Disentangling Expectations

I was just re-reading Monday’s post, and feel that I’m starting to wander. I’ve got to regroup; here’s the main issues on my table:

  • To be more productive I emphasize instantaneous feedback in my work, and have been selecting work and social situations that provide this as much as possible.
  • There are so many interesting opportunities for me that I am finding it rather daunting to develop them all. To be pragmatic, I have felt I have needed to lower my expectations of how many I can do at a time. This feels crappy.
  • Intellectually I know that slow-and-steady development will yield, over time, the sense of advancement I want and introduce undreamed-of opportunities; I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. However, I tend to be impatient and the resulting mental stubbornness results in procrastination.
  • Current status: mental gridlock. I’m not getting anything done that I want.
  • Current theory: perhaps I need to focus on both mindfulness and the limits of my current abilities; in short, learn to drive what I’ve got instead of waiting for me to finish building that better race car.

It’s relatively easy for me to rattle off what I’m strongest in:

  • absorbing information to distill principles
  • discovering connections between ideas
  • isolating and categorizing contextual states of understanding
  • presenting insights in visual or written form
  • listening to and leading people to their own understanding
  • systemizing what I’ve discovered and learned
  • coming up with novel approaches to teach what I’ve systemized

This is different from knowing whether I’m “good” at it or not; that means knowing what kind of competitive arena I want to race in. The few that come to mind are graphic design, creative consulting, interactive design, and perhaps systems analysis. However, none of these by themselves create that sense of excitement that I crave. Perhaps what excites me most of all is just the opportunity to learn about things and figure out how to best apply what I learned toward the challenge.

This is a niche category, which means that the metrics are not so clear cut. I need to look at the reasoning behind the goals more closely:

  • The racing metaphor I’ve been using in the past few days would be great if my personal goal was “to be a great race car driver”, because there are simple metrics I can think of to guide myself by: “run the lowest lap time”, “be the first to finish the race”, “perform consistently”. It’s a little more difficult if I said, “I want to be a great designer”, because the metrics are more indirect: “get hired by the top design firms” and “get critical acclaim and recognition from the industry and the media” come to mind. Nevertheless, in both situations the simple metrics belie the intoxicating complexity of differing strategy and tactics that can be designed to reach them. With solid principles, experienced mentors, and great diagnostic tools, the process of learning is fairly clear-cut once you have them in place. I’ll tentatively say the reason behind this type of goal is to pick an area to compete in. Follow the rules, maybe even come up with some new strategies.

  • I have been largely preoccupied with identity over the past two years. I believed that if I knew who I was, then my mission would be clear. What I don’t like about the focus on identity: it makes me more self-conscious, and I think I could use a lot less of that. I’m tired of it. It would be nice to just get lost in something else and still be productive. Nevertheless, I have an intense desire to find my place and my calling. The reason I’m looking for my place is because everything I’ve tried so far (design, programming, management, consulting) has left me unsatisfied, and I have not figured out how to create that niche category that will ensure survival and success.

  • Then there is the joy in the experience itself. Professions like farming come to mind. I’ve never worked on a farm, but I can imagine that the long days that go into growing a crop from seed to harvest require great measures mindfulness and focus. The fundamentals are pretty basic, I would guess, but I would imagine that successful farmers have learned to adapt to the earth and sky, learned to see deeply into their crops and predict the impact of the weather on yield, flavor, and profit. Although it takes a lot of time to grow a crop, I imagine that the activity of farming itself is rich with sensory input. There’s the sun and the rain, the smells of fertilizer and rich earth, the physicality of the labor, and the satisfaction of holding what you’ve grown. The nature of the work takes the self out of the equation, because your attention is on the world and how it responds to your ministrations; it’s interactive. For people who love this–printers who just love the way ink smells, painters who are thrilled by the sight of new tubes of pigment, farmers who love corn–this is a kind of bliss that I have yet to experience.

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p>Scope of Competition, Meaning, and Sensuality of the Experience. Perhaps these are the three areas I need to define. But my hour is up; more tomorrow.