When I was a young thing in the big city, with two fresh, thoroughly useless music degrees I set out looking for a way to pay my rent. This was in 1983. The big companies, law and investment firms were incorporating what was then bright new technology – a little green blip on a tiny black screen manipulated by clunky keyboards that hurt my wrists. I easily mastered those first simple word processors. First there was Wang, and then came Word Perfect (anybody out there remember WP?) and then Microsoft rocked our world. The first version of MS Office was full of holes, requiring more patches than my Granny’s old quilt. The temporary agencies who kept my fridge full couldn’t keep up with the versions of MS being rolled out every year. But my agency supervisors had pegged me as someone alone in the world and desperate to stay afloat. So, they sent me out to the jobs nobody else wanted, to work on versions of computer applications I’d never seen. “We told them you know Microsoft 2.1 cold (As I said, I was there at the beginning). Don’t worry – you’ll pick it up by the end of the day.”
This is all by way of telling you that I have always jumped into situations head first, with very little planning. And I have learned much through painful failure. Most of us have – but many of life’s hard lessons were learned a long time ago and we can’t remember them because we block out those unsavory experiences as soon as possible. At some point, we view the skills we’ve learned as having magically been there all along; it’s as if we’d always known how to use a computer or cook or dance or…
I’ve attempted to teach many kinds of skills to people of all ages and demographics. What I’ve noticed more and more over the years is that the major obstacle many of my students and clients face is one erroneous belief: that they should be able to learn anything new without discomfort and without failure. A couple of years ago I wrote a newsletter about Getting Things Done by David Allen. I remember this newsletter as being a very enthusiastic endorsement of a well marketed system which touted a life full of smooth sailing. Of late, I’ve come to believe that this and other complex productivity bibles only feed into a mistake we are all making.
We have come to believe that with the right “how-to” manual – whether it be fixing our plumbing or getting everything on our to-do list done – that we will be able to circumvent the daily screw-ups and hassles that inevitably halt our perfect plan. Has anyone else noticed that with the onslaught of DIY shows and books we are doing less and less? Isn’t it more fun to just watch “Clean Sweep” and talk about how we are going to get organized rather than going into the bedroom and clearing out our closets?
My best friend told me yesterday that Mark and I have moved to Green Acres. Do you remember that show? In every episode, Clueless Eva Gabor made a fool of herself learning to be a farmer’s wife and Eddie Albert, while perhaps a little more motivated and in earnest, didn’t do much better as the farmer. I have learned so much this year in my new life in the country – but not without daily struggles that include feelings of inadequacy and lots of mistakes.
The most successful people plugged right through apparent failure and humiliation so well that most of us never know about it. I’m not one of those people but I would aspire to follow their example. To date, I have not come up with any action plan that makes my life smooth sailing. Rather, it is a perpetual cycle of messes and clean-ups, breakdowns and fix-ups. I hide the messes as well as I can – usually with the help of a big curtain.