattering comments. I have other friends, though, who point blank say “you screwed up” and “stop slacking”. Initially, the first comments are obviously the nicer ones to receive, because they assuage your ego and allow you to sidestep responsibility for your screw-ups. In the long run, though, the hard-ass comments are the ones that spur you to actually accomplish your goals. When someone tells me that I’m ok, it’s so easy to ease off the gas and coast for a bit, but if someone points out my failures, it drives me to step on the pedal and go faster.
It always sucks when someone refuses to pander to you. We are used to being “politically correct” in all situations, and it’s much easier to make someone feel good about themselves then to point out where they could improve. This is especially true with friends. We don’t want to cause any rifts or hard feelings in the relationship, so it’s easier to gloss over certain things that we notice rather than take the trouble to point them out. This results in each individual giving everyone else a thumbs up to their face and a grimace at their back. The result? Everyone stays pretty much the same, lying to themselves and others, and avoiding looking directly in the mirror because no one ever has the kajones to actually point out out the lettuce that’s firmly wedged between your two front teeth.
Of course, I am not advocating for everyone to drop all pretenses and be glaringly honest about everything all of the time; there is nothing to be gained by constant criticism and gleefully pointing out your friend’s every falter. There is value, however, in not allowing ourselves to fall into the “you’re doing fine” trap, and giving honest, firm observations from a place of love. The intention behind the feedback makes all of the difference. If you hear something that stings from a person that you know actually wants to help you, it makes it easier to swallow. If you receive criticism from someone you know couldn’t care less about your actual goals, it drives to you a defensive position, which doesn’t lend itself to growth.
This also brings up the factor of truly desiring direction versus kind of wanting input, but not really. Superficially, I love to hear that I’m doing well and that I should continue doing exactly what I’m doing. In reality, however, I am striving to optimize every part of my life, which cannot be accomplished without an outside, critical eye. I am not so egotistical as to believe that I magically know how to do everything the very best way, every single time. As much as I hate hearing that I am failing in this area or that area, that knowledge is invaluable for growth if I choose to accept it. As hard as it is to acknowledge correction, especially from people close to me, I know that digging in my heels and defending my position will not lead me to expand, unless I truly feel that their criticism is unfounded or given out of spite. The underlying desire for true success allows me to humble myself and admit when the other person is right, even when it’s not at all what I want to hear. The people who give lip service to their ambitions yet don’t want to change anything to make them a reality are the people who become angry at tough love and cannot swallow other peoples’ honest assessments.
Overall, opening ourselves to the possibility of learning from all different sources allows us to evolve in ways that we never imagined. Any growth is uncomfortable; this means that we may have to admit things to ourselves that may be incredibly painful to face in order to go to the next level. There is never any real advancement, however, without some form of sacrifice, whether that be our time, our resources, or simply sacrificing our ego. Instead of focusing on what you are losing when faced with vexing realities, look at what possibilities are now open to you. If we choose to embrace the sunlight let in from the doors pried open by those with more knowledge than us rather than shying away from the sudden brightness that will temporarily hurt our eyes, we might just find a whole new world of exciting potential that has always lain just outside our self-imposed walls.