Archive for October, 2009


A New Focus Pt. Two: …And One Big Mental Weakness



[Part one: A New Focus Pt. 1: My Top Two Mental Strengths…]

And that brings me back to a key weakness of mine–details. Nine out of ten times when I fail at something, it’s because of a failure with details. I have trouble noticing them, retaining them, remembering to check on them.

The other day, I went out of my way to make sure I’d taken care of all of my work commitments before I went on vacation. I felt pretty good about myself, that I was being responsible when it was truly inconvenient. One of the things that I had to do was significantly modify a file and send it to participants of a class I’d taught. I made the modifications, wrote an email to the participants…and then sent it with the original, unmodified file. Such an easy thing to correct, but it just wasn’t my natural inclination. You can excuse that once as a simple mistake, but it was an embarassing one, and it happens much too frequently.

I contrast this with my girlfriend, Ginny, who is excellent with details. She remembers the exact time when a flight we are taking is going to take off or land, the names and occupations and histories of people we meet. More deeply, she cares about getting these things right, in a way that’s similar to my concern with the structure of a class I’m creating. I care when I mess up because of my weaknesses, but it’s a chore to me to focus on getting them right. I look at her and people like her as something of an alien phenomenon. They are doing something different from me–I have some inklings as to what it might be–but I don’t know what that is clearly. And I definitely have a long way to go toward mastering it myself.

[Ginny says that I am blowing this out of proportion, though she would agree that it’s not my strong suit. Fine, I’ve been concerned with it for a while now, and it’s still not a strength. That’s frustrating, and I want to fix it.]

[Now she feels weird that a stray comment she made is ending up in the blog. That’ll teach her not to think!]

So that will be my focus for a while: how do you train yourself to be strong at details? There are a lot of related topics; including habit-building, memory, aligning your emotions with your goals. I’m looking forward to it and to moving forward with a clearer sense of purpose.


A New Focus Pt. 1: My Top Two Mental Strengths…


thats_a_strong_dog_photosculpture-p153829802824915673qdjh_400I’ve been playing with the format of the blog for the last few months. My goal is for it to be a productive forum for my education while still being convenient enough to fit into my crazy schedule. To do that, I’ve played with writing essays as entries and with posting related news. The blog now is pretty convenient for me; I post relevant news on a regular basis and I write commentary when I have time.

But I’m not comfortable with the directionlessness. I don’t feel the blog (and hence my education) is going anywhere. So here comes another iteration. I’m going to try to keep the majority of my entries related to one central topic at a time. Likely, these topics will be things I am having trouble with, especially in terms of core mental habits.

I have a problem in mind, but in order to explain the problem, I’m actually going to start with some key strengths. I am describing them not for the sake of congratulating myself (I do that enough in private) but to try to clarify what I mean by a “mental habit” and to paint the full picture, since I think my strengths and weaknesses might be related.

I tend to be good at things that are related to maybe two core mental habits. First, I pay close attention to my emotions and always try to understand them and use them for course-correction. To borrow an idea from my favorite filmmaker Joss Whedon, the key to success is love. If you know what you love, then your emotions can guide you in your pursuit. They will tell you when something’s wrong and you need to pay more attention, and also when you can just trust things as they are now.

When I am designing a class for JetBlue, I’m useless at it until I understand how the class could possibly help someone be better at their work. That’s a subject that I care about passionately. Once that connection happens, I am very naturally always on the hunt for ways to make the class better. When someone makes a good suggestion, I leap at it. When the design isn’t gelling, I am deeply frustrated in a way that can be bizarre to others. I plug away until I fix the problem. This can even be crippling for me at times when I don’t see how to solve a problem, but there’s a strong incentive then to figure out why I don’t see how to solve the problem.

The second thing I do is to seek to understand the deeper or broader meaning behind particulars, and I am concerned with my level of certainty in forming those conclusions. If a coworker is having trouble with their manager, I want to understand why that trouble exists, and I question the answers that I come to or that others provide. It’s the only way to do what I’m trying to do with this blog and have it relate to reality at all.

These things are just an absolute part of me. They do not happen automatically and I can’t guarantee that I always do them successfully, but the idea and the emotion to do them do come to me automatically. So why couldn’t I make something else an absolute part of me, something that I’m maybe not so good at?

(To Be Continued)
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