Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Call Me When You Finally Decide

My friend Jonathan often pokes fun at me and the amazing cast of characters that pervade my life. The object of poking is not the people per se, but the manner in which I tend never to question the sincerity, motives or likely outcome of someone's stated intentions. Whenever someone says, "I really want to...", I buy in.

To be clear by "buy in", I don't simply mean believing them; I mean really wanting for them what they say they want for themselves, helping, spending hours thinking through the possibilities and ways to achieve their goals, googling, calling friends who've achieved similar goals, working out exercises and methods, checking in, encouraging and, umm, challenging. So the object of ridicule isn't the people, nor my "gullibility" (well sometimes); it's the disparity between the effort and energy I put into helping others to achieve their stated goals and that of the would-be achievers.

I guess that "object of ridule" is the right phrase because it can get quite ridiculous. For example, when my friend Clay, a software engineer, lost his job, he came to me saying that he really wanted to learn to use the new web technologies and make a go of it on his own. So I fired up my support thrusters and spent hour upon hour helping, getting him set up with a programming environment, showing him the ropes, creating exercises, reviewing his work, providing guidance, even setting up some consulting gigs. Jonathan just kind of laughed saying, "I'll give him three weeks before he blows this off and is out trying to find another job."

Now to be clear, Clay has been talking about setting out on his own for years. Nonetheless, I decided nth time's the charm; this time could be "the one". Oh well...

Jonathan's not alone in his observation of me and his finding amusement therein. Iris shares both, though she sometimes finds the amusement part to be less funny. Neither of them hesitates to point out the evident futility of my actions. And yet, unlike my experience getting my Adderall prescription filled in San Diego, I don't experience frustration when my would-be achievers have way less "would" than I do.

OK, there's one set of circumstances that are the exception to that, but I'll leave that for another day. Nominally, I just keep helping without giving it another thought, even as Jonathan and Iris sit across a plate of sashimi explaining for the nth time that I don't have time for another lost cause, looking at one another as I explain how this time could be different, and then back at me, Iris sweetly shaking her head and chuckling, Jonathan rolling his eyes.

As I think about it, nine times out of ten, the would-be won't, but then there's that tenth time. OK, maybe it's one in one-hundred. No strike that. It could be zero in one thousand, and it wouldn't change a thing.

This morning I woke up with a completely new (and totally obvious) perspective that did change something; the perspective of being finite. Being finite has never struck me as much of a limit; I have this perspective on my own capacity that is somewhat analogous to tubes of toothpaste; I can always squeeze a bit more out of myself if need be. However, every moment I invest in one person is a moment that I didn't invest in someone else. (I told you this was obvious.) I've just never thought about it that way.

Now I am.

Not sure what to do with this perspective yet. I don't know how to tell the lost-causers from the just-need-a-helping-handers. Maybe I'll just let them tell me.

Happy Tuesday!
Teflon

1 comment:

  1. Tef: I want to share this perspective I came across in a book (Stephen Covey) a long time ago that has stayed with me ever since. It basically says that we may have a finite amount of time to give to other people, but we have unlimited amounts of ourselves to give in that time. So focusing on what and how we give, and growing that, can get us out of the time-poverty & scarcity mode.

    On the few occasions where I am presented with the lost-cause/need-helping-hand dilemma, I have leaned towards never working for them more than they work for themselves, but believing in them more than they believe in themselves. It's too early in the experiment to call it a winning formula yet...

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