Refining and Enhancing Our Skillsets

Sorry to break it to you kids, but with half of August already behind us, we’re careening into the final few weeks of summer. Soon, the languid warmth will give way to clear October skies, frost on the grass, and nightfall closing down around us. We’ll stare in wonder as Canadian geese form their v formations, heading South for the winter.

Such reminders of how fast this year is whizzing past aren’t all bad because they prod me to pay more attention to what it is I’m doing with my time. Nothing happens if we don’t invest some concentrated effort, whether that’s emptying the dishwasher, shedding that five pounds, or coaching yourself to change how you respond in situations that make you uneasy. Whether you’re consumed with family activities, work projects, or outside commitments, managing our responsibilities has a lot in common with managing our personal strengths and weaknesses—we have to work at it.

Now, what do I mean by that?

We all come into this world with certain, inherent strengths and weaknesses, and it is up to us, as re-booters, to learn to manage these qualities better than we do today. Reading these words may make you groan, but I’m here to tell you that our work never ends, there’s always more to learn. Where adults get into trouble is when they tell themselves they know enough.

Do you think you know enough?

It may sound strange for me to suggest that you need to learn how to manage your strengths, but too much of a good thing can turn out to be not so good. For instance, say you’re the retiring, quiet type: there’s much about such qualities to be commended—so often, silence is a way better option than responding–but when you consistently fail to push yourself to speak up, rationalizing that, “they already know how I feel,” or whatever it is you tell yourself, the silence can go on for too long or be radically misinterpreted. It may feel safer not to say anything, but you’re missing a chance to remind those you care about that, yes, you do give a damn. Don’t underestimate the cumulative impact of your omissions.

Now, let’s examine the converse: the chatty types who assume more than their fair share of conversation. Your willingness to talk can be a great asset and can help smooth over certain awkward situations, but there comes a saturation point when others tune out your prattle. Even if you are the most charming person who ever walked the planet, nobody wants you sucking up all the oxygen—no matter how much they may laugh or smile. Yet another instance of how a strength can be bungled. I’m confident you can think of others

What’s to be done about situations where there is nothing “wrong” with what we currently know and are doing—isn’t it best to leave good enough alone? No, it’s not. As I said earlier, there is always more to learn! We can examine our strengths and work on refining our technique or enhancing our understanding to achieve greater levels of insight, finesse, or subtlety. Think of a professional golfer who pushes himself to gain even greater strength and dexterity, setting out for himself the goal of designing a master golf course, not just playing one. Too many adults consign themselves to fetid pools of stagnation when they fail to push themselves (reminiscent of that mildly stale or outright rank smell you notice around crotchety old people).

Telling ourselves that where we are now is where we can happily remain is a huge mistake. First of all, it’s arrogant. Secondly, it’s lazy. And thirdly, refusing to test out ways we might do a better job eliminates the possibility of introducing greater fulfillment or joy into our life. Over these past four years or so, I’ve had plenty of temptation to tell myself that I did nothing wrong, that I was doing everything possible to seek out work, move past old hurts, and carve out a new and better life here in Washington. But that wouldn’t be true. There’s always more to do and better ways of doing it. During this prolonged re-booting phase of my life, I have had the opportunity to reexamine my perspective, to reconsider aspects that before I dismissed, to learn how to control certain of my personality quirks. None of its been easy, but I am way ahead than if I had decided I didn’t need to change.

For instance, (aside from this blog) I am far more restrained in telling other people what to do or how to do it. If they ask, I am happy to provide feedback, but I am far less of a know-it-all than I used to be. Also, I recognize more and more that as engaging a conversationalist as I can be, there are many times when I need to zip it, to hold back on my storytelling. I have taught myself to be much more aware of my tone of voice and have changed the way I modulate it. Although nobody told me I needed to change how I spoke, I did it because it occurred to me that I might have better results if I spoke differently. And I have.

So, what qualities (good or bad) occur to you as worthy of some modification on your part? Time’s a fleeting! Before all the Canadian Geese have disappeared into Southern climes, isn’t this moment a perfect time to get started? You’ve got work to do…

Canadian geese

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